Couch to 13.1 in 12 months. Really?

I’ve been training so long, it’s hard to believe it’s coming up so quickly now! 

As of this moment, I am 3 days and 15 hours (and some minutes) from the start of my first half-marathon.  A year ago, that concept would have had me laughing.  Hard.  Like pee-your-pants hard.

But a funny thing happened on May 21, 2016.  I got out of the house and took a walk.  It was about 2 miles, wearing the kind of shoes that give you blisters, and really slow.

But it was a walk. On purpose.

That was the start of a year-long adventure in setting goals, finding community, making healthier choices, and pushing myself to do things that seemed a little crazy. Especially for a fat woman turning 50.

After a couple of 5Ks turned into a 10K, and the 10K walks turned into 8-10 milers, I set my sights on a 13.1 mile race.  I knew I needed time to get faster, so late spring felt possible. The interwebs offered up several choices… not all of which are friendly to walkers.

I chose the Marine Corps Marathon Historic Half.  Partly because I have heard amazing things about the MCM as an event.  And partly because I had hoped we could take our motorcycles up on the AutoTrain and ride home.  That hasn’t worked out for this round but adventures still await.

It wasn’t until after I registered that I realized the significance of the race date. I would be walking my first half-marathon on the anniversary of that first “get up off the couch” walk.

I don’t know what my time will look like… I’m hoping that I can manage the nerves and the hills well enough to average 14-15 minute miles, which would mean I’d finish under 3.5 hours.  My last couple of races, I’ve been well under 14, but that’s here in the flat swamplands of Central Florida.

Regardless, I will confess to more than a little pride in the fact that I’m going to start that race in roughly 3 days and 15 hours.

Because while I’m competitive enough to want an official time that is faster than my practice times.  I have accomplished so much more than walking a shit-ton of miles in a year.

  • I have lost almost a supermodel’s worth of weight, which is most visible part of this adventure.
  • I have gained a resting heart rate.  And normal blood pressure.
  • I have re-gained flexibility and strength that I was pretty sure were gone forever.
  • I have re-learned how to rest and sleep.
  • I have changed my relationship to food (for the better).
  • I have bought girl clothes. And I have worn them. In public.  Without irony.
  • I have learned how to make time for me sacred.  And by making space for the Spirit to join me there… I am experiencing daily times of Sabbath

Yeah… there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be weeping  3 days, 18 hours and however many minutes from now. There’s mix of pride, amazement and gratitude for the way the human body responds to challenges that comes at the end of every race, and more of that mix  has a way pushing out through the tear ducts as the distances have gotten longer.

Here’s To the difference a year can make.  Really!

Me in Spring 2016


Walking my @$$ off

Now that I have lost about 25% of myself by weight, people are starting to notice and feel comfortable asking… how are you doing it?  

The answer is simple. I’ve been walking my ass off. Literally. I started out with about a mile a day and adding steps to my daily routine by parking farther out, taking the stairs, that kind of thing. Now I average 3 miles a day, with at least one long (6+ miles) walk each week. 

And because I am me- a recovering athlete with a competition problem- I’m not talking leisurely strolls… I have dropped my pace from 20min miles last May to an average of 15min.  

I have done a handful of 5Ks and a 10K, with several others on the calendar. But the big goal is completing a timed half marathon in May.  

In fact, I’ll be walking those 13.1 miles almost a year to the day after I decided it was time to get up off the couch and get healthy.  

So, yeah… All that walking has helped me reshape my body and rediscover muscles and confidence that had been buried for far too long.

After the exercise routine felt pretty well established, I started tracking what I eat. But not obsessively. And not because I am avoiding particular foods. Except tomatoes, flan and brussel sprouts… those are nasty. 

Really, I just wanted to get to a place where I was making decisions about food, being aware and intentional. And in the same way those first weeks of tracking steps let me see the reality of how sedentary my life was, a food log let me see how chaotic my relationship with food had become. 

