Forget New Year’s Resolutions

This week, we reflect – Christ came. He came as a baby at a particular place and time, but in an eternal sense that no words can explain, he comes again and again. He has come to me. He comes to all who call upon him in the midst of the current chaos of this world, in the midst of the chaos of their own internal world.

Fully man, he continues to enter our fleshly, decaying world as only one who has lived in a fleshly, decaying body can.

The advice lists for new year’s resolutions 2018 have started to float across social media networks. The more sophisticated lists now advocate “new year’s intentions” and sound deep and mature: things like kindness to the grocery cashiers, time in nature, daily focused meditation, simplifying, etc.

All good things, but then I read this in my favorite prayer book, The Valley of Vision.  I think I have found my new year’s, my rest-of-my-life hope and intention, because everything else loses its luster in the light of it.

“Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in thee, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being… Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly Husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until thou alone art seen in me, thy beauty golden like summer harvest, thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty. Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water.”

As anyone who knows me can tell, I am a woman who often processes in images. I called to mind the last time I saw a huge commercial tiller running through the rich, deep-black soil. Have you seen a tractor plough up close lately? Those are some awfully big blades. Isn’t that how life feels sometimes? Like huge blades are shredding our hearts? What if that shredding could be laying the groundwork (couldn’t help it) for the person we are meant to grow into?

(Side note – I was looking at images online of tractor ploughs as I wrote this, and I came across a website from the UK called The Society of Ploughman – it’s awesome. They have competitions and everything. Check it out. The internet is amazing.)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a quarry close up. When I think of a quarry, I always think of this scene from the film Garden StateGarden-State-Screencap-indie-films-1931521-1024-436I consider the violent demolition needed to create a gash in the earth the size of this, and I shudder a bit when I consider applying that image to my life. But the writer I quoted above longs to be quarried so that he might overflow with living water. That makes me tremble with excitement.

It is life in Jesus Christ, life in the one God-man, the one whose birth we celebrate this week, that can plow and quarry our hearts for the purposes of love and expansive grace. This is the life that I am scared to want, but still, want it I do. Oh, quarry me deep.

Shrouded Supermoon


My lens is pointed directly at the setting supermoon, and yet a billion tiny things stand between my lens and that moon, rendering it invisible to me. Countless droplets of water conspire against me, each so tiny that I cannot make out a single one.

This is often a picture of my life. The BIG THING is right in front of me, and yet I am oblivious to its presence because I have let a billion tiny, almost-invisible things get between me and it.

My busyness, my wandering or fretful thoughts, the noise, the tweets, the news, the TV, the sugar and caffeine, other people’s expectations and their subsequent disappointments… I am so used to the bombardment. It has become my constant background, so I rarely notice it is there.

But sometimes I feel fretfully lost and see the path fading in front of me. For a brief spell, I acknowledge the dense fog and consider what grand thing might be right before me, hidden from view.

(I’ll be back for you this evening, my moon.)

Read More Stories!

Angle of ReposeLast night, I finished Wallace Stegner’s lengthy masterpiece, Angle of Repose. I set it down and contemplated what a privilege it was to have time to read. I read a lot of books, a lot of amazing books.  Because of the sheer length of my booklist, if your book is not well-written, it will be quickly discarded.

I have pages and pages of highlighted quotes, notes, and references from my favorite wise non-fiction writers (Krista Tippett, Parker Palmer, Richard Rohr, Brennan Manning, Frederick Buechner & David Brooks come to mind – all highlights of last year), but there is something different that happens when I read a great novel. While non-fiction works tend to ping around in my brain and sometimes sift their way into the deeper places of my heart, stories just march right in my heart’s front door. What is it about a story?

We are all living stories. God’s story telling confounds me sometimes. Bible stories, especially the most ancient ones, can pull up confusion and even revulsion. But I do believe God is the grand storyteller, and a story weaver in our lives. He created us in his storytelling image – story is quite literally in our DNA.

