Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope you will come often. It is my hope that these stories and reflections will be helpful in your spiritual journey. I look forward to your thoughts, questions, or suggestions. Please leave your comments and join as a follower so I will know you were here. It is a privilege to share the journey with you.

If you wish to know more about me, spiritual direction or retreats visit my website. www.bunnycox.com. Blessings, Bunny

*See first posting in January, 2011 to learn why this blog is called "From the Big Red Chair."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Parable of the Geese

Porches are portals of welcome and good-bye, keepers of memories, listeners to stories told by those who gather after dinner on summer nights. The front porch of the historic home in Falls Church, Virginia where I waited for my daughter Brynnan's return from her post-college internship brought back childhood memories of my grandmother’s porch in North Carolina. Unlike evenings spent in communion with family as my grandfather regaled me with tales of magic and stories of fairies, I was alone with only the swish of tires on pavement from the occasional passing car to keep me company.  A book randomly selected from a bookcase in the foyer lay unopened on my lap.

Almost a year had passed since Tara’s death and since her baby daughter Alden died. Repeated phone calls and pleas to speak with my grandson Spencer were denied. He too seemed lost to me forever. The sharp pain of new grief was now a perpetual ache that saturated my being and soaked into my bones. I wondered if my living children could see beyond the mask of well-being I wore in hopes of sparing them the burden of my grief. 
A cold wind that hinted of coming winter tugged on the branches of a nearby oak and plucked the last vestige of summer.   Brown, dead leaves fell to the ground and fluttered and flapped across the steep slope in front of the house. I moved my chair into a shaft of light that threaded its way through the swaying boughs of a nearby hemlock. Raising my collar to the chill, I clutched my jacket to my throat. The sun's rays could not penetrate the winter spirit within me or shine light upon the path that was lost to me. 

A sound in the distance severed the quiet. What is that, I asked myself? It came closer, louder still.  A chorus of discordant, raucous barks joined in refrain--a-hink a-honk a-hink a-honk.  I’ve heard that sound before, I thought, but I can’t name it. The syncopated cries rose to a crescendo as wild geese in V-formation sliced the air above me. They honked as if to encourage one another. Keep flying, they seemed to say.  A-hink a-honk a-hink.  You can make it. Don’t stop now. On they flew toward their preordained destination, the geese in the rear gliding effortlessly on the draft of those who flew before. As they passed, the air closed behind them, and silence rushed in to fill the space. I watched as they flew from sight, my loneliness heightened by their parting. 

With no interest in its contents, I opened the book in my lap and gasped at the coincidence of words before me:  

"Look at the geese of the sky. They neither worry nor are anxious about the winter warnings of their life, for they know within their deepest selves that their journey will take them to a place of shelter, comfort, of nourishment, a place where winter harshness cannot reach them. See how they fly, winging homeward with sureness, with trust in their hearts’ instinct. If these geese, who have not the faith and grace of human hearts, can follow the mystery and secrets of their deepest selves, cannot you, my loved and chosen ones, you who I care for as my very own, cannot you be in touch with the mystery of your hearts? Cannot you trust in me to guide you on your journey of life? For I have promised to give you rest in seasons of tiredness, comfort in seasons of sorrow, peace in seasons of distress, strength in seasons of great weakness.  Trust in me.  Do not be afraid.  I am with you.  I will be your peace."*

I wiped tears from my eyes remembering the day I heard a silent voice ask, “Do you trust me?” In pain I answered, “I want a relationship with you, but trust you? No. I don't think I do.”** Could this be God’s tender response?

When does a random occurrence have meaning beyond the realm of happenstance? When is a coincidence more than a coincidence? When do two events converging in one unlikely moment in time become an intervention of grace?  Perhaps it is on an early winter day, when a porch becomes a sacred place of hope, the language of nature becomes the voice of the holy, and the story-teller is none other than God.


If I flew to the point of sunrise, or westward across the sea, your hand would still be guiding me, your right hand holding me. ~Psalm 139:9-10

wild geese
wing their way
to a farther shore.
At their call
we leave
our fearful lives
and follow.   
     ~In the Presence of Flight by Nancy Compton Williams

Prayer for Trust: 

O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to You, we shall see Your hand, Your purpose, Your will through all things. Amen   ~St. Ignatius of Loyola 1491-1546

 -Is there a scripture passage that comforts me in times of despair?
-What role does trust play in my spiritual life?
-Does the voice of nature speak to me of God?  If so, how.

