The Write Idea


How to Heal a Broken Heart

Filed under: Uncategorized — ljcollins @ 10:56 am

I wrote the piece below and posted it to Facebook a while back. It seems that I also deal with broken hearts by starting new blogs. I started my first (semi-anonymous) blog when I was newly divorced and new to the whole concept of online community (pre-facebook, etc.). You can still find those old writings here: Wild and Precious. When I wrote a book about divorce ritual, I created a beautiful website with its own blog … but quickly realized I didn’t want to make a whole career out of the divorce industry. So those blog posts are just saved as documents. Maybe I’ll post a few from time to time. And then I started this blog to talk more about writing.

Each of these blogs fell by the wayside, so it may seem strange for me to start yet another (my fourth!) blog. But that’s what I plan to do. So enjoy the post below and watch this site for my new blog, coming soon(ish).

How to Heal a Broken Heart.

Walk into your boss’s office on a Wednesday afternoon and announce that you can’t take it another moment and since you haven’t used a single sick day all year, you’re going to take two mental health days and you’ll see her on Monday.

Get in your car and drive home.  Throw a few things in a bag and start driving toward the beach.
Feel the tightness around your heart start to loosen as you glide down out of the mountains while Stevie Wonder sings about ordinary pain.


Watch old black men in tractors move slowly across flat fields of cotton where their ancestors broke their backs. Watch young black men lounge on the hoods of old Buicks along the side of the road while Stevie sings of being a little nappy-headed boy.


Watch the biggest orange moon you’ve ever seen rise over the darkening fields. Miss your turn. Turn around. Start again.


Arrive at the beach house. Park. Don’t unpack the car. Walk straight to the sand where your friends are in the middle of a full moon ritual. Hold their hands and chant to the goddesses. Let your beautiful shaman sister beat the hell out of you with her despacho.

Take off all your clothes. Step into the ocean. Walk. Float. Let go.

Sit on the porch drinking wine in silence.

Lie down in the hallway of the house where a pallet is on the floor, made just for you. Fall into a deep sweet sleep to the sounds of the ocean meeting the sand, again and again. Crashing and returning. Ebbing and flowing.

Wake up before dawn. Find the coffee already made. Stand on the deck and watch the sun rise to your left and the moon set to your right. There is water all around you. Know that everything is fluid. Know that the sun rises without fail.

Walk. Walk to the end of the island with a wise woman at your side. Laugh. Talk to the birds. Play with the dogs. Keep walking.

Swim. Swim out into the windy sea. Let it knock you to the sand. Dive in again. Get knocked down again. Keep swimming.

Pour a glass of wine and sit on the marsh dock with your crazy friends.

Blow bubbles.

Eat leftover shrimp.

Pour another glass of wine and curl up next to another man cheering on the Colts. Remember losing your voice at Friday night football games week after week and making your chorus teacher crazy because you wouldn’t stop cheering on your friends.

Fall asleep. Dream.

Wake before dawn. Make a pot of coffee. Walk around the entire island with two of the best men you know. Talk about nothing. And everything. Make another pot of coffee. Eat an enormous brunch.

Swim out into the calm sea. Do laps alone between the jetties. Welcome your fellow water signs who join you. Swim some more.

Take lots of very long, very hot showers because you aren’t paying the water bill and you don’t feel like being environmentally conscious right now.

Stare at the ocean.

Have a Tarot reading. Absorb the possibilities.

Swim some more.

Play in the waves with the baby from next door. Reclaim your dream of becoming a grandmother.

Take another shower.

Drink more wine.

Eat more seafood.

Send a thank you to your lover for the gifts he gave you. Release him.

Sit in the sand and cry.

Sleep to the sound of the waves.

Awaken to your new life.




North Anderson Community Church, September 1, 2013

Filed under: Sermon,Uncategorized — ljcollins @ 4:59 pm
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1st READING: Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

2nd READING: Albert Einstein

A human being is part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experience himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.


Before I could finish this sermon this week, the world took a turn … and the possibility of our country intervening in yet another Middle Eastern Civil War came much closer to reality. I looked at what I had planned to say and then went back and read these words:

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those … who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

The horrors of chemical weapons have been around at least since WWI, but I suspect that even in ancient times, with poisons on the ends of arrows, some form of chemical warfare existed. I watched a video of teen boys in Syria—boys the age of my own son—who were victims of a chemical bomb in a school yard this week. It was sickening to watch. As sickening as that iconic photo of nine-year-old Kim Phúc running naked from her village in Vietnam.