Written story stands apart from any other form of storytelling. I was staring at a page in a real book – printed on actual paper. The font was small enough to challenge even my 1.75 readers (I love my Kindle). I took off my glasses so I couldn’t make out the words, and I noted that the vast majority of the page was white. All those tiny black letters probably took up 10 percent of the space. And it struck me – that’s what a satisfying novel does – it’s leaves us space to bring our own stories, our personalities, and our circumstances with us into the reading. No one will leave Angle of Repose changed in the same way it changed me, for no one else brings what I do to all that white space.

Characters are filtered through my life’s characters, whether I mean to or not. Their faces, their voices and smiles and joys, the way they move, their successes and failures take on unique forms in my mind based on what I know. So each novel, if it is written well, becomes customized to my soul.

I have a hard time remembering Jesus’s specific theology from his sermon on the mount, but the parables stick – I often think of the lost sheep, the woman desperately hunting her coin, the scene where the prodigal son is at last spotted by his father, the struggling seeds, the grumbling workers – these are the things that inform my spiritual life automatically.

My point is made. We should all read more epic stories. Maybe one day I’ll even write one. Every time I finish a remarkable novel, I wonder why I don’t read more! Here are a few of my favorites from the past few months. Please take a moment to comment and tell me a couple of your favorites. Or connect with me on Goodreads.

Wallace Stegner:  Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose, Ann Patchett: State of Wonder, Fredrik Backman: A Man Called Ove, Marilynne Robinson: Gilead and Home (these probably top my list), Kristin Hannah: The Nightingale, Adam Johnson: Fortune Smiles, Wm. Paul Young: Eve and Cross Roads, Frederick Buechner: The Storm and Godric, John Steinbeck: Travels with Charley.

Your turn…

Put a Frame Around It


I have not written much of anything for a while. I have been lost in the fog of family illnesses and my son departing for college. I think I have been hibernating, but my heart and my brain started to wake up this week.

I have ideas popping again –  song lyrics, book themes, photo shoots I want to plan. But I stopped myself yesterday and wondered why in the heck I do these things – write the words and melodies, snap the pictures. I don’t make a dime. It takes loads of time. And yet… I think it might be what I am called to do.

For any of you who have read my blog, it will come as no surprise that I found my answer in a Frederick Buechner book. There are 2 new Buechner books out – 2 books!! – I could hardly contain my excitement pouring over new words from him yesterday. I am about to finish the first of the 2 called The Remarkable Ordinary. The second is called A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory. It’s next – I’ll keep you posted.

I have always felt a deep connection to Buechner’s writing, as if he gives words to the thoughts that swim right between my dreams and my waking – things that drive to the very core of me but I can’t quite explain. And then he just writes it – or even better, he shows it to me in one of his stories. Few characters have influenced me the way his have.

Back to yesterday: here I am, in my little existential crisis about the meaning of my work, and I open a new Buechner book and he is writing about ART. Of all the things! Here is one of my favorite quotes:

“So, art is saying Stop. It helps us to stop by putting a frame around something and makes us see it in a way we would never have seen it under the normal circumstances of living, as so many of us do, on sort of automatic pilot, going through the world without really seeing much of anything.”

And there it is. That is why I write this post, why I get up before dawn and ignore mosquitos or heat or cold to take my photos, why I spend hours trying to get a melody just right. First, it is for me. It is my way of telling my heart, “STOP! Look at this. Really look at this.”

Then I share some of these things with you so that you might say to yourself, “STOP! Would you look at that? What a wonder!” And I don’t mean I want you to look at my photo of the moon and say, “STOP! Look at my friend’s post. She is a great photographer.” What I’m really hoping for is that you will see the mind-blowing marvel that any human being got to stand where I stood and see such a site, and, “Oh my gosh, I can do that, too!”

