26 “Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.‘” –Genesis 32:26 NRSV (See vs. 22-32 for entire story)

One of the blessings I received during my recent health challenge is my renewed commitment to routines that are life-giving.  I am far more intentional and dedicated to daily actions that restore my body, mind, and spirit.

This intentional caring for my body, mind, and soul, every single day, is a new thing for me.  I have had seasons in which I’ve focused on one or two of those three, but I cannot remember a time when I was so invested in the daily care of all three.  I have always been interested in the body, mind, and spirit connection and I’ve observed that when one of these three is being ignored, the other two seem to falter, as if the three are yoked together.  Pain has taught me that all three must receive exercise, nourishment, and rest.   As John Green so honestly wrote in The Fault In Our Stars:  “That’s the thing about pain:  It demands to be felt.”

This morning, in the time I was nurturing my spirit, I found a Jewish bedtime ritual which is based on the Genesis story of Jacob wrestling with an angel until daybreak and refusing to let the angel go until the angel blesses him:

“We’re Godwrestlers. We give ourselves to the holy work of wrestling with God, wrestling with Torah, wrestling with the world’s imperfections. And that wrestling is itself a kind of redemption. It lifts us out of a state of passive receptivity. When we wrestle with God and with Torah and with injustice in the world, we are transformed.” –Vayechi:  A BLESSING AT BED TIME by Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt

The story of Jacob wrestling with the angel until daybreak is one with which I have always identified.  Many things plague us in the still of the night:  physical pain, mental anguish, the unrest of our spirit for those things left undone.

This Jewish bedtime ritual invites us to consider all the things with which we wrestle as holy.  It suggests that in thepinned you again wrestling, whenever we engage with one another, there is connection.  And uncomfortable though it might be, our wrestling with God deepens our relationship, and can lead us to a deeper understanding.

As I continue establishing and honoring daily routines that often feel like wrestling matches, I invite you to join me in viewing these disciplines from a new angle.  The process of attending to one’s body, mind, and spirit, is a kind of holy wrestling.  Like any form of exercise, it can strengthen us for the work to which we are called, and leave us with blessings we dare not imagine.

Thank you! 2014 in review

One of the reasons I love WordPress is it has great feedback mechanisms like this annual report they create and send me just before New Year’s Eve.  For those interested in blogging, I’m making it available to you.  If you have any questions about creating or maintaining a BLOG, I’ll be glad to talk to you about my experience.

Take Off Your Shoes is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.  It helps me process and make sense of events that trouble me;  the fact that you read it, is a gift of the finest kind that you may not even realize you give.

Thank you.  For reading.  For following.  For encouraging.

May 2015 bring us all love that restores, and stories to love.

Happy New Year!


Here’s an excerpt from my annual report:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 33,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.  (awww shucks …)

Click here to see the complete report.


At midnight tonight I will have been sick for one full week.  I can’t remember the last time I was this sick, for this long.

Monday I had tests run and was diagnosed with a condition that it turns out is both common and life-changing.  Not life-changing in the chemo kind of way, but life changing just the same … unless of course I want to remain in the pain I’ve felt this week.  And though it is common, few people talk about it because … well … it doesn’t make for polite or even interesting conversation.

Now that the worst seems to be past, I’m working on becoming pain-free, getting stronger, researching and making a plan for living into this new lifestyle.

One thing I’ve noticed with the onset of the pain and the diagnosis,is that I not only lost days at work, I lost my essence.

Essence:  all those things we think of when we think of a particular person.  The way they laugh.  The way they talk.  The way they move through a room.  The inside jokes we share with them that make us feel special.  The shine on their hair … or head!  Their ability to change the atmosphere in a room when they enter it.

Essence:  everyone has one;  but no one lists it on a resume.

I don’t think I ever really considered essence until mine went missing.  And I didn’t even realize it was missing … Other people did.

I could see it in their eyes.

That was one of the hardest things for me:  to look at people I loved;  people who loved me back, and see in their eyes very real pain — not their own, but mine.  Their eyes changed by the pain they saw in me;  they didn’t plan it that way, it just happened.  Maybe that’s why eyes are known as windows to the soul.

I couldn’t even write about this until today because writing, too, is part of my essence — which went AWOL.

Which leads me to this good news:  today, it began to return.  I am walking upright.  I am exchanging more witty texts.  I am listening to music and more than anything, I am hopeful.

Hope, as it turns out, is not something I just talk and write about;  like my very bones, it is in me.  And maybe that’s why it was so hard for those who visited me.  When we know someone who carries hope everywhere they go, and they lose it, it is a frightening thing for all.

