Death After Dinner?!

“And after dinner, our topic will be death.” Imagine you are on a weekend retreat/workshop and you hear these words. Those of us who found ourselves in this situation groaned and laughed nervously as we realized that our Saturday evening was going to be anything but typical. What happened to chocolate, wine, or even an after dinner mint?

I was recently in California for immersion training on “Conscious Aging,” a program designed to help us grow older in a positive way. The goal of this particular segment on death is to transform our fear of death so that we are able to live well and die well. A part of me dreaded what was ahead. It was NOT what I wanted to be doing on my Saturday night.

Hours later I found myself completely captivated while watching an award-winning documentary called “Death Makes Life Possible.” The film explores the mysteries of death and life from a variety of perspectives and world traditions, including agnostic and atheist. It features some of the world’s leading scientists, anthropologists, philosophers, spiritual teachers, and thinkers of our time. The imagery, stories, and insights were fascinating, including research about near death experiences, mediums that claim to communicate with the departed, and evidence suggesting the possibility of reincarnation from decades of research conducted by the University of Virginia. So intriguing!

One particular interview really resonated. Dr. Rudolph Tanzi is a Harvard neurologist who has done groundbreaking research with Alzheimer’s disease. He has impressive credentials and gravitas and was recently named one of “TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World.” He explained that from a scientific viewpoint, there are two approaches to consciousness, memories, and identity. First, there is the view that all consciousness is held by the brain and is purely physical. This certainly is what most of us have grown up hearing and adheres to conventional science. The other, an emerging theory, is that consciousness is part of evolution and eternal, not subject to birth or death. Having spent his career mapping molecules and studying the human brain, Dr. Tanzi has come to believe that consciousness – which he describes as “soul” – is the keeper of our identity, and that consciousness transcends the physical parts of us. I love when a scientist confirms something I believe intuitively.

At the end of the evening a few of us decided to meet together in one of our tiny bedrooms with wine and snacks (alas, no chocolate) to discuss this death thing further. We shared stories about our own experiences with death, including communication from loved ones who had passed. We asked each other questions, listened to each other’s stories, and offered our perspectives on what we believe happens to our souls after death. It was a comfort and a relief to be able to discuss this in a safe setting.

What is it about death that freaks us out so much? After all, it is going to happen to all of us. It is universal to being human. As my brother says, it’s happened to billions of people so far in our history. Yet, society treats death like it is a disease to be cured. What if we got intrigued about it and didn’t treat the topic like it was taboo?

You have probably met people who seem to have a remarkable peace as they face death. I remember my mom telling me that after she confronted her fears of death and wrestled with them, she was able to tap into gratitude and live more fully. That peace allowed her to live her last years with a zest for life that was awe inspiring given her dreadful cancer diagnosis and the toxic effects of chemo.

So what can we do about this death concept? Death is not going away. What if allowed time and space to understand it better? I purchased a copy of the film to leave at Well for the Journey. Perhaps we could put together a “Death After Dinner” party bag with popcorn, and discussion questions so that people can gather their own group and explore these issues. You can supply the chocolate and/or wine. We certainly need one another to give us the courage to discuss these life and death matters. Stay tuned.

Schlitz, Marilyn. Death Makes Life Possible. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2015 (book)

Bryan Stevenson: “You Can Change the World”

Are there people who rock your world and inspire you to do something for the greater good? Who touch a deeper part of yourself and challenge your thinking? Who tug at your heart and soul to stir up compassion?  For me, it’s Bryan Stevenson: lawyer, human rights advocate, and holder of hope in the most dire of circumstances.

I’ve read, reread, highlighted, and pondered his award-winning book, Just Mercy, listened to his TED Talk, watched his story on 60 Minutes, and heard him speak in person twice.

He calls me – and us – to a new way to treat each other as human beings.

So, who is this man? Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls him “America’s young Nelson Mandela.” His work and message are changing the landscape of compassion, justice, and mercy. Mr. Stevenson has spent much of his career in prisons, jails, and courtrooms fighting for the most vulnerable: the poor, the mentally ill, children, and those unjustly accused and convicted. He is working to transform our world, and invites us into that work.

