A belated valentine story for a revolutionary feminist-spirit-sculptor-spy


This valentine’s week, with the actual day yesterday powerfully syncing up with Ash Wednesday, has rekindled the history of one of my favorite activists from the American Revolution: Ms. Patience Wright, b. 1725-1786.

Truth be told there’s zero overt or historical connection with Ms. Wright and our modern culture’s celebrated rituals of this particular week


Here’s why this blog-post-gone-valentine (and Ash Wednesday) feature is just for her:  her entrepreneurial, fearless approach to an 18th century career in art -and- spy craft.

  • After her husband died in the late 1760s, Wright needed economic streams immediately. She elevated her hobbyist art to professional attainment, and is considered the first known American wax sculptor.
  • Also after her husband’s death, she was raising three children and pregnant. This alone makes her deserving for valentine acknowledgement.
  • Wright’s sometimes patriotic and spiritual devotion to the new America’s cause for independence wasn’t always popular (as she was a resident who lived both in New Jersey and London); her courage seems timely to honor though, since her advocacy goes parallel to the preparatory strengthening of Lent first established for the once young & unpopular Christian faith.

Ms. Wright alienated her American friends even more when she pressured (Benjamin) Franklin to support a rebellion in Britain itself. Writing to him in France (in the mid-1700s), she encouraged him to lend his services to “poor and oppressed” Britons as spiritual brothers and sisters of the American Revolution.

Patience Wright was a wax sculptor, mother of four, and to my heart’s delight – an American and quite revolutionary spy living in Britain throughout the 18th century.

I dream of this make-believe-story below!

…a.k.a. a quick imagining, fueled a little by the inner spy I’d love to be, with the stealth, artistic espionage of Ms. Patience Wright in full-swing.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to Ms. Patience Wright.

Here’s some playful fiction inspired by your spiritual grit, going back to when the United States was a fighting idea at war:

It is a late, motionless night in the streets of London. The year is 1776…that unwavering bearer of change for both sides of the Atlantic.  One house in particular has stayed audibly quiet since dusk; and with the full moon …..there’s just enough light for Ms Patience Wright to sculpt the hairline of a neck.

She sits at full artistic alert near her northern most window.  How she loves a studied confrontation with a block of wax..unveiling human form with every chisel. And much of London and the British elite consider her the best of the best……a renowned wax sculptor producing work in a suite of pastels.

This is the work of Ms Patience Wright….widow, sculptor, and mother of four.

She leans in closer now toward the window sill to catch all possible light from the moon. Her fingers work in their primal rhythm with the wax …. what looks like a fluid sway between smoothing-molding-lifting-pressing.

She sits back to stretch her shoulders and take in her work.

“Yes…yes…this will serve good purpose,” she says to the wells of her own self-respect.

Now all her interest turns to the final test of the bust’s left ear. But before Patience adheres the lower arc of the ear lobe, …..she writes a tiny note of intelligence (some critical news against the monarchy). She then scrolls it up, and secures the note in the ear’s upper curve.

“This will do,” she whispers in the private, moonlit arena of her craft. For Ms. Wright knows her creative trade fulfills two needs very, very well:  the art of sculpture and the art of spy craft.

Once she convinces herself the bust’s ear chamber was sealed with precision and a look of innocence, she packed the small bust in a gift container and folded away her tools.




She heard the front-door taps with shifting angst. She knew that knock brought loyal support to the patriot cause. But like any fight for sovereignty, even such a sound of allegiance courted potential threat.

Nonetheless she summoned her feet toward the door.

There a shadowed figure greeted her. 

With a simple flip of the agent’s cloak over his right shoulder, he said one phrase coded just for her:

“A night for liberty madam, is it not?” he asked with the impatient flare of an insider on the run.

Patience nodded as she granted the agent the box. The shine of his black riding boots then twirled away in the moonlight back to his mount…and off they went…couriers for the west bound for Benjamin Franklin himself stationed now in Paris.

Patience shut the door…and stood a moment in the stillness of her home.

Then came a stir upstairs.

“Mama, mama…” cried her young ones with their dawning appetite.

