Category Archives: Faith and Spirituality

On Christmas Eve 2016, Our Live Nativity

May God’s light shine brightly in the darkness of the world this Christmas Eve. 

May you enjoy the company of angels, good shepherds, and friendly beasts alike.  You might find these at a local live nativity.  Or elsewhere, perhaps where you least expect them. 

Infant Holy, infant lowly, for his bed a cattle stall;

Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the babe is Lord of all.

Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing,

Christ the babe is Lord of all. 

–Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

Polish carol, trans. and arranged  by Edith Reed, 1926

Kiko vouches for the friendliness of this little beast. 

Of course, no camels or kings attended the birth of the holy baby; they arrived much later to pay their respects.  But there’s nothing like a camel to stop traffic.  And to remind passers-by that this is no ordinary night. 

Jesus, our brother, strong and good,

was humbly born in a stable rude,

and the friendly beasts around him stood,

Jesus, our brother, strong and good. 

All the beasts, by some good spell,

in the stable dark were glad to tell

of the gifts they gave Emmanuel,

the gifts they gave Emmanuel. 

–The Friendly Beasts

12th Cent. French carol

For posts on previous live nativities on Christmas Eve, see here and here

Just in Case. . .

It’s early December.  Advent is upon us.  The preoccupation with surface glitter, with the trappings of the season, threatens to overwhelm, as always.  I suspect that this year, I might not find time for new Christmas posts on Wild Trumpet Vine.  In case that happens, here are some of my favorites from years past. 

Deck the Tree Stump (December 13, 2013)

Deck the Dog (December 15, 2013)

Christmas Spirit, or Holiday Excess? (December 21, 2014)

Oh. . .Eww. . .Christmas Tree! (December 18, 2013)

The Candles of Christmas Eve (December 24, 2011)

Fall’s Last Blast

On today’s sunny afternoon walk, the colors were dazzling.  Seemed like we could feel it in the air:  fall’s final, fleeting burst of intensity.  I thought of a light bulb that glows suddenly brighter before it sputters out.  It won’t be long before icy winds whip these last flamboyantly hued leaves from the trees.  As November yields to December, nature’s grays and browns are mustering forces. 






We’ll counter by filling our homes with twinkling lights and sparkly stuff, with evergreens and berries.  The Holiday Season will be upon us, ready or not. 

A Look Back on Five Years of Wild Trumpet Vine



Five years have passed since I began writing Wild Trumpet Vine.  In the space of that half decade, there have been many changes, naturally.  We passed some major milestones, we faced some challenges, and of course we grew older.  Looking back on the last five years, it gives me comfort to see that our family coped.  Maybe we even grew a little wiser.  I hope so.  We’ll need wisdom.  More daunting challenges lie ahead. 

In the fall of 2011, our daughter was starting middle school.  Seven years of elementary school were behind her, and soon she would be a teenager.  Since then, she made the leap into high school.  She became a licensed driver.  Now, our daughter is a senior, and on the verge of an even bigger leap.   We’ve done our family college visits.  The ongoing process is in her hands now.  Our daughter’s future stretches before her. 


As for H and me, we’re all too conscious of seeming more elderly with every successive stage in our daughter’s life.  We could consider ourselves young when she was small and looked like a child.  Now that she will soon be out of high school, now that she looks like a young woman, our own youth, we realize, is largely an illusion. 

But we needn’t act old.  About a year ago, H began playing ice hockey once or twice a week, something he’s been wanting to do since he captained a rag-tag grad school intramural team at Princeton.  When windsurfing was his only hobby, his free time was spent mostly feeling sad because there was no wind.  Few opportunities for windsurfing arise in northern Virginia; it’s a sport that requires long stretches of time in an appropriately windy locale, such as Cape Cod or Aruba.  Hockey rinks are more conveniently located.  He’s a happier guy these days. 

