Saturday, December 20, 2014

Alone with The Alone

I love my church, my brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian Church here in Charlotte. We are a flawed, broken, leaky, sad, funny, generous, loving group of folks trying to figure out who we are, what we believe, and how we can share the Good News of Jesus, of Love, life, redemption, joy, salvation, and peace in a world that desperately needs good news and people of good cheer to live faithfully and tell our stories honestly. This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to tell my story at our midday Wednesday Worship service. I spent several weeks thinking about which of my life stories I would tell. In the end, I decided to tell two stories and tie them together. I told the story from memory, but today I am writing it down.


I love to travel. I love to travel alone. Soon after I met the man who is now my husband, I told him exactly that - "I love to travel, and I love to travel alone. If that is going to be a problem, then this relationship is not going to work." We've been together almost 28 years, so I guess it's working well for us.

Back in 2001, I made plans to take my first solo trip to Italy. I was scheduled to leave during the first week of October that year. Then September 11th happened. Many of my family members and friends told me that I shouldn't go, that it was selfish of me to leave my family behind. That the world was dangerous. That terrorists were everywhere.

In a moment of deep wisdom, my husband said, "You should still go, Gail. If God is in control of your life here, if God's hand of protection is over your life here, then God will be in control of your life there and God will protect you there. When it's your time to go, it's your time to go. It won't matter where you are." Which was exactly what I wanted to hear.

But in order to get a second word of confirmation, I went to see a pastor friend of mine. I told him my dilemma, and he agreed with my husband. Yay! Then he asked to pray with me before I left. In his prayer, my friend asked God that I would "have an experience of being alone with The Alone." I had never heard that phrase before, but it stuck. I thought about it often over the days as I prepared for my journey.

On the day of my departure, as I made my way from our house in Connecticut down to JFK Airport in NYC, I saw the lower Manhattan skyline without the Twin Towers for the first time. The reality of that tragedy appeared before me in a deeper way, on a deeper level. I made it to the airport safely, got through security, and made my way to the gate where I made myself comfortable in the waiting area. There weren't many of us waiting to board that flight to Rome as many people had cancelled their travel plans, but those of us who were there eyed each other suspiciously, wondering who might be dangerous, and who could safely be ignored. We were collectively relieved when a group of twenty or twenty-five nuns joined us in the waiting area. Our tense shoulders relaxed. We breathed a collective sigh of relief because we knew that our flight had been "prayed up" and all would be well. All was well. We arrived in Rome without incident.

I spent a week wandering around on my own in Rome, then boarded a train to Florence, where I was planning to visit with a college classmate of mine who was (and still is) an art history professor there. Outside the train station in that spectacular city, I waited my turn for a taxi, then checked into my hotel, unpacked a little, and went back out to the front desk to ask for a recommendation for lunch. The concierge recommended a place called Mario's, pulled out a map, circled where we were and where the restaurant was located, and wished me buon appetito. I set off on yet another journey, alone with the Alone. I found the restaurant, elbowed my way through the crowd and gave my name to the host. A few minutes later, I was ushered into the crowded little place and seated at a table with three other people.

Oh no, I thought. I don't speak much Italian but now I'm sitting with three people I won't be able to communicate with. I began to look around at what the diners at other tables were eating. My plan was to point at someone else's plate and have whatever they were having. Just then, I heard someone say, "I don't read Italian so I'm not sure what I'm going to order." As it turned out, the host, in a moment of wisdom, had sat four English speakers together at the same table. One of the three of them was an Anglican priest on vacation from England. The other two were a married couple from California. Not only did they know a college professor of mine who had moved from Massachusetts to Santa Cruz, California, but also the wife had had lunch with my college friend just a couple of days before my arrival.

I sat there at the table at Mario's in Florence, Italy, tears in my eyes and a laugh in my throat. I was indeed experiencing time alone with the Alone, yes, but also connected to community. How many stories and journeys and connections all converged at that moment at that table?

Fast forward eleven years, and I embarked on another solo journey, but this one was not of my choosing. On Halloween of 2012, I went in for my annual mammogram. After the technician finished the scan and consulted with the radiologist, she walked me around the corner to the ultrasound room. After that technician finished her scan, she went to see the radiologist who then came into the room and asked, "Are you experiencing any symptoms?" I asked, "Symptoms of what?" He said, "Oh, okay. Nevermind." He did another ultrasound but before I sat up, the ultrasound technician came back into the room with a fist full of papers and told me she had arranged for me to have a biopsy two days later. She also gave me her cell phone number and told me I could call her anytime. Two days later, when the biopsy was finished, the nurse who had assisted the doctor walked me to the exit door, hugged me, and wished me good luck. Somehow, even after being given so many clues from those earnest and caring medical personnel, I still managed to spend the following four days convincing myself that I didn't have kanswer.

On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, I was told what I should have figured out already:
I had kanswer in my left breast and in one lymph node.

If you've ever had kanswer or know anyone who has, then you know that kanswer quickly becomes a full time job - scans and tests and blood tests and decisions and appointments and more scans and more tests. The best part of that difficult time for me was how immediately and completely I was enveloped by friends from church, my neighbors, my family members, folks on Facebook (and readers of this blog) and how thoroughly and profoundly I was loved. There was no doubt in my mind that I was connected to a community of faith and love and grace and support.

One of my dear friends sat with me for four of my six chemotherapy treatments. The other two treatments were attended by a pastor friend who lives three hours away and a fellow lover of travel who flew down here from Connecticut. Friends sent letters, cards, flowers, Edible Arrangements, and care packages. Meals were arranged, as was a trip to the beach early in the week of my surgery. The love that flowed my way sustained me.

At the same time, I knew that when decisions about treatment and surgery had to be made, I had to make them alone. When the chemotherapy infusion, that dreadful poison was administered, it flowed into my port, mine alone. When it was time to undergo heart scans and crawl into the bone scan machine, I was there alone.

The moment that stands out most is when I crawled into the MRI machine, that noisy, clanging, brightly lit tube where my body was scanned in search of kanswer clusters that had escaped my breast and lymph node. I lay there facedown with my arms stretched out above my head, praying, thinking, humming hymns to myself. I prayed that the machine wouldn't find more kanswer. I thanked God for medical insurance and doctors and nurses and technicians. I thought about the effect kanswer was having on my husband and children and how hard I was going to work to get that kanswer out of my body so that I could get back to being the wife and mother, friend and teacher, sister and daughter I had always been. Then I began to hum quietly to myself. Within a few minutes, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I hoped and prayed I hadn't been startled. I tried not to move or cough or cry; the last thing I wanted was to have to repeat that lengthy, loud scan. I also tried not to smile as I recognized that I had in fact fallen asleep in an MRI machine. I was reminded of the verse in Psalm 3 that says, "I lay down and sleep. I awake for the Lord sustains me." I lay there, once again experiencing what it is to be alone with The Alone. And I realized at that moment, as I realize at this moment, that there is no place I would rather be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mother Mary

It's a crazy story. Another teenaged girl gets pregnant.
She gives an explanation that nobody believes.
She says she's still a virgin. It is a "God-thing, a Holy Spirit thing."

Her parents must have shaken their heads in sorrow, suspicion, despair, and doubt, whispering about her in the darkness after she fell asleep.
"How can she be so calm? How can she not be ashamed of her situation?"
"She said something about going to visit Elizabeth who is also pregnant. What is going on in the world? First it's Elizabeth who has been unable to conceive all these years. She gets pregnant. Now our daughter, who is so young, who is in the middle of preparing for her wedding, gets pregnant. If Mary wants to go spend time with Elizabeth, we should let her go. The gossip might die down a little while she's gone. Maybe Elizabeth will be able to talk some sense into her."
"She said it has something to do with the Holy Spirit. What does that even mean? Should we be worried?"
"Yes, we should be worried. Let's send her to see Elizabeth and while she's gone, we can come up with a plan on how to deal with whatever it is that she's going through."

