A Greater Love


In one of my all-time favorite movies, Xavier Beauvois’ resplendent “Of Gods & Men” (Des hommes et des dieux), old Brother Luc has a conversation about love with Rabbia, one of the workers in the monastery. She asks him questions about love, including if he’s ever been in love. He responds, (in French, but I’ll use the subtitle),

“Yes, several times. And then I encountered another love, even greater.

And I answered that love. It’s been a while now. Over 60 years.”

What is this greater love old Brother Luc speaks about?

In 2006, while in the middle of a sad divorce, I had an interesting experience. First, one night, I had a vivid dream about my friend who recently married. In the dream, she emailed to me pictures of her wedding. No big deal….yet. That same day, I received a wedding invitation from another friend who was remarrying. Humh…ok, I see a little connection. Then finally, late that day I read Mrs. Cowman’s wonderful devotional “Springs in the Valley”, and et voile, another marriage reference. The topic verse was:

“Married to another, even to him.”  – Romans 7:4

Now that was interesting. At that time, I had hoped in the deepest recesses of my soul (yes, I hid that desire that deep) that I would find another, but knew, with many children yet to raise, that it was highly unlikely.  The verse and its subsequent devotional point to our spiritual union, our spiritual marriage with Christ. This is the greater love that Brother Luc spoke about.

A greater love, a love whose glimmer is so brilliant and magnificent that we cannot comprehend it. A love also that is so tender and gentle as illustrated in Luke’s “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” A love so peaceful that our Lord repeatedly told his disciples: “Be not afraid.” A love so pure that Paul dedicated an entire chapter to its sublimity:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

You realize these words were written almost two thousand years ago. This greater love through Christ has been available to all, to everyone for centuries.

And this greater love was never so raw and powerful as when Christ hung on the cross. Truly a love incomprehensible.

Most folks I know enjoy that romantic love that Valentine’s Day is known for. For those of us who weren’t blessed with that kind of relationship, there is a greater love we can answer to, like Brother Luc did many decades ago. A love just as fulfilling and joyful.

From that devotional:

Oh, sacred union with the Perfect Mind,
Transcendent bliss which Thou alone canst give;
How blest are they this Peerless One who find,
And, dead to earth, have learned in Thee to live.

Thus in Thine arms of love, O Christ, I live,
Lost, and forever lost to all but Thee.
My happy soul, since it hath learned to die,
Hath found new life in Thine Infinity.

Go, then, and learn this lesson of the Cross,
And tread the way that saints and prophets trod:
Who, counting life and self and all things loss,
Have found in inward death the life of God.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


Below is a nice review of this great film, and the story of the Monks of Tibhirine.



Remembering Mr. Downs


Last night, Thursday, February 8th, the Terra Nova High School Symphonic Band along with the Vallemar/Cabrillo Band and Ingrid B. Lacy/Ocean Shore Wind Symphony performed magnificently at the All-City Concert in honor of Mr. Jerry Downs. As many of you know, Mr. Downs passed away last September, and his presence, in our school district and community, has been sorely missed. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have been very pleased with the performances of his students and many of his former students in the Terra Nova Band.

Ms. Samantha Johns directed the Vallemar/Cabrillo Band in two magical pieces: “Zia” and “Celtic Air and Dance”. Mr. Benjamin Gower directed the IBL/OSS Wind Symphony in the delightful, yet melancholic “Nottingham Sketches”. And Mr. Brian Lewsadder brilliantly directed the TN Symphonic Band in their two pieces: “Encanto” and “Galop”.

Peppered through the performances, many folks gave heartfelt eulogies to Mr. Downs. Jared Steele remembered his first encounter with Mr. Downs: “You play the clarinet? You’re in the Marching Band.” Jessica Hidalgo remembered how he motivated his students to extend themselves. TN Senior Isaac Lipsky commented that Mr. Downs was the glue that held the band together. Band parents Carolyn Lee and Crystal Pepin both spoke on his dedication and commitment to the students. Crystal also read messages from a couple of Mr. Downs’ SoCal students. Travis, a professional drummer, said “he (Mr. Downs) didn’t get paid extra, he did it because he loved us.” Old friends, Grace Wolfert and Jennifer Samujh, told stories from the days before his work in Northern California.

