An Ode to Wonder

“Part of becoming yourself, in a deeply spiritual way, is finding the words to tell the truth about what it is you really love.” –Shauna Niequist


Fall in love with one thing
every day, the poet said. It is
the last great expanse — the unknown
of the human heart. Love is all the adventure
left on this small globe — save the ocean — all
the adventure left in this universe — save the
unplumbable distance between the stars. And isn’t it
much the same? Those galaxies of dark and light,
those mysteries of depth, of height, reminding one
that one is small. That God is big. That wonder
is the only reasonable response to all this
space — all that is unknown, unknowable, and real.


The snow fell today in flurries.
I watched it dance from where I sat on the couch,
the glass doors closed to keep the warmth in,
the white crystals out. But now the mountains
are peaking through the clouds and the sky
is robin-egg blue — and speaking
of robins, one hopped onto the picnic table
where I sat, six weeks ago, drinking a coffee
at a tea shop in the English Lakes. Come to say
hello. To say, we missed you. To say,
you were not forgotten.


I know enough of goodbyes
to know why we close our hearts
behind glass walls built of facts
and science and reasonable explanations —
but there is poetry in truth, for however we arrived
on this planet, and however we leave its shores,
we are an entangled species that knows the world
through touch, through taste, through the sound of our
own breath leaving lungs we did nothing to create.
We know best through proximity, embrace — know the corner
of the world we’ve loved — and know (let us admit it)
little enough else.


I don’t pretend to understand
why an acacia grows so different from her cousin
the redwood. Even less, why the sight of her branches
spread against the backdrop of an African sky
causes my spirit to join her in mute but persistent
song — in longing, in adoration, in strains of Hallelujah.
But I will not do you — do her — the injustice
of explaining it away.


We are creatures made for worship.

Inspired by Reid Carpenter’s “8 Stanzas Are Enough for Now,” Sarah Halvorson’s “Sunrise from Plum Island,” Nikki Giovanni’s conversation with Krista Tippett, and all the poets who remind me to live with my eyes, and heart, and hands wide open.

A Year in Books (2019)

2019 was a year where I read, and read, and read.

I finished the Dark Tower series. I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (yes, it was about time). I encountered Mary Doria Russell. And Rachel Held Evans. And finally flipped my ratio of male and female authors (with over two-thirds of my reading having been written by women). I also read my first Richard Rohr (and found him as powerful, thought-provoking, and disconcerting as I expected).

I read 59 books in 2019. And somewhere in the vicinity of 19,179 pages. Not counting the 10 books I edited for work. That’s 15 books, and 4,000 pages, more than 2018 (and yes, my brother tells me it’s unhealthy to keep breaking my own record; it’s not sustainable after all.)

Of those 59 books, 41 were written by women, 34 were fiction, 3 were essay collections, 1 was a collection of poems, and 1 a collection of prayers. I also completed 5 series (and began a couple more).

Here are some of the highlights.

Best “Just Fun” Book The Wind through the Keyhole by Stephen King

Stephen King’s The Wind through the KeyholeAfter suffering through the last three books (and several thousand pages) of the Dark Tower series (a series that has, at its best, such heights — and, at its worst, such lows), The Wind in the Keyhole was a relief. Unnecessary to the overarching plot of the series, it is a story of folklore and magic — a fairytale for a stormy evening.

Runners up: I think I would have to award this to Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s Magisterium series. While it’s not the most original of premises — or the most flawless of executions — it was, undoubtedly, fun. Also, Shannon Hale’s Dangerous, while lacking the beauty of her retold fairytales, won me over in the end.

Best YA Read

Shadows by Robin McKinleyRobin McKinley has long been one of my favorite authors. While aimed at younger readers, her books resound with depth — depth of character, depth of world-building, depth of relationship, depth of reality. C.S. Lewis says (somewhere or other) that a good book should restore right weight to the world, and McKinley certainly does that. She celebrates what there is to celebrate and mourns what there is to mourn — while reawakening a sense of wonder and possibility. And she avoids the sensationalism that sells so well within her long-chosen genre. Shadows is not a book about anyone saving the world. But it is a book about friendship and family and courage and the world being something different than you thought it.

