Category: Resilience

Guatemalan joy

I think what I want to remember most about this last week in Guatemala was all the laughter, and the smiles.

At Parque Cerro de la Cruz, Antigua, Guatemala

Unselfconscious, genuine laughter, in all kinds of circumstances.

I love that I caught Candelaria in this moment of laughter, holding her sweet daughter Gabriela.

I loved that while we were hauling aluminum gutters from the church to the bus, a group of mothers and daughters and I smiled at each other and giggled, with them pointing and laughing and shyly looking away … it didn’t matter whether we spoke English, Spanish or Pokomchi. The laughter was universal. 

And our team recalled several times that during our first water system installation, when we had to figure out how to make the gutters and PVC pipe slope down into the water tank that was in fact at a higher level than the house, the response of the masons working with us wasn’t frustration, wasn’t anger, wasn’t blaming or giving up. They laughed, and tried different things, listened to others’ ideas, and kept working. Ingenuity won the day, with the help of laughter. The solution? Raising the roof.

I still can’t wrap my head around the poverty we witnessed. Can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a place with no water source — no well or stream or lake or community water system. What it would be like to live on $2 a day or less. To have the experience of the death of a child — or children — be more common than not. 

But the laughter is a sign of resilience, and a sign of hope. I see it at the hospital too, sitting with a family after a death, sharing stories, and unfathomably laughing. Not in denial or with bitterness, but because the human spirit is strong, and perhaps inclined toward joy.

And so I want to remember the laughter. Of teammates who began as strangers and ended up as friends. Gladis, whose laugh is like a bubbling stream, tumbling over itself. Romeo, whose laugh is somewhere between a giggle and a chuckle, and an utterly genuine sound. Edy, whose laugh is gentle and kind and makes me smile. Trying to describe laughter to Isaias at dinner, when we couldn’t remember the word in Spanish (it’s “reirse,” to laugh) … until he started laughing.

I want to remember that, and so much more about this journey. The laughter is a good place to start.

Top Books of 2016

I’ll say one thing about being home sick for four days … there’s been lots of time for reading by the fire. And reflecting on the books I’ve read. I was inspired by my reading friend Julia’s photo and reviews of her top nine books, so thought I’d add mine:

img_3996Jimmy Bluefeather by Kim Heacox was a beautifully written story set in SE Alaska about a master canoe carver, about relationships between the young and old, about life and death, loss and transformation. I look forward to reading it again.

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk was one of the most interesting books I’ve every read, about the relationships between trauma and health, but even more about our incredible resilience. It was an intense read, and made me both sad and hopeful.

I was inspired to read The Wild Edge of Sorrow after reading an incredible interview with Francis Weller in The Sun magazine. His perspective on grief gave voice to so much I’ve witnessed and more that simply intuitively feels true. He is very clear about the importance of the work of metabolizing our grief and gives lots of suggestions for that process.

Fablehaven was a fantastic YA fantasy read, a series of five great books that I probably could have read more quickly except that I just didn’t want them to end. BUT … there’s a new story coming out in March…

To The Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey is set in Alaska at the end of the nineteenth century, told through a series of letters and journal entries between Colonel Allen Forrester as he explores the fictional Wolverine River, and his wife as she remains behind at the military barracks. Creatively written, authentically Alaskan. I hated to see this book end.

I listened to The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson as an audiobook. Incredible depth and breadth of research, braided through the stories of three particular African Americans who migrated to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, respectively. Much of it was tough to listen to, and so important. I learned a lot, and highly recommend this book.

The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at it by Kelly McGonigal was mind-blowing. Her thesis is that the general consensus that stress is bad for us isn’t correct — rather, how we perceive our stress shapes how it impacts us. Stress can trigger our growth, increase our compassion and empathy, challenge us to new learning, build our resilience, push us to connect with others. Really important book, with lots of research, exercises, suggestions for putting her research into practice for healthier, happier living.

Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson is a beautifully-written book. I’ve loved and been moved, encouraged, inspired by everything she’s written, and this book is no different.

Comfortable With Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion by Pema Chodron. The Buddhist nun and teacher Pema Chodron has taught me so much about embracing the present moment, trusting in the wisdom that’s available in every circumstance. She’s also very clear that when things are uncomfortable, that’s part of being human. Not a failure, not a disaster, not something to be judged. Simply another moment.

My number ten book would be Underground Airlines by Ben Winters — imagine a world where slavery wasn’t abolished in the Civil War, and there are still four states where slavery is enshirined in the Constitution. Fascinating, disturbing, thought-provoking read.

Here’s to more reading in 2017!


