11 Thoughts on the Fatherless

A special eleven post today on Orphan Sunday. For your consideration….

Our beautiful nieces, Keeli & Ellie, with big sister Alex & big brother David

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…
~James 1:27

At last night’s Show Hope fundraiser, Steven told a story about Stevie Joy. Stevie Joy is a talented gymnast. But one day she told her parents she wasn’t sure she wanted to go back. She was afraid of her new coach. This coach was pushing Stevie Joy and was more assertive than she was used to. She didn’t know what to do with this. So Steven offered to go talk with the coach. He explained Stevie’s fears to her. The coach was wonderful and very understanding.

Next day, when Stevie very reluctantly returned to gymnastics, the coach pulled Stevie aside and talked with her. By the time Steven came to pick her up she was all smiles. She told him she and the coach were now best friends. Then she said, “That’s why little girls have daddies. So they don’t have to be afraid.”

Yes, Stevie Joy. Yes

Our friends, the Green family, Kaleb, Gatlin, Bennett, Cooper, Brian, Kali, & Wendi

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. ~John 14:18

When Danielle Ballantyne was 5 years old, her parents took her to the market. They told her they were going to get some candy and that she should wait for them right there. They never came back. She wandered the streets for some time before being taken by a police officer to an orphanage. She would spend the next 8 years of her life here. She would listen to the jeers and taunts of school mates. She would steal to feed her hungry belly. And she would lock her heart up so that she would never be hurt again.

Then one day Dani came home from school to find a package waiting for her. A large package. Full of candy. And with pictures of a family. A family that was coming to get her. She blushed as she talked of diving into the candy. She had never seen abundance like this. She spoke candidly of the fear she felt in meeting this family. She had forgotten how to trust. She had been hurt so badly. But her parents were patient and kind, and she is learning to open herself more and more to people around her.

Today, 4 years after becoming part of a forever family, Dani is vivacious and strong. She believes God had His hand on her and that He has a purpose for her life. She talked about how she would help care for babies who were sick. Babies the orphanage staff had no time for. Do you know what this young woman wants to do with her life? She wants to go back to China and take care of other children like her. To tell her story. To give them hope. I am in awe of her. She is so brave.

Our godson, Jonah Miller

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! ~I John 3:1

Mike and I have not been called to adopt. But we have had the privilege of helping others financially, either directly or through Show Hope. And we have had the joy of being able to be part of their support team at home with encouragement, meals, etc… Not all of us are called to adopt. But all of us are called to love the fatherless. We ourselves have been chosen. We have not been left fatherless. We must share this with others.

Jovie, Jaydn and Jaxon Gaddis (chilren of our friends Nathan & Bethany) with Kenzie

If you are not sure where to start, may I commend to you the remarkable work of Show Hope. Steven and Mary Beth Chapman began this organization to assist families who had a heart for adoption but lacked the resources. This ministry is run with the utmost integrity and efficiency. And it is literally saving the world. One child at a time.

A final thought. From Andrew Peterson. On what matters. On what lasts.

11 Things That Make Me Laugh

A cheerful disposition is good for your health;
gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.

Proverbs 17:22 (Message)

With that in mind, I offer you eleven things that always, always make me laugh. Feel free to borrow one or two if you like. And be sure to leave a couple of your own.

Bill Cosby Himself  Cosby has a remarkable ability to transform the most ordinary things like parenthood or a trip to the dentist into comedic brilliance. Almost thirty years after its release, this is still relevant; still fresh and funny. And it gets even funnier when my usually calm, collected husband is rolling on the floor, gasping for breath because he is hysterical. 🙂

Taylor Mali, Poet  Mali’s work is intelligent and incisive. And his personal delivery is brilliant. Just be careful. Somewhere in the midst of laughing your face off, you will discover that he is making you think. I encourage you to let him deliver his words to you with his own inflection and emphasis. If you’re not sure where to start, I commend a couple of my favorites: The The Impotence of Proofreading and Totally Like Whatever, You Know? Another favorite, less humorous but profoundly good, is What Teachers Make

Winnie the Pooh  A.A Milne infused his stories with a subtle, elegant wit. I read his stories over and over to my children–the original ones, not the language impoverished Disney reductions–and sometimes had to stop and snicker. This is not knee-slapping hysteria, but a soft gladdening of the heart. A couple of examples:

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best — ” and then he had to stop and think.  Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

“Did you make that song up?”
“Well, I sort of made it up, ” said Pooh, “It isn’t Brain…but it comes to me sometimes.”
“Ah,” said Rabbit, who never let things come to him, but always went & fetched them.