Runners up:  Patricia C. Wrede’s Thirteenth Child. Nothing much happens in this book — and that’s rather refreshing given the general expectations of YA fantasy literature. But the writing is strong and the world feels both interesting and true (even if, at times, infuriating).

Best Nonfiction The Life You Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie

Paul Elie’s spiritual and literary biography of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy — The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage — wins out in this category. It’s the story of how four American Catholics read, wrote, and lived their way towards faith — a story of how salvation is found in the journeying.

Runners up: Pope Francis’s The Joy of the Gospel and Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith.

Best Faith-Related/Devotional

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held EvansRachel Held Evan’s Searching for Sunday. Powerful and so, so needed. If I could make you read one book, it would probably be this one.

Runners up: I read a lot of good books in this category. But Shauna Niequist’s Present over Perfect and Bread and Wine spoke to me particularly. Both were celebrations of life in all its smallness — both spoke to finding the sacred in the mundane and the holy in the ordinary. Both were reminders of the beauty of the everyday.

Best Audiobook Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Most of my “reading” these days is actually audiobook listening, so there were many, many great reads in this category. But Mark Bramhall’s reading of Mary Doria Russell’s Doc was a particular highlight. If you like westerns (or even if you don’t), I’d recommend you give it a try. A book that isn’t really about much — and yet manages to be a beautiful celebration of life nonetheless.

Runners up: Michelle Obama’s Becoming.

Best Fiction

The Sparrow by Mary Doria RussellMary Doria Russel’s The Sparrow. Jesuits in space; the book of Job retold. This was both a well-crafted narrative (suspenseful, gripping, creative, beautiful) and a deeply powerful explication of suffering and faith. I would highly recommend it.

Runners up: Richard Powers’s The Echo Maker (a reflection on memory, identity, and family — on what makes us human in the end) and Ursula Le Guin’s Malafrena (a nineteenth century family saga touching on the nature of freedom, intentionality, necessity, and all the paradoxes and perils of our entangled, tragic, beautiful, brief, and confounding existence).

Most Thought-Provoking Silence by Shusaku Endo

Of all the books I read in 2019, the one that is most likely to change my life — the one I keep wrestling with, reflecting on, and ruminating over — the one I keep turning over and over in my heart and mind — is Shūsaku Endō’s Silence. Upon completing the narrative, I wasn’t sure what I thought about it (and I still feel a bit ambivalent about some of the stylistic/translation choices) — but there is something powerful here that keeps working long after the last page is turned. This book is disturbing like Richard Rohr is disturbing — forcing one to confront the mystery of all one does not know.

Longest and Shortest Books

Stephen King’s The Dark Tower (at over 1,000 pages) and Mary Oliver‘s A Thousand Mornings (at just over 80).

Most Read Author 

In number of books, it’s Holly Black with 6 (5 of those having been co-written with Cassandra Clare), followed by Mary Doria Russell (with 5), and Maggie Stiefvater and Steven King (each with 4).

In terms of pages read, the winner is Steven King (with 2,847 pages or thereabouts), followed by Mary Doria Russell (2,400) and Holly Black (1,634). 

Of those in the running, I would have to say that Mary Doria Russell has yet to let me down — every book I read of hers (and all 2,400 pages) was well worth reading. Some more than others (The Sparrow, Doc, and A Thread of Grace were definite highlights), but she proves herself, consistently, a master of her craft.

Runners up: Brene Brown (3), Ursula K. Le Guin (2), Rachel Held Evans (2), Shauna Niequist (2), and Mary Karr (2). 

Worst Read

As for Stephen King’s Wolves of the Calla…let’s just say, I really don’t want to talk about it (and, at almost 1,000 pages, that’s a significant chunk of my life I can’t get back…).

You can find a complete list of my year’s reading here or follow me on Goodreads for an up-to-date record of my reading, rants, and reviews.

What were some of your 2019 highlights? And what reading goals have you set yourself for 2020?

A Year in Review (2019)

I know. I know.

