Evacuation Revelation

IMG_2237You’ve probably played this game before – the icebreaker that poses the scenario: Your house is on fire, and you can take only five things with you. What do you choose?

Designed to get at what you value most, this conversation-starter poses a theoretical question that can result in some pretty interesting insights about people and their stuff. You haven’t truly played the game, however, until there’s ash falling like snow in your yard and a phone call confirms you are next in the queue for mandatory evacuation.

We had been breathing smoke for days as the hills behind our home were consumed by fire. A shift of the wind overnight brought the flames close enough to warrant the decision to put our neighborhood on pre-evacuation notice. I listened to the voice on the automated call tell me that we weren’t in immediate danger, but we should be ready to go, just in case.

Ready to go? I looked around my 2,000 square foot home and at the three cars in the driveway, knowing that I had an indeterminate amount of time to decide which of our possessions should be staged in the “go” pile, and of those deserving items, which would actually fit in the cars. Home alone, I nervously started the room-by-room trek through all of my family’s worldly possessions, evaluating their importance and considering their size. As items were deemed worthy, they were moved to the living room where they could be loaded up quickly when evacuation orders came.

Here’s where the revelation comes in. A couple of them, actually.

My first attempt to identify worthy items was literally all about me. What do I need? Like? Love? What could I not live without? What will I regret not having if I leave it behind? It wasn’t until I stepped into my son’s bedroom that I was hit with conviction about answering these questions for all of my absent family members, which meant I had to retrace my steps with an entirely different set of questions in mind.

Most of what ended up being chosen didn’t surprise me: Financial paperwork, family documents, clothing for a couple of days. Computers made the cut, as did several tubs of pre-digital family photos and my son’s guitars. What did surprise me was that, after checking my list twice, all of these necessities fit easily into three modest cars. There was room to spare! So much so, that I made another pass through the house actually looking for more things to rescue, but I just couldn’t find much more to add.

Seeing all of our items-worth-saving in a pile on the floor made me realize how little there actually is in this world that we cannot live without. I took pictures of several large paintings that wouldn’t fit in the cars, and I photographed the wall in my living room that is covered in crosses, each given to me by special family and friends.

Then I sat, taking mental stock of the many, many possessions I had no need to save. For insurance purposes, I did one more lap around the house, videotaping what would be left behind before my son came home and helped me load up the cars.

Evacuation orders never came, thanks to more than 1,000 firefighters working day and night to control the blaze. Even so, I don’t regret being forced into the living of this scenario, which has gracefully exposed some selfish tendencies and revealed that what we really need in order to thrive isn’t more stuff, but the carefully chosen, thoughtfully cultivated right stuff.




Crazy Blessed!


Clareen Adair Barrett
December 18, 1930 – January 22, 2014

Reflecting on chapter 7 of Trek to the Manger today, I’m reminded afresh of my sweet friend, Clareen. I hope this post will inspire you to remember those who have been part of your great cloud of witnesses through the years! I shared these thoughts at Clareen’s memorial service last year. I miss her. A lot.


Artist. Prophet. Cracked Pot. Yoda.

Many people in our community have memories and stories of adventures and conversations with Clareen Barrett – I have no special claim to her, to be sure. And yet, like many others, I feel like I DO!

Isn’t it beautiful how one woman can affect so many people in such deeply personal ways? I wonder if you know anyone like that?

If you’ve given it any thought yourselves, those of you who knew Clareen, there are life-lessons that you have gleaned from watching her live. Maybe your own list looks a little bit like mine…

Clareen ‘Keepers’

Love Simply and Keep it Real

If we can agree on anything about Clareen, it’s that she was REAL.

Sometimes real is MESSY. Sometimes real is QUIRKY. Sometimes real is HIT or MISS. But Clareen’s love for people was simple, honest and obvious in her easy tears, spontaneous hugs and limitless generosity. Clareen gave me a bound book (and three more just like it to my family members) on the Sunday we joined our church – Clareen was our sponsor. A simple, blank book with a simple note of love and welcome inscribed in the front. This week, more than eight years later, I will write the entry that fills it up completely – the end of one season, and a new beginning.

Be the TRUE YOU and do what you can to make the world a better place

Clareen was always apologizing and asking permission as she went about sharing her vast storehouse of creativity and deep – yet simple – wisdom.

I save things… and many mornings I have fired up the computer to find emails from Clareen, filled with musings, poetry, photos of last night’s paintings, random ideas for events – even scripts for her next play – many of which occurred to her during the third watch hours the night before.

Five years ago I had asked for her artistic help with a women’s retreat I was writing, called ‘Ready to Wear‘. The fashion theme brought back memories for her – one of which I found in an old email…

“Toeless shoes came out in the late 30’s or at least that’s when I became aware of them.  However, we only had one pair of shoes each (6 kids) and mine were always so ugly, as I had a very narrow  foot we had to have sensible shoes for school, etc.  I COVETED  a pair of toeless shoes!  As I knew I would never have any, I decided to convert my lace up oxfords into snappy toeless beauties. I remember taking them out to the front porch with a big butcher knife and going to work on them… and preferred no one saw – knew this would not be acceptable! I hacked away what seemed like hours… they kept looking worse by the minute… found Mom’s good sewing scissors to help clip out all the layers and threads. It was not a simple job and results were simply a disaster!  And I had to wear these woe-be-gone raggedy shoes as I had no others.  Did I learn a lesson? I really don’t think so.”

Without a trace of pride or ego, Clareen contributed more than most to making my life richer and this church more colorful and true.