The music of Andy Gullahorn  Like Taylor Mali, Gullahorn wraps a whole lot of truth up in his humor. This is an art. And not all his songs are funny. But they are all good. He is one of our family’s road trip favorites. We sing along, and sometimes laugh out loud. Especially to Green Hills Mall.

The poetry of Shel Silverstein  Whimsical. Clever. Unexpected. Fun. And his childlike drawings are perfectly delightful. Where the Sidewalk Ends is my favorite collection, but all are good.

Candide  You probably know Voltaire was a philosopher whose influence on the French Revolution cannot be overstated. But do you know that he was a most clever satirist? This is a fanciful tale of travel and misadventure. Voltaire puts his own words in the mouth of a naive young man who we come to believe may be more intelligent than most of those around him. I do not hold to Voltaire’s view of the world, but I admire the artistry and good humor with which he articulates it.

Homer Price  You might know Robert McCloskey better for his Caldecott award winning picture books Make Way For Ducklings or Blueberries for Sal, which we also love. But it’s this collection of short stories that kept my boys and me in stitches. Both of them would list it among their favorite books ever. Innocent small town fun involving pet skunks, a doughnut machine run amok, and an award winning ball of string, and much more.

Christmas Vacation  We watch it every Christmas….and sometimes when it’s not Christmas. We know everything that’s going to happen before it happens. And sometimes the laughter precipitates the action. Good, clean, dysfunctional family fun. 🙂

Patsy Clairmont  She has the soul of a poet. She writes words of exquisite beauty, and has a keen ability to see beyond. But, put her on a stage in front of a few thousand women, and she will have you in stitches before you know what hit you. Sample her humorous side with Crafty or Emotions for starters.

Nine Months  I do have an inordinate fondness for Hugh Grant. The good-natured, but bumbling character he plays so well is great fun to watch. But this is an ensemble piece. Robin Williams as the Russian veterinarian/obstetrician and Tom Arnold as the enthusiastic (aka obnoxious) father with the video camera are two other stand-outs. Yes, I do usually end up crying at the end. But only after laughing til my sides hurt.

Rat Race  Frantic. Messy. One misadventure after another. The kind of silly humor I don’t usually go for, but I gladly make an exception here.

*Fifth in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Yes, that absolutely gorgeous baby in the photo is in fact my granddaughter. 😉


11 Albums I’ll Listen to Til I Die

Musical tastes are very fluid. Plenty of artists and songs prove to be flirtations. Fun to know for a while, but ultimately unsatisfying. Cloying in large doses. But there are exceptions…

Every now and then, an artist or an album emerges that is of such fine quality, that touches such an important part of who you are, that you know you have made a friend for life. Rather than becoming tiresome, it becomes more dear with each listen. And you revisit it over and over, threading it into the soundtrack of your years. And when it plays, a whole cinema of images rolls across your mind and you are in a thousand place at once. And nothing is quite so affective at setting the world to rights as these familiar friends. Here are a few of mine:

Beautiful Things Gungor  For its artistry. For its whimsy. And for its reminder that God persistently transforms my folly and my filth into something radiant.

Come Away With Me Norah Jones  Her resonant voice and her restrained, elegant piano sing peace into me. When my soul is restless, this album is very good company.

Downtown Church Patty Griffin I grew up singing most of these songs. The inimitable Ms. Griffin renders them with passion and grace. I’ve listened to it dozens and dozens of times, but I still tear up every time she sings Never Grow Old.

Greatest Hits James Taylor  I have fond memories of a soft summer night on the grass as Starwood with Mr. Taylor. I also remember him all dressed up with the Nashville Symphony and a performance of Steamroller that almost lit me on fire. But mostly, I remember him singing into, and around, and over and under all that has been my life thus far. Playing his music is like coffee with a friend. Comfortable and good.