It’s been forever since I’ve written a real post on this blog. Like, basically the whole of 2019. (Yes, I posted a few Words of Wednesday posts over the winter / spring, and yes, I wrote my annual year in review posts, and an Ash Wednesday reflection, and one poem — oh, and a preface to a post that, a year later, is still pending — but, yeah, that isn’t the greatest track record).

My excuse?

Honestly, I don’t really have one. I mean, unless starting a new job, transitioning to a new state, and reading, like, a whole ton of books count as excuses. In the second half of 2018, my highest priority (other than hanging out with my nephew) was getting words written. In 2019, I was distracted by the need to establish myself professionally, earn an income, and pay rent. But that still feels like a bit of a cop out on the writing front. The truth is, I didn’t write very much in 2019 because I didn’t make it a priority. And while the completionist in me is horrified at the scattered inconsistency of the last twelve (er, fourteen?) months (so much for weekly blogging), when I think over what the year did hold, it seems rather significant, writing or not.

So here, briefly, are nineteen highlights of 2019.

1. I started copyediting professionally. Like, for a publishing company.

2. I earned money writing words.

3. I attended Hamilton. In San Francisco. I even hung out in Aaron Burr’s dressing room for a while. And had a chat with King George.

4. I hung out with my little brothers — first cheering for our dad as he ran the Boston Marathon, then visiting my youngest brother in Redding, California, where he’s been living (and thriving) for the past three years.

5. I edited my brother’s thesis. On the poetics of videogames. It was excellent (and made me want to teach poetry all over again).

6. I said goodbye to the redwoods. To a year of walking (and living) in their shade.

7. I lived by the ocean, spending six months of 2019 in sight of the Pacific — first in Santa Cruz, then in Oregon. (I even kayaked amidst the otters in Monterey Bay.)

8. I said goodbye to Magnus. This was not a highlight, but a devastation. After a year of being a fairly large portion of his small world — feeding him breakfast, taking him on walks and runs, playing a million rounds of tower building and peek-a-boo, reading him stories and cuddling at naptime and bedtime — catching so many of his firsts (his first crawl, his first walk, his first word) — the thought of missing so many changes — the thought of not being recognized the next time we met — all of it was unbearable, and I cried harder than I’ve ever cried before. But the pain is a sign of the gift — the gift of months and months of his joyous, daily presence. Of roadtrips spent playing magnets in the backseat. Of him knocking for entrance on my bedroom door. Of stopping to examine his favorite boulders on the UCSC campus. Of his love for flowers and delight in deer and the songs that he sang to the trees. Of being reminded, every day, of the wonder of this world we inhabit — with its ants, and its rocks, and its growing things. What a miracle to know this boy, to love this boy, to be his aunt — no matter how many miles might currently separate him from me.

9. I moved to Colorado (by train, with a rose in tow). And into an apartment inhabited by two of my oldest, and closest, friends. I even (for the first time in my life) signed my name to a lease.

10. I visited Peru. For a beloved friend’s wedding. Adding both a country, and a continent, to my list.

11. I went on a silent retreat, spending eight days at an Ignatian retreat center — my third such retreat in as many summers (though my first in the US).

12. I celebrated my 10-year college reunion. Not by returning to my alma mater, but with a mini-reunion of dear friends in Denver.

13. I ran a 5K. In downtown Denver. And finished in the top 4% for my age group. (Not too bad for someone who runs for distance and not for speed.)

14. I completed my 5th NaNoWriMo. My 4th co-writing with my long-term writing partner, Elftree — and this time, for the first time, writing with a table, and not an ocean, between us.

15. I went on a business trip. To San Diego. Yep, someone paid me to travel.

16. I hung out with my cousins. One of them, five times in five different states. Quite the new record. (And evidence, it would seem, of what can happen when one lives in the same country for a while.) I also had many escapades with other cousins — in California, in Oregon, and in Minnesota. What a delight to realize (to continue to realize) that you’re related to some of the most thoughtful, kind, and fun-loving people you know — and that the age difference, which used to seem to matter, really, really doesn’t anymore. Yay for friends who are family (and family who are friends).

17. I spent Thanksgiving in Minnesota. With my beautiful grandmother. My first solo trip to the homeland — a special and delightful time of fellowship. (Which also involved reconnecting with my nephew.)

