Joys of Nature Color Shadows of Grief


Grief remains my shadowy companion, sometimes storming my boundaries and overwhelming my body, but more often traipsing behind at a respectful distance. Nevertheless, color is returning to my world. Like spring foliage that begins subtly and then suddenly bursts, I’ve been surprised by joy several times this past week. Here’s what’s happening in my yard and in my heart:

  • I saw the first hummingbird of the season at my feeder, a lovely iridescent male still slender from his migration and very hungry.
  • A pair of cardinals is nesting in a tree across from my kitchen window and I’ve been a witness to their morning and evening ablutions at my birdbath. They take turns, one keeps watch while the other splashes with abandon.
  • Sitting on the porch, I was mesmerized by sweet birdsong that I first thought was one of my favorite neighborhood songsters, the Carolina Wren, but when the tiny guy appeared he had on a bright red cap – a Ruby Crowned Kinglet! I have a soft spot in my heart for Kinglets because I once found one that had been stunned, and I cradled the delicate beauty in my hands for several minutes before he took off. Thirty plus years later, I still treasure that sacred moment.
  • BATS! The first sighting of these angular acrobats is always big for me. As I sat by my fire pit sipping Carbernet and attempting to read in the deepening dusk, I heard them before I saw them. Two bats were arguing about territory, swooping around and chittering and careening into each other. Quite the power struggle!
  • While the bats argued, I saw a dark shape wobbling along a high branch of my neighbor’s willow oak and then slip-sliding down to the ground. After a few minutes, I heard something not very graceful rustling in the bushes and out popped a big, fat opossum. He waddled towards me as I fingered my fire-poking stick and pondered its very sharp teeth. Fortunately, he was suspicious of a canvas bag of firewood and took a detour around me. No defense was necessary on either of our parts.


On Easter Sunday, everyone in my church brought home a chrysalis in a little plastic cup. Lots of the pupae were wiggling, but mine didn’t move all week. I was pretty sure it was a dud and then yesterday – a butterfly! It might be a Baltimore Checkerspot, but I’m no lepidopterist. (Isn’t that the *best* word?)  We had a minor crisis when it got stuck to a banana slice, so we’re not trying that again. It’s now moved to a bigger home, and I’ve given it an apple slice and dropped in some lilac blossoms.

Enjoying apple juice on a Q-tip for breakfast

Enjoying apple juice on a Q-tip for breakfast

Speaking of lilacs – they are blooming and their sweet scent fills my garden. Even though they always bring on a slight melancholy because they were in bloom when my father died in 1975, how can you not smile at a blooming lilac bush? They are just friendly, homey spirits. My grandmother told my mother who told me that having a lilac by your front door is good luck – all three of us always chose homes so graced.

So Graced

So Graced

Rejoice Anyway

People tell me I’m smiling more, and I actually wrote a blog post about laughter last week.

As I said, grief still shadows me. In fact, the last couple of weeks have been some of the worst since my brother passed away four months ago. My birthday? Don’t even ask. Worst ever.

Making oatmeal raisin cookies for the church bake sale brought on tears because I should have been baking extra for Biff. Buying bread at a farmer’s market was touch-and-go because he loved bread and I liked surprising him with exotic loaves. More than once, a simple trip to the grocery store has been a struggle.

I’ve been indecisive, unfocused, and scattered. I’ve had periods of anxiety and even extreme grumpiness, which is rare for me, thankfully. I’ve been very clumsy, which is not at all rare for me, unfortunately.

All the grief “symptoms” are still hovering. I can’t pretend all is rosy. Still, since a number of people have said that they pass my blogs on to grieving friends who find them helpful, I thought I’d let fellow grievers know that the colors do return. The birds will sing and the flowers will bloom and the butterflies will hatch, and:

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Ancient Christian Mystic Julian of Norwich


And God Said, “Let There Be Laughter!”


What makes you laugh? I’m sometimes embarrassed by the things that strike me funny. My twisted sense of humor reveals to the world that I’m not a nice church lady after all.

I will never forget the time I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. with a bunch of friends. A marine jogged by looking all fit and spiffy in his crew cut, military shortie-shorts, and tight t-shirt. Then he ran right into a No Parking sign at the edge of the sidewalk.

I lost it, doubled over, tears running down my face – the whole bit. And then I realized that all of my friends were staring at me straight-faced. What can I say?

I Blame the Brits

Do you remember the 1970s TV show Laugh In? OK, maybe you’re not that old. In every episode, this bizarre character in a hooded raincoat would be tootling along on a tricycle and then just suddenly tip over. Sometimes he would run into something, but oftentimes the tricycle would just slowly roll onto its side.