I cannot imagine what I would do if my daughter told such a story. Actually, I know exactly what I would do - I would put her in the car and take her to the adolescent behavioral health ward at the local hospital. And I would pray for her healing and for a speedy restoration of her sanity.

Mary had to know that the entire situation was wacky, that her story sounded odd, even unbelieveable. She knew what it took to get pregnant and she knew she hadn't done the deed. When she received the message from the angel, when she got the news that she was going to have a baby, she asked, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

The angel explained it - "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God."

Who me? What? When? Why me? How will this be? How will I be?
What if this is all a hoax and none of it is true?
What if it's not a hoax and all of it is true?

Then she said some of the most daring, dangerous, inspiring words recorded in Scripture:
"Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
I am putting my life on the line here, in the Lord's hands. I'm not sure how this is going to turn out. I'm not sure what is going to happen to me or this baby - but here goes. Here I am, Lord, use me. Use my body as a vessel. Bring it on. Let's do this.

Nazareth. Bethlehem. No room in the Inn. A baby born in a stable. Laid in a manger. The smelly animals. The excited shepherds. Angels. Joseph. Mary watched and listened and held her baby close and pondered the magnitude and meaning of what had happened to her, through her, and to the world.

This week, I've been thinking a lot about what her final week of pregnancy must have been like. She must have been exhausted and excited, reluctant and ready, fearful and fearsome. As she felt that little one moving around inside her, what questions did she have? What did she think he would look like? Who would he resemble? What would this child be like? What would be it like to hold this miraculous child in her arms? Would anyone ever believe her story? I've got dozens of questions to ask dear, courageous, strong, trusting, thoughtful, faithful Mother Mary when I finally meet her. 

I've been thinking about the messy, dangerous, angry, broken world Jesus was born into. Occupied by the Romans. Ruled by a jealous king who ordered that all the boy babies under the age of two be slaughtered - he didn't want the Newborn King to grow up and claim his throne. The slaughter of the innocents continues in our world - in Cleveland, in Sandy Hook, in Pakistan, in Charlotte, in hospitals, in schools, in movie theaters, on airplanes, in shopping malls, in homes, on the street, all over this world and this nation. Murder. Abuse. Genocide. Disease. Violence.

We need a Peacemaker. We need a Miracle Worker. We need a Redeemer. We need a Savior. 
O come, o come, Emmanuel. Be God-with-us, I pray. Touch us. Heal us. Teach us. Guide us.

I am thankful that Mary said, "yes" to that angel all those years ago. I am banking my life, my present and my eternal future, on the life, death and resurrection of the Christ Child she bore. 

What a mess. What a mystery. But if this story is true, then it is also one of the greatest miracles in all of history.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Tonight I am thankful for -

* the fact that my daughter is home from college for a month
* her immediate leap into cooking
* the hour I spent laughing and talking about college and tennis and siblings and practical jokes and coaches and friendship with my two children and a friend of theirs this evening. That young man's mother and I share the same birthday, same day, same year.

* continued discussions about Ferguson and Staten Island and racism and privilege and fear and hope and forgiveness and prejudice and how to change the ways we interact with each other
* the ways in which we are being called to work for reconciliation, justice and peace
* the example being set by so many on what we can do to make a difference: march, protest, reach out and ask for conversation, raise money for those whose businesses have been destroyed by looting and fire, writing responses, creating videos, honestly and intelligently challenging each other to think more deeply about these difficult topics, refusing to turn away and pretend that injustice is non-existent, refusing to engage in meaningless, spiteful, inflammatory arguments

* the courage of Sadia and Justin who came to church yesterday and talked about moving from homelessness to housing and the ways in which their faith sustained them during the time they didn't have anyplace to call their own
* the list of things she said that we take for granted when we "have a key," when we have a place to live: being able to buy and cook food, a place to wash one's clothes, a place to invite friends and family, a place to shower and bathe
* the welcome they received, the warmth extended to them by the people in attendance
* the opportunity I had to talk to a group at church about reading Scripture more actively and writing our responses to it

* a new batch of journal refils that I ordered yesterday - more pages to fill with my rants and raves
* the chance to tutor a high school junior in Spanish. I didn't realize how much I missed teaching Spanish until this new gig began.

* seven hours of silence tomorrow to ponder the year that is coming to a close, to plan for the year that is soon to begin, and to pay close attention to all that is happening right now
* the completion of another year of life - between now and next Thursday, I will celebrate my 49th birthday
* the miracles and blessings, the challenges and disappointments that I have experienced in my life - every single one of them has molded me and prepared me for this place, this moment, this phase of my life journey
* this great quote I read recently: "Good thing I'm aging; otherwise I would be dead."

* an excellent appointment with my chiropractor today - he is such a beacon of hope and a font of encouragement in my pursuit of excellent health and balance
* that I could laugh when I said to him, "That kanswer was the best and worst way for me to learn how to take better care of myself, but I wish I could have learned all this another way."
* my recent bloodwork results were the best he's ever seen for me

* breakfast with my dear friend this morning - making the time to eat and tell stories and laugh and shake our heads at the outrageous behavior of people we know
* these quotes I received as a gift from that same dear friend:
- When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, 
my soul expands in worship of the Creator. (Mahatma Gandhi)
- Some gifts you hold in your hand... Some you hold in your heart. (Unknown)
- There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from. 
(Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)
- If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change. (Buddha)
- There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)
- I find that the more willing I am to be grateful for the small things in life, the bigger stuff just seems to show up... I am constantly looking forward to each day with all the surprises that keep coming my way. (Louise L. Hay)

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

My Christmas Wish List

Dear God,

I don't believe in Santa Claus, even though I sometimes treat you like you are Santa Claus. I come to you with long lists of people with needs and problems, tragedies around the world, and all my fears and failures - and I bring lists of and plans for solutions to all those problems. And I expect you to do as I ask in a timely and efficent manner. I expect you to take my list and check it twice, and then be super nice, saying "yes" to everything right away.

I am reminded of that scene in Bruce Almighty where Jim Carrey plays You. In one scene, he's reading through all the prayers that people are sending your way. Tens, hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of prayer requests flow past him on the cosmic computer monitor. In frustration, he says, "Yes," to all of them. And the entire world is plunged into chaos. Is that what would really happen if we all got our way and you agreed to and with everything we asked for? I bet it would.

So even though I know that I won't get the nod for all of these things, I'm gonna write and launch my list anyway. I have come to believe that even if prayer doesn't change any of the situations I pray for, it will definitely change me. Prayer reminds me that I am not in control of much. Prayer pushes me to think about people other than myself and situations other than my own. Prayer deepens my trust in Someone or Something far beyond myself - in You. Prayer changes the way I see the world, my world, my life and my story.

Lord, please help me to be and think and act more like you. Help me to love and forgive and laugh and trust. Help me to enjoy this life you've given me and not worry so much about what I mistakenly think I lack. Help me to notice and honor the people I live with, live near, and even those that I see only in passing. Help me to want to be more involved in the lives of others, especially those who suffer and ache and desperately need love and a listening ear and a shoulder on which to rest. Help me to be willing to risk my security and safety and comfort for the sake of those who have none. Please, please, please.

Look at me; I haven't even gotten to my official Christmas wish list and I'm already asking you to do so much for me.

