Love Idol 1

For the next few Wednesdays in Lent, I’ll be talking about Jennifer Dukes Lee’s book “Love Idol,” which releases on April 1, 2014.

If you already know Jennifer Dukes Lee, you’ll know that she’s inviting you to participate in a slightly different Lenten observance this season. Instead of asking you to give up something like dark chocolate, she’s requesting that her readers give up a “HEART indulgence,” a place where we look for approval anywhere other than God.

I read Jennifer’s post announcing this whole Love Idol Movement thing right before I went to yoga. For the next hour, I focused on my practice, but as the time wound down, I found myself thinking about the argument I’d had in the car with my daughter that morning.

“My love idol is parenting,” I thought. Followed shortly by the thought, “Couldn’t it be something else?”

Jennifer wants us to identify any areas where we’re finding our identity other than God alone. I especially don’t like admitting that I want to find my identity in parenting because I’ve never considered myself a great parent. I can’t tell you how many of my monthly columns are based around the premise of look-how-I-failed-as-a-mom-this-time.

Only, I can’t talk about the big failures. Not anymore. Not now that my kids are teenagers.

Hello, all you mommy bloggers out there. The day will come when you can no longer write about your kids. You won’t even be able to write about the good stuff, like when they win second place at a robotics tournament, and you sure won’t be able to write about the bad stuff, like when they screw up.

When our teenagers screw up in 2014, it’s all over social media.

I was talking with a friend about my age (I’m 43), and she said that when she was in high school, she partied a lot.

“My parents still don’t know,” she said.

“They would now,” I told her. “The pictures would be all over Instagram.”

My friend’s kids are little. I’m not sure she’d thought about how things have changed since she was a rowdy teen.

While I was winding down that yoga class, thinking through that morning’s argument with my daughter, I realized that she’ll be leaving home very soon. As in August. That same month, my son will be moving from a dorm at one school to a dorm at another. My role as a parent is shifting. Those days of arguing in the car on the way to school are numbered.

I think Jennifer’s challenge came at just the right time. And I get to keep my dark chocolate.


Beware of Ducks

Normally, I’m somewhere between sedate and boring. I like to stay home. My fear-o-meter doesn’t run properly, so I prefer not to trip that thermostat. I don’t do rollercoasters. I don’t see horror movies. I don’t even like to fly.

So why did I agree to go white-water rafting on the Snake River at my cousin’s wedding a couple of Junes ago?

Everyone else was doing it.

There were three rafts — one piloted by the groom, one by his father, and one by his best man. Since we were going with locals who grew up navigating the Snake, we took the necessary safety measures required by park rangers (life jackets), but we didn’t go overboard (no helmets). We also had plenty of beer. Ironically, this made me feel safer. If everyone is too cautious, I’m sure disaster lurks around the bend.

Our guides knew the risks of the river, and they felt confident to meet whatever came our way. Plus, our group included three former Army Rangers, two of whom later went Delta Force. I figured that training must be good for something. I got in the raft.

Don’t tell anyone, but I had fun. There’s even a photo of me smiling as we approach another swirl of death.

My only injury occurred when someone pointed at a flock of ducks and said, “Oh, look, ducks,” and I let go of my chokehold on the raft just as we hit another round of rapids. My knee slammed into the wooden plank the best man was sitting on. I still have the scar.

Don’t get me wrong — white-water rafting is dangerous. This point was made clear when we pulled off to the side so our guides could rest. Their idea of resting included cliff diving. Three of the Wyoming boys took turns jumping off of a cliff about 10 feet high, while one strong, Delta-type person waited on the side with a long rope and a buoy tied to the end. Delta Boy threw the buoy to the jumper (in this case, the groom) so he wouldn’t be washed away. The groom missed the buoy the first time, and it had to be re-thrown. He’s a great swimmer, but he started drifting downriver.

By the way, he was fine. The wedding proceeded as planned.

I tell this story because since that trip, I’ve been a lot less scared. I recently flew overseas (all by myself) just a few days after switching denominations (all by myself).

It’s kind of got me worried, this all-by-myself thing. Should I be scared that I’m getting sort of good at it?


FYI, if you live in Waco, there’s a companion piece to this story, also about the Wyoming wedding, in my column, Musings.

Spiritual Experiences

I was standing at the edge of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, as far out on the hexagonal rocks as I could without getting wet, when I heard a voice behind me from someone in our tour group.

“It’s a spiritual experience, isn’t it?” the man said.

“It’s lovely,” I answered.

Lovely, yes. Spiritual, no.

Now, I’m the first person who can have a spiritual experience with a bunch of rocks and an ocean, but that day, I wasn’t feeling it. That day, it was only lovely.