So – I have a goal for what goes in relative to what goes out via exercise. Some days I am over, some days I am under, but every day I am thinking about how what goes in will fuel me.  
It’s not like I didn’t know… but like I tell my people at church, knowing and doing are two very different things.  

I have a ways to go yet, before I hit the number/range that would be a good weight to maintain as I wander deeper into my 50’s. I am hopeful that the habits I am building on the way are sustainable, because they are helping me re-learn the foundational habit of loving myself and believing I am worth keeping around for a good long time. 

Faith Built on Hope

Primary Scriptures:  Romans 5:1-11 and Luke 24:13-33

This time last week, I was on my way to Montreat for a conference for pastors in interim work. I am so very  thankful for your support and encouragement to continue learning and growing in my leadership.

While I was there, I met pastors from all over the country… mostly here in the southeast, since Montreat is close by. But there were a few from the west coast, even one Canadian

We spent time in seminars covering several helpful topics. We had opportunities to speak with the faculty members, many of whom have served several churches who find themselves between settled pastors. We also spent time in groups for peer coaching.

It was all great…

But you know the best part? Hearing all their stories. Stories of churches much like ours. Some smaller, some larger… some in cities, others in small towns or rural settings.  Each one unique, and yet it seems that we all find ourselves asking the same questions…
What comes next?
What is our place in the bigger picture…
What is our part in the Body of Christ?
What is our role in the larger community – the city that has grown and changed around us, the culture that has been shifting so rapidly in the last decade…

As you might imagine, many churches are on the road to closure. They are in the process of making really hard decisions about property and memorials and where their members will go to find care and fellowship. Those are very difficult conversations to enter into and even more difficult to stay in. These are oftentimes very sad stories. God-led and grace-filled, to be sure, but always hard for the members and those who are there to help the congregation finish well.

The good news is that many more of the folks that I met and talked with last week shared stories about walking alongside congregations in the midst of the work – the hard work –  of transformation. Transformation is always hard work. It’s hard to start, hard to finish, and even harder to maintain.

We come from a long lineage… a long heritage of folks who had to work hard at change.  Seriously, it goes way way back. In fact, next week, we’ll start the Lectionary year over again by heading back to the beginning of the great collection of our stories of faith, each in its own way a testament to the transforming nature of God.

And as we did last fall, we’ll travel through the Old Testament in the months leading into Christmas.  The thread running through the passages we’ll explore this year is Promise…
the promises God makes to our foremothers and forefathers.
the promises they make to God…
the promise of fresh starts…
the promise of new life…
the promise of a deliverer… the promised one… the messiah.

We’ll recall through these chapters in our great redemption story, the faithfulness of God.  The truth that even as humankind found myriad ways to go astray, God remained steadfast. God stayed with us.
God loved us.
The truth that God loves us still

And we’ll recall how, even as the prophets called the kings and people to repentance, speaking the truths that no one wanted to hear about sin and judgment and consequences…God also gave them a message of hope: If the people would turn to God, if they would change their focus, God would honor and bless them.  

The funny thing is, we read that as if God’s behavior is contingent upon the work of the leaders and the people under their care.

The truth is, God has been there, keeping all those promises all along.  It’s the people who lose sight of that truth as their focus shifts, as their gaze wanders.  Kind of like Jesus, walking along the road to Emmaus, having an incognito conversation with two disciples.

I’ve read and heard several interpretations of this encounter.  Some say that this episode tells us that our resurrection bodies – the ones we get when we are finally in God’s presence after this life is over  – that those bodies are somehow different, that we will be ourselves but not so completely ourselves that we are instantly recognizable.

Others say that it was the work of the Holy Spirit, clouding their vision so that Jesus could hear what they were saying without worry that they would stop telling their story.

Luke uses the verb “recognize” both at the beginning and at the end of the passage –when their eyes are closed and then opened to his identity. They saw him from the start, but they didn’t actually recognize him until the end, when he was breaking the bread.

