Still Points in the Day: Wellspring

A holy chair.

Every second Thursday of the month, Kirk and I attend a contemplative gathering at a local church called Wellspring. It’s led by ordained artist and writer Jan Richardson and her immensely talented musician husband, Garrison Doles. 

We love it so. 

It’s a very simple service held in a tiny side chapel at the local United Methodist Church. The people who attend come from a wide ecumenical background and are beginning to feel a bit like family now. Garry shares his wonderful music with us. We read scripture together. We sit in long silences together. Jan shares a beautiful reflection that ushers us through the church year. We share conversation as a group from the places we’re sitting in our pews. We break the bread of Communion. 

I love every single aspect of this service, but one of the things I love the most is the chance to let my spirit rest. 

We slink quietly into the chapel, where Garry picks softly on his guitar and others sit quietly—listening, praying, being. We slide into our usual spot in the back pew, set our things down, and settle in. 

I close my eyes and breathe deep. I can feel the settling settle over me.

Time for rest

My spirit is at peace in this place. I’m welcome here. I’m invited to notice God. I’m thankful. 

The Wellspring service is a still point for me.

Do you have a space like this that is a still point for you?

Pieces of Formation: Heightened Emotions


Yesterday we considered experiences that brought us peace. Today, let’s consider the more heightened emotions — anger, sadness, ecstasy. 

For me, anger emerged in instances of justice. Or, rather, injustice. Being blamed for something I couldn’t have controlled. Being scolded for a certain behavior while my classmate was allowed to continue doing it. These kinds of things made me feel that things weren’t right, weren’t fair, and should have happened differently. 

What about you? 

When it comes to the more heightened emotions of life, where did you experience them as you were growing up?

Pieces of Formation: Your Family Credo

I just love her.

Just some cuteness for you.

Yesterday we talked about the individual roles we’ve played in our families and how they affect the people we became. Today, let’s talk about the family creeds that existed while we were growing up (and may still exist today).

These can vary widely from family to family. Some examples would be:

  • We don’t talk about our feelings.
  • We always talk about our feelings.
  • When we’re angry or sad, we don’t show it. 
  • When we’re angry, everyone knows it.
  • When we’re sad, it’s someone else’s job to make it better. 
  • People aren’t welcome in our home.
  • Everyone is welcome in our home.
  • Anyone who is “different” isn’t okay.
  • We learn so much from other people and ideas. 
  • It’s not okay to make mistakes.
  • Mistakes are how we learn.

What kind of credo — voiced or unvoiced — was at work in your family unit?

Pieces of Formation: Your Role in the Family

Lone bird.

I was the peacemaker in my family, and I was the listener. 

No matter who was fighting with whom — siblings, parents, siblings with parents — I seemed to be the one who not only got along with everyone but also had a way of making and preserving peace. I could help those who were fighting feel seen, heard, and understood. I could be a safe place to go. I often served as a go-between. 

And I knew how to hold the stories. My parents trusted me with theirs, and I often felt I knew my siblings better than they knew me. I just had an ability to listen. 

For a long time, after I went through my original process of looking at my container, I resented both of these roles I played in my family. Why should I have been the peacemaker? Why should I have held the stories? I carried anger, resentment, and sadness about these roles for a number of years in my adult life. 

But then, about three years ago, it changed. 

I came to see that beyond playing the roles of peacemaker and listener in my family, I am a peacemaker and listener. These are part of my nature. They are charisms God has given me.

Part of the reason I held those roles in my family is because they’re akin to my nature. 

Today, I love that being a peacemaker and listener are who I am. These gifts make up a large part of what I do with my life today, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

But it doesn’t work out that way for everyone. Some of us played roles in our families that were assigned to us and had nothing to do with who we really are or were. Some of us took up roles because we thought we wanted them, only to learn later that we didn’t. 

What role did you play in your family? How did it impact who you became?

Pieces of Formation: Ethnicity and Extended Heritage


At a retreat I attended this past June with the artist Jan Richardson, we participated in an exercise on the opening night based on a poem by George Ella Lyon called “Where I’m From.” Through the exercise, we spent wrote lines and stanzas to describe the stories and pieces that make up who we are.

One of my stanzas went like this:

I am from Dan and Sue,

Bob and Dorothy,

Daniel and Frances,

from Mexico and the Irish country,

from potato famine to Minnesota farm country,

from O’Sullivan to Saban to Kack,

married to Serrato

to eventually make me. 

When it comes to my ethnicity and heritage, I come from two different worlds.

