stumbling blocks & altars

It feels good to sit here now….

the outside air has cleared my head and sorted my heart in just the right ways and the press of rough work and gravity against my soul have settled me into a quiet and peaceable place.

I can still feel the phantom weight of the 3lb hammer in my hand. A tingling buzzes along my arm from the pounding of the board and brick against the ground I’ve been shaping into a path. Dirt and dust still clings to my skin and nostrils. It feels good and alive.

I’m building in my herb garden. A path…a prayer bench…a place of quiet repose in the presence of God and any or all of my 6 cats!

It’s been a 3….4, (I don’t know five?) year passion of mine to turn this patch of sour dirt outside my kitchen door into a savory herb garden. The patio, the path, the prayer bench — these were afterthoughts. 

Truth be told, as time spent with this dirt unveiled the story within me, those things just invited themselves into the project.

Art is like that.Stumbling blocks and altars

I started bricking it when I was angry. I mean, the “tearing-up-the-ground” and “pounding-on-the-earth-with-heavy-tools”  kind of angry… when I needed a place to refocus my heart, destroy the lies and rebuild in truth.

Brick by brick.

The brick is reclaimed from a scruffy patch of woods behind our house…discarded, forgotten and half-buried in a tangle of roots and vines, left there from a structure torn down long ago.

Somehow, along with each brick I redeem from that dirty, tangled mess, I’ve redeemed a piece myself in the process. It’s been a wholly and holy therapeutic endeavor… rough and raw..edgy and beautiful.

Like my life.

I do this because it’s in my creative DNA but also, I do this… because it’s something my mother did as well. Watching her from an early age, I learned how to turn a desolate piece of dirt into a slice of paradise. No matter where my mother found herself, she left NO stone unturned and very little unpainted in her path!

I’ve been thinking a lot about her as I go along with my heavy hammer, brick and dirt.

She’d like it, I think.

prayer-benchThis Sunday is, of course Mother’s day but this Saturday would have been her 68th birthday.  It’s hard to believe she’s been gone for almost 10 years. Ten years and I’m only beginning to know how to grieve.


My mother was a hard woman who’d had a hard life, difficult to please and very private. I confess, I feared her more than I was able to love her and I really didn’t understand her. But I’m starting to…now almost 10 years later..

I see why she pounded the earth too.

I’ve spent the past 3 months guiding a group of beautiful women… breaking free and learning how to tear down strongholds, sort the precious from the worthless and rebuild with the good.  And many of the things I used to carry around in anger, confusion and darkness against my mother and myself, have melted away in the healing light of God’s love and truth.

What remains is precious….refined and beautiful. So while these thoughts and memories hurt, they heal at the same time.  Put in the correct place and position, these things are valuable. I can finally look at them straight on.

My one regret is that I was really very unsuccessful at sharing my relationship and love for Jesus with her. In fact, I’d go as far as to confess that I was probably her greatest stumbling block.

I hate thbrick-and-patioat.

I realize it now and it breaks my heart.  I fear  I was often more interested and invested in speaking the TRUTH of the Gospel over her life but not so good being the LOVE of the Gospel when it really mattered. I’m afraid that I didn’t really know how.

The truth is; I didn’t know how to LIVE
with my mother…
and I certainly didn’t know

how to help her die.

Fear will do that.

But there were dozens of grace-laced moments I can cling to and this is something I know I must absolutely trust to the hands of God. Freedom has always been His ultimate plan. I can….I must rest there.

So I’m re-building, using those stumbling blocks–the ones I laid in ignorance and those placed in my path by others…. the beautiful, the broken, the rough, worn and discarded

and I’m building an altar.

It’s an altar of remembrance…not for me or my mother, but of God’s faithfulness “thus far”. He’s been faithful to see me through the triumphs and the tragedies and when I’ve stumbled and fallen; He was right there to hear my repentant cries and set me on my feet again.

And while this garden I’m building really isn’t for her, or about her, I have some of her things which are precious to remember: a rusty wagon and coffee pot, a beautiful amaryllis, an angel statue and this plaque that reads, “Old Gardeners never die, they just spade away.”

That pretty well sums up my mother.


As I work, no doubt there are precious pieces of her present and working through me with every swing of the hammer and with each brick I place on the tar papered dirt path. 

Honestly, I think she’d be proud…and if she was here I like to believe she’d be rebuilding too…  both of us, side by side.

walking itLorretta signature


49 thoughts on “stumbling blocks & altars

  1. Wow Loretta – this is breathtaking… achingly beautiful and honest and healing … and this: “and I’m building an altar. It’s an altar of remembrance…not for me or my mother, but of God’s faithfulness “thus far”. He’s been faithful to see me through the triumphs and the tragedies and when I’ve stumbled and fallen; He was right there to hear my repentant cries and set me on my feet again.”

    Oh yes!

  2. Beautiful, Loretta! So much I could relate to – especially the guilt of feeling like I’ve been a stumbling block. And working out my anger physically. P.S. If you ever see grace-laced in my writing, you’ll know who I got it from.

  3. Wow, what a lovely testimony. So glad you shared! So much I could say in response … I love the line, ” those things just invited themselves into the project. Art is like that.”

    So sorry for your loss, though. Grateful that you are indeed able to “cling to the grace-laced moments” and entrust it all to the hands of God. That realization, alone, is so precious.

    This past Sunday was two years since my mom passed away at age 59. I recently wrote this “Open Letter to Grief” as part of my own on-going reflections. If you have the time to read, I pray that it will be a blessing to you:

  4. I’m so behind in a lot of things and just now read this beautiful parable blog post, but God is right on time as usual! Because of the things my Savior has been pruning from my life, this resonates with me now that would not have a month and a half ago. Bless you, my beautiful sister!