*Excerpt from Praying Our Goodbyes by Joyce Rupp

**Uncensored Prayer - From The Big Red Chair, December 1, 2011

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Uncensored Prayer

Photo by Grace Gilchrist
A single lamp cast yellow warmth into the room’s semi-darkness. I settled into the big red chair, my feet tucked under me, a blanket over my lap. Exhausted from the emotion of the day but unable to sleep, I waited for drowsiness to overtake me. Quiet settled over the house.

The moonless night beyond the window obscured the barren branches of the peach tree and hushed birds that nestled against the cold until first light.  I envied their ability to sleep.  I feared lying awake in darkness with nothing to dull the sharp edge of grief. 

A box containing sympathy notes and expressions of condolence lay on the table beside me.  My once-a-day trek to the mailbox to retrieve them was my only foray into the outside world.   I pulled the box onto my lap and unfolded a many-times-read note penned by an old friend. One phrase leapt from the surface and captured my attention. All others fell away. “Don’t lose your faith,” it warned. 

I initially read those words as well-meaning, but dismissed them as unnecessary. Now, I pondered their significance. My heart was frozen by the chill of emptiness and loss. Prayer seemed pointless.  Had I lost faith?

A speechless voice emerged from the stillness and hung in the winter air. In a crystalline moment of comprehension, I knew it was God.

“Do you trust me?” 

“You have got to be kidding!” I said aloud. My voice rose, choked with tears and fury. “How could you ask thatI begged for the life of my daughter Tara, and she died.  I prayed for her baby girl Alden, and she died.  I prayed for my grandson Spencer, and he was taken away against his wishes, and I was powerless to protect him.* And, now you ask, “Do you trust me!”

Judging my outburst of negative emotion inappropriate when conversing with God, I struggled to regain the proper decorum. How do I feel, I asked myself. Numerous false starts later, I begrudgingly responded.

“I suppose I still love you. . .and I don’t want to live without you, but do I trust you? No . . .I can’t say that I do.”

True intimacy cannot exist until we abandon the mask of pretense, risk vulnerability and dare to state the truth. In that moment of raw, uncensored authenticity, I unwittingly stepped from behind the hiding place of propriety, discarded words measured to please, and experienced my first truly honest conversation with God.

Gifts are hidden in brokenness.  I realize now I was not asked if I trusted God would ensure the outcome for which I prayed.  I was asked, “Do you trust me enough, love me enough, to tell me the truth even if the words are not pretty? Do you trust me enough to allow me to share your pain?”

During that winter of spirit, I discovered God’s faithfulness transcends anger, and truth is the gateway to trust.  


“Only by expressing our anger and resentment directly to God in prayer will we come to know the fullness of love and freedom.”~ Pierre Wolff

“Trouble is part of life. If you don’t share it, you don’t give the person who loves you a chance to love you enough.”~Dinah Shore

“To have real conversation may seem like such a simple, obvious suggestion, but it involves courage and risk.”~Thomas Moore

“When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place.” ~Psalm 118:5

-Do I speak honestly in prayer, or do I weigh my words carefully?
-What are my thoughts about prayers that seem to be unanswered?
-How does prayer influence my faith?
-How does faith influence my prayer?

Prayer: (Excerpts from “Psalms for a Stalled Heart”~ Edward Hays)

Send forth your spirit
     to revive my heart
Spark it with a relish for service,
     with a longing to pray
May I seek to love and serve you
     even when my wintry heart
     declines to dance with
     springtime grace. Amen

*Thin Boards, Sept. 21, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Mercy Giver

Isn't there something we can do?  Couldn’t you baptize her anyway?”  I asked Father Mike when we met to make funeral arrangements for my infant granddaughter.

“No, Bunny, we don’t do that,” he said, not unkindly. “We don’t baptize someone after they are dead. We believe in baptism of intention," he explained. "If a baby dies before she is christened, if her family intended for her to be baptized, we consider her to be baptized. And,” he added, "She is, of course, in heaven.”

I wasn’t disturbed by Father Mike's response.  I knew what I requested isn’t done, and I wasn’t concerned about where sweet baby Alden would spend eternity. It seems to me Jesus settled that question when he said, “Let the little children come to me. Do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” But, not everyone thinks that way.

My concern was for another whose tradition teaches no baptism, no heaven, no chance for a heavenly reunion. I observed firsthand the inconsolable grief that occurs when all hope for eternity dies. I considered mentioning I secretly baptized Alden when she was in the intensive care unit at the hospital(*), but I knew my confession would bring little, if any, comfort to a person who didn't acknowledge a lay person, and especially a woman, as a sanctioned baptizer.