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb U2  For their superb musicianship. For driving rhythms that have secured them a position on all my running playlists. For lyrics that mean something.

If On a Winter’s Night Sting  I listen to it while washing dishes or folding laundry, and I am transported. I sit before a crackling fire, wrapped in a heavy woolen blanket. Outside the wind howls, swirling the falling snow hither and yon. Inside the tea kettle whistles and someone picks up a guitar. Echoes of Christmas past. Lyrical incense.

O Brother Where Art Thou (Soundtrack) This is the music of my childhood. It is story. It is heartache and hope. As sustaining as biscuits and gravy. And just as satisfying. And I always, always sing along.

The Outsiders NeedToBreathe  A rockabilly good time with wailing vocals and infectious rhythms. Some of the songs are just plain fun. But some of them pierce the heart, helping me find my better self. And I need all the help I can get.

Songs of Joy and Peace Yo Yo Ma and Friends  My favorite cellist teams up with artists like Dave Brubeck, Chris Botti, Diana Krall, and Alison Krauss, among others, for a delicious compilation of carols, meditations, and jigs. Exquisite artistry in an infinitude of incarnations. It makes me happy. Every time.

Unplugged Eric Clapton  Rhythm and Blues by a master of the genre. Clean. Uncluttered. Kinda like having Eric Clapton in your living room. Brilliant!

Why Should the Fire Die Nickel Creek  The harmonies. The flawless instrumental interchanges. The poetry. The consummate storytelling. And a couple of tunes that wreck me. Still. Marvelous.

For the record, this was extremely difficult. My original list, which I already believed to be conservative, had 27 items. Axing the final 4 or 5 made me want to throw up. I’m nothing if not loyal. SO, although I accommodated my 11 item limit, just know my for-real list is much, much longer.

How bout you? Are there albums that you love more and more with each listen? Music that is an integral part of your life?

*Fourth in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Props to Karissa who suggested this topic.

11 Places That Captivate Me

Perhaps it comes of being a farm girl. This susceptibility to…this affinity for…this visceral connection to…place.

It can happen for a variety of reasons. Often the people of a place, or the people with whom you encounter it, are what root it deep in memory. But sometimes the place itself has a mystery, a presence, a beauty that tugs at you; captivating, casting a spell.

Here are eleven places that have held me captive since first I saw them. I have had opportunity to revisit some. But all of them call to me. Like a lost lover. Beckoning. Begging me to return.

Malawi  “The Warm Heart of Africa” It is, perhaps, a geographic term, in part. But for me it will always be a people who love extravagantly. Who know a joy that has little to do with circumstance. Who embrace strangers and take them into their hearts. Here I witnessed some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. I ate toast grilled over an open fire and “showered” under the stars. Here I saw my daughter in her element, loving well, full of joy.

Vernazza  A tiny town on the Italian Riviera that time forgot. No automobile traffic. Gorgeous old buildings snugged into the rocks, clambering over the top of one another for the best view of the Mediterranean. Life moves slowly here. Food is fresh and beautiful and delicious. Tender anchovies straight from the sea. The best pesto I have ever eaten. And Sciacchetra, a warm, rich, amber wine pressed locally from grapes that have been dried first. Lazy afternoons spent sunning on great boulders in the lagoon. Lazy evenings breathing sea breezes and watching the sun paint the sky. My children have been scheming ever since to figure out how we could move there. I do hope they sort it out.

Meteora The most extraordinary place I have ever been. Second largest monastic community in the world…built atop great stone buttes thrusting up out of the earth…nine hundred years ago. Crazy. But there is something very other about this place. The treacherous beauty. The set-apartness. The centuries of worship that have embedded themselves into the stone just like incense has embedded itself into the wood of the church. And you can feel it all around you. A weighty Presence. Wondrous.