Earlier in the week I sent an email to all the folks in my congregation to let them know my condition and set their expectations that I would be off the radar while I healed and sought to understand my new future.

I could not have brought the information in that email — the email that I didn’t want to write or send — to this place, my beloved blog, which is followed by some of my dearest friends and family.

This is a place in which I observe life from a position of hope;  where I reflect on people and situations through the lens of the gifts they bring or the legacies they leave behind.

And that’s how I know my essence is slowly returning:  because I am here now, telling you, my readers:

When you visit someone who is either sick or grieving such that they have lost their essence, if at all possible, bring with you hope.  They need it every bit as much as they need chicken soup and a warm blanket.

If you can’t honestly bring hope for the situation they are in — bring hope for tomorrow, that it will not always be this way.  Or bring hope that even in this, your love for them remains.  Bring hope that even when their essence is missing, you believe, it will return.  Bring hope that while you love their essence, they are more than that which they bring into a room.

And be patient if for awhile, they really cannot see you.  Looking into the eyes of those who noticed my essence was missing is something I had never before experienced … and I could have lived happily without it.

Except this:  happy is not always on the menu of life now, is it?  I honestly believe this experience and my new future will make me a better person, a better pastor, a more sensitive and compassionate friend.

I appreciate all those who have held me up this past week, including those who visited and could not keep the pain from showing in their eyes.

But on this day, I want every single one of you to know this:

Hope remains.

Let’s look for it together.


Lyrically leading

n251781522435_7870Holding onto good.  That was the song in my mind as I tried to sleep last night;  my sheets pulled from the corners of my bed this morning, a testimony to the state of my unrest.

Holding onto good.  It’s a phrase from a song by the same name by the rising band, Delta Rae.  Their music is beautiful and raw;  their band includes siblings who are not strangers to trauma and heartache who, like so many artists, have channeled those losses into music for the greater good.

Holding onto good:  It’s one of many refrains in my brain as I try to process the events in our country and hold onto the good center of who I am and what I am called to do:

Act for justice, Love tenderly, Serve one another, Walk humbly with God.

Those commands form the refrain from the hymn We Are Called, the song we are singing at the end of our 5 worship services each Saturday & Sunday for the next 3 weeks at Advent Lutheran Church here in Melbourne, Florida.  When we get to this refrain, the gathered voices gain momentum and strength.  It is as if they too need the reminder of who we are and what we are to do in this challenging time.

Hold onto good.  Act for justice.  Love tenderly.

It’s what I’m trying to do, despite the news coverage about the uprising in cities I love

across this country I love

for reasons I respect

about tragedies I lament.

Bob Dylan sang to me this morning as I sipped my coffee and considered the changing shoreline out my rain-speckled window;  my Christmas lights reflected on the glass.   The times they are a’changin, was his ironic refrain, as I considered the images of protests that fed my unrest.  A friend, currently a juror in a disheartening murder trial said that it might as well be 1964 all over again.  I poured another cup of coffee, noting on my grocery list that I needed:




In the background, Dylan cried,  “Come writers and critics who prophesy with your pen …”

And I thought, yes, I ought to write about … oh my.  Where to begin.  Hold onto good, pastor.  It is why you were ordained.  To enable others to…

Another refrain interrupted my thoughts:  We are called to act for justice.

Come on, pastor.  The people need a word of hope.  A word of peace.  A word of truth.

I felt inept.

Humor.  I need humor.  I rapidly typed in a favorite source and watched Jon Stewart, the master of humor in the face of pain.  Jon Stewart, a Jewish man whose family immigrated from Poland, whose parents divorced, who was subjected to antisemitic bullying as a child, and whose ironic commentaries remind me not to take myself too seriously.  Jon Stewart, who observes with his wry smile:  “Religion.  Giving People Hope in a world torn apart by religion.”

He calls me back, to hold onto good.  Don’t let your passion kill your humor, I say to me.  You are called to speak a word of peace.  Of hope.  Of truth that sets us free.

Now a song from the Broadway version of The Lion King  marches into my mind:  “… Into the water.  Into the truth.  In your reflection…He lives in you.”

Ah, yes.  Remember who you are.

Last night, a small group of us gathered in a candelit sanctuary near the ocean in the church in which I serve as the Associate Pastor to a newly merged congregation.  Advent Lutheran is one church with a large staff and two locations that is struggling to figure out how to do all there is to do with the resources we have.  It is a church filled with both chaos and hope.

