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