Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me

Home is not just a place; it’s a knowing in the soul, a vague premonition of a far-off country that we know exists but haven’t seen yet. Home is where we start and, whether we like it or not, our life is a race against time to come to terms with what it was or wasn’t.

Here begins one of the most riveting stories I have read in a long time. In fact, I read it twice. Ian Morgan Cron is a marvelous storyteller. He could weave the most mundane happening into an engaging narrative. But as it turns out, his life has been anything but mundane.

It seems too fantastic to be real. Movie stars, heads of state, life among the social elite and privileged, mysterious silences and questions that were not permitted, and the terrifying uncertainty of life with an alcoholic father. Cron whisked me into this world so unlike my own, and I found myself identifying with his longings, his hurts and needs, and his fugitive moments of transcendence.

Wounds formed early in our tender hearts by fathers who are absent to us send out tendrils that wrap themselves around everything that follows in life. Nothing is untainted. Unspoiled. Most of us can relate at some level. Questions about our worth. Am I loved? Do I deserve to be loved?

A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world. He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognize the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death, how to know what love requires, and where to find steel in the heart when life makes demands on us that are greater than we think we can endure.

Ian’s life is laced with luminous moments. Eucharist. A sacred encounter with a young fawn in the wild. Even a university professor whose reveries over certain pieces of literature are “better than church.”

I never told anyone how fascinated I was by the Eucharist…the harmonic frequency that rings at the center of the heart of God made something vibrate in mine while all this was going on…He placed the Host on my tongue…and I fell into God.

He says that with his First Communion a tether was tied around his waist. Although he would test it sorely, it would never let him be completely lost. After years of being angry at a God who he had once loved purely, but who had done nothing to mitigate the tragic circumstances of his life, he finds himself back at the communion table again. And a lifetime of radiant moments are woven together into a glorious crescendo that leaves me sobbing.

I didn’t want to parse God–I wanted to be swept up in His glory. I didn’t want to understand the Holy One; I wanted to be consumed in his oceanic love.

The road from here will not be easy. So many broken places need healing. Cron is vulnerable and honest about just how much this costs.

My favorite chapter in the whole book is the next to last where he talks about his children. I have had the joy of meeting Cailey, Maddie, and Aidan, and they are wonderful. I have seen their father ruffle their hair and hug them long. I have seen the easy laughter and camaraderie between Anne, Ian, and their children. I had no idea how miraculous that was.

How can I give something to a son that I myself never received? I want my son to know how to be in the world; how to love himself; how not to settle for too little; how to walk with God with humility, compassion, and an inclusive heart; how to never hide his true self because he’s afraid.

In one magical story we see this coming into being. We learn the difference between falling and jumping. And we see the astonishing sweep of redemption…just how far it can go. I must confess, this chapter had me laughing hysterically. Just wait til you read it. You’ll see. 🙂 But as Ian poured his heart for his son onto the page and I saw a whole family who is FOR one another, I was undone. The beauty of what God has wrought is astonishing. Astonishing!

You probably already know Ian from his novel, Chasing Francis: a Pilgrim’s Tale. Official release date for Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts is June 7th. But you can get it now from Amazon. I cannot recommend it highly enough. An engaging story. Artful articulation. A miracle of healing and restoration.

Knowing When…to Say When


Did Not Finish

Three letters…three words…that make the stomach of any endurance athlete hurt.

I am told it is a character builder. I am told that anyone who attempts the improbable should expect a DNF at some point. Inevitable, they say………

When I began running, I couldn’t get my head around the idea of a half-marathon, much less a marathon. There was no hook to hang it on. No point of reference. I could as easily imagine flying to the moon. But, as I began piling mile upon mile, 13.1 suddenly seemed less… impossible.

Attempting outlandish things teaches one a great deal about life. It teaches you that when you think you have nothing left, there may be a strength inside you you have never yet found. It teaches you that the most overwhelming task can be taken on one mile, or one minute, at a time. And, it gives you the opportunity to feel the smile of God. To look at your feet in wonder as they keep on moving, even after you have gone further than you have ever gone before.

Not surprising that some of us become addicted.

