Saturday, January 29, 2011


Out of the thousands of photos I snapped during the holidays this one of my nephew, Everett, is my favorite. Perhaps it's because his expression embodies everything that a happy, well-balanced childhood should produce - confidence, curiosity, hope, eagerness, and an impulse toward contemplation. The glint in his eyes gives me cause to consider that one's goal in life should not be to remain young for as long as possible but to retain, and even nurture, these "childish" qualities well into old age.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


This is my niece, Jewel. Appearances can be deceiving, but not in this case - for she is just as much the treasure as her name, and her crystalline green eyes, suggest. This morning we filled the bath so high with bubbles we felt positively rebellious. The sudsy peeks were fit to rival any Alpine retreat and the morning light came streaming in through the clear glass window - bright, warm, eastern light - bathing everything in gold. When I stepped back for a moment and looked at the children, blowing bubbles into the air, shouting to one another from the top of their great foam mountains, "Hell-oo, down there!" I couldn't help but feel as though I were living inside one of Mary Cassatt's paintings.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I love this store. It is a newish little home accessories boutique in Sellwood, OR, and I arm-wrestled (okay, not arm-wrestled, but sweetly talked) Dutch into taking me there when we were in Portland last month. The store is named after its owner, a Miss Daisy Phillips, whose name in french is - what else? Marguerite. The store was piled high with french linens, brass scissors, hand-blown ornaments, paper whites, stuffed pheasants, even a giant urn filled with enormous goose down powder puffs from Paris - if only I wore powder! All of these details worked together to create an ambiance that I'm convinced would enthrall even the stodgiest soul. When I returned to the sidewalk I was freshly inspired to really look with wonder and curiosity upon the world.

My one regret: I turned down an offer to photograph Daisy's shoes! Why would I do it? They were camel-colored peep-toes, very shiny, and revealing a pristine holiday pedicure... But when she offered I got all bashful and instead went into the bathroom and took pictures of the toilet paper! Ridiculous. But perhaps she'll give me a second chance next time around...


These glittering pictures of Audrey watching traffic streak down a rainy Portland street make me smile.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Earthly Tent

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God,
an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
~2 Corinthians 5.1

It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and I was standing in front of the barista bar at Starbucks while Dutch and the girls waited in the car, combed and pressed and ready for church. I tapped my foot, checked my phone, and threw a hurried glanced at the New York Times which was propped on a shelf beside the register. The cover photo – a brick colonnade crowded with people, all of them in woolen caps and thermals – looked vaguely familiar. So I looked closer… Yes, I thought, with just a glimmer of satisfaction, it is: Pioneer Courthouse Square. My Pioneer Courthouse Square, the one which sits at the center of the city where I grew up.

The tree in the background suggested that the photo had been taken at the annual Christmas tree lighting, and I wondered which of my friends, if any, had been there.

Foreshortened memories flicked through my mind like slide show images and, with them, forgotten feelings of forgotten afternoons – strolling up and down the square, past street kids on skateboards, asking for change; slackening my pace to take a long look at the classical facade of the Federal courthouse building; drinking iced coffee in front of the flower stall across from Nordstrom, and lingering to ogle at the magnificent dahlias, their petals all a-glimmer with raindrops.

But one look at the picture’s caption shattered all my reveries: “About 10,000 people were in Pioneer Courthouse Square when the authorities said a teenager hoped to detonate a car bomb,” it said. I quickly scanned the article which described how a Somali-born teenager was arrested Friday night after detonating what he believed was an authentic explosive device.

Standing there in the atrium of the coffeehouse, waiting around for what suddenly seemed a meaningless concoction of espresso and milk, I understood keenly why and how such acts of violence – even the failed ones – achieve a degree of success: for if they succeed they do so by making us afraid, by bringing home the unsettling thought that we are not safe, not even in the most innocuous, most familiar surroundings.

Thus the bomb may have been a fake, but the threat was - and is - startlingly real.

Less than two weeks ago, in Tucson, for entirely different reasons, a lone gunman shot congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords along with more than a dozen others. As most of the world knows, Congresswoman Giffords survives, in critical condition, but six others were killed.

And when, several hours after the attack, I passed by the scene of the crime, which also happens to be my neighborhood grocery store, my stomach churned.

The idea that there is lurking beneath the hood of some vacant car, or strapped beneath the clothing of a nearby stranger, a ticking bomb, a loaded gun … sends a chill like a shock-wave rippling down my spine, proving that while the individuals responsible for these crimes may have been taken into physical custody, their actions threaten to imprison those of us who remain "free." We may not be literal hostages, but we risk becoming emotional ones.

Walking into a bakery less than a mile from the site of the shooting I overheard two people talking. "It really makes you think,” said a woman to a man. “At any moment our lives could be snatched from us without warning. Just like that.”

It is the kind of talk that is often heard in the wake of tragedy; and it is so familiar as to have become cliche. But just because a thing is hackneyed, does not make it untrue, or unworthy of honest consideration, does it?

In fact, last weekend’s shootings reveal the truth that has been there all along, but which the pale of untroubled circumstances, or the frenetic pace of life, allow us to overlook: the truth that life is fragile, tenuous, uncertain. That we could be asked to cross the bridge from life to death at any moment; and that even if we live another fifty or a hundred years, death awaits us all.

But whether we live a few decades more or die tomorrow is not, ultimately, the point. The point is where we’re going, where we long to be, and whether we have any sure means of getting there. Out of the rubble that we human beings have made of this world, Christ rises. He rises, and has risen, having defeated death - and the paroxysms of fear which just the thought of it induces - for every man or woman who would deign to call on His name.