And I’m happier, too.   I see good friends on a more regular basis now, and that can’t help but brighten the days.  Five years ago, Kiko and I usually began our early morning walks alone.  We typically chatted with many acquaintances along the way; sometimes we met neighbors and walked a while together.   About two years ago we began walking most weekdays with another neighbor and her dog.  Before long, another friend had joined us with her dog.  We were having fun, and evidently it showed.  A third friend soon joined in.  Now there are at least five of us plus our dogs.  Because we often run into other neighbors, the dog parade may swell to eight or so.  It’s become our morning social hour, one we all hate to miss. 


Five years ago, Kiko was four, probably in his prime.  Although no doubt it was already far too late, our family continued to argue about training approaches.  Overcoming his headstrong nature was still put forth as a real possibility by my husband and daughter.  His stubbornness was an ongoing source of family friction. (See An Evening of Discontent and The Joys and Travails of Walking our Strange Little Dog).   

In the language of dog food commercials, Kiko is now a senior dog.  He’s as determined as always in his absolute, driving need to go this way or that.  He has no idea that he’s by far the smallest member of our dog walking pack (which includes a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a Doberman, a Labradoodle and a Golden Doodle).   But Kiko is the unquestioned leader; he chooses the path according to the smells that beckon most keenly.  Yielding to his iron will is more pleasant that battling it.  He’s still fast, although his bursts of speed are shorter-lived. He continues to enjoy wowing the lady dogs with his fleetness of foot and incredible turning radius.  But now he’s very likely to plop down immediately afterwards, preferably for a lengthy rest, in the middle of the street, if possible.  He’s trim and svelte.  His appearance has changed very little.  Except for one detail:  on top of his head, above the center patch of dark sesame coloring, he has a blurred triangle of lighter fur, as though someone had smudged him with bleach. 


Five years ago, my parents were still frequently driving back and forth from Atlanta to our home in Virginia.  They were here watching D and her friends head out trick-or-treating, and to open gifts with us on Christmas morning, to celebrate Easter.  In attitude, demeanor and appearance, they seemed far younger than their actual age. 

Time started to catch up with my father about two years ago.  He had two major surgeries in as many years.  He’d always been fit and active.  He woke up feeling good; he rarely had an ache or pain.  But his last surgery left him weakened, almost frail.  He was becoming more and more sedentary.  When he stood up, he was dangerously wobbly.  And it was becoming clear that he was suffering from some form of dementia.  We tried to see it as no big deal.  It was his short-term memory that was primarily affected.  Did it really matter that he complimented me on my sweater every five minutes?  Or offered to get me a glass of orange juice even more repeatedly than usual?  The disease compounded Daddy’s graciousness.  He’d always made kind, sweet comments.  We simply heard the same ones more often.  But in recent months, the changes were increasingly profound.  During one visit he remarked that he couldn’t remember my birthday.  Another time he asked if I had any sisters.  And was I dating anyone interesting?  I told H it was time he got to Atlanta, before Daddy started actively matchmaking.  He had never been an overly protective father; he’d always wanted me to go out and have fun.  Throughout it all, he kept his sense of humor.  

For most of his life, my father had taken care of my mother, and the shift was very difficult for her.  He had done the driving, the grocery shopping, the bill paying, the handling of most paperwork, all the car stuff.  He had been there with his reassuring presence.  Suddenly Daddy depended on Mama to take care of him.  But he forgot that he needed her help, and that made it even more difficult.  It continually slipped his mind that there were many things he could no longer do.  Understandably, he didn’t want to remember.  He’d been used to doing so much.  Mama worried that he’d go outside without her knowing, that he’d fall on the steps or the steep front bank.  When she told him he couldn’t go outside on his own, he pleaded earnestly and poignantly, like a little boy: Why? Why can’t I go outside?  The thought of that exchange still brings tears to her eyes.  During our final visit in July, H, D and I were doing yard work.  Daddy appeared, as if from nowhere; he could still move surprisingly fast when no one was looking.  He was poised to climb the ladder, an old, rickety thing propped against the house.  We got to him just in time. 