We gathered for the service known as Holden Evening Prayer;  a service as filled with mystery and beauty as anything I’ve experienced in this world.

I knelt near the altar as Deb Gum, a gifted harpist, filled the space with the celestial sound of peace.  I sat, mesmerized, as Henry and Charlotte, high school siblings from a nearby Roman Catholic church led us in song.  I spoke, reading the words of Isaiah 40:  Comfort, Comfort my people — the words pouring forth from a place within my soul that even I did not know I could access.

And I sang, together with the dozen or so witnesses who gathered, our voices an eerie combination of command and plea to the God in whom we trust:

…Love that fills the night with wonder,

love that warms the weary soul,

love that bursts all chains asunder,

set us free and make us whole.

Oh that all those who are weary and heavy-burdened had been there.

Holding onto good.  This is what it means to be a pastor and to be called to serve God’s people, especially in troubled times. To hold onto good, the goodness of the Lord, that others might be encouraged to do so as well.  To remember and remind that the Word of God beckons us to an elusive place of peace that we rarely experience in this world.

It is not easy.  Sometimes I wonder if those we serve understand this:  just because we are called to be faithful and to hold onto good does not mean it is always easy to do so.  The crushing chaos of this world troubles our hearts and clouds our consciences too.

And yet, we are called.  And so are you.  We are called to act for justice, in times that are changing, and to hold onto good.  For God does indeed live … in us.

Please join us:  in sacred gatherings around this United States.

Please come.  In the presence of the living God, let us Hold onto Good, together.

Holden Evening Prayer / Thursday, December 11th and 18th / 6:00 p.m. (Harp music begins at 5:30)

Advent Lutheran Church / Grace Campus / 1805 Oak

Melbourne Beach, Florida

Sunday services:  9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.

(a meal begins on Sundays at 5:00, prior to worship –

freewill offerings appreciated but not required)


This week I noticed that my calendar reminder system is not working so well.  If I have the alarms on low, there is always the highly-likely risk that I won’t hear them.  If they are too melodic, they tend to cause me to dig deeper into whatever I’m doing:  occasionally I’ll start to hum the melody.  If the alarm is a song I really like, I might just sing along depending on where I am when it goes off.  And that was my ah-ha moment because you see, I love good lyrics.  Heck, I love silly lyrics.  I love ironic lyrics.

I love to sing.

And I do pay attention to the words.

And this is important to me because there are so many electronic sounds in our environment now that for me they become like white noise;  with the exception of a real fire alarm–I often ignore them.

So today, I developed a new system! I created a playlist on my phone entitled:  Alarm Songs


The criteria for each song is that the lyrics must SAY something that reminds me of WHY it is playing.  (insert me nodding at my own cleverness here)

I’ve been using this approach for a couple of years with great success for my Sunday morning alarm, which goes off at 5:00.  The alarm that wakes me is the song “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5.  It’s a win/win — I love Adam Levine’s voice.  The song is upbeat enough to actually wake me and gentle enough so that I don’t have a heart attack.  And the words begin “Sunday morning…”

I hear it.  I wake up.  I smile for having been woken so gently.  I hear the word “Sunday.”  I GET UP.

Works every single time.

So today, I expanded the concept and shut off all other “pings” that my phone makes to tell me I have a text / an email / a Breaking News report of a 6 car pile up in Ohio, which strikes terror into my heart and about which I can do … nothing) [really?? — why was that ever ON to begin with?!]

It’s a funny thought:  to have so many alarms, and so many things in the world designed now to alarm us, that we no longer find our alarms … alarming.

I’m sure there’s something profound and deep in that, but today is Friday, my lone day off, so deep thoughts aren’t on my to do list.

Sharing my new Alarm Playlist with you, however, is.  I invite your suggestions for other occasions.  I’m still looking for a good Thursday Song.