My hope is that next time you see the moon, you stop and realize that no one who has ever lived or who ever will live is standing in the exact spot as you, at that exact time, with the specific memories and emotions and dreams you bring to that exact moment. That moment is a gift from the entire universe, from the Creator himself in my opinion, for you and you alone. Now tell me that doesn’t put this broken world into perspective for just a minute

So art – art spawned from a heart of wonder – is framing miracle moments- an image, a sentence, a note – that calls on all of us to slow the heck down and pay attention. And if I can influence just a handful of people and deepen their desire to find their own such moments, I am contributing to the very work of creation – I am bringing wonder and love,  grace and peace in a way only I can bring them

And you and I are also works of art. As we pay attention to the world’s wonders, we begin to see each other through new lenses. More from Buechner:

“So we are to see each other like that, as Jesus sees us, framed as if each one of our faces is seen by him.” 

May you all find your own unique moments of wonder this week, and may we all see each other – and ourselves – as the spectacular works of art that we are!


The Only Why That Matters

This is a letter to my son, but as I wrote this, prayed this, over him, I found myself praying it also over my own heart and over the hearts of many friends, so it seemed appropriate to post it here.


Dear Son,

It’s the day after coming home from our amazing, long vacation – I have had that vacation in my mind since the summer before you started high school, and I have no regrets about the money or the time we spent. Other than the obvious privilege of enjoying the mountains for 3 weeks, one of the biggest blessings was watching you just be you – no classes, tests, applications, matches, work, pressure, or alarm clocks. No striving. Just you – doing, being, treasuring the time, challenging yourself on that mountain bike WAY beyond my personal comfort zone.

I found myself celebrating the man that you are – your courage, your curious mind, kind heart, occasional quirkiness, the big, deep laugh to go along with your brilliant, nuanced sense of humor.

Coming back to reality – the land of “S T U U U F F!”, as you guys hollered out in the car when we crested the hill into Amarillo, my heart struggled. This STUFF makes me feel burdened and a little dead inside sometimes. That mild despair deepened when the reality of your upcoming departure hit me afresh when I walked in the door. This morning God tenderly helped me sort it out.

Why are we here? There is only one WHY that matters.

This world pretends to have big dreams for you, but sadly, the world’s dreams are deceptively small and slippery. In our constant conversation throughout high school regarding college entrance and scholarships, I am afraid I let my own heart adopt some of those dreams for you as well. My reading this morning took me to 1 Timothy chapter 6 – your namesake, Timothy – that was my first signal that something good was coming. God reminded me what His dreams are for you.

From The Message translation, starting in verse 6: A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. (I could almost stop right here because there is so much in that one sentence! Being yourself before anyone is a minor miracle, but being yourself before the loving, perfect, creator God? Wow.) Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough… Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after. But you, Timothy (David), man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life – a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses.” (This last part made me think of you and your friends at camp this summer.)

Striving for money is like having a boat anchor around your neck in the middle of an angry ocean. It will take you down. You have heard the phrase, “What you own owns you.” And it’s true. Food on the table and shoes on our feet – those are words to remember. Another thing you will be soon tempted to own is debt, and there will likely be times, for a vehicle or a home, where this is your chosen path as it has been ours. But remember that it gets a piece of you, so stick to that food and shoes image as much and as closely as you can.

You are pretty darn smart and heading off to study smart things with smart people. If you can frame your pursuit from day one with the idea of using whatever you learn to honor God and help others, you can take your studies as far as He leads you. You have the beautiful freedom to consult your heart instead of consulting only your future bank account.

My favorite prayer book is called The Valley of Vision. Here is a portion of the prayer that “happened” to be next in line today – reminded me that God is faithful to tie things together for us when we listen.

“LORD OF ALL BEING, There is one thing that deserves my greatest care, that calls forth my ardent desires, that is, that I may answer the great end for which I am made – to glorify thee who hast given me being, and to do all the good I can for my fellow men; verily, life is not worth having if it be not improved for this noble purpose. Yet, Lord, how little is this the thought of mankind! Most men seem to live for themselves, without much or any regard for thy glory, or for the good of others; they earnestly desire and eagerly pursue the riches, honours, pleasures of this life, as if they suppose that wealth, greatness, merriment, could make their immortal souls happy. But, alas, what false delusive dreams are these! And how miserable ere long will those be that sleep in them…”

Our society is obsessed with standing out and being special. I buy into that at times with myself – trying to figure out what my grand contribution is supposed to be. It’s not that my brain, my writing, or my art are unimportant. They are simply unimportant in the traditional thinking about success. Followers, viewers, and listeners do not define the value of my contribution! The only measuring stick for any of it is whether or not it answers the “great end” for which I was made – glorifying God and doing what good I can for my fellow man.