This sent me into fits every time. As soon as Arte Johnson pedaled onto the screen, I would start laughing. Just stupid, I know.

I blame it on my British heritage — Monty Python, and the like.

I’m that person with the loud laugh who sits in the corner of the movie theater and guffaws when nobody else is laughing.

A Better Kind of Laughter

In my Easter post, I used the words, “Let there be laughter,” and a reader commented that he loved that phrase and wondered why the Creator had not spoken those words in Genesis.

That’s a great question.  My guess is that God did call forth laughter – it’s just that overly serious religious people weren’t channeling God’s sense of humor when they penned the scriptures.

Just imagine God creating the universe: you can’t help but laugh. Splashing colors here and there, making fireflies and galaxies and sunsets and stripes on zebras and trunks on elephants and snouts on aardvarks and tubular necks on spotted giraffes. I see God getting more and more excited, laughing and creating and saying, “It is good, it is good!” God’s throwing around beauty and abundance and letting Her/His creativity run wild, knowing that humans would share in the joy.


Then religious folks came along and got all proper and started dressing up for church. Bummer.

I don’t care whether you think the creation story is fact, a lovely myth that points to profound universal truth, or a load of bunk created as a crutch by humans afraid of dying – you have to appreciate that laughter is a deep and healing part of who we are as a species. It can bring us together, mend mistrust, heal emotional wounds, and bring perspective to our losses and sadness. We were meant to laugh.

Lighten Up, Christians

I think we should all laugh more often. Church people especially. The Bible talks about joy repeatedly. Joy is called a “fruit of the Spirit,” an indication that one has the channels open for God. Jesus said many times that he came to bring joy, complete joy. Not guilt, shame, or judgment, but joy and love.

Let there be laughter!

Let there be laughter!

One central message of Christianity is that we are free from fear and shame and the need to perform and prove ourselves. Why wouldn’t we be laughing? We are living in grace and freedom. Yet most of the Christian preachers on television are promoting fear and shame and/or telling you to send money so that God will bring you lots more money for yourself. Laugh too much and you’re probably going to Hell.

Nonsense. Go forth and laugh! Just don’t laugh at other people’s misfortunes . . . I mean, what kind of person would do that?

Easter Miracles


I’m so glad I had a brother.

It’s been an awful week of missing him, but I’m grateful that the week ended with Easter. Easter — the day that promises that no matter how dark things look, there will be a dawn and it will be brighter than you could ever imagine.

Miracles happen. If you prefer not to acknowledge miracles, then it might be best not to look out the window. The arrival of spring feels like nothing short of a miracle this year, after the seemingly endless winter that included a previously unknown torture device called a “polar vortex.” The hyacinth are indeed blooming and the robins are nesting and the worms are doing their worm thing, breaking up and enriching the soil so that even more flowers will blossom.

Even my houseplants are in full celebration mode.

spring and the porches 008

Albert Einstein said that there are only two ways to live your life. “One is as though nothing is a miracle . . . the other is as though everything is.”

I choose option B.

I choose to believe that it was a divine gift that I got to live almost fifty-nine years with my brother. That somewhere in the heavenly realm, it was decided that our two souls belonged together, and God said, “Let there be laughter,” and Biff and I were born into the same family.

So today I miss him. A lot. But I am grateful for his life, and I believe that all things good are resurrected. He never could carry a tune (except, oddly enough, when he was impersonating Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin or Elvis Presley), so I don’t know if he’s singing with the angels. But he’s certainly celebrating. I look forward to joining him again when I’ve finished here.

Happy Easter!

He is Risen

He is Risen

Musings on Hornet Sex, Snakes, and Being a Failed Writer


I hate being a writer. I shouldn’t even call myself a writer. What am I doing on a writing retreat with actual writers? I suck.

The voice in my head prattles on, and now I realize there’s a new voice picking up the theme.

“My poetry sucks,” calls Sheila from the yard where she sits on a blanket in the sun, looking every bit a writer.

“No! You’re great. Keep going,” says Sarah from her perch on the front porch. She, too, looks like a writer, surrounded by books and papers riffling in the breeze.

Sheryl sits next to me on the second floor porch, Mac Air open on her lap. She’s watching a pair of hornets. “Are they having sex?” They are, his furry rump rhythmically bouncing against the female’s smooth one. Sheryl and I comment that neither of us has ever envisioned bee sex, despite the proverbial birds & bees. The male hornet abruptly flies off and the female methodically wipes her hind parts with her back legs and departs in another direction.

“I had an idea for a new forward for my memoir, but now I can’t remember what it was.” Sheryl sighs, gets up, and goes inside.

