Friday, April 22, 2016

Waiting in hope

Isaiah 40:29-31 has been on my mind a lot this week.
"God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord (they that wait upon the Lord)
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."

I am weary. I am weak.
I am tired. I am exhausted.
Did I mention that I'm feel a little worn out?
With one exception, I haven't gotten more than four hours of sleep in a single night in two weeks. 
I love my bed. I love to sleep.
But one of life's uninvited challenges has kept me out of my bed these past two weeks.
(I know all of this has been a little cryptic of late, but I must respect the privacy of someone dear to me, someone who will get to tell their version of the story their way.)


Late nights. Sleepless nights. Early rising in the morning. 
On duty, vigilant, all day long. All night long.

But somehow, Somehow, my strength has been renewed every day.
I haven't fallen asleep while driving.
I haven't fallen asleep while writing in my journal.
Or while cooking or even while watching mindless television to pass the hours.

I have had the strength to love my loved ones.
To listen to them. To look into their eyes with prayer rolling through my mind.
I have had the strength to cook and clean - when I am not gratefully serving the meals that dear friends have provided for us.
I have had the strength and energy to walk and jog and do some yoga - more than I could have imagined considering the extent of my ongoing sleep deprivation.
I have been able to talk to beloved ones on the phone, 
to respond to emails and texts and WhatsApp messages from places far and near.
I have felt the prayers and good thoughts of friends and family sustaining me.
Sustaining us. 
I feel it.
In my weary bones, in my wounded spirit, in my deepening faith.

I am tired.
But also renewed. 
Lifted up.

In Spanish, the word for "wait" is the same as the word for "hope" - esperar. 
Waiting to see how God is going to work all this out.
Hoping for resolution, relief, and a reprieve soon.
Waiting and hoping.
Hoping and waiting.

I wait for healing.
I hope for healing.
I wait for peace.
I hope for peace.
I wait for tenderness.
I hope for tenderness.
If I don't yet have it, I hope for it.
When I hope for it, I wait for it.
When I lose hope, I wait.
When I lose the patience to wait, I hope.

Hope and wait. 
Weak and strong.
Confident and confused.
Exhausted and energized.
At the same time.

Waiting in hope.
Hoping as I wait.
Finding reasons to be grateful even in the waiting.
Thanks be to God.

I Have a Hope
by Tommy Walker

This song has sustained me in dark times, in difficult times, since November 2008.

PS. Thank you for your notes and emails of encouragement. 
Thank you for your prayers and candle lightings. 
Thank you for your texts and emails and cards in the mail.
Thank you for the meals and the invitations.
Thank you for being so honest with me about the burdens that you too are carrying.
After all, everybody has got something. Everybody. Without exception.

This life thing - it is no joke. 
Sometimes life is fun and sometimes it is funny.
More than sometimes, actually. 
But it is no joke.
Together, let us keep the faith, bear one another's burdens, and laugh whenever we can. 

Know that I am waiting and praying with increasingly strong hope here in Charlotte.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Really, Lord? Really?

Not long ago, I reread one of my favorite Bible verses. Then I flipped a few books back and read two more of my favorite verses. Here they are:

In John 16:33, Jesus spoke these words to his disciples not long before he was arrested and executed -
"I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Paul wrote this to other followers of Christ in Philippians 4:6-7 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Really, Lord? Really?

In you, I can have peace? I need some peace right now. Deep peace. The kind of peace Paul wrote about in Philippians, the kind of peace that transcends all understanding.

Cuz right now, I don't understand a whole lot. I don't understand why the suffering continues. I don't understand why the pain continues. I don't understand.

And I'm almost all out of peace. Any kind of peace. The deep kind and the shallow kind.

I am reminded of the scene in the movie, "The Apostle," where Robert Duvall's character is up late one night praying, praying so loudly that the neighbors call to complain about the noise. One line he repeats is one that I've been repeating a lot lately: "Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace. Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace."

Lord, right now, I beg of you, please: "Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace."

You were certainly right when you said that in this world, we would have trouble.
So much trouble. War. Violence. Abuse.
Addiction. Disease. Mental illness.
Loss. Grief.
Crime. Injustice.
Sleepless nights worrying about any and all of the above and so much more.
Trouble that begets more trouble.