So what do I wish for? Just a few simple things.
* I wish for an end to starvation, terrorism, poverty, homelessness, and war.
* I wish for an end to ebola, AIDS, kanswer, diabetes, and bipolar disorder.
* I wish for all children's hospitals to have to close down because there are no longer any sick children to care for.
* I wish for an end to violence, abuse, and the fears that often trigger them.
* I wish for an end to jealousy, comparisons, and greed.
* I wish for freedom, justice, and peace for all people everywhere.
* I wish for a deeper understanding and experience of the love that prompted your precious son to come to earth as a baby to live among oppressed, abused, mistreated people.
* I wish for a nation and a world in which oppressed, abused, mistreated people find rest and safety, healing and wholeness in you.
* I wish for all eyes and ears and hearts to be open to the hope that you offer to the world.
* I wish for a week when chocolate, coffee, soda, and licorice will neither do harm to my internal organs nor leave pimples on my face. I need just one week of a full-fledged sugar binge, Lord. I know that while you can certainly handle all the other wishes on this list, my final request might be asking a little too much. Please forgive me for my selfishness.

Thank you, Lord, for considering my humble and modest wishes.
Your adoring daughter, Gail

PS. Okay, okay, okay. I hear you. That last one, about the sugar binge, nevermind.
But all the other stuff, please, please, please! I'm begging you.
I need you. We need you. The whole world needs you.

PSS. Okay, okay, okay. I hear you. All that other stuff? We need to do some of the work to fix that stuff ourselves, don't we? You've already given us more than we need to solve most of the world's problems. Please help me to be willing to be the answer to some of these prayers. To give. To love. To listen. To serve. The befriend. To encourage. To act. To be still. To offer hope. To work for freedom, justice and peace. To be a beacon of hope. To be peace. To be light. To be full of grace and truth.

PSSS. If I do some stuff to help other people, could you help me out with the sugar thing?

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Silenced, Saddened

I want to write another gratitude list.
I want to post photos of our cute new Christmas tree.
I want to share stories of time spent with family and friends over the past few weeks.
And I'm sure that I will. At some point.

For now, I am silenced and saddened by the violence and injustice that is rampant in our country.
I am saddened and silenced by the anger and fear that have caused the violence and injustice.

I am saddened when people ask questions like,
"What about black on black crime?" when they simply want to avoid the conversation about race and racial prejudice and racial profiling and blatant racism in this country.
"Where is the leadership?" when they don't want to take a stand and become a leader themselves and then when they hear about community leaders and organizers taking action, they act like it's an anamoly and seem surprised that leaders are acting and changes are happening.
"What can I do?" when they don't want do anything and they don't have to do anything because they have the luxury to care or not care when they choose. They can go days and days, weeks and weeks, months and months without thinking about whether or not they appear threatening to someone, whether or not they will wear the hood on their sweatshirt while out walking or running in their own neighborhood, or whether or not their sons or daughters will be stopped by a police officer, frisked, searched, handcuffed, misidentified, misunderstood, mishandled, or killed simply because they are brown-skinned.

I am silenced when people say,
"You are making yourselves into victims when you prepare yourself and your children for how to respond when they are stopped by the police."
"But he wasn't innocent; he stole cigars that store."
"My friend/brother/father/cousin is a cop. Not all cops are bad."

What I'm thinking in my moment of stunned silence is:
Even though I prepare my children, that preparation may not save them at the moment of confrontation. Just ask all those parents whose children have died unjustly.
He may have stolen something from that store and pushed the attendant, but he did not deserve to die in the street and lie there for hours.
An officer was indicted and convicted for killing an elk in Colorado and sentenced to four years probation and 200 hours of community service. Seriously? An elk?
What about the men and women killed for knocking on someone's door at night after a car accident, while walking home with candy and a drink, for playing with a toy gun in a park, for carrying a toy gun in the toy section of a store?
My brother was a cop in NYC for fifteen years. It's true; not all cops are bad. That's true. But some cops kill unarmed people for inexplicable reasons and don't get indicted or convicted.
Even when the murder is videotaped.
And the chokehold is illegal.
And the man says he can't breathe
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over again.
Eleven times.
On tape.
Not even a trial.

A few minutes ago, I helped my son find his jersey for his favorite British soccer team so he can wear it while he watches them play. My son who will be heading off to college soon. My son who still comes to hug me when he wakes up in the morning and laughs at the hues of my green juices and even got a tattoo recently that, in part, is a tribute to my victory over kanswer.

I am silenced and saddened by the sorrow of the mothers and fathers who loved their sons and daughters as much as I love mine - who will never find their child's favorite jerseys again or watch games with them again or buy them Christmas presents or hug them in the morning, or even argue with them, get angry at them, warn them about not doing drugs, not stealing, not walking down the middle of the street, and not being beligerent against police officers.

Their children are dead. Gone. Buried.
And no one is being held accountable for their deaths.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

What do you smell like?

There's a story in the Bible, in John chapter 11, about Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus. He was sick, and they sent word to Jesus informing him, "the one that you love is sick." They knew that Jesus loved them all; he had been to their house before, eaten with them, and spent time with them. They hoped Jesus would come and heal him.

Sadly, Jesus did not come when they expected him to, and Lazarus died. Four days later, Jesus arrived at their home, and both Mary and Martha told him, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." The great news for them was that Jesus raised their beloved brother from the dead.

The next chapter, John 12 describes a scene in which Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, dried his feet with her hair, and then anointed them with very expensive oil.

I have read that story dozens of times in my life, but lately I've been reading the stories in Scripture while attempting to put myself right there in the scene.

I try to imagine how I would respond if that happened in my family room - Jesus came to my house. He had raised my father from the dead and all of us, Dad included, are sitting their spending the evening together. We are in the family room, talking, watching a football game (because of course Jesus loves NFL football), and in walks my sister (I don't have a sister, but for the sake of the story...).

She gets down on the floor at the feet of Jesus and begins to cry, buckets of tears. Then she lets down her long hair and begins to dry his feet with her hair, while still weeping. Then she pulls out a bottle of essential oils and pours them onto his feet. It drips onto my carpet, splashes onto the couch and family room table.

How much attention would we be paying to the Carolina Panthers game at that point?
(We probably would have turned away from the Panther's game because they would be down by 17 points early in the third quarter.)
How much would we be talking about what we had eaten?
How much would we even be talking about the wonder of my father being alive again?
We would be stunned into silence by her outpouring of tears and oil and love and gratitude.

The story says that after she was done, "the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."

When she looked up at the group around her, when she got up from the floor, when she wiped her tears, when she gathered herself and left the room, Mary undoubtedly reeked of gratitude. Her hair, her clothes, her spirit, she reeked of gratitude.

When Jesus got up and left that room, left that house, and began his walk towards the cross of Calvary, he too reeked of her gratitude and her love.

Because the floors of houses back there were dirt or stone or wood, that fragrant oil would have soaked in deep, between the stones, the wood slats, or down into the dirt. For days, perhaps weeks, that scent would have wafted through that room and throughout the house. Their home reeked of her gratitude.

The Bible also says that our prayers waft up before God's throne like fragrant incense.

All of which got me thinking - when I enter or leave a room, a house, a church service, when I interact with someone at Trader Joe's or Starbucks or Loaves and Fishes, what fragrance am I leaving behind? What do I smell like? Do I too reek of thankfulness, of love, of joy, forgiveness, and peace? Or do I smell like fear and anger and hatred and worry?

When people come into my home, get into my car, and spend time with and around me, do my house, my attitude, and my presence reek of gratitude and tenderness, acceptance and welcome?

On this day when we gather with family and friends, when we eat and tell stories, and watch football, will we each pour out our love on one another? Will we grant forgiveness to those who have hurt us and the ones we love, so that the stink of anger and hatred will dissipate? Will we be intentional in our desire to douse ourselves with gratitude and grace, kindness and gentleness before we enter into fellowship with our loved ones? Will I?

