Finding God in the Irish Countryside

Recently I was asked how my trip to Ireland impacted my faith and spirituality. I loved this question because it wasn’t in the Irish people or even in the Irish Churches that I felt God’s hand. It was in the land itself, three places in particular.

The first was in the Burren, an otherworldly expanse of limestone rock landscape that stretches for 150 square miles through Counties Clare and Galway, and in some places, is a half mile thick. The area gets even more rain than the rest of Ireland, and the climate is oddly temperate, so the rock is dotted with an unusual variety of plants and animals tucked into its crevices.

In the midst of this desolate appearing region is a structure called the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an ancient portal tomb dating back to sometime around 3500 BC. This tomb wasn’t the original resting place of its inhabitants– their bodies were kept somewhere safe until only the bones remained, then the bones and special personal objects were placed into the tomb. It is atop a small hill, so it can be seen as an eerie focal point from surrounding areas.

As I climbed up that small hill, the heavy rain let up. Gusts of wind swirled around me and Irish mist kissed my face. Although not allowed past the rope that loosely surrounds the structure, I was close enough to be awestruck by beauty of those ancient stones.

My daughter wandered a few feet away on her own, and I thought about the families who once lived here. Their lives were so different from mine -different worries, different fears, different struggles, different joys. And yet, here was a sacred place where they felt a lot like I have, a place where they honored and mourned their dead, sending them on their eternal journey with personal objects to comfort them. Over five thousand years ago they cared for their dead and grieved just like we do. Throughout the whole world and throughout time, human beings all share this common experience of sorrow and loss, a fact that should make us all a bit more compassionate and charitable to each other. Continue reading →

Two Songs: ‘The Circle of Life’ and ‘We are Family’

Twenty-two years ago, my baby sister got married and recently I  reminisced about little snippets of that day.

I remember my sister’s beautiful dress and how sweet and young she looked. I remember mixed look of pride and hope and worry on my parents’ faces. I remember Neil sneaking outside to take a few quick puffs on his cigarette anytime an opportunity presented itself, meeting other relatives over their common vice. I remember Gina twirling and twirling with abandon on the reception dance floor as her dress flew in wide circles around her. And I remember dancing a bit crazily myself with my sisters to the immortal words of Sister Sledge: “We are family. I got all my sisters with me…all the people say can they be that close?”
Continue reading →

Three Ways to Overcome the Lies of a Mourning Heart

All of us will mourn in our lives. Perhaps it will be the death of someone we love, or a relationship gone wrong, a loss of health, or a job terminated.  A mourning heart can convince itself of all sorts of things that aren’t true: My husband didn’t really love me or I could’ve made him stop smoking if I really wanted to. Maybe you’ve heard some of its criticism, too: My friend never liked me.  I didn’t deserve that job.
And, of course: It’s all my fault. Continue reading →

Life is Guaranteed to be Unpredictable; Mourning is Not

Every one of us suffers through the deaths of people we love, and grief is a strange companion. Sometimes it fades into the background and lulls us into believing it has loosened its grip on us. Then, without warning, it’s back, uninvited, unwelcome, and unkind in its sneaky ways.

I was reminded of this only a few weeks ago. My daughters and I were all together celebrating a birthday, strolling through shops and boutiques, breathing in the unexpected spring warmth on a day that was still winter, enjoying dinner together, laughing at family jokes. I was fine.

On the trip home I started to feel the first prickle of sadness in my stomach. Continue reading →

When Your Heart Wants To Help, But Your Head Has No Idea What To Say

I recently had a request to resurrect this post from back in 2015. It’s still true…..

People respond to me in different ways now that Neil has died. Some people pretend they don’t see me because they don’t know what to say. Others pretend nothing has changed. Some offer advice and worst of all, some people tell me it’s time to move on. I know they all mean well and want to help; they just don’t know how to do it. How do you help someone who’s faced a great loss when you don’t know what to say? It’s actually easier than you think. You don’t have to say a thing; you just listen.