He often begins communicating his message with some grim and startling facts:

• The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world.
• The U.S. comprises only five percent of the world’s population, yet it has 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated.
• One in every 15 people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison. One in every three black male babies born in the century is expected to be incarcerated.
• Failed drug policies and the incarceration of low-level drug offenders are the primary causes of mass incarceration in the United States. While we treat alcohol addiction as a health issue, we treat non-violent drug offenders through the criminal justice system.

Please reread those facts. They are unbelievable. He invites and challenges us to be part of the changes that are desperately needed.

His best-selling book reads like a John Grisham novel. Tragically, they are true stories of real people—stories of men, women, and children who are experiencing incarceration due to the most unfair, corrupt, and unjust circumstances. Remarkably, he is able to maintain hope, even when he is unable to save some of his clients.

Mr. Stevenson’s humility and gentle spirit shine through his fierce advocacy for mercy and justice. In telling a story about a racist prison guard whom he encountered in the Deep South, he is able to look below the surface behavior and recognize him as a human being. Reminding us that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” he challenges all of us to step out of our comfort zones and do the hard work of love and mercy.

This is his message: We can change the world. He set out four main ways:

1. Get Proximate. You cannot help others from a distance. He observed that many people offer opinions and solutions without getting close to the problems and the people impacted. You must get into relationship with those who are suffering.

2. Change the narrative. Our narratives must change. We buy into narratives of fear and anger that lead to harsh, unjust policies of all kinds. Also, we must change our narratives regarding race and look honestly at the effects of slavery on our country, our history, and our humanity. Our warped narrative has caused slavery to evolve into more subtle forms of oppression, humiliation, and injustice.

3. Be Hopeful. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. We need hope in order fight for a better humanity. In his book he explains that hope is not a pie in the sky type of optimism. Rather, it is an orientation of the spirit “that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power.” (Just Mercy, p. 219)

4. Be willing to be uncomfortable. Confronting oppression and injustice is hard hard work.

Such remarkable hope and vision for humanity.  If you are curious, please read Just Mercy. Perhaps we can be part of changing the world.

In hope and love,


Where Hope Meets Justice


Artwork by Becky Slater

“Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without the words,
and never stops at all.”
-Emily Dickinson

John looked at me and proclaimed, “I am turning my life around. I’ve cleaned up my credit report, and gotten my driver’s license. This is the next step.” With those words, he picked up his pen and signed the paperwork to clear up his criminal record. John was hope in action.

I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of hope through my work at Well for the Journey, a center that offers innovative programs for spiritual wellness. Since leaving my law firm years ago, my energies have been devoted to developing programs and classes that help people lead more meaningful, centered lives. Hope is a motivating force within each of us that inspires and strengthens people to move into a better place. Hope is likely the catalyst that propelled me to dust off my law degree and begin volunteering with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service to help in a very specific area of law: expungement.

Expungement is the legal process by which you can have criminal charges removed from public view. Governed by state law, the rules by which one may expunge charges vary from state to state. In Maryland, generally only those charges for which you have NOT been convicted can be expunged. This covers a fairly wide array of dispositions, including an acquittal (Not Guilty), and situations where police or prosecutors decide not to proceed further than arrest. Convictions for certain “nuisance” crimes (for example, open container and disorderly conduct) and those that are no longer crimes (such as possession of small amounts of marijuana) can be expunged under certain circumstances.

Expungement is a place where hope and justice meet.

To their credit, Maryland lawmakers have recognized the need for expungement to be more accessible and available. The last two years have brought welcome changes. First in laws that took effect in October of 2015, and recently as part of a criminal justice reform package passed in 2016. There are almost one million expungeable cases in Baltimore City alone, and that number will rise when new changes take effect in the upcoming months.

I first learned about the importance of expungement over ten years ago while serving as a job counselor with an organization called Genesis Jobs (which later became part of Goodwill Industries). The existence of criminal charges on one’s record is a monumental obstacle to employment. It was incredibly frustrating that good, qualified job candidates could not be find work due to their arrest charges for minor crimes, especially when they were never convicted of the charges! I kept mumbling that someone needed to do something about this problem.

