Tag Archives: friends

Blessings for 2017!


Kristen Cervantes is a Student Pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco, TX, while she continues her studies at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth. We have weekly conversations that help us both grow in ministry.

When Kris responded to presidential election results, she posted these wise words:

I will not despair. Or rather, I will not only despair.

At times like this I really do wish I believed in a God who is an active agent in the world. But as I think of the gut-wrenching sobs I have heard, felt, held in my body and held in the circle of my arms, in my friends’ bodies, I don’t have that solace.

I have solace in the beauty and wonder of the world we share. I have solace in the deep emotion that means deep commitment to the continued work of building the beloved community for all, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, citizenship status, ability, and all the other boxes we try to fit ourselves and others into. I have solace in the help and strength and brokenness and beauty and potential in every human body and mind and soul.

My church says it wants to ‘create a more just and loving world.’ I take solace in the knowledge that we do not stand, move, and struggle alone in this painful and difficult act of creation.

I will not despair.

The New Year is upon us! May you find your way out of despair and into community.

One day post election


Some electives post election:

My focus today will be on music, art, nature, and community. Beyond difference lies beauty. One moment, one person, one love at a time might begin to heal divisions. May we reach out to one another as best we can.

Blessings and grace to each of you, dear friends.



prepare to dive


I am diving into a three-year course of study through Formation in Direction, FIND. First assignments have us plunging into both eastern and western Christian spirituality, and into personality types (beginning with our own).

The Cloud of Unknowing, written by an anonymous Christian mystic in 14th century England, captures the state of my progress.

Unknowing whatever I thought I knew about God, the unknowable.

Unknowing whatever logic gets in the way of silence.

Unknowing where FIND will take me.

Anonymous begins this book by telling the reader not to read it aloud or copy it or quote from it. Its lessons about contemplative prayer belong to one reader at a time. Until I have read the 75 short chapters and actually followed their instructions, I cannot know the whole of it, nor can I explain it fully by sharing it in part.

How delightful! This unknowing!

As I travel this unknowable path toward an unknowable God, I will come here to this blog from time to time to drop pebbles of uncertain origin. They might help me find my way home. The stones on my desk are inscribed with individual words:





Always Say a Prayer

For now I shall claim them as my touchstones and solid companions to help me find my way home. Let the Unknowing begin!

Remembering Stuart


Stuart Williamson

A distant friend died a few days ago. Stuart Williamson was somewhat distant in miles and through infrequent contact. When I moved to Texas in 1978 it could not have been long before I met Stuart and his wife Beth, who were married 33 years.

We were all members of Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, TX. We also participated in weekend meetings of the Southwestern Conference, often three times a year for many years. Beth served the Conference as President, but Stuart was there, too, with quiet support.

Northwoods Church held a weekend camping trip on the Williamson property in Bedias, TX . We pitched our tents, enjoyed a glorious campfire, and appreciated their warm hospitality. A funny story: Bob Nugen, my first husband, and I went to bed relatively early, while others were still at the campfire. Morning reports were that Bob started snoring so loudly from our tent that neighboring livestock answered his “call.” I slept through it all.

Stuart and Beth were founders of a new congregation in Huntsville: now called Thoreau Woods Unitarian Universalist Church. I continued to see them at conferences around Texas. Occasionally I would travel to Huntsville to join others in protesting the death penalty outside the death house. The Williamsons would be there. It was particularly poignant when I knew the father of a condemned man. Karo Riddle had been a member of the church I served in Waco. His son Granville, an artist, was executed following a bar fight that went horribly wrong when he was 19. I was grateful to share his story with Stuart and Beth.

The last time I saw Stuart was in Livingston, TX, where I officiated at the memorial service for one of his fellow congregants, whom I had visited several times in a Houston hospital. Stuart and Beth were there along with family, friends, and many other members of their church. Six months later Stuart was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer that progressed rapidly. He died at home with Beth by his side as he took his last breath.

There is a lot more to know about Stuart (see his obituary). Seeing him every so often for decades impressed me with his steadfast dedication, his devotion to Beth, and their significant service to Unitarian Universalism in a small East Texas community.

