December. Eve of the eve of Advent

Most of my friends are putting up Christmas trees and adorning their homes with festive decorations. The photos they post and share are exquisite.

For a number of years I’ve had a different. practice. At Thanksgiving, days before the beginning of Advent, I walk down to the lake at my mother’s farm and clip blue berry laden juniper branches to take back to Houston to prepare my home for Advent.

Before Christmas arrives, I love observing Advent. The image I’ve held in my heart for years is a very pregnant Mary pondering and waiting, with hope and uncertainty held together in open hands.

Blue being the color of hope, and being the color Mary most often is depicted wearing, for the first twenty four days of December my home is full of blue.

Yesterday I clipped and arranged juniper branches gathered at Thanksgiving last week. placed them in bowls and vases, on table, buffet, and mantle throughout my temporary home in Tomball. It’s nearly Advent!

However, this year I had not gathered the branches my self. My injured ankle prevented me from walking the uneven terrain to clip the branches. Instead I remembered to ask for help. My nephew and niece and brothers lopped off limbs of brown, green, and blue for me.

This year my Advent preparations are a concrete reminder that we are invited to not wait alone. Together we hold hope and uncertainty in shared and clasped hands

Thankfully walking in the wilderness. Again.

God set me on the path of healing again. Turn me to the rising sun when I need to be inspired. Turn me to the wilderness when I need to be lost. Turn me toward the world when I need to work. Turn me toward the mountain when I need to retreat. So that on turning I find Your loving grace all around. (Prayer by Becca Stevens in Love Heals)

A week ago, walking on uneven ground, I sprained my ankle. The pain of healing has slowed me down. The injury is not a surprise as I walk in the wilderness of this second flooding in less than two years.

Several people have commented that it must be easier handling the second flooding of my home. Some say that since I know the drill it must not be as difficult.

These are very kind and very caring people, and because they love me I think they may hope it’s easier.

But as a friend commented, a second broken arm hurts as much as the first. You may know better how the healing process goes, but the familiarity does not make it easier.

As Becca Stevens writes, I am back in the wilderness again. I am lost, but I learned tools in the last flood that assure me that what is lost will be found. I do know from the first flood that there is great beauty in the wilderness. 

I wish I were not back in the wilderness, but I know I am being found.  I also know that there is the beauty of love, companionship, unexpected gifts, and abounding grace.

Yes. It hurts. And still I am thankful.

Another new year

I am nearly home. Two more flights, and I am back to rebuilding my home, and walking wth the people God has called me to serve at St. Mary’s and the Diocese of Texas. 

I’ve been so very aware during my time in Iceland of the juxtaposition between my life this past two weeks and the hardships folks were bearing back at home. In the midst of receiving two weeks of beauty and care, I’ve been listening for what God is giving me to share with others. 

Having lived a year of rebuilding on every level of my life this past year after the Tax Day Flood, I knew that I would need to rest deeply to prepare for what was ahead. I did not deserve the trip; I hadn’t earned the trip. It was pure grace. 

 I have been immerced in kindness and beauty and generosity on my trip. 

I am grateful for this birthday gift as I see what God has in store until the anniversary of my birthday this time next year.  

Heimili. Home. 

Tomorrow is my birthday.  I am remembering all of the homes where I have lived.   They are each places tied to important moments in my life. 

A little rent house in Waco where I was brought home from the hospital.  A house on Colcord in Waco where I met my brother, Austin. 

An apartment in south Dallas while waiting for our new home to be completed.  Our home at 1808 Swansee,  Dallas 32, Texas, where I met my other brother, Richard. My home at 4012 Fountainhead, Dallas 75234, where I was married. 


An apartment on South Oak Cliff Boulevard where my daughter Lisa was brought home from the hospital.   

An apartment on South Walton Walker where I commuted to college. 

A townhouse on Olde Forge where I drove to my first teaching job. 

My first house I owned on Valleywood in Carrollton.

My new home in Houston on Beechmoor where I brought my son Jacob home from the hospital; where I was made a postulant for Holy Orders; and where I served in my first parish. 

St. Mary’s Rectory on Laneview where I’ve lived the past 20 years. 

And in the past year, I’ve had seven temporary homes as a result of two Houston floods. I am very grateful for each of these temporary homes and the hospitality each represents. 

However, I’m a person who values finding a place to live and staying put. Benedictine spirituality calls it stability. 

Even when I travel, I usually look for a home base and day trip out so that I go back to the same place, my away home, each night to rest. 

I do not like to move.   Yet changes and chances of life have given me new homes that have each been a part of who I am becoming. 

