Thursday, March 09, 2017

Thankful Thursday - A Day in My Life

Is it me or is this year absolutely flying by? How can we already be in March?
I have no idea how, but here we are.

I wanna share with you a story about my Tuesday, this past Tuesday.

My terrific Tuesday began at my kitchen counter, sipping warm lemon water (delicious), and hot sweet coffee (delicious). Both mugs were at precisely the right distance from my computer so that when I picked either one up, I could steady my tired hand before the mug passed over said computer. I neither wanted nor needed to fill in any "lemon water/coffee meets computer keyboard" incident forms.

From my computer came the sound of the voice of Rob Bell, a long time, long distance pastor and mentor of mine. His Nooma videos introduced me to entirely new ways of reading and understanding the Bible. His books, especially Love Wins, changed the way I think about God and love and hope and those of us who claim to be followers of Christ. And I am looking forward to the imminent release of his next book, What is the Bible? Recently, my daughter discovered his "Robcasts" - his podcasts. Not long before her discovery, a dear and wise friend of mine recommended that I listen to his podcasts. I'm a firm believer that if a message comes to me several different times from several different people who don't know about what someone else has recommended, then I need to take the hint and check out whatever is being suggested. So there I sat at my kitchen counter on Tuesday morning, sipping and listening, taking furious notes, and rejoicing that I had rediscovered someone who has taught me so much in the past ten years.

After losing track of time listening to Rob, I leapt up from my seat, and ran upstairs to get dressed and ready to go meet up with a friend I hadn't seen in more than seven years. A hairdressing friend who had come to our home years ago when my daughter was sick and had done her hair here at the house. No extra charge. Nothing but joy and tenderness, hospitality and kindness. A mutual friend recently re-introduced me to her via Facebook - and we met up at a bakery at 10 am this past Tuesday. Three hours later, we hugged each other, bid farewell, and promised that it won't be seven years before our next get together.

As we sat together there, we talked about parenting, food stamps, pediatricians who overstep their bounds, marriage, learning to love our mothers-in-law, healthy eating, her podcasts, money, prayer, meditation, and yoga (she's an African American yoga teacher whose classes I cannot wait to start attending. Care to join me?) for starters. She is a beacon of beauty and light, of hope and determination, of power and messiness. She is aglow with joy and grace and dignity and love. She is exactly what I want to be when I grow up - and she's at least ten years younger than I am. What a gift!

After saying good-bye to her, I drove a few blocks to my favorite prayer space - 24-7. I was only there for half an hour, but it was long enough to eat the soup I had brought from home for lunch, to finish a green juice I had made, and to take several deep breaths, all while giving thanks to God for the wonder-filled day I had already experienced... and it was only 1:15 or so in the afternoon.

Then it was off to an upper floor of an upper crust office building in uptown Charlotte, where I sat for an hour with a friend who is waking up.  Waking up to injustice and fear, to racism and privilege, to powerlessness and vulnerability. Waking up to his own dreams, his hopes for himself and his family and his city and his world. Waking up to the justice work that has been happening for centuries and the justice work that still needs to be done. He is waking up to his own misunderstandings and blind spots. He is full of questions and doubts, despair and sorrow.

What he doesn't yet see is how far he has already come. How much of an influence he already has on the people around him. He doesn't yet see how much of an encouragement he is to me, how much his questions challenge me and others to think more deeply about how to respond, how to welcome, how to encourage, and how to push people like him deeper into the darkness, into the pain, into the suffering of others - all in order to work together and walk together towards the Light, towards the future, towards peace, liberty, and justice for all.

Sitting with him, I was reminded that there is good coming out of the Tr*mp fiasco.
There are hearts that are being broken.
Eyes being opened.
Fears being unearthed.
Injustice being exposed.
And there's a lot of new energy in the arena.
New participants in the long march to wholeness and healing,
folks who had no idea just how sick we are as a nation and as a community
and had no idea just how much healing we need to do.

We sat there for an hour, asking questions, encouraging each other.
Fighting despair, pleading with God and each other for new direction and new hope.
We hugged one another and said our farewells -
once again, promising that it wouldn't be our last conversation.
There is so much work to do -
but the only way forward, the only way out, the only way up
is together.

I literally ran from that office building to my church, just one block away, for a 3 pm meeting.
For the next hour, I sat with someone I deeply respect and thank God for on a regular basis -
and we dreamed together.
We dreamed about hope and a future. A next step.
The body of Christ growing. Expanding.
Something new. Something daring. Something beautiful.
Something hard. Something painful. Something dangerous.
But we kept coming back to the question - "What if?"
But what if this dream is possible?
What if a few of us really can work together to create a community that looks different than anything any of us has experienced before?
What if God really is in the resurrecting business - and things that look dead or dormant, can be raised to new and abundant life?
What if this seminary journey I'm on is all about preparing me for this new thing,
this new place, this new adventure, this new life journey?
What if my whole life, all the challenges, all the trips, all the joys, all the brokenness,
all the failures, all the dreams come true -
what if all of it has been leading me to this moment in time?
For such a time as this?
What if?
Do I dare dream this big?
Do I dare not dream this big???
How dare we not dream in big ways?
Do we or don't we serve a huge God, one who is able to do over, above,
and beyond all that we can ask or imagine?

I am reminded of the passage in John 11 where Jesus is standing with Martha four days after the death of Martha's brother, Lazarus. She said to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." What huge faith. What a challenge to the one in whom she had placed her faith. She believed Jesus could have prevented the death of her brother - and she told him so. Jesus can handle the truth. Jesus responded, "Your brother will rise again." To that Martha consented: "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day." In other words, I get it, but that's way down the line at some unknown and unpredictable moment. Jesus quashes that thought with: "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

It's that final question from Jesus to Martha that has stumped me and stopped me and challenged me over the past few years. I have read the Bible a lot. I have prayed a lot. I have taught the Bible a lot. But the question is this: "Do you believe this?" Do I believe this? Do I believe that new life is possible here and now? Do I believe that borders can be crossed and walls broken down in the work of reconciliation in the world and in our city? Do I believe that new connections are possible, that new relationships can be forged in a world and at a time when so many are calling for rejection and expulsion? Do I believe that there is reason for hope at a time of despair and desperation for so many? Do I believe that resurrection still happens in the world - resurrection of dying marriages, of churches on the decline? Resurrection of communities that seem hellbent on destroying themselves and others? Resurrection of people with hard and calloused hearts that no longer break because of the violence that they themselves perpetuate? Do I believe in the resurrection of all that is good and beautiful, peace loving and restorative? Do I believe that resurrection is already happening, right here and right now?

Do you believe in resurrection? Do you?

From one office in the church, I walked to another office in the church. In the second office, I was given a chance to look at the church's new website - it will be launched next Monday, March 13th. It is quite a revision, a renewal, dare I say a resurrection of something that desperately needed a makeover (click here to see the old site before March 13th. If you are reading this after the13th, click over and check out the new site)?!? So much creativity and light and beauty. Information and formation. A place of welcome for newcomers and welcome back for those who are already part of the church community. I was enormously grateful to have been invited for a preview and I was enormously excited about how this new portal will be used as a point of entry into our faith community, a faith community that we hope will grow both wide and deep "for Christ in the heart of Charlotte."

