June 2012

Yesterday I awoke before 6, rested and energized. So I took myself off to my local park, Ft Tryon, for a very modest jog. I was out of the house by 6.30 and back by 7.00. It was a glorious morning and at that time of the day, because of a storm that blew through the previous night, it actually felt crisp and cool. If it had been late September, I would’ve been fooled into thinking that fall was on its way.

The trees and grass in the park have been especially lush and green this year, perhaps due to the mild winter and wet spring we’ve had. At certain points in my excursion, if I stretched my imagination enough, I could’ve pretended that I was on the edge of a tropical rain forest. As I made my way toward the Cloisters and around them, I smelled a skunk but fortunately didn’t see one, but encountered more dog walkers and other joggers than usual starting their day with a similar sense of expectancy and enthusiasm.

When I got back to my apartment, I felt like a different person. Why? Because I’d received the start of the day as gift and chose to open and enjoy it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about gifts lately and realizing how many gifts I’m given that I don’t receive as such.  The park is a prime example. I’d lived in my neighborhood for many years before I made going to the park a priority and a regular part of my urban life. In fact, it wasn’t until I lived in a remote but breathtakingly beautiful corner of Uganda that I realized the importance of being around beauty in nature. So when I returned to New York, I knew I needed to continue to feed the part of my soul that craved that kind of beauty. I was really faithful at the start, like a child who just can’t get enough of a new toy. I walked in the park every weekday morning. Eventually I settled into a more realistic routine.  Now, I can’t manage to get there every day but try to make a point of going 2 to 3 times a week and when I don’t get there I crave it, almost as if I’m neglecting one of my loves. And when I notice subtle changes in the seasons, I feel like I’m being let into a secret.

It’s incredible how alive this rhythm of regular exposure to beauty in nature makes me feel. Somehow that sense of living life fully spills into the rest of my day. The challenge that the subway can be or the mid-town throngs at lunch time don’t affect me as much as they might because I have encountered and am learning to savor being in the midst of a landscape that is more alive than I am.

Along with the park, I’ve also discovered the delight of being out in the fresh air in the early morning. What a gift it is to be outside in this city of 8 million when you and just a handful of folks in your neighborhood are out of your apartments and moving around. That’s become an unexpected present too – and one I was unable to receive and enjoy despite it coming every day – because for years I was living a life with no margins which didn’t give me the space or time to awake early enough to savor the morning. I was rushing off to work in the a.m. and collapsing on my bed in the p.m. It was  awful.

My latent discovery of these gifts that were there for the taking years before I learned to value them has left me wondering what other gifts (people, places, talents, rhythms) I’ve been given that I fail to recognize, receive, open and enjoy.

Might you be wondering the same thing perhaps?


 I recently had a conversation with a close friend which uncovered a change of plans related to an activity that involved the both of us. As we tried to talk it through and figure out just how and whether this change would work, my friend got more and more upset. In fact she ended up in tears, something that was generally uncharacteristic for her. I was taken aback by this turn of events; I had not expected her to melt down over this and I ended up telling her that I thought her reaction was rather strong. In doing so, I also asked whether it pointed to something deeper than the specific issue we were trying to hash out.

Tension arose in the air and things got a bit awkward, with long silences. However because our friendship has endured for a few years and because this happened in my home (read: a safe place) while another friend was listening in and observing, we decided to step back for a minute and try to work out what had gone wrong.

As we talked through what had just happened, where the change in plans arose, why it arose, and how we had each reacted, my friend told me she’d felt judged by me. That was hard for me to hear.

I hadn’t intended to pass judgement on her;  I was reacting aloud to the new info I had just learned about the change and as I watched her reaction, I thought I recognized that something deeper was really at issue – which it turns out it actually was. However, being told I had judged her convicted me as well. Over the next few days I found myself mulling over the difference between judging someone and speaking truth in a loving way.