She lofted up the stairwell with satisfaction, the depth of which anointed her heart with cravings for future risks on moonlit nights.



Photo attribution “I spy a girl working on a Sunday” by Janine licensed by Creative Commons

Courage, self-control, and the most demanding hospitality experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything

The Code of the Samurai aka the Bushido Code keeps running through my mind as an ancient-gone-modern reference guide for delivering (consistently) awesome hospitality.

A thrilling experience comes to the forefront that puts this into better focus. A few years ago my church (Foundry UMC) was gearing up to celebrate its Bicentennial anniversary. It was exhilarating. Many folks from the local Dupont Circle community in DC; national Methodist connection; past pastors of the church; and city and even national leaders planned to attend this gigantic celebration.

I was on church staff at the time, organizing hospitality and related support. There were many times when our hospitality standards would enter conversation and team training. Our suite of hospitality mantras became: “Everyone is welcome; everyone joining us that day is apart of this historical day and our special guest; each person who walks in these church doors is to receive a radically clear welcome just for them…”

Our mindset was to be all the more radically sincere, consistent, agile, and fully filled with welcoming attention. Foundry’s Pastor Ginger often inspired the church members, legions of volunteers, and staff with reminders that we were deepening and enriching the church’s very own standard of ‘radical hospitality.’ The passionate, well-rounded dedication (and tactical support) to achieve this level of hospitality was a dream come true. I was proud to work with this congregation in this moment.

Then it all got really, really real.

After over a year of planning – the sun finally rose on the big day and nudged all preparation into high-octane immediacy.

Beloved neighbors, friends, & family lined up long before our church doors opened hoping to get a good seat; DC mayor’s office called every few minutes with her advance team’s revised arrival time; Secretary Clinton, President Clinton, and daughter Chelsea would arrive once their secret service team finished their rounds. An alternate community like no other was taking shape to celebrate our first 200 years in Christian faith.

Volunteers attended their stations — in the balcony; in multiple aisles in the sanctuary; greeters in front hospitality; welcoming, directional folks near the restrooms; the fellowship hall; on the outdoor grounds; the Green Room. It was an awesome, in-sync, and bubbly solar system of hospitality teams. The awareness was at a fever-pitch to acknowledge guests, guide traffic, convey resourcefulness, and love-thy-neighborness at every turn.

Then as I was almost in adrenaline, star-struck overload, echos of Pastor Ginger’s wise coaching ricocheted in all corners of my head space:

“…Every person, every child, every elderly soul, every guest, every familiar face or stranger…all are welcome. Welcome personally everyone as much as you can, as sincerely open as you can, and as often as you can.” 

It became clear in that moment to me that Pastor Ginger’s words outlined hospitality as an extension of hospitality justice — a beckoning to everyone no matter their reality in modern society. We were a historical congregation honoring our 200th year of devotion to loving God and neighbor, and all the vulnerable rigor living in community can require.

That’s when an unexpected reservoir of courage and self-control surfaced. These specific code of the samurai virtues immediately became relevant and necessary. Because this was a chance for us to reflect God’s emancipating love in our little corner of the world. Holy. Wow.

Courage and self-control to inform the secret service agent that my time was not 100% dedicated to him – and to refer him to another hospitality resource (…a little nerve-racking as he was equipped with a vivid fire arm). Courage and self-control to not let getting star struck distract focus from the sweet elderly woman having trouble with her shawl. The Bushido Code states: “Courage is worthy of being counted among virtues only if it’s exercised in the cause of Righteousness…”

Every impromptu question created an arena for the liberating, loving, fret-defying love of God to lead, like: “So the coat racks are full…now what?” to a choir member gasping in angst: “Who has a cough drop?!”

Radical hospitality meant our team stepping into a radical availability to not just welcome but to engage countless levels of collaborative readiness.

As in, it is not enough to simply recognize that ‘all guests whether they are state leaders or not deserve splendid attention and resourcefulness.’ It takes conscious assertion of courage in the present time (which I find can be challenging or even intimidating…per secret service scenario!). This whole hospitality experience and the environment Foundry UMC created that day provided unparalleled education. The event offered irreplaceable forums to better control adrenaline and anxiety, and to direct both as courageously as possible to delivering hospitality with equity to every soul in the place.