The large Irish-Catholic family on my mom’s side made for robust gatherings full of stories and laughter that grew louder as the nights wore on. It was a family of grounding — the Irish and the Catholic backgrounds both contributed to this sense of solid grounding — and it was full of people. (That’s what happens when eight Irish-Catholic siblings have several children each!)

My dad’s side was smaller. Quieter. His father didn’t say much, but I was familiar with his smile. His mother was small but fierce, breaking into Spanish whenever she got mad. They lived a simple life on half an acre in a small town known for its horses and dairy farms. We ate tamales on Christmas. And even though the core family unit of my dad’s family was small, the extended network of my Hispanic heritage often made me feel related to half our town.

Where are you “from”? What stories make up your family of origin?

Pieces of Formation: Childhood Friendships

Farmhouse and life.

Flannery O’Connor famously once said, “Anybody who has survived childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days,” and I find this to be so true, especially when it comes to the work of spiritual formation.

Those are the years we took in so much sensory data about life, and what we took in — without our realizing it was even happening — formed and formed and formed us into the people we eventually became.

And so we’re going to continue peeling back the layers of childhood a bit this week, starting with childhood friendships. 

When I look back at my childhood friendships, I notice two main things. 

First, I tended to form one or two really good friendships rather than a lot of them, and this holds true still today. And second, my experiences with group friendships weren’t very positive. 

As connected as these two observations appear on the surface, and there is certainly some connection, they don’t form a perfect one-to-one correspondence. One reason I formed just a couple close friendships rather than many is simply because I’m a very high introvert. Large social gatherings aren’t my preference when it comes to making connections. I’d rather go deep than wide. 

This reality of who I am holds true today, both in my friendships and in the work I do. My life’s work is helping others go to the deep places, and I am best oriented to do that in one-to-one settings.

Concerning group friendships, I think a lot of my negative experiences had to do with the reality of what happens when you gather 7-10 girls in a room. Chaos happens. Backbiting happens. Jealousy happens. Gossip happens. Allegiances happen.

That’s never been my cup of tea. 

We can learn a lot from our childhood friendships. They teach us about ourselves — our preferred way of being in the world and with others — and they teach us how we learned to relate to the world around us, and what we came to believe. 

How did your childhood friendships form you?

Pieces of Formation: Significant Experiences

Shadow work.

When I was in first grade, a girl knocked me backward (metaphorically) with her cruelty, and I careened with shock.

When I was in second grade, a boy cornered me in an isolated area of the playing field at recess and ordered some of his friends to hold my arms behind my body and another one to lift up my dress. 

When I was in third grade, two girls a grade higher than me sneered at my family’s dilapidated station wagon the moment I ducked out of the car and stepped onto the curb outside the school office. 

When I was in fourth grade, my parents sat us down at the kitchen table to tell us they were separating.

Each experience took me by surprise.

I didn’t see them coming. 

And so, I learned to be watchful. 

Guarded. Alert. Untrusting. Prepared with extra contingency plans. Convinced that the world was an unsafe, cruel, cold place, and it was my job to protect myself against it.

It’s no surprise to you, I’m sure, for me to say that significant experiences form us. 

What significant experiences formed you?

Pieces of Formation: Significant Conversations


I learned to read when I was 3 years old.

And not just the rudimentary kind of reading. My mother tells the story that I asked my preschool teacher if I could read a particular book to the class and she — mistakenly — thought I wanted her to read it. When she eventually understood I wanted to read it myself, she thought I had simply memorized it. She was then amazed to discover I could read any book she pulled off the shelf. 

When it came time for kindergarten two years later, my parents wondered: Did I really need to go? So I took a test to determine if I could skip kindergarten and go straight into first grade. 

I remember the day of decision so clearly.

My mother came home from work, and I was playing in the garage. The light shone through the open garage door as she crouched next to me where I played. They’d gotten the results from the test, she said, and I had passed. What did I want to do? 

It took me aback to learn the decision was to be my own.

And so I asked questions. What would I miss if I didn’t go to kindergarten? Fingerpainting. Some fun. And learning to read. But I already know how to read. Yes, my mother said. What would happen if I went to first grade? I’d learn new things, she said. But I would be a year younger than everyone else, and that would be true throughout the rest of my life at school. 

It was a significant conversation.

I learned that my parents entrusted me with major decisions that affected my life. At 5 years old, that was quite something to take in. What trust and respect they had for me and my life. But it was a little scary, too. What did I know at 5 years old would be best for me? What if I chose “wrong”? 