Four half marathons, including one straight up Pikes Peak. Five full marathons. And now, the ultra. It seems like the logical next step. A new challenge.

So I choose an ultra that will give me time. A 50 miler that allows me 24 hours, in the glorious Grand Tetons. Even with altitude and 10,000 feet in vertical gain, 24 hours is a long time. Except, that this year they make changes. This year, there will be no 100 miler which means that they can’t be so liberal about time limits. Twenty-four hours becomes sixteen (or seventeen–the jury is still out on that). And suddenly I know that a 50 miler will be an inevitable DNF.

I could own the DNF right up front; sign up for the 50 miler knowing I won’t finish and just go as far as I can. I think about this for a long time. Finally, though, I decide a 50k with altitude and several thousand feet of vertical gain just might be challenge enough for now.

In the beginning it feels cowardly. Like giving up. I am embarrassed to tell anyone. But, as the days go by, I come to revel in it. I will have more time with my family this summer. I will have enough juice left to join my son in his first running event, The Franklin Classic, two days later. And, I will have time to inhale the vistas, take photographs, and drink deeply of the experience. It is the right choice for now.

And if, in the end, I still come away with a DNF, I will trust God to use it to grow me.

Grand Teton 5ok. September 3rd, 2011. Training has begun….

Few of us know what we are capable of doing…we have never pushed ourselves hard enough to find out.

~Alfred A. Montapert

Only He Who Sees…

Truth, so far, in my book;–the truth which draws
Through all things upwards; that a twofold world
Must go to a perfect cosmos.  Natural things
And spiritual
,–who separates those two
In art, in morals, or the social drift,
Tears up the bond of nature and brings death,
Paints futile pictures, writes unreal verse,
Leads vulgar days, deals ignorantly with men,
Is wrong, in short, at all points.  We divide
This apple of life, and cut it through the pips,–
The perfect round which fitted Venus’ hand
Has perished utterly as if we ate
Both halves.  Without the spiritual, observe,
The natural’s impossible;–no form,
No motion!  Without sensuous, spiritual
Is inappreciable;–no beauty or power!

And in this twofold sphere the twofold man
(And still the artist is intensely a man)
Holds firmly by the natural, to reach
The spiritual beyond it,–fixes still
The type with mortal vision, to pierce through,
With eyes immortal
, to the antetype
Some call the ideal,–better called the real,
And certain to be called so presently,
When things shall have their names.  Look long enough
On any peasant’s face here, coarse and lined.
You’ll catch Antinous somewhere in that clay,
As perfect-featured as he yearns at Rome
From marble pale with beauty; then persist,
And, if your apprehension’s competent,
You’ll find some fairer angel at his back,
As much exceeding him, as he the boor,
And pushing him with empyreal disdain
For ever out of sight.  Ay, Carrington
Is glad of such a creed! an artist must,
Who paints a tree, a leaf, a common stone
With just his hand, and finds it suddenly
A-piece with and conterminous to his soul.
Why else do these things move him, leaf or stone?
The bird’s not moved, that pecks at a spring-shoot;
Nor yet the horse, before a quarry, a-graze:
But man, the two-fold creature, apprehends
The two-fold manner, in and outwardly,
And nothing in the world comes single to him.
A mere itself,–cup, column, or candlestick,
All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
The whole temporal show related royally,
And build up to eterne significance
Through the open arms of God.  ‘There’s nothing great
Nor small,’ has said a poet of our day,
(Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eve
And not be thrown out by the matin’s bell)
And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct.  Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sonnet 86 from “Aurora Leigh”

Making Friends With the e-book

I LOVE the smell of books. Put me in The Bodleian, Blackwells, or the most common book seller’s, and the first thing I will do is breathe a long, heady draught of book scent. Then I will run my fingers over the bindings. Especially the leather. I am mad about leather bindings. Finally, reverently, I will tenderly explore the surface of the pages. Nubby cloth, hearty and strong. Fresh, new paper, cold, slick. I have a peculiar affinity for pages with torn edges.