Friendship does not require daily contact. In our case, encounters were infrequent but always welcome. Repetition added layers of connection.

Rest in peace, Stuart. Cherish the memories, Beth.

Love and blessings,




There’s more to an annual reunion than a collection of activities.We now live in Willis, Houston, Dallas, and Austin, so finding a weekend date is the biggest challenge.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It is a journey through time that makes the miles between us incidental.

1982, 1983, 1985, 1987, 1989: In ones and twos we joined the Montgomery County Women’s Center in various capacities. We worked at the shelter for battered women and their children; we worked with volunteers; we worked with the community; we educated ourselves and others about domestic violence.

It’s easy to understand that hitting a family member even once is not okay, much less battering over and over as some of our clients experienced. Usually it starts fairly small, with put-downs, insults, complaints, and control. I say “small,” but the effect is much greater. The person you love(d?) and who expressed love to you has special power to make you feel bad even if you have done nothing wrong. Mostly it’s blamed on a dreadful day or an appalling upbringing or frustration about money, sex, religion, or power.

Anyway, we worked at the Shelter for several years then went our separate ways. One year former staff and volunteers received an invitation to the grand opening of the new shelter. What a fine facility! Security, private quarters, food preparation, children’s services, and support for the women give them such an opportunity to make decisions for their lives. They even have transitional housing and a resale shop now!

We “ladies of the eighties” found ourselves around a table to reminisce about the old days. We did everything then. Crisis calls, transportation, intake interviews, supervision, counseling, and even food inventory filled our 12-hour shifts. An occasional batterer disturbed our sleep by pounding on the door and demanding to see someone. We knew the police on the beat, the ones who would help women get their own belongings; we knew the judges who would issue protective orders; we knew about community resources. Often only one of us was on duty at the Shelter, so we did whatever was necessary to maintain safety and a measure of normalcy.

A shared, intense experience forms a strong bond. Since that heady afternoon of remembering, we decided to meet again every year for a weekend. Some of us have been together more often, but for the annual reunion it’s worth a lot of email to find a weekend that works.

Last year was mainly a memorial reunion for one of us, Nancy Harrington, who died in a car accident on September 8, 2011. Shocking news (she was only 58) and a huge loss, but it’s even more important now that the rest of us stay in touch. Jann is the keeper of a photo album. Memories over the years have piled up: restaurants, movies, boat rides, walks and talks, homemade deliciousness. Differences in politics, religion, personality are not even part of the conversation. In fact, we are so different from one another that only the shelter brought us into the same sphere.

Illnesses, deaths, grief and loss, weight loss, job loss, relationship loss …  along with new jobs, relationships, adventures, experiences. After sharing all that it doesn’t much matter how we met. To have the support of friends who are outside your usual circle is just plain rare. Thank you all, Ellen, Gail, Jann, and Vera. Peace at last, Nancy.

Asheville, NC


On the road from Brevard, NC, Jon and I drove about 30 miles and stopped again for a visit. Our friend Janelle moved to Asheville about a year ago and has been busily remodeling a lovely home in a historic district.

The city is much bigger than Brevard and has some bigger city problems like a lot of intersecting highways with signage that works perfectly if you already know which lane you should occupy!

Janelle lives within walking distance of downtown, but since it was raining we drove up the hill several blocks and walked from there. Lots of beautiful churches along with new development–restaurants, bars, an art museum. It was a Tuesday when the historic one-screen theater has movies at half price! After a quick snack of white asparagus we bought tickets to see Monsieur Lazhar. I had seen it at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin and was glad to have a chance to see it again!

This old theater still uses reels of film. Near the end, snap!

We waited for a while until the technician admitted defeat. The film was damaged beyond simple splicing. Too much of it would have been lost. After folks got passes for a free flick (and we gave ours to Janelle) a bunch of us went back in so I could give them a summary of the ending and answer questions! It’s a good movie, so see it if you can.

We spent the night, had some homemade granola and fruit for breakfast, and went on our way a little further toward home. Thanks, Janelle, for your gracious hospitality!

Here are some pictures, mostly of the house, but a few from downtown Asheville. In the store window you can see that not all North Carolinians voted to ban same sex marriage. In her front yard she has special plant protectors that are filled with water to keep the temperature stable as plants are taking root and to keep pests out–they crawl up the side and fall into the bladders filled with water. I had never seen them before.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A new normal? Exhausting!