Then came Baltimore’s spring, almost a year ago, when our city erupted. In the wake of the death of Freddie Gray and the uprisings that ensued, I wondered how I could help bring hope to those living in seemingly hopeless situations. What set of gifts and skills did I have to share? So many people living in or near Baltimore wondered what they could do to help heal our city and its people. There are no easy answers to the multi-dimensional problems that persist in our city- it will take a multitude of people playing unique, small parts. After months of praying for guidance about how I could contribute in a practical way, I came across a flyer for an expungement clinic and a telephone number to call for Maryland Volunteer Lawyers. Then I learned that lawyers got free training…there were no excuses. I gave myself a little pep talk, picked up the phone and volunteered to help at the clinic.

Hearing the stories of my clients has been humbling. Sometimes people have a few troubled years and then work hard to turn their lives around. Not surprisingly, addiction often plays a role in those bad years. I’ve met people, including a woman in her late seventies, who weren’t even aware that they had a record until they went to apply for a job. This can happen when someone close to you gets arrested and you are nearby and get rounded up too. Those charges remain on your record even if you are never prosecuted. Even when people have convictions on their record that they understand cannot be expunged, they want other charges expunged. One man said, “Hey, I take responsibility for that crime. But those others on there I want off my record- that was not me.”

While each person has a unique story, they share something in common: hope for a better future. I’m convinced that hope is manifested through relationships. Sometimes we are called to be with people in seemingly hopeless situations and be a sign of hope. We can help others believe in a better future, even when they can’t see it. To do this requires suspending- or moving through- our cynicism, judgments, and fear of people who are different than us. It’s not easy…but this is how we build hope together. This is how we move forward as a community.

As I shook hands with John and said goodbye, he commented on the beautiful spring day. I responded, “Spring is a time of hope, isn’t it? Good luck to you.”

1. If you want to learn more about expungement visit, a website developed by Matthew Stubenberg, a talented attorney at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service.

2. I am deeply inspired by Bryan Stevenson and his book, Just Mercy. Book review coming soon to this blog.

Your Personal Calling: Perspectives from The Alchemist

How can you live into your personal calling? What prevents you from realizing your dream? What kind of obstacles should you be prepared to encounter?

I’ve just finished reading one of my summer reading list books: Paulo Coelho’s classic, The Alchemist. This little novel has me thinking. It’s been translated into over sixty-seven languages and is one of the most widely read books in the world. What is it that appeals to so many readers?

The story is about listening to one’s dream and setting out to achieve it. In the forward, the author writes, “We all need to be aware of our personal calling…the path that God chose for you here on Earth.” Mr. Coelho explains that our dream is buried deep within our souls so as to be invisible. Many of us don’t have the courage to uncover our own dream, let alone work towards it.

He identifies and explains four obstacles that prevent us from living into our dream:

1. We think it’s impossible. We are told repeatedly that what we want to do is impossible, and layers of prejudice, fear, guilt, and cynicism bury our dream. It takes courage to disinter our dream. “Disinter” – a new gem of a word that I discovered in this book: it means to unearth, to unbury, to dig out, and to bring that which is obscure into plain view.

2. We are afraid of hurting or disappointing our loved ones. Once we dig out our dream, discover it, and consider it, we can become so concerned about the people we love that we stop there. We fear hurting them or abandoning those around us as we pursue our dream. We don’t realize that love actually is an impetus, and those who genuinely love us want us to be happy and will accompany us on the journey.

3. We fear failure and defeats. If we’ve done the work of #1 and #2 above, failures and setbacks cause great suffering. We can’t fall back on the excuse, “Well I didn’t want it anyway.” In fact, we really, really do want it and we’ve staked everything on it. We will face setbacks, struggles, and failures, but as Coelho advises, “The secret of life is to fall seven times and get up eight times.” We can’t be afraid of failure.

4. We believe that we are not worthy. If we have labored at #1, #2, #3, we may suddenly stop and abandon the dream for which we fought so hard. This stems from belief that we are not worthy of the dream. Often, this type of self-sabotage occurs just as we are on the verge of realizing the dream. Coelho explains that this is the most dangerous of the obstacles because “it has a saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest.” He writes, “But, if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, you help the Soul of the World, and you understand why you are here.” (WOW- powerful thought!!!)