From there, I staggered down to the church library where I sat in awe at the beauty of the day. After a few moments of stunned silence, I pulled out one of my seminary books and began to study, to read, to jot down notes in anticipation of a paper that is due before class on Saturday. Somehow the note taking felt different Tuesday afternoon after all the conversations I had had. Somehow studying felt like it might actually be preparation for an actual call into actual ministry of Word and Sacrament for the actual people of God here in Charlotte, NC. No longer simply abstract thought about an abstract future, what swirled in my head and heart as I pondered a book chapter entitled "The New Community" (how perfect is God's divine timing in the coordination of my theology class syllabus and my terrific Tuesday!) were deeper questions about how we move, how I move from theological discourse in a comfortable seminary classroom to getting my hands dirty and wrinkled and stained and weary in the work of community building and strengthening. I felt a clear sense of direction to and a more visible goal for my thinking and my writing that I had not experienced before in seminary.

I didn't spend a long time there in the library because I was scheduled to meet up for tea with two new friends, two African American Muslim sister friends I met a month and a half ago. One had recently returned from a trip to Mecca and she overflowed with stories and showed the us dozens of photos of her time in Saudi Arabia in Medina and Mecca and Mt Arafat. She spoke about the spiritual uplift that came from being at the religious home of the Prophet who is central to her faith. She spoke of the crowds, the prayers, the mosques, the food, the beauty, the deep and abiding peace she felt. Her joy was palpable, as was her yearning to return there sometime in the not too distant future.

What a gift it was to meet them a few weeks ago and what a gift it is to get to know them, to listen to their stories, and to tell them mine. To speak and live and grow together. To knock down the barriers that others are trying to build between people of different faith practices. To defy all calls for fear while heeding all calls for peace and for prayer.

I had the privilege of telling them about when my daughter and I stood outside of the Muslim American Society center here in Charlotte with 15 or so other people almost two weeks ago, holding up signs of support and peace and love for the several hundred Muslims who were entering their mosque space for Friday prayers. Some of our signs said - "Peace be with you" "Peace" "You are what already make America great" "Christians from The Grove love you" Some of the folks who had come for worship came over to us and hugged us, thanked us for being there, for the encouragement, and some asked if they could take pictures of us. Needless to say, I spent most of the half hour or so we were standing there as a welcome team with tears in my eyes. Such a simple act made such a profound difference for them - and for us.

Neither of my two new friends had been able to attend prayers that Friday, but they were overjoyed that we had been there for their faithful friends. Grateful that there were so many who wanted to express our love and support at a time when there is so much venom and fear and hatred being spewed in their direction and in the direction of so many other undeserving folk. Given the chance to spread a different message, a message of peace, of community, of openness of heart, we have to take the chance. We have to extend the right hand of fellowship, of shalom, of salaam. We must. How dare we not?

It was raining when we left the coffee shop on Tuesday night. But the chilly rain could not dampen or chill the warmth that had been fanned between the three of us. Nothing could stop us from planning our next tea date, from hugging each other, and from promising that we would lift one another in prayer. No fear mongering, no "alternative facts" about who is and who is not really a Muslim, no sideways stares at their colorful and regal hijabs, none of that had or has the power to defeat or diminish our newfound love one for another.

That night, as I drove home in the rain, I was reminded that, in the end, love wins.
Love has already won.
Love is winning.
Love will win.
It may not look that way at the moment;
in fact, in many corners of the world and of this nation and of this city,
even in some of the corners of my own home,
it feels like love is on the retreat.
It feels like hate and fear and despondency are winning.
Like exclusion and derision and lying are a new way of life.
But I have not, I will not, and I cannot give up hope.
Love wins.

This past Tuesday, in my little life, love won.
Over and over and over.
In one conversation and exchange after the other.
Love won.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thankful Thursday - Looking back and looking across

A year ago tonight, on the third Thursday of February of 2016, my daughter told her story, a story of fear and pain, suffering and illness, to a group of new friends at a local church. She was so brave, as she always is. She told the truth. She told it plain. It was a story about the crazy love of God in a crazy time in her life eight years before. A time when she couldn't think clearly or sleep or sit still, nor could she (or any of us) understand why she couldn't think clearly or sleep or sit still.

The verse that we chose as the theme verse that night last year was this:
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. 
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

As she told her story a year ago tonight, we listened attentively.
We laughed. We groaned.
We cried - well, I sure did.

When she was done with telling her story, some of the people in the room asked questions. Some complimented her for her courage. Others just sat in quiet respect for my dearly beloved child.

Then I prayed. This is what I prayed that night -

Dear loving, cradling, singing God,

We thank you tonight that you are indeed mighty to save, that you take great delight in us, that you quiet us with your love and rejoice over us with singing. What an image that brings into our minds - a gentle, loving, patient mother/father/parent God, singing your troubled children to sleep, calming our anxious hearts, showing us that you are right here with us, at all times, even when things fall apart. 

Lord, we acknowledge now that we are all facing challenges, we are all dealing with things that are falling apart, things that have fallen apart, and every single one of us worries about things that we think will fall apart in the not-too-distant future. Please forgive our persistent fear and worry. Forgive us for thinking that we can insulate ourselves from failure, pain, illness, and loss. Forgive us for being more concerned about ourselves and our families and friends and children than we are about other people and those they love. Forgive us for not caring enough about other people - whose worlds are falling apart - enough to get involved and make a difference, even when it doesn’t affect us directly or personally. 

Thank you, Suffering Lord, Weeping Christ, for meeting us in the graveyards of our lives, for meeting us in the hospital rooms, for meeting us at the lawyers’ offices, for meeting us in our lonely, fearful, broken, sorrow-filled, most fallen apart places - and just being there with us. Thank you for the many times when you heal those broken places. Thank you, that even when you don’t fix it all, you stay with us through it all. Thank you for walking with us every step of this journey we call life. 

As we leave this place tonight and return to our worlds, patched and stitched, stapled and taped together as they are, please increase our awareness of your presence. Please open our ears, our eyes, and our hearts to perceive your hand at work in us and through us. Please continue to intercede for us beside the throne of grace, and please hear us now, as together we lift up the prayer you taught your disciples to pray, saying - (and here we recited The Lord's Prayer together) Amen

The very next morning, a new chapter of her story began to be written. 
She entered into the most difficult three month period of her life.
Sorrow upon sorrow. Buckets of tears. 
Dozens of appointments with too many doctors.
Endless days and sleepless nights. Deep sadness. 

During more than one hospital visit, I spoke the words of our theme verse to her -
"The Lord your God is with you, my sweet girl.
Mighty to save. God can and will quiet you with love
and rejoice over you with singing.
I will believe this for you until you can believe it for yourself."
I don't know how much she heard or understood, 
but I kept saying it and I kept praying it.
I kept pleading and interceding on her behalf.
And so did countless others. 

During an especially meaningful conversation with one of the pastors of my church about half way through that difficult season, I showed him the prayer I had written for that fateful church gathering and he suggested that I return to it and keep praying it. Why hadn't I thought of that before? So I read and reread that prayer for weeks - tears flowing, heart breaking. 

I thanked God for giving me the prayer, but I screamed at God for giving me the prayer. I thanked God for the love and care of doctors and nurses, but I wished I had never had any reason to meet any of them. I thanked God for the hope that my family and friends kept encouraging me to hold on to, but I was extremely angry that hope was all I had to hold on to. 