Photo attribution “Take Courage” by kipadella licensed under Creative Commons

Justice, and how the code of the samurai makes an epic code for hospitality

There’s nothing like a saga about a samurai’s honor to get the mental juices reflecting on (unexpectedly to me!) hospitality.
After watching The Last Samurai again, and becoming utterly more enthralled by it, I hungered to learn the ethos of the samurai warrior (also know as The Bushido Code). 
The full code is comprised of eight virtues, creating an integrity-rich and spiritual combination of disciplines to abide by: rectitude; courage; mercy; politeness; sincerity; honor; loyalty; and self-control.
Many virtues from the Bushido Code strike a cord, and compel strong principles for delivering hospitality. I look forward to exploring these in the coming days.
Rectitude or Justice:

According to the Samurai’s spiritual path and code of conduct, deciding the moral course and not wavering from that course is vital. It is this undeterred commitment to honest, moral reasoning that gives stature to the samurai’s day to day life.

Such an unwavering commitment makes this virtue a great ethos for delivering front of house hospitality, especially when it comes to in-person guests. So many details compete for attention when running a hospitality-based organization. In the administrative intensity, attention to the in-person guest can often get marginalized or become chronically distracted. What’s key is for the front of hospitality team to — unilaterally and reliably — prioritize the in-person guest over all other commitments or interruptions. It is the only way visiting guests will begin to trust the resourcefulness and sincerity of welcome in an organization.

Story of caution about this virtue and an organization’s culture:

A while ago, I was engaging an in-person guest at front hospitality for a large urban church. While attempting to be a resource to this visiting person, a colleague interrupted our discussion twice. The interruptions were vivid and distracting enough that the guest criticized my colleague (to me) once my colleague had departed. The guest felt undermined and not taken seriously. The next part of our exchange involved my apologies, and attempts to rebuild the guest’s interest in church programs.

It is critical that an organization’s entire culture is committed to all guests receiving prioritized, undivided attention. Otherwise delivering hospitality to visitors becomes at the very least, an exercise in depleting good will to guests.


In the coming days, I look forward to comparing more of the Bushido Code to other aspects of delivering hospitality, including courage and self-control.

Photo “Samurai John” by Jerome Olivier licensed under Creative Commons


What a lost kitten taught about reunions and risk

imageIt was a quiet early fall night in DC.

The outdoors were starting to turn toward cooler breezy temps. Husband Sean and I were relaxing together in full-on chill time reading and nuzzling with Squinky-Susan (sister kitty) and also Walter Wilbur-Force Buttons (littler bro kitty).

Our lights-out time arrived; Sean had opened a window by a few inches to let cooling breezes swirl inside. Off to bed we went, in our 550 square foot home that sat four stories up from a busy neighborhood street.

The next conscious cue came from morning light that touched our eyelids awake. Sean got up first to enjoy some early a.m. silence.

After a while he nudged me to full-alert.

“Um Walter is gone,” he said. “I don’t understand….it’s a small apartment.”

I the momma scurry to the living room. No Walter.

…scurry to all the secret under-sofa-and-chair crevices. No Walter-kitten…..just his sister Squinky looking strangely calm.

…what about the old-timey pedestal bathtub. There’s a ton of secret hiding spots for kittens!

But no fuzzy Walter Wilbur-Force appeared.

I look at Sean with my eyes rounding through the tear drops.

He says again in a listless monotone: “But it’s such a small apartment…where could he have gone? It’s so small.”

His fixation on the size of the apartment made my heart ache more. He is such a fantastically logical person; his logic powerhouse of a brain was desperately equating smallness of our home to the impossibility that his cherished soulmate of a (always indoor) kitten could ever get lost, let alone disappear.

His eyes then wander over to the cracked window left open from last night: “OMG HE RAN AWAY FROM FOUR STORIES UP.”

What a heart sinker.

Walter’s escape out the teeny tiny window space was the only logical conclusion.

We ran downstairs; scoured alleyways; searched around big dumpster areas, calling calling calling Walter’s name.