It took Mama a while to adjust to shouldering the burden of being in charge.  I think she was only just coming to terms with it when Daddy died.  My parents would have been married sixty-one years this month.  For her, his absence is a deep and yawning void.   

So, what will the next five years bring?  I don’t like to speculate on the future.  Even when I was young, I hated that question: Where do you see yourself in five years?  In ten?  But looking back on the last five gives me strength to know that we’ll continue to deal with life’s changes as they come.  Like the wild trumpet vine inching along the fencerows, we’ll persevere, through grief, through joy.  My hope is that we will find the assurance that my father experienced.  We’ll see his smile and hear him say: Hey, no need to worry.  It’s all going to be OK. 


A Tribute to my Father at his Memorial Service

Daddy 165

Over the last six weeks, I’ve given a lot of thought to what made my father so special.  Unique.  Speaking with friends and family who knew him well, I think I’m getting closer to defining it. 

It’s something like this:  he was self-assured in a way that made those around him feel better.  He had a quiet confidence that was the furthest thing from arrogance.  Daddy never bragged.  He tended not to speak at length about anything, least of all himself, and he had little patience with those who do.  One friend expressed it this way:  he said my father had a sort of grace.  And that’s it.  Daddy had an unassuming, infectious charisma.  An easygoing demeanor that told you, maybe even without a word: Hey, everything’s cool.  No need to worry.  His assurance reassured you, built you up and improved your outlook.  Even during that final week, after his stroke, while he was leaving this life little by little, Daddy’s presence was uplifting and reassuring. 

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Daddy with his mother and younger brother on vacation in Florida, 1953.

My father looked on the sunny side, and when you were with him, you basked in the sun, as well.  That, plus his incredible good looks, must have been what drew Mama toward him over sixty years ago.  My mother tends to see the shadows.  She’s a worrier.   She’s acquainted with melancholy.  Daddy was, in so many ways, her sunshine. 

Daddy 297
Daddy with his sister and younger brother, again in Florida, 1953.

One of my more vivid childhood memories is being at the Garden Hills pool with Daddy when I was little.  We’d go swimming sometimes on summer Saturdays, just he and I.  I hated getting into cold water.  Still do.  My daughter makes fun of me every year at Cape Cod as I stand wincing, dipping one toe into the bay.  As a little girl, I’d wrap myself around Daddy like a monkey, and he’d get in at the shallow end and gradually wade deeper and deeper.  At first I’d be shivering like crazy.  But his warmth and sense of calm would soon spread to me.  I’d take a deep breath and relax.  The shivers would disappear.  Daddy’s sunny grace would shine on me, and I could play in the water all day.

Daddy 306
Daddy, 1951.

I never had any doubt that with Daddy, the cold water would turn into something wonderful and fun.  And I’ve never had any doubt about Daddy’s love for me.  His most significant gift has been, and will always be, the absolute, unwavering certainty of his love.  No matter what, he was my champion, my loyal defender.  He was partial, of course.  But he was also generous with his love, not just to me but to all his family and friends.  If he loved you, he was in your corner.  Resolutely.  Enthusiastically.  And you knew it.  Never questioned it. 

Daddy 432
Daddy and me on my first birthday, 1962.

What a gift.  It’s a gift I’ll carry my whole life long, and, I expect, into eternity.  Thank you, Daddy. 

My Father, His Life Well Lived

daddy (2)

My wonderful father left this life in the early hours of July 22. It was a peaceful transition, with Mama and me by his side.  He lingered a while, for nearly nine days, as if to break it to us gently.
Those final days were oddly beautiful.  Daddy was kind, sweet and gracious to the end.

While we will miss him everyday, we’re confident that his loving spirit has found its true and joyful eternal home.  And we will carry his love for us always in our hearts. 