There is something exquisitely unique about the hope of Christ – for it is a hope which will one day be replaced by reality. As Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthian church, “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven… For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15.49, 52).

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” ~1 Corinthians 15.58

*Images courtesy of {frolic!}.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Birthday Wishes

I was introduced to the work of Dutch artist Sebastiaan Bremer by the inimitable Chelsea over at frolic!. These images fill me with joy and seem an appropriate way of saying Happy Birthday to my sister, Kate. Happy, happy, happy day!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Giving Him My Yes

"And in despair I bowed my head
'There is no peace on earth,” I said,
'For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It is easy to forget to savor the small moments, or take time to commemorate them once they have passed. On this early day in January, when the city of Tucson remains shrouded in grief, a few memories call out to me, twinkling like stars in an ocean of darkness... It was Christmas morning. The first we had ever spent alone as a family.

The fragrance of fresh pine branches mingled with the smell of cinnamon buns, baking in the oven. While I prepared the coffee, the girls stalked in and out of the kitchen in stockinged feet, alive with that peculiar brand of eagerness that only comes on Christmas morning.

Dutch sat in the blue velvet chair before a whispering fire to read the Christmas story and Audrey bounded down the steps to meet him, and was caught up in his great strong arms. Once her laughter had subsided she stood between his knees and batted her eyes, a genuine look of interest and curiosity streaked across her face, while Evangeline made circles around the pair, examining the designs in the carpet and only looking up to utter a single word: "Nice...nice."

Dutch read from a black leather-bound volume called The Life of Jesus. Its delicate pages fluttered like birds' wings, like the most delicate tissue paper – as if the book were itself a gift being opened – and a hush fell over the room. As each new narrative detail was introduced – the angel, the stable, the wise men, the star – I could see the story come to life in Audrey’s eyes, betraying a look of wonder such as is only seen on the faces of children…

Then came the shepherds, out in the fields watching their sheep: “And the glory of the Lord was shining around them,” Dutch read, his voice quiet and even. “The shepherds were very afraid. The angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. I have some very good news for you – Today your Savior was born in David’s town. He is Christ, the Lord…”

The words came like a shock, like a revelation. Dutch looked up at me and our eyes met – tearful, smiling eyes – as my heart expanded to take in the miracle: Today your Savior was born... He is Christ, the Lord.

It never happens the same way twice, but it always happens that each year, on Christmas, the story of Christ's entrance onto the stage of history - into a world that without Him is full of dread and gloom - strikes me deeper; its meaning and power penetrate further into the furthest recesses of my soul.

I don't know why.

Perhaps it is because I have had 365 more days of exposure to the horrific realities of sin in the world. Oppression. Greed. Cruelty. Violence. The swelling gravity of these things serve as a terrific backdrop for the work of Christ, which has the power to redeem the seemingly unredeemable, to bring life out of death, and to take the ashes of this world and remake them into something beautiful.

"Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled..." We sing the words, but can we comprehend their meaning? "Peace on earth" - it is very obviously not a peace which has been made manifest in the material world. Not yet, anyway. But for the anguished heart which has been stilled by Christ's touch, it is a peace which is true, and which endures. "Peace, I give to you," says Jesus; "My Peace, I leave with you. I do not give as the world gives."

"Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.1). But Christ’s propitious death not only opens the way between man and God, but between man and man. He was born, lived, died, and rose to stand between us in all our dealings with other living beings... His death and resurrection mean that we can, by the power of His Spirit, truly love and be loved in return.

For this reason, for Christmas this year, I decided to give Dutch a tiny golden key with the word "YES" inscribed along the blade. After all (or so I thought), what husband would fail to appreciate receiving a symbol of his wife's continued commitment to love and honor him? But the idea wasn't mine entirely; instead, I borrowed inspiration from Maria von Wedemeyer, the woman whose engagement to Dietrich Bonhoeffer became official following a letter she wrote to him, giving him her ‘yes.’ With joy inexpressible, Bonhoeffer immediately responded. “I sense and am overwhelmed by the awareness that a gift without equal has been given me," he wrote, "– this 'Yes' that is to be decisive for our entire life.”

But the tumultuous times in which Dietrich and Maria’s love bloomed were impossible to forget or ignore – even in a single letter. And so Bonhoeffer ended his effusions with an admonition: “But let us not dwell now on the bad that lurks and has power in every person,” he wrote, “but let us encounter each other in great, free forgiveness and love, let us take each other as we are – with thanks and boundless trust in God, who has led us to this point and now loves us.”

It is because of Christ’s work on the cross that I can – not only in the springtime of love, but on and on, until the end – approach my husband in this spirit of “great, free forgiveness and love;” because of Christ I have the opportunity to do my utmost to make and keep peace between us.

And - perhaps best of all - through all the circumstances that work to try my patience, to test my endurance to its limit, I can exhibit and foster “boundless trust in God.” For I have His “yes” – the grandest gesture of love that ever was or will be, expressing itself most perfectly on the cross of Christ.

This, to me, is Emmanuel God with us. And it signals that the work which He completed, once and for all, on Calvary will one day be complete in me.

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is, nor not dead doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.’”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

puppet master

Boys will be boys but sometimes - and particularly if there are puppets involved - so will men. I made a makeshift puppet theater using two sets of curtains held up by a golden rod. It needs improving but it'll do for now. During our family Christmas celebration Audrey and her cousins put on a very memorable production of the Christmas story using an ostrich and a mouse as wise men. It was the purest form of entertainment I've seen in quite some time... possibly ever. And on New Year's Day, just before bed, the children were each given flashlights; Dutch put a white sheet up on the wall and we used puppets to tell shadow stories, voices and all. It wasn't just great, it was grand.