The Alchemist centers on a boy named Santiago who is quite happy being a shepherd. But following several powerful dreams, he decides to set off in search of treasure buried in the Pyramids of Egypt. His journey takes him through challenging terrain, including the wild and dangerous desert. He encounters obstacles that test him, threatening to dissuade him from his journey. Key characters and events guide him on his way. Listening is central to Santiago’s journey-by attuning himself to signs (called “omens” in the book) and experiences, he begins to understand the importance of intuition and immersing oneself in the universal current of life.

Does Santiago’s journey sound familiar? It should. It is a journey that is common in myths, legends, stories, religious ritual, and psychological development. Consider Odysseus in The Odyssey, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, even Jesus or the Buddha in sacred stories. Psychologist Carl Jung identified this archetypal journey as key to psychological growth and maturity. Joseph Campbell calls it “The Hero’s Journey.”

Mary Oliver describes it in her poem, “The Journey”:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

This archetypal journey also unfolds in our own lives, IF we have the courage to take it. At Well for the Journey (“The Well”), I’ve been privileged to watch and accompany others who are on this journey. People come to The Well for a variety of reasons, but often they have become aware that something is propelling them into unknown territory, and they seek guidance and encouragement. It is hard work, and, as The Alchemist reveals, we cannot do it alone. In small groups, ordinary people serve as gentle guides for one another, often unknowingly. We learn to listen to all of life, attuning ourselves to the Source of Life that guides, inspires, and loves us along our journey. Sometimes a piece of wisdom or a personal story is offered and it is just what another person needs to hear. It has been awe-some (in the truest sense), to watch others uncover their part of God’s dream, become more enthused and live into the fullness of life, and contribute their gifts to the greater good.

Are you intrigued? Maybe it’s time for you to read or reread The Alchemist. Maybe it’s time for you to listen in a deeper way to what’s inside your own soul. Find people around you to help you listen. If you need help, come to The Well or form your own community to help you listen. Ask God (or whatever you call your divine source) to guide you. You will be led. Be prepared to confront challenges and obstacles. Don’t give up.

Blessings on your courageous journey.




Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Navato, CA: New World Library, 2008.
Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.
Crowley, Vivianne. Jungian Spirituality. London: Thorsons, 1998.
Oliver, Mary. Dream Work. NY: Atlantic Monthly, 1986.

Life’s Lightning Strikes

What?!!! Lightning struck our house?!!! Oh my God!!!

 When lightning struck our family shore home a few days ago, thankfully, we were not in the house, nor even in town. But when such an unusual, dramatic event occurs, it naturally leads one to wonder about the big questions: What is the meaning in this? Why did this happen? Is God trying to tell me something?

I don’t know. I will never know. My ego wants so badly to affix an explanation (like a little gremlin in my mind that demands fixed answers), but I’m learning that the spiritual life involves not knowing. It’s the hard work of humility and letting go of certainty. I don’t like that very much.In fact, few of us like to live in the powerlessness and vulnerability of uncertainty particularly when we face danger, trouble, and distress. So what can we do?

We can ask for help and then lean into the faith that there is some source of goodness at work in invisible ways. We are not alone; God is accompanying us (yes, right now) helping us (yes, each of us) navigate our troubles.

The story of the lightning strike and dealing with its aftermath has brought to fruition some important lessons that have taken shape in my life over the past year.

The lightning strike was dramatic, part of an intense, powerful storm that blew through Cape May, New Jersey on the afternoon of Saturday, June 6, 2015. Neighbors actually saw the bolt of lightning hit the house and heard a loud explosion. Our next-door neighbor was blown off his bed. The bolt hit the top of the chimney, traveled down the side of the house into the pipes and wires, from the tippy top of the house to the lowest point in the basement. So freaky!!! Electrical smoke ensued, but no fire, thank God. The brick chimney, air conditioning system, and various electronic systems were damaged. After arriving to assess the damage a couple of days later, we smelled gas and discovered that the lightning’s electrical force created a small hole in the hidden internal gas plumbing line resulting in a gas leak. The house could have exploded. Oh my God!!!