I bet you know the photo I mean. Phúc was with a group of civilians trying to flee the village when South Vietnamese planes mistook them for soldiers and bombed them with napalm. Photographer Nick Ut captured Kim Phúc and others running out of the bombed village. She was naked from having her clothes burned off. Ut and some other journalists quickly ran to help. Because of the severity of her burns, young Phúc was not expected to live. After a 14-month hospital stay and 17 surgical procedures, however, she was able to return home. Ut won a Pulitzer for the photo and he and Phúc have stayed in touch through the years.

Why do I bring up a 40 year old story of a different war as we Americans sit on the cusp of a new war?

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Or in the words of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

I believe that the large majority of men and women who serve our country in the armed forces do so with an admirable sense of duty and devotion and with more courage than I’ve ever had to muster in my life. As I look at the history of American military interventions in the 50 years I’ve been alive, however, I don’t see much that encourages me to trust the decisions that our leaders make about what those men and women have to do. Rarely do we go into a region with a strong grasp of the long history of ethnic rivalries that will complicate our involvement. Often our military intelligence has been proven wrong. Our attacks lack proportionality and our exit strategies are usually way off base. We don’t have to go back as far as Vietnam to know that. Remember “Mission Accomplished”?

I am the same age as Kim Phúc. The image of her running naked is one that has been with me for as long as I can remember. I suspect that is true for our President, as well.

I think of Kim Phúc or of the video I saw this week of Syrian teens and I am not naïve about the horrors of chemical warfare.

Nonetheless, hearing the drumbeat of war in response to Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons does not make me feel the world will be a safer place. Just the opposite, in fact.

Amidst the news from Syria, there were other big political events happening in our country this week. Did you listen to King’s speech again or hear any of the speeches made on its 50th Anniversary? I celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington by rallying at the headquarters of my new congressional district in Lincolnton, NC, District 10. I had never been to Lincolnton before, because it’s not particularly close to Asheville. Asheville is now in Lincolnton’s district because of some very creative gerrymandering. If you look at our congressional district map, you’ll see that Asheville is attached to District 10 like a balloon, separated from the rest of our county. This re-districting was a very calculated move to separate the liberals in Asheville from the moderates in our former District 11 and put us in a more solidly conservative district where our votes could be more easily subsumed.

Since you are across the state line, perhaps you’ve missed what’s been happening north of the border. North Carolina has instituted the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation, refused to accept Medicaid expansion, slashed teacher pay, gotten rid of thousands of teaching assistants and cut educational funding in significant and devastating ways, shortened the length and lessened the amount of unemployment benefits, killed the Earned Income Tax Credit, loosened already loose gun laws and further restricted already restricted access to abortion.

And that’s just a few of the highlights of the past few months. Then, last week, the Raleigh police threatened to arrest a church group serving a meal to the homeless. These meals have been going on without concern for years, supported by Raleigh’s religious community.

And now our nation is planning to bomb a nation in retribution for them bombing their own people.

So … what do these state, municipal, and federal politics have to do with worship on Sunday morning?

Unfortunately, just about everything.

The March on Washington in 1963 was led by pastors. The Moral Monday movement that has arisen in North Carolina in response to the extreme politics is also being led by pastors. When Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight,” he knew he was quoting Isaiah.

As the Episcopal Bishop of WNC, Porter Taylor, wrote this week, “The power of [King’s] speech wasn’t just his oratory or the crowd or the historical context. It came from his speaking a truth imbedded in the story of God coaxing God’s people into the ways of righteousness. The dream Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated 50 years ago wasn’t his dream; it was and is God’s dream.”

The story of God coaxing God’s people into the ways of righteousness.

“Let mutual love continue,” Paul says in the letter to the Hebrews. If we stopped reading there and put that on a bumper sticker, it might seem kind of sweet and sentimental. But let’s not stop reading there.  “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Homeless strangers, unemployed strangers, families on Medicaid strangers, people who don’t have driver’s licenses strangers, immigrants from other countries strangers, even strangers who may get in the way of one of our missiles. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers …” God’s word is not abstract. It gets played out day by day not just in our personal lives, but in our collective decisions. And as part of that collective, we have a responsibility. In a democracy, none of us can claim to be without accountability.

