[First posted in January 2013 on]

As 2012 was drawing to a close, I noticed how many holiday events included discounts for couples and special rates for people with children. Sometimes it feels like those of us who are single and childless are doubly punished in a culture that rewards romance and caters to families.

The phrase that often trudges through my mind when I’m trying to decide how to spend the holidays—or with whom to take a vacation—is “I don’t belong to anybody.” I mean “belong” not in the negative sense of being owned like property—as women and slaves were for centuries in this society, and still are in several parts of the world. I mean it in the positive way of deep mutual connection: “belonging.”

I ended up spending Thanksgiving with my sisters and their families, savoring my first taste of fried turkey, reading books and playing games with a growing circle of active great-nieces and -nephews. Two weeks later I treated two dear friends, former church colleagues in Atlanta, to a wonderful stage production of The Gifts of the Magi, based on the beloved O. Henry story. On my way back home to North Carolina, I made my annual Christmas visit to a friend who has spent forty years imprisoned on Georgia’s death row.


Christmas Eve brought Circle of Mercy, the congregation that I co-pastor, out for a candlelit service in the barn at the small mountain farm where I live with a community of friends. It was magical, with a live newborn in the manger, singing sheep, and delighted young angels floating down from the hayloft.

A few hours later we launched Christmas Day at the farm with a breakfast of omelets and sweet homemade pastries, and then exchanged gifts. The youngest among us had made fragrant soap and brightly beaded earrings; the oldest had crafted beautiful wooden spoons from maple and oak trees that had fallen on our property during a windstorm. Continue reading

State of Emergency

[First posted in December 2010 on]

North Carolina is a state of exquisite natural splendor, a state of beautiful human diversity, and, today, a state of emergency. Close to a foot of snow blankets the mountain farm that I call home, and more is falling fast, piling up for the 40-mile-per-hour winds predicted for tonight.


In many parts of the world that might prompt a “So what?” But the state of North Carolina owns about three snowplows, and the farm I inhabit rests in an isolated mountain cove on the edge of a wilderness. So I’m not going anywhere for days.

It’s the day after Christmas. Early yesterday morning I borrowed a neighbor’s 4-wheel-drive truck in an effort to make it to the hospice center where my mother has lived for the past month. I fishtailed down the driveway on a sheet of ice through blinding snow. The radio’s Christmas carols were interrupted by a warning from the Highway Patrol, urging everyone to stay home, drive only in dire emergencies, and carry blankets and food, since it may be Easter by the time they get around to digging everyone out of icy ditches. I turned around. Continue reading

Choosing Joy over Perfection

[First posted in July 2012 on]

At 3 o’clock in the morning, outside an ancient monastery in the vast Egyptian wilderness, I clambered up on a camel named Whiskey. He carried me up Mt. Sinai under an eyelash of a moon and a sky strewn with stars to catch the sunrise. That magical moment was a highlight of a 1997 trip to the Middle East, which also included mosques, mosaics, and markets—an immersion in both holy history and current political reality.

Syrian tablecloth

On that trip, at the bustling souk in the heart of Damascus, I bought a large tablecloth, exquisitely embroidered in the renowned style of Syrian artisans. It caught my eye as the gift to myself that I wanted to carry home as a reminder of this amazing sojourn. I showed it to friends as I related my trip stories, and then I put it into a drawer.

It stayed there for almost a decade. The tablecloth seemed far too beautiful to actually put on my dining room table. But then one day I decided it was a shame to keep it hidden away just so that it could remain perfect. Continue reading