Our Love

Our kisses are not the stuff of movie magic.
Our embraces do not make heart-sick teens swoon.
Our banter will never trend #relationshipgoals.

But when you send our toddling daughter,
grinning with mischief,
into the bathroom where I’m trying
to have just one moment of privacy
(on the toilet!)
and I hear you laughing like a madman outside the door,
I know you’re really saying, “I love you.”

The fire’s no longer pulsing with the blue heat of newly ignited romance.
The fresh-felled logs of youth are drier and more brittle.
The burn is slow and perhaps

But the embers are keeping.

And when I wish for the passion of a green heart unmarred
by the constancy and lunacy of such a thing as marriage,
when I yearn for the fireworks of decades past, I look
into the steady glow of our unremarkable love and find

For where else but within the confines of an unremarkable marriage can
a bowel movement spoiled
become a moment of sparking flame leaping
with joy, lit with magnificence against the backdrop of a starry sky?



Hush now –
do you hear it?
There’s a melody beneath the ink.
There’s a song in your pen.

Lay out the words
but it’s only half done.
The music needs uncovering.

It dwells under your touch.
It sinks into your skin,
closer than your heart.

It’s humming up behind you.

Hush now. Be still.
Be patient.
Let it flow and
do not wait to see the notes
and fail to hear the sweetness
of chords dripping with abundant “Yes!”
to your words.

They strike your ear hard
pounding out a beat so ancient
so new
so joyful to be free of that voiceless place
where unspoken thoughts
go to die.

My Labyrinth Walk

Tonight I walked a labyrinth.

I first learned about labyrinths in seminary, and have wanted to walk one for years, and yet somehow I never have.

Tonight our pastor explained that some people like to view the labyrinth journey as one towards self-awareness, towards an inner understanding and union with God within. The journey towards the center can be viewed as a walk of petition, seeking guidance and accompaniment from God. The journey outward can be a walk of praise and thanksgiving, celebrating God’s presence in your life.

So I started in, full of expectation and hope for the spiritual awareness that was surely to arise deep within me…. and nothing happened. Step by step I trod, waiting expectantly for the awareness of the Spirit, for some divine revelation, for some knowledge of what I was going to get out of this experience. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I felt crowded. My personal space was invaded by quite a few women like me who also wanted to walk the labyrinth, meaning that through the twists and turns we were often turning sideways to avoid collisions, breathing in each other’s perfume, staring at each other’s bare feet.

Sometimes I don’t like people very much, which is quite ironic for a pastor. I’m an introvert. I often view spiritual activities as solitary activities. I wanted very much to find peaceful union and contemplation with God on my own on my labyrinth journey, and yet here were all these other people, walking and breathing and thinking and existing around me. It was very distracting.

So I started praying. God, help me discover what you want me to find. I focused on repeating the prayer a few times. A few steps later, a clear answer resonated within me. Seek me. Seek me. Seek me. With each step, I felt thus instructed.

So I started seeking. And suddenly, the Spirit was there. I could feel God in the soles of my feet as I strode across the canvas of the transportable labyrinth. I could sense God in the pleasant smell of the oil diffuser placed delicately out of the way. I could feel God in the gentle rhythm of my bones with each step I took. My body became aware of God’s presence, but my mind was still rejecting the bodies of the women around me.

Seek me. Seek me. Seek me.

I kept walking.

I don’t know how it happened, but by the time I was about to enter the center of the labyrinth, a realization hit me with heart-sinking shame: the bodies around me were not distractions from God. The bodies around me were God. God incarnate, the imago dei, all around me. It was as if Jesus himself suddenly appeared to me on my way to Emmaus, and I was shocked to learn he had been there all the while. And I had vainly and selfishly tried to push him away.

My sisters and I gathered in the center, forming a wordless circle, breathing in union, existing with God together.

And on the journey out, as I began walking, I felt a clear resonating mantra: The ground of your being is found on the journey.