Ireland I did not encounter a single locale in the whole of the country that did not have about it an air of magic…of the mystic. This people, this soil, have been so washed in story and song, in poetry and faith, in mystery and imagination, that it fairly throbs with enchantment. We trod the ground of ancient monasteries, stepped inside a 1500 year old church, stood before the glorious Book of Kells, breathed the heady book scent of the Trinity College Library (nirvana), sipped Guinness inside the factory, and gave our hearts to the Dingle Peninsula. My husband and children are connected to this island nation by blood. Mine is strictly an affair of the heart.

Paris  The Louvre, the Musee D’Orsay, L’Orangerie, Sainte Chapelle, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, the boulangeries and patisseries, the Seine, The Eiffel Tower, the beautiful old buildings, the markets… A short train ride out to Monet’s Garden at Giverny or to Versailles. A lifetime would not be long enough to know Paris as I would like to know her. She romances from the moment you meet her. There is a quality of air..a way of being…that I have simply never known anywhere else. When I am with her, I am thoroughly in love with her. And when I am away, I remember her with a flutter in my heart.

Venice Venice in the morning is scrubbed cobblestones, fresh fish markets, ebullient flower boxes overspilling their bounds, and hot frothy cappucino. Venice at mid-day is clatter of church bells, lines of laundry stretched across the canals, vaporettos skimming over the lagoon to see the glass blowers at Murano, and cool salads of squid and baby octopus. Nighttime in Venice….ah, well…nighttime is St. Mark’s Square all aglow with orchestra playing and elegant dinner al fresco on white tablecloths, sinewy black gondolas soundlessly plying the canals to the not infrequent serenade of the gondolier, perusing an endless assortment of Carnevale masks, and falling asleep to the lap of water underneath my window.

Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone is like a great scavenger hunt of the most delicious sort. Around pretty much any bend in the road you can expect to be astounded and delighted by the vistas offered you. Natural wonders abound. Wildlife cavorts or lazes about everywhere. And the skies are so intensely blue they will break your heart. One moment I saw things that made me laugh out loud, next moment something that completely took my breath away. Can’t wait to go back and take my kids.

Salzburg  Salzburg is all marzipan and fondant. Everything is a little prettier than it has to be; the quintessence of Baroque architecture and ornament. Salzburg is Mozart and music, and one is apt to encounter a string quartet tuning up most anywhere. Salzburg is Mirabell Gardens, alpine vistas, and The Sound of Music. And Salzburg, for me, is lingering long with my lovely daughter over exquisite pastries and frothy cappuccino at the cafe that once served Herr Mozart himself.

Istanbul Exotic. Colorful. Ancient. Surprisingly cosmopolitan. Of course, it once was the crossroads of the world Even now, one can walk from Asia to Europe, simply by crossing a bridge. So much that matters happened here. Religiously. Politically. My heart pounds as I cross the threshold into the glorious Hagia Sophia. How many thousands of my brothers and sisters in the faith crossed this threshold before me?  Here is a startling collision of the old world and the new. I can use city wide wifi while shopping in the ancient spice bazaar. Construction workers sip Turkish tea from elegant glasses while perched atop their bulldozers. It is paradox. It is chaos. It is wonderful.

East Tennessee When I was a little girl, I dreamed of leaving. Not the mountains, really. But the tiny town where I grew up. It is more precious to me now than it ever was then. I will probably never move back, but I take great delight in standing on the soil that gave me roots. So much of me is woven into that place, even though I have been gone for 25 years. And something of those mountains, the creeks, the country roads, the farms and the people who love them, is part of me still. And when I am there, I can feel it relax a little. And be glad.

Franklin Home. It is, I suppose, an idea as much as it is a place. But here is where my babies learned to crawl. Here we brought them before the Lord and thanked Him for them. Our playground is here. Our park. Our favorite restaurants and pubs. An amble down Main Street always means bumping into friends. It is difficult to imagine a better place to be a family. And as much as we love to travel, it is always, ALWAYS good to come home.

Is there a pace that has stolen your heart? When you daydream, where are you?

