Nathan and the Cigarettes

He was sitting on the sidewalk across from the door of the local grocery store with a cardboard sign that said Spare Change Please and under that it said Thank You, God Bless. It was an icy December afternoon in Portland and I wondered what it felt like to be him. His dark and baggy clothes looked like they had never seen the inside of a washing machine. He was scruffy, but rather harmless looking. His hair appeared as if it had been cut with a pocketknife. He held a cigarette in his blackened hands. “Ma’am can you help me?” he queried. I told him I had no cash and jokingly asked if he accepted credit cards. He laughed. I asked for his name, “Nathan,” he said, “and I am trying to get into a shelter for the night. It will cost me $15.”  I told him that I would get him some cash when I bought my groceries, thinking that I could spare a buck or two.

Many questions went through my mind as I shopped for the food, that I would take home to my warm house, and share with my loving husband: Is he lying to me? Is he really going to use my money to get indoors? Should I be giving money to someone who will spend it on cigarettes? Is it even ethical to give cash to a young person who might spend it on drugs? Should I just buy him some food instead? He looked like he needed a good meal and a bath.

Nathan was still there sitting on his backpack when I came out of the store. He had not gotten much action while I was inside.  I had decided to give him what he asked for instead of what I thought he needed, cash instead of food. I had two one-dollar bills and a five-dollar bill in my pocket. I planned to give him the $2. But at that last moment I felt an inner nudge, “Give him all of it, it’s so little to you and so much to him.” I supposed that some holiday cheer was in order. So I gave him the $7.

I was totally unprepared for what happened next. The biggest smile broke across his face revealing the innocent little boy inside. He said, “Wow!! Thank you, ma’am, thank you so much! Oh, thank you!” You know that swinging thing that people do with their arms when they really want to hug you but don’t know if they should? He was doing that and didn’t quite know what to do with himself. Then he bent over and picked up his sign revealing a collection of half smoked cigarettes that he had scrounged from the street. He retrieved them from the ground and carefully placed them into his shirt pocket. “I am going to find my buddy to see if he has his half of the room fee,” he said. As he grabbed his backpack he glanced once more over his shoulder to thank me profusely and then he was gone. And I was left standing there with my thoughts.

Nathan was my teacher on that cold December day and I received a lesson that was worth a lot more than my $7. He taught me about an inner coldness that assumes the worst in people. How easy it is to be “wise!” What I had thought was the voice of wisdom was my judgmentalism and my own cold heart, nothing more. Coldness would rob the Nathan’s of the world of their faith in humanity, their inner warmth and their sustenance. It would rob me of optimism and love, keeping me cynically tucked in and protected, unable to feel deep pain, deep joy, or even deep love.

Nathan also taught me about human warmth, the toasty glow that happens when people need each other. Sure Nathan needed me to help him stay warm for one night. But I needed Nathan to surprise me. And surprise me he did! I am surprised that people with so little can be so thankful. I am surprised that people on the street are so very human when they are noticed. I am surprised that in a chance encounter my life can be forever changed.  Had I given him the $2 instead of the $7 the story very likely would have not turned out the same. From now on, when in doubt I will be generous to a fault and I will love to a fault. And this surprises me, too. Thank you, young Nathan, wherever you are!

Subconscious assumptions that men make… and women don’t.

What is different in a man’s head? Different from a woman, that is. This is such an interesting question and one that is necessary to answer for any woman that wants to get ahead in the world and for any man that wants to understand why women do what they do.

Many of my friends have their husbands coach them when it comes to the professional world, asking for raises, promotions, making proposals, etc. Women are told to think more like a man. But what does that mean? We are not men so we have no native instinct for thinking like a man.

I have been pondering this, observing and asking questions for a few years now. I have come up with ten ways of thinking that are typically male thoughts. Most women do not think these things. It may benefit women to learn to think like this, or at least act like they believe these things until they actually believe them and are able to act accordingly.

I have test marketed this list with men and women in all aspects of the business and church world and in all age groups.  The most common response was a knowing laugh.

So here goes.


1)  My point of view/opinions are valued.

2) I am wanted as a team member.

3) I am welcome at the leadership table.

4) My questions will be answered.

5) My ideas are important.

6) If I lead someone will follow.

7) I can show up as my true self. I do not need to alter myself to be acceptable.

8) People will notice if I drop out of the conversation.

9) I become more valuable as I age.

10) I will be fairly treated financially.

There you have it! What do you think? What would you add to this list?

The Rock of Confession

The Cascade vegetation faded from lodge pole pine into fuzzy Douglas fir, dazzling us with it’s mysterious beauty! So pristine was this forest that one would hardly guess that there was a human touch on the land but for the asphalt winding ahead of us and the occasional signage reminding us that we were driving the Over the River and Through the Woods Byway.

