writing about the vineyard

i went to a wedding last month.  the church was in the middle of nowhere.  mazzy and i drove miles and miles through fields of corn and vineyards.  the western side of michigan has vineyards.  rows and rows of grapes waiting to be turned into something else.

or maybe not.  maybe they’ll stay grapes.  maybe they’ll die on the vine.

the blue sky was screaming september that wedding day.  the clouds were tearing themselves in half to make way for it.  mazzy had her headphones in as we drove and i decided to stop and take pictures.

there is a loneliness about vineyards.  so much beauty, so much silence.  they can be like a severe woman who never reveals her thoughts.  you can stop and walk the rows and take a grape off into your hand.  but the thing is, you have to be willing to stop.

i haven’t been willing to stop.  i haven’t had words or pictures for this place in a while.  this blog has been a bit of a neglected vineyard i guess.  quiet.  beautiful.  overgrown.  you can walk through the rows of stories i already told and take what you want.

you might find something sweet, or possibly it’s all gone sour by now.

when the bride and groom were declaring their love in front of those they love i kept looking out the windows.  human beings are so clever.  they cultivate the vineyards. they build the clapboard church smack dab in the middle.

and who will anyone ever know?

who knew about that secret wedding in those secret fields?

just those in the pews.  

who saw the blue sky shouting down the great love of god over the rows of vines that sunday morning?

we did.

we gathered under a white tent set up among the fields and rows.  a small group of kind-hearted people kept by promises of love.  we celebrated in a secret place of nearly obscene beauty.

maybe these words won’t die on the vine.

there has been a scarcity of written words in my life, a poverty of tending to the vineyard. it might still be true that i have something to say. the work of weeding these gardens and cutting back the thorns, that’s the work i have to do.

it’s a lonely, beautiful work.  and it’s mine alone.

I went past the field of a sluggard,

past the vineyard of someone who has no sense;

thorns had come up everywhere,

the ground was covered with weeds,

and the stone wall was in ruins.

I applied my heart to what I observed

and learned a lesson from what I saw:

A little sleep, a little slumber,

a little folding of the hands to rest—

and poverty will come on you like a thief

and scarcity like an armed man.

~ Proverbs 24:30-34

Posted in beauty, hard work, hidden life, quiet, writing | Leave a comment


shall i compare thee to a summer’s day?

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that will shakespeare really knew what he was saying.

“And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

ain’t it the truth?

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i decided that summer is like one long day and by mid-july i knew that the evening was coming on.  i told someone my theory and they said, “but summer nights are the best part.”

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so now it’s time.  we’re all about to put summer to bed.

it’s been a lot of fun – a downright summer to remember.  and while it is true, like will says, “Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines” – i’ll take it.

i’ll always take these long days and nights of time poured out with you.

Posted in childhood, family, friends, good life, summer, thankful, time | 2 Comments


a gift from mazzy to you

we were talking about the day that mazzy left the church with a family that didn’t bring her back into the building.  we told about how she disappeared and how we couldn’t find her. we shared  how stressful it was, how frightening.

she said this.

“one day you’re going to be that person who gets a call and finds out that mazzy is in another state!  that she got on a plane and she ended up in alaska!”

she laughed.

and maybe people need to joke about things.  possibly people must frame what they see as rebellious, inconvenient behavior in a person with down syndrome as something to turn the release valve on.

but i didn’t find it funny.


mazzy came home from middle school and began to unwrap something taped into paper towels.

“mom!  i made this in art class.  it’s a tiny bowl.”

it has an M carved into the bottom and it is the most beautiful thing i’ve ever been handed. the color is that pink of thousand dollar shoes on the women our world celebrates ad nauseam.  the beautiful ones of our time.

each groove and bump is from her fingers, her life, pressed into this one small dish given freely.

i put flowers into it, the small buttercups growing in the yard.

“i love it, mazzy.”


mazzy’s life is not simple and neither is our life with her, but let it be known that it isn’t fodder for funny stories or material for silly fiction.

mazzy is a person.

a real one, exactly like you.

there is no difference between you and my daughter who has down syndrome.

none at all.

and though you may not believe that, one day you will see it more clearly than you see anything else.


the bowl is on the table now.

it’s there when we eat dinner.  all five of us sit there every night and each child tells us the best and worst parts of their day.  its mazzy’s turn and once again i am reminded that god uses the weak things in this world to shame the wise.

all around me, everyday, i see that the most exquisite flowers are held in the humblest of vessels.