I didn’t even know I was seeking the ground of my being. But I felt such immense relief in knowing where to find it.

You see, I’ve been feeling rootless lately. I’ve been in discernment regarding my call to ministry, and I’ve had trouble seeing a clear picture of the future. I’ve been reaching and yearning for a certainty, an end point, something I can look at and cling to and say, “This is my purpose in the world.” So God’s response on that labyrinthine journey was to tell me to look around at God’s glory in the present moment, to let tomorrow take care of itself, and to remember I do not walk alone.

May it ever be so.




The aged tea tastes the same
today as yesterday – with a squeeze
of honey. But the tulips
now, those are wilted.

More open, yes, but drooping,
the fresh clear water of last
week gone murky. Slimy.

I am older, happier, sadder, fatter
than this time last year. And
the day broke cold and rainy
this morning. But
the tea tastes the same.

Texas Homecoming

If you had asked me that morning, I don’t think I could have told you what Possum Kingdom State Park looked like. I knew from family lore that I had been there, that we all had, on several occasions. I have so many memories of camping with my family throughout my childhood, so I didn’t doubt the validity of the claim. But I just couldn’t conjure the place in my memory. It was so long ago.

“If this is supposed to be Possum Kingdom, where are all the possums?” Dad asks, laughing at himself. We groan. We’ve heard that one before. “They’re nocturnal,” my sister says matter-of-factly. “That’s why you never see them.”

As we drive through the gates to the park, the memories begin to creep in. I recognize that camp store, and the playground out front. I’ve swung in those swings. I’ve walked on these paths. Driving past the cabins, I remember so vividly that early morning when a deer came down out of the hills, came right up to me as I stood so still in the fog, holding out a handful of Fritos. I thought I’d never forget the moment that deer ate out of my hand. But I haven’t thought about that in years.

“You fed a deer Fritos?” My brother the nature expert exclaims in condemning disbelief when I recall the memory. “Why would you do that?” Like an eight year old city-slicker should know better.

As we come upon the swimming beach at the lakefront, I’m flooded with the memories of swimming in that opaque brown Texas water with my siblings and cousins. So many times we swam in that lake, camping with the family for the weekend or even just on a day trip. The park is only a 45 minute drive from town, after all, the town where my mother grew up, the town we’re visiting again this weekend for my cousin’s wedding.

It’s only 90 degrees today. Warm, but not unpleasant in my shorts and t-shirt. I stand by the shore as I watch and listen to the children laughing in the lake, squealing as they push each other under. Familiar sounds. Mom lays out the blanket she got from the trunk, and we place our things on top, marking the spot as ours. Then we wade out into the lake. We didn’t bring swimsuits, or a picnic, or even anything to drink. We just came on a whim. So now we’re standing here in our bare feet among the muck and the reeds, letting the water cool our toes. We’re all together. Mom, Dad, Zach, Katy, and me, the firstborn. We stand there at the mouth of the lake together quietly remembering the times we’ve shared in that same spot many years ago.

People say places change. But nothing looks different. Everything feels the same as it did the day my bathing suit snapped in the back and I just covered up with a t-shirt and kept on swimming. We haven’t been here since Katy was probably eight or nine. Twelve years at least. Her own memories are vague, but she knows where she is. We all do. Our bodies know and recognize this place.

We make our way to the blanket where we lay down on our backs at odd angles, heads together, staring up at the bright blue sky and the hot sun. We tell stories. We laugh. We remember and smile. It’s so nice out here we could all doze off I’m sure. But the afternoon is waning and Lindsey will be getting married at the church in a few hours. We should leave. We need to shower and get ready. But I wish we could stay here forever.