We had been driving for about an hour when we rounded a sharp curve and there abutting the highway was a rock that was about twenty feet high and maybe fifteen feet wide. It was adorned in Technicolor graffiti. The sight was so contradictory to it’s surroundings that I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I wondered what kind of events had brought the writers all the way out into the wilderness to emblazen their comments on this rock for all to see.

Was it joyful celebration or love? JD + RM, Class of 07!…

Was it a need to confess? I Love David…

Was it depression? This is the End…

Or were they seeking out connection? For a good time call Sadie…

It seems that it was all of this and more. Each contributor had come out to confess in some way and the Rock had received their confessions.

I began to think about a few people in the Bible who traveled into the wilderness and ended up at The Rock. Moses went to Mt. Sinai to replace the Ten Commandments that he broke after the Golden Calf incident. Moses was not down with the party! Elijah went to Mt. Horeb (Sinai) after he called fire down from heaven and his pissed off enemies were in hot pursuit. Abraham went to the mountain to sacrifice his son at God’s request. They all needed a God connection of some kind.

If graffiti was in vogue in biblical times what would these guys have confessed to The Rock? Here are some possibilities:

Moses: “These people are idiots! I should never have taken this job!

             For a good time don’t call  the Israelites.”

Elijah: “Uncle! I am undone.”

Abraham: “LOL, really?

              The wife is going to kill me for this!”

I wonder if any of these guys were as baffled about life as I am. Their encounters at The Rock seemed to sort things out for them.

Often I cannot make heads or tails of what I am supposed to be doing. Someone once said that I would see opportunity and change when God breathes on my efforts. Well, it seems like God is holding God’s breath.

There is a huge Rock in Portland called the Grotto. It’s a spiritual place. Just like Sinai people go there to seek meaningful experiences with God. I think I will go.

What confession will The Rock evoke from me?


“My lips move but I can’t speak”


“How long will we sing this song?”

What about you? If you were to go with me, what words would you leave behind?

A Benevolent Response to Tragedy

On television the other night George Zimmerman, the Sanford, Florida shooter of Trayvon Martin, was being interviewed. He declared that his actions were self defensive but apologized to the family, nonetheless. He then turned his gaze directly into the camera. “I believe that the will of God has been done,” he said.

I was stunned! This was wrong on so many levels! The Martin family has lost their beautiful son forever and the shooter dismisses this with the “Will of God” defense!

Does God want to take credit for Zimmerman’s violence?

It got me thinking… why do we work so hard to give tragic, unexplainable circumstances the God stamp of approval? Is it comforting in some way? If so, to whom?

The problem is that the victims of such occurrences are left with a terrible taste in their mouths for a God who at best allows evil and at worst has a willful purpose in evil, when they need the loving presence of god the most.

Just a few nights ago Aurora, Colorado suffered a tragedy unthinkable for any parent who sends their kids off to the movie theater. Twelve deaths and fifty-eight wounded unjustly at the hand of a very, very broken man. How will people think about this and what will be said?

A few days ago I read something in the Celtic Daily Prayer (pg. 695-96) that made a lot of sense to me.

            “It will be all right in the end,” someone says. Will it? Maybe. But often that is not the case. “There is a purpose in all this,” says another.  This implies that God intended this awful situation, that He approves of suffering. (Especially if, as sometimes happens, we bring the trouble on ourselves, it would be insulting to God to suggest that the wreckage was His idea in the first place.)

            All that we deeply experience is significant (even if it was not what we or God intended to happen!)

            What we can say truthfully in a bad and trying situation is this: ‘This is not without significance.’

            But, especially in times of deep suffering, easy answers that come glibly off the tongue are insulting, hurtful and insensitive.

Some of the most painful times in my life have been worsened by those who tried to explain God’s reason for my tragedy. In my immaturity i have thoughtlessly done this to others myself. If one were to stop and think for a moment it wouldn’t have to be so. What would love dictate?

When comforting our suffering brothers and sisters can we ignore our own urges to make sense out of the situation long enough to  acknowledge the significance of the event without further comment? Can we be witnesses to their pain and leave off theologizing and judging?

Isn’t that what love would look like?

Just some food for thought…

The Keeper of My Secrets

The Keeper of My Secrets

I see my mailman around the neighborhood nearly every day. He always waves or says hello. He even recognizes me when I am in my car. I’ve noticed that he recognizes and waves to my daughter, Stephanie, as well. In fact, he knows everyone in the neighborhood. He should, he has been our mailman for thirteen years. So what occurred to me a few days ago was really quite embarrassing. I realized that although I see him at least a few times per week I do not know his name. So I determined to ask the next time I saw him.

Today was the day. He came up my steps with my mail in hand while I was sitting on my porch. I ventured, “You know, I realized that even though you bring this mail every day and I recognize you, I don’t know your name and you have probably have known mine for quite some time.” “My name is Julius,” he smiled and handed me a few envelopes. On the top of the stack was an item from Banana Republic, my new credit card, which I had not yet discussed with my husband.