No fuzzy gray paws or purrring was to be found.

Sean left for work lugging a gallon of gonna-keep-my-chin-up sadness with one last absent remark from his logical brain still trying to reconcile his disbelief: “….but our apartment is so small.”

More emotional context:  This occurred a few days after Prince died. So the climate of separation anxiety was already heavy!

Then after posting one more color poster outside of “Help us find our precious Walter Kitten Face!!!” I glanced back randomly toward the front glass door into the four story walk up (we lived on the fourth floor with a few other neighbors residing on the other levels).

There adhered to the glass was a crooked yellow sticky note!

My heart and brain leapt instantly over the 5 meters to the door to read that sticky:

“Are you missing a cat?! Please call this number.”


Within seconds after calling, Walter Wilbur-Force The Kitten was back home to momma’s caress (and to his papa’s infinite joy).

The mystery in Walter’s disappearance revealed in purrrfect clarity thanks to two mindful and very tender-hearted neighbors that lived in a building adjacent us. It’s an awesome urban cat-n-mouse story minus the mouse. It’s a wonderful (and one of my favorite) family tales.

The whole experience refreshed perception about reunions and risk on a few levels:

  • What an unforeseen loss of love teaches:Losing unexpected access to the one you love feels like a bucket of pine needles assaulting every avenue of your heart. I revered two things a whole lot more when reuniting with Walter Wilbur-Force Buttons:  simple presence of your loved one is the height of abundance; and returning from the hugely vulnerable world unscathed (as Walter did) is ar blessing and rarity.
  • Thoughts about risk and gambling with a stranger:What had happened — Our little precious fuzz-bucket kitten had in Olympic feline fashion self-collapsed his adult frame and slid out into the world (via that four inch window opening…naive move on our end to underestimate the indoor critter). Once out on the window ledge of our building, Walter walked on the ledge; got confused; then couldn’t walk backwards to our specific window. So he walked on the rain gutter to the attached/adjacent building and sat in front of a window.
    • Late, late at night he stared inside this well-lit home through that home’s window and meowed his face off. He sat. He stayed sitting. He myeowed.
    • The couple living in that home noticed him but were wisely  leery of his nature! Was this a stray cat? Where did it come from? Isn’t this technically creepy?!
    • It would’ve been in the realm of reasonable decisions for them to have ignored Walter. The couple though pondered; revisited their first impressions; pondered some more.

They began to re-perceive this stranger chanting myeows outside their window. They started to view Walter as less of a threat, and more of a misplaced stranger in a vulnerable way. Sean and I are grateful for their courage.

  • Closing thought on alleviating potential tensions in risky decisions:Upon letting Walter enter their window, the couple started to think short-term and long-term. If Walter’s family was discovered in the next day, hooray! But if  a reunion did not take place, they were making a hospitality list for their new tenant i.e. litter box, food, and 600 little jingly toys. Their agility is a model for hospitality and for helping the stranger. They went from a risky initial decision all the way to sharing space with a stranger to planning for the stranger’s well-being. My goodness how I love this story and them.

Photo:  Walter Wilbur-Force Buttons when a baby, pictured with his Dad.

One husband + awesome courage

Roughly five thousand years ago (…it seems that long sometimes!), some friends including a philosopher named Sean Stickle agreed to help prepare me for a speech contest called Table Topics. Each friend wrote up a handful of surprise questions to ask in front of the group. One by one a buddy would pose a question my way while the rest of the folks stayed quiet and observed. Then for the next 2 minutes after each one, I’d stand in the middle of the seated circle of listeners and offer an impromptu response (aiming for any degree of cohesion!).

The speech contest would eventually be conducted in a similar format as with these friends, but in front of a crowd of strangers at a district-level Toastmasters‘ competition. I remember feeling really grateful to these supportive hobbits for their help. Then it came time for that Seán Stickle to pitch his question:

Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

Two things happened within seconds of hearing his question…as in huge rushes of heat burst in my heart on two different levels.