I’m left sitting here with two dead-end memoir trails and two crappy poems that I’m embarrassed to even save on my computer after hearing Sheila and Sarah read their poetry last night.

I was excited about this trip to The Porches, a writer’s retreat in the foothills of southern Virginia. A few of us came last year, and I’ve thought of that trip with longing all year – Wow, can’t wait to get back to The Porches; I’m going to get so much done!

The Porches  Writing Retreat

The Porches
Writing Retreat

Now that I’m here, I begin to recall the painful false starts and fruitless scribbling I experienced on my last visit. Then, too, my harsh inner voice called “Failure!” I had brought along a file full of scenes and characters for a short story everyone said needed to be a novel. I was ready to launch my literary career.

I can’t remember what I ended up writing, but it wasn’t a famous novel. It wasn’t even fiction. As much as I wish I could write fiction, it rarely happens because there’s this little element called “plot” that completely escapes me.

I probably wrote a blog post about what a fraud I was, and how I wasn’t really a writer and what was I doing on a writing retreat anyway?

Maybe the muse will strike this afternoon. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll just spend the rest of the weekend reading a book I would never have glanced at a few years ago, but which I’m finding fascinating: The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters.

It’s much easier to read about writing than to actually write.

Still, it’s a lovely day – spring has fully arrived. The redbuds on the sides of the road boldly claim their moment, and the trees along the river are dusted mint green.

Quince Blossom

Quince Blossom

Narcissus and Violets

Narcissus and Violets











I came across a lively black snake this morning celebrating the sunshine in a newly planted bed of pansies. Maybe she’s my muse . . .

Slithering Muse?

Slithering Muse?

Genocide Transformed

Leave a comment

Perhaps you read my recent blog post in remembrance of the twentieth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide — a guest post by my American friend Lori Martin, who works with orphans and widows in that country.

transformed Lori

As the official week of remembrance draws to a close, Lori has some further thoughts to share from her home in Rwanda. Here are her reflections on how to stop the unthinkable from ever happening again:


“On April 7, 1994, in the place I am now sitting, people began to chop other people to death with their gardening tools. I am trying to imagine that horror.

I am in Rwanda, at home in a suburb of Kigali. We have a lovely, peaceful garden of carefully manicured lawn, shrubs, and flowers. Hundreds of birds are making their happy noises. Thick, cool mist covers the hills.  We have electricity, running hot and cold water, flushing indoor toilets, television, cell phones, and internet. Sam and Eldad, our Rwandese house staff, live in a house of their own out back, and do everything from house repairs, taking out the trash, food shopping, and tending the garden.

Their job is also to guard us.

There is a six-foot brick wall topped with broken glass surrounding all of the houses. Iron gates are locked at all times. Every day, all the time, young, deadly serious men in army fatigues with machine guns, or in police uniforms with side arms, or in volunteer security uniforms with heavy batons, patrol every road within sight of each other, watching everyone carefully.

Lori's "picket fence" in Rwanda

Lori’s “picket fence” in Rwanda

Twenty years ago, Rwandans witnessed what atrocities people can, and do, commit. Since then they have tried to do everything they can think of to keep people from committing atrocities again. Perhaps this — the tightly controlled police state that Rwanda has become, where unity and peace are dictated — is the best way to ensure that violence never surfaces.

But here is what I think, as the fog lifts from the hills across the valley, but the commemorative, strictly enforced silence remains. No matter what we do, no matter how we try to guard against or deny the possibility, people can, and will, do horrible things.

What do we do to feel safe? Rwanda uses laws and guns and social approbation. I’d venture to say that people in the U.S., me included, use democracy and wealth. But nothing we do is a guarantee of safety. If that is true, then what is there but to be afraid and fatalistic?”

Lori’s Hope for Transformation

“There can be a change of paradigm. What about, instead of seeking safety from other people, we seek transformation in all people? Where guns and constitutions fail to keep people from doing bad things, transformation in people’s hearts just might.

Transforming from hatred to forgiveness, cruelty to compassion, judgment to grace, and fear to love.

I know my own heart – Jesus has transformed me in these ways. So it follows – the more people who allow Jesus to transform them, the fewer people there would be who might do bad things to each other. I’m not talking about anything WE do – attending a church or having certain views on political issues. I mean what GOD does – what the radical, turn-the-whole-world-on-its-head coming of God’s kingdom will do.

Transforming  hearts

Transforming hearts

Until God’s kingdom comes, people will commit atrocities. When it comes, we will have peace, safety, and full well-being forever. This makes me want to pray and work for God to transform people’s hearts. I want to pray and work for God’s kingdom to come HERE. And everywhere.