Posted in beauty, disability, forgiveness, mazzy, weakness | 5 Comments


baptizing children


they put her in a white robe.

it was her birthday.

eight years old.

it was easter and she had decided to get baptized.

i don’t know what to think about baptizing an eight year old.  can a child really understand the decision that they are making?  the commitment that they are proclaiming with the action of getting baptized in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit?

she took her shoes off.



i wonder why god told moses to take off his shoes?

what is it about holiness and bare feet?

i suppose my favorite people have a propensity to go around shoeless from time to time, or with the least possible slip of leather between them and the ground.

is it a job thing?  from the dust we came, to the dust return?

why take off our shoes when we approach god?



not to defile?

who knows.  all i know is that ella and i watched as one by one people were getting baptized – and then it was our turn.


the whole congregation sang happy birthday.  it was easter sunday and she was wearing a white robe.  she smiled to the moon and back.

before us only men had baptized the new converts.  the pastor, fathers held their sons and their daughters.  the moms stayed down in the pews and took pictures.

i held ella in my arms.

i said this to her, “eleanor – as your mother and as your sister in christ, it is my honor to baptize you in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit.”

and then i did.


who is it that can keep their promises to god?

who can understand what they’ve done when they surrender their lives to jesus christ when they stand vulnerable before him and offer the little they have?

not i said the fly.

and so yes.  yes to the baptizing of my daughter by the hands of her mother at eight years of age.  yes please and thank you.

thank you so much lord.

Posted in childhood, easter, eleanor, resurrection, thankful | Leave a comment


april showers

there’s this part in the bible.  i think it’s in the old testament somewhere.  it’s god talking to his people.  he says that when they get to the promise land, when they get everything they want – even more than they ever knew they’d possess, that they shouldn’t forget about god or he’d take it all away.

i always liked that part.  it seemed like a definite.

god wouldn’t be able to say that.  he wouldn’t be able to say that he’d take it all away unless he was going to give it.


so i guess i’ve always believed that god was going to be generous towards me.  he as much as said so.  and i, well, i guess i’ve gotten used to being a well-loved child of god.

even when the times were bad.  even when they sucked and i had to pray to make it through an hour.  even then.  i knew that a promised land would be reached and it would be so good that it would tempt me to forget about god.

i looked forward to it.


recently i did just that.

i forgot all about how far god has brought me and what he has given to me.  it didn’t feel like i had, but if i were honest, i wasn’t feeling much of anything towards god.

that’s not true when you’re in the desert.  you feel.  you don’t forget god.  you need him. you pester him.  there’s no getting out without him.

i haven’t been there in a little while so i just kind of got used to having everything i wanted when i wanted it.  he warned me that i would.  but still it came as a surprise.

how short-sighted i am and how easily satisfied.  a beautiful flower in may makes me forget my troubles.  i’d forgotten how far into the future god sees.  just how far reaching the choices i make are.  i’d forgotten how the law of the universe is that you reap what you sow.  i’d forgotten so quickly.

and then i remembered.

Posted in beauty, good life, pride, spirit of god | Leave a comment


writing lonely stories


writing is ministering, pastoring, chaplaincy.

i come to you and trace my scars with a fingertip.  i show you the map of me and at the same time you see that i’m healed up now, that i’m still here, that i’m okay.

and so are you.

both and

for a long time, writing was a mirror.  the way to understand myself, to see.

i wrote a whole book to see what i couldn’t about myself.  and it worked.  i wrote a book for me.

i got it out of my system.

writing changed then and became a mirror of me that could show you, you.  i can write and if i remember the reader, my stories become about you.

if i tell them well enough and i get out of the way, they are your story.


it is a lonely thing to walk with jesus.

he is always taking you to places you don’t want to go.

the lonely places.

there is no small talk when you are alone.  there is only what is true.  there i’m confronted with the map of what has made me, me.

if i stay here long enough, i just might have something beautiful to say.

something real.


henri nouwen said this:

“but the more i think about loneliness, the more i think that the wound of loneliness is like the grand canyon – a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.”

so in the lonely places i might write down an honest word to share with everyone else in the same boat.

i hope to do that for you.

Posted in hard work, outside, redemption, writing, you | 2 Comments


a fairytale they say

the snow started coming down and eleanor wanted to build a snowman with her dad.  she waited patiently.  she let her wishes be known.  she left the request on her father’s ear.

we were busy.  abe had a dance on friday night.  saturday was special olympics and dinner at my parents.  kids stayed the night over in buscia’s new kitchen.  we located a new, delicious indian restaurant in a strip mall.  we bought records.

life was full and fun.

and the snow kept falling and a little girl, our littlest, kept waiting.


rock star

at home we dropped overnight bags in the hallway.  i thought maybe we’d eat cereal for dinner, but joshua was nowhere to be found.

through the window we saw him out front rolling snow into men.  eleanor clapped with joy and pulled the snow pants back on.

her dad was good to his word.


the snowmen took over the front yard.

neighbors stopped over to admire the work.

cars slowed down to take a second look.


serious artists

later we kicked off snowy boots, unwound frozen scarves.  we pulled off wet socks and started the last fire of the season.

what makes a child believe?

what gives confidence that snow can become more than a chore?

dear old

a good father.

to know that you know that when you share your heart,  your father hears your hope and comes through.

to know that you are loved and that what you want to happen will be done bigger and better than you could have imagined.

some fathers are flesh and blood.

some aren’t.


but there is a father.

one that hears your prayers.

and he holds your hopes on his ear and does not forget.