Laugh a LOT! Better to elicit tears of joy through smiles than tears that sting from bitterness and pain

Clareen’s sense of humor, often applied to herself, paints a great picture of a life well-lived.

At my invitation to participate in a youth event at church, Clareen wrote this email response:

“Well, sometimes at that time of day I’m about as much fun as a withered turnip, but if I even have a spark of pep or vinegar, I’ll be there!  They are my favorite age people!  I am honored to be asked – I can be your token old lady (on the outside, but inside a sassy lassie still exists and is let out occasionally to exercise the right to be eccentric). One earns that privilege when you get in your 80s….probably the only plus one has left!”

And as her boldness increased with age, she wrote:

“Am pushing  my “old-lady-gutsy eccentricity” a tad heavy!  But dag-nabbit, it’s the only thing one has going for oneself in the sunset years!!!!!!  When Paul talked about our lives being a great race he forgot to mention the last lap is the hardest!  It’s when our spark plugs have lost their spark, gas tank’s running on fumes and we’re skidding up to those pearly gates with tires shredded and engine smoking!  I tend to think of my race as if I’m Henry Ford’s old Model A Ford, which he birthed the same year I was born!  I even drew a pic of one and call it my self portrait!”

Look UP!

Many folks have heard these words from Clareen’s mouth – and if you’re lucky, you’ve heard them more than once…

It wasn’t until she was flat on her back – leveled by the difficulties of life – that she thought to LOOK UP! It was in that broken place that she looked up and saw the God who loved her and had engraved her name on His holy hands!

So… if Clareen is saying anything to us today, it sounds a lot like this:

  • Look up! And fall in love with Jesus!
  • Laugh a LOT! Throw a party! Don’t wait for a holiday – just make one up!
  • Live humbly and do what you can to improve the world around youUSE your gifts – have some fun! – and make some messes along the way!
  • Love simply and from your heart, but don’t be a BORE! Keep it REAL!

I tell you this, Clareen once said in an early morning email, at the risk of having you think that this little ole lady is Clearly Bonkers, or at least Cuckoo Bananas.

And she signed it: Love Your… CB

PS, she wrote: You thought that CB might mean Clareen Barrett… NOT! At least, not this time!

Well, CB, my life has been Crazy Blessed by yours…

And I thank you.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.” Matthew 5:11-12 The Message

Afterthoughts: Reflecting on the Road Just Traveled

Capri, Italy

Capri, Italy

Some people barrel through life in a constant state of ablaze-for-what-comes-next.

Some people live very well in the moment, but when the moment is gone, so goes its power. No lesson learned. No lingering sense of the holy in what just happened.

And some people put down roots – deep and extensive roots – in the events and relationships of yesterday, never entertaining the possibility that new adventures may spark important ideas or birth exciting connections with today. Maybe even with tomorrow.

As for me, I want to be like Mary.

Upon her baby’s birth, after the angel choir had summoned the shepherds to the humble birthplace for worship, Mary wasn’t dwelling on ‘what happens next?’ She wasn’t whining about having given birth in the straw with animal-onlookers; not complaining about inadequate medical care. And from all accounts, we don’t get the feeling that Mary was cringing at the way her story – and that of her son – was unfolding. Nothing in the narrative suggests a Mary who would have preferred to go back in time to a simpler, more ‘normal’ and less mind-blowing existence.

In fact, we get the feeling that Mary was all-in for this God-created adventure! How do we know? Luke 2:19.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (NIV)

But Mary treasured these things and continued to think about them. (NCV)

But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. (HCSB)

Mary continued to think about these things, trying to understand them. (ERV)

Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. (CEB)

But Mary was keeping within herself all these things (sayings), weighing and pondering them in her heart. (AMP)

Mary treasured and pondered and meditated on the events she found herself living. Not only while the mysteries unfolded, but later, too – committing these things to memory and weighing them. Considering them. And my personal favorite – making Mary human and limited, just like me trying to understand them.

What just happened?

We ask this question because the lives we live matter. The words that are spoken and the people we meet, the adventures (and even the mis-adventures) we experience – all of it has the potential to shape us into the best parent, the most thoughtful friend, the most faithful expression of the presence of God in a world where pondering and treasuring are nothing more than ancient practices found in the dusty pages of a rarely opened Book.

Now, I am clearly not the mother of Jesus, but I am the mother of Joffrey and Britton, and I have been the wife of Dallas for nearly 25 years. My life’s adventures can’t really be compared with Mary’s, though that is often what we do, isn’t it? Compare our lives with others?

My family has just returned home from a three week European vacation. Three countries. Eight hotel rooms. Trains. Planes. Taxis. Boats. Buses. Mountains. Oceans. Rain. Snow. And people.

While living this recent adventure, we had to stay in the moment – there was so much to see, and it was ALL new! It wasn’t until I was sitting uncomfortably on the 12 hour home-bound flight that I began to ponder the events of the previous weeks, remembering a word spoken here or a mind-picture there, weighing and mulling over and trying to understand what had just happened…

Because this adventure – this road we’ve just traveled – matters.

At face value, it was a fun trip! We did lots of things, saw places we have only read about in books or seen in movies, met new and interesting people and were reunited with family and friends that we haven’t seen for years.

But I want to be like Mary. I want to hold onto what has happened for awhile, turn it over in my mind, and see what happens. I want to be teachable, but I am also a teacher – and I want to share some of these Afterthoughts with you.

Will you walk with me for awhile, down this road I’ve just traveled?

After all, one person’s Afterthought could very well be another one’s treasure. Just ask Mary.