18. I met my future sister-in-law. And was present when she became my brother’s fiance.

19. I celebrated Christmas on the Oregon coast. With my beloved parents and all of my beloved siblings (and siblings-in-law). With Christmas tea, and sugar cookies, and Star Wars-watching, and game playing, and feasting, and laughing, and lots and lots of talking . . . and many, many hours spent building with DUPLOs and reading books and playing hide-and-seek and going up and down stairs with a small person who can now say “Auntie” quite clearly (along with many other things) — a small person whose “Auntie, up!” is my favorite way to wake up in the morning, and whose delight in stockings and small books were the joy of Christmas. And so I ended 2019 as I began it: being an aunt still feels like the best, and most important, thing I am doing with my life. And, of course, it’s not a doing at all. It’s a being. A gift that was bestowed upon me. All I have to do is say YES.sunset on the Oregon Coast

And it’s 2020. This year promises to be rather momentous in its own right. My niece (who shares my middle name, translated across languages) was born on February 20th (in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico) — and I’ll be traveling in April to meet her (assuming I can survive the anticipation of the next several weeks). I just returned from another business trip (this one to the UK), and, along with my trip to Mexico, I have trips planned for every month until May — at which point I’ll be running my second half-marathon, my little brother will be getting married, and, at some point this summer, my rose and I will be relocating — destination or destinations unknown.

And hopefully, at some point in there, I will find time (and motivation) to write a few more blog posts. In the meantime, thanks for your patience. And I hope you are having a lovely (and hopeful) start to your 2020.

October Delight | Words of Wednesday

I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. –L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Friends Going Leaf Peeping: Colorado AspensI got that October feeling today. You know the one. Where the sky is grey, and the air is crisp, and you’re inside, and warm, surrounded by laughing strangers, as you sip your pumpkin spice latte (with whipped cream and an extra shot, because, why not?) and everything is a bit golden, a bit bright, a bit tinged with that holiday-feeling. With that sense of magic. The world, for no particular reason, a bit right.

It always makes me miss Oxford, that feeling. Oxford, where I first fell in love with autumn. Oxford, where the college ivy will be turning red, and wool sweaters will make their appearance on High Street, and pubs and tea shops will be bright and cheery with students and tourists, and the Bodleian lights will glow in the early dusk.

But I’m not in Oxford today. I’m in Colorado — adding one more place to the patchwork mosaic that is my definition of “home.” In Colorado, watching the sun dip behind the mountains, turning the sky the color of golden aspens (mixed with just a hint of that Oxford ivy). In Colorado, living with two of my dearest friends, reading Anne of Green Gables aloud, running every morning (have I ever seen so many sunrises?), cooking dinners, watching anime, playing board games, editing dissertations, listening to audiobooks, and seeking, with Anne, to live every moment of it fiercely alive. 

October was a beautiful month at Green Gables, when the birches in the hollow turned as golden as sunshine and the maples behind the orchard were royal crimson and the wild cherry-trees along the lane put on the loveliest shades of dark red and bronzy green, while the fields sunned themselves in aftermaths.

Anne revelled in the world of color about her.

“Oh, Marilla,” she exclaimed one Saturday morning, coming dancing in with arms full of gorgeous boughs. “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it? Look at these maple branches. Don’t they give you a thrill — several thrills? I’m going to decorate my room with them.”

–L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, ch. 16

Aren’t you glad we live in a world with Octobers?

The Gaze of a Lion | Words of Wednesday

From “Serengeti” by Mary Oliver:

Can anyone doubt that the lion of Serengeti
is part of the idea of God?

. . .

the bone-breaker,
and the agent of transformation?
No doubt, in the beginning,
he rose out of the grass

like a fire–
as now he rises out of the grass,
like a fire,
gleaming and unapproachable,

and notices me,
and fixes me with his large,
almost fatherly eyes,
and flexes his shoulders.