People say people change. But we feel the same to me. We’re five adults now, but in my mind we’ll always be Mom, Dad, and the three kids. It’s a bittersweet feeling, laying on that blanket and listening to the sounds of my family’s breathing and laughing. These are my people, the ones I am so connected to by blood and DNA and personality traits and history and memories. I live far away now. I forget what it’s like to come home. We are inextricable from each other.  It’s a rare thing for us all five to be together, without spouses, or partners, or extended family, or friends. Just us. Us as we’ve been together a thousand times in restaurants, at home, camping, road tripping. Just us as we are right now in this moment. And it can’t last forever. It makes me sad. And yet I’m also so very happy.

The Wish

Your wish has been granted.

Of course, you don’t know that your wish has been granted because that was the condition of the wish. You got your wish but you don’t get to know you got your wish.

This is because your wish has not been wished for yet.

Let me explain. You were old. You were coming to the end of your life. And you had many regrets. So many things you would have done differently, if only you had known. You were full of so much remorse.

In 2014, you had so many chances to take a stand. You could have lifted your voice against violence and oppression against women. Or you could have rallied and marched for economic justice. Or you could have said no to the death penalty by making calls and writing letters. Or you could have worked for marriage equality, challenging and defeating the exclusivist wrongs of your beloved Church.

So many causes that now seem like the stuff of legend. Your children and their children and their children read about the history you lived like you once read about slavery, Vietnam, and the Civil Rights Movement.

You wish you could tell them you were a part of it. You wish you had made history.

But you didn’t. You stayed quiet. You followed the rules of the oppressor. You kept your nose clean.

Did you know what was happening? Maybe. Maybe not.

Now, everyone looks back on that time and thinks of those who did not act, “How could they not have known? How could they not have done something?”

And today you realized you have failed. You have failed to be obedient to God. You have failed to be the model you wanted your children to follow. You have said nothing, done nothing. You didn’t know it then, but those issues were reshaping your world. Maybe you were scared. Maybe you were just apathetic, or too concerned with your own private sphere of consumption to notice the changes the bravest men and women were ushering in with the dawning of the age of peace.

And now you are so damn old. Too damn old to do anything about your shame.

But I’m here to tell you that your wish has been granted! My sole purpose is to let you know that you have been given a second chance! It is the spring 2014 and you are here. You are challenged by your wish granter to be bolder and braver than the last time. You have been given the opportunity to live your life for justice and peace, so that you may tell your children and their children the stories that make the legends that fill us all with hope that things might one day be better.

Your wish has been granted.

Will you take advantage of it?



Where are we?

It’s the first day of FALL!

I’ve been hesitant to embrace an early fall this year, mostly because I wasn’t quite prepared for summer to end when the rest of the world decided to end it. (Damn you Starbucks and your pumpkin spice lattes.) It was still warm, so I was still wearing shorts and craving iced tea and swimming and backyard barbecues. I didn’t want to let it go!

But now everything has changed. I awoke this morning and my body said, “Shelby, it’s time. Your favorite season of all is upon us.”

So I got up on this lazy Sunday morning full of autumnal yearning. After sleeping in and skipping church, (because I’m young, not yet ordained, and can still get away with doing that. Gotta enjoy it while it lasts), I made a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip pancakes.
pumpkin pancakes

And now I’m sitting here in the living room, sort of watching the Titan’s game, but really just basking in the fall sunshine streaming through the windows, and I’m thinking about the year so far.

2013. It’s been a whirlwind of a year. I say that every year, but really, I have been challenged in my personal, academic, and social life this year more than ever before. And I don’t think I’m alone. So many of my peers, friends, family, and loved ones have expressed similar surprise at the difficulty the year has brought. There have been wonderful things happening right along side the hard stuff (isn’t that always the case?), and it’s good to remember those things when we’re just feeling so exhausted and down trodden and ready for a new phase of existence.

So I got to thinking about that list. That “25” list I so ambitiously set about accomplishing many moons ago.

Let’s review:

1) Begin a blog to document my experiences this year.
For a beginning blogger, I think I’ve done pretty well with this one! I’m by no means a regular blogger, but that’s okay, because I am a full-time student with four part-time jobs and a LIFE so I am not really feeling bad about not posting everyday.

2) Learn to play Debussy’s Clair de Lune perfectly, from beginning to end.
Ummmm. This has not happened. Let’s just be honest: This is not going to happen. I can play the first page. That’s progress. And I’m proud of myself.

3) Go skydiving.
Still on the to-do list. I think there is a strong possibility I can get it done before 2014, I just have to be intentional about finding time to do it!

4) Write (and actually finish) a short story to be published here for your pleasure and feedback.
I have one in the works. I hope you like it. Wish I could tell you when to expect it, but I just don’t know. These things have to happen in their own time.

5) Train for and complete a half marathon.
Well…. I did one last year, will that count? I still have time to do one in December if I start training now…

6) Hike 20 miles of the Appalachian Trail.
This may have been a reach.

7) Take 12 photos of 12 amazing places.
1. Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, Nashville, TN
2. Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, NV
3. Love Circle, Nashville, TN
Love Circle
4. Salisbury Cathedral (Salisbury, Wiltshire, England)
Salisbury Cathedral
5. The ruins of Old Sarum, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
Old Sarum
6. Platform 9 3/4!
Platform 9
7. Vanderbilt Divinity School, Nashville, TN

I have five photos left to take of amazing places!

8) Complete 1 round of golf… no cheating.
Haven’t even had the chance to cheat, just haven’t gone. Need to rectify this immediately before it is too cold!

9) Go deep sea fishing.
Nope. Went to the beach TWICE, and still didn’t do this. Still want to. Next year?

10) Begin learning Spanish.
Have taken no serious steps in this direction. Bad Shelby.

11) Rock climb at Climb Nashville.
Nope. Waiting for a groupon or amazon living deal to pop up.

12) Gamble in Las Vegas.
I did that! It was great! See previous post.

13) Tackle the Titan.
I’m concerned about this one. I read recently that there was a serious accident resulting in a woman’s death on the Texas Giant. Not sure how I can get myself on the Titan right next to the Giant after that.

14) Consume an all vegetarian diet for one month.
I have been part-time pescatarian since watching Food Inc. with L in Vegas. If I’m going to do the vegetarian thing for a full month, I need to start now, because the holidays will be VERY hard to resist.

15) Picnic on Love Circle.
Yep! Had delicious food and wonderful company. So romantic!
love picniclove picnic 2

16) Create a backyard vegetable garden.
This one was fun. I was so excited to see actual life springing forth from the ground I had worked so hard to prepare. But so were all the wildlife in my neighborhood, so I didn’t get to enjoy much. At least someone did.

17) Dye my hair an unnatural color.
Purple, yo.


18) Be an extra on ABC’s Nashville.
I don’t know whether to count this or not. I got dressed up for the season 1 finale taping (CMA Awards episode), I got to the set, I waited, I waited, I waited… I never got on. I waited four hours, and they never called any extras back. So I had to leave because I had other things to do that day. But here’s the proof I was there at least. Maybe I can get on for season 2 before the year is up…

19) Eat fish and chips in England this summer. (Thank you Vanderbilt Divinity School!)
Did it, it was awesome. Sorry, no picture.

20) Learn how to make paper.
Not yet.

21) Make a t-shirt quilt.
Not yet. Christmas gift for S maybe?

22) Make and carry homeless “care” bags in my car. Each bag will have necessities and a list of resources that I can hand to neighbors who might need them.
Have not done this. Winter is coming, and with winter months comes Room in the Inn. So maybe I can get this done.

23) Read the entire New Testament in one month.
I plead the fifth. As a graduate student in theology, I read too much about the New Testament, not so much of the New Testament itself. But I think December might be a good month to attempt this feat as classes will end and I will get a much needed break.

24) Boat down and camp on a Tennessee River.
NEED FRIENDS TO DO THIS WITH! C, I’m looking at you!

25) Make one new friend each month.
Ok, Ok, I’m not social. So sue me. I have friends.