a franciscan year


I can't seem to shake off the monastics.  I'm continually drawn to their disciplined rhythms and focused intention in attempting to make an outer life that reflects their inner lives.  A couple of years ago I came across the Third Order Franciscans - an Episcopalian order that commits to live by Franciscan principles in their every day lives.  I love their aims of love and simplicity.  Looking over their Rule (guidelines for committed living) again this last month, I realized it could provide a container, of sorts, for the various threads I want to pursue in this coming year.

The last few years I've been looking for ways to integrate financial discipline with my concern for our (personal) middle-class disconnect - the distance between my pursuit of comfort and my neighbors' daily need, the condition of the planet, the growing class disparity in America, the mental and spiritual plague of consumerism, etc.  I've tried various ways of tackling this, but the Franciscans brought it all together for me:

"Saint Francis...[desired] that all barriers set up by privilege based on wealth should be overcome by love. [...] we avoid luxury and waste, and regard our possessions as being held in trust for God. Personal spending is limited to what is necessary for our health and well-being and that of our dependents. We aim to stay free from all attachment to wealth, keeping ourselves constantly aware of the poverty in the world and its claim on us. We are concerned more for the generosity that gives all, rather than the value of poverty in itself.""Acknowledging that everything belongs to God, we seek to use his gifts wisely and to be good stewards of this fragile earth, never destroying or wasting what God has made. We provide the things necessary for ourselves and our families without demanding luxuries. We seek never to forget the needs of others."

The Rule for the Third Order encompasses several areas other than just finances, but they all braid together to support and enable each other.  I think this is what I've been missing, a cohesive vision that addresses all the various aspects of how we make decisions and what motivates us.  This is a brief outline of the Rule (found here):

The Holy EucharistPenitencePersonal PrayerSelf-DenialRetreatStudySimplicity of LivingWorkObedience

I've written some guidelines for myself that fall into each of these categories (although not always exactly as they are meant for actual members of the Order).  They include praying the Divine Hours 3x daily (as able), periods of silence each day, reducing social media interaction to 1 hour/day (sounds like plenty, but it goes very fast between posting and answering comments, etc.), a no-shopping year, and regular hospitality.   I'm calling it my Franciscan year, and while I know it will be a challenge, I also feel a sense of calling and peace.

"Humility, love, and joy are the three notes which mark the lives of Tertiaries." (Third Order members)

In this context, it does not seem burdensome to keep a routine of prayer or create space for silence or refuse to buy.  It seems like opening a door and entering into the rhythm of the real world, where we work and yearn and make space for each other instead of mindlessly pursuing our own comfort and pleasure.  I'm entering the new year with a lot of peace and assurance.


Since I know some people will have questions about what our no-shopping year will look like, I'll offer a brief outline of our plan here. Please remember, this is a journey toward integrity, not a competition about resources or stewardship.

2019 No-shopping Year.We will not shop/order/buy anything outside of the following:

  1. Regular household expenses. (I have reduced our food budget slightly but this is a broad category overall and we have talked through what we need and what we can go without.)

  2. Already scheduled home maintenance projects (this includes building a pole barn and some subsequent landscaping.)

  3. Seeds/supplies for a small garden.

  4. Replacing any necessary items that break or are lost.

  5. Gifts for others (reduced budget).

  6. Books necessary for work.

I'm sure there will be exceptions to these guidelines, because that's the way it goes in a large, busy family, but we do have a way to evaluate those needs as they arise.  Mostly it involves talking, waiting, and considering whether it complies with our commitment to simplicity.  I'm so looking forward to using what we have, making do, and learning new ways to meet needs.

As always, I love to hear your thoughts. 

I'll leave you with this version of St Francis' famous prayer for peace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agPnMxp5Occ 

work, in progress


They've torn down the old apple trees and the thicket of blackberries along the trail.  In their place are sections of chain link fence held together with orange construction tape.  Our town is growing.  The airport needs a new access road.  Warehouses will go up, businesses will move in; more houses will need to be built.

So much of life feels like it is going the way of the fields and the apple trees right now.   The planet is at the mercy of unchecked prosperity; culture is trying desperately to keep up with technology and rapid change; our bodies are reeling under the weight of industrial pollutants and foods.  Personally, we are facing the reality of a truly empty nest, trying to imagine what marriage, what life itself, will look like in a pared down environment.  Some days I feel like my hands are clutching sand.


Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

"My work is loving the world," Mary Oliver wrote. When we first moved here we made ourselves promise to notice the landscape.  To really see it before progress changed it.  We set out to appreciate the open fields and hedgerows, the stands of trees along the rambling creek, the stillness of all that open space.  I know the curves and hollows of our trail by foot because we've walked it nearly every day for years - in the freezing cold, the rain, the fog, the heat.  We've even walked it in the dark with only the light of the full moon.  Day by day it has become our own.  Not in the sense of physical ownership, but through familiarity, and understanding.