*Third in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Photo credit for the haunting nighttime photo of Venice goes to my daughter. It was taken from the balcony of our apartment. If you look closely, you can see our clothesline in the upper foreground. Yes, I did hang our wash from this line. When in Venice… 😉

11 People Who Have Made Me Me

Our utter dependence on others is so obvious and so complete that it is as invisible as oxygen and just as necessary…. Know whom you owe. Know that you owe. You’re fooling yourself if you think you made it or will ever make it on your own. ~Hugh Hewitt

My Mom I know this is a little like giving the answer “God” for any question at church. However, this is so very true that I am willing to risk allegations of sentimentality. It was my mom who sat at the piano day after day and birthed in me the dream of one day making music myself. My mom read me stories, despite my maddening tendency to ask for the same story over and over and over…  She filled my world with flowers and nourished my love for beauty before any of us even knew it was there. So very much of what is best in my life I knew first because of her.

Mrs. Lois Freels was my third grade teacher. She talked to my parents about the possibility of moving me ahead one grade in school. They elected not to, which I regretted at the time, but am glad of now. But something about her confidence in me helped me to see myself differently. As someone special. Someone smart. For a little girl…already way too tall…awkward…floundering for identity…this was an unspeakable gift!

Darryl Burgess created quite a ruckus in my little back woods Baptist church with his long hair, but he built into the lives of our little band of teenagers. He gave me my first opportunity to play in a real band. He taught us how to be part of an ensemble…what it means to compliment one another. To trade off lead and rhythm. How to be better together. Baby steps. But critical ones for the path that lay ahead of me.

Harry Fritts is a character. A most memorable personage. One of only a few teachers my parents and I had in common across generations. While Darryl was teaching me to play in a band, Mr. Fritts opened to me a different musical world. One of precision and restraint. Of elegant and exquisite harmonies. Of polish and control. This too prepared me for a future I did not even know was coming at the time.

My Husband I know, another sentimental choice. But it’s not always true. In my case, it is. Mike loves me all the time no matter what. And sometimes I have made that very hard for him. He has created a safe place for me to become. He has provided for our family so that I could raise our children, and read wonderful books, and pursue topics and endeavors that have made me richer. I could not be me if there had not been him.

Dr. Nancy Boone I loved…and feared. She was my most influential college professor, and eventually my friend. She frequently put me in situations I didn’t think I could handle. Because she believed in me. Because she saw more in me than I saw in myself. I grew exponentially under her tutelage because she stretched and pushed me. I am forever in her debt.

My Children Being a mom has taught me more about love than anything else I have ever experienced. Here I learn what it looks like to do the hard thing, the unpopular thing, when it is best. Here I come to understand what it means to be willing to give your life away for another. And here, also, is joy. Joy unspeakable. Joy over discoveries, and achievements, and triumphs. Joy when hard things have been survived and lessons learned, and grace poured out. Joy in watching God mix the same gene pool with such extravagantly diverse result. Joy in those moments and experiences that bind us together. Always.

Rhonda Kemp has been conduit to many of the very best things in my life. She was my homeschooling mentor. She opened to me a world of beautiful books, unit studies, and field trips. Ever the great matchmaker, she has introduced me to countless people who have made my life richer and more interesting. Perhaps most notably, she provided my entroit to the remarkable Tuesday Bible study that has, in many ways, saved my life. And now, we walk life as friends. Ever weaving in and out of one another’s stories.

My Bandmates at The Peoples Church Yeah, I know bundling is cheating. But hey, it’s my list. These men and women were a pivotal part of my life for a season. They provoked me, both musically and spiritually. We grieved with and interceded for one another when things were hard. And we celebrated riotously when good things happened. We shared crack of dawn rehearsals and Christmas Eve services that ran into the night. We made some amazing music. We worshiped with our hands and our voices and our hearts. And it was good.

You know who you are. Thank you. You are ever in my heart.

Kari, Jen and Jen  These three young women and I have lived life very closely for the past 5 years. We have something of a mutual mentoring society. We read books together. But mostly we live life together. And when one of us is weak, the others are strong for her and stand in the gap, and pray, and remind her who she is. And when one of us wants to take the easy way out and do something cowardly and destructive, the others bar the door and refuse to let her quit. I am ashamed to say how often that someone has been me. But the giving and the receiving are all grace, all gift. And who we are together is far better than who we are alone.