On this day when we are mindful that many have lost loved ones, many are alone, many are afraid, many are angry, many are mourning and sad, will we reach out to those that we know are hurting and share our love, our affection and our food with them? Will we allow our love and our gratitude to fill the space between us with the fragrance of community and encouragement, support and sharing?

What do you smell like today?
What do I smell like?

Happy thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

So much sorrow

He deserved it.
He acted in self-defense.
What about the dangerous kids?
What about the heavily armed officers?
Stop the looting.
Burn it all down.
Kill them all.
Why can't we all just get along?
By any means necessary.
At least it's not happening where I live.
I never thought it would happen where I live.
Seek peace and pursue it.
Even peaceful protesters get tear-gassed and arrested.
The looters would have looted no matter what the verdict was.
Who speaks for the ones without a voice?
Who decides whose voices are worth hearing?
Let's sit down and talk about this.
There is nothing left to say that hasn't already been said.
My pain is bigger than your pain.
Her pain is no worse than his pain.
I'm not a racist; I have black friends.
I'm not black, but I know what you're going through.
You're not like other black people.
You're black; tell me what to think and feel.
I know it's not politically correct to say this, but...
All the political correctness and unwillingness to speak the truth plainly is why we are in the position we're in.
I too have been a victim.
Black lives matter.
White lives matter.
All lives matter.
Nothing I do matters.
We need more guns in the hands of the good guys.
Everybody has the right to protect themselves.
I agree. 
I disagree.
You are wrong.
You are right.

A dear and wise friend reminded me of the need to have "the discussion" with my son again today - 
"Don't give cops any backtalk if they stop you. 
If they ask you for your license, tell them where it is before you reach for it.
Keep your hands always visible.
No sudden moves. No belligerent commentary.
There's no guarantee that this response will save your life, but at least you will have an idea and a plan about how to respond if you are stopped by the police." 
I turned away from that discussion with tears in my eyes and a prayer on my lips.

Another friend wrote on Facebook about looking at her two handsome black sons with extra love and grace and prayer today. 

I think about my three brothers, one in Brooklyn, NY, one in Texas and the other in Florida. I pray for their safety. I pray for them and the vulnerability they must feel when they are on their way to work or out to eat or back home. 

I pray for the many broken hearted, angry, unsurprised, head-shaking black people in this nation today. I pray for the mothers and fathers who will hug their children even harder when they get home tonight, grateful that they have arrived safe and sound. I pray for those whose children will not get home safe. I pray for the many who will gather with family and friends to comfort and challenge one another, to ask questions, to weep for the brokenness in our nation, to try to formulate responses.

Sweet Honey in the Rock has been singing this for years -
"We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes - 
until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons,
is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers' sons."

I pray for white people too, for the ones who feel confused and perplexed, the ones who feel persecuted and criticized, the ones who feel defensive and angry, and also the ones who are standing - and sitting around table - with their black and latino brothers and sisters in solidarity. I pray that they too will gather with family and friends to comfort one another and challenge one another, to ask questions, and to weep for the brokenness in our nation and in each of us, and also to formulate responses within their community.

We all need safe spaces to speak out, to be silent, to grieve, and to find new ways to live. The old ways haven't been working too well for us. Something has got to give. I think our pride, our fears, our wrong-headed attitudes, our unwillingness to admit that we each and all have participated in getting us to this place, and our pre-formulated responses are among the first things that have got to go.

I pray for all people everywhere because we are each and all affected by and infected with fear, prejudice, anger, doubt, questions, and we all also yearn for peace and justice. Most of us don't know where to begin. Some of us are so steeped in sorrow and sadness at the moment that we feel paralyzed. Some of us hope that with the passage of time the anger will settle down again and these tragic events will be forgotten yet again. Tragically, some of us will forget. Tragically, some of us will never forget. Because it keeps on happening. Our children are shot in the street. Our children are shot in school. Our children are beaten up and abused, raped, prostituted and drug-addled. It happens at home, in school, at church, and everywhere in between. Our nation, our states, our cities, our towns, our communities, and our homes are far too violent, too tolerant of violence, and too unwilling to speak out against violence and injustice. I include myself in that statement. 

This cycle of violence keep on turning.
On both sides. On every side. 
Even on the inside. Especially on the inside. 
Cuz all the stuff happening on the outside began on the inside. 

Fear. Injustice. Racism. Violence. Anger. Tragedy. Sorrow. 
There is so much sorrow. So much pain. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

What I am praying for these days

I pray for traveling mercies for all who will be on the move in these next few weeks during the holidays.
I pray for family gatherings, that peace and kindness would prevail.
I pray for those who do not have family gatherings to look forward to, those who don't have friends who can welcome them in for meals and fellowship.
I pray for those who wish the noisy, inconsiderate, mean, abusive friends and family weren't going to be present.
I pray for those for whom this will be their first holiday season without a dear one at the table.

I pray for those who are suffering with kanswer, ebola, diabetes, high blood pressure, AIDS, mental illness and anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, and every other ailment that plagues the world's people.
I pray for the doctors and nurses and physician's assistants and counselors and therapists and social workers and hospice workers and specialists of all types who have been called to serve and touch and heal those who are sick, suffering, and dying.
I pray that our nation and its leaders will give the health and welfare of the millions of poor and desperate inhabitants of this country a higher priority than the shrill and selfish voices of those who are already wealthy and have more than they need.

I pray that we will be more concerned with those who have no one who loves them, nothing to eat and no place to live than we are with those whose incomes we envy, whose houses we covet, and whose bodies we lust after.
I pray that I will be more committed to speak up and do more for those whose voices aren't heard, for those whose interests aren't being represented in the "halls of power," and whose lives seem to matter less than the lives of others.

I pray that we will stop bombing, burning, shooting, and killing one another on this holy ground.
I pray that we will be more interested in caring for this planet on which we live than in making money on its resources.
I pray that we will be willing to live with less than demand that the earth give us more.
I pray that we will recognize that there is already enough food and water and oil and resources available to us - but we have to be willing to consume at a slower pace and share what we already have at a faster pace.

I pray that systemic change will begin to happen in governments, in companies, in churches and other faith-based organizations, in towns, in neighborhoods, in homes, and in relationships between people, change that brings about freedom, justice, and peace for all people everywhere.
I pray that each of us and all of us will decide to do one or two small things every day to bring about that change - that we will speak kindly to one another, that we will speak up when we see someone being treated unjustly, that we will vote, that we will write to our government representatives, that we will get involved in efforts to bring change, that we will never give up hope, and that we will always operate and live from love, from joy, and from gratitude.
I pray that we will begin to pay attention to the good things that are already happening and not focus on the negative.

I pray that we will see greater holiness and brighter beauty in each other, friend and stranger.
I pray that we will recognize the heaviness of life's burdens in each other's eyes and respond with grace and warm affection. 
I pray that we will look into the faces of those we encounter and smile.
I pray that we will be willing to admit when we are in need of gentleness and tenderness - and that we will be willing to accept both when they are extended towards us.

I pray for the one whose criticism of and meanness towards her own children has caused deep pain, beyond anything she intended - but it's still there.
I pray that I will forgive the one who abandoned his children and has never asked for forgiveness or worked for reconciliation.
I pray that I will be granted the courage to ask for forgiveness of the one whose heart I broke and whose trust I abused.
I pray that I will be gracious, kind, and humble enough to accept the apology from the one who hurt me.

I pray that I will not allow prayer to be an excuse for not getting actively involved in being the answer to prayer.
I pray that I will be able to both act and pray at the same time: that I will work for the good of others and pray at the same time, that I will serve my community and pray at the same time, that I will support and encourage my family and friends and pray at the same time, that I will welcome the stranger and feed the hungry and comfort the uncomfortable and pray at the same time, that I will enjoy the bounty and beauty of life and pray at the same time.