Looking back, my heart still breaks with the weight of all that we carried together for those three months.
Looking across the family room where I am sitting right now, my heart breaks with the joy of seeing how well my daughter is doing now. I know I write about her a lot. I know I've written chapters of her story before. But looking across the room now, I see a cum laude college graduate with a degree in sociology. 
Looking back, I remember the fear I lived in, the fear that one of my favorite mantras - "All shall be well" - might not be true after all. 
Looking across, my hope is restored. My joy is abundant. My daughter is back and she is happy and she is stronger than ever. She has absolutely no idea just how amazing she is. Just how strong. Just how remarkable. 

Looking back and looking across, I recognize and acknowledge that there are no guarantees of ease or protection or perfection or safety or good health in her future. Or mine. Or anyone's. 
But looking back and looking across, I am reminded of God's comforting presence. I am reminded of the verse that we chose for a year ago tonight: 

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

The Lord our God is with all of us,
with each of us, mighty to save.
God takes great delight in us,
quiets us with his love,
rejoices over us with singing.

Looking back and looking across, I am grateful, so very grateful.
For life itself. Being alive is a gift.
Being alive and being loved - priceless. Truly priceless.
For joy and laughter.
For healing and wholeness.
For companionship on the journey - especially during the tough times.
For hope, hope that does not disappoint.
For hope and a future.

Looking back and looking across, I think I'm gonna get up and
go hug her and then I'm gonna go get both of us a piece of the
dark chocolate bark we made for Valentine's Day.
We have a lot of love and healing and courage and hope to celebrate.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

"Nevertheless She Persisted"

Our national government is a mess.
A disaster. One fiasco after the other.
Alternative facts. Just making stuff up as they go along.
Executive orders. Executive disorder. Horrific.
And no one can convince me otherwise.
Some said, "Wait and see. Don't judge him before he gets to the White House.
Give him a chance. Your fear means you have attributed too much power to one man."
Now we have waited and seen. And what we see is ridiculous.
Outrageous. Deeply disturbing.
On every level.

Yesterday, a senator was silenced in the chamber.
Silenced by a rule that says one senator cannot criticize or insult or badmouth another.
A woman silenced by a man. For speaking against a man who has shown himself to be untrustworthy around issues of race and equality and justice.
He can say whatever he wants to say, but she cannot.
He can make life difficult for black voters in the south,
but she cannot speak about what has been said about him.

But in his silencing of Elizabeth Warren, Mitch McConnell gave a whole lot of women a new mantra.
A rallying cry. A goal that we are now gonna work towards.
If my sources are correct, this is what he said:

"She was warned.
She was given an explanation.
Nevertheless she persisted."

I have read that some women are now feeling motivated by his words to live in such a way that those words are on their tombstones. Some have said that we should have tee shirts made that say: "Nevertheless she persisted." (Apparently that is already happening!)

After being cut off by Mitch, Elizabeth Warren stepped out of the Senate chamber and read the Coretta Scott King letter she was prevented from reading. That video has gone viral and has launched a wave of reactions that Mitch would never have had to deal with if he had just let her read the letter in the chamber. I sure hope he regrets that decision now.

How many times in your life have you been warned, been given an explanation?
How many times have warnings and explanations stopped you from pursuing what you wanted, dreamed, and hoped for?
How many times have the warnings and explanations prompted you to persist?

When I was a kid, growing up with three older brothers, I was told that there were sports things I shouldn't do and couldn't do. Play two hand touch football. Play basketball. Play catch. Play hide and seek. Hang out with boys. I ended up being invited to join the high school track team when I was in seventh grade and kept on running through most of my college career.

She persisted.

When I was in junior high and high school, I heard that most college students gave up their faith practices in college. Who has time for church and faith and prayer when there are track practices to attend and exams to take and papers to be written? I attended the Williamstown Baptist Church all four years of college, attended and served as a leader of the college Intervarsity Christian Fellowship group, and regularly attended campus prayer meetings at 7 am. I confess that I often showed up at church after only a few hours of sleep following late night parties on Saturday nights. I didn't always wake up in my own dorm room on Sunday mornings. But I still went to church - not out of a sense of obligation, but because I loved being there. I loved the people. I loved the sense of community. And I loved the old hymns of the church. So off I went.

She persisted.

A classmate of mine from college made the decision to take Sundays off from studying. She and her then boyfriend, now husband, felt convicted about keeping a sabbath day, taking an entire day off every week. I told her it wouldn't work. I was the one who gave her a warning and an explanation. She proved me wrong. They both proved me wrong. They were outstanding students - even though they didn't do school work on Sunday. They are both college professors now.

She persisted.

People who claimed to know us and love us told me and Steve that our marriage, our interracial marriage wouldn't last. Our children would suffer because of our selfish decision to cross race lines and be joined as husband and wife. At least one of those people chose not to attend our wedding. But here we are, thirty years after our first date, more than twenty five years after our wedding - still together. The same cannot be said about several of our loudest critics way back then.

She persisted.

Even before our children arrived on the scene, we made the decision that I would be a full-time, stay at home mom. When our daughter was three, we made the decision that I would homeschool her. I was told that it wasn't a good idea to homeschool because I couldn't protect them from all the harm and danger and bullies in the world. I was told that they would be introverts and social misfits. I was told that they wouldn't know how to deal with people outside our home. One is a college graduate. The other is in college. One spent sixth grade at a local Christian school, but then decided to come back home and graduate from high school here under our roof. It wasn't easy. There were many, many days when I wished I could put them onto a school bus and watch them head off to be taught by someone else. I wanted to be alone in my house. I wanted to know what it was like to have a martini at lunch time.

She persisted.

Not long after beginning seminary last year, I was informed by someone who was offended by something I said in a class that my opinion was not welcome in the seminary classroom. That for the next four and half years, I needed to keep my personal feelings and convictions to myself. Essentially I needed to just talk about God and the Bible and other non-offensive subjects. I responded that if I was wrong, if I was misinformed, then seminary was the place for my wrongheaded ideas to be corrected. If I was indeed racist and anti-authority, what better place for me to be set straight than in conversation with other seminarians and our professors?

She persisted.

I have a dear friend hard at work trying to bridge the enormous divide between the church where she pastors and a dangerous apartment complex across the street from her church. Gun shots. Drug deals. Frightful residents. Gang members. Much prayer. Much persistence. Much hope.

She persists.

I have a dear friend and family member who is preaching and teaching and writing and raising two children and learning new ways to love and support her husband in spite of all kinds of health challenges and work demands. She is one of the strongest, most determined, hard working, God-loving people I have ever known.

She persists.

Two nieces of mine, beautiful and inspiring sisters, have worked their way through college with their mom's help, support, and love. They are musical. Artistic. Multi-lingual. Smart. Articulate. Did I mention that they are gorgeous too? Even between bouts of anger and sorrow, job searches and apartment searches, they seek reasons to remain hopeful. Another niece was recently married in Virgina. Another has a one-year-old daughter that she and her husband absolutely adore. Two nieces by marriage have gorgeous babies of their own. Such powerful women. Such commitment to mothering and working, writing and running businesses of their own. They inspire me more than they know.

They persist.

We have all been warned.
You can't do this. You shouldn't do this.
No one does this.
There is no way to do this thing that you want to do.

We have all been given explanations.
Because it's too hard.
Because other people won't like it.
Because it's dangerous.
Because women don't do things like this.
Just because...

