“When I Don’t Know What to Do”

“Good things take time. And if you love the process, that’s okay.”

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“We recognize there are many among us who have only just crossed the invisible boundary marking their own before and after, who are looking at calendars today saying This time last week, things were still normal.”

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“The primary way our family is keeping it saner this year? By intentionally observing Advent.”

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“The world is scary as hell. Love anyway.”

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“I simply get to work on ordinary things.

This is all I know to do when I don’t know what to do.”

When the Pills Are Like Communion Bread

Photo by Richard Loader via Unsplash

For now though, when I look at the real choices before me, I pick up that red bottle and break the pills, like pieces of communion bread – grace I need, grace I cannot afford to do without.

* * * * *

And then she asks again how I’m doing with the Vitamin L – my daily dose of Lexapro. It has been six years.  Six year since I was able to release the words, the pain, the confusion, and the power of fear by saying out loud what I couldn’t imagine saying even to myself.

“I think I am depressed.”

* * * * *

We agree, to the best of our ability, that racism is still a problem in the world. We have raised awareness, taken stands, and we have composed Tweets and posts and essays about the evil of it all. There will always be a need for that. As long as racism exists, there will be a need for us to say it’s not okay for conferences and churches and schools and restaurants and neighborhoods and others to overlook or mistreat or prefer or exclude.

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There’s no end to how social media has impacted our lives and the way we mourn is no exception. It’s something we’re all figuring out together but I haven’t seen it discussed very much and that’s why I thought it would be the perfect topic for my first online course, especially since the holidays- those great magnifiers of our grief- are just around the corner.

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“As somebody who is listening, I just want to commend you on your bravery, and say that I’m so happy to know there are people like you who exist in the world.”

Five Blog Posts You Should Read


The grief has been two-fold: mourning the death of my mother, and mourning the ways in which my relationship to God and the Church has changed.

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As a person who is committed to a faith that is centered around the life of a 1st century Palestinian who from the beginning stood with the marginalized, the rejected and isolated, the non-normative of society, and even himself experienced state-sanctioned violence and execution, because of his life – I believe and confess and affirm that black lives matter. Muslim lives matter.

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Mohammed, his wife, and their seven children fled from that violence. They headed north, and sought refuge in the city of Samarra for nearly a year before the effects of ISIS drove them further north to Kirkuk, where they started over yet again

* * * * *

All those things are true, and yet, I find myself dwelling on her absence, on the way someone can simply go away from our every day existence.  I haven’t seen Loretta in more than 10 years, and still, to think she is gone . . . The presence of her absence must be loud and clanging for her family.

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Small goals acknowledge my humanity, and I like working and living in full awareness of my finite humanness. Write a book? That’s big. But write 2,000 words a day? I can do that, plus get enough sleep and hang out with my kids when they get home.

“We Get to Love Each Other Anyway”


“Life changes. And my life doesn’t have to look like yours in order for us to love each other. We get to love each other anyway.”

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“At first, sobriety was a buzzing in your ears and a fire in your bones. It was deafening. I was afraid you’d never be funny again. I was afraid we’d never stay up late talking. I was afraid you’d stolen the husband I knew. Now, though, it’s like the real you finally reached up out from under all the numb. You felt too much at first, raw, but that was a short season on the way to the quiet.”

* * * * *

“Hi. My name is Seth Haines. I am a writer. I am an alcoholic.”
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“When our last boy was born in the left leg of my husband’s pajama pants (I should probably mention I was wearing them) while we rode the elevator up to the labor and delivery floor of Yale-New Haven Hospital, I had just birthed my third baby in three years.”

Let the Thieves Come: Everything is Already Taken

The area behind our neighbor’s backyard here in the city always seemed like a good site for an archaeological dig or, at night, a haunting. It looked like at some point in recent history dinner parties had been hosted there. I imagined late night talks around the small fire pit and Sunday afternoon barbecues, standing room only.

But now? Weeds grew up through the uneven brick patio, weeds as tall as me. Chairs had been left askew, as if something had sent everyone scurrying and they had never come back. In the first few weeks after we moved in, I noticed the door to the garage behind the courtyard wasn’t always closed.

Concerned that someone might walk into the small garage and take something, I told Paul that the door to his garage was open. But he just waved his hand slowly in the air, as if warding off a pesky fly.

“It’s okay,” he said, not looking at me, his eyes gazing out on to James Street.