This is an interesting echo of  the  wording used when Adam and Eve first opened their eyes and recognized that they were naked. And that there was something to shameful in their being so thoroughly revealed.

You see, Luke wants us to understand that this is a moment of deep recognition.  That “oooohhhh” moment when you see someone after not quite seeing them for who they really and truly are.

Jesus had walked a good way with them, teaching them and reminding them of all the ways that the prophets had been preparing the Hebrew people for his coming.  They had covered a lot of ground, literally and theologically,  before he took the bread and broke it. And they saw him for who he was…  

Seeing him, recognizing him, changed the conversation completely.  It awoke in them a passion they hadn’t felt.  It cleared the confusion and doubt away.

Seeing him, recognizing him again made space for faith.  Because he had made space for hope… Hope that the world didn’t have to be as it had been. That exile and oppression weren’t God’s plan That the empire didn’t always win.   

Seeing him, recognizing him again, set them off on an adventure that would change their lives and ultimately transform much of the world.  Even this part of the world. We trace our own faith to those first followers of Jesus.  The ones who literally sat at table with him, sharing the meal we will remember together today…

Paul never sat at table with Jesus. Never saw him face to face in a physical sense. Not during his earthly life, anyway.  But Paul recognized the transformative power of the resurrection at least as well as any of those who spent time with Jesus before and after. Paul understood the role of faith in our coming to truly know – to recognize – the saving grace Jesus offered.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us of our inability as humans to meet all the expectations of the law.  of the fallibility that would keep all of us from ever knowing God’s great love for us and for the world.

Paul writes of the reconciling work of Jesus- the life, death and resurrection of which the disciples were talking on the road to Emmaus – the revealing of the power of God’s love to redeem all of our messiness and sin.  And he says – not one whit of it is ours to claim…Except to claim faith in the truth that God did all that for us.

God is still doing all that for us. God continues to pour out the Holy Spirit, that we might grow deeper in our understanding – not of the law, not of the minutiae of doctrine – but so that we might fall deeper in love with God, and develop even greater compassion for the neighbors around us.

Paul prescribes in Romans and throughout the epistles, a protocol for strengthening our hearts. It generally starts with suffering, which we are to endure. Not on our own strength of course, but empowered by the Spirit. Paul continues, saying that endurance produces character – which, in turn, allows us to have hope.

Many of you know that I’ve spent time this summer walking and doing some work in the gym. I started out taking short walks around the block. As the summer progressed, I started setting some goals for myself. Go a little farther, then a little faster.  

Then I registered for the conference at Montreat.

I remembered how hard it was for me to walk around up there last year. I didn’t go exploring as far as I wanted because I couldn’t catch my breath going up all the stairs and hills, and I didn’t trust that my legs and knees were strong enough to handle terrain off the sidewalks.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find changing my personal habits are hard. Even when I know what needs to be done, getting started is hard. Keeping at it is hard, too. It much easier to fall back into the old, comfortable and known way of being.

Until the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain you anticipate will come during or as a result of the change process, the status quo will do just fine.

But status quo wasn’t going to get me up any of those hills.  So I set some new goals and got to work


If you could hear this picture, it would include my catching my breath between “wows”. The vistas were lovely.

I am happy to say that 400 miles – even on the flat sidewalks of Central Florida  – paid off. I went wandering all around the conference center, up and down some of the steepest hills. I even managed to get to the top of Mount Mitchell.  

It was there that I was feeling a little cocky and decided to do a ¾-mile hike on the nature trail. The sign said it was “easy” and I’d been walking some of the nature trails around Montreat.


If you look closely, you can see the description of the trail.

I knew it was going to drop a good 200-250 feet in elevation as the trail meandered down to the parking lot, but it sounded way less steep than going back down the 300 yard path that went directly from the lot to the observation tower.

So off I went.