I pray that all people everywhere will sense the boundless love of God, the comforting presence of the One who loved them enough to come to earth and live among the people, and the gentle breath of the Spirit so undeniably that our only response will be, "Speak, Lord, you servant, your child, your beloved one is listening."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From the sunrise to the sunset

My time at the beach was fantastic.
Enlightening. Encouraging.
Invigorating. Instructive.
Challenging. Quiet.
Cold. Comfortable.
Wanna see?

Driving over the bridge to Sunset Beach early Friday afternoon.
I like this image of driving over the edge...

Parked at the water's edge.

 I got bundled up and walked down to the beach.

 It was cold, but I was happy.

Sunset on Friday afternoon. 

 Sunrise on Saturday morning.

I chose the Hippie sandwich for lunch -
excellent name for an excellent sandwich.

The table where we read and wrote and shared and cried
and came up with our book project plans.

Sunset on Saturday afternoon.

My home away from home, The Bermuda Room, at The Sunset Inn.

My spirits and hopes rose with the sunrise and settled deep in my heart with the sunset.
From the sunrise to the sunset, I listened and learned and laughed.
I wandered and wondered. I played and prayed. 
Now I've just gotta keep my writing and editing momentum going.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Tonight's thankfulness is for things yet to come.

I am thankful that I will spend this weekend at the beach.
Writing. Sitting. Thinking. Praying. Formulating a plan to write a book.
I am thankful for all the encouragement and support I've received in this regard - to write my story in book form.
I am thankful for the opportunity to get away and formally begin this process.
I am thankful for all that I will learn from Maureen Ryan Griffin this weekend.

I am thankful for Thanksgiving.
I am thankful for the day set aside for all of us to talk about what we are thankful for.
I am thankful for the bountiful food we get to enjoy and share.
I am thankful for pumpkin pie, for stuffing, for salad, for warm bread, for sparkling apple cider, for football - notice: I am NOT thankful for turkey. I am sure there are some people who are, but I am not one of those people.
I am thankful for the increased awareness of those who don't have enough.
I am thankful for all the organizations, churches, individuals, and groups that provide food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless.
I am thankful for every opportunity to give food and time and support and a listening ear and a warm hug to my co-travelers on this journey I'm on.

I am thankful that Christmas will soon be here.
I am grateful for Christmas cookies and monkey bread and peppermint flavored espresso drinks.
I am grateful for the Christmas decorations hung on street lights and building facades.
I am grateful for the little white lights we will put up in our windows.
I am grateful for the tree we will pull down out of the attic and decorate in our living room.
I am grateful for the time I will spend with family and friends during the month of December.
I am grateful for Christmas carols, especially "O Come All Ye Faithful."
I am grateful for the 11 pm Christmas Eve service at church, for the candles we light while we sing "Silent Night," and for the briskness of the air as we leave the church just after midnight.

I am thankful for the year that will soon begin.
Another year older. Another year... older.
A year in which I will be ordained as an elder at church.
A year in which my husband and I will both turn 50.
A year in which we will celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary.
A year in which both of our children will head off to college - and our nest will be empty.
A year in which I will celebrate life and love and travel and joy and faith. Every single day.
A year in which I will write a book about this life journey I'm on.
(Gulp! Am I really putting this goal out in public?)

In the meantime, I am thankful for this day - I spent time with a young mom on a kanswer journey of her own, making her a green juice, sharing Crazy Sexy Kanswer with her, tutored an eleventh grader in Spanish, picked up goodies at Trader Joe's for my weekend adventure, and celebrated my son's official commitment to playing tennis in college.

I am thankful for yesterday - I had a long conversation with one dear friend on the phone, laughed and shared stories with another dear in her family room while her two-year-old watched Thomas the Tank Engine, and loosened up my tight hips while doing yoga.

I am thankful to and for the folks at the senior center where I'm giving a series of devotional talks this month on miracles. I am thankful for their questions, even the tough ones. I am grateful for how often they ask how I'm doing and how my daughter is doing. I've known these folks for more than six years, and they have been faithful in their concern and prayers on my behalf and on behalf of my family.

I am thankful for a positive report after my recent visit with my oncologist - instead of having to go back in four months, I can wait six months for my next visit.

I am thankful for NPR.
For the magazines a neighbor has been giving me lately - they have several subscriptions that have been sent to them for free. I get to read them and then use them for collages and in my journal.
For robes and slippers on these chilly nights.
For toothpicks and dental floss.
For three upcoming visits from family members who live far away.
For haircuts and hair color and hair brushes.

For quilts and duvet covers and down comforters.
For brussel sprouts, fennel bulbs, and cauliflower.

For wrong word choices and belly laughter - I recently heard someone use the word "erotic" to describe a business he is planning to open when he meant "exotic."
For neighbors who stop and talk - this morning I tried on a jacket one neighbor bought for someone she knows, someone who is my height. She wanted to be sure the jacket would fit her friend. Earlier in the week, two neighbors went to the gym together and then went for a walk after that. This evening, two neighbors (from two different houses) were introducing their new dogs to each other. One had recently buried his Yorkie, and now he has another one. The other already had a dog - now she and her family have two.
For simple pleasures, great friends, and for life itself.
For novels, memoirs, and poetry.

I am thankful for the poem Jena wrote recently - Some Alternatives to Keeping Up.
Especially these lines -


yourself in the gifts of this time


once again to the next thing
and the next


how holy it is that you're even alive

I am grateful for the holiness of this moment,
this gift of being alive.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Two years ago today, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, I received the worst news of my life - breast kanswer that had spread to one lymph node. Earlier today, I pulled out my journal from that month and began to reread my frantic, tear-stained, terrified, pleading, hopeful ramblings.

Every year when I put the Christmas tree away (we have never had a real tree, only the attic-stored, artificial trees for us), I wonder what our lives will look like a year hence. Will we all still be here? Healthy, strong, together? This year, it will be different. Very different.

Losing my hair. Cut to the bone. To the root. Old has passed. New to come. A new life.

How much have I admired women with short hair? But I couldn't imagine cutting it off. Now I will. I'm looking forward to the new me. Who will I be, Jesus? Who will I be? 

Lord, help me to let go of everything I need to release. Everyone. Every activity. Just let it go. This cancer (sic) near my heart, this wound that must be removed. The spread, Lord, please stop the spread of it. Let it stop here. Let it stop with me. 

Lord, please don't let me die from this. Please, Lord, let me live so that I can be a witness of your love. A witness of your peace, joy, strength. Thank you, Jesus. 

From before the foundation of the world, God knew. All my life, God knew. Every step of my journey has brought me here, prepared me for this. For such a time as this. All shall be well. All is well already. 

This is my story to tell - first to live, then to tell, and to keep on living.


What did kanswer give me that I am grateful for on this, the two year anniversary of hearing that dreaded diagnosis?

1. I love having short hair. I don't miss my locs at all. Not one teeny tiny bit.

2. I am happier with my body now than I was before. I never expected that being boobless, wombless, and mostly hairless would be so easy to adjust to. Any body that can withstand chemotherapy and two major surgeries on the same day is a body worth being grateful for. Any body that has never undergone chemotherapy or surgery is a body worth being grateful for. Now that I think about it a little more, every body is a body worth being grateful for.

3. A story to share with others who are on a kanswer journey. We can talk and laugh and share tidbits and encourage one another to stay strong and weak. To be brave and scared. To accept all offers of help and say no thanks. To answer everyone's questions and to not answer the phone at all. There has to be room for being fully who we are at the present moment.

4. New friends and deeper connections that I wouldn't have had or made if I hadn't been diagnosed. Tamara. Kasandra. Jatrine. Kent. Arlene. Kris Carr. Breast kanswer navigator. Chiropractor. Doctors. Nurses. Receptionists. Friends of friends on Facebook. My awesome barber.