Four pieces of music were wonderfully played by all three bands. “Washington Post March” reminded me of my childhood summers at the Russian River when my dad would play endlessly all the Sousa marches. They followed this with the powerful “Incantation and Ritual” and the delightful “The Tempest”.  Finally, and very appropriately, Principal Thomas Stafford directed all the bands in a sublime version of “Abide With Me”, a particular favorite of Mr. Downs.

I hope Mr. Downs was pleased with the stellar performances of all the students. His legacy, like the lowly daffodil, will not only continue to blossom beautifully, but will  reproduce prolifically. The three young music teachers who directed marvelously tonight certainly have big shoes to fill, but from tonight’s skillful execution, they are well on their way to adding to Mr. Downs’ prolific heritage.


Psalm 27 to the Rescue

Silhouette of helping hand between two climber

The last couple days have been kinda hard. Actually, the last couple years have been hard. My mom had a stroke two years ago, and my siblings and I have been increasingly taking more care of our parents. With my mom’s partial paralysis and my father’s decline into early dementia, the responsibilities as well as the emotional toll are being felt deeply by all of us. On top of that, aching old scars and fresh wounds seem to have resulted in acute estrangement from them and from one another.

Saturday night I went to bed carrying a lot of this emotional weight, not the kind of weightlifting I resolved to do this new year. Saturday was tough enough dealing with one of the kids’ issues, and I was looking forward to collapsing into bed and getting a good night sleep without having to get up early in the morning for work. Texted my son, who was out, “you good?“, his reply:

“Yea gonna be home around 10”

Good, one daughter was out babysitting, and she’d uber home whenever, late, no doubt. Around 9:30, I crashed and slept fitfully for over two hours. I woke at midnight. Checked my phone and there was a text. An hour-old text from an old friend: “Hello Donna, I know its late please can you life me up in prayer/medical issues. need them thank you so much. I texted back: “praying…”. I said a little prayer, then got up, went to bathroom and checked son’s room. Not home. Quick text to son, “You ok?” Ten minutes later:


Ok, good. Probably be in soon. He sometimes stays out late even if he has to work in morning. I sent up another quick prayer for my friend. Then I tried to go back to sleep. I couldn’t.

My mind went into manic mode as it got swept up in the family drama and distress. Every time I closed my eyes, the feelings of estrangement and rejection swirled and churned inside me. After about an hour of wrestling with fears, doubts and feelings, I checked the clock: 12:54 AM. Son still not home. Well, as any reputable helicopter mom could tell you, my mind was ripe for panicking about what possible harmful scenarios my son stumbled into. I sent another text, thinking he may just spend the night at a co-worker’s: “Are you coming homr”, ( I was tired.); another at 1:20 AM: “Ok?”; and the last one at 2:09 AM: “You good?”. No answer to any of those texts or the couple of texts I sent my daughter. But, I figured she’d just stay over and get a full night sleep away from the baby.

As you can imagine, I was getting frantic. Sleep was impossible. Even if he came home, I was so wound up, that an all-nighter was inevitable. I hate these kind of nights.

I put on my Bible study, often that would put me to sleep. J. Vernon McGee on his Thru the Bible radio show has been going through 1 Chronicles. It is his opinion that although 1 Chronicles seems like a rerun of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings; it is the same stories and characters, but from God’s point of view. The latest Bible study was about David’s great sin. No, not the one with he and Bathsheba, but the one when David numbered the people. McGee contends this sin, in God’s eyes, was worse in the sense that David was no longer trusting God, but in the numbers, in the strength that he thought he had accumulated. Wasn’t I failing to trust God like David? Yep.

In my emotional mania, somehow that lesson began to seep into my mind. I’ve been trying to be more trustful of God. And I was failing miserably, I was not trusting the Lord at all. I could not get a grip on the worrying, the pain and the despondency. I checked my email, and my daily Henri Nouwen devotional was already delivered. I read it:

Nouwen post

The further reflection took hold of my attention. I got out my Bible and read all of Psalm 27:

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

I read it again. I saw that even if my parents forsake me, the Lord will take me up. Even if what I feared was true, I had God to turn to. Then, finally, wait for the Lord. Not my strong suit.