Seriously – how hard can it be? The rabbit looks like he’s enjoying the trail.

Now, I can stroll a full mile in about 20 minutes, even on hilly terrain. So I was guessing maybe 30 minutes down the hill. Maybe a little longer with stops to read or take photos.

Yeah- at about 20 minutes in, I was maybe half-way through the trail loop.  I had already crawled up and over tree roots and boulders, hopped across puddles and begun to mutter to the unknown author of the trail description about our definitions of “Easy” not quite being aligned.

And then the trail made yet another hairpin turn. Once again, I found myself looking uphill for the white triangle blaze.  And there wasn’t really a trail any more. It was like a staircase made of big rocks and fallen trees with lincoln log notches cut out and a maybe a few grassy spots between puddles. Oh, and every step was a different height…


No really, this is the trail. I wasn’t lost.

My knees were tired.
My lungs were getting a little chatty.
I could hear my heart thumping in my ears.  NOT my resting heart rate, in case you wondered.

And then I laughed.

I laughed because I had a choice to make. Sit down, go back to the start, or go on. None of them seemed good. It all seemed too hard.

A voice in my head was reminding me that people who hike alone are much more likely to be eaten by bears….

But there was another voice…It was saying, “You got this. You can do it. You’ve walked way farther and in way worse heat and humidity than this. You’re strong enough to keep going.”  

I remembered working through the pain of those first walks and sore muscles, the endurance I had been building on sidewalks and treadmills, on bikes and in the pool. Looking back on where I’d been allowed me to have confidence- faith – in my ability to get up that stretch of the trail…

I was neither helpless, nor hopeless, in the face of an unexpected challenge.   

I’m not sure what the chipmunks thought of this human huffing and puffing her way past the ferns and lichen-covered stumps. I suspect that the crazy flapping of my arms as I balanced on slippery stones and logs scared off more than a couple of birds. But I was able to press on, and I realized that in addition to quieting the voice that was worried about bears, I was really enjoying myself.

Finishing the loop was no longer about surviving or successfully achieving a goal. It was about experiencing the joy that overtakes me in those all-too-rare opportunities to drink deeply of nature’s beauty

A friend of mine is a physical therapist. She works with all kinds of people, from young athletes to octogenarians. And she told me once that the most amazing thing about our bodies is the way they respond to the challenges we put in front of them. We are made to adapt and gain strength from the effort of overcoming.

Yes, the challenges need to be the RIGHT challenges. That’s why I needed to start walking earlier in the summer to be able to get up those hills this week.  But physical challenges reveal our character, our capacity for hope and transformation.

And that crazy little hike filled me with hope and faith for us in the days to come…

You see we, together, are a body, just as surely as each of us have bodies.  We, together, make up the body of Christ. And together, we can adapt and rise up to the challenges that come before us, overcoming all kinds of barriers in the power of the Holy Spirit.

I have a faith built on hope for us as we pray and work as a body here in this time and place.
That we can discern together the challenge God has for us to pursue.
That we can start small and learn how to use our faith muscles in new and different ways.
That we can work together, moving a little farther away from our comfort zone with every step, even as we  draw on lessons from the past.

I have hope that our eyes will be opened and that we will recognize Jesus in one another, in our neighbors, and in the people God brings to our table.

I have hope that as we keep God – Father, Son, and Spirit – at the center of our gaze, we’ll be able to follow the trail, no matter how rocky and hilly it gets.

I have hope that when we do this work in a way that honors our past and present, this congregation will have a future, and that future will be filled with joy and laughter.

I have faith, built on the hope and love that abide in Christ, and abide in all of us as we abide in Christ.  

My prayer is that the God who is able to do abundantly far more than we could ever ask or imagine, would grant us the wisdom, courage, love, faith, hope and joy we need for this and every day of our lives together.



I love flying places. There is nothing like getting into a plane for a couple of hours and getting out in a whole new city and climate and time zone. 