5. A healthier way to eat and drink and sleep and exercise. Kanswer introduced me to rebounding, green tea lattes made with coconut milk, and kombucha. Kanswer drew me deeper into yoga, green juices, almond butter, and pulled me out of my deeply ingrained addiction to sugar.

6. An increased understanding of suffering. Everybody struggles with difficult challenges. I have much more patience and am more able to listen to other people's stories without offering so much advice. I still have a lot to learn about keeping my mouth shut and just listening, but I'm much better at it than I used to be.

7. Deeper faith in God, a richer and more meaningful prayer life, and openness to the unexpected ways and times and places where and when I sense God's loving and abiding presence.

8. Greater joy in and gratitude for simply being alive. As Billy Blanks says, "Every day above ground is a blessed day." There is so much to celebrate, to be thankful for, and to enjoy in this life. The littlest things, the smallest details - freshly picked apples from Sky Top orchards, celebrating my daughter's 21st birthday, wandering around in Hendersonville with her, eating a fabulous dinner at Curate in Asheville, holding a newborn baby boy in my arms, the gift of homemade pumpkin butter, soaking my feet in the little pedicure tub I bought years ago, lavender essential oil, fuzzy socks on recently scrubbed toes, warm cornbread, arriving home safely from volunteering at Loaves and Fishes, the taste of toothpaste, the scent of roasted chicken, sipping tea from the mug I bought in Sevilla back in 2006, looking up at the cross a dear friend brought back for me from Haiti, filling twelve bags with fallen leaves, crawling under my blankets and drifting off to sleep - I notice those details more now than I did two years and one day ago. I no longer even see them as "details;" they are miracles. Life is short. Life is beautiful. Life is good. I am grateful for every moment of this miraculous life I live.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Or is it a Thursday rant?

This was supposed to be posted last Thursday, October 30th. Oops. Even though the date at the top of the post says, October 30, today is November 6th. Not sure what is going on, but here is last week's post. Sorry about the confusion.

A dear friend of mine who is a knowledgeable and seasoned coffee drinker lives in the town where this brave and generous couple decided to take their love of coffee to another level. Check out this video of their story and the difference their coffee is making. Thank you, Lisa, for opening my eyes to how something as simple as thoughtfully purchasing coffee can affect the lives of people in Nicaragua, the country I loved so much when I visited six years ago.

Earlier this week, I read a blog post about still loving the church, even with all of its many, many, many problems. Thank you, Kathy, for expressing so articulately so much of what I feel about this family I'm glad to still be a part of, the church. Thanks also for taking me back to this website with hundreds of videos of people talking about faith, hope, love, growth, transformation, light, life, and everything else that matters. I watched Kathy speak on this video and nodded at how similarly we think about the issue of "us and them."

What if you really are living your best life already? Is it okay to enjoy the life you're already living? Thank you, Glennon, for giving me a better answer when people ask me, "What's next for you now that you're done with homeschooling? What are you going to do now?" I have been stumped by that question over the past few months because I like the life I'm already living. Still hanging out with my son before he heads to college next August. Still cooking and cleaning. Still walking my dog. Still making friends. Still laughing and crying and telling stories. Still traveling and making plans to travel more. Still dreaming about living overseas at some point in my life. Still teaching Sunday School and leading discussions at churches and other places around Charlotte. Still visiting with friends, meeting them for coffee and lunch and dinner and Hindi movies. Still going on dates with my husband. Still reading and journaling and blogging and hoping to write a book someday. Still praying and giving and maintaining my hope, my optimism, and my faith that all shall indeed be well. What's next for me? More of the same. Thanks be to God!

An awesome article for those who are on the healing journey back from kanswer, called, "Don't waste your kanswer" (The author spelled that last word a different way...) Thank you, whoever it was whose blog comment led me down a wild and unpredictable path to this article. Even though some might argue that my kanswer journey is behind me, I know it is not. The woman I am today was shaped, physically, emotionally, spiritually by the diagnosis of kanswer I received almost two years ago. I plan to keep learning the lessons kanswer has to teach me, to keep sharing those lessons, and to keep living in such a way that I can declare that I did not waste my kanswer. Thank you, kanswer, for pushing me into deeper living, deeper prayer, deeper love, deeper joy and deeper gratitude.

In the safety of my home, rather under the protection of my delusions of safety, I must remember that we have ebola. It's not "them over there;" it's us. We as a human race, as people who suffer and die, have ebola. And this article provides us with a compassionate look at those of us who are dealing with and dying of ebola in West Africa.

We are being sold into sexual slavery. Worse, we are selling each other into sexual slavery. This horrendous crime is enacted on boys and girls of outrageously young ages, perpetrated on teenagers whose yearning for love and attention is turned against them, and adults whose addictions and fear and hunger lure us into actions that we know will probably kill us.

We are anorexic, bulimic, overfed and undernourished.
We are wasteful, wasted, and wasting away.
We are bombing each other, shooting each other, and sawing each other's heads off.
We are segregated, isolated, and insulated.
We are tired of being yelled at, being belittled, and being told that we are worthless.
We are angry, accusatory, addicted, and ashamed.
We are sick and tired, so very tired, of being told that we should be afraid, very afraid.

We want to be better and do better, but we don't want to be the first one to change our ways.
We want to be kind, but we don't want to be seen as weak.
We want to be heard, but we don't want to speak up.
We want to be seen, but we don't want to reveal any of our scars or flaws or broken places.
We want to be loved, but we refuse to accept the tenderness and affection that is offered to us because it doesn't look anything like The English Patient or Love Story or Nights in Rodanthe (Spoiler alert - those are novels... besides did any of those stories turn out well for the lovers involved?)
We want to be honest, but we don't want to see our words used against us.
We want to say "enough," but we don't know what "enough" means.
We want to sit down and shut up, but we don't want to be kicked while we're down or be permanently silenced by others.
We want to be whole, healed, and held.

We are blind, deaf, mute, crippled, hungry, thirsty, leprous, and hemorrhaging our lifeblood away. Thank you, Jesus, for coming into the world to heal us, to feed us, to touch us, and to allow us to touch you in order to be healed. Thank you for the many times that you reached out to those who were sick, dying, and even dead, rendering yourself "unclean" for their restoration, for their healing, for their resurrection to new life - and not only for them, but also for us, for all of us, for me. Thank you for giving us each other - so that together we can walk towards wholeness, fullness, and healing. Thank you that we are learning to reach out to one another in our weakness, in our sickness, in our hunger, and in our desperation. Thank you that strength comes, that hope comes, and that new life comes when we receive your touch, your compassion, your tenderness, and your love through those around us.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Made in the USA #Speakeasy Book Review

When I'm shopping at the mall or Good Will or Vert and Vogue, I am always glad to see the label "Made in the USA" on the garments I purchase. Whether I (over)pay full retail price or spend $3.99, I want to know that the garment was made here in my home country because the people who made it were (most likely) not working in a dangerous or abusive environment. I want to know that they are paid a living wage for their hard work. At least that's what I hope and believe when I see that label. 

Years ago, when I learned that the United States is the world's largest producer and exporter of pornography, the "made in the USA" label lost a bit of its shine in my eyes and my mind. I am sad to say that recently I encountered that phrase again, Made in the USA, on the cover of a book - and once again it broke my heart. The full title of the book is - Made in the USA - The Sex Trafficking of America's Children. The book's author, Alisa Jordheim, is a passionate, caring and courageous woman and has penned a terrific book about a horrific topic.