I think that no other means of guarding against genocide is worth the effort.”


Related Posts:



This post is part Bloggers for Peace, an effort to raise the visibility of peace efforts around the world. Check it out:


Bloggers for Peace


The Witness: A Fifty-Word Story


This week, WordPress bloggers are being challenged to write a fifty-word story — no more, no less.

Here goes:

There was talk of an autopsy, but nothing came of it. Because of her blood alcohol level, they assumed it was an accident.

He knew better, but could never speak of it. No, he was forever condemned to take kibbles and biscuits from the very hands that had pushed her.

He knew better...

He knew better…

“Twenty Years Ago, He Hacked His Neighbors To Death”


April 7, 2014:

Twenty years ago today, a man got his hedge trimmers out of his shed, went next door where three children were playing, and hacked them to death: Twenty years ago today, the Genocide in Rwanda began — more than 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days by their neighbors, friends, and family.

So writes Lori Martin, a remarkable friend with whom I traveled to Africa in 2007. Lori fell for the orphans she met in Rwanda, dared to imagine that she could help, and uprooted her whole life to pursue her dream. She now lives a nomadic lifestyle, traveling back and forth between Rwanda and the U.S. and spending several months in Rwanda at a stretch.

Lori and Friends

Lori and Friends

A year ago, I marked the anniversary of the Genocide with a post about Lori and African Road, the organization she helped found in 2010. This year, I thought I’d ask Lori to share some of her own thoughts on the anniversary.

First, let me just remind you of that number again: 800,000. In 100 days. That is more than the number of Americans who died in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and our “war on terror” . . . COMBINED. Remember: Kwibuka.

In Her Own Words

Here’s what Lori has to say from Rwanda on this twentieth anniversary:

“Today begins a week of Remembrance called Kwibuka (remember) in Kinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. It is a sober time to mourn the dead and honor the traumatized people who survived. Businesses and schools are closed. Parties and celebrations are put off.  People march in the streets and resolve never to allow such a thing to happen again.

I met a friend today (call him Evan) to plan a visit to villages where people are living in poverty, marginalized and discriminated against. He has been championing them for years, fighting for their rights and seeking to meet their needs largely on his own. He is hoping my organization might fund some of his projects to help the people.

I’m sorry to say that Evan was not hearing from me what he wanted to hear. I can’t make promises. Our board needs to discuss. Funds would need to be raised. Of course, that’s all I can say at the moment, but the fact is people continue to suffer while other people have the power to do something about it.

He continues to sound positive – ‘Of course, I understand the process! I know it has to be considered carefully!’ But I see hurt in his eyes. I see anger. He feels righteous anger at the ongoing injustice for these people, and a sense of powerlessness to do anything about it. I can sympathize – I would be hurt and frustrated, too. Injustice makes me angry.

And it just now made sense to me – a way I could get angry enough to hurt someone.

There are many factors that contributed to the Genocide in Rwanda. But I am guessing that people felt some sense of injustice and powerlessness. I look at Evan, trying every day to get help from people who are able, and not getting it. This is unjust, and people are suffering because of this imbalance.

How can we ensure Genocide never occurs again? I have no idea. But I think I understand how Evan feels.

Children from the Orphans’ Cooperative lead Lori to their meeting room.

Children from the Orphans’ Cooperative lead Lori to their meeting room.

You Can Make a Triple Difference!

If you would like to find out more about African Road and the work they do to provide housing for orphans, micro-enterprise business assistance for mothers, and education for young people, please visit the post I wrote about them last year. And here’s excellent news: a generous donor has pledged a matching grant, so if you contribute now, they will double it, — your gift will be tripled! Thanks for considering it. You can donate here. You can also visit and “like” African Road’s  Facebook page.

If you are a blogger, you might want to join Bloggers for Peace, a group of idealistic bloggers who pledge to write about peace at least once a month. If we send enough hope for peace into the cosmos, surely it will return to the earth. See the link below to get started.


Related Posts:



Bloggers for Peace — I urge you to join us!

Morning Metaphors

Leave a comment

The redwing blackbird is full of himself this morning, loudly announcing to the neighborhood that his scarlet wing bands have been freshly preened and making known to the world that he is a master flutist, a regular Jean Pierre Rampal except that this maestro’s melody disintegrates into a shrill rasp, as if a child had burst into the concert hall with a toy percussion instrument.

An attentive robin hops tip-toe across the wet grass, cocking her head to discern whether there might be worms whispering below, and purple periwinkles chuckle around her feet, flaunting their presence to tease whomever might have scattered grass seed around. That would be moi.

perfect crocus

Spring Crocus


The Books on my Doorstep


Like many of you, I am a book addict, so although the arrival of two brown, rectangular packages on my front porch was far from unusual, it nevertheless occasioned a quick intake of breath and a widening of the eyes, if not an actual skip of my heartbeat.