You have grown up in a strange land, a land of excess, of sameness – a land where many spend as much on their vacations as the average citizen makes in a year. You have also been observant enough to realize that these riches do not make people happy. If anything, they are distracting and dividing. C.S. Lewis says, “Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it”, while really it is finding its place in him.”

You have not had much of a place in the high school social strata (thank goodness). It might be tempting to “find your place in the world” as you swim into friendlier waters. My hope is that you find your mission to the world instead. If, along the way, your journey includes a sizable paycheck, find ways to remind yourself who it truly belongs to. (Food and shoes, food and shoes…)

So you and and your gifted brain – go try to figure out how nanobots can cure cancer, or help design some brilliant machine that improves eyesight or a medicine to end Malaria – OR – maybe one day you will find yourself doing some job just to put bread on the table and shoes on your kids’ feet – and your GREAT END will be to love your family well and show kindness and compassion to whatever coworkers you are thrown together with. Our measure of what is great and what is important must be constantly brought back to God’s measuring stick. It is absolutely the only one that will matter in the end.

You will leave this world one day with only your soul. No penny, no person will take that particular journey with you. So, fill your soul. Listen to your heart. And don’t forget the first words that Paul uses to define the righteous life for Timothy. He starts with “a life of wonder”. Such wisdom! The wonder of creation, of science, of poetry and beauty – wonder will always lead you back to the God of Wonders!FullSizeRender (6)IMG_7234

So, when you catch yourself slipping into the sticky web of the world’s idea of success, get outside or read something amazing. Break the cycle and come back. Find the “rich simplicity of being yourself” before the God who made you and loves you – beyond your wildest imagination – exactly as you come.

Of course, a letter of this nature from a Mom of my nature, must end with a quote from my favorite.

“Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough, but peace, love and joy are only from God.”

~Frederick Buechner

Love, Mom


Bringing Nature to You

Open this link and let me give you a gift. I am learning yoga (sort of), I’ve downloaded my deep breathing app and am contemplating a more serious practice of meditation. I am not switching religions or running off to a commune. I simply find that the more time I spend quieting myself, the more joyful and efficient I am when I’m back on the move.

The exercises and techniques are all fine and good, but the best way for me to find this calmer state is to be in nature. My brain seriously never stops. It’s tiring. The only time I can completely relax and stop thinking is when my senses are immersed in the outdoors. Topping the list is picking up shells at the beach; next best is the mountains or forest with my camera. I will look up after hours of wandering and realize I did not have an anxious or serious thought about anything.

And if that sounds like as waste of time, what happens next is magical. For even though I am not experiencing conscious thoughts, my brain is doing far deeper work than usual. I emerge from those times with new melodies, new words, new connections. But as a busy Mom of 3 kids – those times in nature are often few and far between.

I heard Krista Tippett’s interview with Gordon Hempton on her On Being podcast – here’s the link: Silence and the Presence of Everything. I was mesmerized.  I then went directly to Gordon Hempton’s lovely webpage: I put all of his soundscapes in my cart, purchased them, and gleefully watched as the zipped files popped into my e-mail inbox.

I imported them all into iTunes and have them set to play on a loop. As I type this, I can close my eyes (thanks to whoever the nutty lady was that taught me to type in high school) – I am deep in the forest with a soft rain falling – there is a steady, low hum underneath with the occasional drip from the leaves, distant bird calls, and oh, the tree frog just joined in.

Of course, I’d rather actually be sitting in the forest feeling the rain fall on my head. But, alas, I have a voice recital to attend, and 1,000 words to write and chores to do. So, I have imported a little nature and will vacuum with my good headphones on. Just having this on in the background slows down the cadence of my breath and I naturally take more air in and let it all out.  My body responds with no effort on my part.