First my crush on this man went over the moon in that instant. He delivered that question with such an unforgettable, intense meteor of eye contact. He expressed himself with a distinct expectation of response too. Which granted, the whole goal of this friendly gathering was to jolt my brain into lots of improv-yet-still-clear responses. The depth though, and confident willfulness in Sean’s ask came as an unexpected wake up call on what primal vulnerability can feel like.

There was a layer to this vulnerable feeling that was lathered in urgent self-confrontation and morality. Sean presented in that moment a common sense purity as if any-and-all newspapers worldwide were confronting the very same question. The man had turned an informal speech prep session with friends into an arena for moral growth and assertion. It really was one of the hottest things I’d ever encountered.

…The other simultaneously occurring rush of heat in my heart resonated something like ‘Holy Cow how’my gonna answer this in under two hours let alone  under two minutes?!’

Words and phrases exited my vocal cords eventually (specifics though escape current memory). But years later as Sean and I celebrate 17 years of marriage, the core of Sean’s past question still engages inner ponderings between logic, humility, and human value. But what leaps out from that whole exchange with him during those young-days-of-a-crush, was his willingness consciously or not to jump into the arena of inquiry and growth. He didn’t shy away from that arena — he just went for it! There is a type of life lens for me that this has inspired over the years with him:

  1. Spiritual (and emotional) growth requires the taking of what may feel like vulnerable risk, and investing trust in these inner acts of courage.
  2. Love enables growth for individual hearts, for coupled hearts, and healing throughout partnership.
  3. Love does not mean side-stepping reality, or the uneasy or uncomfortable  truths life can present. To side-step such truth is to short circuit capacities to heal, forgive, grow.


Grayer thickets

Sean Jill Us

our eyes once bordered with auburn-oak whiskers and tresses now speak through grayer thickets.

the smiles express from more than they did 131,400 hours before now.

it’s not that your younger grin inspired less or mine felt less.

it’s that our inner rungs have wrestled a lot since – a healthy stretching of emotive taffy.


so now intrinsic muscles flex these grins

upward with fuller comprehension.


understanding is a strange tenet of companionship.

because half the time it’s an exercise lassoed to self-realization:

do i see him as he is? or do i see him as projected interpretation?

(please, please have me see his uniqueness as it really lives

…the massive integrity of which deserves a cheering stadium of response).


in this particular hour, we join as we individuate

as love keeps renovating relational space.

while i search the trinity, and you the reach of euclid,

we diverge a little

expand a little


and through daily moments, we commune in progressive depth.

Near Boston’s Old North Church… remembering


What’s identified here?
Shadows of force once deployed to desert lands now cascade as metal art.
A memorial reveals soldiered policing and rigor.
Rows of valor dip in sunlight and commitment; each extends the other in endless sway of clinks.
They breathe in subtle chimes despite breathless sacrifice.

A father’s eyes consume the swooping chains of identity, gazing from dot to dot to dot.
Up a little his lids climb each strand
then they skate back down the dots of shimmer,
then back up, down (pause) down more,
as if scrutinized knots and swoops can
make every tagged price more comprehendible.

Can you hear it?
A breeze floats up with symphonic consequence. Ripples of tinny, coordinated sound express memories of risk.
Loyalty, well-tested, flows like sandy heated air in an unseen flute of mourning.


Photo:  memorial at Boston’s Old North Church gardens honoring American soldiers lost in Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

What happens in between the presidential votes we cast?

imageA friend asserted today that “Adulthood means to vote.”

Other people in the conversation said political candidates were a turn-off and “…why can’t they get better people to run for office?”

Needless to say, our discussion pivoted around this year’s campaign season. The whole combative carnival that is this presidential race does not make for an obvious segue to greater spiritual understanding.  But the above passionate assertions brought to mind a thought that’s not quite finessed in my brain, yet it’s led to some unanticipated views to spiritual commitment and community.

Starting with this:

The average citizen, myself included, passes the buck on achieving answers & real change in our country.

Maybe I’ve been online too much lately grappling with political and racial turmoil; but this election more so than others has triggered my theory that average voters don’t want to be inconvenienced in regularly exercising their voice and regularly working to improve the ills of community or the nation as a whole.