  5. Hello Kim! I’m sorry you are somehow left in the dark of non subscription! 🙂 Yes, go ahead and resubscribe–I’ll soon be switching over to a self-hosted dealie and we’ll have to start all over again. Bless you girl. I wish we lived closer because if we did, I’d invite you into my home, my world and my life and we’d study God’s word together. By any chance have you participated in a Beth Moore Breaking Free study? This was a tool of God used to change EVERYTHING about my past, my present and future. Feel free to email and we can always talk.

  6. Loretta, I don’t know why your posts aren’t coming to my inbox anymore (maybe I need to resubscribe!), so I stopped by and discovered this beautiful post. You paint such a clear picture with your words, and your growth and change and faith and grace shines through. Your garden sounds lovely, and healing <3

  7. These were beautiful words and an encouragement to my own heart as I to have a difficult relationship with my mom. I am thankful she is still here though, and so I strive to allow the Lord to work and heal. Not easy but He is able. <3

    1. Thank you Donna. You know…if I had it to do all over again, I’d opt for the being righteousness of Christ versus being RIGHT. That was my error again and again. And the enemy blinded me with false light and false truth at times so I was a tangled up confused mess. But I’ve learned quite a bit since then. I pray your relationship with your mother will be healed fully. Bless you Sister!

  8. Loretta, I loved this. Especially after your comments earlier in the week about being neighbors and making an outside space livable. You have done beautifully and your honesty is truly honoring of your mom on Mother’s Day

    1. We’d be good neighbors! When I finish I’ll post pictures of those “reclaimed” areas around my yard but truth be told, I’ve spent nearly NOTHING on it….just have kept my eyes open for odds and ends and found interesting things to use. Bless you Sister!

    1. Thank you for seeing me here. I don’t feel brave most of the time so that must be the Jesus you see….and I’m blessed to stand in the gap if I can somehow be a bridge for others to get through similar difficulties to the other side. I’m so glad you came by. Blessings!

  9. You’ve inspired me, to go “create”. I have an empty canvas sitting in my office just begging to be touched.

    This post was beautiful. Your life is beautiful. That DIY project is beautiful. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Oh yes…you have encouraged this in me as well…I take the Creative/Creator relationship very seriously and don’t see life as being full-bodied without the ability to get my hands dirty. Sometimes, it’s they only way to cleaning your heart. I would LOVE to see what becomes of that canvas…and congratulations on your “new chapter” of life. You’re a great nurse DS. Bless you Brother.

  10. Hi Loretta! It’s so nice to “meet” you via concrete words and thank you for linking up! I would love to highlight this on the blog and twitter–this is absolutely gorgeous and an excellent write in concrete words. The way you honor your mother–the way you so poignantly write of regrets, of placing it in his hands, of trusting grace? Oh, friend, I’m there too, so many times, often and constantly. *Thank you* for this beautiful write. If you could do one thing for me? Put the link to my concrete words post here on your post–that’s important because it helps your readers find the concrete words community–and then I can highlight this very special piece. Thanks, friend!

    1. Ooops! Of course and wow. Thanks for this special honor and blessing. You know when I linked up late last night it was a surprise moment to find the linkup though JenLee’s and a complete oversight to not have your button. Thanks again for grace and honor you’ve bestowed upon me and my precious memory. I will do that now. Bless you friend….hope to meet you i(RL) someday.

      1. Hey new friend, thanks for that! Yay! And your post is highlighted on my Friday “weekend” post and announced on twitter! Congrats!

    1. Thank you Stephanie! I will try to finish the main work this weekend….probably Sunday night since we are out of church and I will LOVE to work there on Mother’s Day. Oh yes, the creating does, and really MUST always reveal and lead you to the Creator…who does the healing. Bless you Sister@

  11. This is just strong and beautiful. I want to go smash new ground and unearth a holy place, too! It does sound wonderfully therapeutic AND you are the third person that has mentioned it in the past three days! Thank you for sharing your heart about your mom as well…I have a challenging relationship with my own. But she is still alive. Nice to meet you! Right after you at Laura’s today!

  12. I still remember the day, that your Mom pulled up in our driveway, before we had done a lick to that area, which had massive ugly bushes, and quickly dismissed the idea of entering our new untamed home because there were steep stairs she didn’t care to climb. This is a great tribute. I still believe she was drawn to your untamed hidden beauty; but like the herb garden it just needed a little more shaping from above to really be accessible. I love you

    1. Thank you Mr. Stembridge. I remember that day too and how I really wanted her to come inside and catch the vision with me. But there was already too much brokenness between us and well…it’s ok. Nothing’s been wasted at all. Love you…in front of God and everybody. Thanks for becoming a “follower” here–it’s nice to know my husband supports me. <3

    1. Thank you Susan. It’s been worth it all; from the scraped up knuckles to the bloody knees worn from work and prayer. And yes…the GOOD is all ONE Father, Son and Spirit, on the path with us every day. Glorious!

  13. Oh my sweet girl. ((Hugs)) I can’t wait to see how the finished project turns out. I do hope you share. I can read the love and emotion you are pouring into it. I so get the stumbling block. I’m afraid I have been that to my brother. So, I understand, or at least in my own little way.

  14. Your beautiful and poignant piece is the very heart of the hymn “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing.” See? Right here?

    Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
    Till released from flesh and sin,
    Yet from what I do inherit,
    Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
    Here I raise my Ebenezer;
    Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
    And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
    Safely to arrive at home.

    Thank you for this beautifully wrought remembrance.

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