Nevertheless we persist.
We must persist.
Because if we don't persist, the terrorists win.
If we stop speaking up,
if we stop acting up,
if we stop living the lives we have been called and created to live,
if we allow fear-mongering to silence and sideline us,
if we give in and give up and give over to despair and defeat,
then the terrorists who are taking over our government,
the haters, the thieves, the liars, the silencers,
the racists, the xenophobes, the gangsters in government,
they win.
We cannot let them win.

I refuse to be defeated. I refuse to be silenced.
I refuse to be subject to mansplaining without telling the truth as I know it.

So warn me if you want to.
Give me an explanation if you must.
But know this - nevertheless, I will persist.
Nevertheless, we will persist.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thankful Thursday - We Gather Together

Two weeks ago, I sat with a dear friend in her family room.
She gave me two thoughtful and beautiful gifts.
I gave her as much love as I could muster.
Then we sat in silence - twenty minutes of silent prayer.

This morning, I sat with another at 24/7. Talking. Journaling. Crying.
Offering each other words of encouragement and words of hope.
Then we walked to Sabor and shared an entree while we talked some more.

A week ago tonight, eleven people joined us in our living room to talk.
To reflect on gratitude and groundedness.
We told stories and asked questions.
How can we show God more love?
How can we fall deeper in love with God?
How can we pay more attention to what God is doing in the world?
Do we even notice what God is doing?
How can we help each other see, notice, and appreciate what's going on around us and within us?
We honored each other's stories and we encouraged each other to keep telling them.
We ate and drank and laughed and listened to each other.

There's something beautiful and powerful and soulful about gathering together.
In each other's homes. In the places where we are most comfortable and also most vulnerable.
To come together to open ourselves up to each other.
I look forward to getting to know them more.

Early on Sunday morning, I met up with the We Walk Together group.
Outside of a place here in Charlotte called Hope Haven.
This is the brief word of inspiration I shared with that group before we set out walking together -

Hope Haven. This is the perfect place for us to be on the weekend when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. As we look back at his legacy, as we look ahead to the inauguration of a new President, as we consider our changing place in the world, as a nation, as a city, as individuals, we desperately need a haven for hope. We need a place where hope abounds, where we feel safe, and where we can find calm and peace when our hope fades. Now more than ever before, I recognize that we must be havens of hope for each other. No one “out there” is gonna do it for us; we have to be the hope havens, the peacemakers, and the change that we want to see. As we walk together, let’s share some of the ways in which we see hope growing in our lives, in our city, and in our nation. Let’s encourage each other to stay strong, to keep working, and to remember that, indeed, we walk together. Let there be hope, folks, and let it begin in us and with us. 

On the 30th of January, we will go back to Hope Haven and serve lunch to the residents who are working to overcome addiction and its ravages in their lives and families.
I am grateful for the chance we will have to gather together with neighbors we didn't know we had, neighbors we never had the chance to meet and serve before.

Last night, my daughter and I went to a workshop on implicit bias
at a predominantly white baptist church here in Charlotte.
The folks from Race Matters for Juvenile Justice led the workshop.
They taught us about the ways that our brains work in terms of responding to various stimuli.
How bias is natural for all of us - it can save our lives.
For example, if we run into a bear, our bias against dangerous animals could save us by forcing us to get away from that bear.
But bias can also end someone's life - if our bias prompts us to take out a gun and kill someone we don't know because our brain has triggered a fight response.
There we were, my daughter and I, two of only five or six black people, in a crowd of 75 people.
I was honored and grateful to sit in a space with so many white people who wanted to know more about bias, about the ways in which bias can bring up fear in us, even when it is unconscious, unintentional bias.
I was impressed by the fact that so many people came together on a Wednesday night to hear stories and see a video and consider the fact that each one of us has biases, but some of us have more influence over others and can impact the lives of others based on their biases. If I run a company, if I am a school teacher, if I am a police officer, my biases can cause me to hire or fire or not hire certain people. My biases can cause me to suspend or expel one student for the same offense that would cause me to send another student to after school detention. My biases can cause me to shoot and kill someone for the same act that prompts only a warning for someone else.
It was a sobering gathering.
But a vitally important one.
One that more people need to participate in and with.
It's time to dismantle our biases and our racism and all the other -isms that divide us.
But we must first admit that we have them.
And last night was a time to see our biases, to acknowledge them, to examine them closely, and to begin to work on dismantling them.

Tonight, my daughter and I went to a gathering at the Muslim American Society here in Charlotte. We sat with Muslim women from the US, Egypt, Malaysia, and elsewhere, and several Christian women, all of whom were born in the US, I think, and we talked. About the inauguration. About the future of our country. About hope. We talked about the importance of working together for peace. And then we held hands in a circle and we prayed. Out loud. To God. To Allah. We prayed for our incoming president. We prayed for our nation. We prayed for each other. We prayed that we would be united in love and hope and peace. We prayed that we will be beacons of light and hope and grace in a country and a world that need light and hope and grace more than ever. It was the most meaningful prayer gathering I have attended in a very long time.

Once again, we had gathered in someone's home.
Not the home where they live, but the home where they worship,
where they pray, where they eat, and where they welcome the stranger.
Where they welcomed us.
They gave each of us a Qu'ran.
They invited us to return for more gatherings.
It was clear that they were comfortable in their spiritual home,
but also vulnerable.
The glass door to the outside was locked, so people could not just enter the building freely.
Everyone who wanted to enter the building had to knock and be admitted by someone.
Comfortable, welcoming, warm, but also cautious, protective, and alert.

There we were - gathered together. From different countries.
Different faiths. Different racial and ethnic groups.
No hatred. No anger. No fear.
Just love. Just unity. Just peace. Just hope.

Tonight, I am profoundly grateful for the gift of gathering together.
The vulnerability of gathering together.
The gift of asking questions about what we believe and how we practice what we believe.
The strength that comes from gathering together.
The gift of standing strong in our faith practices, even in the face of bias.
Explicit bias and implicit bias.

I am grateful for the common ground on which we stand.
The ground of trust in God, that God is with us, that God loves us,
that God wants us to live in peace with each other.

I am grateful for the messages of hope and support I am receiving from friends and family members around the world. There is so much fear and worry and concern about what the next four years will be like under our new president and his cabinet. I am grateful for the knowledge that I am not alone. We are not alone. There is power and hope in our gathering together and being together.

I am grateful for the many circles of people I have the privilege of walking with
and listening to and crying with and loving.

I am grateful to and for the God that draws so many wise, courageous, thoughtful, generous, faithful, faith-filled, funny, challenging, welcoming, hospitable people together.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

She called it "a beacon"

If you look carefully at the photo above, you will see a green light on in the first building - one of the four towers in the Cuatro Torres complex in Madrid. About fifteen stories down from the top. If you look at the photo below, you won't see that light on. It's a flashing light - it flashes 24 hours a day in that building. It indicates that there is a chapel there, a space where prayer happens and mass is said regularly. All day and all night, whenever anyone looks up at that building, they are reminding of the presence of God, the presence of the Holy Sacrament, the prayers rising before the throne of grace.

During my recent trip to Spain, every time I was in the car with my friend and we drove past that building, I took a photo or a video. Every time I saw that flashing light, tears rose in my eyes. Who does that? Who builds a skyscraper in a major city and installs a flashing light, a reminder that there is always prayer, there is always a community of faith, there is always hope, there is always God? God is always there. Someday I am going to go up in that building and find that chapel. Find that place of prayer and add some of my prayers to the many thousands that have surely been said in that sacred space.