In case you’re curious, I decided to skip kindergarten, and I’ve never once regretted that decision. But I think of that day often — how significant it was to my life. I carried that “younger by a year” decision with me throughout my school career. It was always there, underneath the surface, my being just behind my peers in age, development, and experiences.

What significant conversations of your upbringing shaped your life? What did those conversations teach you about yourself and about others?

Pieces of Formation: Your Family Unit at Birth

Framed by life.

What sort of family were you born into? 

Some of us were born into happy, healthy, and whole families — a mother and father who loved each other, loved us, and eagerly awaited our arrival.

Others of us were born into families less complete than that — a father nowhere to be found, chaotic living conditions, erratic employment, worries of how to survive. Into these conditions, we came. Our arrival may have compounded the difficulties our families faced. We may have been unwanted.

Still others of us were born into situations falling somewhere in between. Our parents were together, but they struggled. Money was tight, but they did the best they could. The list of worries was long, but they clung to God’s promises as they knew how. We were a “surprise” pregnancy, but we were loved.

What were the conditions of your family unit at birth? How did those conditions form the person you became?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Influences

Right now.

If you had a glimpse of my interior world in college (and high school, and junior high, and grade school), you’d discover I was a pretty wound-up perfectionist constantly worrying and straining to make things right. If there’s a word to describe the image I hold of my young self in all those days, it would be the word scruples

But then God cracked me open, and a whole bunch of messiness ensued.

Confusion. Exploration. Possibility. Hope. Life. Grace. Love. Freedom. Depth. Calm. Solidity. Openness. 

The spiral of life and growth continues along these lines, with each new season bringing its portion of disorientation, exploration, discovery, and life. It leads to increased rootedness but usually requires a bit of freefall first. 

When I look back over the terrain of my spiritual journey and who I’ve become and am continuing to become, I’m incredibly thankful for the many wise influences, mentors, guides, and spiritual parents who have shaped me. 

When it comes to influences, I am thankful for: 

  • Clifford Williams, whose book Singleness of Heart began me on my heart journey
  • Anne Lamott, who first taught me about grace and the beauty of imperfection
  • Don Miller, who put language to some of my experiences and modeled permission to explore
  • St. John of the Cross, who first taught me about spiritual formation
  • My friend Sara, who gave me space to process the journey
  • Jesus, the first model for all I believe and do today
  • Henri Nouwen, who opened deeper the world of interiorities and helped clarify my sense of vocation
  • Mother Teresa, whose model of love still teaches me
  • Gandhi, who was and always will be the father of my nonviolence journey
  • Martin Luther King Jr., another father to me in the road marked by love and conviction
  • Thomas Merton, my spiritual father in contemplation and peace
  • Julian of Norwich, who currently models for me my life of prayer

Who are the influences that have shaped your life, and how would you express thanks for them?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Family


My sister’s silly dog.

I found out on Friday evening that my mom is coming to visit us for the Christmas holiday. She’ll fly in on Christmas day and stay until New Year’s Day. 

This is such a treat! My family lives 3000 miles away, in California, and we usually try to visit them for at least one of the major holidays each year. But this year, we’re seeking to deepen our sense of home here in Florida for the holidays, and so we won’t be traveling. It’s such a gift to receive a visit from my mom in a year that we thought we’d be missing them. 

When it comes to family, I’m thankful for: 

  • All the different personalities
  • The laughter
  • Jokes that last 20+ years
  • The shared terrain of history
  • Common experiences of home
  • Love that endures

How are you thankful for family?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Challenges


Diva faces her own challenge.

A reader reminded me yesterday that not all things to give thanks for are easy. Some may be difficult or painful.

But perhaps they help up grow. Or in some mysterious way work out for the best in ways we couldn’t have foreseen. Or are what’s required to get us from point A to point B. 

The apostle Paul encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), and so today, let’s reflect on our thanks for the circumstances that are hard: life’s challenges. 

When it comes to challenges I’ve faced or am currently facing: 

  • I’m thankful for the way challenges help me think more creatively, seeking out solutions or responses I’d not yet considered.
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges connect me in relationships, as I seek out the wisdom and discernment of others. 
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges bring me, eventually, to a point of surrender with God, praying, “Thy will be done.”
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges help me examine myself and my own part to play in making or breaking a situation.
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges—the kind beyond my control—deepen my dependence on God.
  • I’m thankful for the way challenges have made me stronger and ultimately refined me.

In what ways can you give thanks for the challenges you’ve faced, or are facing, in life?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Work

My work. Right now.

It’s Monday, and for many of us that means a return to the working world. 