Alarm Playlist

    • Come Monday (Jimmy Buffett)
    • Independence Day (Martina McBride) — which of course I only get to hear once a year now lest I get confused and wear red, white, and blue on the wrong day.
    • Save Me, San Francisco (Train) — again, only on the list in case I ever have to wake up and catch a plane to the west coast.
    • Be Prepared (Lion King Soundtrack) — seemed like a good one to use as a general purpose alarm
    • Some Beach (Blake Shelton) — those who know the song, understand … it reminds me of my dentist appt.
    • The Morning Report (Lion King Soundtrack) — for night’s when I go to sleep near dawn and wake up a half a dream later feeling disoriented and unsure of the time (and the day and the season…)
    • Hakuna Matata (Fridays — I considered “It’s 5:00 somewhere, but rejected that because it had the potential to just confuse me)
    • The Lion Sleeps Tonight (for when I have to meet with Sister Michelle, who hails from Kenya)
    • Ruby Tuesday (Rolling Stones) [Drake’s “Tuesday” was a contender for the intro but then I thought…what if I’m not in the room when the alarm goes off … and someone else is?]
    • Wednesday (Drive-By Truckers)
    • Heal Me (Melissa Etheridge — doctor appointment)
    • Doctor My Eyes (Jackson Browne — self-explanatory, huh?)
    • Night of Silence (sung by Pastor Dave — for when I have to meet with Pastor Dave) [I considered the theme song from Star Trek, but decided that I would likely just hit mute and wonder why that was playing.  I also considered Princess Leia’s theme song, but decided that would make me think it was nap time.]
    • Watching Airplanes (Gary Allan — for when I have to get to the airport)
    • Amazing Grace (the Phil Vassar one — not the classic song because I would never question why that one was playing anywhere — it’s the soundtrack of my life)
    • The Sun The Trees (Russian Red — for meetings at Suntree Campus)
    • That’s What I Love About Sundays (Craig Morgan — for all the picnics / parties / other life-giving occasions we gather to share on Sunday afternoons)


I am at work. At church. My list is long. My focus blurry. My heart somehow connected to my throat.

I woke to a message from Katie, a woman from my first congregation with whom I hadn’t spoken in a long while. I should’ve known before I read it, but still, I sat stunned as I read her brief message: Karol Pierce died yesterday.

Karol, a mutual friend, like a father, an uncle, an irreverent brother, a giant of a man who understood the value of being with people.  My goodness how he was loved.

Karol was funny, an adjective I reserve for those who earn it. A fine storyteller, he once convinced me he could peel an apple and keep the peel in tact even though he only had one arm. So convincing was he, I never even made him do it. Eventually he confessed that he might have exaggerated — about the entire thing. And that only added to the joy of the tale.

When I visited him during a particularly rough time, when my youngest son was hospitalized, he cried with me. No apologies.  No cliches or simple there-theres.  Real tears, shared.

I feel more acutely aware of my own right arm today as I try to work, my mind drifting away to the years when I was his pastor and we sat at his kitchen table in the country eating the best homemade vegetable soup on the planet. It was like being in a comfortable cave, set apart from the world, swapping tales and dipping bread into this marvelous soup. He always offered me beer and his eyes twinkled with the offer so that I always accepted.

He loved those cheap pink wafer cookies. He use to say in a conspiratorial voice: I love these damn cookies. I hate that I love them. I tell myself, I don’t need any more. Then I have another.

That’s how it was with Karol. He made you feel like you were in on a secret of great importance. We shared a love of storytelling and we laughed loudly at both our own and one another’s stories. He was the kind of man whose voice remains in your heart — like the refrain of a great song — long after you’ve last heard him speak.

We shared a lot of meals together. His passion for food was second only to his passion for people…and especially for the women who surrounded him: his beautiful wife, Claudette, who followed him from Oklahoma into an adventure that lasted a lifetime. His daughters. His neighbors. Their daughters. He had a way of making you feel beautiful even when your face was blotchy from crying; he had a way of making you feel safe even as his own health faltered.

This morning, my mind keeps drifting to him, to his family, to our mutual friends — to that era of my life. I cry despite my best attempts not to, and then I look at the lists on my desk; the notes trying to pull my attention to the present moment.

But the present moment for me is lost in moments past, with a friend and a family whose welcome to their table had no end.

Stuff-stopping-sorrow. It’s something we never put on our to do list. We do not plan to grieve and yet even the most pressing plans get shoved to the wall when we hear such news.

I need to get ready. People are counting on me. The clock is ticking. Soon a meeting will begin that I am to lead. I hold a baseball in my hand and hear again Karol talking about playing both before…and after…the accident that cost him his arm.

I give in to the fact that the stuff I have to do right now is securely stationed on the edges of this day.

With great love comes great sorrow. The tears we cry as we say goodbye are a tribute to a life well-lived; a soul who loved well. And in my own sentimental heart, I cannot help but imagine that in the next world, where the weak say ‘I am strong’, and the poor say, ‘I am rich’, Karol is winding up to pitch with two strong arms and eyes that twinkle as if he really does have one helluva secret. And it’s a good one. And if you come for supper…he’ll tell you.


Salt Life Day 64

Salt Life, like Surfing, like living at the beach, is a culture unto itself.  It is a way of life, having its own vocabulary and rhythm and etiquette.

