Wednesday, March 25, 2009


One thing I’ve learned for sure living in Tinseltown is that all that glitters ain’t gold.

The “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

I used to be envious of those people with multiple addresses you’d read about in Town and Country. “Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Astorbutt of New York, Palm Beach, and Nantucket announce the engagement of their daughter Abigail to Mr. Gregory Q. Gottrocks, IV, son of Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Q. Gottrocks, III of Washington, D.C., Martha’s Vineyard, and Paris, France.”

Or movie stars you’d read about in People: “Brangelina (or whoever) just purchased a $22.5 million villa on the Cote d’Azur. They also have residences in Beverly Hills, New York, and a 2,500 acre spread in Wyoming...”

Well, Mrs. F. Brooks Arnold of Athens, Georgia, Los Angeles, and Pomona, California thinks they might be crazy.


As is usually the case, the reality is far removed from the illusion. The vagabond life is not as carefree as it seems. You can’t just call Mayflower and have the movers show up each time a change in locale is necessitated. Personal belongings are strewn across the country. In this constant state of flux, just getting dressed in the morning poses a challenge. Throwing on a pair of pants in Athens, I realize that the only belt that works with them is still in Pomona. The shoes with the right heel height are in LA. In LA, I get dressed for church on a cold day, and go to grab my coat before running out the door. No coat in that closet. God only knows where the lipliner that matches that shade of lipstick is hiding. Probably in a purse in the pile on the closet floor in Georgia. And forget keeping up with little things like glasses and phone chargers and checkbooks.

Books are probably the worst, though. I’m usually messing around in 5 or 6 at a time. There are a few that are like security blankets...I lug them around with me wherever I go just in case I need a quick fix of Mr. Lewis or Dame Julian or Brennan Manning. Old friends.

It gets heavy carting all this stuff around.

I constantly feel unsettled, scattered, fragmented.

Even a little homesick.

It’s strange that I can manage to feel that way wherever I happen to be at the time. When I’m in California, I miss Athens. When I’m in Athens, I can’t wait to get back to California. I feel like the curious Rum Tum Tugger in T. S. Eliot’s Cats:

The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat:
If you offer him pheasant he would rather have grouse.
If you put him in a house he would much prefer a flat,
If you put him in a flat then he'd rather have a house...
The Rum Tum Tugger is a terrible bore:

When you let him in, then he wants to be out;
He's always on the wrong side of every door,
And as soon as he's at home, then he'd like to get about.

No matter where I am, there’s always someone to miss...and something missing.

Shortly after Katherine’s AVM rupture, our wise friend Howard said to Brooks, “Well, you can be miserable both places. When you’re in Athens, you can worry about Katherine. When you’re in California, you can worry about Grace!” (She was finishing up high school last spring.) I guess you have to know Howard to get was actually a subtle reminder that we all need to trust more, worry less. I think he was also offering empathy for that feeling of being ripped apart that parents occasionally suffer.

The experience of the past 11 months has crystallized a thought for me:

I want to learn to live more lightly.

I want to be less weighed down by baggage of every kind...less “possessed by my possessions.” I want to get rid of STUFF. I want to clean out all my closets...both tangible and intangible. Like the detritus in the pile going to Goodwill, I want to lay down things like worry and expectations and bondage to old habits and thought patterns. I want to live more freely, less attached to this world and its systems and its junk. I want to be less entrenched here.

I’ve been trying to clean out one closet at home for years. I (abashedly) admit that it is larger than my bedroom in LA. I was standing in it the last time I was home, utterly confounded about where to begin. I must have rolled my eyes to the heavens in desperation. An old Victorian sampler perched on the top shelf caught my eye: “Heaven Is My Home.”

...a subtle reminder that this is not my natural habitat.

We are as ‘strangers and aliens’ on this earth.

Because of that, I think we must carry a little homesickness with us wherever we are. We will always have a secret ache for that place where we feel completely safe, loved, protected, and fully known. Those places simply don’t last on earth. People die...houses crumble.

As C.S. Lewis expresses it: “The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world...We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God...Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” (The Problem of Pain)

Heaven is my home?

Surely it is my destination.

But what about now? How do I banish those feelings of homesickness here...before I arrive at my true home, where every tear will be wiped away?

This is where I feel the most at home now:

I lie in bed, with a pillow over my face. I still myself and shut out all the loud voices in my head. I inhale, slowly, the peace of God. I exhale the unrelenting demands of Self. I invite. I wait. And sometimes wait a while longer. Maybe I need to confess something first, get rid of a barrier.

And He comes.

He in me and I in Him.

“Abide* in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.....As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” (from John 15)

He is my home.


(*dwell, live)

After beginning these thoughts on “home,” I happened to run across this excerpt from the writings of Brennan Manning. He is one of my favorites, and Katherine and I were privileged to hear him speak at Belair Presbyterian a couple of years (different lifetime) ago. When the crowd gave him a standing ovation, he turned around and lifted his arms in homage to the large cross behind him.

