As Lent Begins 2021

Snow, Ice, and Roses. This Peggy Martin climbing rose is rightly nicknamed “Survivor Rose.”

At the beginning of this week, our Monday morning began with 14 degrees after a night of freezing rain and snow – very unusual on the South Texas Gulf Coast. I took this blurry photograph from my window, glad for the reminder that we too can survive, even bloom in hard times. That day ended for us with no power, no water, and unreliable cell phone service. We were cold but thankful to be in our home with our son and his family, with a gas cooktop that allowed us to cook. Our power outage lasted 24 hours, unlike the case for so many across our state. But closed roads contributed to severe issues as deliveries for keeping stores and gas stations stocked came to a halt. Almost a week later we are beginning to warm and dealing with broken pipes, boil water alerts, and shortages for prescription supplies. It has been just over a year since the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic. As Lent begins, I am keenly aware I am not the only one who is praying this prayer.

Dear God,

In this season of Lent, we’re reminded of our own difficulties and struggles. Sometimes the way has seemed too dark. Sometimes we feel like our lives have been marked by such grief and pain, we don’t see how our circumstance can ever change. 

But in the midst of our weakness, we ask that you would be strong on our behalf. Lord, rise up within us, let your Spirit shine out of every broken place we’ve walked through. Allow your power to be manifest through our own weakness, so that others will recognize it is You who is at work on our behalf. We ask that you would trade the ashes of our lives for the beauty of your Presence. Trade our mourning and grief for the oil of joy and gladness from your Spirit. Trade our despair for hope and praise. 

We choose to give you thanks today and believe that this season of darkness will fade away. Thank you that you are with us in whatever we face and that you are greater than this trial. We know and recognize that you are Sovereign, we thank you for the victory that is ours because of Christ Jesus, and we are confident that you have good still in store for our future. We thank you that you are at work right now, trading our ashes for greater beauty. We praise you, for you make all things new. In Jesus’ Name, 


Prayer written by Debbie McDaniel

Finding Joy

Instead of resolutions each new year, for a long time now I have chosen a word. One word. A word that will help me focus, reflect, center, and enable direction in all the challenge a year’s days can bring. It usually takes me awhile to choose a word, but I have always understood why it was a necessary and helpful word by the end of a year. Last year my word was Savor. I will be honest in saying that I understand now why that word was crucial for me in 2020 – a year of worldwide pandemic and social isolation that included friends and family dear to me, changes not ever before imagined, further loss of Joe’s vision, serious illness and hospitalization for me, economic and political deterioration, wildfires and hurricanes. I needed to pay attention, focus on savoring the immeasurable blessings in my life that include dear and constant caring as we live with our youngest son and his family and receive reassurance and encouragement by phone and media from our other two sons and their families. This year with all its roller coaster experiences, I felt some resistance as a new word kept coming to mind. The word is JOY. At first I had some thought that this was because the word is everywhere at Christmastime. But slowly I realized I must choose Joy.

Practice Joy. Receive Joy, Scatter Joy. In my morning reading, I have been using Jan Richardson’s art and words. This morning, this poem was my gift from her writing.


When your weeping
has watered
the earth.
When the storm
has been long
and the night
and the season
of your sorrowing.
When you have seemed
an exile
from your life,
lost in the far country,
a long way from where
your comfort lies.
When the sound
of splintering
and fracture
haunts you.
When despair
attends you.
When lack.
When trouble.
When fear.
When pain.
When empty.
When lonely.
When too much
of what depletes you
and not enough
of what restores
and rests you.
Then let there be
Then let there be
Let there be
laughter in your mouth
and on your tongue
shouts of joy.
Let the seeds
soaked by tears
turn to grain,
to bread,
to feasting.
Let there be
coming home.

Used by permission from the author, Jan Richardson

The Threshold of Epiphany

Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas

a day for remembering the visit of the Magi

a time of discovery

finding what they were seeking

we are not told how they lived out their discovery

only that they returned by a different way

I believe choosing a different way was not only to avoid Herod

but because they were beginning a new journey

.  They had come to, and crossed a threshold.