Lightning and other such stormy events can happen anytime. One out of 200 houses are struck by lightning each year, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute (so much more frequent than I would expect). But there are other life events that can feel like being struck by lightning, leaving us vulnerable as we try to pick up the pieces. Here are some tips for you to move through the aftermath of whatever “lightning” you experience. I’ve found that three P’s – People, Perspective, and Praise – have been essential in helping to cope with the turmoil of life’s lightning.

  1. PEOPLE. Upon discovering the gas leak, I called the gas company who promptly dispatched a serviceman (Dave, my hero) within 30 minutes to assess the situation and provide instruction. I was so frightened that I couldn’t comprehend what Dave was explaining to me. He talked on and on about which gas line was damaged and what needs to be properly “grounded” in the future and how we can provide “unions” in order to fix it. Needless to say, these words do not mean the same thing in the spiritual care world in which I work as they do in the world of plumbers and electricians.

Close friends and neighbors, Terri and Bob, swooped in, took copious notes and   helped me listen to Dave’s explanations. Other neighbors and countless service people appeared throughout this drama to help and support us. Most days, it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to get service people to show up the same day in our small town of Cape May (locals call this phenomena “Cape MAYBE”). Yet on this particular Monday, numerous service people showed up on time to help deal with this crisis.

Lesson #1: Ask for help and watch closely for angels in disguise who are sent to help you.

  1. PERSPECTIVE. Aside from this lightning episode, I’ve been dealing with much emotional turmoil over the past several months, grappling with frustration, grief, and resentment involving people I love. To help me move forward, my motto has been “reframe, reframe, reframe.” To reframe is to look at what you are experiencing from a different viewpoint. We can reframe our perspective by placing ourselves in others’ shoes, by readjusting our lens outward to look at the bigger picture, or by trying to move ourselves to a new vantage point. Regardless of the technique, reframing a situation changes our perspective and helps us adjust to and find peace with difficulties. Was it lucky or unlucky that our home was struck by lightning? I choose to take the view that we are lucky to be alive.

Lesson #2: Seek new perspective- reframe, reframe, reframe.

 3. PRAISE. A few months ago at a workshop, I was told to reach my hand into a small brown bag and select a poem. The following poem from Rainer Maria Rilke was given to me.

Praise dear one,

Let us disappear into praising.

Nothing belongs to us.

This poem was exactly what I needed at the time. First off, who doesn’t love being called “dear one”? Beyond that, it reminds us that our grumbling is rooted in the belief that we own things or are entitled to them. Nothing belongs to us. We come into the world with nothing and we depart with nothing. My brother says that expectations are resentments waiting to happen. By detaching from our expectations (lifelong work!), we become lighter and our burdens gradually seem to disappear. Then we are able to thank our lucky stars, count our blessings, and praise God.

When I consider the lightning storm and what could have been catastrophic, it’s easy to praise. It’s more difficult to offer praise, though, when you face trouble or disaster, and you cannot see the good anywhere in it. See #1 and #2, and then hopefully, in time, you will get to #3.

Lesson #3: Praise, dear one. Nothing belongs to us.

Though nature’s lightning doesn’t strike every house, life’s lightning does strike everyone and we discover ourselves shaken up in unexpected ways. When that happens, may you lean into people, perspective, and praise to help you move through.

Blessings and love,


Digging God Out


There is a really deep well inside me.

And in it dwells God.

Sometimes I am there too.

But more often stones and grit block the well,

and God is buried underneath.

Then God must be dug out again.

-Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life*

How timely that one of my first days of December was spent with nice men who came to clean out our well, replace the pump, and get the water flowing. Our backyard is fairly deep, reaching more than 450 feet below the earth’s surface. The water pressure has been gradually decreasing so we knew it needed a good servicing.

What a God-wink. That rascal, God, has such a sense of timing and humor. I can almost hear a gentle laughter. It is the first week of Advent and there is a divine invitation here. It’s time to dig God out.