I don’t know
anything so beautiful as the sunlight
in his rough hair.
I don’t know

where I have seen such power before–
except perhaps in the chapel
where Michelangelo’s God,
tawny and muscular,

tears the land from the firmament
and places the sun in the sky
so that we may live
on the earth,

among the amazements,
and the lion
runs softly through the dust,
and his eyes, under the thick, animal lashes,

are almost tender,
and I don’t know where I have been
so frightened,
or so happy.

A Couple of Lions

Today, I miss Africa.

Excerpted from Mary Oliver’s poem “Serengeti” in her collection House of Light (1990).

A Father’s Day Poem

The Gardener
for my father

I have loved roses
since the earliest days,
when they spilled
like flames over our garden
walls, and you’d bring
them, fresh cut,
into the house,
where they’d dwell like
living embers singly
or together
and fill our mornings
with the perfume
of their song.

I have loved them
as you tended
the slowly growing
vine that twined
itself around the spirals
of our Jordanian
windows — an act
of faith, coaxing flowers
from the desert,
their color proclaiming
God’s faithfulness
as surely as any
burning bush
or shrub.

And I love them still,
seven thousand miles
from where you
spend your evenings
watering jasmine and
daisies, your garden a riot
of color and song,
as I tend my own
small miracle of green —
not quite eight inches
high, she grows
without knowledge
of her diminutive
size (as I gently check
each leaf for mites),
a single, unfurling
bud waving at the sky.

–Karith Amel © 2019


Have I Lived Enough? | Words of Wednesday

The Gardener

Have I lived enough?
Have I loved enough?
Have I considered Right Action enough, have I come to any conclusions?
Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?
Have I endured loneliness with grace?

I say this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it.
Actually, I probably think too much.

Then I step out into the garden,
where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man,
is tending his children, the roses.

Mary Oliver

From Mary Oliver’s 2012 collection, A Thousand Mornings.

The year (my year) is drawing to a close, and I find myself wrestling (as always) with questions of what it means to live well, to live fully. Have I shown up enough? Have I been present enough? Have I done enough? Have I been enough?

I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But I do know that I got up every weekday morning, drank matcha, and talked to, fed, played with, cuddled, and generally spent time with my nephew. 

And, somehow, none of the rest of it seems to matter quite as much.

Magnus and Aunty Kar laughing on the couch

Feet towards the Sunrise | Words of Wednesday

There is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome. –Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

You probably know that Rachel Held Evans died last weekend — a fact that I’m still trying to process (while avoiding the articles and discussions, however sympathetic, that wrangle over her faith, her legacy, and her life). I didn’t know Rachel personally. And, unlike many of my friends, I came to her work only recently, so she played no part in my discovery of feminism, my early journey with questions, or my wrestling with issues surrounding the LGBTQ community. Yet despite her absence from my life for most of my formative years, I found her Searching for Sunday to be revelatory — precisely because I found so many of my thoughts and longings spilled across its pages. It was the experience of connection, of encounter, of knowing oneself not alone that C.S. Lewis has declared to be the purpose of reading and writing. And in the midst of an ongoing search for female writers — women of faith — to sojourn with, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit.

Rachel is — Rachel was — only five years my senior. So I anticipated years and years of her presence, her wisdom, her compassion and insight, as companions on my journey. And, I suppose, I can still have those years, because, while Rachel isn’t here any longer, her work still is.

Yet I feel the ache nonetheless. An ache that doesn’t begin to compare with the loss her family is experiencing — the loss they’ll wake up with and go to sleep with and live with for the rest of their lives. Yet I grieve for the rest of us too. For we lost the voice, the leadership, the insight of a fierce, wise, articulate, Christ-loving woman just as she was coming into her own. And we are all of us poorer for it.

All of us, that is, but Rachel. She’s probably doing just fine.

The above quote is probably my favorite single statement from Searching, mostly because I think it sums up, so powerfully, what it looks like to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Rachel was someone involved in Kingdom work — shaking strongholds, speaking truth, and showing up with ointment for the wounds of both church and world.

May her example cause all of us to grow deeper in courage, in integrity, in compassion, and in wholehearted devotion. May we have the faith to ask questions, to wrestle, to show up, to love, and to not be afraid. May we follow Christ into the bruised places of the world. And may we be buried with our feet towards the sunrise.