The changes are hard to take.  I was angry after the loss of the thicket and the trees, the wide fields. And there's a part of me that's angry that I can't keep my children near me forever.  It is natural in us to feel jealous, possessive, of what is beautiful and good.


There's a book I've been reading slowly, about the first Oregonians.  The ones who walked this land before my ancestors arrived to cut down the trees and make farms, dam the rivers, cut in roads, build power plants and fast food restaurants, kill the wolves and over fish the salmon.  The piece of land that our little town inhabits used to be an annual meeting place for the Northwest Tribes.  I think of them lately, how it was to watch others encroach and change, to watch the things they loved being stolen and - to their minds, at least - ruined.  How do you find the grace to live in the middle of such a painful dismantling and not give up hope?  I don't think they knew; there is no answer in the book I'm reading.  There is no sure answer in my heart.

I keep going back to Mary Oliver:"Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished."

This is important, I think, this matching of work with standing still, with astonishment (and in her first line, with love.)  Lack of these things seems to be at the root of so many of our problems today.  How can you preserve what you are too busy to see?  What you do not value, let alone love?  To train ourselves to focused wonder, to unembarrassed cherishing, to standing still and seeing, and to consider such things our life's work.  Maybe that's a way forward, even if it's not a solution to the loss.

Before the bulldozers came this fall I watched a red-tailed hawk pirouette over these now broken fields.  She wasn't hunting, she was playing.  I stood and watched her for a long time.  She dove and swooped, bolted upwards and then floated down with her wings wide-spread to skim across the surface of the tall grass. Over and over again she danced, drinking in the goodness of the sun, the air, those shimmering fields.  I came home and recorded it in my journal, the abandonment, the sheer joy of it.  The words are still there now, and as soon as I read them they conjure for me again the beauty of that morning.   The bulldozers have taken the field, but the hawk and her dance, the joy, are my own.  Today when I passed by the same spot, I searched the sky for her but she wasn't there.  The field was full of tire tracks and churned mud, the footprints of progress.  But along the edge, where the fences wobbled, was a bright stand of tansy and the red-brown tendrils of the blackberry vines that are never deterred for long.  I smiled to welcome them back, to encourage them to find the gaps, to stake a foothold in our changed and changing world.

becoming available to yourself


Recently, I pulled out my journal to see if I could remember when I started working on this new novel.  I found the answer back in the July pages.  The months before I'd been wrestling with the balance between what I felt were two distinct callings.  One required availability, the other - writing - required isolation and focus.  I couldn't see how to make both of these callings work, so all through the month of June I am writing out an explanation to myself about what I think is the correct choice: availability.  The writing must not be important in the long run, I say to myself.  It's always about people, it's always about showing up.  In June, there is a sense of relinquishment.  I can remember the feeling of release, a certain peace.  Writing would wait.  Then in July, a succession of unexpected events.  These were small things:  conversations, decisions by friends, a gift from someone close, a paragraph in a book.  These were sudden and illuminating, like matches being struck in dark corners: Oh, I see.  By the end of that month, I had decided that I *must* write, even if it was just 250 words a day.  I would inch my way along both trajectories.  I told other people about my decision, committed myself, made it hard to back out.  I made it to 10,000 words, 15,000, 20,000.  At that point, the landscape began to shift.  Decisions were made apart from me, obligations, relationships sifted, time opened up in a new way.  There were more small things.  Every book I picked up - some I'd bought years before and left on the shelf only to randomly select them again now - was the story of a woman coming into her truth.  Every time I grabbed a magazine, it was a woman telling how she made the hard choice, how she chose her path and stuck with it even when it meant disappointing others.  Friends who all along had been counseling "availability, availability" began to say "it's time for something new."   I began to admit things in the journal I'd never allowed myself to say.  Things I wanted but hadn't given voice to.  In the space of four months everything heaved and buckled, became new ground.

What's interesting to me about all this is in hindsight, I'm not sure if the changes were  inevitable and I was just awakening to them, or if the changes came in response to my decisions.  When I look back, its almost as if this life had been lying in wait for me to choose it.  Each step I've taken has been met with a surge of reassurance, clarity, and confirmation.  But I sense that if I had not taken the steps...if I had stayed on the path I was already on, there would have been reassurance and confirmation there too.  I'm almost certain of it.  That scares me a little, to think I could have just gone on with what I knew and what felt comfortable, that life itself would have risen up and affirmed that choice too.  What might I have missed had I not taken the small messages, the little match flares that were revealing another way?  May Sarton suggests it:

"The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up."