But even without going up there, I went up there.
I joined those faithful folks up there with my own prayers.
I joined them with my hopes and dreams.
I joined them with my tears and sorrows.
I joined them with my prayers for peace and safety in Madrid, in Spain, and all over Europe.
Prayers for peace and safety in Ghana, Swaziland, South Africa, and all over Africa.
Prayers for peace and safety in Haiti, Cuba, India, Australia, and all over the world.
I joined them with prayers for healing and forgiveness, for justice and righteousness.
All over the world.

I told a friend about that space a couple of days ago.
I showed her these photos and a couple of the videos I captured.
I couldn't come up with the word for that light.
She called it "a beacon."
It is a beacon. A sign of life. A symbol of hope.
A light to beckon the brokenhearted and the lost.
A light to remind everyone who sees it that there are those who have not abandoned their faith simply because they are at work.
A light to draw people into a quiet place, a safe space, a room where hope and grace abound.

She called it "a beacon."
Every time I saw it during my ten days in Madrid last month,
every time I look at the photos and videos,
I am reminded of the Light of the World,
the One whose coming we celebrated two weeks ago today.
I am reminded of the moments of loneliness and sadness and despair I have felt during my life.
I am reminded of the beacons I have seen during those times.
The light of the smiles of loved ones.
The light reflecting off their tears when they have wept with me.
The light of candles as we sing "Silent Night" on Christmas Eve.
I am reminded of the light. Drawn back into the Light. Grateful for the light.
So very grateful.

As we enter what might be a dark time, as we enter what might be a frightful time,
as we enter what is already a difficult time, already an unsettling time,
I pray that we will keep looking for the light, the light of hope.
I pray that we will keep our eyes lifted to the hills, from whence comes our help.
I pray that we will keep our eyes on the horizon, seeking the lighthouse to guide us safely to shore.

I pray that we will be light too. Light in the darkness.
Light in the fog of the war between the powerful and the powerless.
Between the rich and the poor.
Between the disenfranchised and the politically savvy.
Between every "us and them" that comes up in political, religious, social, relational conversations.

May our light shine, flash, raise heads, twenty-four hours a day.
In our places of work. In our homes. In our schools. In our communities.
May others look our way, point towards each of us,
and say about us what my friend said about that light.
She called it "a beacon."

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Countdown is On - Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Tommy Walker sings some of my favorite contemporary Christian songs.

Like "I Have a Hope."
I have a hope. I have a future.
I have a destiny that is yet awaiting me.
My life's not over; a new beginning's just begun.
I have a hope. I have this hope.

And "To God be the Glory."

Also "When I don't know what to do."
This song was my theme during a time of deep trial back in 2008 and 2009.

When I don't know what to do, I'll lift my hands.
When I don't know what to say, I'll speak your praise.
When I don't know where to go, I'll run to your throne.
When I don't know what to think, I'll stand on your truth.
As I bow my knees, send your perfect peace.
As I lift my hands, let your healing come.

But today, as 2016 comes to a close, I am thinking about this one, "We Will Remember."

We will remember the works of your hands
and we will stop and give your praise -
for great is thy faithfulness.

My kids laugh at me and shake their heads because I listen to the same two dozen songs or so over and over again. The songs highlighted here are on my short list of oft repeated tunes. I cannot imagine beginning or ending a year without looking back and remembering all that God has done, God's great faithfulness and mercy and comforting presence, even in the toughest times, perhaps most especially then. 

The second verse of this song goes like this: 
When we walk through life's darkest valleys
we will look back at all you have done
and we will shout, "Our God is good and he is the faithful one."

As I look back at some of life's darkest valleys, some of which we traversed in 2016,
I can shout, I do shout, I will shout through many tears, that God has been good and oh so faithful.

God showed up through the compassion of friends and pastors who sat with us in the emergency room at the hospital - a dreadful, distressing, hopeful, helpful place that we had to visit four times this year.

God showed up through the chocolate chip cookies, the muffins, the roasted chicken, the tea dates, the hospitality, and the generosity of so many friends and family members.

God showed up at church through the prayers, the sermons, the lessons, the tough discussions, the apologies, the forgiveness, the tender care given and received in that sacred place and that loving community.

God showed up on the streets of Charlotte through the peace keepers who stood between and among those who protested police brutality and those who sought to silence the protests.

God showed up in seminary classes when the discussions got hot - how could he show up with a "Tr*mp/P*nce Make America Great Again" tee shirt AND a safety pin? What was he thinking?

God showed up at Myers Park Baptist Church with words of encouragement from Dr William Barber when he challenged us to be people of subversive hope, of courage, of resilience as we enter into the new year and a new president takes office. Let there be hope.

God showed up in the hospital, at doctor's appointments, at the silent retreat, in sessions with my therapist and my spiritual director, in Madrid, in New York City, with my writing group, at 24/7, at the hospice unit, through hugs and laughter, tears and brokenheartedness. God was ever present.

God showed up and helped my dear friend sit tenderly and lovingly with her father as he transitioned from this life into the next one.

God showed up with another friend as he went through treatment for kanswer: chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. God showed up as attentive doctors and nurses, family members with meals and encouragement, and seminary friends with ceaseless prayer and notes of support.

God showed up as strength and stamina for a dear pastor friend went from being on a pastoral team of two to being a solo pastor. So many more responsibilities, so much more expected. But God was faithful and present always.

God showed up as we walked the streets of Charlotte praying for peace, as we served the community as volunteers, feeding the hungry, welcoming the homeless, loving the outcast, and encouraging the fearful and despairing.

God showed up in times of celebration - at weddings, at parties, at graduations, at church services, and in small moments of simple joy and quiet happiness.

Entering 2017, I do have a hope and a future.
In 2017, when I don't know what to do, I will bow my knees and lift my hands.
Ending 2016 and looking ahead to 2017, I will join many others in giving God glory for God's great faithfulness.
Today, tonight, tomorrow, and all the time, there is so much to remember,
so much to release, so much for which to give God thanks and praise -
and so much to look forward to.

The countdown is on.
Just a few hours left in 2016.
I plan to spend them with my dearly beloved ones.
Eating, drinking, being merry.
And always, always, always, giving thanks.

Happy new year to you, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances.
Know that you are never alone, often prayed for, and always loved.
Peace be with you every step of your life journey.

May God Almighty bless you and keep you,
protect you and provide for you in 2017 and beyond.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Up in the Air

For much of my childhood, I wanted to grow up to be a doctor. A pediatrician. I have always loved children, even when I was a child, so I thought that being a doctor for children would be a good calling. I went off to Williams College with pre-med studies in mind. Biology 101 and 102. Chemistry 101 and 102. Physics 101 and 102. Screeeeeeech! My pre-med studies came to a grinding halt in the physics building. I couldn't understand any of it. ANY OF IT! I went to extra help every week. I met with the professor. I reread my notes and my textbooks. Over and over. I just didn't get it. Mass. Volume. Pulleys. I shake my head just thinking about it.