So, on a brisk December morning, on the day that was to have been Alden’s christening, the family gathered instead at the cemetery for a simple graveside ceremony, our misery too personal, too fragile to endure a church service as we had for her mother only three months earlier. A small contingent of intimate friends averted their eyes when we took our places in chairs near the small white coffin.  My grandson Spencer laid flowers on his mother’s grave only a few feet away from the seat he took behind me.  I wondered how such a young life and tender soul could endure having lost so much--his mother, his home, and now his baby sister.

The sun glinted from the gold processional cross held high behind Father Mike who stood before us. A breeze swept across the gentle swell where we sat near a winter-bare tree. It tickled the fringe on Father Mike’s stole and played with the hem of his robe.  When he began to speak, all who had respectfully kept their distance moved closer, as if to surround us with arms of unspoken sympathy.

I don’t remember the words Father Mike spoke that morning, but never shall I forget what he did.  Father Mike pushed his robe aside and dropped to one knee beside little Alden. From a small crystal cruet, he poured water slowly over the tiny white coffin.  Unable to cradle her in his arms he leaned close and embraced her with his voice.  “Alden,” he spoke gently, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Like Jesus, who dared to heal on the Sabbath, Father Mike broke the rules. He did what he could to heal shattered hope, and, most of all, he taught us a lesson in grace—always, always, err on the side of mercy. Father Mike did more than conduct a funeral for a baby that sad December morning.  Father Mike showed us Jesus.


The quality of mercy is not straineth, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the gentle place beneath. It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” ~William Shakespeare

“You can judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”~James D. Miles

“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”~Hosea 6:6

--Is there someone in my life who has shown me mercy? What happened? What affect did it have?
--Is there some way I can show mercy to someone today?

(*) “The Sacred Secret,” November 3

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Seasons of Sorrow

I arrived home one evening in early December encouraged by accomplishing the previously unattainable feat of staying at the office for a full day. Three months had passed since my daughter Tara had died. It’s true I had to feign productivity, but at least the curtain of grief had lifted enough for me to partially resume normal activities. The light on the horizon was dim, but I could see the rising dawn of healing.  

My husband Sam watched for me as I drove into the driveway.  

“Hi, how was your day?” I asked when he opened the door. If I had been more observant, I wouldn’t have had to ask.

“Not worth a damn,” he said in his usual get-to-the-point way. “Alden died today.”

It took several repetitions before his words penetrated the barriers of denial and disbelief and settled into reality.   My granddaughter Alden Betts, Tara’s baby girl, was gone.  The family was to gather within the week for her christening. Instead, we would bury her. I noticed the sorrow in Sam’s eyes only briefly before, once again, I plummeted into the blindness of despair.

I don’t know why Alden died. No one does.  They called it Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, SIDS, “the sudden death of an infant under one year of age which remains unexplained after a thorough investigation, often leaving unanswered questions and causing intense grief for parents and families.” SIDS is a diagnosis of exclusion in the absence of explanation. 

There are experiences in life that are at the very edge, the borders of our intellectual reach. As painful as it was, I could make sense of Tara’s parting. It was a predictable outcome in light of medical decisions that had not been in her favor. Alden’s death defied comprehension or hope for meaning.   

Sudden, unexpected death threatens one’s sense of safety and security. The death of an infant threatens one’s sense of God. Children are not supposed to die before their parents. Babies are not supposed to die before adults.  Tara was gone. Alden was gone. Twice we were to experience the disruption of the natural order of life. Twice I would have to ask, “What do I believe about God now that this has happened?”

A day would come when I would know the answer to that question, but in that moment, all I could say was, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”


“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”~Kahlil Gibran

“Sometimes the fear and pain are so deep that all we can do is come with our questions and our fragile desire.”~Ann Dean

“If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey.  You will never make it for this is a journey of unknowables—of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and most of all, things unfair.”~Jeanne Guyon

“Hear my cry, O God, and listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you.  I call as my heart grows faint.” Psalm 61:1-2

-Is my faith dependent upon knowing the answer to life’s most difficult questions?
-In times when life seems unfair, when incomprehensible things happen, how do I make peace with mystery?