As I let these words, these words of healing and solace, soothe my tempest-tossed mind, the storm slowly stilled just like when Jesus stilled the storm at the behest of his frantic friends. I began to trust, trust Him that my son would be OK, trust Him that my family’s issues would smooth out, trust Him that my financial situation will prove to be enough and trust and believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Far past two o’clock, and as I was drifting to sleep, I heard the jingle of his keys and the door unlocked. Before I fell asleep, I muttered to him as he passed my door, “Ten, huh?” He said something about dropping off friends (good kid!), and I finally said so he could hear, “glad you’re home safe.”

Good night.

Playing in God’s Backyard


This blog was featured in my self-published book, “The Plight of the Hare & Other Stories From the Shoe”.

Like a lot of San Francisco families, my parents have a cabin up at the Russian River. We’d spend all summer there when we were kids until the summer of ‘72 when we all got busted raiding the parents’ bottles. Before that though, after our chores, we kids would find our friends and hang out. We’d walk into town and get candy at Lark’s: the berry lollipop, the apple rope gum and even the candy cigarettes. We would hike up the hillsides and build forts. But most of all we would spend our summer days swimming in the river.

I took my kids up there a lot too. We couldn’t swim until the sun hit the pier. So while we waited, we would go to the park or to Armstrong Woods or even hit up Lark’s like I did as a kid.

Sometimes though, we would just hang out in the backyard, and the kids would start digging holes. My kids love to dig holes. What is it with kids – a shovel, a pail and a ton of dirt? I don’t know, but they can be happy for hours playing in the dirt. Sooner or later though, my father would holler from the deck some 25 feet above them and tell them to quit digging holes and to fill ‘em up. We sadly filled the holes and just waited for the sun to hit the pier.

Another time, my kids were in their own backyard in the East Bay, and they started to dig a giant hole. They spent hours and hours digging it real big and played in it like it was a fort. I couldn’t care less, I always enjoyed when they were wholesomely occupied. But their dad showed up and told them to fill the hole and not to dig anymore of them. What a bummer!

One day, years ago, my sister, her kids, my kids and I went to Pacifica State Beach in Linda Mar. We grabbed all of the play toys and marched to the shore. What do you think was the first thing the kids did? Yep, they started digging holes. But, unlike the other times, no one told them to stop. Rather, it seemed like God joined them in their play. His laughter roared in the sound of the waves as they played. The waves would playfully fill up their holes. And as the surf retreated, the kids were challenged to dig more holes. And they did!

The waves roared back, laughing, playing with the kids. They played all day digging and running away, only to dig and run away again. It was delightful to watch. No one told them not to dig holes; instead it seemed as if God was playing with them. He didn’t mind them digging holes in His backyard.

My Favorite Boss




I wrote this four years ago after Herman’s passing…still miss his smile and sparkling blue eyes.

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my forty years of working. I’ve had many bosses – most have been good, a few have been great and only a couple has been awful – but only one stands out as my favorite, my sweetest and dearest boss. Sadly, he died last month.

I started working for Herman Christensen & Sons in 1979 as a jobsite secretary for a condo project they were building on Redwood Shores. My dad worked for them, and he hooked me up with this job. Once the project finished, I began to work in the main office in San Carlos. There is where I got to know my favorite boss.

For some reason, Herman liked me. I don’t know why. Each day, and Herman was at work EVERY day, I would poke my head in and say hi. He’d lift his head from his papers and say hello. After awhile I noticed his office was…a little…disorganized. I don’t know where I got the nerve, but every once in awhile when I guess I was feeling a little cocky, I would speak to him in an overbearing mother kind of way, and tell him to clean his room. He would just chuckle, smile and nod. He was very patient with me.

One assignment, which I believe he secretly delighted in giving me, was organizing the blueprint archives in the attic. I spent weeks – felt like years – up in the attic organizing those blasted plans (there were many copies of each job), even enduring the San Carlos 100°+ summer heat while nursing a case of severe poison oak. After that when I’d put on my “overbearing mother” voice, he’d sweetly threaten to send me back to the attic.