Obviously when we speak truthfully, our motive should be guided by a genuine love and a desire for the other person’s well being and flourishing. I do think that’s where my questions and subsequent conversation came from – but you know what? It didn’t matter. She’d received my comments as judgmental and hurtful and that was what counted in those moments. Ouch!

As I talked this situation over with a wise and trusted friend who is also a counselor, she helped me to see that perhaps my tone may have conveyed a sense of judgement, even if the words themselves were kind and kindly meant.

And she reminded me that the litmus test for any kind of loving, be it truth telling or some other action is to ask yourself this:  What does it look like to love this person in this place right now?

You may need to take a deep breath as I did before you come to an answer on this one. And as you continue to seek to love the people around you, you may find yourself doing a lot of deep, slow breathing!

In the daily barrage of grim news occurring all over the world from the collapse of the Euro, to the latest drone attack in Pakistan, to the latest plane falling out of the sky, I’ve been needing to be reminded that a single ordinary person can radically change the life of another by giving her life away. If you’re feeling anything similar, I urge you to read about the unlikely story of a girl from Nashville who went to Uganda during high school, fell in love, returned after graduation to teach in a kindergarten, and stayed to make a home for needy children in a small forgotten village. Katie Davis, a daughter of privilege, is that young woman who is raising 14 children in the red dirt clay and beauty of eastern Uganda.

Read about her incredible journey and her desire to live fully out of a sense of calling on her life in ‘Kisses from Katie’, written by Katie and Beth Clark.

I had the opportunity to meet Beth this spring when she and I sat together at church one Sunday.  When she told me she had written a book about a girl in Uganda, I was intrigued by Katie’s story  having recently lived in Uganda myself and having fallen in love there too with the gentle friendliness of Ugandans and the spectacular beauty of their country.

Beth and I had coffee recently. She was in town to attend an awards ceremony that evening for the book. Katie, being in Uganda, couldn’t be there so her parents represented her, along with Beth.  I just learned that ‘Kisses from Katie’ won a Christopher Award that night.  These awards, given annually by The Christophers, Inc, a Catholic organization, honor films, books, and TV documentaries that feature life-changing acts of compassion and the dignity of the human spirit.

If you’re looking for an inspiring book for your summer reading list, this is it. ‘Kisses from Katie’ will leave you in awe, (re-)affirm your belief that ordinary acts of faithfulness do result in radical living and it just might change your life too.  Order it here: http://www.amazon.com/Kisses-Katie-Story-Relentless-Redemption/dp/1451612060 .

I think I’m becoming an urban snob. Or better yet, I’ve become one.

This past weekend I visited dear friends who live in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. I hadn’t been for some time but I can’t say I’d missed the large spacious homes, the highways choked with traffic, the strip malls and the huge stores.

On Saturday afternoon, my friend stopped at a craft store for some safety pins. (Her girls were having their ballet photos taken the following day and she needed to do some pinning and sewing so their outfits would be just right.) This store was unlike one I’d been in ever, or OK, in a long, long time. Aisles and aisles of glitter of assorted colors, threads of even more colors, sewing supplies, yarns for knitting and weaving, and on and on it went. It was dizzying. We could have wandered around in there for a long stretch of time if we hadn’t asked a shop assistant for help. He was very obliging and once we located the pins, I couldn’t wait to pay for them and get going.

As I thought about our few minutes in that overwhelming craft store, along with the 4-wheel drive vehicle we tooling around in, and the need to drive practically everywhere, I found myself glad that I live in a city where the size of stores are limited, most of us don’t have cars, the subway is the great equalizer and many of us live in apartments where we can hear what our next door neighbors are up to (i.e. taking a shower in my case.)

But as I reflected more on my sense of relief, I discovered pride hidden underneath my musings . It’s easy to be smug about my NYC lifestyle. Yet rather than laud it over others, I realize I ought to just receive this global city – with its own versions of consumerism and excess – as the gift that it is and enjoy it ! And allow others – even in my unexpressed thoughts – to enjoy the cities and suburbs God’s placed them too.