* * * * *

Paul was a complete enigma to me. I figured he was around 70 or 75, but it was hard to say. He used a cane to get from his front door down his steps to his motorized scooter, which we sometimes saw him driving through the city. If the weather was nice, he was always on his porch. Always, from morning to night. He knew who was coming and going in the neighborhood, and his persistent calls to the police about suspicious activity a few doors down forced a drug dealer to leave the neighborhood. I liked knowing Paul was out there, watching.

When Leo was just a newborn, not sleeping well, one night I took him out on to our front porch. It must have been 3am. The summer air was heavy. Every so often, someone walked past our house, coming and going through the angled halo of street lights and shadows. I walked out on to the porch, and there sat Paul on his porch. It kind of startled me, his constant presence. I said hello, and neither of us commented on the strange hour it was to be seeing each other.

We sat there for a long time in the middle of the night, neither of us saying anything, Leo new and silent on my lap, the occasional passing car putting him to sleep.

That’s one thing I always liked about Paul. He could sit there in silence. He never made me feel like we had to talk.

I went inside for a glass of water, and when I brought Leo back out, Paul was gone.

* * * * *

This past winter was a hard one for Paul. He was in and out of the hospital with complications from a bowel surgery. He never came out on to his porch, not even on the nice days. Then I saw him in the barber shop on a warm winter day. The place smells of after shave and hot soap. The one entire wall is glass facing out on to James Street, and the winter sun glared down on us. Paul looked ashen, thinner than before. He looked like a survivor. He smiled when he saw me, and he told me about his recent escapades in the hospital. I asked him how he felt.

“I’m not dead yet,” he said, laughing.

* * * * *

A month or two later, I fumbled with the key to my front door. Two of Paul’s daughters came out of his house. They looked tired and stretched.

“Oh, Shawn,” one of them said. “I’m glad we caught you.”

“Are you okay?” I asked.

They both sort of smiled through a cloud of sadness, and I realized they had been crying.

“My father passed away last night,” one of them said. “He’s gone. He’s gone.”

She said it twice like that, as if she didn’t quite believe it herself, as if she would need to go on saying it for quite some time before the truth of the thing would settle in.

* * * * *

We had various conversations with Paul’s daughters for the next few months as they came and went, taking out a box of things here, a box of things there. The boxes didn’t look hard to carry, but they were heavy, if you know the weight of sadness, the density of lost things.

I found out at some point during those visits things I had never known about Paul and also about his wife who had passed away before we had moved in. Like how much she had loved that house. Like how it had been her idea to paint the trim of the house purple and light blue and how Paul had done it willingly because he would do anything for her. How they had spent so much time in their back courtyard together.

And how, one day many years before, she had fallen there in the courtyard, striking her head on a planter. She died soon after that.

There are empty courtyards all around us, growing high with weeds. Maybe we let the weeds grow, so we don’t have to see the beauty of a thing anymore, the heart of the sadness. Maybe we let the door open because, why not? Let the thieves come: everything we cared about has already been taken.

* * * * *

I’ve wondered if I should have asked Paul more questions about his wife. I’ve wondered. But I’m okay with the quiet times we shared, each of us to each, each of us on our own porch, each of us watching the cars and people pass on James Street. I’ll not soon forget that quiet night at three in the morning, the three of us sitting in the hot summer night: Paul, Leo, and I. It’s strange to think that Leo’s first summer on earth was Paul’s last. It’s strange to think these things are happening all the time, all around us, if we’ll only open our eyes.

When Asked If They Were “Beautiful” or “Average”, This is How Most Respond


When I first saw the ad for this video on Facebook, I thought, Meh. It’s for a soap company. I’m sure it’s silly.

Yet the image was of a woman standing in front of two doors, one labeled “Beautiful” and the other labeled “Average.” The main reason I clicked on the video was because I had to know which door she chose.

But as I watched, I realized this commercial for Dove was getting at something very important, something that didn’t have anything to do with soap. The central premise revolves around a question we are confronted with every single day, and the way we answer it will determine a lot about our lives.

What do you think about yourself?

In this video, women were presented with a situation where they had to very publicly say what they thought about themselves and walk through the door they believed best defined them: either “Beautiful” or “Average.”

96% chose average.

Every day we’re asked similar questions, in different ways. Every day we have to decide if we are beautiful or average, intelligent or average, creative or average, handsome or average, funny or average, a talented writer or average. Beloved or average. Every day.

How do you answer?

Take three minutes and watch this video to see how these women answered the question.

Check out the look on the faces of those who finally label themselves as beautiful – I don’t know about you, but I see relief, joy, and a childlike giddiness.

And notice how many could only walk through the “Beautiful” door with the help of a friend…