I know there are a lot of people who say, "Trouble don't last for always,"
but sometimes it feels like always, like forever.
These past eight weeks have felt like forever.
Can you please grant us peace, a break from the trouble, from the pain, from the suffering?

I know, I know. Some people, a whole lot of people have it worse than we do.
I know that's true - but this still sucks. This is still deep trouble for us.

One of my pastors recently told me about a seminary professor who talked to the class about
Psalm 13.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," 
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love,
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.

My pastor said that the professor said - that space in between verses 4 and 5, that space that you see between the words "fall" and "But" - we don't know how long it took the psalmist to get from verse 4 to verse 5. We don't know how long it took to go from almost wishing for death to trusting in God's unfailing love again.

Two weeks ago today, I preached a sermon at church called, "A Yet Praise." I based it on a passage from the third chapter of the book written by the prophet Habbakuk.

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen 
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Though trouble seems to be lasting far too long,
though she struggles with opposition to her leadership,
though he struggles with temptation to be unfaithful,
though they are on the brink of divorce,
though their child was shot and killed by a madman,
though my heart breaks every day and every night watching her suffer,
even in the face of all of that,
the prophet says, "I will yet praise God."
I will find ways and reasons and means to offer "a yet praise."

I am not gonna lie - this praise thing isn't easy right now.
This "being anxious for nothing" thing is the hardest thing I've tried to do in years.
Literally in years.
This is harder than when I was dealing with kanswer.
And kanswer is hard. Kanswer sucks.

I find myself asking over and over: "Really, Lord? Really? Again? Again???"

I go back to the beginning and reread those verses and I am reminded:
"Take heart! I have overcome the world."

Really, Lord? Really?
You have overcome it all???
Violence and fear and hatred and prejudice and death and mental illness too?
You have overcome it all?

I go back and reread them again - offer thanksgiving in everything?
be anxious for nothing?

Really, Lord? Really?

Somewhere in there I get the impression that the promised peace isn't tied to the answers to my requests. In fact, there is no mention in that Philippians passage about answers. It simply tells me to present my requests - with thanksgiving. Then the transcendent peace will guard my heart and mind in you, Lord God Jesus.

Bring it on - please.
You know I have presented my requests.
I've left out the thanksgiving part a lot these days.
Gotta go back to being thankful - even in the midst of this.
Even in the darkest valley with all the shadows of death.
The death of dreams. The death of quietness and calm. The death of ease and simplicity.
The death of so much of what I had hoped for.
Even now, even here, in this terrible place - I can, I must find reasons to be thankful.

(Thank you for health insurance and doctors who listen.
Thank you for friends who talk and text and pray.
Thank you for food and water and heat and air conditioning.
Thank you for gas stations and post offices and public libraries.
Thank you for pens, colored pencils, and journals.
Thank you for eye glasses and hearing aids.
Thank you for music and movies.
Thank you for Law and Order marathons.
Thank you for seminary - the classes, my classmates, and professors.
Thank you for my bed and my pillow and my comforter.
Thank you for wine and port and pineapple martinis.
Thank you thank you thank you.)

And now I'm gonna hold you to your promise, Sweet Jesus.
Cuz you promised peace. To give peace. To be peace.
Please. Please. Please. Please.

"Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace."

And not just to me alone.
To the one in the difficult meeting right now.
To the one in the difficult relationship.
To the one in the refugee camp.
To the one in jail.
To the one in the hospital.
To the one in the welfare hotel.
We all need your peace, Lord.
Every single one of us.
We beg. We plead. We beseech you.

Give it to us, give it to us, give it to us, give us peace.