Gail Hyatt  A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. ~Sirach 6:14 A friend who has the grace to forgive much, the courage to speak difficult truths, the vision to see in us what we cannot see in ourselves, such a friend is indeed a treasure. Such is Gail  to me. She has given me courage when mine was lacking. She has called forth from me that which I did not believe was in me. She is remarkably wise. She has been God’s provision for me in ways I am incapable of speaking. For such a time as this, to be sure. Hopefully until we are both of us old and toothless. 🙂


Your turn. Who has helped knit the fabric of who you are together? Tell us here. Better yet, tell them. Our lives really do matter more than we know. It is good to be reminded of that, sometimes.


*Second in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Special thanks to Chelsea and Bryan who inspired this post (with slight adaptation).

***Finally, my list, as you might have perceived, is in strictly chronological order based on our first meeting.

11 Films to See More Than Once

I am not an acquirer of movies. As a general rule. I tend to prefer to see them once…at the theater, or as a rental…and then have done with them. But occasionally I encounter a film that merits revisiting. Chewing. Contemplating. Or perhaps it simply is so nourishing it should be eaten at regular intervals. In any event, here are eleven films I have chosen to buy. And to revisit.  Again and again.

Amelie  On the most ordinary day, this film can sweep me away to some place other. And my heart is filled with a delirious joy that I don’t even know how to explain. It is an artsy, quirky, eccentric sort of picture. Of a woman unusually aware. Who sets out to better the lives of those around her, surreptitiously. And I am overcome by the power of one. One person who sees. Audrey Tautou is lovely, and the film is beautiful in the extreme.

Casablanca  Love is complex. Not always as it seems. And sometimes the most ordinary person is a hero in disguise. Just when you think you have a story figured out, it is likely to take a most unexpected turn. And if you have the great good fortune to watch all this play out in intrigue filled French North Africa, with Humphrey Bogart as your leading man and Ingrid Bergman as the woman who stole his heart, well, you are most fortunate indeed. Every time I hope it will end differently. And every time I know the ending is just right as it is. “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Chocolat  This one I love, not for the complex story (there is none), but for its remarkable facility for reaching that most sensual place in each of us. For helping us remember the pleasure to be found in the simplest things. For teaching us that a life lived in anger and suspicion shrinks us, while a life lived with arms open makes more of us than we could imagine. This one I take for nourishment. It fans that part of me that drinks in life as sacrament, as gift, as joy.

Crash  The first time I ever watched it, I couldn’t finish it. It almost made me sick. So why come back to it? Why own it? Why? Because it is important. Important does not necessarily mean easy. It still makes me sick. I need to be sick about this. Dostoevsky-like characters who are never entirely good or entirely evil try to find their way in the world….learning who they are by remembering who they are not. Oh God, how despicably we have marred Your plan! How we love to hate! How we define ourselves by our hatred! Lord have mercy. Have mercy on us all. Set the world right. Your Kingdom come.

Hero  Visually ravishing. A story told in different voices. And each voice tells his or her story in a different color. And sometimes the beauty is so exquisite that it is painful. Blessed pain. My heart hurts. But there is something so lovely and so deeply true that I can’t not watch it again. And again…

Magnolia  Only a master storyteller can weave so many stories in and out of one another and manage to keep the viewer engaged…yay, verily, enthralled. And on each subsequent viewing, layers emerge. Subtle nuances that were not visible the first time. Complex characters that only give a bit of themselves at once. And the weather helps tell the story. And the weather is all wrong. And crazy and bizarre. And I don’t even mind. Somehow it fits. And perhaps that is the most startling thing of all.

Memoirs of a Geisha  “The very word “geisha” means artist and to be a geisha is to be judged as a moving work of art.” I am thoroughly captivated by these women who endure unbelievable hardships, and yet manage to transform themselves into moving, breathing works of art. It is a concept that has completely fascinated me since I heard this line for the first time. This is one of the few occasions…perhaps the only…where I saw a movie that compelled me to read a book. Usually it’s the other way round. Difficult. Tragic. But outrageously gorgeous.

