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?

Red-letter words for dark days

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. — Matthew 5:4

I’ve been reading through the red-letter words of the Bible this morning and listening to a filibuster in the U.S. senate chambers on gun-reform laws. Less than a year ago, I wrote a similar post for a similar reason: a gunman went into a sanctuary and killed minorities he hated. I am heartsick to be here again with another list of names.

I had planned a very different post today, but it will wait. Life and death interrupt us all in ways we never anticipate, in events that horrify us and cause us to pause. Some days, “business as usual” just feels wrong.

Today, I share the same picture as last year and a different, too-long list.


Last year’s nine candles. Today, 49 more names.

Continue reading

O, Yosemite!

We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us. (John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra)

Let the mountains bring peace to the people. – Psalm 72:3

Have you ever been somewhere and not wanted to leave? Somewhere that filled you with boundless energy and measureless peace at the same time? Yosemite is such a place for me.

My husband and I made a trip there last week, our second time ever visiting Yosemite and our first since moving here. Our goal is to visit Yosemite in all four seasons. The weather was kind to us, and we didn’t have to put chains on our tires. We spent time hiking and running and strolling. Sometimes, we stood still, awed by the splendor rising up to surround us.

If you long for nature’s grandeur, come to Yosemite. If you need a reminder of your smallness, come to Yosemite. If you need to be rejuvenated in body and mind, come to Yosemite.

You may not be able to drop everything right this minute and make your way there, and so I’m sharing some favorite photographs with you. Will you carve out a little space at the end of this busy day and sit with these views? I hope they fill you with peace and renewed energy in equal portion.


This bobcat was the very definition of nonchalance, paying us no mind as it went about its business. (Apologies for not being able to get a front-end picture)


On the way to Mirror Lake


Half Dome on an overcast morning


A thin winter coat of snow


Mirror Lake


Half Dome with the skies clearing


Words fail me: Yosemite falls with rainbow and snow


Fog through the trees


Another quiet moment


Ubiquitous (and well-versed in the music of a snack bag opening)


Saying goodbye in the valley


Sun and snow at play


Impossible not to stop and look back

Have you ever been to Yosemite? What was your favorite part of your visit? If you’ve never been, did any of the photographs inspire you to start planning a trip?

Tree signs: Peace = kindness

Time is flying by, and I can’t believe we’ve already reached week six in the tree signs series. You have to look closely at this week’s sign to see its full message:


peace = kindness

I love the equals sign here, but its presence also made it harder to find just the right Bible verses. Verses about peace abound, as do ones about kindness. But equating peace with kindness? Those verses are rarer. A passage in Romans 12 comes pretty close:

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:18-21

Does this admonition to be at peace with everyone make you uncomfortable? What about that part about giving your enemy something to eat or drink?

I love the concepts of peace and kindness but often fall short in the actual practice of them, especially when it comes to people I fear or do not like. I’ll admit it: Being at peace with a vague “all men” seems easier to accomplish than giving my own personal enemy something as life sustaining and as simple as a glass of water.

Is it part of the human condition to want revenge? We want villains to suffer as their victims did. We want evil masterminds to die at the end of the movie (and in real life). We want some sort of street justice for the neighborhood jerk who lets his ferocious dogs terrorize children and adults alike. We don’t want to give water and food and kindness to such as these. We don’t want to wait for God’s vengeance (perhaps because we can’t believe it will be as severe as we’d like). We want to heap the coals on our enemies but not by practicing acts of kindness toward them. We want to heap coals by leaving them thirsty and hungry and in pain.

Yet we know stories of those who heap proverbial coals by extending kindness instead of hatred. We are surprised when grieving families of shooting victims stand up in court and speak forgiveness to the killer. And when gruff people show a tender heart for someone in need. And when undreamt of reconciliations happen in our own families. It shocks us to see kindness where we would expect apathy or rejection or cruelty.

The Syrian refugee crisis is front and center in the news, and perhaps like me, you’ve experienced shock at Hungary’s refusal to help and relief that Germany has flung open its gates and greeted the refugees’ trains with kindness. If my neighborhood were to become a border town for refugees pouring in, I hope I would be more like Germany than Hungary, and I hope it wouldn’t take the photo of a dead toddler to get me to find new ways to tap into the depths of sacrificial kindness.

Too often, though, we seek our own safety and comfort instead of extending an inconvenient kindness to one another. We hope others will step up to help so that we only have to pay lip service to the sort of radical kindness some tragedies require of us.

Romans 12 doesn’t leave much room for negotiation, though. Radical kindness is how we are meant to interact with those around us. “So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Being at peace means a willingness to be kind when it’s undeserved. And being kind can bring about peace where there otherwise would continue to be animosity.

How would our world look if we all acted on these verses and actively tried to be at peace with all humans? How would our world change if we let go of our desire for revenge and instead practiced kindness? Have you experienced a kindness that led to peace? What about a peace that led to kindness? I’d love to hear the ways you’ve experienced peace = kindness in your own lives.