“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”

We’re not only responsible for those we can see—like  the homeless on our streets, like the working poor whose safety nets are being torn apart—but also for those we don’t see. Those in prison, those being tortured, those in Syria.

“Let mutual love continue.” Read in context, it doesn’t sound so sentimental, does it?

Mutual love. This is God’s dream. And we are called to live it, wide awake.

In a democracy, we are accountable. But more than that, as people of faith, we are accountable.

Mutual love. I am so taken with Einstein’s phrase for our mistaken sense that somehow what we do and how we live does not affect the universe we’re part of. He calls this an “optical delusion of consciousness”, an optical delusion that puts us in a prison of our own making. “Our task,” he says, “must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

“Let mutual love continue.” In 1996, Kim Phúc gave a speech at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. During the event, the Rev. John Plummer, a Vietnam veteran who believed he took part in coordinating the air strike with the South Vietnamese Air Force met with Phúc briefly and was publicly forgiven. In 1997, she established the first Kim Phúc Foundation in the US, with the aim of providing medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Whether it is our personal pain that is breaking us apart or the pain of our brothers and sisters who are losing their access to voting or the pain of our brothers and sisters in Syria, we know we are called to dream God’s dream, to entertain God’s angels in disguise.

I don’t know exactly what I am meant to do right now, in this moment in history. But I know who I am meant to be. I am meant to be a lover. I am meant to be a hostess to strangers. I am meant to be a healer. I am meant to be a dreamer of God’s dream.

By seeing through the lenses of God’s dream, we can shake ourselves free of the optical delusion that leads us to destruction.

And I believe that if I hold fast to the dreams of God and join with others in dreaming God’s dream, then together we will find ourselves awake to our responsibilities and alive to the possibilities of a different world.

This is why we practice our faith as a community. So we can strengthen each other in the task of mutual love and struggle together in the call to hospitality. So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

If my faith was in my state government, I would be quite depressed right now. If my faith was in my President, I would be discouraged right now. But that is not where my faith lies. My faith lies in the God who sends us dreams of a different way. My faith is in the man who did not fight his enemies, but who laid down his life for his friends.

Wars will come and wars will go, but God through Christ remains the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Fifty years ago this week, Dr. King said these words about the fight for Civil Rights, but I think they apply to more than that movement. They still speak to us today:

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protests to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”

And so, we come together to let God fill us with soul force, to hear God place a dream of mutual love deep in the marrow of our bones. By rooting that dream of mutual love deeper than all the things that tear us apart and by giving us a vision wider than the politics of the moment.

Paul said, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” These are words that let Dr. King dream a dream for our nation, even to his death.

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

And they are words that will hold us steady as we find our way in this latest storm.


An Advent Sermon

Filed under: living rituals,Sermon — ljcollins @ 8:33 pm
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I’m not in the habit of posting my sermons as blog posts, but maybe that will change. Here goes. If you are not familiar with the scripture reading, it will help to read it first.

Advent 4, December 23, 2012

Luke 1:39-56 

The story begins with two women: one old and presumed barren; one young and unmarried. Both now pregnant. One graced, one dis-graced. Two women bearing boys. Two women bearing the weight of the future in their wombs.

Mary and Elizabeth, each surprised by pregnancy, greet each other full of the Holy Spirit, full of humility – “Who am I that this should happen to me?” – and filled with amazement. God has chosen each of them from their places standing at the back of theater and pulled them onto center stage, into the middle of the drama of ongoing story of God’s presence in the world.

The story begins with Mary and Elizabeth, alive with possibilities they could not have imagined.

Years ago, when I wanted to be pregnant and was not, it seemed that everywhere I looked women were pregnant, glowing and joyous. When I saw mothers yelling at their toddlers I wanted to shake them, tell them what a priceless gift they had in front of them, tell them never to take for granted their ability to bring a precious soul into the world.

And then I became a mother and I understood the frustration of dealing with an obstinate toddler and perhaps became a bit less judgmental.

The joy, the glow, the happiness of bearing a child into this world is a precious gift, no doubt.

And it is also an invitation to a grief almost too difficult to bear.

This year we read the story of these two mothers preparing to bring their sons into the world –sons who would both come to brutally violent ends – and we can’t help but think of the mothers of Newtown, the mothers of those babies, only 6 and 7 years old.

