I did it! I moved…

To Thoroughly Alive.com!

I love this old blog and it will stay here forever. I might even occasionally post old things from it. But it was time to move on and expand and create with more design intricacy, and, well. Here we are. Please come over, reset your bookmarks and continue the lovely conversation over at the new diggs.

Oh, and I hope you think thoroughly is at least a little bit easier to spell that “itinerant.” Isn’t it?

Joy to you all!


Filed under Uncategorized


I am reading Three Cups of Tea these days, that now-famous story about a stranded mountain-climber who stumbled off one of the harshest terrains in the world into the arms of an accommodating village in Baltistan. Deeply grateful, he later returned to build a school for the children of the people he had come to love in the tiny village of Korphe, even though the town sat on the edge of one of the most forbidding, remote places on earth.

I ducked into Barnes and Noble the other night and bought this on impulse because, frankly, I am trying to figure out what work God has for me in the world, and I want to read about the great works of other people. Greg Mortenson’s story, and his years of hard work and haphazard living and trips back and forth and half-starts makes me feel better, and of course, inspired. But something that has haunted me the whole book, something I felt I needed to understand in order to get down to the soul of this story, was the whole why of mountain climbing in the first place. It plays as a theme throughout the tale- the allure of these sere, murduerous mountains, the climber’s drive to reach the summit despite tortures no medieval dungeon every conjured- frostbit, pleurisy, lack of oxygen, months of near-frozen living. As I was falling asleep last night, I found this quote by a mountaineer friend of Mortenson’s:

In the quiet of the hospital, I pondered the lessons we have learned. Everest is a harsh and hostile immensity. Whoever challenges it declares war. He must mount his assault with the skill and ruthlessness of a military operation. And when the battle ends, the mountain remains unvanquished.

Somehow, in that quote, I understood the drive to climb the world’s most dangerous mountains as a quest as much of the spirit as the body. I realized that Mortenson’s all-else abandoning determination to build his school took the same singleness of purpose it would take to scale Everest. The impulse to a great work of kindness for the people of Korphe was kindred with the impulse to ascend an impossible mountain, to try, to dare, to fight.  I began to see climbers as people of vast hungers who must, must push beyond the easy valley life and ascend, up, to the impossible. In that realization, I finally understood these mountain climbers. And I realized that it is with their very grit that I want to live my faith, and each day of my life.

God is the Everest I will climb. His kingdom is the strange, far-away land that I am willing to leave every comfort of my easy, comfortable valley life to find. I’ve realized lately that I’m hungry for a work. A task that will demand the whole of my life and effort. That hunger has taken lots of different faces in the past couple of years. For awhile, I thought I could sate it by study. I applied to everywhere from Oxford to the community college in town. But never did I feel at peace. I’ve written essays in torrents of words (especially of late), trying to fulfill this hunger for a purpose. I’ve dreamed and planned endless things that never came true, but helped me stay sane because they filled my mind. And, I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do. But reading this book has made me realize that the hunger is a holy thing. That I was meant to work my heart and soul and strength out in the search for my God and in service to his beautiful kingdom. The hunger I finally understand in the mountaineers is the hunger I want to cultivate within myself into a determination to dare greatly for God.

Because truly? There he always is, on the periphery of my sight. This mountainous, pure, shocking Eternal that almost frightens us. The sheer, snow-capped beauty of him is, for me, a siren call in the moments when I remember to look up. I think we all of us carry an ache for his holy air every day of our lives. But I don’t think many of us set out to climb him. We watch from the safe distance of normal valley life. We honor his immensity, but we stay at home were ease is guaranteed. Maybe that is good and right in its own way.

I want to be a climber though. I want to know my God, I want to enter the terror and pure light of the heights of his real presence in this fallen world. That’s what I’m realizing through reading this book. The impulse of Mortensen in climbing and humanitarian work, the impulse of Mother Theresa, and Brother Andrew and any entrepreneur is the impulse to move beyond the small we see and dare the great we know is waiting beyond. Mountain climbers know something true about the world, they understand that we must dare great things because there is a true and great beauty to be had if we will fight our way to it. I want their spirit in my living.


Filed under Contemplations





Filed under Uncategorized

Climate hopping

I’m procrastinating.

I have a chocolate cappuccino at my elbow, the buzz of evening coffee housers in my ears, and two hours of journals and books at my corner table all to myself. All this is possible because I am ignoring the fact that I ought to be packing for my California trip tomorrow. Surely thinking, reading, is more important than mere laundry and suitcases. Don’t tell me if you disagree. Maybe I can blame it on the strange things that climate and time-zone hopping does to your brain. Grand Rapids was last weekend, and my goodness it’s cold up there. But as warm-hearted a conference as I’ve ever attended. I spoke on my new book and stayed with a family that reminded me almost exactly of my own when we were all little  (noisy, bookish, talkative, crazy, and fun!). Now for California.