But one day it clicked. The professor explained whatever the concept was in a way that actually made sense to me. I listened. I cocked my head to the side, then to the other side. With great glee and a renewed sense of hope, I whispered words of encouragement and support to myself. I took copious notes. I nodded my head. I smiled. I felt a wave of absolute bliss roll over me. There was hope that I would get back on track in physics. 

The following class, the professor walked to his place at the head of the class and with a drawn and sad look on his face, he explained that in the previous class, the one I had understood so well, he had made a mistake in the way he explained whatever the concept was. He had made some miscalculation and therefore everything he had taught us should be disregarded.

I'm not joking. Everything I understood was wrong. How disheartening is that?
Well, my hopes to be a doctor slipped away at the end of that physics class.
The professor gave me a passing grade just so he wouldn't have to deal with me again.
I'm convinced of it. 

There was one topic in physics class that I did manage to come to some sense of understanding about. Not a complete mastery, not even close, but it was a topic that mattered greatly to me, so I was determined to come to some grasp on it. That topic was: flight!

How do those huge steel tubes, full of people and property, get off the ground, stay off the ground and cross large swaths of land and huge oceans of water? Speed, volume, mass, pressure, lift, friction. Don't ask or expect me to explain it because I cannot. 
What I do know is this: I love to fly. 
Being up in the air is one of my favorite places to be.
On an adventure. Across the sea. 

The view from my seat.

A week ago tonight, I returned from a ten day trip to Spain. To Madrid. My favorite city in the world.
I stayed with my dear friends, Eduardo and Leticia, and their two wonderful sons, Alvaro and Jaime.
I walked. I prayed. I journaled. I ate. I drank. I prayed some more. 
I caught a cold. I fell in love with watermelon flavored cough drops.
I had what felt like an anaphylactic response to something - I still have no idea what I was allergic to. 
I managed to avoid a trip to the ER only by the grace and mercy of Almighty God.
I spent most of the trip praying prayers of gratitude that I didn't die alone on the street, with my throat, eyes, and mouth swollen shut. 

 Look at that wonderful, funny, huge statue of a frog.
How could I not love a city with such a great sense of humor?

These photos were taken at a Nativity scene at one of Madrid's main cultural centers. The figures are approximately eight inches tall. I went to see it three times in ten days. I saw more than 150 Nativity scenes in one exhibit - all from one person's private collection. Building nativity scenes is a big deal in Spain. A very big deal.

This is the view from Eduardo and Leticia's kitchen window. 
There was the full moon. Greeting me.

I shopped. I walked some more. I took hundreds of photos.
I visited several museums. I bought postcards and scarves and seasonings and candy.

It was another beautiful, heart-strengthening, tear-producing, faith-deepening trip to my favorite place in the world.

It was also an anniversary trip - 30 years ago this fall, I went to Spain for the first time. I met a young Spaniard back in the fall of 1986 who became my boyfriend and is still one of my dearest friends. I had no idea that I was beginning a love affair with a city, with a country, with a people, an affair that would shape the rest of my life. Because of that trip, I became a Spanish teacher. I became a translator. I found a love of and a facility for learning language that I didn't know I possessed. I began to attend the Catholic church that fall, the church I could see from my bedroom window all those years ago, and learned a whole new way to love and worship God. 

Can you see the church tower above the roof line of the house? That's the house I lived in, the one with the glass front. And that's the church I attended - with the woman who owned the house.

I will never fully understand my innate love for Madrid and for flight.
I will never fully understand why I have been so blessed with so much love,
so many generous, hospitable, and kind friends.
I will never fully understand much of what has happened to me.
But this I do know - I am grateful.
So very grateful.
And also - I know that I was created to travel.

So in the end, I didn't need to pass physics with flying colors
(pardon the pun)
in order to enjoy flight.
Other than being in Spain, walking the streets of Madrid,
there is no place I would rather be than up in the air.

Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to American Airlines and British Airways.
Gracias, Leti y Eduardo, por todo.
Besos a vosotros y a los peques.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for tonight?
For the ham to bake?
For the turkey to defrost?
For the cookies to cool?
For family members to arrive?
For the last gifts to be bought and wrapped and carefully placed?
For the candles to be lit and Silent Night to be sung?
For the Christmas story to be read aloud tonight or tomorrow or both?

What else are you waiting for?
For the holidays to be over?
For the wrapping paper to be recycled and the gifts to be put to good use?
For the kids to go back to college?
For the start of a new year and the advent of new hope?
For life to get back to normal?

There has been a lot of hate and fear being born again in our nation and in our world.
So tonight, I am waiting for love again to be born.
There have been marches advocating hate and racial division and a return to the old ways of separate and unequal.
So tonight, I am waiting for love again to be born.
There have been acts of terrorism here in the US and in Syria,
in Germany and in France, in our homes, in our work places,
and during the past year of election cycle politics.
So tonight and tomorrow and on January 20, 2017, and for the next four years,
and for all the days and weeks and months and years beyond that,
I will be waiting for love to be born again, day after day after day.

At the same time, I've got to stop waiting for love to be born,
and get to work at birthing more love into the world in which I live.
Love that forgives.
Love that welcomes the refugee and the outcast.
Love that reaches out with tenderness.
Love that touches the unloved.
Love that asks questions.
Love that listens to the answers compassionately and graciously,
even when I don't agree with those answers.
Love that resists every attempt to silence it or deflect it or make it something less than what it is:

In a few hours here on the east coast of the United States,
we will celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus, The One Who Was and Is Love Incarnate.
Jesus came as the one who forgave,
the one who welcomed the outcast and the refugee,
the one who touched lepers,
the one who asked questions and listened patiently to the answers,
the one whose answers raised the hackles of many of his listeners,
the one whose life, whose questions, whose answers, and whose love
got him killed, executed by the domination system that sought to silence his message of hope,
and stifle his message of love.

In that baby, in that manger, in that little town of Bethlehem,
in that occupied land and into that oppressed community,
Love was born.

Into our occupied communities, into our oppressed communities,
into our little towns, our big cities,
our corrupt state government, our inefficient national government,
into our hearts and our homes,
our marriages and our relationships,
we desperately need Love again to be born.

This song by Rob Mathes, the music director at a church I attended many years ago in Connecticut, is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It has been since the first time I heard it.

All is set.
I know my stocking’s downstairs.
The sky is smiling - there is magic in the air.
I can’t sleep; I am so glad to be home on this early morning, I am not alone. 

This is the season. This is the time.
I see the face of a child, and that face it is mine.
I’m looking for starlight. I’m listening for angels. 
The house (everyone) is asleep on this Christmas morn, but I’m awake.
Yes, I’m waiting here for Love again to be born. 

Bundled up, I know what’s waiting for me
More than a pretty package next to the tree
Something else, a gift far greater I know, born in Bethlehem, long ago.

This is the season. This is the time.
I see the face of a child, and that face it is mine.
I’m looking for starlight. I’m listening for angels. 
The house is asleep on this Christmas morn, but I’m awake.
Yes, I’m waiting here for Love again to be born. 

The sun is rising. I see the distant lights.
Oh what a glorious day will come from this holy night.
To us is born every December anew
a love that’s unbelievable, 

given to me, given to you.

This is the season. This is the time.
I see the face of a child, and that face it is mine.
I’m looking for starlight. I’m listening for angels. 
Everyone is asleep on this Christmas morn, but I’m awake.
Yes, I’m waiting here for Love again to be born. 

Indeed, I am waiting here for Love again to be born.
What are you waiting for?