I feel like an explorer watching the topography and vegetation change through the window. And I am fascinated by the way the clouds look from inside and above.

I even kind of like the people watching that is built into our new pattern of travel. How some people queue better than others, what kind of unpack-able souvenirs are now carry-ons, the diversity of accents and languages at the gate.  

And the recombobulating that happens following the dreaded security gate. Oh, the dynamics that get revealed as families and individual  travelers get through the machine…

The first time I remember flying alone was on a hopper flight from College Station up to DFW.  I don’t know why, but I ended up seated next to the Captain (mom says also the owner of the small airline). 

I had my Donald Duck comic book with me as I got strapped into a seat right in the cockpit. With all the dials in view and the stick in reach.  Seriously! 

Besides the fact that the stick moved automatically as the Captain steered us, my memories are mostly about how LOUD it was up there. 

I mean, it was so loud that I couldn’t hear a thing for hours after we landed and I found Aunt Marie. It was like the temporary hearing disruption you get after mowing the lawn or using some other loud motor. Times 1000. 

But every time I fly, I think about being in the co-pilot seat, trusted not to mess things up while I absolutely trusted the Captain to do likewise.  

Finding that place of mutual trust works pretty well in a lot of life.  We grow ups could do with practicing more of that, I think.

And then she walked

Today is my second 5K of the summer. The first one was really just a lark. I had been walking semi-purposefully for a few weeks and the opportunity to participate in a fun run/walk just up the beach came along.  That day, my goal was mostly to get a baseline time, to see if I could push a little faster than my daily walk.

Today, I have a goal. I have a pace I want to hit.
I am here to get an official time.
I am here on the way to a healthier me.

And I am here with a bunch of other people…
All sizes, shapes and levels of fitness. Runners, walkers, shuffle-alongers.  And while you can’t see it from this particular shot, all ages and ethnicities, too.


……  3.1 (and change) miles later…. 

I finished well under my goal of 52 minutes. In fact, I was under 16 for every mile!   Unofficially, I was right close to 49:54 when I stopped my tracker well past the finish line. I’ll see what their clock says later.  [Update: they clocked me at 49:46, a 16:00.8 pace]

Right now, I know that I came, and I walked. I did it with focus and strength.
And I finished hot, sweaty, and proud.

It’s a simple story really…

She got out of bed way earlier than usual.
She got dressed and put on her shoes.
And then she walked.

49 More Days

Turns out that today marks the last 49 days that I will be 49.  I’ve never been one to pay a lot of attention to age, at least not since I got past 16 (driving!), 18 (voting!) and 21 (drinking!).   But somehow 50 feels like kind of a big deal.

Maybe because the party supply industry and greeting card industry have been in cahoots long enough to make the “Big 5-0” a personal holiday with as much heft as Mother’s Day… and almost as much dread.

Maybe because I never imagined I would be turning 50.  Not that I had imagined my own death by this point… I just literally never thought beyond 30 or so.  I’ve kind of been on auto-pilot during all these “raise the kid, buy a house and then another one, go back to seminary like a fool” years of the past decade or two.

And suddenly, I look up and realize that all these 50th anniversaries of things that happened in 1966 are in the same year as the 50th anniversary of my birth.

Huh.  Funny how that works.

So, for the next 49 days, I’ll see if I can’t get my head around being 49, in hopes of being ready to be fully present in who I am at 50.

Christmas Karaoke

A while back, someone posted in a RevGal  Facebook conversation that they had been to a karaoke fundraiser.  I liked the concept enough to copy the description into a “tickler” note (but sadly not the person’s name):

 I went to a karaoke fundraiser once where people could pay for other people NOT to sing, as well as pay to force people to sing, as well as pay to get out of being made to sing…the group raised a ton of money!

Our music director made a face when I asked about doing a sing-along this Christmas season, so I offered up a karaoke night alternative.  He was intrigued, but two variables needed solving:

How do we get people to sing? 