Work isn’t the most shiny, glittery part of life to give thanks for. If you’re unemployed and looking for work during these hard economic times, it’s hard to give thanks for something you don’t have. If you’re employed and don’t love your job, it’s easy to let unhappiness and cynicism have its sway.

Perhaps because work is so difficult for so many, that’s just why we ought to stop and notice the bright spots in it.

When it comes to work …

  • I’m thankful for work that utilizes my skills and talents, as well as my mind.
  • I’m thankful for the relationships I’ve built through the work I do.
  • I’m thankful for the chance to work on the editorial staff of a magazine I’ve been reading for the better part of a decade and is fun and current and smart and thoughtful. 
  • I’m thankful for professional relationships built in the last 10+ years that keep my editorial freelance career moving forward and provide a variety of interesting projects and books to edit.
  • I’m thankful for my life’s work, which allows me to write regularly and connect with people all over the world in the journeys of their lives with God. 
  • I’m thankful for a schedule that’s flexible to allow for all the different kinds of work I do.
  • I’m thankful for work that pays the bills. 
  • I’m thankful for work that doesn’t pay at all. 
  • I’m thankful for the chance to feel alive with contribution and meaning through the work I do.

When it comes to work, how do you give thanks?

A (Near) Month of Thanks: Democracy

God's light.

In the campaign season of the 2008 election, I remember being struck at a soul-deep level for the very first time at the wonder of democracy. 

I realized that it gave me the dignity of my own opinion. I could choose to support a candidate, and my neighbor could choose to support a different one. Neither of our voting preferences negated the value of the other’s.

I could vote for a candidate, and I could retain my preference for them even if they lost. Their loss didn’t mean I was wrong for choosing to support their agenda. It didn’t mean I had to change my view. It meant I got to have an opinion, and I got to participate in civil society by voting my voice, even if the majority decided on a different preference than the one I held.

As someone who is a peacemaker at heart, I am thankful for the way democratic societies give each person the dignity of their personal perspective and the voice of their own vote. I struggle with American patriotism a lot (that’s a different story for a different day), but the accordance of dignity to each person for their voice and perspective and experience is an ideal I will always uphold.

How are you thankful for democracy today?

Prayer Can Be ... Preparing a Meal

In the kitchen.

Sometimes when I’m in the kitchen preparing dinner at the end of a work day, anticipating Kirk to walk in the door at any moment, I’m aware that the dinner preparations have become like prayer. 

I’m slicing tomatoes or pressing garlic or sauteeing onions or browning meat. I’m stirring soup or measuring broth or chopping cilantro or pouring spices. I’m squeezing lime wedges or mashing avocadoes or dicing bell peppers or shredding rotisserie chicken. 

And all along, I’m holding Kirk and our home in my heart. 

I heard a description of prayer once as “holding someone up to the light.” Not using any words or making specific petitions. Just holding them up to the light. 

Preparing a meal in our home often becomes that kind of prayer for me.

I’m holding Kirk and our home close to me, then holding them up to God. Just presenting them. Us. Our life. My heart toward him. My heart for peace reigning here. My love for the provision of sustenance in our home. My love for sharing that meal with him.

What is it like for meals to be viewed as prayer for you?

Prayer Can Be ... Serving Another Person


Earlier this year, I volunteered for an event in downtown Orlando called iDignity, which provides free services once a month to help people get their paperwork so they can apply for ID cards, birth certificates, and social security cards.

You probably already know that without proper identification, it’s impossible to do certain things in society, like get hired for a job, cash a check, rent an apartment, or vote. Identification plays such a critical role in helping people become participating members of society. 

I was privileged to interact with a broad spectrum of humanity that day.

So many stories. 

A number of the people I met had just gotten out of jail, some for the second or third time. They didn’t have places to live. Some had been previously arrested in other states, and their only form of physical identification was a mug shot on file at the out-of-state jail. They were hungry and trying to scrounge money for their next meal.

I remember, still today, some of the individuals I met. A tall, quiet young man with a record. An older black woman with dark eyes and a meek smile. A young pregnant girl so thin her legs looked like they could so easily snap like twigs.

It felt like such a privilege to look into their eyes and smile. 

To accord them dignity. 

To acknowledge their common humanity with me. 

I felt like I was looking into the eyes of Christ each time someone approached me to put their name on the list for a birth certificate application.

In them was the image of God. Just like the image of God is in me. 

And so each smile, each moment of eye contact, each small conversation was an instance of prayer. As I loved them, I was loving Jesus. 

Have you ever experienced prayer as serving another person?