As my eyes lingered on the bill it quickly occurred to me that this man knows a lot about me. He sees everything that comes to my mailbox, doctor bills, credit cards, letters, and IRS communications. You get the idea.  I said, “Wow, and you know so many of my secrets!”

“Yes, I do,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “but I promised to keep them when I signed on with the Post Office.”

I was stunned, first by his response and then by the recognition of how many others  there must be that quietly serve me without my knowledge or notice, people who are part of my community, people who live and die in my neighborhood? What are their stories and their names? What richness my inattention has caused me to miss!  I immediately determined within myself to notice and to acknowledge them.

“Thank you for bringing my mail, Julius!”

“You are welcome, Deborah.” His eyes again twinkled a smile and went on his way.



I was heading over to visit the chiropractor yesterday when I ran into my friend Ruby. Ruby lives off the kindness of a local church who pays for her small room at a local flea bag hotel. Ruby really doesn’t know how old she is, but looks like she is in her mid 40’s. She roams the streets of our neighborhood rain or shine. Sometimes she is as lucid as you and I and other times she seems completely lost mentally.

The questions came rapid fire. “Can you please help me with some change?” I gave her a handful of quarters. “I’m really, really hungry, can you but me some lunch?”  So I promised her a cheeseburger, fries and a coke. “I really need some clothes. I’ve been wearing these for too long and I can’t even do laundry because I have nothing to change into.” Well, I was getting a little annoyed at her many strident requests. But I remembered that I had promised her the last time I saw her that I would bring her a change of clothing. So I said, “Let me get to my appointment and afterwards I will bring you some food and clothing.”

She waited for me on a sidewalk that was bustling with neighbors and tourists due to the sun and the lunch hour. I bought her some food and  brought a bag of shoes and clothing from home  that was sure to satisfy her. I handed it to her expecting another barrage of requests.  She looked into the bag with surprise. “Oh thank you so much! God bless you, Jesus bless you! Oh, I’m so happy! Thank you, God bless you!” she effused. “You are welcome, Ruby,” I replied.

“Can I hug you?” she said. She looked down at herself. Furiously scratching at her head, Ruby began to hesitate as she surveyed the real estate of her filthy stained clothing. In a nano second I was also surveying my real estate, the real estate of the heart. Why was I hesitant? Would Ruby’s head lice invade my dreadlocks? Would my hipster neighbors think I was a fool for engaging in a body to body, head to head hug with this indigent woman who had a reputation for public craziness?  Would I regret stepping more deeply into her world of pain, poverty and mental illness?

She looked up at me wondering what would come next. “I still want to hug you,” she said sheepishly.  “Of course, Ruby, I would love to get a hug from you!” We embraced and she hung on to me much longer than my comfort allowed.

And my head has itched ever since.




“Look up”

1908… there it was carved in the sidewalk, proof that my neighborhood is an aging duchess. It is perfectly obvious that she is old when one surveys the houses that were once proud and beautiful but now show up as awkward remodels or in serious disrepair. My imagination runs wild as I ruminate on who has trod our sidewalks in years past. Women in hoop skirts and bustles, men tying up their horsed coaches to the metal rings also still embedding in the sidewalks. These charming remnants of the past are evidence that the sidewalks have not been renewed… ever. These walkways are old, cracked and swollen with roots from trees who are just as old, turning a pleasant walk down the street into an athletic adventure at times. So it was with great surprise that as I headed out on my geriatric jog one morning, I heard a small voice in my head say, “Look up.” My immediate thought was, “I wonder how crowded the emergency room is right now.” No, I would not “Look up.” Then it came again and again, “Look up, focus on the horizon.” I began to wonder if this was some kind of learning moment…from God… maybe.

So I obeyed the voice. I focused on the horizon. It was difficult at first but after weeks of rehearsal I eventually trained my eyes. I found that I could survey the ground for snags with my peripheral vision. I also discovered that when my eyes were fixed on the horizon my steps grew longer and my arms pumped harder… I ran faster. I noticed that sometimes the horizon was impossible to sort out. So I pretended like there was a horizon even if I could see it. I learned that if my eyes act like it is there the rest of my faculties will work hard to get me there more quickly than when I watch the ground beneath my feet. The detritus on the sidewalk sometimes tripped me up a bit but I have not yet fallen.

I wonder if sometimes I care too much for inconsequential things and allow my focus to be so immediate that the big picture gets lost so that I no longer recognize the horizon. I also wonder if I need to live in absolute certainty about what is out there or can I just move forward with light expectations and flow with the rhythms of the run. And what happens to the little distractions if I no longer give them credence? What happens to the run? What happens to me in this process?

By the way, I no longer go for little geriatric jogs. I am a sprinter now… big difference!

Welcome to my new blog! My hope is that we will journey together towards to the horizon even though it is not always understandable or clear. Cheers to a future together of faith and surprises.