Creativity in the time of Covid

If you will give yourself to study, you will easy every burden of life, you will neither wish for night to come or for the light to fail; neither shall you be worried or preoccupied with other things.


During this pandemic I have lived from my heart and my hands – I have been the emotional hub of our family.  I have cajoled, cooked, cleaned, and complained.  I have listened, laundered, and languished.  I have baked, berated, and bribed.  I have gardened, groused, and given up.  I have protected my sanity by walking mile after mile in my neighborhood, completing several jigsaw puzzles, and rediscovering the joys of actual phone conversations.

Like everyone else, I have swung widely from absorbing every piece of news to avoiding all news.  I have given in to fear and I have had moments of great faith.  The search for toilet paper transformed into the search for sanity.  I have reached out to those who live alone, and I have wished I lived alone.

But I have not lived from my head.  Hopes of writing were dashed upon the rocks of family frailty.  The emotional needs of my family triumphed over the emotional needs of my characters.  First I stopped writing; then I stopped reading all but the fluffiest of stories.  Creative concentration was replaced with carbohydrate consumption.

And then a friend asked me to focus on the story of Hezekiah.  HezeWho?  Part of my year long study of Isaiah, Hezekiah is the subject of Isaiah chapters 36-39.  Suddenly I had four books open, note cards strewn on the table, bookmarks and page tags everywhere, and I was happy.  I went from one translation of the Bible to another, from our study book to an ambitious and inclusive commentary by J. Alec Motyer.  I traced Hezekiah’s history and the role of Assyria through the book of Isaiah.  My mind found something to latch onto, and it came alive.  For a few hours, I was engaged in an academic pursuit, and the fog that had descended around me began to lift.

It continues.  This week I volunteered to lead the study.  Now I’m deep into the conspiracy of the true authorship of Isaiah chapters 40-55.  How could Isaiah possibly write about something over 100 years off into the future?  How could he name both the conqueror and the liberator of the Jewish people before any of it happened?  I sat outside reading and taking notes and listening to the birds around me, and I was happy.

I am an academic at heart.  Studying and condensing material down into digestible nuggets is my gift.  By combining ideas and synthesizing knowledge into a usable whole, I find meaning.  To avoid learning and studying is to atrophy.  And I cannot be the emotional hub of my family if my emotional tank is empty.

So… to that end, I will pick up my pen again and write.  I will write blog posts, essays, poems, fiction, anything.  I commit to 10-15- blog posts in the month of May.  No one may read them.  And that’s okay.  They are for me, and by extension, for my family. 

Write on…..

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Seek His face

When you said, “seek my face,” my heart said to you “your face I will seek.” Psalm 27:8

October 15, 2011.  We had just brought our cat Misty home from the shelter.   That night everyone went to bed, and I stayed up late with her.  She stood on my lap, put her paws on my chest and looked deep into my eyes as if to ask “is this real?  Are you my family?  Is this my home?”  She sought reassurance, comfort, and security.  I told her, yes, you are home, you belong here now, you are safe, it is okay to relax.  Seven years, two months and fourteen days later, I held her as she transitioned to whatever home awaits her next.  But during that time she was home, and she was a valued and loved member of this family.

Now, Eliot has entered our lives and our home, along with his sister Aria.  Everything Eliot does is done with intensity, whether it’s playing, eating, sleeping, or grooming.  Every morning, as I sit in bed with my coffee and devotions, Eliot comes for a cuddle.  He climbs up on my chest and demands attention.  He shoves his face into my hands, begging me to rub his itchy places.  His eyes hold love, devotion, and trust in them.  When he’s had enough, his needs satisfied for the moment, he scampers off or just moves down the bed to bite my toes through the blankets.

I think about these two cats who loved so easily and sought out assurance and security by climbing up into my lap.  Where are you seeking assurance and security?  Whose lap are you crawling up into?

In Washington, D.C., there are two laps which remind me of God.  The first is the Lincoln Memorial, where a larger than life Abraham Lincoln looks down towards the Washington Memorial and beyond to the Capitol.  In college I spent many evenings at his feet.  He watches over the city from his throne, formal, impersonal, rigid.  There is a presence about him, immovable and solid. 

The second lap is more approachable.  It is that of Albert Einstein.  He’s easier to miss, harder to find.  Tucked behind some trees on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences sits a bronze sculpture of a wise grandfather.  He’s slumped, slightly rumpled, and you can climb up and sit in his lap.  I have done it many times.

God is a little of both: full of awe and wonder, majestic and on his throne, and yet, also approachable, kind, and loving to those who seek his face or who dare to climb up onto his lap.

Misty’s fast and premature death showed me that time is one of our most precious resources.  How are you using yours? Whose face are you looking to with trust and devotion?  Whose lap are you climbing up into?  I pray that you seek the face and heart of God with the same trust and devotion as our animals give us.  Let God be your source of care, protection, provision, companionship and joy.  He wants to be all those things for us.  Seek his face.

Posted in Devotional, Family | 1 Comment

River of life


Critical for our survival, water is necessary for nearly every function of the body. The human body is made up of 60% water, and without it, we can’t survive much more than 3-4 days.

In scripture, water is often used as a symbol of life and of the spirit. Water is used for cleansing, purification, baptism. It represents the presence of God’s spirit. It quenches our thirst, both physical and spiritual.

So, what is the state of your spirit? I recently spent time by the Guadalupe River at Mo Ranch and saw first hand the various ways our life is represented in water.

Are you clear, calm, settled, reflecting the best the world has to offer?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. (Rev 22:1)

Are you churned up, spilling over, or falling down?

A flood will carry off his house, rushing waters on the day of God’s wrath.  Such is the fate God allots the wicked, the heritage appointed for them by God.” (Job 20:28-29)

Are you allowing yourself to be filled with trash and debris

Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked.
(Prov 25:26)

until there is nothing left for a scummy film over your surface?