Before reading this book, I knew very little about sexual trafficking in this country. Before reading this book, I didn't want to know about sexual trafficking in this country or in any other country either. I knew it was happening. I had heard about it, seen segments in news stories about it, and listened to tales about people who choose vacation destinations based on the availability of commercial sex in other parts of the world. What I didn't realize is the extent to which it is happening right here in the USA, and  that many of the victims are American-born children. 

Who are these exploited children? A sargeant in the Atlanta police department said, "We've seen young girls being exploited, and there's no common thread as far as black, white, Asian, upper class, upper-middle class, lower middle class, poor, house, home, single, double. That varies." Whether they are in strip clubs, at truck stops, on the street, or online, these children are beaten, raped, drugged, stripped of their dignity, and often arrested for their behavior. 

One clarification the author makes that I think is crucial on this topic is this - "There are no child prostitutes. A prostitute is commonly defined as an adult who consensually exchanges sex for money. Using the term prostitute in connection with a child can bring misunderstanding to the definition of child sex trafficking and implies that the child is making a choice. These children are not making choices. They are being exploited... It is time to remove the stereotype that these are just 'oversexed kids' making bad decisions. It is time to align our words with the truth: Children who are sexually exploited commercially are always, initially, victims of a crime." 

This book shares the stories of five young men and women who have been the victims of sexual trafficking. One of them was kidnapped by people they knew. One was lured into prostitution by a pimp posing as her boyfriend. One felt that the only way he could survive after running away from home was by selling himself for sex. One was forced into sexual exploitation by her family members. At one point, I closed the book and slammed it down on the table where I was reading - how can any mother listen to her daughter talk about what her uncle was doing to her and with her and dismiss it by saying that the daughter was getting older and cuter - she was seven years old when the abuse began - and that she should be flattered by her uncle's attention? How does that mother send her precious girl child back to her uncle's house every summer for nearly ten years knowing what her daughter suffered?

One of the challenges with reading this book, one of the many challenges, is the distinction that is made between American children being abused and tortured this way and children from other countries. There is a term that refers only to American children within US borders: "domestic minor sex trafficking." I think that any child, regardless of nation of origin, is worthy of care, of redemption, and of freedom from a life of sexual slavery and abuse. I'm not saying that there is any hint of hierarchy in the language of the book, but the fact that there is any distinction made between these victims based on their nationality is problematic.

Another challenge with reading this book is dealing with the overwhelming sadness, sorrow, and anger that it stirs up. I appreciate the way that the author addresses those emotions in the book's introduction. "These stories are gritty and heartbreaking and, at the same time, riveting. Many of the scenes are difficult to read, and the language among the pimps, johns, and children is rough and sometimes profane. This is intentional. My hope is that, after reading this book, you will understand the psychological and physical abuse these children face daily... Your willingness to read this book indicates that you are bold, brave, and living a little on the edge. Thank you for that. Many people cannot, do not, and will not acknowledge or discuss this difficult topic. You may need to take a breather between stories. It's okay... Allow the reading of the book to become a labor of love in honor of these exceptional survivors."

I am glad the book was gritty and raw, sobering and difficult. I am glad I followed through with the labor of love and sorrow that this book demanded. I needed to be exposed to the dreaded statistics related to the victims of these brutal crimes - "Tragically, most trafficking victims will die within seven years of first being trafficked. An average woman may live to be eighty-one years old and a man seventy-six, but these children can expect to die at an average age of twenty to twenty-one years old." I needed to read these accounts. I needed to cry over these children's plight. I needed to know what is happening to children against their will and against the will of all sane and thinking people. I am grateful that my eyes and my heart have been opened and exposed to the inside story of the underside of our nation. 

The book ends with almost twenty pages of ideas, suggestions, organizations, and information that provide the reader with action steps to take in order to make a difference in the lives of sexually exploited children. Rather than simply being paralyzed and immobilized by the weight of the stories, we are offered solid leads on how we can help. I am still considering what my response will be to what I now know.

The stories are terrible, horrendous, painful, and heinous. The accounts told by and about these young men and women and how they were forced to live, to sell themselves, and to break free from "the life" made me want to crawl back into my safe house, my safe neighborhood, and be grateful that my children were homeschooled and therefore never far from my reach or my sight. But the truth is that all children are unsafe as long as any children are unsafe. All children are vulnerable to sexual exploitation as long as any children are vulnerable. 

Lately I have been convinced of and convicted by the notion that there is no "us and them;" there is only us. The young boys and girls whose photos are being disseminated on the internet, those who are being repeatedly raped at state fairs, conventions, and in the back seats of cars, vans, and in the cabs of eighteen wheeler trucks - they are our sons and daughters. The young people who are forced to leave home because of their homosexuality, bisexuality, and unsettled sexual orientation are our sons and daughters, sent out to fend for themselves when they barely know themselves. The mentally ill, the mentally disabled, the uneducated, the homeless, the runaways, they are our children. Our lost children. Our brutalized children. Our abused children. Our trafficked children. Bought, sold, rescued, redeemed - and made in the USA. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review, and the review and opinions offered here are my own. I do not receive any compensation for writing this review or posting a link to purchase the book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Soundtrack of My Life

I am not a huge music person. My children can tell stories of going on long rides in the car, four, six, even twelve hour drives when I will either not turn on any music at all or I will listen repeatedly to the same CD or playlist for hours at a time. The music I listen to most of all is hymns, the old hymns of the church.

Among my favorite hymns are:
To God be the Glory
Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine.
It is well with my soul.
When we all get to heaven.
Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.
Victory in Jesus.
When the Roll is Called Up Yonder.
Amazing Grace.
I love to tell the story.
I know whom I have believed.

There is a handful of contemporary songs that I return to often.
My hope is in the Lord.
I have a hope.
He is here.
Through the Fire.
We will remember.
We've come this far by faith.
Jesus, what a beautiful name.
Holy Ground.
When I don't know what to do.
Hear me calling, Great Redeemer.

My list of favorite musicians and groups is as mixed and colorful as my extended family.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir
Donnie McClurkin
Lynda Randle
Hezekiah Walker
James Cleveland
The Talleys
Bill Gaither
Tommy Walker
Juanita Bynam
Yolanda Adams
The Imperials
The Crabb Family

The soundtrack of my life takes me back to my childhood church, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. I am transported back to the Wednesday night services when we would sing a couple of hymns before praying for thirty to forty-five minutes. Even then, I cried when I prayed.

I am reminded of Vacation Bible School - two weeks during the summer months during which we marched (literally) into the church singing "Onward Christian Soldiers," carrying our Bibles, and imagining ourselves as soldiers for God in "this sin-sick world." I remember the flannel boards and flannel figures that the teachers used to explain the stories of Scripture to us. I remember wanting to sit in the front row every time, so that I wouldn't be distracted by my restless and sweaty classmates.

I remember that my "piano lessons" consisted of my father pointing to middle C on our upright piano, showing me middle C on the treble and bass clef of the hymn book and leaving me to figure out the rest of it on my own. Other than a few months of fiddling around with the old John Thompson Modern Course for the Piano book, the only music I ever learned to play was hymns. Songs with four flats were my favorites.

I remember having to hunt and peck out a few hymns during Sunday and Wednesday evening services on the rare occasion that no other piano players were present. I remember being honored to play even though I made repeated mistakes and regularly lost my place on the page. I would tell them to keep on singing and I would catch up when I figured out where they were.

I remember sitting up in the choir loft with the two daughters of our senior pastor when they practiced playing the organ for Sunday services. I remember that neither of them seemed nearly as excited to be up there as I was. They were up there because they had to be there. I was up there because I loved the music and wanted to be near the source of that magnificent sound.

I remember listening to my father and my two oldest brothers singing in men's quartets at church. I remember my father playing the guitar and singing duets with my mother at church. I remember one of my brothers playing the piano and my father singing solos at church. I remember sitting nearby and listening to them when they practiced at home. I remember wishing I was old enough, gifted enough, and brave enough to sing solos at church.