Memento  There is too much profanity. And the violence, though judicious, is cruel. But this is one of the most brilliant films I have ever seen. The main character is trying to track down the man who raped and murdered his wife. But he has lost his ability to make short term memories. In a stroke of movie making genius, Christopher Nolan tells us the story in reverse, in ten minute segments, so that we may share the discombobulation of our protagonist. And just when you think you know who the good guys are…look out! Ironic. Troubling. Provocative. Enthralling.

The Notebook  Sentimental, yes. Sappy sweet, perhaps. But this is a story of loving long. Of loving when love costs everything. When everyone else says you have loved enough. And that is a story that means a great deal to me. Perhaps more than most. No apologies here. I have it. I love it. That’s that.

O Brother Where Art Thou  SO many reasons I love this film!! The rural south as portrayed in this film is very like the world I grew up in. (When one lives in a small town, it is almost as if time stands still. Though the film is set 3 full decades before my birth, much of this world is recognizable to me.) The music is my music. I even used to go sing at a little radio station like the one on the side of the road where the “Soggy Bottom Boys” make their debut. The story is The Odyssey, recast. (For about the hundredth time). I am just nerdy enough to LOVE this. I notice new parallels every time I watch it. But mostly, it makes me laugh. It makes our whole family laugh. And we recite lines to one another about being “loved up”, and about how “we thought you wuz a toad.” And I’m still on the lookout for some Dapper Dan hair pomade. Let me know if you find any. 🙂

The Tree of Life  This film is very like a poem. It is pleasing, seductive even, upon the first viewing. Yet it hides a good bit of its truth, hinting enough that you know you will come back to dig deeper. It is a truth that is not flung at you. Predigested. Sorted into compartments. It must be wrung out of you. I will submit to its wringing. I will breathe the words. I will watch the earth writhing and foaming and forming. And I will stand in awe. I will attempt to make sense of the story. And I will give truth a place to grow in me. A bit at a time.

Which are the films you go back to over and over again?

*First in a series of eleven posts of elevens; one for each of the first eleven days of the eleventh month of 2011.

**Special thanks to Karissa for suggesting this first “11” topic.

Eleven Elevens: the Concept

I am not mathy. Numbers are not my friends. Usually. But even I could not overlook the rather unusual occurrence coming up just two weeks from today. For the only time this century, the date will read 11.11.11. That’s wicked awesome! In my humble, non-mathematical opinion.

To commemorate this most auspicious occasion, I am writing eleven posts, beginning November 1st. In keeping with the theme, each will be a list of eleven….somethings. Eleven secrets to powerful procrastination, perhaps. Eleven places that have stolen my heart. Eleven great recipes for brussels sprouts. You get the picture.

Here’s where I could use your help. I have several list ideas already. But, as you can see from the whole brussels sprouts thing, not all of them are very good. Shoot me some suggestions. Sublime or ridiculous, all will be considered.

God bless you for your kindness.

May your tribe increase.

Elevenfold. 😉

The Way

It is the last place he ever expected to find himself. He comes to St. Jean Pied de Port to claim the dead body of his only son. A son he hardly knew. Who refused to fit his mold. Who left his doctoral program in anthropology to travel the world and live among the people who were just faces in a book.

How many times had Daniel begged him to join him? To be part of his world?

It had seemed so reckless. So irresponsible.

He sifts through Daniel’s belongings. Bits and pieces of a life. Photographs from far flung places. Of a young man fully alive. A young man worth knowing.

Tom decides he will accompany Daniel on his final journey.  The one he had only just begun. A pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He will carry Daniel’s ashes, leaving them all along the way.

“I’m doing it for Daniel,” he says to the gendarme.

“You do not walk the Camino for another,” he replies. “You walk it for yourself.”

It will ask more of him than he can imagine. He will come to know his son. He will come to know himself. He will not be alone in this. There will be a motley assemblage of comrades. Who find one another. Who need one another. More than any of them realize.

Yorick “from Amsterdam” is here to lose weight for a wedding. This, despite the fact that he seems to know the culinary specialty of every region through which they pass, and insists upon sampling it. But there is another hunger in Yorick. A sorrow. One that can only be shared with those who have walked long and lived deep with one another.