My favorite water coaster says, “Pretending to be a Normal Person day-after-day is exhausting.” But in a good way!

My sister Madeleine loves Austin so we try to pack in a lot of restaurants and even touristy things while she is in town. The heat was rather a welcome respite from the chill left behind in Columbus, Ohio. They had a very warm March in which everything bloomed, then a late frost killed off some of that bounty. Now they’re warming up again.

A baker’s dozen of things we did:

  1. Austin Overtures 90-minute tour with our friend Maggie who loves Austin probably more than anyone else. She knows the history and even where the bodies are buried–in the Texas State Cemetery. As it happened, everyone else on the tour that day was also from Ohio. Originally from the Cleveland area, these 7-8 friends have an annual reunion from all over the place. This year they chose Austin. We’re so glad they did!
  2. Favorite restaurants such as Magnolia, Zocalo, Galaxy, Wildflower Cafe; and pot lucks with friends.
  3. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which is absolutely bursting with spring blooms. QR Codes provided information about various sections right on my phone, either spoken or in text. I took lots of cell phone pix as well and we enjoyed browsing in the gift shop.
  4. More shopping! Madeleine needed something special for a wedding luncheon and the wedding itself. I helped her spend lots of money on some good values.
  5. A children’s orchestra performance on the plaza of the Long Center. Jon recognized Elizabeth Whitehead, their conductor, who was a friend of his daughter’s from 15 years ago. I took pictures, including one of the two of them together.
  6. Conspirare Symphonic Chorus and the Austin Symphony, conducted by Peter Bay and Craig Hella Johnson. This was a wonderful concert that included two Stowkowski interpretations of Bach (Toccata and Fugue in D Minor; and Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor).
  7. The Chorus sang Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Orchestration was mostly with woodwinds and not a single violin or viola! . . . and Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. How beautiful! A boy soprano, Lucas Revering, sang the 23rd Psalm in Hebrew. It was dramatically interrupted by the chorus breaking into a furious “Why do the nations rage?” Then the boy’s clear voice came back in and sang, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Familiar text added to the effect.
  8. Lost cell phones! Madeleine literally lost hers somewhere. We retraced our destinations as soon as we could, to no avail. She was eligible for an upgrade so it cost her about $1 plus some angst. On the very same day, my iPhone completely died! It’s only 2 months old, but even Apple’s Genius Bar expert said it gave her an error message she had never seen before. They gave me a new phone, but I lost the day’s pictures from the Wildflower Center. Fortunately, Jon had emailed himself some of the pix of him with Elizabeth Whitehead so those were safe in cyberspace. Phone contacts were restored through iCloud.
  9. Tapestry Singers concert! It was wonderful, if I say so myself. Since I was concert co-coordinator I was grateful all the logistics went rather smoothly. A great committee makes a world of difference. This year we added colorful scarves to the basic black and we added a Scarf Diva to the concert committee. Well done, Sonya! Excellent conducting Jenn Goodner; sound by Tom Johnson of AltaVistaRecording.com. We eagerly await the polished recording. Already we enjoyed watching the video of the concert at our after-party. It was fun to sing our favorite parts again and to laugh at our missteps. (Literally: Mary missed a step and fell, though she is just fine.) Musical mistakes are not nearly so noticeable in the video as they had loomed in our minds!
  10. Tapestry Singers were joined beautifully by Westlake High School’s Chamber Women’s Choir, also directed by Jenn Goodner; and the Westlake Middle School Choir, directed by our accompanist Andrea Snouffer. Each choir sang one song and they all came up for the encore. Over 100 voices sang another favorite, “For Good,” from the musical Wicked. (“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, but … because I knew you … I have been changed … for good.”)
  11. More shopping! I had borrowed Madeleine’s new skirt for the concert and decided I liked it well enough to get one of my own. The ruffles make it swing nicely. I also found a crocheted top that will look great over a camisole.
  12. The Bakery Jam! We topped off Madeleine’s visit with my weekly musical jam. It was something of a house-warming, too, in the newly remodeled home of one of the Jamsters. Sheryl was thrilled to have us fill her home with joy, laughter, and best of all, music.
  13. Up around 4am Monday morning to get to the airport in time for Security Follies. Even with a doctor’s note about her fake knee, she always has to be patted down :~) … Love and hugs as she goes away for a while. We are already planning our next get-together.