Posted in childhood, faithfulness, family, god, joshua, outside | 3 Comments


like a child


the other day a trusted friend hurt my feelings.

i have a long and complicated relationship with friendship.  it seemed best to begin to plot my revenge immediately.

i figured out the ways to protect myself and to hurt back.  i felt better.

i also felt small.  like when i was child and i wanted to hide.  the world receded and i had a way to shut the door on it all.

i became smaller and smaller until i nearly disappeared.


i made a promise to god once.  i promised to show my children wide open spaces.

that’s it.  that’s all.

it said what i wanted to say.  wide open spaces feel like the best way to set a child before what is good in this life.

but i was shrinking in my house because a friend was thoughtless.


i organized the facts to my side.  every word i read and each time i spoke the validity of my hurt surfaced.  i was right.  i was wronged.

and then i looked at jesus.

be merciful.

the most high is generous to the ungrateful.

bless and do not curse.

the ocean of forgiveness that everyone is offered is never fair.  it doesn’t make sense and holding onto offense is the opposite of wide open spaces.


so i bowed my head and prayed for my friends turned enemies and they turned back into friends.

i felt myself growing back into a grown up.

i felt the weight of the government fall off my shoulders.

and then i ran barefoot to the shores of the atlantic with my children so that they could see the wide open space of me.

Posted in friendship, healing, jesus | 6 Comments


harry potter and true stories

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we walked in a world created in one woman’s imagination.

it was a real place.

we heard languages from around the world spoken around, all of us lost in a shared reality that has come to mean so much to so many.

we’d seen this place in our mind’s eye and now we were here.


words written down had become streets you could walk on, stores you could enter and owls you could see up above your head.

i thought then about the power of story.  about the power of words to touch hearts all over the planet and how we love heroes and that we will travel to dwell in the land that we imagined when we read the words in books.


i thought too of dumbledore’s question to harry in king’s cross station,

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

words become real places.

maybe you’ve read the words that told you of jesus and you traveled to the places he walked when he was here.  perhaps you flew across the globe to feed the hungry and found that it was true, that when you gave a cup of water to the least of these, you gave it to him.

well that money to follow jesus was well spent, my friend.

but so was this.

long live the imagination of mankind.

long live the gryffindors and the disciples and the power of the written world to take us to places that once existed as ink inside of the pen.

and let us again consider that the word became flesh.

Posted in childhood, faith, good life, jesus, writing | 1 Comment



i’d slept over at julie’s and so when her family woke up for church on sunday morning, i did too.  we piled into their station wagon and drove to st. peter and paul’s.  i pulled at the sleeves of the dress i borrowed, the dress i’d never wear and i dreaded the building that i never entered.

at nine years old i was deeply cynical about faith.  that was the religion i knew.

“the pope’s a dope.”

my dad would chant that around our house and i agreed, though i didn’t know why exactly. i wasn’t sure what opiates were or the masses , but i loved my father with a pure devotion so i knew what was true and what was false.

i sat in the wooden pew and looked at julie’s parents.  her dad used grease on his hair and his face barely hid his contempt for most things save bowling.  we put a vhs tape we’d found in his bedroom in the vcr once.  naked bodies flashed and julie turned it off immediately.  he yelled at his kids, but his wife yelled even more.  when she needed someone to hand her the butter, she yelled it.  she was always exasperated as if the catholic promise of having six kids didn’t quite turn out like she’d been told.

i thought about these things as i sat with this family under the vaulted ceiling so high.

the mass was indecipherable.  i didn’t know when to kneel or how to respond.  the collective murmur and simultaneous action did nothing but cement the mindlessness, the pointlessness of religious ceremony.

my dad was right.

then, near the end, the elements were laid out.  the bread and the cup.  the body and the blood.  the mystical heart, it seemed to me, of this gathering was now unveiled.  and as the people began to line up, i stood with the broken family that brought me.

julie turned around and whispered it.

“you can’t take communion.”

i sat back down and watched them shuffle towards the heart and i knew she was wrong. at nine years old i knew i had just as much of a right to the crucified body of jesus as those sinners did.

when they were far enough ahead i got in the line and as i got closer to the front i saw that some people opened their mouths wide and received the bread right from the priest’s hand.  that didn’t really appeal to me, so i studied the way of those who held their hands out.  when it was my turn, i still got it wrong, but he gave it to me and i knew i’d broken the rules.  i’d walked right up to a priest as a child and in my own way said that i didn’t agree, but i still got to have god.

i put the wafer on my tongue and i walked back down the side aisle, meeting with a disapproving look from julie.  the bread was a gummy glue that melted, that became.

i don’t know if any transubstantiation took place, but it was my first holy communion in the way that things are holy with jesus.  in the way that those who are on the outside make it in.  when the prostitutes and the beggars push past the pharisees.  when the lesbians and the muslims push past the tea party republicans.  the holy way of sin meeting its match in the person of jesus and him being willing and unafraid to take on all comers.

and it set the stage, i guess.

i’ve always known that i’ve just made it into the company of jesus.  i was outside and told to stay outside by more voices than just julie’s, my own included.  but my feet walked up anyway and i follow him anyway, made all the more holy for the breaking of the rules; for the great love of my father on earth as it is in heaven.

repost from the archives…

Posted in childhood, faith, lent, the church | 4 Comments