The best part about such parcels is the element of surprise, in that I often don’t remember what I’ve ordered during my mad midnight searches for a satisfying read. The other best part, which is unique to this particular delivery, is that I have been stuck in William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 British satire “Vanity Fair” for nigh on four months, and I am a mere one hundred pages from the end of the eight-hundred-page tome. I can see the light of approaching freedom as sure as the days are (finally) getting longer!

William Makepeace Thackeray

William Makepeace Thackeray – Doesn’t he look like a jolly fellow?

I always read a long, dense novel during the winter, usually of the Russian variety but sometimes an Anthony Trollope, which are lighter but still qualify as dense by virtue of their length. But Thackeray — well, I don’t know if I’ll read another one. It’s not entirely the  book. This winter has been insufferably long and cold and dark and dreadful. It’s not Thackeray’s fault my brother died in December. Still, good riddance to both the book and the winter.

Presents to Myself

It was this anticipation of escape from England in the Napoleonic Age that imparted an extra dose of excitement as I tore into those rectangular packages yesterday. Here, because of your intense interest in my personal life and inner musings, is what I found:

  • Portofino by Frank Schaeffer: This is the first in a trilogy, recommended by one of my favorite friends who is also an author with a great nose for a great read. He used to be an English professor and he reads incessantly. If you don’t know Brian McLaren and his books, especially if you are spiritually inclined, you should visit his website. I was attracted to Portfino because it’s set in Italy, a country that won my heart in one two-week stay four years ago, and because the reviews call it “richly ironic and satirical . . . hilarious . . . laugh-out loud funny.” I need that. It pokes “gentle fun at the foibles of religious zealotry without disparaging the deep dedication behind it.” There’s apparently a character in it who always packs a ski sweater and a small Bible in case the Russians invade and send them to Siberia.
  • Elsewhere by Richard Russo: This is Russo’s recent memoir. I only just discovered him a few years ago, and I enjoy his novels for a light read. He’s amazing at creating characters and local color, and I figure those quirky folks and locales must come from his life experience; I want to meet them. Because I like writing memoir and would like to learn to write it in longer forms, I plan to read a lot of quality memoirs this summer. Do you have any suggestions for me? I’ve got quite a collection started, but am always open to recommendations.
  • Anna: A Daughter’s Life, by William Loizeaux: I am reading this out of a deep respect and fondness for the author, a writing professor I had at Johns Hopkins. This, too, is memoir, and no doubt memoir at its best. Bill taught memoir and personal essay, and this book is about the loss of his infant daughter. It is about grief, which will resonate with me, and it’s based on Bill’s journals, which also tracks with my journaling habit. “Stunning, clear-eyed, and lyrical . . . remarkable eloquence, passion, and honesty,” says the Washington Post (reviewed back when the Post had something useful to say). This sounds exactly like the Bill Loizeaux I know.
  • 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye: My appreciation for poetry is really quite new, so this is a big step for me. Nye’s is only the second book of poetry I’ve ever purchased. I once bought a book of Wendell Berry’s poems because it needed to be on my bookshelf – he’s an icon. I had read an excerpt from Nye’s poem “Different Ways to Pray” a year ago and found it very moving, so I put her book on my “to buy later when I like poetry better” list. The time was right.

photo (15)

Here is the opening of Naomi Nye’s poem “Different Ways to Pray”:


“There was the method of kneeling,

a fine method, if you lived in a country

where stones were smooth.

Women dreamed wistfully of

hidden corners where knee fit rock.

Their prayers, weathered rib bones,

small calcium words uttered in sequence,

as if this shedding of syllables could

fuse them to the sky.


There were men who had been shepherds so long

they walked like sheep.

Under the olive trees, they raised their arms –

Hear us! We have pain on earth!

We have so much pain there is no place to store it!

But the olives bobbed peacefully

in fragrant buckets of vinegar and thyme.

At night the men ate heartily, flat bread

and white cheese,

and were happy in spite of the pain,

because there was also happiness.”


Lovely as her poetry is, I will not allow myself to begin any of these new literary adventures until I make peace with Mr. Thackeray. The daffodils are blooming, and it’s time to leave my winter read behind. Way behind.

What are you reading that’s good? Don’t forget to recommend a memoir for me! Happy Spring.


Related Posts:


Other bookish blogs I like:



Although I’m not a huge beer-drinker, check out my friend Oliver’s blog Literature and Libation. He’s a talented writer.

%d bloggers like this: