A Journey into the new year…..hope, perseverance, new beginnings uncovered on the streets of New York City


FullSizeRender (22)

I am standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway on New Year’s Eve. It is almost 12 noon. In twelve hours the ball will drop one block from here, the iconic symbol of a new year, a new start, a tradition I remember first watching on a black and white 20 inch television screen over fifty years ago.

There are two schools of thought if one should be standing here this day.

One bent comes from one who protects these streets, and has been diligently for the past 72 hours that I have been in this city.

“If you want to be herded in here like cattle, not able to eat, drink or pee for this next 12 hours, then do it.  My advice: watch it on TV.”


The other bent stems from those who crowd these streets. Those pulled magnetically to this city of promise and hope for years for the same reason: to leave all behind and to start over in hope, a fresh start. Lady Liberty a few miles down the street has drawn millions to her torch with the same pull, drawing in those who speak Italian and Spanish and Indian and Chinese and Haitian. Those who sell handbags under awnings and 2016 glasses on street corners. Those who get caricatures drawn and wave American flags and take selfies on the corner with the Empire State Building, lit up in its Christmas colors, behind them.


This city, this ball drop has ushered in new hope for decades.

Even though helicopters hover above, barricades block streets, bodies lined ten deep line up to go through security screenings, no bags in hand, this ball will drop.  The year’s past shadows will not hinder this light’s descent.


6000 police officers line the blocks, grouped on every corner. 

FullSizeRender (32)

Some revelers are dishing out $50 a ticket from the Comedy Club Central hawking promises of a view, others have dished $5000 for champagne in a penthouse suite to witness this spectacle. Most will wait for the confetti party shoulder to shoulder in the streets right there in the middle of the square.

Naysayers say, “Why would you stand in line for 12 hours to watch a ball drop for 60 seconds.  It’s just a ball”.

The one million that gather here say differently.  Not just a ball.

A promise of hope.

A promise of a fresh start.


A spirit of courage, despite the terrors of the past year push the masses on from all across the country and the world towards the crystal beacon of a new beginning.


Twelve hours later, we sidestep from our restaurant like Aladdin through city blocks, bodies, and barricades, towards the ball, the epicenter of the new year, where thousands have lined up along the streets that radiate to the center, even blocks away. Our room key to the hotel on the corner is the lucky ticket past the barriers.


On the corner of 41st and 7th, barricades keep the crowds from the intersection where  crowds have lined up for hours for the view behind the ball. Sometimes the route to what you want is through the back. Even from backside the crowds stand and push toward the center, for just a glimpse of the crystal ball from any angle.

“Please, please, officer,” begs an Indian man, his family behind him, “please just a few feet more, we just want to see, we just want to see.”


The officer relents a few inches, but as the crowds push in, he stops.  “That’s enough,” he says, “I’m trying to be nice, but you keep pushing in!”

In the swarm families and couples huddle together, fathers hold up their children. I hear Italian. I hear Japanese. I hear French. I hand my noisemaker to a little Indian boy wearing a spiderman hat, another NYC symbol. I hear a wife whisper to her husband “It’s ok we’re in the back. This is as close as we are going to get. This is a once in a lifetime thing.”


“Please, please”, the man begs again, “let us get closer.”

“Look up!” I say to him. “It’s right there.”

FullSizeRender (34)

The 2,688 sparkling waterford crystals of the ball shine towering two blocks above us, and to a throng of shouts its multicolor facets begin its descent.

The crystal ball drops, and fireworks usher in the new year.  The Behind the Scenes crowd doesn’t see the flashing signs, but from the fireworks and cheers we know the new year has begun.  The policemen who themselves were enthralled by the spectacle now remove the barriers and let the crowds into the streets. 2016 is here.


Hours later we ascend to the highest point in NYC, the One World Observatory, where, 104 floors up we catch a different perspective of Times Square and all the iconic points of New York City.


Familiar outlines lay before me from this height, yet my eyes are drawn to one place below the foot of the tower. It is the square of the green around of St. Paul’s Chapel. the church where not one window was broken the day the Twin Towers fell, protected by an old sycamore tree in the cemetery. The chapel that served as a sanctuary for recovery workers after 9/11.  The chapel that serves as a memorial of photos and police and fire insignias.  The chapel that survived the Great Fire of 1776.

Surrounding this small chapel are the signs of fresh starts and new beginning.  The skeleton of the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, the Oculus, rises at the corner. 

FullSizeRender (24)

The squares of the two Memorial Fountains that commemorate the towers of the World Trade Center lay distinctly below.


I descend to the south tower fountain. A white rose marks a name.  A white rose, a symbol of remembrance and new beginnings. Somber reminders of loss and pain and destruction are beneath every footstep on these grounds. Standing here on this New Year’s Day of 2016 testifies what can be made new from the ashes of suffering.

“Suffering shakes us to the core…leaves you vulnerable and exposed….gives you a sense of your own limitations…In this new year we look back on what has shaped us, we look forward to what is ahead, we look up for strength and guidance, and we look down to examine our own hearts….”

In the quiet pew of Redeemer Church two days later these words are spoken into the tranquil sanctuary.

FullSizeRender (25)

Outside these walls, down the streets this city continues its pace into the new year.

The sky is blue and crisp and fresh this Sunday morning.  Sunlight casts golden on brownstones and barren trees.


Across the street Central Park is bathed in this light.  Only a few days ago, my son asked his lovely girlfriend to be his wife on the terrace of Bethesda Fountain.


The other day in Chelsea Market she found a photograph of the fountain taken on a winter day in the 1930’s.  “Did you know the story behind this fountain?” she asks me with her beautiful smile. “The Bethesda Fountain is named for the pool in the Bible where people came to be healed.”

Healing.  Restoration.  New beginnings.


As my flight ascends into the night sky that evening the places trodden these few days outline below me……Times Square, Central Park, and at the tip of the peninsula, the One World Tower.  Barely perceptible in the shadow of the bay is a faint figure.  The Statue of Liberty.

Her torch of hope a speck of light shining in the darkness.

FullSizeRender (27)

Photo credits: Daniel Mogg, Vina Mogg

standing the test of time


It is a perfect autumn day. The late afternoon sun casts a golden glow on the southern plantation bathed in fall colors. A single giant oak stands as the altar for the young couple that will be joined in marriage on this day. The gathering of family and friends stand as the beautiful young bride crosses the field on the arm of her father towards the young man that will become her husband. The afternoon sunbeams reflect her smile as she approaches her groom beneath the towering oak that has stood the test of time.


It is fitting that this couple should be joined together under this oak, for as the first Psalm promises, their promises to each other today are based on their own delight in each other and in the law of The Lord. And His blessing on this day permeates the entire ceremony and celebration that follows. For who cannot help but celebrate this love that exudes promise and hope, completeness and joy.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But His delight is the law of The Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.
Psalm 1:1-3


My firstborn son stands at the altar beside the groom and his brothers. They have been best friends since they were two years old. And yes both young men have had life and limb shaken up at times in their 23 years of life together. They have buried awkward moments, and now branch out to begin careers that travel in different directions. But their steadfastness of friendship and faith stand as firm as the oak they stand under as this young man makes the biggest commitment of his life.


Earlier that morning my son jokes about hitting his first home run off the groom on the pitcher’s mound in Little League. Now he laughs at how the nervous young groom paces back and forth, taking deep breaths moments before the ceremony. Later my son turns to me with a smile, saying he has never seen his friend so happy.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

These shared moments of laughter and commitment branch out into this gathering of friends surrounding this family. For during the time that these two young men built a friendship over legos and big wheels so did their mothers forge a lasting friendship over playdates and Happy Meals. The circle of families that bond on this first of many upcoming wedding days span 23 years of friendship, compile 135 years of marriage, and fifteen children.  We have stood shoulder to shoulder in the delivery room of our babies and at the gravesite of our loved ones.  We have clapped at preschool programs and applauded college acceptance letters.  We have consulted about high school dating and about the best ways to care for aging parents. We have cheered at little league games and dance recitals. We have logged late nights of tragedies and tears and episodes of Downton Abbey. We have brought each other casseroles and chocolate at just the right time. We have studied God’s Word together.


My prayer for this young couple is that they too will have friendships that stand firm in times of fruitfulness and abundance and as well of times of withering and loss when all we want to do is shrivel up and shrink away.

In coming years I hope in times of celebration our kids will continue to shout out and jump together for joy as they have on the dance floor this evening. When times are darker and colder than this freezing southern night I hope they warm and comfort each other with words of encouragement.

At the end of the celebration the young couple run into the darkness under an arch of sparklers. Friends and brothers hoop and holler out as they venture into their new life together as man and wife. As they huddle together on this night of promise may this group of lifelong companions be the next generation of light and love in a world that yearns for more….

Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving message into the night……
Philippians 2:16, the Message









Things made new

20140425-172656.jpg Birth days.

Days to celebrate life.

Life that gives hope and promise and new beginnings.

Life born out of pain and received in joy and love

Three birth days celebrated in past weeks– my daughter’s sixteenth, my joy, my heart,

born sixteen years ago out of intense labor pain

the same pain my mother bore for me.

My mother’s 90th birthday celebrated days later

and a few days after that,

the most joyous of days to celebrate new birth born out of pain… Easter.

On Easter morning we sing this song ,a song that embraces the beauty born out of pain:

All this pain

I wonder if I’ll ever find my way

I wonder if my life could really change at all

All this earth

Could all that is lost ever be found

Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of the dust

You make beautiful things You make beautiful things out of us

-Beautiful Things by Gungor


In its hard barren things that we come across

buried under daily happenings

grief, sorrow, isolation, loneliness,

somehow out of these broken things

in this dust a garden arises

photo (8)







Out of chaos life is being found in you….

After a week of creative chaos

celebratory chaos–

Two milestone birthdays and Easter–

all reasons to celebrate life…

life at the beach celebrating sixteen year old wonders… IMG_2595 life around balloons and birthday cake celebrating the wonder of turning 90… 20140425-165251.jpg life around the table celebrating the wonder of eternal life on resurrection Sunday

… the chain of worry, of planning, controlling, perfecting is broken by the cross on Easter.

The joy of life replaces darkness.

The light of love shatters all, breaks the hold that daily worries and fears have over me. photo (7) Symbols of new life were placed around the house–



bread broken on Holy Thursday


a cross from Jerusalem

a painting of an olive tree in Gethsemane 20140425-165314.jpg Do these symbols that take a place in my home take place in my heart?

When I share the broken bread with each of my children, I remember the broken places in my heart–

the places that watch my mom diminish from Alzheimer’s

the places of her failing life chipping away at mine

the places that slowly ebb away at my life that could render me drowning in sorrow

until I choose to remember that out of pain comes something new.

Could all that is lost ever be found

Could a garden come up from this ground at all 20140425-172754.jpg Mom’s memories are becoming lost. At times she struggles to remember our names. She could not comprehend it was her birthday. She did not know she was 90. Yet the things that are lost are replaced with a joy in the moment. In beauty in each moment. In complete and wondrous joy in the bouquet of flowers I brought to her on her birthday. In the the joy of hearing the sentiments of loved ones I read to her from Facebook wishing her a happy birthday. In singing “Happy Birthday to Me” as she blew candles from a cake as her caregivers and family friends gathered around her.

Mom loves gardens. She loves flowers. In her brief walks around the neighborhood she loves to study the different flowers and comment how beautiful they are. Though much is lost, much is found in the beauty in each moment that she chooses to see. In the color of the flowers. In the sound of music played on piano keys. In the faces of her grandchildren. 20140428-105247.jpg And on Easter, when we sing this song of new life, of things being made new, made beautiful out of dust

its words are a balm to my parched soul, weary of this journey.

For all of us are being made new in these lessons of caregiving of walking daily with someone who lives only in the present and only sees the good, the beautiful in each moment.

Life in the middle–

now the mother of a sixteen year old daughter

and the daughter of a ninety year old mother

in the midst of adolescent giggles and ninety year old stubbornness

there is beauty and things are being made new.

Places we are marked are the places that allow us to touch others. Pain carves deep etchings into our soul places marked by loss, hurt, places we did not expect to be.

I did not expect this this place of mothering my mother at the same time mothering my daughter, this place where I savor the quiet moments of sharing secrets once shared with my own mother

secrets about love, about being loved, about being comfortable in your own skin about loving yourself fully so that you can love others fully

secrets my mother may have never communicated verbally but demonstrated daily.

Hope is springing up from this old ground…

You make me new, You are making me new

You make me new, You are making me new 20140425-165215.jpg I don’t comprehend all the things I am learning from this journey

Each day I am weary from the length and its constant presence. But along this old ground, this path I’ve trod for years

I look for places where hope springs up…

A sweet smile, a tender hug, a “thank you for taking care of me”…

and I am made new.   20140425-172634.jpg



I took a Chinese painting class last week, a completely new learning experience. Everything about it was new, the types of paints, the brushes, how you hold the brush, the type of paper, how you load the brush with paint. A new way to paint. A new way to look at things.

Many times the teacher said, “In Chinese painting, don’t worry about detail. You want to capture the essence. If you make mistake, let it happen. See where it goes. Don’t try to fix it.”

His Chinese paintings were so beautiful and simple. I asked him to paint a peony for me. In a few brushstrokes, he captured the essence of this flower I love so much. So beautiful, so simple. In such few strokes, such few colors, he created something that moved me to tears.

Why did something so simple move me to tears? With a few strokes of a brush, this artist connected to my soul. He laughed at my tears, saying, “You make more tears, I make more beautiful flower.”

So here it is, a peony by artist Lian Quan Zhen.


Simple strokes, use of pure colors, light touch. Suggestion. Not all details.

Mixed in with painting lessons, life lessons.

Don’t force things. Let them be as they are.

Many things in your life you don’t understand. You do it first, then you understand.

Sometimes you give up things to get things.

After years of raising four children, my mind is not wired to think this way. There are many years of attempted control and order to reverse. Yet in this changing season of letting go, relinquishing control, I see the beauty of giving up things to get things. The peace of not forcing things and letting them happen. The joy of letting my grown children be as they are and blossom in their gifts.

The gift of living with someone with Alzheimer’s also teaches, for she sees things in the present, life in the small things. Through her I learn to see beauty in the shell, in the external that capsules what is hidden inside.

To see the essence, the purity of heart and soul now masked my amalagous plaques tangling the brain rendering captive the expression, the language, the emotions that once captured and endeared this person to the hearts of many.

The essence. Look at the essence.

The true beauty of this being.
Through my art I hope to see clearly the things I love. The flowers familiar, landscapes and seascapes that heal my soul. Look deeply into them unmasked.

And in turn trust that the things I see are true.

Then, lightly, I will touch the paper with brush and ink, not force what I see, not try to control it.

Instead let it happen,

And capture only essence.




The sun was setting, and in the distance

a curtain of rain

veiled a rainbow.

A pocket of clouds lay just beyond.

A whisper of hope veiled in the clouds.

A promise that everything would be ok.

We had just come from a service where a husband and three kids the ages of my children had said goodbye to their mother.

Their mother, now with unveiled face, healed from her cancer and resting in the arms of Jesus.

Their mother, whose greatest wish conveyed throughout the service is that her children would remain steadfast in Him.

I walked along the shore with my only daughter only hours after that service, my reflections mirrored in this veil

these words from Corinthians coming to mind as I imagined what is must be like to say goodbye to my children

But we, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 2:13

My friend is healed, beholding the Glory of the Lord.

And those of us left here somehow, after a glimpse of His glory behind the veil are left to be transformed into the same image, from glory to glory….

In the Greek, glory, doxa, one definition translates to this:

splendor, brightness

  • of sun, moon and stars.
  • magnificence, excellence, preeminence, dignity, grace
  • majesty…a thing belonging to God.

In the dusk of that evening,

I reflect that my friend belongs to God
I reflect on the dignity and grace of her last days

the sun reflects in the sky and the moon rises

and my daughter
reaches beneath the moon, reaches forward, reaches for new possibilities… hope


I wonder why some of us are left behind, and some of us are taken
and see how there is too much transforming left to do
so I too
will reach beyond myself
reach forward, stretching to places uncomfortable and unknown

and someday, when all is unveiled
I will behold His glory
and understand


double exposure

This has been a season of extremes, ones recorded in front and behind the lens of a camera. These extremes were precipitated by two questions, by two calls I had always wanted to answer but never had the courage to follow through. A contest. A writing workshop. I gathered up the courage to formulate two answers. I prepared two responses that would change my life.

The first question loomed at me from the pages of MORE magazine in a contest I had been wanting to enter for ten years but never did. This year I abandoned the fear and answered. So in this question, “What makes me beautiful, more now than ever?” I search for the truth of what beauty means to me. I write words, words that reflect the complexity and beauty in this season of my 50 something life:

The joys of motherhood, raising four beautiful children
The commitment to caring for my mother with Alzheimer’s living in my home
The pain and joy and moments entwined in both
Pain and sorrow, joy and laughter meshed together to create something beautiful, birthing something new out of parts that have been crushed.

I press send.

And that transmission begins a transformation. Transformation, initiated through words. 300 to be exact. 300 words about beauty, joy, grief, pain mixed with the healing of painting, boxing, writing to release all going on inside.

Sharing these words lands me in a studio for MORE. Exposing my life in a few vulnerable words now brings me exposed before the lens of a camera.

photo (18)

The photographer, Ari, encourages me out of me my nervousness. Before this moment, standing open before the camera, there was a lot of anticipation and excitement and preparation in the studio: meeting the editors and publisher of MORE, choosing and trying on designer clothes off the rack, sitting in front of the vanity, having perfect shades of makeup and nails applied, taming my wild mane with the stylist. I laugh when I ask Mark, the stylist, “What look are you going for?” He answers, “Tina Turner.” Perfect. Her look, her strength, her killer legs. Let’s go for it. Let’s go rolling on this river.

photo  shoot

It was easy to present this look, but a little harder to project it. Slowly Ari coaxes life out of me, brought to life in a Valentino lace dress that I absolutely love and Steve Madden heels. Tousled hair, wind machines, polished make up and nails complete the metamorphosis. Uncomfortable at first I listen to the music playing, slowly relax. As I relax, I’m able to look straight into the lens of the camera.

That’s when I feel most myself. Looking right into the camera, praying the lens would reveal what is inside me, not only my beautiful transformed self that is giddy with the thrill of flaunting designer clothes, stumbling in stilettos, having my hair blown out and shaped in big rollers and makeup and nails flawlessly done. I’m in awe of the process of becoming outwardly beautiful, not only for me, but for the other three contest winners. I am aware from their smiles and their eyes that their beauty comes from within before we even exchange words. I’m moved by their stories, also brought here by words of beauty and pain and perseverance. I’m moved by the fast bond we share in sharing this dream experience together.

photo (29)

So I keep looking, looking, looking into the eye of the lens hoping it will reveal
the innermost me, altered by joy and sorrow, made stronger by both. Yet this outward transformation sparks a self-assured, more confident me, confident to stand tall in these 4-inch heels and truly, fully smile from the renewal I feel inside.

photo (17)

After all the excitement of the shoot, another photographer, Matt, takes a shot of me in my robe, in the background, waiting. “You look so wistful and pensive. What are you thinking about?” he asks.

“I’m trying to hold on to this moment,” I say.

He smiles.

A snapshot of a moment I will preserve.

Three months later, another snapshot. This time, on the other side of a camera lens. I stand 5000 miles away from the studio in Brooklyn on the shore of Katmai National Park in Alaska.

photo (27)

I am here because of my answer to the second call; another transmission of carefully chosen words has secured me a spot in a wilderness writing workshop near Kodiak. Two commercial jets, a prop plane, a bush plane, a 25 ft skiff, and a 4 seat float plane have transported me to a remote tide flat where a river meets the Shelikof Strait off the Alaskan coast.  I am wearing three day old jeans, three-day-old hair, no makeup, and hip wading boots. Behind the lens of a camera, I am observing life as it unfolds in the wild, watching Alaskan brown bears in their in their natural habitat, no platform or fence between us.

photo (32)

A mother bear and cub are near each other. Resting, then cajoling with each other. The guide says the cub is three; he’s surprised he’s still there. By three they are usually on their own, kicked out. Why do they kick them out I ask. So they can continue mating.

I laugh at that ritual, considering the lengths it takes to mate with my husband of 32 years with teenagers and my mother in my home. Maybe I should kick them all out.

photo (24)

For two hours we watch the bears in their habitat. Beautiful, powerful, just going about their everyday business, wandering up and down the stream searching for food… a salmon dance. They eye movement in the stream, then rush over and crush the movement with their heavy paws, Playfully they grasp the salmon in those same life crushing paws and chomp it in their mouth, wild salmon ritually swimming upstream from the ocean, pushing against the current, traveling miles and miles to lay their eggs then die.

photo (26)

There is evidence of death everywhere here in this wilderness. But as I stand only 30 feet from this brown bear I am not afraid. I am only a bystander of this life behind the lens. Though only steps away from its powerful jaws I continue to watch. As I step across the soft silt sand of the riverbed, I look down at my feet. Even on the ground there is evidence of this cycle of life and death. There perfectly curled in the sand is the entire skeleton of a salmon. It reminds me of an old Indian carving or etching, the kind that fascinated me as a young girl growing up in the northwest. The Indians faced life and death and recorded it all in beautiful etchings…imprints of their daily life.

photo (28)

Here in my hip wader boots I record imprints of this life, preserving this experience, firing 600 photos in an attempt to capture the perfect shot of a bear in the wild. Even professional photographers have travelled for miles and for days to this very remote area to document a bear in the wild. A group of them are 100 feet in front us in camouflage, with tripods and huge 200 mm lenses. One sets his tripod on the bank. A bear plods by, only a few feet from the camera, close enough to send the pricey equipment into the water. Still and silent, we remain observers. The moment passes uneventfully. We exhale. Certainly the photographer is triumphant in capturing his images.

I laugh at the extremes we will go to capture the perfect moment… the beauty, the fierceness of a brown bear staring you in the face, when he cares nothing about you, only the salmon he wants for a snack.

salmon bear

Shivering in the dampness we continue to observe. Now the float plane is 500 yards away. Our guide must use his inflatable kayak to paddle out to the plane and coast it back to our position on the bank. The tide is quickly coming in.

hip waders

We climb into the float plane shivering and damp, exhilarated at what we had just witnessed. We scroll through what we have just captured through our lenses, thrilled at the moments of beauty we have recorded of life raw, in the the wild.

Another day we take a walk along Seven Mile beach, again recording snapshots of raw beauty in the wilderness…the shapes and forms and colors of the rocks and driftwood, the rainbows across the bay, the bear tracks in the sand, the family of seals bobbing their heads above the surf, observing us on the shore.

photo (33)

photo (34)

photo (36)At the end of the beach there lay a skeleton. 60 feet of bones, laying perfectly curled on the sand. At the moment we arrive the sun breaks through the clouds, shedding a different light on its curves, its reflection in the puddled water, still graceful and majestic.

photo (10)

A skeleton on the beach
A fin whale
The second largest whale in the ocean
Washed up on the shore intact

Flesh has rotted
Exposed bones resting on the shore in motion
Baleen that once sucked in its sustenance for life
Now scattered in chunks, in pieces on the ground

Vertebrae long and graceful winding on the ground
A silent keyboard once carried the sounds of the massive body echoing through the ocean

whale keyboard

The skeleton, the shell of who I once was
Worn down
Exposed over time and stress
And fighting the prolonging of life
Now emerges with a new song.
A new voice.

Beauty is formed from exposure to the elements of time, vulnerability, conditions we may or may not choose, as we adapt and move on, improvising and overcoming.

Exposure. Double exposure.
Both exhilarating. Both life changing. One manicured, made up, hair dolled up, blow dried, tousled by fans, dressed in Valentino and 4-inch heels. The other nails grimy, three- day-old hair blowing in the Alaskan wind, dressed in rain gear and hip waders.

Exposure unearths us beautiful, before and behind a lens, as we record the moments of life. Exposure renders us strong and powerful when we gather the courage to answer a call.

photo (20)