When you only have three days between trips, life feels a little open ended, days get blurry. There’s no set schedule, no mental black line of expectation framing in the hours of your day. I sort of drift through these interim spaces at home. I write, blog, get up to Yorkshire tea in the morning and my quiet time, then meander into whatever rest and richness I can find.

Walking helps. The steps and fresh air form a sort of beat that gets me feeling rhythmic about my life again. There’s the added novelty of my new practice of walking with a camera. I’m determined to become an accomplished photographer. This is a very new decision. I’ve just started saving up my pennies for an SLR digital camera, but I’m practicing in the meantime on my trusty little point and shoot. If any of you have brilliant photographic tips, I’m all ears. For now, here’s what I’ve seen of late in my meandering:

Rivers in our streets.

Wintered branches give me goosebumps

I have always loved wheaten colored grass in winter. I don’t know why.

In case you were wondering, I do still think the spots, the instants of great beauty are thin places in life too. Maybe not as common as the struggleish ones, but still worth looking for every single day. I’m sure you weren’t worried, but I am determined as ever to celebrate every jot of the feast that is life. It’s all the brighter for being loved even in the shadows. This is a deeply random post. Oh well. I’m finishing this up at home and now I have to pack. Wish me luck.


Filed under Musings

Thin Places

People, I’m sorry. I’m pretty much writing a book via post these days. This is so long, and so involved, and I hope very much you don’t find me to be a hopeless navel-gazer. Just know, I’m figuring out my whole life. (Yes, you can smile.)
First, I must, must say thank you for the deep and heartfelt comments last post. What stories you have lived, and what deep beauty you’ve found in the midst of it all. Thank you for what you shared and how you sent courage pulsing into your posts so it could pulse back into my heart. You were bountifully honest in what you wrote about; struggles, hopes, and uphill run toward redemption. I love how there was (for me at least) a sudden flash of friendship across the internet wires. I owe several of you emails, and they are coming… very slowly, but surely. For the moment though, I have to let all of you know that you are making me think. Hard.

Odd, isn’t it, how talking about what is broken in our lives brings us closer? Makes friends of strangers. Maybe our pain makes us more honest, more “real,” like the Velveteen Rabbit who had all his fluff worn off by the love and loss of his boy, but went from a cloth bunny to a flesh and blood rabbit, with eyes that could see and a heart that beat. Could it be the same for us? Is struggle (and the admission of it) the thing that makes me real? The pain I so despise, is it the force that turns me from a mist of illusions into a real, living soul? Real to you all, real to everyone else as a person. But also, real to God?

I was reading about Iona the other day (the famous, Celtic abbey in Scotland) and saw it described as a “thin place.” Madeleine L’Engle said that there is something about that jutting, wind-bitten little rock of land that allows a few more drops of God’s presence to slip through than usual.When I read that phrase, it got right into me with pincers of desire. A thin place. A place so lovely, God is touchable. I could have taken off for Scotland that instant because Iona, in all its myth and beauty, seemed to promise that it could make God and me both feel real. That lonely, aching want for a true knowledge of God’s presence is a hurt I carry just beyond the busyness of my mind. It’s the want I’ve cried over the hardest in my knee-popped moments of utter truth. And I cried all the harder in those times, because I assumed that beauty and perfection, a lack of pain, were the way to God’s presence. The more I struggled, the more defeated I felt. If I could only be truer to my ideals (healthy food, sleep, hours of contemplation, extra reading, less modernity), escape from the noisy people, the constant needs of ministry, the bee swarm of modern culture that crowds my life, I could create thin places for myself. If I were only at peace, God would come.

Then came my knee, and the post, and your comments. To my shock, all of it has been a thin place. In your letters, I’ve felt the love and care of God. In my own, more honest quiet times this week, I’ve been sustained through crazy conference days by a love that comes under and beside me when I least deserve it. But it upends all my expectations. I am more honest and in more struggle than ever, yet God is here.

What I begin to see is that there are thin places already in my life, but I have been slow to see them. They are a far cry from Iona’s ethereal beauty or any ideal of a quiet life that I have held. I have rarely welcomed them. But I see now that my thin places are the hours in which I have questioned, struggled, and grieved. Times like this week, but if I am honest and look back, almost without exception, every dark time in my life has been a space of God’s sudden presence. In pain, the usual murk of living grows a little thinner, my distraction eases, and I come face to face with God. Whether in my knee-popping epiphany, or seasons of intense loneliness, or even in watching the grief in Haiti (something very much on my mind), these moments demand truth. Circumstances like those scatter all illusions and take me right down to the wire of what is true. Thin places. In an earthquake where children die, either God loves us and is good, or he’s not. When I am at my end, either God truly is with me, or he’s not. The places of pain demand an answer from my soul. In that minute I face, abruptly, the true landscape of myself, and in it, the presence of my God.