I remember listening to Southern gospel music and classics hymns with my father on the many records he kept stacked in our living room. I remember listening to those albums even when he wasn't at home. I remember playing them so loudly that our upstairs neighbors would come down and complain about the volume. I remember hoping they wouldn't mention my loud music to my parents.

I remember occasionally attending evening services at Brooklyn Tabernacle during the years when my brother and his wife sang in that legendary choir. I remember wishing my parents would choose to attend that church - I wanted to listen to them sing every Sunday.

Aside from those musical experiences, I have been to several James Taylor concerts - as well as performances by Bruce Hornsby, Huey Lewis, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. I own several Billy Joel CDs along with Sweet Honey in the Rock, Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Kenny Rogers, John Legend, Erykah Badu, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin, India Arie, Sarah McLachlan, and Bette Midler. Quite the eclectic mix of artists, I know. They have each brought smiles, wiggles, toe taps, and knowing nods to me and through me when I hear them.

But the soundtrack of my life is the soundtrack of my faith.
The soundtrack of my life consists of the hymns and songs of my faith.
The soundtrack of my life reminds me of who and what matters most to me, what motivates me, what defines my life.
The soundtrack of my faith is the soundtrack of my life.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thankful Thursday

I am grateful for this beautiful, sunny, crisp fall Thursday. I am grateful for my scarves and boots and pairs of thick socks.

I am also grateful for Erika, who challenged me to remember that not everyone likes cool mornings and crisp afternoons and chilly nights - homeless people and others who spend most of their time outside don't welcome the temperature change, nor do they have the luxury of merrily sipping a pumpkin spice latte or a green tea latte with soy milk and no sweetener (which is my preferred indulgence) while appreciating the change of seasons.

I am grateful for the abundance of fall vegetables and fruits available at the supermarket these days.
I am grateful for two recent encounters with folks selling local produce and honey and baked goods.

I am grateful for the smily face drawn into the dust on a glass sculpture at the Mint Museum. As I stood and looked at one of Jon Kuhn's magnificent pieces, I thought, "It sure needs to be dusted." That's when I saw the art drawn on the art. I would never be bold enough to touch a sculpture in a museum, nevermind draw something on it. I chuckled at the brazenness of that art defiler/dust artist.

I am grateful that regular gas has dropped below $3 per gallon in our fair city.

I am grateful for the flowers and chocolate chip cookies we received in exchange for our unused, though perfectly functional ping pong table. One less space-consuming, dust-gathering thing in our garage.

I am grateful for those who have put their lives at risk to work with the thousands who are affected by the ebola virus, the wars in Gaza, refugees in Iraq, the displaced in Afghanistan, and people who are suffering elsewhere. I am grateful for the opportunity and ability to contribute financial assistance.

I am grateful for the time I was able to spend with Kasandra and her two young children on Tuesday. Talking. Laughing. Changing diapers. Watching airplanes take off and land at the airport overlook. For those of you who are praying people, please pray for her - she is on a difficult kanswer journey. She is only 30 years old, has three young children, and is about to embark on an aggressive treatment protocol that will last for many months.

I am grateful for the many stories of victory over kanswer I have heard lately. I watched an episode of Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta last night - it was actually called Say Yes to the Cure because the owner of the salon, Lori, had a breast kanswer challenge in 2012, only a couple of months before mine. There was an African-American woman profiled on last night's show who has had breast kanswer twice, ovarian kanswer, and at the time of taping was dealing with lung kanswer. Such strength. Such beauty. Why was she featured on Say Yes to the Dress? Because she and her husband were about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. They said that she had spent 23 of their 25 years together dealing with kanswer in one way or another. There was much weeping and even more rejoicing on their special day.  I am thankful that I saw that show. I too cried - not that it takes much to get me going - for them and with them and also for myself and everyone who has had to deal with this dreadful disease. We are strong. We are survivors. We are here. And those whose battles ended in death, like my father, at least they aren't suffering anymore. I know they are missed, but no one misses kanswer when it's gone.

I am grateful to be on this side of treatment and on this side of the grave. I am grateful to be able to share my story with others in person, as I did with Kasandra, and also by video. For those of you who haven't seen it yet, this is my story.

I am grateful for Rick who asked me, "What was the miracle for today?" Apparently he remembered a recent Sunday School class in which I said that I see miracles everyday. What was my miracle for yesterday - which was the day he asked? I avoided two car accidents yesterday on my way to church. 
Confession: in one case, my music was playing so loudly that I didn't hear the ambulance approaching and had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting the stopped car in front of me. I wondered why that driver stopped so suddenly, then I saw the ambulance. Oops - I guess I'd better turn my tunes down...

My miracle for today is multi-layered; I suppose I should make it plural. I have experienced several miracles today.  
* This morning, I went to Target to say good-bye to a wheelchair bound employee there who is soon to retire. I have seen him there for years and he has always been friendly towards me and my family. When I went through kanswer treatment and didn't go shopping very often, he would ask Kristiana how I was doing. He will retire in three weeks, and because I didn't want to miss him, I went in this morning to wish him well. From there, I went to the library to vote early. From the library, I went to Trader Joe's and bought groceries. Early this afternoon, I went to Benjamin Moore paints to purchase supplies to have our bathrooms updated - we are having the wallpaper removed and all the walls painted. After I put the paint in my car, I went to the bagel store two doors down and picked up a few rings of doughy delight to bring home for breakfast tomorrow. Less than half an hour later, I took our dog to the groomer. 

The miracle? I did all those things and got home safely. No accidents. Not even any near misses. You don't think those are miracles worth being grateful for? Ask the family of the man or woman or child who won't get home safely today. The family members of the loved one who will be injured or diagnosed or even pass away today - they will tell you that safe travel and safe returns are miraculous.

* I have never grown spaghetti squash or bananas or oats or chick peas or red peppers or tomatoes or kale or romaine lettuce or apples or lemons or limes. I have never made hummus or coconut milk or pizza dough or pepperoni or almond butter or kombucha from scratch. I have never laid a floor or installed a refrigerator or ordered food from a warehouse or programmed a cash register or hired a stock person or unloaded a delivery truck. 

The miracle? Someone had the foresight to plant and water and weed and reap at the right times so that we can eat. Someone grew the food, fed the animals, harvested, slaughtered, plucked, canned, wrapped, sealed, delivered, unpacked, shelved, and sold these miraculous things to me and you and countless others.  

* I have never cut down a rubber tree, worked in a steel mill, molded hard plastic, created glass panels, or even pondered the electronics necessary to create and control the car I drive. I don't know the function of a carburetor or a ball joint - which makes me an easy target for unscrupulous mechanics, I realize - but someone invented those and many other car parts so that I can go to the library and the supermarket and the vet's office and church. Tomorrow morning, I expect it will transport me to one friend's house so that together we can go visit another friend who recently had a baby. (Don't get me started on the miracle of conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and new life. We get to bring people into the world with hearts, minds, lives, and souls of their own. Is there any greater miracle than that?)

I have never fully comprehended the way airplanes work - all that stuff, all those people, all that fuel, up in the air, across land and sea. Air pressure controlled. Food and beverages provided (sometimes). Cargo below. Steel panels above. Turbulence withstood. Pilots. Autopilot. Flight attendants. Air marshalls. Up in the air. Zipping across the sky. 

The miracle? Isn't every vehicle a miracle? Isn't every safe passage truly a miracle? Isn't every meal a miracle? Isn't it a miracle to wake up in your bed, alive, still breathing, with your heart still beating, your house still standing, your family members and loved ones still alive? Isn't every day above ground truly miraculous?