Recently, a dear friend brought me dinner. We sat at the table long after the food had grown cold and she invited me to reminisce. She didn’t find it awkward or uncomfortable to be speaking about the dead and listened intently as I rambled on about how Neil and I met and fell in love. She chuckled with me over funny family stories and laughed at some of the ridiculous arguments Neil and I had over the years. She loved when I showed her my collection of the crazy little frogs that Neil drew on everything he wrote – messages in the girl’s lunch boxes, notes he left for us around the house, and especially on his signature homemade holiday cards. Continue reading →

Love the Life You Have (Not the One You Wish For)

“I can’t wait until I retire,” my friend said at lunch one day. “Then I can do all the things I want.”

img_2035-jpg“ I can’t wait to finish the semester,” my nephew said during my visit. “Then I can relax and enjoy life for a while.”

“I can’t wait till this chemo is finished,” my patient said at her appointment. “Then I can get back to normal.”

We’ve all said things like this, haven’t we? We’ve all imagined how much better the future will be when we get past the present.

My house is quiet these days. My two younger daughters are away at college and my oldest is married and building her new life. My empty nest is far emptier than I ever imagined without Neil to share it. I often find myself saying, I can’t wait till the girls come home so the house feels alive again.

The other day I came across the very famous Scripture reading from Ecclesiastes that talks about a time for everything. Our lives have seasons just like the weather does – the college season, the work season, the retirement season.
This is my empty nest season. Continue reading →

Please, Let Me Be Invisible!

empty rockerHave you ever wanted to be invisible? Maybe so you could eavesdrop on a conversation you weren’t part of? Or maybe because you’re like me — so introverted that being surrounded by a crowd of people you don’t know is exhausting?

Last weekend I attended my first writer’s conference. Remember the very old TV commercial for Vick’s Cough Medicine where the actor announced, “I’m not a doctor; I just play one on TV”?  I felt similarly: “I’m not a writer; I just play one on my blog.”

I was surrounded by accomplished Christian women writers I respect and admire. There were bloggers whose posts I loved and authors whose books I read. The conference center was filled with energy and enthusiasm as women met with publishers and agents, sharing book proposals and blog ideas. I vacillated between “Wow, look at all these extraordinary women!” to “God, please make me invisible!” I didn’t know anyone there, and I was missing Neil. It was our anniversary. Continue reading →

Holding Holy Hands

I sat at my desk toward the end of the day, looking at the beautiful row of flowering pear blossoms outside my office window. As I watched, a couple came out of the hotel next door, heading to the restaurant across the parking lot. She was pleasantly dressed, and wore her gray streaked hair pulled back from her face. He wore jeans and a button- down shirt, strolling comfortably in well -worn boots. They were just an ordinary couple on a trip together, talking easily, on their way to dinner. I was fine with that, not sad or jealous at all. I almost looked away in time, almost got my attention back to my desk, but then I saw it.

They were holding hands. Continue reading →

The world is totally different, even though it looks exactly the same.

Thanksgiving Blessings BlogI pulled out the Thanksgiving decorations and planned the menu. I invited my brother-in-law and cleaned the holiday dishes. I prepared a centerpiece and baked the pumpkin pie. I made the pine-cone turkey place settings that have adorned our holiday table since the girls were little.

Everything was the same as all the other Thanksgivings, yet everything was totally different. In a somber mood, I sat down to read through Neil’s Caring Bridge website from last year. Continue reading →

There can be Peace in the Midst of Loss

         Have you ever noticed that pain has a way of distracting us from the peace that’s right in front of us? I was reminded of this recently, when my oldest daughter visited for the weekend, and we sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and catching up. Something caught my attention, flickering outside the window, and when I stood to investigate I looked right into the tiny face of a hummingbird. He didn’t fly away, but hovered there, watching me just as I watched him. And I smiled, appreciating in that moment a simple, joyful, peace. Continue reading →