Yesterday, at my hotel home in Reykjavik, the hot water in the bath wouldn’t turn off. The staff tried to fix it three times, but it only seemed to get more scalding. The staff asked if they could move us to another room. It would be an upgrade. 

My friend was concerned I wouldn’t want to move, but we had to be able to take a shower. 

So we stuffed all our belongings into bags and suitcases, and the staff came to help us relocate. 

Instead of a lovely, small, but more than adequate room, we were moved to a luxury suite on the top floor with a terrace.  I must add that my friend had used points from a credit card to book our four nights, and we had paid nothing for our more than fine room.   Now we had a suite with an amazing view, and still it was free.

Rachel Sage sings a song about home:

Home is where you’re taken in.       
Fearlessly breathing with the wind.    
 Home is where you set your spirit down.   
 I’m at home in all this beauty.        
 Everything about it moves me
I may be from another place but home is where I am now
Where I am now. 

    For now, I am learning for home to be wherever I am now.   I am learning how to put my spirit down and make any place a home. 

    When I return to Houston on Thursday, I will move to another home.  

    The truth is, all homes this side of heaven are temporary. They are only places to prepare for the home with a view beyond imagination. Everyone will be upgraded, and it has already been paid for. Free for us all. 

    Photos are from my travels around Iceland yesterday and today.   My heimili or home for now. 

    Sunday morning in Reykjavik 

    Today is church.  My friend and I walked the half mile uphill in the cold and rain to worship. It was glorious. 

    As I entered the nave, the choir was practicing.  As beautiful music surrounded me, I lit candles with prayer intentions for friends, family, and neighbors. 

    The liturgy was in Icelandic; however, the usher gave us a warm welcome and handed me a guide to worship in English. 

    Grateful for the printed guide, I thought of Molly and Jennifer back at home.  I was appreciative for the difference it makes to have a person sitting right beside who is familiar with the service to guide us through. The paper, though very well-intentioned, is not as helpful as a neighbor.  

    Worship, no matter what the language, is still centered with God,  and I knew pretty much what was going on and could chime in English at appropriate moments.  The sermon was preached with enthusiasm, but except for hearing Mary and Martha mentioned,  I hadn’t a clue. 

    After worship, we walked around the corner for cappacinos and a light lunch at our favorite local coffee spot, Reykjavik Roasters. 

    It was a good morning. 

    Between crucifixion and resurrection 

    Yesterday I stopped. Stopping allowed some time for feelings to rise about flooding–my own and the many, many more from places near and far.  The smaller sadness of my heart being broadened and deepened by the greater sadness of my neighbors flooded throughout our world. 

    Recently I’ve thought of the words of a friend who flooded for the first time from Harvey.  My friend said that he had always loved the sound of waking to rain–but that quotidian joy had been destroyed by the new association of that sound and the feeling of stepping off his bottom steps into the waters of a flooded home. That’s what disasters and tragedies can do–take something we love and pair it with something painful. 

    I experienced that on my trip. I love waterfalls, but on this trip to Iceland the sound of rushing waters has become connected with seeing the destruction of flood waters in my home. 

    When my friend wanted to go visit nearby waterfalls yesterday, I decided to stay in our lovely hotel and knit and tend to some flood matters in Houston. 

    Later that afternoon when the sun had come out, I asked my friend if she wanted to return to the waterfalls and take me with her. Of course she did–she’s that kind of friend. 

    As we approached the stunning beauty of the falls,  I could feel my heart and soul fill with sadness at the same time my eyes were filled with the extravagant view of waterfall after waterfall after waterfall. Pain and strength and healing all at once. 

    As we drove back to our hotel, we spotted a lovely church just off the road. It was in the midst of an installation by a local artist whose sculptures are worked in the local rock. 

    Inside this exquisite church, the altar, baptismal font, and lectern were all his creation. 

    Over the altar were two sculptures–one of a crucified Jesus and the other of a resurrected Christ. 

    This is where I stand. Between the suffering of Jesus and the light and joy of the resurrection.  It is the place I am, and it is holy. 

    Filled with the beauty of our very brief in miles road trip we returned to our hotel to dress for dinner. 

    As we waited and waited and then waited some more for dessert to be served, good conversation with laughter was enjoyed. Turns out, the chef really did have to bake my cake!  Halfway though enjoying it’s luciousness, we saw two photographers running through the lobby and outside the front door. Hurrying from our  table, leaving our food behind, we went outside to see the green swirl and dance of the Northern lights. 

    If the cake hadn’t needed time to bake, we’d have missed the lights. 

    The suffering Jesus. The resurrected Christ. 

    And the place in between.

    Sabbathkeeping in Husafell

    Back at home, Friday is my Sabbath. 