Merry Christmas.
Happy New Year.

If Christmas is not a holiday for you, may whatever you celebrate at this time of year bring you happiness and joy, peace and hope. Together, tonight, tomorrow, and for as long as we live, let's work and walk and wait for love again to be born.

Friday, December 09, 2016

A Thought Experiment

A dear, dear friend of mine, Amy Brooks Thornton, wrote this.
She said her friends could share it. So here it is.
A lot to think about. A lot to work for.

Dear men who enjoy having sex with women, I implore you to make this cause yours too.
Let's say you're college age or in your twenties starting your career, trying to make ends meet. You have a girlfriend or maybe an occasional hookup, but you don't want to get married or make a commitment just yet or ever.
Let's say you have the responsibility of pregnancy prevention and you have some choices:
1) To take a pill that is something like a birth control pill that significantly increases greater risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke and blood clots. And, when you finally get sick, you contribute to the increase of national health care costs as well as your own.
2) To use another form of birth control that is less effective but is just a physical barrier or a timing thing, so, absolutely no hit on your health.
You chose #2 because who in their right mind would choose cancer or a heart attack just for sex? (Health care costs aren't really on your mind right now.)
But then, because the prevention method is not 100%, you get pregnant. (For the sake of argument, in this case, men can get pregnant.) And, you have choices:
1) To make a commitment to your girlfriend or hookup partner so you do not have to bear the responsibility of raising a child on your own while you are finishing college, starting your career, or trying to make ends meet. Actually, you never want to bear childrearing on your own. You know some single women who've done it and it's not a pretty picture. How many men do you know raise children on their own?
2) To raise the child on your own and try to balance college classes, a job, payments for childcare and doctors bills, increased health insurance, and no night life. So much for hookups.
3) To get an abortion.
You choose #3. You risk some people getting angry at you, but it'll be over within an hour, maybe the feelings will last for much longer, but the alternative is a lifelong decision that, at this point in your life, could skew your life in a completely different direction than you had imagined. No more graduate school. No more start up business. Two jobs to make ends meet. And no more night life. Abortion is sounding better and better.
Again, you have choices:
1) You go to the abortion clinic in your state and live through people screaming at you as you walk through the door, you live through listening to the heart beat of the fetus, you live through 24 hours where everyone—except your girlfriend/hookup who likely is not to be found—questions your decision but not one of them has to raise a child as a single man in his teens or twenties.
2) You get a back alley abortion where no one will know but your health is at risk.
3)You go through with the pregnancy with all of its medical complications, you look like a cow, no one wants to have sex with you, you feel VERY emotional and gain 20 to 30 pounds, you bond with the child inside of you, and then give the baby up for adoption.
4) You decide to get married or make some lasting commitment so you have help. But, your girlfriend/hookup has split long ago and no one is interested because you are pregnant.
What do you do?

I would like to know how many men (politicians and otherwise), who are making it hard for women to get abortions and birth control, have asked themselves these questions?
I would like to know how many of these men have impregnated a woman to whom they did not make a commitment?
I would like to know how many of these men impregnated a woman and supported the abortion because they did not want a baby in their own backyard?


Thank you, Amy, for this challenging piece. Thanks for pushing us to think beyond our own personal opinions or situations in order to think about where other people find themselves. Thank you for your fight for the rights of so many people, even when that fight isn't convenient or easy or comfortable for you. I love you, my sister friend. Very much. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Thankful Tuesday - one day late

There are times in life when all I can do is bow my head
in wonder
in awe
in gratitude
in joy
in shocked and stunned gratitude.
Did I mention gratitude already?

This has been a tough year for our family. The details of the story are not mine to divulge, but I will tell what is mine to tell. From February 19th until May 20th, we were in a battle over here in our house. A serious battle. Illness. Fear. Worry. Sleepless nights. Restless days. Hospital stays - four of them. Desperation. Anxiety. Weeping, much weeping. Ceaseless prayer. Friends came over with food. Friends stayed away and prayed. Friends didn't know what to do or what to say or even what to pray. We didn't either. Although the battle "officially ended" on May 20th, there were several skirmishes that followed. Watchfulness. Tension. More crying. Slow and steady progress towards health, healing, wholeness.

We never gave up hope. Don't get me wrong; I had moments of wanting to pack a small suitcase, grab my passport, and hit the road for the longest pilgrimage I could find. I had moments of wondering just how many days and nights I could survive on less than two hours of sleep. I tried not to spend too much time fantasizing about sleeping six or seven or even eight hours in a row. Uninterrupted. I forgot what that felt like. Around that time, a friend told me that sometimes in life you have to renegotiate your relationship with "hope." This past spring was certainly one of those times - on some days, hope meant eating a meal in peace. On some days, hope meant going for a car ride and having it end with a nap. On some days, hope was the prospect of going off to seminary on Saturday and being able to sit through my two classes.

And all year long, there was a cloud hanging over over all of our heads. That cloud was this: my daughter had to complete her senior thesis in sociology for UNC Asheville. She had to do a lot of reading and writing and research and conduct interviews and write it all up in a paper that was supposed to be 20 pages long, at least. Plus she would have to give an oral presentation of her paper at school.

Day after day, for weeks on end, for months, I prayed a variation of the following prayer:
"Lord, this is an impossible ask.
She can't do it. It's too much.
Today, Lord, can you please just give her the strength and courage to make it through the day?
I won't keep asking about the paper; I just want her to be okay.
I just want her to be okay.
Please please please please please.
Help help help help help.
Mercy mercy mercy mercy."

In the midst of my many crying jags, the senior minister of my church sent me a text. I don't think it could have been any simpler: "Lord, in your mercy..." That was it. None of us knew what to ask for anymore. None of us knew what to pray. That one would have to suffice. That one, it turns out, was more than enough: "Lord, in your mercy..."

In September, Kristiana completed the interviews and typed up the transcripts.
Soon thereafter, she did more research and summarized it succinctly.
She wrote one paragraph at a time, one page at a time.
In between, we cursed and cried and wondered and hoped and prayed.
In between, we went for walks and out to movies and watched Law and Order marathons.
In between writing and reading and making pots of pasta and soup, the cloud began to lift.
The paper grew, as did our confidence in the miracle of healing.
Her spirits lifted and so did ours.
Then the professor sent two sets of spirit-crushing comments on and critiques of her paper.
I prepared to write a scathing email and follow it up with a scathing phone call.
You cannot do this to my daughter. You cannot be so mean and so insensitive.
You have no idea how hard we have had to fight to get to this place and this moment in time.
We cannot go backwards. We cannot lose our momentum. We cannot lose hope.
Yes, by then, it was a group effort; we were in this together.
As we have always been.
And we will NOT be moved.

Nearly three weeks ago, on Thursday, November 17th, as my daughter and I drove home from an evening outing, she wept tears of sadness and overwhelm. Between sobs, she repeated, "I don't know if I can do this. I'm just not sure I can finish it." I listened to her with sorrow in my heart and tears in my eyes. I listened for what God might want me to say in response to her, because I had nothing to offer. Nothing. I was devoid of wise words or helpful advice.
So I went back to the prayer that my pastor  gave me: "Lord, in your mercy..."