This year those images are all too fresh, all too raw, but every year it is the same. Mothers watch their babies die. Of violence, of hunger, of disease. Months ago, I mentioned a 7 year old girl who had lived more than half of her life with cancer. This month she died.

To be a mother is to know the possibility of losing what is most precious in the world to you, flesh of your flesh and bone of your bone. Perhaps this is why, for me, one of the most wrenching images from Scripture is that of God groaning in labor, preparing to give birth to a new earth.

God – like Elizabeth, like Mary – bears the whole creation. God has gestated and labored us into being and now watches us, with the utter joy and unavoidable grief of a mother who loves her children beyond description.

And so it is fitting that the voice of a young mother sings these ancient words of hope:  “You have brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

On this last Sunday before Christmas, we are reminded that this Song of Mary, resplendent with the language of the prophets before her, is at the heart of the incarnation. That the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, into the world is a message of hope to all who are without hope, a promise of restoration to those who have lost much, an assurance  of encouragement for all who have been pressed down, an announcement of change to us all, powerful or powerless, full or hungry.

We don’t have to be mothers – or fathers – to understand the power of Mary’s song. We simply have to be awake.

Awake to the beauty that is around us, given into our care.

And awake to the pain.

On the Friday of the massacre, I was only vaguely aware of what was happening because my colleagues at Asheville Habitat for Humanity and I were focused on a different event. That day we celebrated a wall-raising for the 18th annual Warren Haynes Habitat House. Haynes is a rock star, best known for his years playing guitar with The Allman Brothers Band; he’s also traveled with the remaining members of The Grateful Dead, as well as leading his own band, Gov’t Mule.

Haynes is from Asheville and back in 1989, when he was home for Christmas, he decided to hold a charity benefit Jam with some of the other famous musicians from Western North Carolina that he knew would be in town for the holidays. That jam began an annual event that has grown into one of the premier music benefit events in the Southeast. Haynes now gives the money raised each year to Habitat for Humanity to sponsor a new home. He’s raised over $1 million for Asheville’s Habitat and helped 18 working-class families be able to buy safe and affordable homes. His fans gather on the days before the concert and volunteer for Habitat and at the end of the second day, together we raise the first wall to the new house.

That’s what I was focused on while most of the country was hearing the non-stop news out of Newtown. The Warren Haynes event was such a powerful coming together of community for mutual good that I didn’t take in the ugliness of Newtown until the next day. Then, I was sitting in a funeral for a friend’s husband and the grief hit me like a hurricane. I listened to the eulogies of the man who had died, also too young, and heard stories of his life-long work on behalf of the environment, his graciousness to all this co-workers, his gentle spirit, and I thought: those babies will never have the chance to grow up to share their gifts.

And, oh, this fragile world so needs every gift.

“You have brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly. You have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Every year Christmas arrives in the midst of a world fraught with despair. And every year the gift we are given to face this despair is a baby: more helpless and vulnerable than even we.

And so, every year, we are Mary, bearing the Christ into the world – a vulnerable Christ, in need of our care if we are to see the gifts that God intends.

Every year, we are Mary, pregnant with the possibility of transformative love.

Every year, we are Mary, called to sing against the despair: “My soul magnifies my God, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

This is our calling, this and every year: to magnify – to enlarge, to make visible – the saving grace that is yearning to be born into this world.

This is our challenge: to trust in the hope of revolutionary love that can turn the world upside-down, with those on the bottom lifted up and those too high for their own safety, brought down to the ground.

And not just to trust that this hope will arise magically in our midst, but to know that his hope will emerge miraculously from us, when we, like Mary, agree to be the bearers of Christ into a grief-stricken world.

The story begins with two women: one old and presumed barren; one young and unmarried. Both now pregnant. One graced, one dis-graced. Two women bearing boys. Two women bearing the weight of the future in their wombs.

The story begins with two outsiders, two nobodies, two brave and generous souls.

The story continues with us, when we greet each other with amazement and humility, awed by the task we’re given, amazed to feel the prophetic spirit leap within us.

The story continues with us, when we stand together, willing to be bearers of hope, agents of encouragement, announcers of change, givers of love.

The story continues with us when we dare to sing a song of light in the darkness.

“My soul magnifies my God, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

Not only in the days of joy, in the hours of peace, in the times of wonder, but here, now, always: in the midst of violence, in the shadow of despair, let us magnify our God, let us make God visible, let us allow ourselves to be enlarged with the love longing to be born.