Lately, I’ve been getting my spiritual experiences in more traditional places. That is, in church. And that’s quite a change. Two Aprils ago, my husband and I spent Easter at the Quiet House at Laity Lodge because I couldn’t go inside a church without having a panic attack. Back then, rocks and water would have done the trick.

But not now.

One Sunday, I was taking the photo you see above. The following Sunday, I was in my church. Both were lovely. Only one was spiritual.

Lents I Have Known: 6

This is a fairly big Easter for me. On Saturday night at 8:30 p.m., I’ll be at church for the Great Vigil of Easter, and by the end of the service–2 1/2 to 3 hours later–I will have been confirmed in the Catholic church.

So, why, I hear you all asking. Why?

I’ve been planning the answer for months, as if it were a talk in front of an audience. It’s even got a joke in it. But it’s too long to post here.

Instead, I want to tell you about my friend, Martha (Hi, Martha!). She just recently found out about my decision and said, “Oh! I was raised in the Catholic church. I was even in religious life for several years.”

For you Protestants out there, that means Martha was a nun.

I don’t know all of her reasons for leaving, but after she did she met her husband, and they have three beautiful daughters–inside and out. In fact, I don’t know of a more Godly family anywhere.

God led Martha in one direction, and he’s led me in another. That’s OK.

Happy Easter, everyone.


Lents I Have Known: 5

I didn’t want to write about this Lent until I was well into it so that I could give an honest appraisal of my efforts. Also, it’s embarrassing.

There are certain things you can confess in public: lying, cheating, stealing, failure in any spiritual discipline. But I am about to publicaly confess something much more damning.

I do not pick up after my dogs.

Louise, I can hear you gasping all the way from Canada. In fact, it was your post on this subject that started needling me. I didn’t do that, and I knew I should. I had excuses, rationalizations.

When Fat Tuesday came, I still hadn’t decided what to give up for Lent. I was on the EFX, listening to an NPR “Science Friday” podcast about the evils of sugar. And I started to think, “I don’t eat desserts, but I could eliminate some sugar in my diet.”

And I heard the voice of God in my spirit: “If you want to do it, do it, but don’t do it for Me.”

Yeah, He knows. I’m someone who started dabbling in anorexia at the age of 6. I have no story of deliverance–only a slow movement in the same direction.

But picking up dog poop for Lent? Really?

Then I remembered an iconic story from Antioch Community Church in Waco. It’s the story of when the pastor, Jimmy Seibert, got serious about following God, and he wanted to go anywhere, do anything. He sought the counsel of an elder who said–wait for it–“Make your bed.” Jimmy wasn’t sure he heard right, but the word of the Lord was “make your bed.” If he couldn’t follow that simple daily discipline, well then, he wasn’t going to go anywhere or do anything.

So, I have been diligently bringing my bags each morning when I walk Polo and Clover. Polo is too dainty to poop anywhere but in her secluded spot in the yard, but Clover does not have a shred of modesty. The first day I forgot to bring the bag and had to go back later to retrieve her deposit. After that, Clover never pooped again.


Lents I Have Known: 4

Here’s something I wish I were doing this Lent (so, technically, this is a Lent I wish to know). I wish that I were in Oklahoma City to see Mark Osler and Jeanne Bishop do the Trial of Christ on March 25 at Westminster Presbyterian Church. Jeanne plays Christ’s defender, and Mark serves as Christ’s prosecutor—a role that hurts him to play. This will be the final of five presentations the two of them have done in 2012.

I met Mark when I interviewed him as the 2009 Wacoan of the Year. He is the most remarkable person I’ve ever met, and his work to reform the criminal justice system may be some of the most important being done in the country. He was raised as a Quaker, and those ideas still undergird his beliefs, although he has become an Episcopalian. He has taught at two law schools: one Baptist (Baylor University), and now, a Catholic one (University of St. Thomas).

Some of you may know him from his op-ed pieces for the Huffington Post. Some may read his blog, “Osler’s Razor” at It’s the first thing I read every morning. The “failed liturgical dancer” part of my bio is his gift to me for co-winning Haiku Friday.

Mark’s book, “Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment,” was the first I ever bought on my Kindle. He was a federal prosecutor during the Clinton administration, and his book about Jesus’s arrest, trial, and execution is written through the lens of Texas criminal law. The book and the Trial of Christ are interlinked.

Mark is also a great guy. He bought me lunch when he shouldn’t have because it was the kind thing to do, and he forgave me when I screwed up really badly.