How much is this going to cost us?

Getting people to sing… This is when I went back to find to the fundraiser note. Our folks are really familiar and generous when it comes to the  2¢-a-Meal we collect monthly. November and Desember are so crowded with asks for food and toys and coats and money that we actually were going to skip 2¢ until January.

If folks won’t just come to the mic and sing for fun, perhaps a favorite charity would help!

The scheme:IMG_0070

  • If you choose a song to sing yourself- no charge
  • Request an “all play” $1
  • If you send someone up to sing – 50 cents
  • Decline singing $1 altogether
  • Bring up a friend to help – 25 cents
  • Bring up your whole table $1

No one declined – the bring a friend/table options were enough to make people comfortable.  That and the host for the evening was my music director who is totally game for singing anything with anybody without upstaging them. In other words, plenty of encouragement and no mocking.

Setting up the tech side (on the cheap):

There are several free or cheap karaoke apps around, depending on your operating system and access to the Internet in your location.

We went with Karafun, which is a little goofy in terms of signing up online and using a downloadable app on the laptop. But the interface is enough like iTunes to be fairly intuitive. You can either sign up for a “party pass” for a couple of days or subscribe for a fairly nominal fee.

We used our fellowship hall’s sound system and projection system.  We didn’t have the usual sound guy around, so I brought over my guitar amp with a a mic input.  Because we had free access (and someone with set up skills), we added a large flat-screen monitor for the singers that meant they could face the rest of the crowd. We could also have let them use the laptop display for a prompter. Basically, as long as people can hear the music (more than themselves) and see the words, you can make do with what is available.

Other Observations…

Renting a set-up was going to run $150-200, which is a lot for a crowd of 30-35 people. If we had more like 100, you could recoup the cost pretty quickly.

People came ready to “spend” their money and we ran out of time, so they just added their quarters to the kitty.

Christmas was a great time to introduce this concept because the genre of songs was easy to share across generations.


Going off the Grid

NaBloPoMo while Off the Grid

Today is the day.

Well, kind of.  I am sitting at the keyboard on Sunday, but through the magic of scheduled posts, I get to be a little timey-wimey in my imaginary Tardis and make this post appear on Wednesday.  Which is the day.

If all has gone according to expectations, at 4am eastern time, I will have gathered with 27 other intrepid Presbyterians to head from Tampa to Santa Clara, Cuba.

We’ll be in the central part of Cuba for a week, where we will not be using cell phones or laptops or any of the devices that I have become accustomed to having at my beck and call.  I actually got a camera and a watch to take with me.  I can’t remember the last time I wore a watch. Or carried a camera that wasn’t part of my phone. But I digress…

For the next 7 days, our group will be meeting with pastors and lay leaders of the churches in Central Cuba. My fellow PresbApopkaterian and I will visit two different churches, where we will learn how they are connecting with their communities, serving the people who are not yet members and how they move people into membership.  It’s much more complicated than our American model of church-shopping and church-joining.  But I get a sense that the barriers the churches are required to overcome are actually problems we face for very different reasons.  I suspect we have much to learn from our neighbors.

Since we’re off the grid, I’ll have to post pics and stories after the fact.   Which is probably just as well. The idea of being fully present on this trip is getting more and more appealing.

In the meantime, I’ve managed to get a handful of posts pre-loaded. Because you know, getting ready to leave the household and both jobs for a week while doing both jobs leaves so much time for writing bonus blog posts.  New Procrastination Level unlocked.

If you’re the praying type, I’d sure appreciate them – here are some specifics:

  • Safe travel today, during the week and during our return flight next Wednesday
  • No travel tummy or other health issues among the team members
  • Some recovery of all that Spanish I took in HS and College
  •  That we would be able to rest in strange surroundings
  • No drama on the home front for the Hubs and the Yaya
  • That we would indeed learn from our hosts and discern whether these are places we can partner for the long term.