Mary, Do You Know La Malinche? – Sarah Degner Riveros — We Talk. We Listen.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is hands-down one of the most fascinating people in all history. Praised and doubted, her integrity questioned not only in her own life time (Matthew 1:19) but also in ours, Christmas is the time of year when the Church ponders her the most. However, in a special pre-Christmas post, Sarah Degner Riveros shares with […]

via Mary, Do You Know La Malinche? – Sarah Degner Riveros — We Talk. We Listen.

Trees, poetry, beauty, sitting

Aspen Trees, Matanuska Glacier

Feeling my way through these days, I’m grateful for trees, for wisdom, for beauty, for listening, for poetry.

Today, that wisdom comes from Wendell Berry.

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight./What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

May we find a way beyond fear. May we continue our labor for a just world where all are welcome. May we hear our song and sing it. May we take the time to go among trees and sit still.

And tomorrow I’ll return to the beautifully diverse hospital where I work. Where I’ll stand ready to listen, to companion and comfort the suffering. Where we’ll work together at healing, caring particularly for the poor and vulnerable. Where I’ll continue to speak justice and hope. And I’ll stay close to the trees, and find ways to be still.


On sadness…

I walk with death and suffering and sadness and grief probably more than most … as a hospital chaplain, it’s a job hazard. Except it isn’t exactly a hazard. There is something so powerful, intimate, healing, hopeful about being with people on this holy ground. I’m not sure how to articulate it. I’m just grateful for those times.

And, it’s hard. And intense.

I have fewer of those times now as a manager of a spiritual care department. I miss being at the bedside.

But September brought several of those moments. And it’s different when the person dying is someone you know and care deeply for. I’m so, so grateful to have been present. I believe that my presence was helpful, and perhaps helped midwife people through death and grief.

I’m still sitting with those experiences, holding space, and doing my own grieving and healing. So I was happy to come across this powerful quote by Rainier Maria Rilke:

Consider whether great changes have not happened deep inside your being in times when you were sad. The only sadnesses that are unhealthy and dangerous are those we carry around in public in order to drown them out. Like illnesses that are treated superficially, they only recede for a while and then break out more severely. Untreated they gather strength inside us and become the rejected, lost, and unlived life that we may die of. If only we could see a little farther than our knowledge reaches and a little beyond the borders of our intuition, we might perhaps bear our sorrows more trustingly than we do our joys. For they are the moments when something new enters us, something unknown. Our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, they take a step back, a stillness arises, and the new thing, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.

Borgeby gärd, Sweden, August 12, 1904 Letters to a Young Poet

That gives me something new to think about … “the moments when something new enters us.”

More beauty. More reflection. More writing to do.

Because life is not always Facebook-happy…

It’s been a tough weekend. It was an intense week, with erratic, long and late hours at work. I got to do lots of work that I love, and that I believe and hope I do well, work that makes a difference in people’s lives. But it also took a lot out of me, and I’m still not very good at listening to my body telling me to rest.

So Friday night rolled around and found me worn out and lonely and sad. That seems to be the night that I most miss being with someone who loved me, when I’m tired and not having the energy to go out but not wanting to be alone.

While I knew I needed to rest this weekend, I haven’t done a very good job of it. Not that I regret running another 10k, but, um, not resting.

So the tears that have lurked and leaked all weekend haven’t really surprised me.

But I’m grateful that I made it to church this morning. It didn’t “fix” me. But it did remind me that I’m part of a community — a loving, caring, generous, messy community that is glad to have me as part of it. It helped me get perspective on life outside my world. It gave me the opportunity to engage in thoughtful conversation about generosity and scarcity, how we use our resources, money and otherwise, and the ways that can be joyful and terrifying and connect or disconnect us to community. I got to drum. I got a grin out of a small child when I peeked at him during the prayers. I watched Dorene dance when I started drumming, and love that she told me how to say my name in Yupik.

Everybody is welcome at God’s table!


I think about the tricky dance of honoring my sadness and loneliness and weariness, but not letting those places drown me. It feels like walking through a beautiful, misty, mud puddle-filled field. I keep sliding into the puddles. And it isn’t the end of the world. I get kinda muddy and wet and cold. I’d rather NOT be in the puddles. But I’m grateful I have places too to get warm and dry and cleaned up.

(Yes. I’m working on my depression metaphors. I like mud puddles way better than where my brain tends to go, toward minefields or falling off cliffs).

How do you find perspective and ways to listen to the cries of your spirit, honoring your difficult places but staying engaged with the world?

Me, I’m gonna keep my boots handy.

P.S. If you, or anyone you know, is in need of support, call the national suicide prevention lifeline at (800) 273-8255 (TALK), or text the word “START” to 741-741. A kind person is waiting on the other end of those lines 24/7.