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Filed under Contemplations, Thoughts Thunk Much Too Late At Night

Speak what we feel

This might get kinda long. Sorry. Something about conference season and the sudden upending of schedule and home life often catapults me into epiphanies. Being away from home makes one vulnerable to prolonged thought. I love, and dread this season. It comes every year, this round of travel and speaking, trips in hotels, trips in cars… a riotous wrangle of adventure, exhaustion, friendship, ministry, and probably, madness. This year, however, was remarkable for starting with a bang. Actually, it was more of a pop. And it came from the general direction of my knee.

I was in the house all alone just as dusk poured darkness in through all the windows on the eve of the conference. Upstairs, in my room, I was whirling about to very loud music, attempting to turn the exercise of packing my suitcase into an aerobic dance. To the blood-quickening uillean pipes of Rock Island, 1931, I put my foot down for a vigorous pirouette, but to my unbounded surprise felt my leg buckle and my knee give an astounding pop. Next thing I knew, I was on the floor, back against my blue wall, legs at odd angles, my right ankle twitching. It was ten minutes before I could move. I was stunned. I rubbed my knee. I tried to calm my ankle. I rocked back and forth as feeling came back and everything went sore. Finally, I decided that whatever popped out must have popped back in.

I also cried. I think the shock of it (and I hate to admit this, I hate to cry) brought the tears. The pain was low grade, but I was shaking, scared at what I might have done, and as I sat there, trying to straighten my leg and stand, watching my toes twitch, I almost wept. Big, babyish tears. I asked myself if I was two years old and my brain very calmly answered no. I asked myself if I intended to let a little knee drama cow me in future from daring rescues, hikes across the English moors, or relief work in a war-torn country (all of which I plan to do). Of course not. I gingerly hobbled my way to my red chair and sat there. I took deep, decisive breaths. But each strong, calming suck of air into my lungs came out shredded into a sob. I couldn’t stop.

I thought I was just being irrational. For whatever reason, physical pain is the hurt I am least able to philosophically bear. I feel slapped across the face by it. I am more of a wimp at being sick than I like to admit. I mentally rolled my eyes at my weakness and let the tears come. But then the worst pain died down, and I was pretty sure nothing was broken. I kept on crying. Harder. I couldn’t stop. My throat ached, but so did my heart and I was bewildered as to why. It took me ten more minutes to suddenly realize I wasn’t crying about the pain. I wasn’t even crying over the shock or the scare. I was crying about things that had happened two weeks ago.

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Filed under Contemplations, Outrageous Occurences


It has been one of those quiet, hidden days,
Like the wind brushing past dark cypresses as they sway;
Or the murmur of a shell, pressed close to the ear,
Which only the keenest perception can hear.
(“It is I, do not fear.”)
I have flitted through this dusk of a day,
A moth in dim air,
Or as shadows of leaves tapping at my windowpane.
Known only to him who has passed it with me.
Traversing the cloisters alone,
“It is Myself, how can you be afraid?”

-Sister Mary Agnes, Order of Poor Clares


Filed under Poetry


St. Perpetua of Carthage, at Notre Dame.

I have been reading about a martyr today. She rivets me. A young, vibrant noblewoman, married, and with a tiny, nursing baby, she was condemned to death for her faith in Christ. She lived in Carthage, right in the earliest centuries of Christianity. My reading today was marked by humble curiosity. Perpetua was one of those martyrs who seemed to have had the light of the sun in her eyes, who, for the most part, faced death, loss, and rejection with an almost Spartan refusal of grief. I don’t feel I am quite so brave. By all accounts, she was a determined young woman, who would not recant her faith before the Roman ruler even as her father grovelled before her, her newborn child in his arms, begging her to yield. Condemned to the die in the arena by the attack of a mad cow, she was so stunningly joyful, so full of song and this hope like laughter,  she apparently didn’t realize she’d been thrown by the animal. She was brought back in to be kept for a later death by sword and had to be convinced that she was wounded.

I must admit. For awhile today, she stymied me. I have been sitting in my chair this morning, yearning to know how, how, she was so full of joy. I’ve read stories like hers before. I always thought that her sort of joy, her steel-faced faith was a teeth-clenched willing. She must have had willpower on a marathon scale to smile like that. I thought that she was simply stronger than me. Only way I could ever be like her was to gut up my sorrow and quit feeling sad about the world. That will never happen. Down came the guilt.

