709. The gift of a friend

The gift of a friend.jpg

A week ago today, my best childhood friend died suddenly. There we are in the picture above, sitting on a deck at our first summer camp–the two girls intentionally wearing identical bathing suits. She moved next door to me in the middle of grade school, and we were nearly inseparable after that: walking to school together, having sleepovers, attending the same church, jumping on our neighbor's trampoline, making clothes for our Barbie dolls and later for ourselves, learning to knit, writing and putting on plays, riding our bikes to the library and coming home with the baskets full of books, and so many other things. When my family later moved to Florida in the summer between eighth and ninth grade, we wrote letters nearly daily that first year–actual letters, on paper, by hand, sent with stamps. She came to visit, sometimes for weeks at a time. We were in each other's weddings.

But then adult life set in with work and families and budgets and we rarely saw each other, the last time about 12 years ago. There have been Christmas cards, the occasional but rare email, and Facebook. A couple months ago, though, she and I had a lengthy and meaningful private FB message conversation and as quickly as those messages could be sent, the friendship–always there but buried by time and distance and the changes that add up over time–flared and burned bright. Her funeral was yesterday, far from me, and I think of that conversation, which took place with her death no where in sight, as a gift.

As you've been reading this, if an old friend has popped into your mind, and he or she is still living, think about reaching out to them today and tell them they mean something to you. Tell them they had a share in shaping who you are for the good. Tell them they brought you joy.


[Picture: Can you spot the two girls with matching bathing suits? From a brochure for the summer camp we went to, Covenant Pines.]

666. Gathering 2015: a review of this year's posts

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[NOTE: The links in this post are no longer correct]

I spent a couple hours this morning reviewing my blog posts from 2015. In The Art of Thinking, Ernest Dimnet wrote, “To keep no track of what one learns or thinks is as foolish as to till and seed one’s land with great pains, and when the harvest is ripe turn one’s back upon it and think of it no more.” I agree with Dimnet and so look back at posts, journals, book notes, and other evidences of – and learning from – this life journey, this blog being a piece of that. I believe in being a student of one's life.

But I also reviewed my posts in order to gather them together in one place with some kind of organizing structure for readers' use. New subscribers have come on throughout the year and may find this a handy list of posts, and even regular readers miss posts or may like to revisit posts. Here they are – well, most of them – grouped into categories. 

A couple preliminary comments: 1) this is the year that Finding Livelihood came out so that category got a heavy weighting; 2) these categories are fluid and artificially narrow - for example, most of the posts could be under a single category of "paying attention to your life" or "living with intention" or "living a meaningful life," and the posts for books could be distributed under multiple categories, and the posts "on hope" could just as well be listed as "on love" or "on pilgrimage."

I offer this list to you as a place in which to dip in and read, to peruse at random or with strategy, in the hope that whatever words you choose to read or re-read may come alongside you as you wind up your 2015 and launch whatever is next.

On astonishment and gratitude:

On pilgrimage and choices:

On love and community:

On leisure, rest, sabbath:

On books and the ideas they contain:

On writing and creativity:

On hope:

On Finding Livelihood:

On work: 


About this blog:

[Photo: taken of the Christmas day landscape. True color, no filter.]

In praise of high school reunions

In praise of high school reunions.jpg

I went to a public high school in coastal Florida. It was early-to-mid 70s, and the cutting edge of education theory and practice looked different than it does now. I'd always heard – although I have no actual proof – that the state of Florida used my school as their experimental site. Try it there first.

We started the day at 7 something and ended at 12:30. Our dress code, as I remember it, prohibited only bathing suits and midriff exposure. We had modular scheduling and open campus, which means we could go to the beach or out for breakfast if we had a long enough open period between classes, which there often was. (We also could use the open periods to study, the model's initial hope.) We could be done for the day by mid-morning if we scheduled our classes tightly in the early hours. But we had good teachers with high academic expectations and lots of opportunity for civic involvement. An interesting combination of rigor and laxity.

I just returned from a weekend-long high school reunion. My fortieth. I've been gone a long time – we all have – so I didn't know what to expect. The points of commonality with old classmates fade with the years, after all, and forty years is substantial. I figured if I only spent time with a couple of my closer friends and some time on the beach, the trip would be worthwhile. I was wrong because the weekend was so much more.

When I was in high school I had a lack of imagination about who people were inside and about what people could become, about the ways we could succeed and the ways we could be broken, about the ways that many already had been broken, even at 16. I didn't yet comprehend the complexity of human life.

Maybe that's the nature of being a teenager. Thankfully the nature of being mid-to-late 50s is that we've all lived a lot of life by now. The complexity of human life is no longer hidden. We are each of us, all of us, making our way.

Old friends and new-old friends, we talked late into the night (OK, early morning). We laid on the beach. Joked about our middle-age bodies and swimsuits. Bobbed in the Gulf. Reminisced. Prayed. Spoke of the future. Confided. Laughed. Laughed. Laughed. We spoke into each other's lives. Maybe that last thing is what surprised me most: that people who have been apart for decades have the power to speak into each other's lives by virtue of the fact of knowing each other growing up.

It felt sheer privilege to be back among these men and women I came of age with, to see such sparkle and verve, to feel a crazy inexplicable bond and love, even with those I hadn't known well, to witness what people have become and overcome.

Being in the presence of people I knew at the age of 13 or 15 expanded me. My life feels longer than it did last week, as if a thread that had been twisted to a knot at its end was untwisted and laid out straight again to reflect its true length, end to end.

My gratitude for the good that came from a high school operating on a misguided educational model is deep. My imagination over what people can become and what we can overcome and the ways that God works in all our lives is bubbling.


[Photo: a yearbook picture taken of me senior year by Bobby Whitlatch, copied now with my cell phone; evidence that I studied – usually – during those open periods. I still remember what I was wearing in this picture; you can't see them, but I was wearing burgundy and white plaid pants, which I sewed myself. Yes, burgundy and white plaid.]