The experience of reading a book is often far more than words or story. Which is why something inside me rebelled against the very idea of an e-book. But, I have to tell you, I am becoming a fan. Mostly, because I have been able to vastly expand my library for a fraction of the cost. Old books, the ones I love best, are often free. Even current authors, like Steven Pressfield, Tim Sanders, and Seth Godin have offered their new books for free for a limited time. And I have immediate access. No driving to the library or the bookstore. No waiting for the postman. No shipping costs.

I worried I wouldn’t be able to interact with my books. But this has not been the case. I can highlight and write notes and fold down pages just like I normally would. And with a click I can pull up all my highlighted passages. Some books also allow me to obtain definitions for words or translations for foreign terms. And even if this is not a built in feature, my dictionary is only a click away.

Here is the part that might surprise you, I have obtained all these benefits without ever buying an e-reader. I downloaded a FREE Kindle app to my computer and to my iPhone. AND they talk to each other! So, if I read the first seven chapters of The Count of Monte Cristo before bed on my computer, then decide to knock out another chapter the next day on my phone while waiting for an appointment, my phone will ask me if I would like to jump ahead to the farthest place read. I am sure this is also true if you have an e-reader.

I remain a sucker for first editions. For tomes old enough to have a story. Scribbles, a bookmark, from another place, another time. But I have made a place in my heart, and in my library, for books that sail to me across years and across wires and air, to arrive inside an electronic device.

Incidentally, if you miss the scent of a “real” book, you might be interested in this curious product I happened upon recently: Smell of Books: An Aerosol e-book Enhancer 😉

What is your personal experience with the e-book?

Stone Soup

Provisions were so scarce in the little village following the war that everyone horded what meager supply he had. When one day a tired, haggard soldier wandered into town, he was advised to move on.

“We have nothing to share with you here.”

“Oh, that’s quite alright,” he answered. “I was just about to make stone soup to share with you.”

And with that, he removed a smooth stone from a velvet bag. He dropped it into a large pot which he filled with water and set over a fire. As the soup began to heat, he carefully tasted the broth and made signs of great satisfaction. The curious villagers gathered round him.

“You know what is even better than stone soup?” he asked. “Stone soup with cabbage. Now that’s a real treat.”

An old man stepped out of the circle and returned in a few moments with a cabbage from his carefully guarded stores.

“Now that we have the cabbage, I do wish there was a bit of salt pork. Salt pork does a great deal to flavor the broth.”

The butcher suddenly remembered that he had a scrap of salt pork in his shop. Soon, to this was added carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs. When all was done, the soldier ladled the warm, fragrant soup into bowls and everyone ate his fill.

I loved this story as a child. It seemed to me a most wonderful trick to play on the unsuspecting villagers. The “magic” stone held no magic at all.

Or did it?

An intriguing convergence of events today made me think of the story.

Mike shared with me the curious account of how W* built a deck. He and a friend, equally unskilled in the carpentry arts, made a show of beginning. Perplexed. Confused. A neighbor, seeing their difficulty, brought his considerable expertise to the project. Before long, several carpenters had gathered to contribute to what turned out to be a splendid construction.

Stone soup.

He shared this while I was reading Steven Pressfield’s new book, Do The Work. I was in the middle of the section titled Start Before You’re Ready. Provocative. Disturbing. Convicting. Inviting? Terrifying. Starting is ALWAYS the hardest part for me. Perhaps not only for me.

“Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms.” ~SP

There is a terror in not being able to see where you are going. But I know, from experience that once I can get past the first few words, the path begins to illumine itself. Just like the invisible bridge that conveys Indiana Jones across a chasm in The Last Crusade. Just like the path that opens for the Israelites along the bottom of the Jordan River AFTER the priests plop their toes into the water. Those bloody, chaotic, frantic, terrifying first steps unleash something bigger than you or me.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way…”

~W. H Murray

Stone soup.

Thank you, Steven Pressfield, for again giving me a much needed kick in the pants!

Dear reader, if you have ever had a dream, of any sort, I beg you to read BOTH Steven Pressfield’s the WAR of ART and Do the Work. The latter is available as a free Kindle download through May 20th. Simply click the title.

What dream terrifies you so much that you know you MUST follow it? What are you waiting for?