Prayer Can Be ... Spiritual Direction


I’ve shared on different occasions how meaningful it is for me to meet with my spiritual director, Elaine, once a month.

We sit together in her home, and there’s open space for me to talk about what’s going on in my relationship with God. Or simply what’s going on in my life in general, and we look together for God’s presence and activity in those things. 

I always leave her home feeling refreshed.

I know God is in that place, present between the two of us. 

A lot of that has to do with my knowing Elaine is attuned to God as she listens to me. She’s listening to me, but she’s also listening to the Holy Spirit. And in her responses to me, she reflects that prayerful posture — sometimes through asking just the right question, sometimes through pointing out something I hadn’t noticed, sometimes by remembering the landscape she knows of my story and how it might speak to what’s currently going on.

As a spiritual director myself, I know that the full hour of time that I hold with someone in a session — or even the full length of an email dialogue we might carry concerning their journey of the heart — is prayer. Whether their sharing is spoken to me or to God, all of it is prayer.

That space is sacred. We are listening and looking together for God. 

Have you ever experienced spiritual direction? Would you like to?

Prayer Can Be ... Being Present to Another

Clustered growth.

One of my favorite things in the world to do is be present to another person as they’re sharing their heart.

Whether we’re sitting together on the couch, connecting across the miles by phone, or sharing an email exchange, I love the experience of receiving another person’s heart and giving them the experience of being truly heard and seen.

God seems to have given me an uncommon ability to do this:

  • Asking questions that help a person probe deeper into their heart, feelings, beliefs, and experiences; 
  • Reflecting back what I hear so they find themselves saying, “Yes! That’s exactly it!” and feel that amazing, uncommon rush of having been actually known;
  • Providing space for the “real deal” to be said without a flinch or agenda offered in response;
  • Getting out of the way so my stuff and my story don’t interrupt or detract from their sharing.

I love being made this way. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that God made this attentive listening the focus of my life’s work now. (And if you need someone to be present to you in this way, consider this an open invitation from me.)

But sometimes, when being present to another person, the way forward becomes unseen. I find myself, with them, stuck in the brambles. There isn’t a clear way through. 

Usually, at this point, I discover the end of myself. And the next step forward is truly a Hail Mary pass: 

“God, help. I don’t know what to say. Please show up.”

Pretty much every time, he does.

In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced God not showing up after I prayed that panicked plea. The conversation takes a turn I never could have foreseen or orchestrated, and I know that God has been there. He showed up in ways beyond me.

Have you ever experienced prayer when being present to another?

Prayer Can Be ... Receiving Love

All we have to do is say yes.

Do you know what it’s like to receive love? 

Like, really receive it? 

I have a close friend who teaches me a lot about this.

There have been a number of special times when we’ve been visiting each other where, before our time together ends, we sit together on the couch, our heads on each other’s shoulders, just being together in silence. 

In those moments, I can literally feel her receiving my love. Her eyes are closed, and she’s just sitting there, letting me be with her in a vulnerable moment. 

Her receiving my love in those moments?

That’s prayer. 

How do I know this? Because my own heart toward her is full to bursting with the same heart God has toward her: love, acceptance, enjoyment, welcome, delight. When she allows herself to receive those things from me, she’s also receiving them from God.

What is it like for you to receive love? Can you consider that experience the equivalent of receiving God’s love for you?

Prayer Can Be ... Liturgy, Part 2


I’ve been sharing with the Cup of Sunday Quiet subscribers about some of the difficult changes at work in my spirit and my life with God. Over the last few weeks, as these changes have accelerated, I’ve seen myself grow more and more weary. More and more weak. 

Last weekend, I had hardly any physical or emotional or spiritual strength to stand. 

When it came time on Sunday evening to drive to the contemplative eucharist service at our church that we love so much, I had a hard time just being willing to go. It felt like I was pushing myself to get ready, pushing myself out the door, pushing myself to be faithful and just show up. 

And as we were driving to our little church, just around the corner from our home, I thought to myself: 

“I’m not going to have the strength to say the prayers. I just can’t physically do it. I’m going to have to let the prayers of the people carry me.”

This is another reason I love liturgy. It prays for us when we cannot pray ourselves. 

I knew that I could be in that church with that gathering of people that night and simply be there, not even a single word escaping my mouth the entire time, and the people would still pray. 

Their prayers would hold me up.

I could rely on their prayers when I had no ability of my own.

Prayer can be liturgy because in the gathering of the people, it prays faithfully. It allows the voices of the strong many to hold up the weary few.

Prayer can be liturgy … if we need it, and if we let it.

Have you ever experienced liturgy holding you up in this way?