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen
~From the night service of Compline, The Book of Common Prayer 1979 (ECUSA)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Sacred Secret

Prayers and instructions for his congregation by The Reverend George Charles Bettscontained within a small manual titled, “The Guide,” published Trinity Sunday 1877:

“Because by baptism we are ingrafted into Christ, it is most necessary that every precaution should be taken that no one should pass from this world without its grace. Therefore, if for any cause a priest cannot be had to administer it, and a person be in immediate danger of death, baptism may not only be validly but lawfully performed by any person whatsoever in which case, a deacon is to be preferred to a layman, and a man preferably to a woman, and a member of the church to a heretic.”

The Reverend George C. Betts is my great-great-grandfather. He was born in Ireland in 1840, immigrated to New York in 1861, and eventually settled in Chicago where he was in business for a short time before joining an Indiana regiment in the Union Army. When his enlistment was up, he went to Nebraska and studied for the ministry. George C. Betts was ordained in 1867.

You may have noticed. Grandfather Betts was a Yankee. That fact can be overlooked by his Southern progeny since, having hailed from Ireland, he wasn’t a “real” Yankee, and after all, he did redeem himself by becoming an Episcopal priest--a proud occurrence for a family of genetic Episcopalians.

Whatever Grandfather Betts was or was not, there is no doubt he was a product of his time with definite opinions regarding the role of women in the church.  If his instructions to his congregation are an indication, when it comes to suitability to administer the sacred sacrament of new birth, it is clear Grandfather Betts thought a woman falls far below a priest, a deacon, and most certainly a man, but thankfully above a heretic, even if only sightly. He did however concede a female would suffice if the probability of immediate death is evident.

I never gave much thought to Grandfather Betts' instructions. The chance of such an occasion arising for me was quite unlikely. However, his words came to mind as I stood beside my infant granddaughter Alden Betts in the neonatal intensive care unit on a crisp autumn morning.  I held her tiny hand and watched life-monitoring machines fluctuate wildly.

Alden didn't appear to be in danger of "passing from this world" as had her mother three days after her birth. If my prayers were the determining factor, she would not, and the doctors assured me all was well. I don't know why an urgent sense arose that perhaps we shouldn't delay her baptism.  

As is tradition in the Episcopal Church, plans were already made for baby Alden's christening. In only a matter of weeks, on the first weekend in December, the family would gather, this time not to bid farewell to a loved one as we so recently had for my daughter Tara, but to welcome her beloved child of God into the fold.  I tried to dismiss the notion of proceeding, not wanting to render the upcoming gathering unnecessary in the eyes of family members who might think their travels pointless if Alden were already baptized. Besides, I was alone in the room with Alden with no priest, deacon, or man in sight. 

I recalled my promise to my Tara as she lay dying, "I will take care of your children, Spencer and Alden, until the day you can do it."  Why that recollection came in that moment and what it had to do with Alden's baptism I didn't know.  In the end, the urge to act was so powerful as to not be denied. Even though I hardly thought myself qualified for the job, I resigned myself to the task at hand.  

I had no water, an essential element for baptism, so I did as mothers have done through the ages when their children need washing and water is unavailable.  I licked my thumb and made the sign of the cross on Alden's tiny forehead.

“Alden, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  You are sealed as Christ’s own forever.”

I told no one of the sacred secret between Alden, Tara and me. I wasn’t sure my actions would be accepted as a real baptism anyway. It was real to me, and I believe it was real for Alden. If it was real to God, that is all that matters.  And even though I know my baptismal method was a bit unorthodox, somehow, deep down, I think Grandfather Betts would approve. 


Matt. 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

"Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life."~Albert Einstein

-Are there traditions of faith that have great meaning for me?  If so, what are they?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gift of the Garden - Part 2

Continued from Part 1 . . .

1.     A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.
2.     A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.

As I sat in silence and solitude during an autumn day of retreat at the banquet table tucked deep in the garden behind the small country church , I realized I was no longer alone. Family members and loved ones who have gone before me were my companions. It is impossible to describe their appearance in worldly terms or explain how it could be possible at all, but they were there, and I could see them.

Cheryl, my dear friend and my younger daughter’s godmother was in the center chair on the right side of the table.  My dearly beloved grandmother was at my right hand.  My grandfather sat left center. Three chairs on the opposite end of the table were unoccupied.

Rather than being disturbed or frightened by their company, I felt joy in reunion. Each person is a treasured memory and special gift in my life. Why had they come? What memories and blessings did they bring? What remained of the gift they had been in my life?