I have felt this stagnation, an underground current pulsing, not allowed to find release.  When I think of so many women I know, I am struck by how their deep thoughtfulness, their tremendous strength and creativity is put to use holding relationships together, managing dysfunctional family members, being the emotional center of their homes or jobs or communities.  I cannot imagine where we'd be without such women, but I am also struck with the inequity of it.  What have we lost in terms of wisdom, art, culture, science, diplomacy, language, and much more by allowing ourselves to be available to everyone but our own selves?

It's something to think about.  Questions to ask ourselves in moments when we can be honest.  Step back, look.  What is pulsing underneath the surface?  What longing hasn't even been allowed the words to describe it?  What would you do if there was no one who needed your daily involvement?  There are seasons, certainly, when these longings and gifts have to take the background, but in my own life, they weren't just in the background, they were in a tight little box labeled "probably never" or "probably too late."  What about yours?  Are they somewhere they can be nurtured and watered even in a dormant season?

"And now we who are writing women and strange monsters

Still search our hearts to find the difficult answers,

Still hope that we may learn to lay our hands

More gently and more subtly on the burning sands." ~ May Sarton

Sending love and courage to all my brave-hearted friends today.


overcoming resistance

I went to the gym for the first time in almost thirty years this morning.  I went with my husband, who has been asking me to come with him for almost as long.  It's the kind of thing he thinks will be "fun," and I think will be dreadful.  It wasn't dreadful.  Just as he'd promised, no one paid any attention to me as I learned how to operate the bike and the weight machines, and just as he'd promised, it was kind of fun to be there with him.  It wasn't until I was heading out of the gym and on the way home that I remembered why I'd stopped going to the gym in the first place.  I was 18 years old and terribly self-conscious of my body and my fitness level  - and my semi-regular visits to the facility were drawing attention from an older man.  I can remember him waiting outside, leaning up against the concrete wall with a water bottle in hand, asking me in that slow male drawl how my workout was, telling me with a glance up and down that I was looking pretty good.   It was the late 80's - and it was a man's world.  It never occurred to me to stand up for myself and tell him to go away, or to complain to the gym, or even alter my schedule.  I felt uncomfortable so I quit.  In the Christian subculture I grew up in, that was my role in the world: submit, yield, or get out of the way, and I did.I'm at midlife now and I ditched the ideology of the subculture a long time ago, but the muscle memory is still there.  Someone makes a demand on my time or emotional energy and I instantly assume it's my duty to meet it even when I am mentally certain I should be doing something else.  The limbs twitch with conditioned motion, thoughts race along the grooves of practiced belief, and dopamine arrives to validate the action. In the old days, I called this comfortable, assured feeling "peace."  Conforming provided its own reward - and kept me from growing into anything more.

I'm most vulnerable to this kind of reaction directly after I assert myself and declare my intentions.  I've come to expect that any new burst of personal determination signals not a season of productivity, but a major catastrophe looming in the wings.  As soon as I hit the gym, the creepy old guy shows up in the doorway demanding attention, plucking the strings of my ingrained responses, encouraging me to yield to his demands.

"Resistance," says Steven Pressfield in The War of Art, "obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a higher station morally, ethically, spiritually."

she makes it happen

she makes it happen

Learning to recognize Resistance can be complicated - especially when it comes to us wrapped in religion, ideology, and gender-roles.  Some people learn early to recognize and defy it, but for me and many others, it's a lifetime's work.  We get there one revelation, one deliberate, defiant act at a time.

We can claim the truth that we are makers, artists, builders, weavers, nurturers, truth-tellers, poets, and our work matters.

So go to the gym.

Show up for yourself.

Tell the creepy old man at the door to leave you the hell alone and mean it.  (If he sticks around, show up again anyway.  He'll get bored when he realizes he has no power to disturb or distract you. )

You can do this.  We can do this.  We owe it to ourselves - those selves that sat back, that let other people succeed, that fixed all the problems and carried all the burdens, that pushed down feelings and desires, that made dreams smaller so they didn't disturb anyone else.  We owe it to ourselves to grow our dreams and find a way and be faithful to what has always been real and true inside of us.  So let's do it, okay?

Love you, my friends.


mentors: William Stafford


I first discovered William Stafford through his work as an Oregon poet.  His poem Traveling Through the Dark is probably his most well-known piece and justly so:

Traveling through the dark I found a deer

dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.

It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:that road is narrow;

to swerve might make more dead. By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car

and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;she had stiffened already, almost cold.