Dear Daddy, I will be forever blessed to be your girl!  

Thoughts on Good Friday



Our pale pink trellis roses will be flowering in gorgeous abundance in about six weeks.  They grow up from massive vines.  In stark contrast to the delicate, graceful flowers, the vines are rough-skinned, tough, craggy, crude, and studded all over with the sharpest of thorns.  Barbaric, like an implement of torture.  Barbaric, like the crown of thorns.  Barbaric, like the cross. 

The cross casts its long shadow on Good Friday, this darkest day of the Christian year.   Worshippers the world over pause on this day to mourn the death of a loving and sinless brother, the one who took our ugliness upon himself and carried it with him to the cross. 

Good Friday ends with the death of the Son of God.  But as this church sign in Providence, Rhode Island proclaims, death isn’t the end of the story. 

college trip 298

college trip 298

No.  Not by far.  Easter’s coming. 


For previous Good Friday posts, see Our Good Friday God, and Good Friday: It is Finished. Let Life Begin

Palm Sunday 2016



It’s a gray, chilly first day of spring here in northern Virginia. 

It’s also Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of the holiest week of the year for Christians.  On this day we look back to Jesus’s triumphal entrance into Jerusalem, when he was hailed as a hero.  The enthusiastic adoration of the crowd was with him, for the moment. 

Less than a week later, he would be dead. 

Next Sunday marks Jesus’s true triumph, of course, on Easter Sunday.  But before that, he faced betrayal, the cross, agony, and death.  It’s tempting for us today to skip from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, from joy to joy.  But Christians are called to spend some time this week contemplating those exceedingly dark days between.  Not to do so lessens the power of the risen Christ.   


For additional thoughts on Palm Sunday and Holy Week, see this post from 2012:  Palm Sunday: Everyone Loves a Winner. 

Saved from the Ashes

Some months ago I awoke in the night from what is, as of yet, the most horrific dream of my life.  Nothing really happened in the dream, so I won’t bore you with details.  My husband is quick to remind me that nothing is more tedious than listening to another person’s dreams.  I saw an image, a murky, indescribable image, that somehow engendered an overwhelming and bone-deep sensation of foreboding and dread.  I was paralyzed with fear, but the feeling went far beyond fright. The vision was one of doom, of being trapped for all eternity in a state of absolute and utter hopelessness. 

The effects of the dream persisted.  I couldn’t shake the sense of helplessness and loss.  There was no question of returning to sleep anytime soon.  I looked at my little dog, curled peacefully in his bed just a few feet away.  He appeared blissfully oblivious to the terror that swirled around me like a storm cloud.  Because of his gentleness and sweet demeanor, he has become for me a symbol of all that’s good and right in the world.  Yet his presence lacked any power to comfort me that night.  I wandered silently from room to room, but could find no sense of peace.  No human touch, no human words would help, I knew.  The fear went too deep.  The sense of isolation was too complete. 

Eventually it struck me that the essence of my nightmare vision was that of complete abandonment by God.  And then I saw that hope surely remained.  The comforting words of the Twenty-third Psalm came to me like a gift:

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me. 

In my dream, I had seen the hopelessness of a life of Ash Wednesday ashes.  Without God’s love, we are doomed to the ashes, to the dust and the darkness. 

We turn away from God.  We turn away repeatedly.  But God never turns away from us. He does not abandon his children. 

Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

–Romans 10:13

That night I was too rattled to pray my own prayers.  But the words of the Lord’s prayer were within my grasp.  I knew I was not abandoned to the darkness. 

That night I thanked God for his grace.  Since then, having glimpsed the desolation of hopeless gloom, I almost always remember to thank him every day.  On this Ash Wednesday, I thank him again. 


For additional thoughts on Ash Wednesday, see these earlier posts:  What’s with the Ashes?; Ashes to Ashes; and Those Gray Smudges.