But to serve any discipline of art, be it to chip a David out of an unwieldy piece of marble, to take oils and put a clown on canvas, to write a drama about a young man who kills his father and marries hi mother and suffers for these actions, to hear a melody and set the notes down for a string quarter, is to affirm meaning, despite all the ambiguities and tragedies and misunderstandings which surround us. – Madeline L’Engle in Walking on Water 

Poop, Words, Slavery: The Mystery Is My Life

This alpaca riding a bicycle sits on the mantle in our 200-year-old farmhouse. Behind it is a painting my husband’s grandmother did. Absurdity makes beauty.

I started this morning by stepping in dog poo.  Twice.  First in my slippers, which was annoying, and then in my bare feet because, of course, my slippers were dirty.  Such is life with animals.

You may wonder – as I do still – how this piece of information relates to that beautiful quote by Madeline L’Engle.  I can only say that is some of the mystery of what my life is – my messy, beautiful, word- and poop-filled life. That all of it weaves together somehow into the prayer I hope my life will be.  Some things chosen by me. Some handed over to my life whether I want them or not.  All of them gifts, rich, sometimes smelly, and profound.

Later in the same chapter of L’Engle’s book, she writes:

As Emmanuel, Cardinal Suhard says, ‘To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.’


Sometimes, I want to pare my life back to one thing.  Either I farm. I write. Or I research the lives of enslaved people.  Sometimes, carrying these three callings feels very heavy, somewhat conflicted, and often distracting.

But really, it’s not the callings that are heavy. They are gossamer – shimmering, thread-like gifts that can adorn me if I don’t try to knot them into something more discernible.

What weighs me down is the idea that my life SHOULD be some certain way. When I let myself think I need to “focus” or squeeze myself into a niche.  When I imagine that somehow days without poop and the rasping rawness of slavery’s legacy would be better.  When I think “simple” means singular.

Nothing about my life is singular, except, of course, my life itself.


So in 2016, I’m living big into mystery.  I will write that word large on my bulletin board.  Below it, I will hang my basset hound puppy calendar, and I will pin up images of paintings and miniature donkeys. I will scrawl out the names of enslaved people and draw crude family trees as a tether back to the stories that we have hidden, erased, ignored.

And I will trust that somehow, in a way that is far beyond my understanding, all that is the mystery of this one life I live, all the days when I transition from listening to Americanah to chasing wayward chickens to a handful of embroidery floss and some fabric, that all of this glorious mess serves a purpose that reaches its gossamer threads far beyond my own selfish life and touches just what it needs to caress.

Poop and all.

What about you? What are you hoping to embrace more in 2016?  

NOTE – On February 9th, my new book Steele Secrets is coming out.  Here’s the teaser: When Mary Steele mysteriously ends up in a rural cemetery, she doesn’t know that the man she meets there holds many of the threads of her own story.   Stay tuned for more details. 🙂