I, too, am crossing a threshold

 I am moving from one place in my life to another

I do not know where my steps take me

but I trust that light will be given me for the way

Don’t Miss This

Our Advent wreath this year reflects our circumstance and time. 2020 will long be remembered as a year of limited going and doing, as well as simplifying. In our kitchen we use what we have instead of making a trip to the store for ingredients missing in a recipe. Having groceries delivered to home or curbside means planning ahead and accepting what comes in the order as substitutions for items not available. Sometimes it means not getting everything on the list. When I looked through the candles we had stored, traditional colors of Advent candles left from last year looked short and fully dripped. So we used what we have, different colors. We keep the meaning of each candle as we light it with brief reflections. Our grandchildren sense the wonder and mystery in the flames and only a word or two. Tonight we light the 4th candle. The candle of love, reflected in the eyes of a child. We seek the whole mystery. We receive all we are given and wait. We find a gift here, in upturned faces. Look! Don’t miss this!

How often do we miss the fainter note
Or fail to see the more exquisite hue,
Blind to the tiny streamlet at our feet,
Eyes fixed upon some other, further view.
What chimes of harmonies escape our ears,
How many rainbows must elude our sight,
We see a field but do not see the grass,
Each blade a miracle of shade and light.
How then to keep the greater end in eye
And watch the sunlight on the distant peak,
And yet not tread on any leaf of love,
Nor miss a word the eager children speak?
Ah, what demand upon the narrow heart,
To seek the whole, yet not ignore the part.

Phillip Britt, from Water at the Roots, 1947

Advent 2020

This is now the second Sunday in Advent, 2020. Yesterday Nora asked why the Advent calendar and Advent Season with four candles to light are not the same. A thoughtful question for a 6 year old. It always helps to think about where we are with calendars and seasons. This year is very different. Many phrases used during this season contain the words “together. gathering.” This year, the Covid 19 pandemic has shifted many all over the world to a different consideration of the words. But the season and its meaning stays. The story is both old and new. We wait this year in different circumstances, but the reason changes only in its greater need. For Joe and me, our greater age and lesser health means I took this photo in the foyer of our church 2 years ago. I have not been present there at a worship service in over 9 months. I miss this sanctuary. I miss our friends. Worship on Sundays has meant online viewing. But there is no lack of evidence of God’s presence and sufficiency for and with us. Living with Ben and Kristen and Nora and Oliver means we also always have family around us. The rest of our family keeps close, helps us, and encourages. We are loved.


THE HOUSE LIGHTS GO OFF and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised the baton. 

In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. 

You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. 

The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment. 

The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor. 

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.  

-Originally published in Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner


Step softly, under snow or rain,
    To find the place where men can pray;
The way is all so very plain
    That we may lose the way.

Oh, we have learnt to peer and pore
    On tortured puzzles from our youth,
We know all labyrinthine lore,
We are the three wise men of yore,
    And we know all things but the truth.

We have gone round and round the hill
    And lost the wood among the trees,
And learnt long names for every ill,
And served the mad gods, naming still
    The furies the Eumenides.

The gods of violence took the veil
    Of vision and philosophy,
The Serpent that brought all men bale,
He bites his own accursed tail,
    And calls himself Eternity.

Go humbly…it has hailed and snowed…
    With voices low and lanterns lit;
So very simple is the road,
    That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,
    And blinding white the breaking day;
We walk bewildered in the light,
For something is too large for sight,
    And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun
    (…We need but walk a little way,
We need but see a latch undone…)
The Child that played with moon and sun
    Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,
    The old strange house that is our own,
Where trick of words are never said,
And Mercy is as plain as bread,
    And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,
    And low and large and fierce the Star;
So very near the Manger lies
    That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
    To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes,
    For God Himself is born again,
And we are little children walking
    Through the snow and rain.

G.K. Chesterton

Listen to the Flowers

These days of quarantine and isolation require focus to capture moments of blessing and beauty. Even without roses in my garden, if I pay attention, I don’t have to look far to be surprised by joy and simple lessons from growing things. My friend hand stamped some concrete blocks with the lines I quote so often from Mary Oliver “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” I think of her hard work, pressing the letters one by one into the hardening blocks. I think of her smile when she brought them to our back yard. No hugs as we once would have enjoyed. No lingering visit with thoughtful conversation. But a sparkling smile and eyes that danced and the gift of her hands needed to be enough, so they were.The blocks are not laid like stepping stones but standing at the edge of roses and touch-me-nots where I see them from my bedroom window.

If you are not familiar with the old fashioned flower called touch-me-not, it is lovely and unusual. When the flowers fade, fat seed pods grow rounder and fuller until they pop open at the slightest touch, scattering seeds. All the flowers behind the stones in the photo below have returned from last year’s seeds. Seeds of hope are nourished right now in what can feel like a hopeless time.