Cheryl taught me faith doesn’t have to be complicated.  It can be as simple as a child’s prayer.  Her last prayer only moments before she died contained all that needed to be said. ”Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

My grandmother gave me the knowledge and priceless gift of unconditional love, and my grandfather, through magical tales of fairies and invisible cloaks, filled my world with fantasy, humor, play and laughter. The strength of their faith is the foundation upon which the faith of today's generation rests.

I was encircled at the table by faith, love, laughter, comfort and perseverance.

I sensed Tara at my left hand. What was the gift of her life to me?  I couldn’t force myself to think of that or to even glance in her direction. I wasn’t ready. The pain of loss was too fresh.

My eyes wandered to the empty chairs at the far end of the table, and a realization grew. They were reserved for the people in my life whose time has not yet come to join the banquet, the people who are present gifts of comfort and companionship--my mother, my father, my husband Sam.  

I sensed motion on my left.  Tara rose and moved to the far end of the table, stepping into view. The previously unoccupied seat at the head of the table was no longer vacant.  Jesus was there, gazing at me. Tara walked behind him and gently placed her hands on his shoulders. No words were spoken. No words were necessary. It was as if she had brought him to me, to comfort me, to assure me they were together, perhaps saying, “Jesus, my mother grieves so.  Won’t you go with me to comfort her?”

Tara returned to her place at the table beside me. My eyes followed her.  I allowed myself to ponder the gift of her life? In that moment, the answer became clear. Her gift to me was a deep love and abiding spiritual companionship. With a sureness of heart, in that moment I realized neither had died. Both still exist and will endure through eternity.

In time, the image of Jesus and the others at the table faded, but I knew they were still near. It was then that I noticed a word carved by the hand of the craftsman into the back of each chair.  Each word appeared to rise from the surface and spring towards me, not unlike the special effects in a three-dimensional movie. The words shimmered before me. Grace. . .Grace. . .Grace. Seven times I saw Grace.

I didn't want to leave the table, but it was time to depart. I left the clearing in peace, knowing my loved ones were together and relishing memories of their dinner party in the garden. I looked back only once to say good-bye. 

“Take care, dear one,” I said to my child. “Have fun. Your joy brings me pleasure.  I look forward to joining you someday. Though the coming days may seem endless without your physical presence, I will remember your words spoken to me in the psalm, ‘One day all will seem as a dream’.”

No longer drawn to take the path towards the cemetery at the edge of the woods, I instead walked through the center of the garden and on towards the church. On the ground as I approached the back corner of the white board structure, I stumbled upon a weather-worn slab of stone that perhaps marks the grave of an early parishioner. The name and dates were eroded by time and obscured by fallen leaves. Only three words were visible. I left the garden that morning knowing the three words preserved for the ages by the stone mason that spoke of a healing miracle of Jesus were a gift of the garden meant especially for me. 

What were the words chiseled in stone? 

“Your Daughter Lives”  


“In my father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.”

In order to hear the voice of God, or see the handiwork of the Holy, we must be willing to invite the intruder named “could it be” into the sterile home of “logical” existence. Bunny Cox

“To be open to the miraculous is to be open to impossible things becoming possible.”~Roy Howard

“We are all of us from birth to death quests at a table we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet. Shall we think of the days as a chance to come to nearer to our host and to find out something of him who has fed us so long?”~Rebecca Harding Harris

“Sometimes what seems to be the end is really just a new beginning, like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.”~Unknown

-Who are the special people in my life?  What are their gifts to me? What have they taught me?

-What are my thoughts about miracles? Do I believe miracles can happen?

-Have I had a spiritual experience that defies explanation? If so, what happened?

-"In my father's house there are many mansions. . ." What are my thoughts about this statement?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gift of the Garden - Part 1 of 2

1.     A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.
2.     A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.

The garden behind the quaint country church on the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama in the farming community of Mt. Meigs was past its autumn glory, but had yet to reach the resting time of winter. I traveled to the century-old, white frame structure with the desire to spend time with God during a day of contemplative retreat, but I soon realized my focus was inundated by grief. My soul overflowed with tears, wept and unwept, for my daughter Tara. I wondered if perhaps it had been a mistake to come so soon after her death. When our small group of women separated for a period of solitude and silence, I was grateful for the opportunity to wander the garden alone. In my hand I carried a crumple piece of paper provided by the retreat leader for pondering upon which was written a version of psalm 63.

On the garden’s edge I stopped to peer into a rock-lined pool of water that was clear on top, but filled with summer leaves now dark and decaying on the bottom. The thought occurred that I was like those leaves in the bottom of a deep pool of grief. 