And, like Mary, let us sing.

No matter what. Let us sing.


On hoodies and motherhood.

Filed under: book review — ljcollins @ 5:58 pm
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Every day for the last several months my tall skinny teenaged son has left the house wearing a hoodie. When it was cold enough for a winter jacket, he opted for a hoodie. When it was warm enough for a tee-shirt, hoodie. He pulls the hood over his head and slouches forward, eyes down as he walks wherever he is headed: the bus stop, the corner convenience store, a friend’s house.

And never do I worry that he will be mistaken for a criminal.

This is what it means to live every day with white privilege. To be a white mother of a white son means that I don’t have to teach my son to watch his back. I don’t have to explain to him the life and death need to be extra-deferential to police officers or for that matter, other adults. Do I hope that he is always well-behaved and respectful in public? Of course. Do I worry that if he fails to live up to those expectations he’ll be shot? Never.

This afternoon I attended a vigil for Trayvon Martin in Asheville’s downtown plaza, in front of the courthouse and county jail. A jail, like every other in this country, housing a disproportionate number of young black men. Our African-American mayor stood in her hoodie, describing how it feels to be the mother of a nine year old boy in this community. The fact that she is the mayor does not make her family immune to our nation’s sickness.

In the writing class I’m taking this spring, we are reading Lost in the City, a book of short fiction by Pulitzer Prize winning author Edward P. Jones. Jones writes unsentimental stories of African-American families in Washington, DC, with clear-eyed prose. The stories are set in different decades over the last fifty years, but all of them are set in a milieu of despair. In the book black girls die, black boys have run-ins with the cops, black families suffer estrangement and hope, black communities pull together and apart.

To be reading these stories as I watch the news unfold is to know that however far we have come, we have not come nearly far enough. We can elect an African-American president or mayor, we can hire an African-American chief of police, we can sing songs of freedom while holding hands, but it is not enough. Emmett Till died more than fifty years ago. How many more black mothers will watch their boys murdered for the crime of being black? Too many.

Being at the town plaza today required nothing of me other than a split second of time. What will it require of me, of my hoodied son, of all of us, to stand up to racism? What will it take to create the beloved community dreamed into a vision by another murdered black man?

I can never stop living with the reality of my white privilege. But at the very least, I can pay attention to it. And I can teach my hoodied son to notice his, as well. It is not sufficient. But it is necessary.


Magazine Month

Apparently, March is a good magazine month for me. I’m grateful to the beautiful Laurel of Asheville Magazine for featuring my new book, Sacred Separations: The Divorce Ritual Workbook.

In addition, I have another article in WNC Woman, a lovely magazine where I’ve been privileged to write about several of WNC’s amazing women over the past few years.

The Laurel also listed my upcoming retreat with the fabulous Barrie Barton in the calendar, so that any of you facing the possibility of change (and who isn’t?), might come and find a way to move more smoothly across those choppy waters. Check it out and pass it along.



Falling Apart In One Piece

Since my current post on my new blog is a book review, I’m sharing it here as well:

Books about divorce have created a whole new genre of literature, it seems. I plan to review some of them here from time to time and wanted to start with one of my favorites: Stacy Morrison’s Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist’s Journey Through the Hell of Divorce. Morrison had recently given birth and bought a house and was in the running for her dream job as Editor in Chief of Redbook Magazine when her husband announced one night that he was done. She got the job and lost the husband.

Her memoir tells the story of the two years after the night that she heard the fatal news and how she coped and didn’t cope. She writes with poignant vulnerability, honest self-reflection and genuine humor of the ways in which her life turned upside-down and inside-out. With a literary symbolism she could not have manufactured, her basement begins to flood and her roof begins to leak the same month that she starts her new high-powered executive position while still reeling from her husband’s unexpected announcement.

Unafraid to describe the nights she lay on her kitchen floor, noticing the crumbs under the stove while flattened there from the weight of her grief, she takes us through the familiar yet exquisitely personal storms, internal and external, of living through a nightmare. In the end, Stacy emerges from the fog with her natural optimism intact. This is one of those reads that feels like a long phone conversation with a friend. If your friend happens to be a well-connected New York magazine editor, that is. But that’s the beauty of this story. Great shoes and a great career can’t save you from bad plumbing or the misery of loss. I laughed and cried and winced my way through it and recommend you do the same.