Suddenly it came to me: Our difficult journey had begun on Friday, February 19th.
It was now Thursday, November 17th. Nine months later.
Just two weeks remained before her paper and presentation were due.
Nine months and two weeks...
What is significant about that length of time?
As it turns out, nine months is the length of time of most pregnancies.
When I was pregnant with her, however, I was pregnant for nine months and two weeks. She was two weeks late. Overdue. Overcooked. She was born with her fingers and toes wrinkled, like she had been in the bathtub for too long. Which was exactly the case: she was in the tub of my tummy for too long. Actually, that's not actually true. She was in my womb for exactly the amount of time she was supposed to be there - even though it was a full two weeks past her due date.

As I explained that to my daughter three weeks ago tomorrow, I told her that, although I had loved being pregnant with her, the last two weeks were awful. The longest two weeks of my life - up until that point. I was miserable and sad and moving slowly and uncomfortable. Then thirteen hours of hard labor. But then - there she was. A new life. Beautiful. Healthy. Strong. Alive. Ours.

With tears now flowing freely, I told her that she was in the same situation twenty three years later. Nine months of hard work, gestating, growing, becoming whole.
She had two more weeks before the due date for her paper and her presentation -
and they were gonna be tough.
Hard. Demanding. Painful.
She would be miserable, uncomfortable, sad, and moving slowly.
But then it would be over - and she would emerge. A new life.

Yesterday, my daughter, my dearly beloved daughter, presented her senior thesis in sociology for the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She focused on the work of two organizations in North Carolina that offer guidance, companionship, and care for queer homeless youth: TimeOutYouth (here in Charlotte) and YouthOutRight (in Asheville). Some of her UNCA friends came to hear her give her talk. Some students came simply because they had read about her topic and wanted to hear what she had to say. Her presentation at 2:20 pm was the last of the day - and many of the people there had been listening to student presentations since 8 that morning. But still, several took notes on her talk. Several asked questions. They applauded when she was done. And then several students, extremely busy and easily bored college students, waited in line to thank her and compliment her on her research and her presentation.

Her professor greeted her afterwards and gave Kristiana high praise.
She said, "I still have to read the final draft of your thesis,
but rest assured, you are a college graduate."
She did it! She did it! My child is a college graduate.
All we have to do now is wait for her diploma to arrive in the mail!!!

Nine months and two weeks since February 19, 2016.
Eight years and twenty one days since November 15, 2008.
Twenty three years and thirty seven days since October 30, 1993.
But who's counting?

Words cannot capture the joy, the pride, the relief, the gratitude,
the love, the hope, the belief in miracles, and the awe that we all feel today.
Thankful Tuesday.
Thankful Wednesday.
Thankful Thursday.
Thankful and thoughtful on Friday.
Thankful on Saturday too.
Thankful and singing on Sunday.
Perhaps I should just go ahead and be thankful everyday.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"We are praying each other strong"

Back in the spring, in the midst of a very dark valley on our life journey, a friend from church came over with muffins and a card with words of encouragement and support. She just showed up, unannounced. Unexpected. In her card, she wrote a phrase I had never heard or read before,
"We are praying each other strong."

When I read that phrase, I knew it was exactly what I needed at that moment.
At that dark and challenging moment. At that fearful and inescapable time of trial.

There's so much packed into that simple declaration.
Beginning with the "we." Plural. Together. Not alone.
Her wise words reminded me that I was not alone; after all, "we" are "we."
I am not alone now.
I have never been alone.
Nor are you. Not now. Not ever.

"We are praying."
It's an ongoing activity.
The praying wasn't finished when she arrived that day. 
The praying isn't finished now.
The tears were flowing freely back in the spring when she dropped by. 
The tears are still flowing now, at the end of November. 
The emotions are still real and raw, and so the prayers must be as well.
Real and raw prayers.
Lord, in your mercy...
Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me - give me peace...
Heal our land...
Please send rain...
Don't you care that we are drowning?
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage.
We pray together. We pray for each other. 
We continue to pray.
We are praying.

"We are praying each other..."
I'm not just praying for you.
You are not just praying for me.
We are praying for each other.
We are praying each other's names and stories and needs.
We are lifting one another up. We are holding each other up.
We are asking for healing and peace and joy and grace and wholeness for each other.
You know what I need. I know what you need.
Whatever we don't know, and there is so much that we don't know, 
that we leave in the hands of the One who knows us both better than we know ourselves. 
And we keep praying. 
Keeping it simple. Keeping it honest. Keeping in plain.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

"We are praying each other strong."
We aren't just praying for healing or for a job and for marriages to survive. 
We aren't just asking to get through this - whatever "this" is.
This horrendous aftermath of a horrendous election. 
Yet another inexplicable act of violence at a school, Ohio State University. 
We aren't just praying for an end to acts of aggression and hatred.
We aren't only praying for peace and courage.
We are praying each other strong.
Strong to face all that lies ahead for all of us.
Strong to stand against the power of money to manipulate and control us all.
Strong to stand against those who want to pollute and desecrate sacred land.
Strong to stand against politicians who seek to roll back civil, religious, social, and personal freedom.
Strong to stand against the fear and anxiety that cause us to want to 
"do it to them before they do it to us" - whatever "it" is.
Strong to stand against racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, anti-Muslim sentiments,
and all the other fear and intolerance, indignity and indifference that poison and threaten us all.
Strong to fight the good fight, the long fight, 
the fight for justice, righteousness, and all that is good.
This is going to be a long, hard battle. 

I confess that I have wavered in the battle.
I have heard too many tales of terror in the past twenty days.
Stories of people being called names, being beaten up, finding epithets spray painted in public place.
Stories of domestic acts of terror. 
Those stories have planted seeds of fear in me.
Those stories have kept me indoors when otherwise I might go out for long morning walks.
Those stories have brought tears to my eyes and increased my heart rate.
Those stories have driven me to my knees, pleading with God to protect my children, 
my brothers, my nieces and nephews, 
and the children, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews of so many people I know and love.
I have had days lately when I have chosen to not look people in the eye in the supermarket
or at the gas station or even in my own neighborhood.
I have been afraid that I will see hatred and fear in their eyes.
I am afraid they will see hatred and fear in my eyes.
I have been afraid that someone will say something hateful to me.
I have worried that white people are feeling freer to speak words of racism and hatred towards black people. 

But then I remember. I am not alone. 
I remember: white people are not the problem.
Black people are not the problem.
Muslims are not the problem.
Donald Trump is not the problem.
Fear and hatred are ultimately not the problem.
They are all symptoms of what is really ailing us.

Brokenness is the problem. 
Sin is the problem. 
And until we face that thing that is broken within us,
that thing that is broken among us,
until we are willing to confess that we are all in desperate need of healing 
that we cannot provide for ourselves,
until we are willing to lay our weapons down, and lay ourselves open,
then this painful, this dreadful, this fearful thing we are facing now,
it's not going anywhere. 
And we will stay stuck in these repeated patterns of kill, hate, kill; 
fear, loathing, fear;
run, hide, run;
justify, explain, defend;
kill, hate, kill again-
ad nauseum

I refuse to give up. I refuse to give in. I refuse to give over to despair.
So I will do what Flo wrote about in her card back in the spring.
I will be praying you strong.
I hope you will be praying me strong.
We will pray each other strong.
And we won't stop anytime soon.

We are praying each other strong, folks.
We will be praying for a long time. 
Because we are going to need to be strong from this day forward.
All the way to the end.
Wherever and whenever we come to the end.