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)

The truth is we are all of these things at one time or other, sometimes more than one at a time. There are times of calm and times of churning. There are times of obedience and times of trouble.

During a time of Israel’s disobedience, God spoke of judgement
“Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah
and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates— the king of Assyria with all his pomp. Isaiah 8:6-7

Yet to those who trust him and believe in him, he promises “rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:38)

For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ (Rev 7:17)

Take time to sit by the river of your life and assess its flow, its source, its destination. Allow the peace of God to calm your choppy place, picture the stresses of you life flow downstream, away from you, leaving you gentle waters. Go in his peace.

  • (Note: all scripture NIV; all pictures taken by author at Mo Ranch, Feb 2, 2019)
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New Year comes around again

The new beginnings of January.  The time to start afresh, to set resolutions, to make goals and step boldly into the bright shiny future. 

Or, you know, don’t.


As 2018 closed, our family had to say a sudden goodbye to our beloved Misty.  She is the cat I called “sweet but somewhat dimwitted” in my About page.  At the tender and unexplainable age of 8, Misty suffered from complete kidney failure and died in my arms on December 29th.  We are still trying to process the reality of her loss, even as we engage in the daily discussion of how and when to replace the cat-sized hole in our hearts.

As 2018 closed, friends were in the hospital, others were moving away, neighbors were struggling with devastating diagnosis, the government was partially shut down, our leaders were shifting while our problems grow in direct proportion to our animosity towards one another.  Someone make it STOP, I want to yell, but there is no answer.  Just a large vet bill and a litter box no one can bring themselves to empty.

And yet, 2018 ended and 2019 began.  We hung up new calendars in our house and packed away the Christmas ornaments.   Despite everything, a small glimmer of hope dawns with the new year.  A burst of optimism seeps out between the cracks and the tears.  This is the year, we say; this year we will lose the weight, accomplish the goal, be a better person, make the changes we keep talking about.

Will it?  I don’t know.  2018 was a good year for my writing.  I now have three manuscripts in various stages of completion and am getting ready to pursue publication in some form.  I enlarged my writing community, connecting with many other writers in Austin and was a founding member of the Central Texas Chapter of the Historical Novel Society.   We did not travel last year, spending most of our money on medical and vet bills, but we had enough to cover them without debt, so that’s a victory.

As I begin to make goals for 2019, writing is at the top of the list.  May this be the year my writing finds a home out in the world.  May this be the year sanity and civility return to our country.  May this be the year we reach out to others with compassion and friendship and a helping hand.   May this be a year of hellos and not goodbyes.  May your year be blessed, and may you be a blessing to others.

Posted in Family, Writing | 1 Comment

On Mortar and Mothers

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about mortar.  You know, that goopy stuff that goes between bricks or stones and holds them all together?  Mortar.

You’ve never given it much thought, have you?  Neither had I until I began learning a lot about stonemasonry to write a book about a stonemason.  Turns out, there’s quite a bit to know about mortar.

These days there are two main types of mortar: lime mortar and Portland cement.  Lime mortar has been around since ancient days, used by the Egyptians in the pyramids at Giza and by the Romans and Greeks.  Portland cement was first developed in the 19th century and became widely used in the later part of that century and early in the 20th.  Nowadays, mortars are usually made from a mixture of the two.

The process of making traditional lime mortar is an arduous and time consuming one.  First limestone is heated at a high temperature to remove the carbon dioxide, leaving calcium oxide or quicklime.  This is then mixed with water, stirred or beaten, and left to age for several months after which it forms a soft putty which can be mixed with sand or another aggregate to form the mortar.  Rushing the process causes weak or inferior mortar.

Lime mortar and Portland cement differ in their strength and permeability.  Portland cement is stronger and can be used with heavy modern concrete building.  Lime mortar is more porous or permeable, allowing older buildings to breath and release moisture. 

One phrase I read repeatedly was that mortar is the sacrificial element of the masonry process.  Mortar should be weaker than the masonry units it holds together.  This is so that when stresses occur, any damage is taken by the mortar, which is easier to repair or replace than the stone or brick.  Mortar is the piece designed to break or crack when stressed to protect the stone and to absorb any unwanted moisture, thus protecting the stone or brick from moisture damage.  If the mortar is stronger than the stone or brick that surrounds it, any breakage or stress will affect the stones rather than the glue.

I would submit that as mothers, we are the mortar of the family.  We absorb the stresses, the tears and tears of family life and thus allow the rest of the family units to hold their shape. Whether your kids are preschoolers or teenagers, they look to you to comfort their hurts and offer guidance when they’re out of their depths.  They push and pull at the restraints you may put on them, but I believe they are happy to know you provide structure and boundaries.  When the storms of life come, I can comfort myself knowing that I am acting as the mortar for my family.  What mother would not choose to bear the cracks for her children?  It’s not always pleasant to absorb the hits, but to see your kids succeed, stand strong, victorious and beautiful will be worth it.

Those old buildings that are still standing after hundreds of years?  It’s because of their mortar.  The lime mortar that was used has absorbed all the stress and damage to the building and allowed the stones themselves to remain unharmed.  Those families that seem to have withstood the external pressures of life with grace and dignity, who remain together despite tragedy?  I bet they have a great mother acting as the mortar, the glue keeping them all together.  Like mortar, mothers get stronger by withstanding the heat of fires, by being subjected to stirrings, beatings (psychological and unfortunately sometimes physical), and time.  Our strength holds the family together and often takes the damage so that others might be spared.

Here's to mothers and mortar everywhere!  We’re the glue that keeps everything and everyone together.

Posted in Architecture/stonemasonry, Family | 1 Comment