So when the presidential elections come around — all that dormant, unused activism explodes into a frustrated, screaming citizenry who wants immediate action, for things to change “ASAP” and for the “revolution” to get “someone out there to listen.”

Who do we really really want to own the poop storm we are in right now as a democracy? Who is the proverbial they (referenced in above exchange) that should drum up presumably better candidates on which voters should pass judgment?

….a galant knight?

….or progressive-conservative-libertarian-poor-but-self-sufficient-multi-racial candidate miracle worker?

It’s not the (always fictional) knight’s responsibility.

It’s not the (always fictional) perfect candidate’s responsibility, no matter who we elect.

Absolutely I have political preference on how this election pans out, and believe in the value of our vote. But that act of empowered adulthood in no way replaces the daily empowerment of investing ourselves, even to the point of it being inconvenient, to improve this nation one community at a time.

I believe each voter’s sense of ownership (me too)  needs to step into the proverbial arena of commitment like these candidates have. Trump’s ethos scares the hooey out of me but dang he got into one of the most inconvenient marathons in the world i.e. putting his hat in the presidential ring. I admire that courage – in Clinton even more so – even if they are immersed in imperfection themselves.

What’s the spiritual relevance of community and political contenders? There’s a ton of nuance but right now, Jesus comes to mind. He fully committed to his community and his city as his life. As Henry Drummond wrote:  “He (Jesus) looked at the city. Then He wept over it. Then He died for it.”

Jesus asserted the inconvenient habit of commitment. It seems a timely decision to reflect upon when investing efforts in between the presidential votes we cast.

Resource on Christ and community:

The City Without a Church by Henry Drummond   (as referenced on Facebook by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli of Foundry UMC in July, 2016).

Racial justice and white ego

imageA friend’s heartfelt expression today on Facebook about “ugly racism” stays on my mind. She emphasized a more conscious return to love and taking each day “one day at a time….and to take care of our own porch and neighbors” among other insights.

I shared below in response:

Your comments have triggered a thought about love: It is the answer.

At the same time, I invite an overt understanding of how love can be easily misconstrued in society as a decision void of discomfort – especially to the white privileged in our country.

I’m not an expert on the perfection of love; but the enacting of it exceeds the proverbial porch of our own comfort or sense of ease.

We as whites need to fully look and listen to how structural racism has strangled opportunity for Black people, strangled their right to decency, and their basic sovereignty to live out a loving life due to entrenched racist structures. The violence we have seen these weeks is nothing to the immoral hegemony that our white race has created in this country.

Consequences of this play out in less violent but demonstrative ways. Like I heard a white mom friend get angry that a Black student, as example, won the scholarship instead of her white son. Why? Was racist judgement at the root of her frustration?  Or was she stressed at facing hefty tuition and I took her expression of disappointment in the wrong light? In that moment it felt uncomfortable to not question her. And it felt as uncomfortable to challenge a friend with such directness.

But in the moment, I believe to return to love as you mention is to also pursue truth and uplift it.  So I inquired about her meaning; she was surprised yet forthcoming. I said her comments sounded racist. It was awkward but damn we talked about it. Hopefully a little greater consciousness was achieved for two white people.

Or here’s another scenario:

I’ve seen white people question the authority of a Black leader in front of a crowd; yet they remain silent when a white leader of same capacity asserts the same authority in the same dynamic. Love means divining the courage to call that out….which frankly I failed to do.

These are just mere slivers of the non-violent racist attitudes and structures that rage, along with the obvious blood.

What is the loving response?

It goes beyond taking care of your own porch. The first black family in my mom’s home town moved in, then a week later their water heater blew up in flames so they left. An actionable love surely means to wake up at the discomfort of how our decisions and perceptions can dehumanize people, limit them, and inspire horrendous fear.

It goes beyond the immediate localness of our porch and into the murky unease of learning that being white does not equate to an entitled sense of ease at the expense of minorities especially Black people.

Surely to God love means not only taking it one step and one day at a time. But it must include taking the consequences of white supremacy and dismantling them one consequence at a time. We must achieve awareness and that takes rigorous adjusting (and deflating) of white ego.