Introducing …

Filed under: sacred separations — ljcollins @ 8:45 am
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My new blog. Which you will notice is on my new website, which I also hope you notice is selling my new book. 



Filed under: family,living rituals — ljcollins @ 2:43 pm

I first began to blog after my marriage broke up. I was alone and in a new city and, frankly, scared. I started a semi-anonymous blog, not using my real name, but letting some of my friends know where to find me. Through this strange web of words, I discovered a universe of cyber connections. Not virtual relationships, but real ones. In many cases I never met the people on the other end of the inner-toobs, but their honesty and mine forged genuine friendships. Our palpable human interactions created community. This surprised me: the intimacy, the sharing, the love I felt for so many people I met through the blogosphere. And when I got to meet some of them in the flesh, oh how rich and dear that was.

Life evolves. My cyber-community started drifting apart. Facebook grabbed our attention. And after two years, I was tired of keeping up the posts. I also didn’t want to be anonymous any more. I left behind my blog about the same time that I left behind my last regular paycheck. I needed to try something new. I needed to branch out. So I started my own business. I was clueless, but proud of myself for figuring out how to create my own website. Not a great website, mind you, but I did it myself. After a break from my old blog it seemed appropriate to start this new one reflecting this new life as a self-employed editor and writer.

And life evolved again. In 2010 I celebrated the 20th anniversary of my ordination to ministry. I knew I no longer wanted to be a pastor as I once was, but I recognized and chose to honor that ministry is still part of who I am. And thus was born my second business, even as I kept up the first. And my second website, slightly better than the first. But I couldn’t manage another blog!

Now comes a new year and a new business. I am so grateful that an old friend visited recently and told me his story. When I sheepishly admitted I was starting my 3rd business in 3 years, he noted that most entrepreneurs (himself included) don’t really get going until their 4th or 5th business, but few ever make it that far, giving up after the 2nd or 3rd failure. That made me feel a bit better. Because I don’t see any of these ventures as failures. Fascinating experiments. Deep-end learning experiences. Ongoing possibilities, as I keep them alive, though not my current focus.

My writing about writing has slowed to a crawl here, on this blog, as I turned toward bringing to birth the two books I’ve been writing this past year. Now I am getting ready to publish one and to begin a major rewrite of the other. Whew. So, dear ones, thank you for being on this journey with me. Once my book babies are both launched into the world, I want to get back to helping other people bring their words to life. I’ve learned far too much not to share.

But in the meantime, look for an announcement … very, very soon. A book–and yes, a new blog–is coming your way!


When Death Comes*

Filed under: family — ljcollins @ 7:32 pm
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Tomorrow is the 3rd anniversary of my father’s death. Here is what I wrote on my previous blog about that event:

My father died at 1 p.m. on Monday, January 12. My mother and I were with him, one on each side, as he quietly, peacefully took his last breaths. I almost missed it. I had gone for lunch. This would have been a great irony. I am, as my Gentleman Friend (GF) likes to say, a good eater. So was my dad. We could always eat. Any time of day. Even if we had just finished a large meal. We appreciate food in our family. Eating was the last of Dad’s pleasures to go.

So, I had gone to the hospital cafeteria where I had salmon in creamy dill sauce, wild rice and roasted italian vegetables. I bought my mom a sandwich (her request — I didn’t mean to have a nicer meal than she did) and was heading back up to the room where dad had been moved from emergency only an hour before. As I turned onto his floor a gaggle of nurses and CNAs saw me and exclaimed, “There she is now.” They were paging me to come because my dad’s death was imminent. I ran into the room. A friend of the family had arrived in my absence. He left the room as I entered and I took dad’s side. I can’t remember what Mom and I said at that moment. Nothing to each other, but maybe to Dad. We had been singing hymns to him that morning — Holy, Holy, Holy and For All the Saints, that sort of thing — and quoting his two favorite psalms — the 121st and the 23rd. We both know all of these by heart and have for most of our lives and yet we stumbled over words and phrases again and again. We didn’t know that Dad was going to die when he came in by ambulance that morning or else we might have packed a bible and a hymnbook for the moment. We weren’t prepared for death.