So, there’s your gift – skip Chick Fil A and spend a few bucks supporting Mr. Hempton’s important work. Do all the steps – download and import everything, make a playlist, put it on your phone and computer, and press play. You’re welcome.



An Excellent Reading List

100 Reading Suggestions for Graduates

Sorted by genre, in no particular order…


Novels and Stories:

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Godric by Frederick Buechner

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Hawaii by James A. Michener

The Alchemist  by Paulo Coelho

Everything Is Illuminated by  Jonathan Safran Foer

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Howards End by E.M. Forster

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen


Science Fiction / Fantasy:

A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Wrinkle in Time Series by Madeleine L’Engle

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy

Cross Roads & Eve by William Paul Young

Dune by Frank Herbert

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

The Passage by Justin Cronin



A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

The Lightness of Being by Frank Wilczek

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

AsapScience by Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown

Finding God in the Waves by  Mike McHargue


Wisdom and Self-Development:

Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon

Becoming Wise by Krista Tippett

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Healing the Wounded Heart by Dan Allender

A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berge

Scary Close by Donald Miller

Love Does by Bob Goff

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

The World Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard


Spiritual / Christian:

Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning

Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner

A Grief Observed and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken

Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen

Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer

Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor

Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris

Your God is Too Small by J.B. Phillips

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

Disciplines for the Inner Life by Bob and Michael W. Benson

Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith

Prodigal God by Timothy Keller


History, Biography, Memoir:

A Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Night by Elie Wiesel

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

On Writing by Stephen King

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

As You Wish by Cary Elwes


Mystery authors:

Dorothy Sayers

Agatha Christie

P.D. James

Patricia Cornwell

Scott Pratt

Louise Penny

Nevada Barr

C.J. Box

Stephen King

Enjoy is An Action Verb

Make your life enjoyable.  Out of all the words spoken at my son’s commencement speeches, these are the ones that stuck. I wanted to stop it all for a minute in hopes that those words would soak into the hearts of the graduates a little deeper than all the noise about success and grit and the like.

The smart and wise young speaker, Jordan Griffin, alluded to finding this enjoyment in relationships, work, learning, & play. When he got to that specific line, the J-O-Y in the middle of that word jumped out. It occurred to me that this is our difficult calling – to enjoy this life in its moment-by-moment entirety. Finding JOY is a choice.

“Enjoy” is derived from the Latin word “occupo” – the same root that gives us grasp, seize, take hold of. Enjoyment when seen through this lens is far from the passive, just-happens-to-us, stumbled-upon thing we make of it. It is something we choose and seek and start, something we can lose, something we must find again.

How do I do this in the repetitive circumstances of my ordinary days? Do I cherish the meal that was shared and hope to share another one tomorrow as I rinse the dinner dishes? Do I contemplate the new birdsong I heard on my walk as I fold the socks that I wore on the path?  Can I notice the multiple shades of green in the grass I mow, or rest in the occasional pauses, appreciating the quiet and comfort held in my breath?

For if I can habitually find enjoyment in these cyclical and routine happenings, find meaning in what I am tempted to call tiresome or mundane, how much easier would it be to treasure the moments of lying close to my husband, of laughing with my kids, petting my dogs, filling my bird feeder while the cardinals chirp their thanks above my head, or chatting with the marvelously singular people in line with me at the grocery? Maybe I will marvel at the unique hazel sparkle of my daughter’s eyes when I wipe her tears, or dream of what her passion might accomplish when she slams the door in my face.

Enjoyment is not forced on us, or handed to us. It does not scream out from the kitchen broom or computer keyboard. It does not separate itself from the pain of loss or the shame of mistakes, but it there all the same. It is waiting to be sought, pried out, noticed, and accepted. It is under my fingertips as I type these words – it is the sensuous feel of tapping lightly on my thoughtfully designed Mac keyboard; it is the surprise at the words that tumble out of my often-wandering and spaced-out brain.