I dragged her off; she was large in the belly. My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,alive, still, never to be born.

Beside that mountain road I hesitated. The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;under the hood purred the steady engine.

I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;around our group I could hear the wilderness listen. I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,

then pushed her over the edge into the river.

His poetry contained an accessibility, intelligence, and gentleness that resonated with me.  Later, I learned that his writing had been developed and honed as a young Conscientious Objector interned at Camp Belden (California) during WWII.  This helped explained the strange camaraderie I felt with him, as I consider myself a pacifist of sorts.  "He believed in the fragile but essential community of the world, and he wrote on behalf of what he called "the unknown good in our enemies," writes his son, Kim.  At the heart of Stafford's work lies what I hope my own work gives witness to: a commitment to wholeness and to the dignity and humanity of every person.

(Side note:  I included a Conscientious Objector character in my first novel in honor of Stafford.)

After he was released from the camps, Stafford went on to teach at universities and write poetry the rest of his life.  Though he was well-respected, and well-known (he was the Poet Laureate of Oregon for 15 years), he refused to be pretentious.  He wrote for himself, and his vision of the way the world could be, but he carried no hubris when it came to publishing:

"I have genuinely felt throughout my life a sense that any acceptance of what I write is a bonus, a gift from other people....I've always felt the editor's role is to get the best possible material for the readers...not to serve the writer...So I never have felt that I needed to push this stuff into the world. If it's invited in, then it will come."

In art, as in many fields, it is rare to come across such humility, such self-contained awareness, and it speaks to a deep part of me as a writer.  It is vital that I believe in the work I do, that I push myself to the limits of excellence as much as I am able, but then, to let it go, to believe that it will find its place in the world without my desperate striving or need for validation.  Stafford embodied this posture and I read over his work frequently to remind myself it is possible.

He has contributed so much to the formation of my own writing, it would be difficult to record it all in this post.  His meticulous habit of daily writing; his belief that you create good writing by living a life that enables good writing to come about; his refusal to be dismissed as simplistic or sentimental by people who didn't understand his motivations; his ability to be at home within himself and in the world; his rejection of cynicism, all touch me deeply.

About the latter, Stafford says:

"Certain writers create a zone of language that deliberately offends but stays within its own invidious conventions. Challenging genteel culture, these people attain a swagger, in effect saying like a child, "Look at me, I am being bad."Indulging in this kind of affront could be temporarily interesting, but relying on it for a main accomplishment becomes tiresome and petty. And to live by it is to narrow one's ambitions, is to forsake a host of more satisfying accomplishments.These writers reveal an obsession about gentility. Most of us are not permanently shocked enough to be amused for long, but apparently these dabblers in making mud pies can derive a lifelong charge out of defying something they profess not to believe in. Further, if they can maintain their pose of being bad, they can ascribe any negative assessments of their accomplishment to the narrowness of their audience, and thus avoid being judged on the adequacy of their vision, liveliness of invention, depth of realization, flexibility of language, or other such criteria.Gaining attention as they do is as cheap as attempting such by bribery, advertising, demagoguery or any other false means. Timid critics help by not wanting to appear squeamish; they give attention to what is outlandish and fail to remark the shallowness of such attainment that lives by being bizarre."

In my work, writing novels and stories, I often wonder where I fit into the publishing world.  I dislike naivete in writing, I abhor moralism and sentimentality, and yet I find I naturally write of goodness that rises out of darkness, of redemption, healing, love that endures.  Is there a place for my work in a cynical world that seems to hunger mostly for the kind of realism that shatters hope rather than guards it?  I don't know yet, but Stafford holds a lantern for me:

"What if we could all hold in mind the same good dream? That is what a literary work accomplishes momentarily...The myth I hold is not that of the curse on the family, the guilt hovering forever as a result of a bad deed; but instead the vision of life haunted by some unerasable good deed: a life that can’t lose for long, or at least forever. Not Oedipus doomed, but Aeneas bearing the unshruggable potential for later life - this is the pattern I note."

The pattern I note in Stafford's life: peace-making, humility, optimism, dedication, goodness, vision, and excellence, have impacted me greatly.   I'm incredibly thankful that his work was invited into the world and I was allowed to learn from it. 

Recommended books:

Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford You Must Revise Your Life*

The Answers Are Inside the Mountains*

Down in My Heart: Peace Witness in War Time

Every War Has Two Losers(There is a 30 minute film related to this book here.)*

Both these books have a rambling, organic style which can be hard to follow, but they are littered with gems.  I look through them regularly.

 Stafford's son Kim has written a fabulous book on writing as well:The Muses Among Us: Eloquent Listening and Other Pleasures of the Writer's Craft