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

*Though my friend, W, will read this story with great good humor, I elect to preserve his anonymity. 🙂

To Every Thing There Is a Season

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…
~Ecclesiastes 3:1

It is a tradition peculiar, perhaps, to Appalachia or to the south to wear a red corsage on Mother’s Day if your mother is living, white if she is not. My mother has always worn red. I find myself wondering this morning if she will pin a white flower to her dress. If it will make her cry. It will be her first Mother’s Day without her mother.

This morning my daughter will awaken to a summons from her baby girl. She will nourish her with food from her body. She will gaze into her eyes, stroke her skin, and speak tender words of love. And she will text me another picture. I hope. It is my daughter’s first Mother’s Day as a mommy.

To every thing there is a season…

I linger in the threshold of this day. And my heart is filled with gratitude for the gift of knowing each of these lovely women. My life has been shaped…is being shaped…by each of them.

I remember Sunday lunches at my Grandma Nelson‘s. The table fairly groaned under the burden of more food than we could ever eat. Legendary chicken and dumplings, macaroni and cheese for the kids, the produce of her ample garden, and an assortment of homemade desserts laid out on the freezer for our delight. She spoke frankly. She loved generously. And she poured herself into those she loved. A part of her lives on in each of us.

How do I say thank you to my mom for the gift of story? For selling World Book and Childcraft so we could have our own set. For fairytales, and poems, Brer Rabbit, Jack Tales…. And for music. She it was who awakened my love for the piano and gave me my first lessons. For flowers. Who knew, when I used to tease her about all the time she spent fussing over her flowers, that she was fanning a flame in me…a passion for the beautiful that would lead me into a garden of my own? For loving my children well. For endeavoring to know them. For letting them be who they are. For SO. Much. More…

To my lovely daughter who has taught me more about forgiveness and about loving extravagantly than anyone I know, I am deeply indebted. She has given me the gift of laughter. She has given me new eyes with which to see the world…to see the unseen. She has been to me a mirror that helps me to know myself better. And she has made me want to be better. For her.

And now, into this company of women is born my little granddaughter. Already she is making her presence known. She is opening up parts of my daughter I have never seen. She is teaching me how to love without possessing. And she is making my heart beat quickly for the new that lies ahead of all of us. What beautiful story will she tell with her life? I can hardly wait to find out. She inherits a grand legacy.

To all the mothers and daughters who will read this today, thank you for the sweet essence of femininity that you breathe into your world. Thank you for loving and serving, often silent and unseen. We are all of us better for you.

Perception’s Voluptuous Stretch

For moderns–for us–there is something illicit, it seems, about wasted time, the empty hours of contemplation when a thought unfurls, figures of speech budding and blossoming, articulation drifting like spent petals onto the dark table we all once gathered around to talk and talk, letting time get the better of us. Just taking our time, as we say. That is, letting time take us…Gone the birthright of the uninterrupted gaze. Gone, perception’s voluptuous stretch….

~Patricia Hampl, Blue Arabesque

It feels like economy to me. Efficiency. Listening to a podcast while I wash dishes. Audio books on my run. Knocking out necessary phone calls as I drive. Answering emails over lunch. But I wonder…

I wonder if in my efficiency I am not plowing over luminous moments. If the constant noise drowns out quiet whispers of truth. If my thoughts sometimes seem so fragmented and fruitless because I have not given them empty hours in which to unfurl.

I am trying a new tack. Sometimes leaving the ipod at home when I run. Sometimes washing dishes or pulling weeds in silence. Giving myself the luxury of time…for prayer (mostly the listening kind), for thoughts (long, slow, uninterrupted). And I am reminding myself to be fully present wherever I am, and to whomever I am with. I wonder if this is not, in the end, a much better way of redeeming time.

What do you think?

Who is John Galt?

Who is John Galt?

It is the opening line of the book. An enigma. A conundrum. A plea? A brilliant bit of storytelling, to be sure. If one is asking a reader to make a 1200 page commitment to a novel, one must seduce them right up front. Ayn Rand certainly knew how to do that.

Today, “Who is John Galt?” has become a password of sorts to those who know her work. It has also become a rallying point amidst fears that we might be slowly creeping toward the type of socialist, entitlement, incentiveless society that horrified her.

