Archive for March, 2011



You’re probably getting tired of hearing about my hibiscus — the one I found in a dumpster, the one that limped through the winter, the one that is my mascot for Lent.  (Yes, those would all be the same plant.)  I’m sorry.  I just can’t help it.


I’ve been watching these tiny leaves emerging on the plant for weeks, and it’s been a slow process, like watching – er — grass grow…  And then finally there were a few little buds. I’m still dying to know what color the flowers are.  But looking at the plant from a distance a few days ago I suddenly realized that it was top-heavy, with big leaves at the end of almost spindly branches.  And I knew.  I knew I had to prune it.


Why hadn’t I seen it sooner?  I was raised by a father with not one, but two whole green thumbs.  It was a tradition for us to prune back the roses every New Year’s Day to a third of their size.  Come spring they were bursting with new growth, and by summer the whole plant was sturdy, healthy, and full of perfect blooms.  I know well the power of pruning, and yet I couldn’t stand the thought of taking a pair of shears to my beloved hibiscus.


After a few days I conceded to myself that there was no way around it.  I was going to have to do it.  Those buds that held the unknown petal color?  Lopped.  Gone.  Nada mas.  It was probably only six inches all around that I trimmed off.  All the old leaves save one or two were nixed.  In the end, the plant looked like some sticks in a pot with a few green polka dots on them.  It was a bit pitiful looking, but I knew it was the right thing to do.


Only a few days later, and all those little green dots are actual leaves – and that’s even with it having spent a good chunk of time indoors due to all the thunderstorms we’ve been having.  There are even more buds now than there were before and it is much more balanced.  I wonder what it will look like next week.


Don’t fear the shears.




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A Stark Place



Last week I saw a man shot and killed.


I wish that was a metaphor, or that I was being poetic or something, but I’m not.


A woman ran into the store where I was shopping, shouting to call 911, that someone had been shot.  From the self-checkout area, we looked up and there he was just outside the doors.  I stood there dumbly, refusing to believe it was real.  He’d probably just tripped, or fainted.  I hadn’t even heard the gunshots.  This wasn’t happening.


I’m a person who looks for meaning in every little thing, but my mind has been unable to latch onto anything meaningful.  And I don’t have the stomach for a trite moral to the story.  He deserves so much more than that.


My questions in the wake of this experience, and in the face of mass-scale tragedies like the recent earthquake in Japan and ensuing tsunami in the Pacific, have changed.  Rather than asking what it means, I’m asking where God is, and I’m looking for God ferociously.


And looking for God has been painful.  It means that I have to go back and remember where I was and what I saw.  It means I have to sit with those memories, and ask God to sit with me.  God, who felt so absent.  God, who let this happen.


Though I’m still shaky when I think about it, and my voice cracks when I try to speak of it, this is what I’m beginning to see:



God was the two young men who ran to the back of the store to get ice.


God was hysterical woman who couldn’t peel herself away from the doorway.


God was the man on the cell phone with one hand on the man who’d been shot.


God was standing at the self-checkout area, too horror-struck to move.


God was the employee who stayed at the customer service counter to help customers.



And God is still grieving with the family and friends of the dead man, whose name I wish I knew.





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I’ve mentioned this hibiscus plant before.  One full week into Lent, it’s become my official mascot.


“Several months ago, I found a hibiscus plant in a dumpster. Half of it was dead, but the other half was perfectly healthy. It had been raining, and as I carried it home, the dripping five-gallon planter was so heavy I thought my arms might fall off.

It thrived out on the balcony until I brought it inside the night of the first freeze in late fall. Though it took up residence in the sunroom for several months, it limped through the winter. I did, too.

When spring came in the South with an explosion of warm weather in early February, I moved it back outside. Now I watch in awe as new life emerges from it daily. I observe the sprouting of each leaf and the development of each bud with joyful anticipation. It makes me wonder about God’s own experience of watching all of creation — including each person — grow and come into fullness of being.”


(Click here to read the full article in the March issue of PeaceSigns.)



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When I go out for a walk I am often arrested.


Struck by some sight.


Sometimes my jaw even drops.


Two trees, growing close together.


One with a branch around the other.


This is how we should grow.




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I don’t want to be



slipping and

slouching or



I want to be







I want to get up — to feel, to see, to hear, to touch, to taste.


To love, to heal, to comfort, to play.


To laugh and not languish.


I don’t want to sleep anymore – I want to wake!




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He and my husband are not on speaking terms; they only hiss at each other.  He is convinced that Cyrus is going to pounce on him at any moment.  Okay, maybe he did one time, but that’s not the point.


My sister Andi likes to ask him (Cyrus, not my husband) why he always wears white pants and a black jacket.


He bats at the spikey balls that have fallen on the balcony, and then runs away.  He does the same thing with bugs.


I first met Cyrus at the animal shelter in Martinez, California, in January of 2002.  Most of the other animals had signs on their cages that said things like “destroys furniture” or “attacks children”.  His said “found in field” and his “expiration date” was six days away.  When I picked him up he clung to me with no intention of letting go.  So I asked him if he wanted to come home with me.


I named him after Cyrus the Great of Persia, and because I like names like that.  He has moved with me six times, and lived in three states across the country.  He’s an indoor cat that likes to go outside sometimes as long as the door is left open so he can dash back inside if he sees his own shadow.  My husband says he’s a scaredy cat.  Most of our friends have never seen him.


He doesn’t have a real meow, but makes a sound more along the lines of a bird chirp.


He mostly behaves and is not allowed on counters or tables.  Before we moved into our current abode I used to cover the furniture with sheets at night so he wouldn’t get cat hair all over everything.  Now we have a sunroom and that’s where his litter box, cat carrier/grotto, and the playhouse and kitty couch that I made out of cardboard boxes are.  At night, and when we’re not home, I just close the door.


For several days after I brought him home from the shelter I thought something was wrong with his back legs.  He didn’t walk upright, but rather slinked.  When he finally did walk upright it was as though a miracle had happened.


When he wasn’t slinking around he was on my lap, which seemed to be normal, cat-like behavior.  But that hasn’t happened since that first week.  Mostly he likes to sit somewhere near me, but not be touched.


Did I mention he had worms and kennel cough?


Cyrus loves to lie in the sun like a lizard and will follow its rays as they move across the room.  If he catches me watching him he sits up straight and tall, waits for a moment, and then comes running to me, whether I’ve called him or not.


When I leave the apartment and ask him to go in the sunroom he usually gives me a chirp or two, then gets up lazily and walks into the sunroom.  Don’t tell me he doesn’t understand me.


I’ve left him by himself for up to ten days at a time with massive bowls of food and water.  I’m never worried about him when I leave.  But the whole way home I can’t stop thinking, “I hope he’s not dead”.


Cyrus may be more than a little skittish, but I love to watch him observe the world around him.  His ears finely tuned to every rustle of leaves, every flap of a wing, with his eyes wide, catching every flash of movement.  Not that he’d actually pounce on anything other than a dried leaf (and my husband that one time).


But he’s my gato and I love him.




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