When words fail

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. —Romans 8:26

I had planned to share with you another magical place on my recent journey to the California coast. But that’ll have to wait.

I don’t know which of the many words tumbling through my head I ought to share here. I don’t know which words to fling up to heaven, like the song of a caged bird. I’m relieved to have a Holy Spirit who will intercede with groanings. There are some prayers for which words alone do not feel sufficient.


One of my least favorite memories came screaming back this week.

When I was just out of college, I taught at an all-white high school in a rural community. The klan had a heavy presence in that community, and every so often, one of the teenage boys would ask me if I had gone to the march the previous weekend. Some of the students wanted to know when was I ever going to get married, because I was clearly teetering on the edge of becoming an old maid. I was an outsider to them, a woman who talked funny and definitely wasn’t from around those parts.

One young man insisted on carving swastikas in his tests and quizzes. He didn’t like me having the temerity to tell him to stop doing that. He bragged to another teacher that he was going to kill me. I remember one of the assistant principals asking me if I had any students in that boy’s classroom who would protect me if it came down to it. And that was the end of any conversation about the matter.


Of everything I’ve read this week about Charlottesville, the one line that keeps repeating in my head is from a Bitter Southerner article, The Perpetual Unpleasantness:

As for me, I find myself inextricably drawn to a simple idea: that the time for the benevolent but silent white Southerner is over. —Chuck Reece

Silent benevolence is not unique to Southerners. Racism isn’t, either. And so I would enlarge Reece’s call to include all benevolent but silent white people.

Reece’s words remind me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

So let me not be silent, but instead, find the courage to speak when necessary.

A white man filled with evil intent killed a young woman this weekend. He ran her over with his car, believing her death was better than trying to understand her words. He’s not alone in believing her death justified.

On Monday, one of my former college professors shared a link to an alt-right KKK site. The site listed several reasons applauding the young woman’s murder. I left the page after reading their number one reason. Do you know what their number one reason was? You should. And it should chill you. It was this: She was childless and, as such, a burden on society and therefore useless.

Now, y’all can just take a look at my Good Aunt series to know why that number one reason might have really grabbed my attention. So, no, I should not remain silent.

I get it. Silence is more comfortable. Easier. Safer, at least in the short term. But it does nothing to stop the spread of the disease of racism. To get to the root of what causes such intense hatred. To get us to a place of healing.

The number of voices crying out against what happened in Charlottesville gives me hope. My faith demands hope, too. My faith also demands bravery and wisdom and reconciliation. I hope we’re all up for the task ahead.

I’ve shared this image with you before, and I’ll leave you with it today.

The image includes the NASB’s translation of the verse, but perhaps the more heartening translation for this circumstance is the NRSV. It says:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

An ode to big trees (in pictures)

Over the weekend, my husband and I escaped the heat of California’s central valley and headed to the northwest part of the state. Among the many beautiful sights of the weekend, we visited several big tree state and national parks.

Our first stop was Avenue of the Giants, though technically, it was more of a “go,” as we drove among a blur of huge trees lining the road.

Today’s post is an ode to big trees, mostly in pictures, with a few words added in here and there. I hope you enjoy the virtual journey, but even more, I hope the pictures inspire you to visit this stunning part of the country—whether for the first time or a return trip.

Driving along Avenue of the Giants

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Biological gifts on the run

I heard a podcast yesterday featuring Rhonda Hampton, race director for the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run. In it, she spoke of her love of trail running and the “biological gifts” she encounters along the trails. (To go straight to that section of her interview, fast forward to 47:15.)

Her comment made me think of my own daily wildlife count when I’m out running or walking with the dog. This week alone, my wildlife count or list of biological gifts includes a coyote, two deer, at least a dozen turkeys, countless songbirds, a hawk, and, just this morning, a pair of American White Pelicans.

American White Pelicans in a place I’ve never seen them (along with what I guess to be Double-crested Cormorants). One pelican is hiding behind the other.

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The family cemetery

Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. —Genesis 25:8

Monday morning brought me to a veterans’ cemetery in South Florida. There, family and friends gathered to mourn and remember a man who, like Abraham, died “an old man and satisfied with life.” Those of us at the cemetery felt he left us too soon, but there was no denying he fully lived his life.

In one of the more peaceful moments of the morning, mourners stood near his headstone and spoke quietly of him, while some of the family wandered off to find the grave of his brother—buried in the same section of the cemetery nearly five years ago. The two brothers were close in age and closer in friendship growing up, and so it’s fitting that, in a way, they have both now been gathered to their people.

By the time the sun began to set, I was miles away, visiting some of my own people and standing in a quiet cemetery full of familiar names.

Sunlight filtering through Spanish moss gives the family cemetery an ethereal feel.

My cousin and I welcomed the shade of the trees as the hot day waned. We talked quietly at the graves, and she told me family stories I had never heard. She is fifth generation in this town; her husband is third generation. This cemetery is where so many of their (our) people are gathered.

“The young people don’t care to come here anymore.” I can’t remember if my cousin or her husband said this, but I know the truth of these words. I cannot imagine my nephews being anything other than politely bored if I brought them here.

As families scatter across the country more and more, this kind of gathering is lost. The family cemetery is not simply a gathering place for the dead, but also for the living to come to remember, to celebrate the old lives lived well and the young lives cut short, to tell family stories new and old. The family cemetery is a place to gather the threads of a family’s collective life and help us understand who we are in relation to the generations that have gone before us.

Do you have a family cemetery (or cemeteries) where you go to remember, to gather the stories of your people? While the place may stir up sorrow, does it also bring you peace?

The four redwoods

A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.
—Ecclesiastes 4:12

Four redwood trees grow in my yard: three in one corner, a fourth by itself in another. The three that grow together shelter each other, and each one receives shade from the others at some point during the sun-drenched day.

Three redwood sentinels stand guard at one corner of the yard.

Each summer, right about this time, I start to fret about the fourth one standing alone. Its needles brown, despite the drip hose, evening waterings, and prayers. Continue reading