“Jesus says simply, “make your home in me, as I make mine in you.” Home is not a heavenly mansion in the afterlife, but a safe place right in the midst of our anxious world...
Home is that sacred place-external or internal- where we don’t have to be afraid, were we are confident of hospitality and love. In our society we have not only many homeless people sleeping on the streets...but also vagabonds who are in flight, who never come home to themselves. They seek a safe place through alcohol or drugs, or security in success, competence, friends, pleasure, notoriety, knowledge, or even a little religion. They have become strangers to themselves, people who have an address but are never home, who never hear the voice of love or experience the freedom of God’s children. To those of us who are in flight, who are afraid to turn around lest we run into ourselves, Jesus says: “You have a home...I am your home...claim me as your will find it to be the intimate place where I have found my is right where you your innermost your heart."


Friday, March 20, 2009

Hi Friends,

We've been having internet connection problems ever since we got back to California. Hopefully, this will soon be remedied.

In the meantime, I would just like to ask for prayers for wisdom for us in the coming weeks. We face many complicated decisions. There are many unknowns. Fear lurks around, waiting for a chance to settle in.

Please pray that we will receive divine guidance and assurance...and a peace that passes understanding.

Thank you so much for your faithful concern, support, love, and prayers.

May blessings rain upon your head...


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Til We Have Faces

The world is a much uglier place without Katherine’s smile.

I have never let myself consider the possibility that its absence could be a permanent state of affairs. That would be too, too cruel.

I haven’t allowed myself to grieve the loss of her former face at all.

It is a loss.

Twenty seven years ago today, I saw those enormous blue eyes for the first time. Two huge, aqua pools stared at me as she latched on, full of questions and immediate, intense love. The nurses commented that this was no ordinary baby. She was born looking much older than a newborn....almost a Benjamin Button baby. She had the face of a sage. Her hair was already quite long, and she reminded me a little of a wise, old man. It’s hard to describe. She was different...unique....special.

To say that Katherine was “full of life” is a ridiculous understatement. Even as a baby, her face was a constantly changeable mask of animation. We realized that she was probably going to be an actress by age two. What drama those big eyes could express...what pathos, what ecstasy, what righteous indignation! That little face was never still unless she was asleep...especially the mouth. I’ve never seen a baby that could talk so much, so early. Illustration: When I was pregnant with my second one, Katherine went up to some poor woman at the grocery store and tugged at her skirt. When the woman looked around, she said, “See my mommy over dere? She has a baby in her tummy. She’s goin’ to the hospital and the doctor’s gonna help her PUUUUUUSSSSSSSSSSHHHH it out!” It was only after having two others that I realized how unusual that was for a 21- or 22-month-old. (I have a hard time imagining James making a speech like that in a couple of months.)

Most of you who know Katherine will probably agree that she was one of the most ‘animated’ people of your acquaintance. (Those of you who don’t can verify this statement by watching her appearance on Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? She almost blew Jeff Foxworthy off the stage.) But although Katherine’s speech was highly expressive, her face could speak volumes without a word. Her face was an open book, an invitation into her passionate soul. She went through a particularly awkward Awkward Stage, gawkily towering over all the boys in her grade for a couple of years. But as Katherine grew up, she grew into her body and grew to be beautiful. Her face was particularly so. It opened many doors for her. Beauty seems to do that in our culture. It ultimately provided a livelihood.

But Katherine has always been one of the least vain people on the planet. Unlike the rest of the female family members, she hates buying clothes, putting on makeup, jewelry, any of the girly stuff. She just doesn’t like to waste the time when she could be doing something more constructive...usually something having to do with ministering to other people. I used to beg her to at least put on a little makeup before heading out the ironical imitation of my mother beseeching me to “Just put on a little lipstick...” in the zipper-part hippie days of the early 70’s.

“The sins of the mothers.......”

As a culture, we are obsessed with physical beauty. (Dear Lord, what have I spent on creams and potions and camouflage in the past few years??? Please forgive me...) Interestingly, Katherine and Jay gave me the book, You, Being Beautiful by Drs. Oz (Oprah fame) and Roizen, as one of my Christmas presents. Although I haven’t had time to read it yet, I was intrigued by some of the information in the first chapter. The authors write,

“Beauty is not as much a physical property of the person, but an end product of a complex mental process that translates millions of meaningless dots of light on the back of our retinas into 3D shapes, objects, and faces. Embedded in the software of the mind is a set of rules that are used to decode these real “bytes” of visual information. These observations are automatic—a beauty reflex, if you will.” (The docs go on to explain “phi” and the golden ratio that exists in nature. )“Phi is also a driving force in human attraction—men and women around the globe prefer a mate whose face is symmetrical and follows this ratio....The most information-dense visible area in nature is the human face, so we process a small area of the face and extend our conclusions to the entire surface. The richest connection of nerve and muscle density in the body is actually around the larynx (voice box) and the face is second—underscoring how important it is that you read subtle messages through speech and body language. The theory is that the more symmetrical a face, the healthier it is. ...Scientists also believe that symmetry is equated with a strong immune system—indicating that more robust genes make a person more attractive.”

...So, there is a scientific explanation for why our first impulse is to judge a book by its cover.