Now I’m just waiting to know she landed safely back in Columbus (she did). A wonderful week and new memories. Plus, I recorded her telling some family stories from long, long ago. Deviled eggs, pie and ice cream also made this week heavenly and special.

Two full days later and Jon and I are about to hit the road to visit friends in North Carolina. More travel tales await!

Wrap Up


This has been such a busy week that I haven’t had time to write until now, a full week into May!

My sister Madeleine arrived from Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, April 26–right on Jon’s and my 15th wedding anniversary. We enjoyed a nice TexMex dinner on a garden patio. Lovely plants, water features, and fans kept us cool at Vivo. Good food, too!

The weekend was awesome with a fantastic service and sendoff from Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church. Love that congregation! Love the friends and family members who came just for that final service. Some “Loose Threads” and other members of Tapestry Singers came to join the choir in singing “Seasons of Love.” (The one about “Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes . . . how do you measure a year in the life . . . how about love?”

Lots of hugs and love from people of all ages. I will miss the children and youth most especially. It is such a blessing to watch them grow up and mature year after year. They are now frozen in time in my mind’s eye. Adults don’t change nearly so rapidly, but they, too, have filled my memory bank for years to come as they are now.

Already the congregation anticipates the arrival of an Interim Minister who will assist with multiple transitions, both personal and congregational, beginning August 1. Meanwhile, lay led teams have been doing wonderful work in preparing to cover the 3 months in between. It’s exciting to imagine the changes going on already!

Now my key ring is lighter and my email has dropped to a manageable level. No complaints there!

Ever wonder what happens to your trash?


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


You can throw it away and forget about it. Maybe you’ll recycle it. You’ll see someone throw a plastic cup out the car window and wonder about her/his character. You notice trash in a park and sometimes you pick it up for disposal. You see someone going through a dumpster and recoil just a tiny bit.

Streets are pretty clean in Delhi as big cities go, but not all the trash is carried away in large trucks. However, private contractors are taking away a big source of revenue from the poorest of the poor: the waste pickers. You might have seen them going through dumpsters or picking up trash alongside roads and buildings. It’s not food they’re after, though a piece of fruit might be a bonus. They’re looking for recyclables like plastic, cardboard, clothing, fabric and metal. They are not beggars or thieves—they are simply trying to eke out a living on the margins of society.

Not exactly number one on most tourist itineraries are the dumps out on the fringes of Delhi. Shashi Dhushan Pandit is an activist who could see the exploitation of poor people. Loans of 100 rupees would be charged 10 rupees per day in interest. Temples would acquire land needed by peasants. Shashi became a well educated activist at a very basic, grassroots level.

He escorted us to Pua, an hour’s bus ride, where dozens of people, dogs, and flies live among piles of trash. There is an order here—plastics, cardboard, metal in separate piles. Bicycle carts bring in new loads for the people to pick through and sort. Since it rained the night before our visit, the ground was muddy and slippery. Not many outsiders take an interest in this work. We were met with a half dozen men who protected us from any harassment or problem. Some of them offered a hand to help us through the mud.

At the site, someone had written in chalk, in English, “WELLCOME.” Several tarps had been carefully laid out in a clearing, upon which a ring of matching chairs awaited our arrival. Shashi spoke to us with passion. We didn’t need to understand Hindi to be able to get the gist of what he said. He and his people will not give up until their needs are addressed. He and others are already educating multiple sectors of waste pickers about services available and how to practice democracy. (Like IAF/community organizing groups in the U.S.), they learn how to stand up for their rights as human beings. Another level of education is about the nature and advantages of unions. One difficulty in forming a union is that the workers must name their employer. Yet who employs them? Everyone!

The Indian government has special economic zones (aka “exploitation zones”) in which the state acquires land cheaply (often from peasant farmers) and resell it cheaply to industry. The construction of a nearby temple with mostly non-Indian money displaced 20 thousand people. A new 5-star hotel is going up next to this waste operation so the ones we met are already looking for another place to go.