It is fascinating. 

Here’s what I’ve learned since I moved my pillows onto my bed at Chateau LaVie, my condo overlooking the sea.

Victory At Sea — is a term that refers to very choppy water;  churning;  lots of white;  chaos in liquid form.  It is one of many ways to describe the ocean and is used by those who have surf apps on their phones to monitor surf conditions at any moment, which then gives some sense of what they will be in a few hours or a few days.  This is useful for planned spontaneity.

My surf app is called Surfline.

The changing tides are linked to the sun and the moon and the earth and time — specific time.  You can read all about the tides online; the explanations are quite scientific and have lots of illustrations.  Those who really understand the tides can tell you exactly when the next high tide will be.  The tides change much more often than I ever knew;  daily in fact.  Twice a day to be specific.   To live by the ocean is to become keenly aware of the tides;  like city dwellers know rush hour, beach-folk know tides.  Some beach folks know way more than others.

Walking on the beach you expect to find sand, water, seashells…but you will also find the unexpected:  Single items that were once part of a pair:  a flip-flop;  a bikini top.  Newborn sea-turtles making a break from the desert to their home.  And patches of beach where the shells are ground up like fine gravel.  This is an area that was once underneath several feet of sand.  Storms and other environmental influences have worn the beach away to reveal this–seashell gravel–a place I’ve been told you might find sea glass.

I now have 9 pieces of sea glass that were collected and given to me by 4 different people, but I have yet to find a single piece.  I wonder if people buy it and give it to me as if they found it;  I wonder if it is a trick those who’ve been living the salt life awhile play on newcomers.

I look for sea glass practically every single day.

Waves are tricksters.  From the shore, on vacation, their soothing percussive tempo can calm even the most vigilantly anxious.  From the place they meet the sand, they envelope ones’ feet as a whirlpool, washing, massaging, inviting one to let go…come on in…the water’s fine.

You are up to your waist before you even realize you were seduced by the water kissing your ankles.

Once past the first set of breaking waves, there is a place in the water that instills a sense of of security.  Weightless there, you are awake, alive, an aquatic creature far from the maddening pings of relentless technology.  You think about Ariel.  You imagine you’re a mermaid.  You remember a print you once had of a mermaid holding a red shoe with the caption:  She never knew quite what to make of the saying, if the shoe fits…

Your mind drifts easily–you let down your guard.

And that’s like an unspoken cue to the waves: they pick up pace, and energy, and power.  You no longer feel one with the water;  the imagined security has completely bailed.

The wise ocean swimmer or surfer wanna-be spends a lot of time learning to time the waves.  You have to decide before each one reaches you if you will go over it or through it or under it;  there is less time to decide than you think.  Experienced surfers tell you:  commit or quit.  It’s something you do over and over and over again.  Once you are out beyond where you can touch the bottom, you have no choice but to play the game.  Unlike many sports that have a bench, or a sideline, a place you can go to for rest, the ocean demands that you keep playing until you find your way back to shore.

It can take a good long while to reach the shore if you do not participate fully in the game of timing the waves and tackling each one before it tackles you.

The salt life doesn’t run by watches or clocks:  there are general times…dawn…mid-morn…afternoon…dusk…night.  If the moon is not out, the beach is darker than any place I’ve ever been in the city.

The salt is as pervasive as the air.  It coats every surface inside and outside.  It changes the feel of your hair and your skin.  It turns shiny things dull.  It corrodes all metal and many non-metal things;  it makes you eternally thirsty.

Beach folks shower 2-3 times a day. 

Sand, too, is everywhere.  I have no idea how it gets where I find it.  I have bit down into sand in my Cheerios and emptied it out of the pocket of my cut-offs.

If someone had told me I would one day take sand in my cereal in stride, I would not have believed them.  Those who know me well know that I take breakfast seriously.

But the good things and the annoying things about the Salt Life are mixed together as completely as the ground shells in the sand.  They cannot be separated.

And the good things make the annoying things so tolerable as to be barely noticed. 

To live on the beach is to have the opportunity to step into a vacation every day that requires no packing and can be as brief as ten minutes and as restorative as a week. 

It makes the presence of God seem more palpable.  It makes those things that once seemed impossible seem within reach. 

It makes one both relaxed beyond measure and compulsive without control:

I can’t stop taking photos of the ocean.

I can’t stop facing the waves and believing that eventually, I’ll be using them as a platform instead of having them use me as a chew toy.

I can’t stop looking for sea glass.


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