Beyond the pool, the path continued into tangled vines and trees a distance from the well-kept beds of the garden. It beckoned me to follow. 

The hedges and canopy bordering the walkway opened, and I stepped into a garden room deep in the woods. The earth was paved with bricks--old, worn, mossy, and inviting.  A curved wall dressed with plaques defined the boundaries of the clearing. Were they graced with images of saints? Angels? I don’t know. Perhaps someday I will return to look more closely.

An opening in the wall at the rear of the clearing framed the entry to a passageway lined on either side by trees that led deeper into the woods. Ferns carpeted the ground between the trees and danced under the caress of the breeze. The last vestige of starlight settled onto dewdrops at the tip of each frond and nestled under the blanket of morning. Never had I seen such a heavenly place. Never would I wish to walk there for fear of destroying the delicate beauty.  A large iron urn marked the far end of the fern corridor. Raised high above the earth upon a crumbling brick pedestal, its earthy color and rounded shape were pleasing and peaceful.  It’s solid, secure form spoke of calm in contrast to my inner turmoil.

Surprising in its presence, in the center of the cobbled clearing sat a long, rectangular table surrounded by eight chairs of the same rough-hewn wood. It appeared to be a banquet table. Wood scraping against brick as I moved the chair to sit at the end of the table and the chirp of a mockingbird were the only sounds in the garden. I sat with the fern hallway at my back. Sorrow saturated the cool from the marble tabletop that chilled my resting hands and forearms. The tabletop brought to mind broad stone slabs laid upon the earth to mark the resting place of fellow pilgrims. When you grieve everything seems to spark remembrance of loss.

From my vantage point at the end of the table, I noticed the path spilled back into the garden on the far side of the clearing. Beyond the shiny leaves of camellias laden with tightly closed buds that would bless the January garden with pink blossoms, the path forked. The right side curved into a myrtle grove at the center of the garden and on towards the church. The left side turned outward towards a collection of gravestones on the edge of the woods. It seemed a cruel twist to find myself in a place of soothing beauty, but once again within sight of a cemetery. I thought perhaps I would wander to read the names and epitaphs on the headstones when I left the clearing.

With little interest in the words written upon it, I unfolded the paper in my hand. My eyes immediately fell upon a passage that spoke my very thoughts of Tara.  Was it a coincidence that the voice of the psalmist echoed the cry of my heart?

“O Love, you are my beloved and I long for you.  My soul thirsts for you.  All that is within me thirsts as in a dry and barren land with no water. So I have called out to you in my heart.”  

To my amazement, through the words of the psalmist, I heard Tara reply. She told me she is safe. She told me the bond of love between us still exists. She urged me to have courage, and she promised someday all that separates us will seem as a dream.

“My soul feasts as with a magnificent banquet, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips. . . . When I ponder on your kindness and meditate on you throughout the night; for you have been my salvation, and in the shadow of your wings, I sing for joy. My soul clings to you, your love upholds me. . .The fear that seems to separate me from you shall be transformed and disappear. As they are faced, each fear is diminished. They shall be gone, as in a dream when I awaken.”

My daughter sits at the banquet table of the Lord!  The vice of sorrow loosened, and for that moment, I knew peace.

Soon it would be time to rejoin the others, and I would be invited to share my experience during the silence. Should I speak of my conversation with Tara?  Would they think I imagined it, or worse, that I had slipped over the edge of reality into a chasm of delusion? I didn’t know the conversation with Tara was merely the beginning of what happened in the garden. 

Perhaps, it is only fair to warn you that at this point the story becomes very strange. By definition, I suppose it was a miracle.  I can’t explain it, and like any person might who experiences an event that can only be described as supernatural, I have tried to define it with words and contain it within the vessel of the ordinary, but I can’t. Was it a dream? A vision? Was I hallucinating? Was it all a figment of my imagination? I’ll leave it for you to decide. All I can say is this--it happened.

To be continued . . .


"The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience." ~Emily Dickinson

 "The way I see it, you have two ways to live your life: one, as if no miracles exist and the other, as though everything is a miracle.”~ Albert Einstein

 “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.”~Genesis 3:8

“One is nearer God’s heart in the garden than anywhere else on earth?”~Dorothy Frances Gurney

-Have I had an experience of reading or hearing words that seemed meant for me? What story would I tell?