    A Sabbath is different from a day off. It’s even different from a vacation day. 

    It’s a day to stop. To cease. To allow God to fill in the spaces and allow the world go on without me.  It may be the most challenging spiritual discipline. 

    In the midst of a glorious vacation, today I will try to center in a place of Sabbath. 

    It is fall in Iceland. One of my most favorite seasons. Vegetation tends to huddle close to earth in this rugged clime, even the few trees. The fall color this creates a foundation for the soaring landscape and sky. 

    I began this day, after breakfast, sitting in a lounge area, with a symphony of voices of folk from all over the world chatting as they ate and visit.  With the voices of God’s people surrounding me, I prayed Morning Devotions to be posted later by Rev. Alan. 

    I’ve loved beginning the day this way. 

    Now what will happen today as I Sabbath and God does the rest?

    The Kindness of Strangers

    Carefully planned vacations can become even better when recalculations happen. 

    My friend Betsy has something her family calls an anything can happen day.  It’s a way to travel without any set plan and respond to opportunities rather than planning an itinerary. 

    Yesterday was an anything can happen day. 

    We arrived at the small local grocery store right after it opened to look for something for breakfast. The gracious staff at the market opened up the closed for the season dining room so we could sit and eat our skyr and what the Scots call digestive biscuits (i.e. cookies).  One of the employees carefully made us the best cappuccino and latte we’d had in Iceland, served in lovely cups and saucers.  She then made our  takeaway order, and refused to take payment.  The kindness of strangers 

    In Iceland, hotels offer amazing and abundant breakfast buffets.  This simple breakfast with what was available was as wonderful as any of those served at heavily laden tables. 

    Looking at maps, my friend and I created our own Ring Road to circle the Westfjords in cold, rainy, and windy weather. It was a perfect day for experiencing Iceland’s stunning and rugged beauty.   We came upon a local handcraft cooperative where I found some handknit slippers to replace mine damaged beyond repair in the flood. We had a picnic overlooking a moss covered lava vista. 

    Driving anything can happen gravel roads in the rain can turn a white car brown.  Since the car was too dirty to even see out, we stopped at the car wash near our night’s resting place. Car washes in Iceland are free, and consist of a brush attached to the end of a hose. While we waited our turn for the one brush hose, a fellow traveler from Maine found another hose and proceeded to rinse our car while we waited.   The kindness of strangers. 

    Much has been said about the extraordinary response of stranger to stranger since the flooding in Houston.  I know that I experienced it time again from both friends and strangers that became neighbors, in the Jesus sense. 

    I continue to experience this in Iceland. I think of one of my favorite hymns: 

    As Christ breaks bread and bids us share, 
    each proud division ends. 
    The love that made us makes us one, 
    and strangers now are friends, 

    The Wild Westfjords


    Today was a travel day. We packed up and began the road trip from Akureyri to the Westfjords.

    When my friend and I had to do a little reorganizing of our trip due to Hurricane Irma, we had to choose which places we wanted to see most. After a lot of research, we decided to go to the Westfjords, a remote and even more wild corner of Iceland.

    We began the five hour trip knowing it would take us far longer. As always, there were many stops for photographs, walking, painting, and even ice cream.

    Leaving The Ring Road that circles the country, we headed up the stunning east coastline of the Westfjords.   After nine hours of driving, we were finally in the small fishing town of Holmavik.

    Though we thought we had planned well, it turns out that we had been given some misinformation.  I should have known since every time I googled the town the top piece of information is about the Witchcraft and Sorcery Museum. Yikes!

    Turns out that the  tourist season here ends August 21.  All but one restaurant had closed; it was the restaurant that was attached to the Witchcraft museum, and it had limited hours.  The laundry service we’d been promised (having brought a week’s worth of dirty clothes) never was a possibility.  Finally, in this remote town it appeared we were the only guests in the hotel.  It was all rather creepy.  I think it was that Witchcraft museum.

    At least we had good internet.

    After agonizing over what to do, we decided to stay the night and find another place to stay tomorrow.  That being said, we also had to agonize where in Iceland we wanted to travel to next.  I guess agonize and travel in Iceland don’t really go together.  After all, it is Iceland.  It’s all beautiful!

    We went down the hill to the lovely grocery store and bought some provisions for a picnic dinner in the room.  Then as the sun set, we took a walk to the local church.  The steeple, I’m afraid, looked like a witch’s hat, with a cross on top.

    Tomorrow we’ll drive some more through the Westfjords and to a place that will be back near the Ring Road.  We’ve decided that for the rest of our stay we’ll cut back on driving so we’ll have more time for stopping and exploring.  And laughing, too.  And, oh yes, doing laundry.