Why Write | Words of Wednesday

Writing, regardless of the end result — whether good or bad, published or not, well reviewed or slammed — means celebrating beauty in an often ugly world.


Anybody struggling to make something — no matter how they succeed or don’t in terms of the marketplace — has entered into conversation with giants. We’re all in the same arena, and our efforts differ “in degree only, and not in kind.”


To bring one’s self to others makes the whole planet less lonely.


None of us can ever know the value of our lives, or how our separate and silent scribbling may add to the amenity of the world, if only by how radically it changes us, one and by one.

–Mary Karr, excerpts from “Against Vanity: In Praise of Revision” in The Art of Memoir

Note: I listened to this book in audio format, so I’m relying on a combination of my own and others’ transcriptions (thank you, internet) without the ability to double check punctuation against the original text. I apologize for any errors in accuracy.

From All the Possible Shapes | Words of Wednesday

For it feels as if I was made — from all the possible shapes a human might take — not to prove myself worthy but to refine the worth I’m formed from, acknowledge it, own it, spend it on others. –Mary Karr, Lit

Sorry for disappearing for a while. I’ve been traveling (cheering on my dad as he ran the Boston marathon and visiting my younger brother in Redding, California), which is part of my excuse, but probably the greater truth is that writing is on a bit of a back-burner at the moment. After months of stretching my pennies and desperately trying to hustle up work (and figure out how to hustle up work), I’ve actually had more on my plate these last few weeks than I really know what to do with (which doesn’t mean I’ve moved beyond the penny-pinching phase, just that I finally have leads, and lots of catch-up to play as I figure out how to balance my exacting perfectionism against realistic time constraints — in case you didn’t know, The Chicago Manual of Style is large, y’all). And given that I’ll be moving on from Santa Cruz come June, getting that part of my life (the income generating part) locked in, and under control, has become a rather pressing priority.

Nevertheless, I’m rather bummed that I let two weeks go by without a Words of Wednesday post — I mean, how hard can it be to post a quote, after all? But the truth is I never want to just post a quote. I want to talk about it. Want to ramble about what I’ve been reading and thinking — why I care and why I think you should care. So posting a Words of Wednesday without any accompanying commentary feels like its own kind of defeat. (You probably don’t need to be my therapist to realize that I have a problem with an all or nothing mentality.) 

But I’m trying to combat that way of thinking. Trying to remember that something is better than nothing. That done is better than perfect. And that even when I haven’t had a chance to process, mull-over, write, and revise to my heart’s content . . . maybe, even then, I still have something worth saying. Even half-formed, in-process, uncertain . . . maybe there’s value to words even then. Maybe there’s value to me even then. 

Mary Karr’s Lit is a rather meandering memoir, starting, as it does, pre-college, and ending with Karr as a woman in middle age — a divorcee, a sober alcoholic, a writer, a mother, and a Catholic. The text hardly lends itself to clear threads or easy themes, yet the impression it left on me was one of becoming. This is a text about a woman growing up — not a coming of age story about the experiments of adolescence (perhaps Karr’s Cherry, which I have not yet read, covers that ground), but a story about the slow, meandering road to healing and acceptance. To the kind of maturity and adulthood that John Cacioppo references

Karr may have been a published poet fairly early in her life, yet she manages to make her road “home” feel as winding, confused, frustrated, fear-filled, and grace-touched as most of our roads seem — in truth — to be (perhaps even more so). As someone who lives with a constant sense of time running, slipping, lunging past me — of all that I haven’t yet done, and probably never will do — I found Karr’s book a powerful celebration of process. (Can I call it a “celebration” when so much of this book felt so bleak to me? I think, somehow, I can.) A reminder that even those of us who go slow cannot go too slow for grace.

There is deep magic at work here. A holiness to existence. Even in our brokenness and imperfections — even now, at this moment — all things are being made new. Aware, or not, we are in the hands of God. And God is growing us up, one step, one moment, at a time.

Note: I listened to this book in audio format, so I’m relying on a combination of my own and others’ transcriptions (thank you, internet) without the ability to double check punctuation against the original text. I apologize for any errors in accuracy.