-Is there a place on earth where I feel closest to God?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Saint Paul’s Letter to the Tuscaloosans

When it comes to offering words of consolation, we could all take lessons from a good man named Paul. I don’t mean the struck-blind-on-the-road-to-Damascus Paul (although listening to him isn’t a bad idea either,) I mean Bayside-Academy-Paul, Tara’s high school friend, who would no doubt be embarrassed hearing himself described as a saint.

If you really want to know how to offer words of consolation to a grieving mother, here’s a clue. Give her a memory. Tell her what her child meant to you. Tell her what her child meant to this world.  If you mean it, tell her you grieve with her. A mother can tell if you’re insincere.  Don’t be concerned you might make comments that will "bring it all back up" or remind her of what has happened. Trust me, she hasn’t forgotten.

Don’t let distance, or faintness of heart, prevent you from speaking face-to-face. If that is not possible, write a letter. Don’t wait until you have pretty stationary.  An e-mail will do.  And if by chance, your computer’s date stamp shows you are writing in the wee hours of the morning, even better. She’ll probably keep it forever. 

Paul -1:41 AM September 22: 

Dear Bunny and Sam,

There is no way I can adequately express in words my sorrow over the passing of Tara. I will miss her greatly.  My thoughts and prayers are with you, Spencer, the new baby and the entire extended family.  Even though the void she has left is immeasurable, I hope and pray you are finding joy and comfort having her new son in your life.  I will continue to pray for his good health.

I apologize for my delay in contacting you.  I had hoped I would be able to do so properly via regular mail but was only able to get your email address.  Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.  I have submitted the letter below to [an on line book for people to write remembrances.]

God bless you all, Paul

For the book of remembrance:

Dear Tara,

"Life is what you make it.
Make your days with gold.
Take each step with caution.
But with each day be bold."

Those are your words and you wrote them in my yearbook at the end of our sophomore year at Bayside.  To say that you were bold would be the understatement of the century.  In fact, you were a fireball exploding with laughter, the most biting humor imaginable, beauty, gentleness, kindness, and music . . . so much music!  Wherever you appeared, there was music.  Even on those very, very rare occasions when you were silent, I could still feel the music radiating from your soul.

I remember so clearly the moment I first laid eyes you. It was about 24 years ago when you first came to Bayside. You spontaneously filled that classroom with sparkling conversation and combustible commentary. I knew right then and there that I had a life-long friend. We bonded instantly because both of us felt that we were outside the groove of the high school mainstream. We also quickly discovered that we both shared an immense passion for the oddities of life, the wonders of children, the simplicities and complexities of friendship, and of course, music.

You introduced me to Tom Waits, John Prine, Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelberg and so many other great artists and writers.  You sang and played your guitar and I was star struck. On several occasions, I accompanied you on the piano while you sang.  I never told you what a great privilege it was to play for you. Years later, it was such a joy to see your then 2-year-old son Spencer dancing to the same music you loved with that same spark of jubilation in his eyes that you had in yours.  Now, every time I hear "Dear Abby," "Forever Young," "Out Here on My Own" and countless other songs, my mind's eye immediately gazes upon you smiling and singing your heart out.

You ended that same entry in my yearbook with these words from Bob Dylan:

"May your heart always be joyful.
May your song always be sung,
and may you stay forever young."

Tara, I will miss you so much but I will ALWAYS feel the music radiating from your soul and I will ALWAYS see you smiling and singing your heart out.

. . . and you will stay forever young.

Love, Paul

Bunny - 7:30 PM 9/22:

Dear Paul, what a joy you are to a mother’s broken heart.  I’m sitting here crying and laughing and celebrating the invincible spirit of my beautiful daughter.  Thank you so much for loving her and for sharing your memories with me.  I’m saving your letter forever.

We are moving forward as best we can.  I have just returned from seeing the baby.  Knowing Tara, you will not be surprised to know that she wanted a special name for her baby girl.  She is named after her two favorite people-- my sister (and also your classmate) Amy Alden and my other sister Carolyn Betts.  Using their middle names, the baby’s name is Alden Betts.  I think it is beautiful, even if it does trick some people into thinking she’s a boy. Please keep praying for her. There is a lot to pray for.

Alden is still in neonatal intensive care, but we hope she will be coming this way soon. Spencer unfortunately is not with us. He did come for a visit, and we hope to take him to see his great-grandmother Lillie in Stockton for Thanksgiving, as has always been our custom.

I know I don’t have to tell you how much Tara loved you.  You have always been special to all of us. You brought back so many happy thoughts. 