Intellectually, we know that all beauty is transitory, fleeting, ephemeral. “The grass withers, and the flowers fade...” But Katherine’s face, rather than enduring the gradual ravaging of time that most suffer, was altered abruptly, violently. Its symmetry has been destroyed. It is as if Katherine awakened from a dream to find that a cruel joke had been played on her: Her face has been stolen, replaced by a strange mask she doesn’t recognize. How terrifyingly vertiginous, to stare in the mirror at a complete stranger.

It’s a very good thing Katherine’s greatest strength is in knowing where her identity truly lies. Although this core belief has been tested beyond the breaking point, it has held fast.

Still, she is human. She particularly hates seeing pictures of herself now. Every Christmas morning (for 20-something years now) we always make the kids sit on the stairs in descending order of age for a photo op before the mad dash into the family room. This year, just as I snapped the shot, Katherine grabbed the right corner of her mouth and forceably held it up in a smile. It makes her angry that it won’t behave.

It makes me very angry, too.

I’ve been thinking about a line from a Dylan Thomas poem: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He was talking about the process of aging and death. But I am raging against the dying of the light in Katherine’s eyes, the light that entered a room with her brilliant smile.

I know someone who creates light, however. I am asking the creator of light and beauty to restore his ravaged work of art, his marred creation. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask. I believe he hates it even more than I do when the other side messes up his good works.

I believe he loves to restore, rebuild, recreate. The whole Book is the story of that. From page 1 to page 1000+something, it is the story of the restoration of a marred creation. The restoration of all good and beautiful things.

I know that he will accomplish his purposes. I know that he will ultimately restore everything that has been lost, including Katherine’s smile. But I don’t know when. It may serve his greater purposes for this prayer to be answered later than I would like. Perhaps it may not be until Katherine sees him face to face. I pray that it will be before then. But I believe she—and all of us who miss that smile the most--will be given the grace to accept his timing.

In the meantime, her inner radiance suffuses the surface so that, in reality, she has never been more beautiful.


“Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. (Song of Songs 2:14) Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (Ps. 34:5) ...and her face was no longer downcast.(I Samuel 1:18)

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.(I John 3:2) Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. (I Cor. 13:12) And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.(II Cor. 3:2)

(Although I began this on Katherine’s birthday, March 8, I am finishing it on the 11th, which is the day she happens to be going for a facial surgery consultation. Please join us in praying for wisdom.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Some Thoughts on Snow Day

We’ve been going Medieval for the past couple of days.

Of course, we never believe the weatherman when he says it’s going to snow in Georgia. There have been far too many devastating disappointments in our collective pasts. Far too many little flakes that disappeared before morning’s light, turning a possible glorious Snow Day into just another boring School Day. (One with a quiz, most likely, to add insult to injury.)

So when they talked of snow coming on Sunday, we thought, "Yeah, yeah...maybe in Dahlonega or Brasstown Bald. It never sticks in Athens.”

It looked like Narnia by Sunday afternoon.

Jay’s mom Mary Ruth has been doing the nanny shift, so I’m in Georgia now, trying to finish some of the things I left undone last April 21. The “to-do” list is staggering...exhausting. Life here is much more complicated because there are so many choices and players and jigsaw pieces that won’t fit. Life in California is tough, but simple.

So... I was secretly elated by that beautiful blanket of white stillness that brought everything to a screeching halt. I acted like a child, running out in my fancy high-heeled ‘church’ boots to take too many pictures. Our visiting niece from Connecticut thought I was nuts. This is the kind of weather she is trying to escape, moving ever further south of the Mason Dixon line in her educational pursuits. (She was down here checking out Emory and UGA law schools.)

But after a while, Liz admitted that this was a heck of a snowstorm, even by Connecticut standards. So we raided her cousins’ abandoned closets and the old ski clothes box for warm castoffs, and ventured out into the icy beauty of it all...until breaking limbs started splintering off of trees with explosive cracks. Then we high-tailed it back to the warmth of fake logs, real fire. The power had gone off in our absence.

No light. No noise. No TV, CD’s, DVD’s, internet, radio. No oven, range top, microwave. Just quiet and dark. And the gas logs.

For that night and the next.

We lit every candle we could find and huddled around the fireplace, while Brooks found something to grill out in the still-cascading snow. We read by candlelight.

It was beautiful.

Eventually, the cell phones died along with the cordless house phones, so communication with the outside world was curtailed. Many of our friends knew about Katherine’s latest Caringbridge entry before we did.

But that was okay.

Why are we so afraid of quiet and stillness?

It is only then that we can hear the still, small voice.


silken snow
spills from the sky
like salt sprinkled
from celestial shaker

crystalline purity
pours over dark, dank earth,
covering the rankness
of rotting leaves and dirt
like soothing salve
on a bloody hurt

through the quiet,
a loud crack-
as another tree falls
from the terrible
unbearable weight
of it all

then, like a kiss,
not a slap,
a fluffy flake
stings my frozen face:

scarlet sins
completely covered
by pure white


"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow...” (Isaiah 1:18)