During this season of Lent, I urge you to commemorate the passion of Christ in a new way. Read Mark’s book or, if you’re in Oklahoma City, attend the Trial of Christ. You can also see a 56-minute video of the sentencing phase of the trial presented at the University of St. Thomas School of Law on YouTube at


Lents I Have Known: 3

I can’t even count how many years I tried to give up Diet Coke for Lent. It was at least five. It never worked.

I got seriously addicted to Diet Coke in high school and college. Getting pregnant in my mid-’20s helped to curb my enthusiasm, but I still had to have one a day. If someone offered it at a meeting or a party, I could not turn it down.

Slowly, that changed. I can’t say why. I can’t say when, except that it definitely was not during Lent. Eventually, I found that the only time I really craved the stuff was when I was on my period. I would buy a 12-pack and allow myself to have as many as I wanted. Then I stopped wanting it even then.

I just don’t like it anymore. Maybe I got sick of it. Maybe something was happening during those failed Lents that I don’t understand. But it’s not something I have to give up anymore.


Lents I Have Known: 2

Lent is the reason why I sabbath (or at least, attempt to).

Back in 2002, I couldn’t decide what to give up. One of my friends had shared that her family had been observing a sabbath for two years. I wasn’t sure if I could do six entire weeks, so I decided to try it for two—the two weeks before Lent. I figured that if it didn’t work, I could always give up tea.

Well, it did work. It stuck. If you’re doing the math, that was 10 years ago.

I have avoided the controversy of Saturday vs. Sunday by choosing … Wednesday as my Sabbath. It wasn’t taken, so I took it.

When I started, Wednesday was a real church-y day. I attended a Bible study in the morning and a small group at night. I haven’t had either of those things since 2006. I work from home for a monthly magazine, and the middle of the week tends to be slower. I often need to work on weekends, and my kids usually have activities on the weekends. So it works for me.

Few of my sabbaths are perfect. Usually, one a month is great, two are so-so, and one gets trashed (that would be when I’m on deadline).

What I do or don’t do on those rest days varies. I approach each one as a gift. I take extended time for prayer, and I open my Bible to the following Sunday’s readings. I try to keep more quiet than usual. I try really hard not to go to the store. I try to unplug (although I usually fail at that one). When my mom was sick the gift I needed most was to sleep, so I slept. I still need that.

One Wednesday I went to a cross-country meet. On another we drove out of town for a funeral. Next week I may be climbing Enchanted Rock with some friends. Sometimes the right thing to do is not to quibble but to show up.

I started this blog for the purpose of journaling what was happening to me on these weekly pauses. They are so much a part of my life now that I have little to say about them. I don’t blog about brushing my teeth, either. I just do it.


Lents I Have Known: 1

First, thanks to all of you who left such kind comments on my last crazy poem. I guess grief is universal.

This Saturday marks two years since my mom died. Last Lent, at the one-year mark, I was still grieving hard. The year before, I was in shock because she died just two weeks into Lent. The Lents before that fall into The Cancer Years.

If you want to know more about Merry Nell Drummond, and if you have a thing for cancer poems, there are 72 of them here on the right-hand side of this blog marked “My Mother’s Diary.” They aren’t all good, but they were all helpful to write.

For those of you walking through grief, I want to say that it does get better, although it never goes away. My friend, Becca, who lost her mother right before I lost mine said, “For the whole first year, I felt like she had just died.”

Now, it feels like it happened a long time ago. When I wrote the marriage post, The Telegram it was the first time I had written about my mom without feeling the need to end it with “and then, she died.”

Despite the zombie dream, it’s like she’s no longer dead. She’s now eternal.


Nature Walk

First, Laura Boggess reminded her readers about going outside for a “playdate with God.” Then, Cassandra Frear said that she loves winter walks because she finds nests in leafless trees. So on my sabbath, I headed out to the nature trail at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park.

When I had last been? Two years? Three? It was back when my kids were young enough to think that a nature walk was a fun idea.

It was chilly, but not cold. Brilliant sun (not a single cloud). So, off to find nests. But I didn’t find any. What I thought was a nest turned out to be …

a cat. Do you see him? He’s fat and grey. In fact, he looks like he just ate the entire nest whole and decided to sit up there for the rest of his days.

So much for spiritual inspiration. Isn’t this typical, I thought. I go looking for serenity and find a predator.

But a little further down the trail, I found something else …

birds. I don’t know if you can see them, but if you had passed by the Bird Blind and Feeding Area, you would have heard them. There were so many birds that it sounded like water splashing. This little area was absolutely teeming with birds. I sat on one of the bar stools and just watched and listened.

Not as long as I should have stayed, but long enough to notice.