Advent 12 – Hope

IMG_1305There’s nothing like air travel to bring out the crazy.  People get pushy, cranky, anxious and rude – and that’s just the TSA staff (rimshot). Seriously though, there is something slightly dehumanizing about the security process in these days of being herded into various lines and formations so that IDs can be checked, bags and bodies scanned, and entire families disoriented.

And yet – every time I fly through the Milwaukee airport, I smile.  They have identified a place for people to go while they put their bags back together, put shoes, belts and other items of clothing back on, and gather all their ducks back into a row.  It’s the “Recombobulation Area”   For real. No photoshop.

The sign says to travelers “I know.  This whole thing leaves you feeling discombobulated and confused.  But it’s okay.  You can take a minute here to pull yourself back together”  in a broad Midwestern accent that makes everything ok, don’t ya know.

Where there is understanding, there is space for love.

Where there is humor, there is space for joy.

Where there is hospitality, there is space for grace.

And when these things can be found in the security gate of an airport, there is hope.

the Unfinished-ness of it all

A couple of Saturdays ago, I decided to take advantage of being in Colorado a day early for a conference and drove up to see Mount Rushmore. It was a long drive from the Denver airport to Rapid City, but it was also unbelievably beautiful. I’ll have to do a travelogue post at some point so I can gush and post photos about all that…

But what struck me the morning I stood in front of the mountain and walked through the museum was the unfinished-ness of the project. Don’t get me wrong – the sculpture is stunning and beautiful. But the vision of the sculptor was so much more than what we see today. Like the Crazy Horse memorial a few peaks over, the depiction of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln is unfinished.

It reminded me of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, DC. His likeness is emerging from an enormous stone (granite?) piece, calling to mind a mountain and his image of the mountaintop. But compared to the statues of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Jefferson that surround him, Dr. King’s figure remains intentionally unfinished.

The timing of our visit to the MLK memorial was poignant. I posted some thoughts at the time about Trayvon Martin’s death and the slow response of the authorities. I couldn’t help but imagine Dr. King calling out to the other men memorialized in our capital- the ones who had written of freedom, who had dreamed of and fought for liberty and justice for all – pointing to the men and women of color who still do not feel part of that “all.”

As I settled into my little tourist cabin in Rapid City, the verdict came in. While it was clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that George Zimmerman killed the unarmed teenager, there was enough doubt in the minds of the jurors that they could not convict him of murder. I was stunned, but not surprised. And I thought back to that day we hiked the memorial trail in DC. The dream deferred once more.

The next morning, I drove up the mountain and walked toward the monument. It was moving, and beautiful, and like all the tourists, I snapped plenty of pictures. I smiled as a stranger took a photo of me, but even as I was happy to take in this amazing combination of engineering and art, the unfinished-ness of it struck me anew.

Each of those great men on the mountain had left the work of freedom and equality unfinished, even in their greatness. The slaves left unfreed, the indentured servants left destitute and women left with little voice and no vote, the near-genocide of indigenous peoples removed from lands, the immigrants used and discarded in efforts to claim and tame the west as part of our “manifest destiny.”

Someone famously described carving a statue as chipping away at everything that wasn’t the sculpture within. We are clearly not finished yet. There is much racism, bigotry, xenophobia, patriarchy, privilege, and just plain selfishness that needs chipping away from the American culture before we can honestly pledge allegiance to a flag that purports to represent freedom and justice for all of its citizens.

Maybe that is also how God takes away our hearts of stone as well- chipping away at the barriers we erect
between ourselves and our neighbors,
between ourselves and the ones who don’t look like us,
who don’t speak our language,
who don’t dress or walk or worship like me,
who don’t express their gender or sexuality like me,
who interpret the Bible differently or don’t read it at all
who don’t vote like me-

chipping away until we have hearts of love alone.

The unfinishedness of my own heart is all too clear these days.