Deborah is bitter, belligerent, and guarded. She walks the Way to stop smoking. She says. But she too is fleeing dark demons. She has forgotten how to trust, to be safe with others…how to forgive…how to forgive herself.

Irish writer, James, is brash and loud. He has some serious problems with the Church, who has been the cause of much bloodshed in his homeland. He has writer’s block. He is here to find a story. The story will find him.

The Way is an artfully made film from Emilio Estevez. The story is compelling and rich, with characters who get inside your heart. The cinematography is stunning. And the invitation…to slow down, to breathe deep, to open ourselves to God and to others…is for all of us.

I implore you to see the film. It will be gift to you. You will laugh. You will cry. You might dare to dream big dreams. And with your ticket, you will cast a vote for the beautiful and the true.

Buen Camino!

To the Field of Stars

…if you have no interest in adventures of the spirit, or if you have no desire to ramble on foot across a fair piece of this earth’s lovely skin, then the story I am about to tell you will not matter to you. If, on the other hand, the very thought of seeing stars dance piques your curiosity at some deep level of your soul, then pay attention to what follows….

Thin places, they have been called. Geographic points on the earth where the space between God and man lessens, and the Presence is a breathable, touchable reality. Often these bear some connection to a holy person or persons who lived there once, or whose bones lie there still.

And so, the pilgrimage. One walks across one’s threshold and keeps walking…for weeks, even months…until he comes to the sacred place. Here he prays. But not here only. For every step along the way becomes prayer. And the journey is a shaping of the soul. A readying for the Presence. And perhaps, if there were no journey, the Presence would be indiscernible. It is the journey, the trouble and pain, the giving of oneself to others along the way, that prepares the soul to pray. To receive. Without demand. With only gladness. And humility. And joy.

In July 2003, Father Kevin Codd begins his own pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. He tells the story of this journey artfully and vulnerably in To the Field of Stars. I am captivated from the first page. And I sob my way through the last couple of chapters, feeling almost as though I, myself, am entering Compostela with these dear friends who have loved well and shared so much of themselves along the way.

I leave you to discover the story of Compostela, the third most traversed pilgrimage in all Christendom (after only Jerusalem and Rome). Herein I propose, instead, to give you a taste of this marvelous story and why you want to read it. My choices are strictly subjective.

Of the commencement of a pilgrimage: The author confesses the motivation only reveals itself clearly along the way. However, most begin as a longing for something other. Something transcendent and bigger. Something that matters.

We want to see there one little sign that there is more to us than just us…We want to see there an extravagant God who does not count or measure but just pours and pours and pours, grace upon grace, stars upon stars, into our sky, into us.

Of walking as prayer and the earth as sanctuary: Father Codd begins the day with morning prayers. The rhythm of the prayer becomes the rhythm of his feet and he finds that walking becomes prayer. And the slowness, the earthiness of feet against soil makes him a citizen of earth, keenly aware of its mysteries. And God is there.

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit. Bidden or unbidden, God is present…

The heat of the morning makes the pitch in those pine trees give off a strong scent; this is the stuff of which incense is made. I inhale its aroma and remember as I did the day before that out here, too, I am in church.

Of his journey with the Church: Not the least of Father Codd’s wrestlings along the way have to do with the Church. He answers the questions of intelligent young people who feel the Church has lost touch with them. He winces at liturgies perfunctorily performed in some of the tiny towns through which they pass. He also sits in the sweet coolness of a Romanesque chapel and contemplates the Savior. He meets hospitality poured out in Jesus’ name. He watches an old priest drop his briefcase to dance with young people around the zero kilometer marker in Compostela. He sees the Bride of Christ as she is…

…grace made flesh, but flesh it still is: soft and hard, young and old, new and worn, all at the same time. It is so close to God, yet so far from God, yet so close to God.

To the Field of Stars is a pilgrim story, told honestly, with humble grace and great good humor, and a fair measure of poetry. It is laughter. And silence. It is community. And solitude. It is invocation. Contemplation. And invitation….to a life that is…more.


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves,
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us;
it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

~Marianne Williamson

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