A few notes help explain the pictures: Vivha teaches and her husband Manoj assists, though he also works as a waste picker and an activist. Classes are normally held outside for about 70 children, but since it rained the previous day, they used the small classroom and fewer were in attendance. There is a wide age range, from toddlers to about 12 years old. Vivha has a high school education and very few teaching materials, but she teaches reading and writing in Hindi and English (at least), about days, weeks, seasons, numbers—all the basics. I recorded one girl’s recitation when Vivha called on her. Vivha would love to offer a midday meal to the children for the nutrition, certainly, but also as an incentive for the children to come, for the parents to send them. They also need basic immunizations and check-ups.

ID cards are prepared for the workers. The color red represents labor and green represents the environment. A familiar recycling symbol appears on the back. ID cards are a step in establishing documentation as Indian citizens who may not have a birth certificate or a permanent address.

Recycling these piles of waste save the Indian government millions of rupees annually. The waste pickers get pushed further outside the city. Some of us wondered about the birth rate, but we were reminded to consider the death rate as well. With no health care or adequate nutrition mere survival is difficult at best.

Those of us who had the privilege of visiting and witnessing the very private struggles and living conditions of some hard-working people are still trying to process what we’ve seen. We’re thinking about our part in this system of exploitation and marginalization. We collected 23,000 rupees among us to assist with slates, chalk, and other educational materials for the children.

The Holdeen India Fund was established by a real estate mogul who left millions of dollars in trust funds to the UUA. He was not a Unitarian Universalist and he had never been to India, but he wanted to shelter his estate from taxes. After he died there was a long period of negotiations with his family and finally $25 million dollars was put into an endowment, the interest of which is dedicated to grassroots activism like this. Holdeen leaders look for people like Shashi who are doing the work, sit down with them and make a plan. This could include funding, training, and/or seeking additional sponsors to achieve a set of goals.

Though the caste system is no longer official policy, the people we met briefly are among the poorest of the poor. Often they come to the city from poverty in small villages and encounter culture shock. The city is so anonymous. People don’t know or care about each other the way they do in the villages. They don’t have time for each other. (Does this sound familiar in our fast-paced society?)

The waste pickers, though, have strength in numbers and have actually fought successfully against for-profit corporations. They are working for survival, not so much for profit. Sometimes authorities side with the people, the ones who clean up after everyone else, the ones who clean up after us, after me.

Breakfast Tacos, Blessings, and Bamboozlement!


Breakfast with friends I don’t see very often is a refreshing opportunity. Thanks to FaceBook we already have an inkling of each others’ lives and adventures. Better in some ways than FaceBook, we enjoyed the taste of a delicious repast accompanied by a boost of caffeine, friendly body language and warm hugs.

Travel will take one or more of us to a coast–Galveston and Port Aransas on the Gulf Coast and/or Santa Barbara and Pacific Grove on the Pacific Coast; to Alabama, North Carolina, Ohio, New York, or Massachusetts; to Italy, Switzerland, England, China, or India. We have been so blessed with one or more of these opportunities, past, present, and future, to encounter other parts of the planet we share with several billion people. Culture shock can take us by surprise even within the United States. Such a large country inevitably has a wide range of weather, customs, and dialects.

Ranging further afield, there are challenges of language, history, and currency, to name just a few. Life and the world look so different from the U.S., the U.K., Europe, and southern Asia.

The Lonely Planet’s guide to India tells me that I’ll be bamboozled by the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and atmosphere (not to mention the driving) that will wash over me from every side. For my own bamboozlement I’ll be glad to be part of a group of 12, two of whom hail from India though they now live in the States.

My friends and I also talked about family members, politics, and family members who are politicians. Elections, health care disparities, and the State of the Union all played a part in our conversations.

These kinds of interactions crop up on FaceBook, texts, phone calls, on the Net, and browsing in libraries. One idea draws us in unexpected directions. Ideas multiply exponentially whenever one more point of view is added to the mix. That’s a benefit of community, strengthened by every encounter and blessed by every smile. :~)