Thank you, dear one.  Bunny 


"A friend is one who walks in when others walk out."~Walter Winchell

"It's surprising how  much of memory is built around things unnoticed at the time."~Barbara Kingsolver

"Line by line, moment by moment, special times are etched into our memories in the permanent ink of everlasting love in our relationships."~Gloria Gaither.

"In a world preoccupied with the quest for material possessions, it's easy to overlook the fact that the most valuable things we own are our best memories. Good memories are the gift that keeps on giving. They make us smile, feel proud, and re-experience the pleasure of past times."~Michael Josephson

"Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art . . .It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival."~C.S. Lewis

"Love one another, as I have loved you."~John 13:34

-Who are the special people in my life?  Have I told them what they mean to me?
-What blessings are reflected in my treasured memories.

Practice: Memory Box
Memories of special moments are often lost with the passage of time. The joys of a simple day are often overshadowed by major life events. Each day ask, "Is there something of this day that I wish to remember?" Keep note cards or slips of paper handy to write your memory.  Place the memory in a keepsake box. At the beginning of each new year, read the memories in your box.  What do you notice? Were there blessings or moments of grace you had forgotten?  

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Excuse Me?

I really do need to watch what I say. I meant my words to Pam as a compliment and as a reflection of my affection, but it didn’t quite come out that way. My daughter Tara had died, and it's true I was in a weakened state after a long day of platitudes from well-meaning people. Their words were spoken in love, but stoked, rather than calmed, the flame under my God-wrestling pot. Their words were intended as comfort, but had undertones of "let's look on the bright side" and sounded like dismissal of pain to my grieving ears. Still, that is no excuse for insulting my friend of thirty years.

“Well dear, we don’t understand why these things happen, but it’s all part of God’s plan,” one woman offered. 

So it was God’s idea that Tara should die and for her children to be motherless? And that's supposed to make me feel better because . . .? I'm not sure I like him any more.

“God, never gives us more than we can handle,” said another. 

So this IS God’s fault! I think he's trying to kill me.

“If you want things to get better, all you have to do is pray.”

Really?  Really? Do you honestly think I haven’t prayed every prayer I know how to pray! Tara still died and my grandson Spencer is still gone.

And the most confusing:

“Would she have been normal had she lived?”

I could hear Tara's laughter, “What are you going to say now, Mom?" Tara was a free-spirited, ball of energy. Normal, is not a word anyone would choose to describe her.  

“Excuse me?” I asked the inquisitive woman, trying to understand her point.

“I mean would she have been normal? If she had lived would she have lived a long and productive life?”

Oh, right. We wouldn't want her to not be productive.  Good thing she died before that could happen. By the way, what level of productivity does a person need to achieve before they earn the right to live?

Thankfully, I managed to keep my thoughts to myself.  

When the phone rang, I braced myself for another round of heartfelt, but difficult-to-hear advice.

“Hi, how are you doing?” my friend Pam said.

I breathed a sigh of relief and felt my shoulders relax at the sound of my dear friend’s voice. 

“Thank God it’s you, and not another well-meaning Christian!” I said.  

There was silence on the other end of the line as Pam apparently pondered the implications of my comment. I am thankful the silence was broken by her laughter. 

"Well, thanks a lot!" she laughed.

I really do need to watch my words, and perhaps I need to cut other well-intended people a little slack and pray they will do the same for me.  


"The very best gift you can offer a suffering person is a heart full of understanding, eyes filled with tears, and ears ready to listen." Kenneth C. Haugk, Ph.D.

"When you don't know what to say, Try saying nothing.  Just let your presence be the powerful witness to your love".~Henri Nouwen

"When silence fills the room remember that God is in and beneath the silence, radiating his love."~Kenneth C. Haugk

"Your presence is worth much, much more than words. Your presence communicates to the other that he or she is valued, precious, beloved. You presence brings not only the gift of yourself into the relationship, but in and through you, the gift of God."~ Kenneth C. Haugk

"Do not avoid those who weep, but mourn with those who mourn." Sirach 7:34

-Is there someone who needs my love and presence?
-When I have gone through difficult times, what was most helpful to me?
-Have I experienced the gift of God through another person? What happened? How was love expressed?

Don't avoid grieving persons for fear of  knowing what to say. Silence is always appropriate. If words want to be spoken, speak from your heart.  Tell them what you feel: My heart is breaking for you . . .I grieve with you . . .I wish there was something I could do. . . I wish there was something I could say.