What happened was this: four days before Christmas Dad took two bad falls. He was falling more and more, so this was not especially significant, except that Mom was unable to get him up and had to call in help both times. That was a Sunday. On Tuesday morning he had another bad spill, knocking the back of his head against the corner of a metal table on the way down. This time Mom managed to get him up and to the shower where she was busy trying to clean up all the blood when she realized it was a pretty bad cut. So she finished his shower, bandaged his head, changed his clothes, got him in her car and drove to the nearest urgent care clinic. They put 10 stitches in his head and sent him home, asking Mom to note if he seemed confused. Dad had beginning stages dementia, was mostly blind, mostly deaf and took too many painkillers for the various physical disabilities that kept him in chronic, crippled pain. Knowing whether he seemed more confused than usual was not a simple task.

But rather than complain about his head or his osteo-arthritis or degenerative disk disease pain, all day Dad complained about a sore place on his foot. Mom had taken him to the podiatrist a hundred times in the preceding months for this sore spot, but it clearly had become much worse — the hole widening and deepening, the area around it turning odd, dark shades not usually associated with Caucasian skin. By the next morning, Christmas Eve, his foot was red and swollen and hot and the sore spot was black. Mom managed, once again (I’m not sure how), to get him into the car and off to a podiatrist. A different one this time, as she was fed up with the lack of help the previous one had been. This one examined Dad’s foot, looked up at Mom and said, “I’ll do what I can to save his foot.” What???

So he cleaned and tended the wound, ordered an oral antibiotic, drew a line in red magic marker across Dad’s upper foot and told Mom that if the redness and swelling got higher than the mark to go immediately to the emergency room. My son and I came to her house later that day. My ex was going to a 5 pm service at his church and then coming over to sit with Dad, so Mom, son and I could attend the 7 pm Christmas Eve service at her church. We got home from the service, looked at Dad’s foot and knew we had to go to the hospital. Because my ex was there, the three of us managed to get him into a car (how had Mom done this on her own earlier that same day?) and Mom and I went off to the hospital, leaving the ex to put the son to bed and fill the stockings.

Around 2 a.m. they had run every test imaginable and admitted Dad to the hospital. He had cellulitis in the foot, as well as wicked bed sores on his rear end and signs of a small, recent heart attack. He was a mess from head to toe, quite literally. Dad stayed in the hospital for a week, one problem leading to another, but finally getting the infection under control. From there he went to a skilled nursing facility for rehab. With his fever gone and his medications more controlled than at home, Dad was actually quite lucid and in pretty good spirits for a few days. But when the first week in rehab turned to the second, he began insisting that Mom get him out of there and take him home. A week in the hospital, not moving out of bed, had greatly weakened him and he was having trouble even sitting up and holding a cup. There was no possible way he could go home. In spite of his generally good mental capacity, he could not comprehend this. Of course Mom could take care of him. She’d been doing it for years!

On Friday, January 9, Mom and I went to the financial planner’s office. I am now the executor of the estate should anything happen to Mom, but this was my first time getting a real lay of the financial landscape. We needed to figure out the situation should Dad be spending months or years in nursing care, which is what we all believed we were facing at this point. The good news was, in spite of huge losses in 2008, Mom and Dad had been so frugal and wise with their money over the years that the planner assured Mom she could keep Dad in nursing care for 12 years before they’d run out of money. We all knew he wouldn’t last that long, so this greatly put her mind at ease.

I spent that afternoon with Dad, so Mom could be home alone for a while. He was fairly lucid, but certainly more confused than he had been a few days before. I read him Christmas cards. He kept calling on the nurses to help him get up to pee. He could barely make it from the bed to the wheelchair even with two skilled helpers. As the afternoon wore on he got more agitated and kept saying what a mess things were. I couldn’t get him to say what the mess was. Finally, I knew he needed to sleep, so I kissed him, told him I loved him and left.

I had plans to go out of town that weekend which I kept. There was no reason I shouldn’t, as far as we could tell. We were gearing up for the long-haul. Months of a man miserable about being in a nursing home. He had said to Mom for years, “Don’t ever put me in a nursing home! I’ll die if I have to go to a nursing home!” I stayed in touch with Mom and she said that he developed an intestinal infection on Saturday. She was still able to feed him (a good eater, to the end) and get him to respond to commands (“Open your mouth a little wider”), but he stopped communicating verbally and rarely opened his eyes that weekend.