I only worked at HC&S for about a year, but I kept in touch with Herman intermittently over the years. When I moved back to the Peninsula six years ago, I made a point of stopping by to see him. His hair had grayed, he had gotten older, but his smile was still warm and his eyes were still a piercing blue. I was going through a hard time after a divorce and felt very defeated and down, but Herman was so kind and compassionate. I gave him a big hug which I am sure surprised him.

 At one of my visits, I had some of my kids. We visited in the conference room where there is a full wall of large stone work. Same conference room as in 1979. My kids were getting a little restless and began climbing the wall, really – literally – they were climbing the walls. I hushed them and told them to sit down. Herman said it was OK. Either he was cringing under his sweet smile, or he was simply enjoying the show; I don’t know, but, I suspect it was the latter.

Donald Miller, a Christian writer, just yesterday posted this on his Facebook: “Stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance [quoting Kubler-Ross, I believe]. For the blessed, there is another: A paradoxical sense of gratitude.”  When I heard of Herman’s passing, I was shocked and, of course, saddened; but eventually, my shock and grief gave way to a sweet gratitude. I am grateful to have known this dear man; grateful, especially, to have taken the time over the past few years to stop by and see him. I am so sorry he is no longer with us; but I am so happy that I knew him and that I can confidently say he was my favorite boss.

I want to extend my deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers to Mrs. Christensen, their kids, the family and his friends. The world is definitely less sweet without Herman’s ubiquitous smile and twinkling blue eyes. God keep and comfort you through this time.

Vitamin B’s

vitamin b

Like many folks, I am going to be more health conscious this new year. I am going to be more focused on what I put in my mouth. Less carbs, less sugar, more protein, more fat (good fat) and, of course, vitamin supplements. Since I was pregnant what seems like half my life, I had the opportunity to find vitamin supplements that agreed with my system. I never like the bulky maternal multi-vitamin, but I found a good hematinic that upped my iron and gave me what I really needed: B Vitamins, the nutrients that deal with stress and stress related conditions, cause having a boatload of kids is kinda stressful.

However, over the years of my Christian life, I have learned that there are spiritual Vitamin B’s that help alleviate stress as well. My spiritual Vitamin B’s (Bible vitamins) have helped me manage stress, lift depression and, ironically, helped me feel better physically. Here are a few spiritual B(ible) Vitamins that I take religiously:

  • Vitamin B-1:  Philippians 4:6, 7 – Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This wonderful spiritual vitamin taken daily will help reduce your stress levels, protect your heart from worry and bring peace to your mind. Rather than utilize your energy stores in needless anxiety and hand-wringing, you can do other things, clean, perhaps, read a book or discuss with your youngest which Star Wars is the best, an informative conversation I had last night.
  • Vitamin B-2: Proverbs 3:5,6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. Similar to Vitamin B-1, this vitamin helps rest one’s mind in trust in God. After you’ve prayed, you can rest in Him. This was the first verse I memorized, and only recently have I begun to take it seriously every day. It is a little uncomfortable at first because I have been so used to taking matters in my own hare-brained hands and messing things up, that to let it go and trust Him is a real exercise in patience, restraint and acquiescence. Happily, I have reaped many instances where that patience has paid off.
  • Vitamin B-3: Luke 6:27, 28 – But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I have to take this vitamin daily, sometimes a couple of times a day. We all have people in our lives that rub us the wrong way, look down at you, even dismiss you with the slight of their hand. Now, there are avenues to express your indignation, but when those avenues are exhausted and you still must live with or work near these folks, this vitamin is essential. This vitamin helps keep your eternal perspective in your temporary circumstances. This vitamin works wondrously with this lovely mineral, Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” – , because Vitamin B-3 is ineffective without acknowledging that  without His strength, we can do nothing.
  • Vitamin B-4: Joshua 1:9 – Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” As a lifelong lily-livered coward, this is necessary to my spiritual vitamin regimen. I cannot do anything without this nutrient. Just dealing with adolescents, I need to take mega-doses of this vitamin. I have a couple of kids that can send me into the “depths of despair”, and I must fortify my spiritual and emotional reserves with this wonderful and mighty resource.