This I know for sure: the only way I will seek joy in the midst of life’s tumultuous tragedies is if seeking it has become second nature to me when the seas are calm.

I make my life enjoyable by fully occupying the space and the time I am in right now, by fully occupying and appreciating the body that holds me there, and by connecting as deeply and kindly as possible with the lives I intersect. Awake, my soul, and enjoy!


Saturday Shadows


The world took the life of Jesus on a Friday. He defeated death on Sunday. But there was a day in between. On that day, reality sunk in. With shock still clinging, friends were scattered to the wind; they were in the dark, and they were alone.

I have friends living in extended Saturdays – seemingly unending Saturdays. Some of them believe Sunday is coming, but there are days when they wonder. Their personal Fridays – troubled kids, long-term illness, severe depression, broken relationships – came crashing down out of nowhere.

When you are wandering through Saturday’s dark valley, Sunday often seems like a childish dream.

Saturday is a terror. Dark curtains cover the windows; food has no taste; feet feel as heavy as our hearts. The mitochondria in every cell feel starved for energy. And even if we experienced the same trauma, the awareness of our uniqueness isolates us – there is no one who can fully understand our own particular pain pathways because no one is us.

Reminding your Saturday friends that Sunday is coming is a bit like skipping down the hospital hallway singing “It’s a Beautiful Day”. Probably better to softly join them in their Saturday for a while.

Your presence might remind them that there was a once a Thursday, even if Sunday is currently beyond their imagination.

Grocery Store Gut Check


I love my H.E.B. grocery store. It is ridiculously enormous – even for Texas. I imagine it would shock the socks of most people coming from another country, or even a big U.S. city. It is like our S.U.V.s and Ford trucks – loud, colorful, and too big for our own good. On the weekends, along with a dizzying food selection, this store also provides me with some fascinating people watching.

This past Saturday, I parked at the back of the also-gargantuan parking lot, snagged one of the last shopping carts, and headed into battle. Even with aisles as wide as most people’s living rooms, it was a challenge getting around. From the moment I exited produce, I was moving opposite an older-than-me gentleman, passing him on every aisle on our westerly adventure across the store.

This guy was fantastic. I watched him, crowded aisle after crowded aisle, gently guiding traffic, inconspicuously moving carts of unsuspecting aisle hogs, reaching the top shelf for little ladies and making funny remarks to his fellow shoppers, me included. He was ahead of me in the checkout line, hamming it up with the cashier and the tiny, tattooed, purple-haired high school girl bagging his 2 carts worth of groceries. He hollered to us, “Ya’ll have a good one!” on his way out.

Of course, he was parked directly across from me when I finally completed the trek to my car. When I finished unloading and turned around to find the nearest place to stash my cart, he was standing there waiting to snag my cart for me. I often grab people’s carts as I am walking by if I can help, but he made a special trip to the back of my car.

After that, he climbed into his big, old truck, well marked by the political stickers of my least favorite politician, and lit up a cigarette. 

My heart just sank – and not because of who he voted for. I asked myself, “What if I had seen him in his old truck with his political display, sucking on that cigarette, before I SAW him – the REAL him – in all his glorious action?” Ugh. I realized that I would have immediately viewed him differently – probably as less educated, possibly even as less kind. And he was an amazing person who had added real joy to my day! When on earth did cigarettes become associated with lower human value in my broken head – a head that struggles with plenty of addictive behaviors of its own?

I have read several things written by talented authors this past year in and attempt to better understand the racial tensions that continue to simmer in this country. I have come across the word microaggressions almost daily. Here is a simple definition of microaggression from Google: “a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.”

I don’t walk out my door planning to discriminate against anyone, but I probably do it without realizing it on a regular basis. My hope is that the rest of this week – the rest of this life – that I will remember my kind HEB smoking buddy when I interact with anyone who is a little different than me. If I would let one lousy cigarette cloud my judgment so easily, imagine what other unintentional judgments have escaped my attention.

“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen” – John Steinbeck


For now, I am thankful for a lesson learned, and thankful for the kindness of strangers. My eyes are at least opened a little wider.