Then Monday morning came and the call that he was being sent to the hospital. Even then, Mom figured he’d gotten dehydrated from the infection or in need of IV antibiotics. As they took his vital signs, his fever was 106. His breathing was labored and his blood pressure was dropping rapidly. Just before I arrived the doctor asked Mom if she wanted extreme measures taken or just comfort care. She asked for comfort care. “Then I give him 24 to 48 hours to live.” Death. We didn’t know. When I arrived I spoke with the social worker and asked a hospice representative to come meet with us. I thought perhaps we could move him into a hospice facility and out of the emergency room for his last days. I knew from my time as a volunteer hospice chaplain that people could inexplicably hang on longer than expected and I wanted to be ready for the possibility of several days of bedside vigil. Hospice came, but the doctor arranged with the nursing home for us to take him back there, as he didn’t think a hospice bed would open in time and knew we could get palliative care at the home. Discharge papers were in place when the doctor came in and told us that he had changed his mind. Dad wouldn’t survive the transfer, he thought. They promised to find a bed in the hospital and admit him as quickly as possible, which they did, with great kindness and efficiency. Around noon, Dad was finally settled into his new room — a quiet one with a beautiful view of the mountains. It was a gorgeous, bright winter day.

Mom and I sat with Dad for a few minutes and then we both realized we were hungry. Even at this point, we figured we had hours ahead of us. Mom asked me to go eat and bring her something. So I did. And almost missed the last moment. But not quite. I’m glad I was there.

I have no regrets, nor does Mom, but one can’t help but think about some “what ifs” in those final moments. Mom would have spent the night with Dad, had she any idea of the severity of this infection. I would have gone to see him when I got home on Sunday. And more than that, I would have been kinder to him on Friday.

When I last saw him, he seemed so like he had for months. Demanding, irritable, but pretty lucid and generally OK. I was frustrated with him for not trying harder to sit up, to feed himself. He seemed perfectly happy to have it all done for him, but then angry that he couldn’t go home even though he was making no efforts at rehabilitation. He complained about how tired he was. When he asked for water, I tried to insist that he hold the cup himself and get the straw to his mouth. I put it directly in both hands and shaped the one hand around the cup and the other around the handle. He dropped it. I caught it before it spilled and tried again. I snipped at him for not holding on, for not listening to what I was asking him to do. After a third attempt, I held it for him and put the straw in his mouth. But not compassionately. I did it with a huff.

I am not haunted by this interaction. I know that I am forgiven by God and by Dad, if that is a post-life possibility. I can forgive myself. But forgive does not mean forget and I believe that I will remember this moment for a long time. I hope I do. Because it is easy for me to think that <span style=”font-style:italic;”>had I known</span> this would be the last time I saw my dad with any real life in him, I would have been so much more kind and gentle and patient. I would have compassionately given him the water as he asked and not scolded him. I would have gently rubbed his bald head while he drank. Had I known death was coming in a matter of days rather than months, I’m sure I would have been kind. I was kind on Monday, when it hardly mattered any more.

It’s so utterly predictable to learn this lesson now. We never know which interactions will be our last ones. And so every single moment we are called to compassionate presence. There is not a one of us that doesn’t know this. But how easy it is to live out of the grudges, the impatience, the frustration. How very human.

Dad is gone. We had a wonderful and difficult relationship for many years. We loved each other fiercely and wounded each other deeply. We fought and we made up. We criticized and we praised. We prayed together and we yelled at each other. We both clamored for Mom’s attention and affection in our own ways and often in competition with each other. We could stay angry at each other for too long, but we were never estranged. We both knew we were the apple of the other’s eye.

People have been saying this week, “Now he can see again and hear again and walk again!” I really don’t know about that. I believe in resurrection, but I have no earthly idea what it means. What it looks like. Does Dad really have a healthy body now? We have joked about him being reunited with some of his obnoxious friends, about them all giving God hell together. Maybe. I don’t know. What I do know is this: he lived 81 years. He touched more lives than I will ever know with his own compassion and faith and preaching of the gospel, in both word and deed. He loved Mom passionately, even though he demanded far too much of her for far too long. He did much good in his life — serving every community he lived in with civic zeal, every church he pastored with vigor and enthusiasm. He loved life. He loved people. He loved God. He loved me.

And now he is gone. Blessed are those who die in the Lord.

*With apologies to Mary Oliver


Good Yoga

Filed under: article — ljcollins @ 12:44 pm
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My friend, neighbor and yoga instructor, Kelly McKibben, is the subject of an article I wrote for this month’s issue of WNC Woman Magazine. Enjoy.

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