I hope you join me this year and focus on better physical health, and give my spiritual vitamins a try, and pep up a petering-out spiritual perspective, prepare for inevitable perplexities or pre-emp potential problems with family or colleagues. These tried and true treats will boost your spiritual metabolism and shed needless amount of worries and cares. Happy New Year, folks!




As He says also in Hosea,

Romans 9:25 NASB, 1977

What a funny word, “beloved”? The loved one. The object of love. The world, if you will, according to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…”. The gift of His Son, which we celebrate every Christmas, is full of many of the most wonderful things in this life: redemption, reconciliation, peace, love and all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I came to a living relationship with Jesus Christ almost 40 years ago, and I came to Him in search of truth. A solid foundation was laid in my catholic upbringing, but there was no life in the structure. In my quest for truth, I embraced Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but through Me.” Knowing the truth gave me new life and a purpose. However, it wasn’t until decades later that I truly understood what it meant to be “Beloved”.

I grew up in a household that wasn’t too keen on love and kindness. That’s just the way it was. And I know I was damaged by that upbringing.

When my older kids were little and there wasn’t a lot of money, we would buy our computers at the thrift store. Often times, they would work, but inevitably, while connecting to the internet we would meet that frustrating alert:

After working hard to get online, we would be deflated when we got this message. Well, that is how things were growing up. When it came to giving or receiving love, “this connection has limited or no connectivity.” So my siblings and I grew up with some emotional malnutrition, and were subsequently pretty emotionally anemic. I also had limited or no connectivity to love or being able to love. But when I had children, that maternal instinct gave rise to love, and those little ones, in their innocent little ways, gave me glimpses of a divine love I would soon connect to. I see that unconditional love in my grandbabies’ faces.

To quote from a previous blog, the first rays of “belovedness” came this way:

One night, seven years ago, my little girls and I were randomly quoting Scripture – something we never do – but it was fun. They had memory verses from school.  Ellie quoted Zephaniah 3:17, “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty.”  I had heard this verse before, but this evening it stuck and I reread the entire verse.

For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

Zephaniah 3:17 – NLT

And what I could only call a moment of grace I could see God Himself singing over me in love in the same manner I express my love toward my kids.  I could understand that from being a mom, and even better, I could feel it.  It was an overwhelming moment.

One night, there was an argument going on at the house, and I went upstairs to help broker a peace, but only created a greater skirmish. I went downstairs feeling like I had always felt: crappy, worthless and unable, as a Christian, to make things right, better or even bring peace.

As I stood in the hallway, I had an epiphany. I came to the understanding that a lot of our family’s emotional dynamics were shame-related. A family member, unable to take responsibility for their actions, perhaps from their own pain no doubt, had, for years, shifted their shame and guilt to other family members including myself. I can’t tell you how earth shattering this illumination was. It was like that apron the dentist puts on you, the leaden one for x-rays, and that God took this leaden apron of shame off of me, and I floated to the surface and breathed the fresh air of freedom and non-condemnation.

At the same moment, almost audibly, I could hear Paul’s glorious and resounding ruling from Romans: “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those is Christ Jesus.”  I had been a Christian for thirty years, and that night I felt like a new Christian, I had been born again again, the decades seemed to fall away, and I was basking in the love and acceptance of the Heavenly Father.

Since then I have grown in His love. I have learned to trust Him, not so much in obedience to His word, but in response to His love for me. That revelation revolutionized my Christian life.

I didn’t mean to go so long as to get to the point, but Christmas brings the best gifts when we look closely at the origin of the holiday. Christianity is set apart from all the religions in that there is a God who loves, a God who loves us, and all others. He loves His creation, though fallen, and Jesus Christ is God’s gift of love to us, to the world. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection fixes our “limited connectivity” and strongly reconnects us to our God. We are reconciled to God the Father, justified in Christ and where we were once not loved, we are BELOVED.

And when we know we are BELOVED, we can love, and even love in the most difficult circumstances because it is true what John wrote, “We love, because He first loved us.” I hope this Christmas the love of God will make you know and feel BELOVED.

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!