In the Christian tradition much of December is spent in the season of Advent. Advent is the season that we wait and watch for God to break through (again) and be born. Advent culminates with Christmas, when we celebrate God’s coming to us by being born in the form of Jesus. It is paradoxical because we acknowledge that God is already here and hard at work (thank goodness!). Yet, God will also come again. Isn’t this so reassuring to know that God is not finished? Our world is so desperately in need of Love.

God is in all of creation, pulsing with life- often very hidden, but also very evident. The heartbeat of God is also within each of us, and we are called to be bearers of this presence.

Unfortunately, there is so much that blocks and clogs this Source of Love. So much stuff: worries, fears, expectations, self-centeredness, cynicism, judgments, lack of forgiveness, and ego to name a few. There is also this feeling of unworthiness- do we really believe that we are sacred?

What can you and I do to dig God out? Wouldn’t it be great if nice men could come and clean out the grit and dirt and replace our pumps? But alas, there is no such easy fix. Instead, this unblocking, unclogging, and digging out is the task of a lifetime. In fact, it is probably central to the spiritual life in most faith traditions.

Perhaps it begins with an intention to pay closer attention. What if we listened for the heartbeat of God pulsing around us in ordinary moments? What if we looked for signs of the Divine breaking into even the most challenging situations? What if we tried to honored the sacredness of our loved ones as well as our enemies?

That could be a start. Let us dig.

*Etty Hillesum was a remarkable modern day mystic. As a young Jewish woman, she chronicled her spiritual journey through her diaries. She died in Auschwitz in 1943 at the age of 29.

Claiming “Contemplation”- Part 1

Contemplation? No, that’s not for me. That’s for quiet, reclusive people. That’s for those serious, religious people. Not to offend those that really love the word “contemplation,” but it brings to mind an image of navel gazing. In fact, if you look up the definition of the word, some dictionaries actually refer to navel gazing.

For years, I’ve resisted the word “contemplation.” Sometimes situations or words get under our skin because they have a lesson to teach us. I’m thinking that’s the case with this word.

Recently I discovered a passage from Thomas Merton (a spiritual guru whom I admire but don’t really “get”):

“Contemplation is life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive.  It is spiritual wonder.  It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being.  It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant source.  Contemplation is above all, awareness of the reality of that source.  It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond reason and beyond simple faith…” (Seeds of Contemplation)

WOW. Although this passage is pretty deep, there are some words that jump out at me: wonder, awe, awake, alive, invisible, Source. These are all words that I LOVE. Not only does he use some of my favorite words, Merton describes a life that I desire and aspire to. And his description has nothing to do with being reclusive, overly serious or navel-gazing.

Merton describes a way of being and living that is available to all of us. Imagine if we could live like this! We’d be engaged with real life. We would awaken to the fact that there is that of God in all things. We’d be tuned into wonder. We’d be overflowing with gratitude. Everyone we meet would be able to sense this alive-ness within us. We would be almost glowing!

So maybe it’s time to claim contemplation. Or at least open the door to it and get to know it better (Part1). Then perhaps it could become part of our everyday lives in a way that makes difference in the world.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Blessed Messiness

People often think of life as either a fairy tale or a tragedy, but the truth is that it very much a combination of both. It is blessed messiness.

I spent this past Labor Day weekend in Cape May saying goodbye to the summer. It was a beautiful weekend filled with family and friends beside the sea. We had a houseful of fun guests. Many of our family members got dressed up and attended the Commodore’s Ball at the Yacht Club. Our pictures on Facebook made it look like a fairy tale weekend.

What people didn’t see was the sadness hidden beneath the surface. Saturday, August 30, was the one-year anniversary of the death of our beloved niece, Meg, who died tragically from her addiction. We were missing my mom whose absence has been so magnified through the summer. Saturday afternoon we held Dede Boutique, sorting and dividing Mom’s baubles and costume jewelry.

The weekend was lived as both fairy tale and tragedy. We visited Meg’s and Mom’s ashes, prayed, and hugged. My sister (Meg’s mom) and I got our nails done – toes painted in Meg-like fashion, fingers painted in Mom-like fashion. We attended the ball on Saturday evening with a desire to lean into life and look forward, rather than dwelling on the grief that still lived in our hearts. All the girls wore a piece of Mom’s jewelry.