You now have a chance to taste a bit of her work. A film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged is currently in theaters in limited release. While it is impossible to bring the subtleties of the novel to the screen-the luscious character development, the complex meanderings of plot, the layers of philosophical wrangling-I believe the film remains true to the essence of her magnum opus.

While some of the casting decisions are less than stellar, I think Dagny Taggart is spot on. Elegant. Pretty…enough. Fiercely determined. Cool. Collected. With passion reigned in always just below the surface, but thrumming loud enough that those around her are properly intimidated. I love the look in Hank’s eyes when he speaks of Reardon Metal. Pride, wonder, love…all in one delirious jumble. I love the dinner scene with Ellis Wyatt when three people who are living life full throttle share ideas and unrestrained laughter over food and wine.

Hired personally by Cecil B Demille for her first job in the movie industry, it would be interesting to know what Rand herself would think of the film. She had studied at the State Institute for Cinema Arts, and her first successes in America came as a screenwriter.

I will be eager to see how film-makers play out the rest of the story. But, more than that, I find myself longing to plunge back into the novel again. To watch Rand bring these characters to life under my eyes. To feel the anxiety and terror and confusion of a world losing its most brilliant minds. To remember how easy it is to delude ourselves into believing almost anything if the words are just right. To get inside the mind of someone who sees the world with clarity and vision and dares to dream of what might be.

Who IS John Galt? It is a question that matters more than you know. Especially today. I invite you to find out.

Theme and Variations…

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only Luve,
And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it ware ten thousand mile.

~Robert Burns

I sometimes wonder who that first poet was who, compelled by heart pangs of delicious agony, rested upon the rose as symbol. Symbol for the inscrutable, the mystical, the delirium and fascination…of love. Fragile, complex, fragrant, sweet, dangerous; roses have an ineffable quality that makes them seem like spill-over from a world beyond.

Mine have held me spellbound all week. Joshua and I have cut arm-fulls to bring inside. I can’t walk across the porch without stopping to inhale their scent. I have taken dozens of photographs. The delicate, almost translucent petals, when seen against the sunlight display whole prisms of color. The intensity of their beauty is so precise, so sharp, it pains me. Glorious pain! I can’t stop looking at them.

As I find myself carving moments out of my day to simply sit and ponder them…completely captivated by their extraordinary loveliness…my heart beats with that poet. The one who, completely at a loss for words, said to himself, “I will lead them into the rose garden. I will show them this. Then they will know…”

*Unlike Robert Burns’ Scotland, here in the southern U.S. our “newly sprung” roses enjoy their first flush in May, not June. All roses in the post are David Austin English Roses, a delightful combination of old rose form and fragrance with hardiness and liberal re-bloom.  Of the seven varieties I grow, five are featured. Top of the post: L.D. Braithwaite, Numbers 2 and 7: Mary Magdalene, 3, 5 and 8: Lillian Austin, 4: Mortimer Sackler, 5: Othello

Sugar and Spice

Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord. ~Psalm 127:3

Aren’t they just about the most beautiful girls you have EVER seen? To be fair, it’s been two weeks since my daughter gave birth and this is only the second post about my granddaughter. I believe I have shown admirable restraint. But she is just so gorgeous. I felt I would be doing you a disservice by withholding such beauty from you.  Enjoy 🙂

This dress is one of many bought by her doting uncle Josh. He adores her.

She likes it when her daddy plays for her.

Kenzie and Bibi.

Incidentally, Bibi is the name I am offering to my granddaughter. My godson Ezra bestowed the name upon me. No one knows why. While seeking alternatives to the names that make me feel really old (yes, I am that vain), I discovered that Bibi is the Swahili name for Grandmother. While Chechewa is the language spoken by our beloveds in Malawi, Swahili is a universal language of sorts on the African continent. When we visited the refugee camp where several nationalities live side by side, we found Swahili to be the common tongue. So I have already two heart connections to the name. Of course, truth is, Kenzie can call me anything and I will come running.  🙂

*All photographs in the post, save the last, taken by my lovely and talented daughter. The mommy.

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