The flowers preach and these stones sing out love and promise.


Consider the Lilies of the Field

Flowers preach to us if we will hear:
The rose saith in the dewy morn:
I am most fair;
Yet all my loveliness is born
Upon a thorn.
The poppy saith amid the corn:
Let but my scarlet head appear
And I am held in scorn;
Yet juice of subtle virtue lies
Within my cup of curious dyes.
The lilies say: Behold how we
Preach without words of purity.
The violets whisper from the shade
Which their own leaves have made:
Men scent our fragrance on the air,
Yet take no heed
Of humble lessons we would read.
But not alone the fairest flowers:
The merest grass
Along the roadside where we pass,
Lichen and moss and sturdy weed,
Tell of His love who sends the dew,
The rain and sunshine too,
To nourish one small seed.

Source: Christina Rosetti , Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems 

The Next Step

Yesterday one of my granddaughters called me to ask questions from her 6th grade art assignment. When she finished interviewing me, I asked her the same questions. She will be 12 this year. I will be 80. We both have questions; we both have some answers.  There are questions that seem impossible to answer. This week marks the one year mark of recovery for me after a serious injury. Now, our world is reeling from injury of more kinds than we can count. I am thankful that in this prayer from Every Moment Holy by Doug McKelvey.I see the words “But You…”  


“In a world so wired and interconnected,
our anxious hearts are pummeled by
an endless barrage of troubling news.
We are daily aware of more grief, O Lord,
than we can rightly consider,
of more suffering and scandal
than we can respond to, of more
hostility, hatred, horror, and injustice
than we can engage with compassion.

But you, O Jesus, are not disquieted by such news of cruelty and terror and war.
You are neither anxious nor overwhelmed.
You carried the full weight of the suffering of a broken world when you hung upon
the cross, and you carry it still.

When the cacophony of universal distress unsettles us, remind us that we are but small
and finite creatures, never designed to carry the vast abstractions of great burdens,
for our arms are too short and our strength is too small. Justice and mercy, healing and
redemption, are your great labors.

And yes, it is your good pleasure to accomplish
such works through your people,
but you have never asked any one of us
to undertake more than your grace
will enable us to fulfill.

Guard us then from shutting down our empathy
or walling off our hearts because of the glut of
unactionable misery that floods our awareness.
You have many children in many places
around this globe. Move each of our hearts
to compassionately respond to those needs
that intersect our actual lives, that in all places
your body might be actively addressing
the pain and brokenness of this world,
each of us liberated and empowered by
your Spirit to fulfill the small part
of your redemptive work assigned to us.

Give us discernment
in the face of troubling news reports.
Give us discernment
to know when to pray,
when to speak out,
when to act,
and when to simply
shut off our screens
and our devices,
and to sit quietly
in your presence,

casting the burdens of this world
upon the strong shoulders
of the one who
is able to bear them up”.


This liturgy is from Every Moment Holy by Doug McKelvey.



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Savoring Garden Grace

WhenWhen my son and granddaughters were with us in the first days of this new year, my thiirteen year old granddaughter wanted to paint in the prayer garden at our church. While she sketched and painted with oil pastels, I savored being back in this space after a long absence. I have written before about this small garden and ancient oak tree. I have photographed the labyrinth and written about its prayer walk. The word I chose for a focus word for 2020 is savor but I didn’t even think intentionally about that. My joy in being back there, watching Maddie take it all in and put her impressions into her work was complete.

Later, when I hung her painting on my wall, it came to mind that savoring was just what we were doing. Although there were benches there, my back injury keeps me walking, so I walked the prayer walk and around the garden paths over and over. I took photos of Maddie, and dappled sunlight through a dozen different kinds of leaves.

The walker I need to use now does not travel as well on grass or sand or pebbles, so that part of walking was a different effort for me. It was a listening walk for me. I heard the rustle of oak leaves, wind, scattering dry leaves, soft notes from a wind chime, distant sounds of a train and cars, closer sounds of nearby lawn care. She was absorbed in creating. We savored this place and this time. When I made a turn in the labyrinth, I saw that the wheels of my walker had left tracks in the spiral next to me, reminding me I leave prints behind regardless of  my manner or speed. I won’t forget that lesson. I love Maddie’s art work and enjoy it often. But the picture of her dear head bent over her work will always accompany it in my mind.