Life is filled with joy and sadness. We smile and cry, sometimes simultaneously. Our joys get plastered all over Facebook, while the sadness gets hidden in our private journals. That’s human nature- who wants to wallow publicly and bring everyone else down around them?

Don’t let the seemingly perfect Facebook pictures fool you. We all live somewhere between the Fairy Tale and the Tragedy. It’s good to remember this time and time again when we see everyone’s happy posts and photos.

We do well to live authentically, honoring the blessed messiness in our own lives, as well as in the lives of others. Meg’s final Facebook post contained the following quote: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

I offer a blessing for everyone reading this:

May you know that you are not alone;

May you have the strength to lean into your joys amidst your struggles;

May you discover a gentleness to hold the good and bad together;

May you remember that you are loved.



The Invention of Wings: Seeking Freedom

On the eve of the 4th of July, a holiday that celebrates freedom, it seems appropriate to review a book that explores freedom.

Sue Monk Kidd’s Invention of Wings is a stirring, inspirational story centering on the universal human quest for freedom. Set in early nineteenth century Charleston, the historical novel explores the intertwined lives of two girls who challenge the injustices of slavery and oppression.

As the book opens, Hetty (“Handful”) Grimke, a ten-year old slave, recalls her mother’s story about her African ancestors who had wings that helped them fly over trees and clouds. Handful’s mother tells her that one day, Handful will gain her wings and fly to freedom.

Sarah Grimke, a white girl from a prominent, wealthy Charleston family, receives Handful as a gift for her eleventh birthday. Horrified, Sarah attempts to disclaim the gift in front of the family guests at her party. She later vows to help Handful get free.

Over the next 35 years, both girls struggle to find their wings. While Handful’s struggle is obvious and brutal, Sarah’s is one of mind and spirit, as she has a driving desire to be a lawyer, unthinkable and unattainable for a woman at that time.

Historical fiction helps us learn about history as we enter into the real and imagined stories of those who lived before us. I find myself grateful for the courage and sacrifice of those who enabled me, centuries later, to have a voice, obtain a law degree, and follow my dreams. With the Source of Love as our guide, we are invited to continue the work of freedom today, often in less obvious ways.



The Serendipitous Gift

“Love one another; that is where all good things begin.”

-Dede Wilson (Mom)

A stud sensor.  I opened this seemingly random gift on Christmas Eve as part of our traditional gift swap and wondered what the heck it was. No, it’s not a tool to find attractive men! The packaging instructions revealed that it is a tool that one uses to locate support frames behind a wall of a home or building.

The tool sat on a table in the family room for a few days waiting to be moved to the basement workshop. Yet, I kept pausing to look at it; something intrigued me. It dawned on me that the stud sensor is a wonderfully symbolic gift, as I am in search of some stability.

My foundation has been profoundly shaken.  Mom died a week before Christmas and I am struggling to readjust to life without my mother in it.  Our mothers are our original source of life as well as our teachers, listeners, cheerleaders, and companions. They love us in a way that no one else does, and they hold us together in ways we don’t even realize until they aren’t here.

A stud sensor is a serendipitous reminder that there is and has always been a hidden framework holding me together, holding our family together, and holding our world together.

Mom’s life and legacy point the way. Although she’d been sick with Stage 4 cancer for almost two years, she lived, laughed, and loved fully through the end of her life.  Her final words,  “I love you,” were communicated via hand gestures, as she was on a ventilator.  Just before she was wheeled out to the operating room, she pointed to her heart, spelled “L-O-V-E” with her finger into the air, and then pointed to each person in the room, including the orderlies who had arrived to transport her.

“Love one another; that is where all good things begin.” Mom offered this advice in a recent interview, echoing insight from wise people such as Moses, Jesus, and The Buddha. Such good company!

Relationships form and support us. When shaken by loss of any kind, it is vital to remember that love is the foundation for all of life. Although no one can replace a loved one, we will, in time, adjust to a new way of living. Interconnected relationships become reshaped, new ones are built, and we discover support. We love each other through it. Thankfully, help comes from God, from the angels that surround us, and from those who came before us.

Written in gratitude for all those who are providing a supportive foundation by offering their love, care, and prayer.