And yet, wait. I know without doubt that joy like that cannot be gutted out or gritted through. A hope like that cannot be scratched out from the the gravel of a frail, human self. Not one of us, even sun-faced martyrs, has that kind of strength on our own. If there is anything I have learned this year, it is that left to themselves, humans, all humans, are pitiful. We are so fallen. Hope and joy and beauty have to come to us from a source beyond ourselves. Like a spring of water, or the rising of the sun on darkened land, joy must come to us. Perpetua’s brand of strength had to be one that lived outside of herself. Abruptly, I understood that Perpetua was not stronger than me. She was more in love.

What can bring the sort of joy that makes a violent death and the loss of your child something to laugh through? Only an absolute belief that you are irrevocably loved. Loved by a Father whose mercy and power insure that all of you, body and soul and mind and heart, will never be abandoned, but healed in the end. Only by knowing the love with which you are loved to be the one true fact of the universe, a truth that will burgeon into a new heaven and earth of beauty even when all else fades away. A love in which all lost things are kept safe for a future redemption.

I realized that Perpetua was glad, downright drunk with joy so as to be oblivious to pain, because her eyes saw only the God who loved her. The fact of his affection was so real and true to her that in the prison and arena, in the dark hours of the night before she died, in the moment when she kissed her baby goodbye, she saw the good that would come instead of the bad that was happening. It was love that gave her Herculean strength. It was God’s face fixed in her mind that she saw instead of the leering arena crowd. It was his presence growing closer as her life flowed out that she felt instead of her broken body. I think in those agonizing moments of death, her trust in God’s love enabled her to glimpse the end of the story, the redemption that would come. And so, she had no reason to be afraid.

I want to be in love like Perpetua.


Filed under Contemplations

All… the way… home…

Good mornin’ Oklahoma. Ain’t you lookin’ bright and chipper today. Thanks o’ lovely Lord for a clear sky drive. Thirteen hours to go. May the road rise up to meet us. Coffee anyone?

Say hello to the sun, brother. It’s gonna be a ride of a day. What do ya say I slather us up a couple pieces of that baguette we got, cut some Gouda, munch those nuts (no fastfood for us), and we’ll pop in a Poirot. I wonder who did the rich man in? Nine more hours. Sure glad we’re together.

Peekaboo star? One grand, gold eye with a lash of trees? A face so good it’s gaze can’t been seen? Whatever you are, fare you well you bright, bold thing. We’ll follow you down the horizon. Day and storybook end together. The doctor was guilty. We knew it. Five more hours. Time to break out the Trader Joe’s chocolate. Stay open my poor old eyes!

Say goodnight to the sun, my Joel. Funny the way the sky weeps color when the light is ripped away. Funny, the way your soul wants to answer. Do you think our lives are like the bolt of those lights? Dash of a flicker, blinded by flight, while a sky of fire sings overhead and longs to take our light into its own?

Yes. I’ve been driving too long. Three more hours. I’m glad I’m not alone.

And, oh, oh my. Home.

Hello red chair. Hello new Irish calendar. Hello little note from Mom, and cup of tea, and art book open on the table, and lamp blazing away. Hello pillow. Hello bed. Hello…


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Filed under Travel

One of my favorites

When in Nashville on a Sunday, I fly like a homing pigeon to a church I used to attend in the ancient days when I had my abode in Tennessee. At the time, I lived way out in the hilly green countryside so the flavor of my visits to this church were somewhat that of a long-awaited event. It was a day in the town and a visit to a spiritual home all at once. The long drive in on a clear, early morning. Highways grey like a clear river, birds (there are always birds singing if you listen) chanting their own hymn, coffee on the way down, and then, the sanctuary. High wooden walls in an arcing curve that put me in mind of the bow of a ship in which my sailing would be strong and smoothe. Slim brick pillars and slim stained glass windows, the faces of saints and elders and legends vying for my eyes. Then, worship.

I loved that church. Headed there yesterday and had the grand treat of hearing one of my favorite hymns, a song I don’t think gets near enough play sung by the choir during the Eucharist. The hymn is Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent (I’ve copied the words below) and to me, there is a quiet behind the words of this song that is like a vast night sky seen from the window of a lit home at night. Every time I hear this song, I am aware of eternity behind it, looming up in the windows of my mind. I always sing it with a bit of a sudden stillness in me. The rendition yesterday was exactly how I’ve always wished to hear it sung- a few, mystic, uncanny little bells at start and then the bare bones voices, first of a woman with a high, clear voice, then the choir in a simple mesh of harmonies. The words themselves and the grandeur behind them bearing down on our unsuspecting heads. I couldn’t record it, but maybe the sound of it, even in imagination, will kindle your soul as it did mine. Hope your day is a graced one.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!


Filed under Music, Musings