Eve, Kelly, God and the Apple

A rainbow appears over the prison where Kelly waits.
A rainbow appears over the prison where Kelly waits.

I sit atop a hill, look out on the vastness of God’s good creation, mingled with human development. A pristine golf course, with lush green everywhere, the only spot of red and orange is the hint of leaves in the distance, as the begin their annual return to the earth. It is pouring and my only shelter is an umbrella, a make-shift covering on a camp chair. As I wait for golfers to come play in the rain, offering them a chance to play the “closest to the pin” hole, I bite into my favorite of all the apples, the Honey Crisp, and it doesn’t disappoint. Tonight, Kelly Gissendaner is scheduled to die.

Under the shelter of my umbrella, looking at this garden of green, with the sweet, crisp taste of fall still lingering, I wonder what it was like for Eve. Did she look out and see the beauty, the hope, the new-ness of everything? Did she become disenchanted with the ordinary-ness that the garden of home became? What was she hoping to taste when she took that bite?

Eden is all around. We are constantly given the gift of recreating that which has always been, and we are given the option of destroying it as well. Kelly heard the voice of the serpent over the voice of the Creator that fateful day, decades ago. Most of us have heard it too. We may not kill, but we destroy nonetheless: gossip, envy, apathy, cruelty–it abounds.

Here’s what we forget. Eve was cast out of the garden, but she was not alone. Adam went with her (he was cast out too, of course). And they went on. They had a life with children and chores and Sunday dinners around the table. Grief would come into their lives again and they would survive that too. In the Rite of Christian Burial are the words “to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.” Eve knew that truth.

Kelly knew it too. Life changed. It didn’t end. And in a prison cell, she recreated Eden. She recreated herself, becoming ever more like the One who created her. In the image of God, he created them. In the image of God, all of us are created. And we hear the serpent and we bite the apple and we are cast out of Eden. And by grace and hope, we are given the chance to recreate Eden. Not the same, but life, real life, good life.

Today Kelly, now numbered with the saints in light, knows this even more fully. For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended. It’s true for us too. Let us remember it. Let us recreate Eden everyday.

Fearing Evil

This summer at Beyond Walls, I wrote a piece on the 23rd Psalm and Kelly. The Christian Century has published it on their blog.

Kelly Gissendaner is scheduled for execution in four days. Please pray for her. Please also pray for her family, for the family of Doug Gissendaner and all who commit and are victims of violent crimes. And pray for the State of Georgia, who sees execution as an acceptable form of punishment. May we find our hearts moved to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.



Behold, behold, I make all things new


A week ago I left our parish retreat and drove to my hometown, expecting to visit with my father for a bit and drive home. But one look at him and I knew. The vigil was beginning of what would be the last days of his life. He died, surrounded by love. I miss him. And I suspect I shall always be searching for him, in the benediction of the rain, the bite of a good scotch, in the hummingbirds at the feeder, and in the telling of good stories.

Yesterday, the first morning in over a week, I woke up in my own bed, and began the day drinking coffee brewed in the familiarity of my own kitchen and watching the world wake up from the beauty of the back porch. And then we went for a walk.

Our neighborhood walks often include stops inside of houses being built or rebuilt. Mandy likes to look at the layouts and changing construction. She’ll often point out what she likes or critique what she thinks might be a better flow or plan for the house. I like to imagine what it will become, to see the bare beam and subfloor and know that once our house was only this, waiting to become something more complete, and then to come back and see what the final product yields.

Today we walked past one of our favorite renovations, now complete, with a “for sale” sign in the yard. We haven’t walked through it yet, but we will. Outside was a giant dumpster, complete with a beat up orange couch. Mandy and I rarely agree on anything related to style. She likes classic, I like more modern. She likes neutrals, I like loud colours. You get the idea. But this upside down, in the dumpster sofa–something about it spoke to both of us.

We called our neighbor with the pick up truck and he drove with us to pick it up. He took one look at the sofa and said “I’m chalking this one up to grief!” Somehow I think I’ll need a project in the next few weeks and months. While I won’t physically reupholster the couch, I’ll help imagine and create what it will become. I love the idea of something discarded finding meaning, of that which we thought was finished becoming something new and delightful. One of the many things my father gave me was this truth: there are always hidden gifts and joys waiting to be discovered.

Someday I will tell you more about my father. I will post my favorite picture of him, in his headset, in the control booth he so loved, telling someone what to do to get the perfect shot. He holds a cigarette, which even now, I don’t hate. It was part of who he was, it was part of the choices he made that made up a life and ultimately a death, which was, thanks be to God, holy and good. It is him, captured for a moment in time, but the essence, remains.

Songs have been a big part of this journey–hymns and folk tunes, the songs he sang in our growing up, the jazz he loved. We have been singing. This is the one that came to me as we were out walking this morning. It’s a simple tune from Iona, one of my favorites (alas, the internet doesn’t seem to have a lot of good audio or video from Iona, but I’ll sing it for you if you ask). We sang it as we walked part of the way. I trust that it is as true for me as it is for him.

Behold, behold, I make all things new,

Beginning with you and starting from today.

Behold, behold, I make all things new,

My promise is true, for I am Christ the way.

© WGRG, Iona Community, 1995.


I woke up to this text today: “Good morning, friend. Sun comes up, it’s Wednesday morning…”. Small gifts come, like these. It feels like we’ve been here for months and then I realize it’s not even been three full days. People come and visit, each visit a gift too, a reminder of how much love there is. Food comes, so much food. My favorite offering so far came from a family friend who brought a bottle of wine, a bottle of hand soap and a giant package of toilet paper. Practical and hilarious.

Yesterday the church choir came and sang to him us for almost an hour. They started with Morning has Broken. And I sang the first verse with them. As the second verse started, ever so gently the choir master whispered “parts” and this lullaby morning song opened into something wholly other, the familiar song, the glory of a magnificent choir in four part harmony, the surround of home and nature, the comfort of church, this strange thing that I’ve known all my life, holding us in this liminal moment. Tears took my voice, as they will,  and that too was a gift.

My last conversation with my father was a week ago today. It included many things, some of which are uniquely mine and I hold them in my heart. But a memory I cherish, was watching him eat. We’ve been given the gift of remarkable sitters to be with him during the day and the night. Kimmis, a young, strong new father, stays with my papa during the day. And they have formed this lovely relationship (don’t get me started on him crying yesterday when we explained that we weren’t going to feed or give Papa any more water. Such care and love, even in this new relationship. Today he’s bringing his 7 week old son to meet my father.) But last week, Kimmis brought up lunch for Papa. Soup and cantaloupe. And after every bite, my father would stop and say “it’s just so delicious. Thank you. I’m so grateful.” After every single bite. His gratitude, a gift that I’m holding and hoping to reflect back to him this day and in the years to come.

This morning his breathing is more labored. We move, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, closer to the end of his labor. And it is like labor. No one can do it for him. The last step, the last leap, his alone to make.

Mandy sang this for him, I joined and it’s now become the lullaby offering I can give. The internet doesn’t do it justice. A song from Iona, appropriate as the veil is very thin, even now.

Don’t be afraid My love is stronger
My love is stronger than your fear
Don’t be afraid My love is stronger
And I have promised, promised to be always near