Half an hour later - I was advised to take a few deep breaths.
To not take it all so seriously.
There is humor and joy available.
So I'm gonna avail myself of some of both of the above.
Please don't worry about me - I'm okay.
Truly I am.
All is well. All shall be well.
Breathing deeply.
Feeling better already.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Thankful Monday

Sometimes I have to give thanks on Mondays too.
Today I am thankful for -

* the sunshine on this gorgeous spring day
* flowers and trees in bloom
* a long walk and jog before the heat of the day
* seeing light stream into places that used to be dark
* a delicious and decadent dinner provided for our family tonight
* all the dear ones who have walked with us, prayed with us, and brought us dinner
* the simple pleasure of watching television with my dearly beloved daughter
* rotisserie chicken, cresecent rolls, cream cheese, butter - and the promise of learning how to mix them all together to create "chicken squares" with my neighbor - who is a gourmet cook
* clementines
* UNC Chapel Hill men's basketball team playing in the NCAA final game tonight (Go HEELS!!!)
* finishing my second semester of seminary
* completing the papers and projects required
* connecting with both professors and feeling heard deeply and seen thoughtfully by both of them
* being able to share my stories and photos from my kanswer journey with someone else who is on a similar journey (praying for you, M)
* being about to share our stories and experiences with someone else on a challenging journey with her child (praying for you, A)
* having the chance to preach at my church
* the friends who came to listen and support me and give me big hugs when the service ended
* traveling to Israel with friends from my church - vicariously
* beginning to plan an escape or two of my own - that won't be vicarious!
* yerba mate tea in my favorite mug
* a double batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies to dip into my tea
* watching a resurrection miracle over Easter weekend - a loved one raised from her sick bed
* returning to the best barber I've ever had - after months of trying to find a replacement
* a family therapy session this evening - so much to talk about, so much to reflect on, so much to be thankful for
* eating through my secret stash of my favorite Kind Bars - and then learning that they are on sale again at a nearby health food store (time to restock!)
* green juice made at home - romaine, apples, mint leaves, lemons, clementines, and carrots
* a new journal with a sheaf of empty pages that I get to fill
* being able to refer to old journals for recipes and ticket stubs and sermon notes and detailed accounts of both sorrows and joys gone by
* swedish fish and Starburst jelly beans at Easter time
* prayer, with friends, with family, alone, silent, out loud, written, read
* Pinterest
* marathons of silly television shows, especially after weeks and weeks of reading and writing for seminary
* piles of books and magazines to plow through during my brief break from school... before starting Biblical Greek (alpha, beta, lambda, rho, omega - and everything in between)
* a really old cell phone that still works, keeping me in touch with friends and family across miles and oceans
* reminders everywhere I look of how blessed I am to be alive and well at this time in the world - a home, cars that run, clothes in the closet, food in the fridge, electricity, running water, medical insurance, friends, family, a community of faith, cell phones, a computer. But more than the stuff, apart from the stuff, I have been filled with and surrounded by love, friendship, grace, mercy, healing, joy, laughter, and hope my whole life, even in the darkest valleys.

Friday, March 25, 2016

What's so good about Good Friday?

This morning, my husband said, "I've never known why we call today 'Good Friday.' What's so good about it?

I tried to give an answer that made sense - we call it "good" only because we can look back at it from this perspective. Jesus was crucified and a few days later, he rose from the dead. He overcame death, the thing that frightens most of us most of all. It's good because Christ showed us power over even the worst suffering and death itself.

And I believe every word of that is true.
But still...
But still...

Death sucks.
Execution sucks.
Suffering sucks.
Waiting sucks.

I am a mother who has seen her children suffer.
I am a mother who sees her child suffering. In pain. Afraid.
I have wept and still weep with and for my children.

But I have never seen a child of mine arrested, tried, tortured, and sentenced to death.
I have not seen a child of mine be executed.
I have not seen a child of mine buried.
Mary, the mother of our Lord, saw all of that.
There was nothing good about that day for her -
perhaps except for the fact that her son didn't live too long on the cross.
His suffering ended relatively quickly that fateful, faithful day.

Today I spoke to a woman whose son is suffering.
She knows that I have traveled down the same road a little longer than she has.
But I didn't have any answers for her. I don't have any solutions for her.
I looked at her and listened to her, answered her questions as best I could,
and then we wished each other the best as we went back to loving our hurting children.
Tears filled our eyes. Horror filled our hearts. Along with love. So much love.

What was so good about Good Friday today, about the time I spent with that beautiful, heartbroken, terrified, hopeful mother?
I got to talk to her and walk with her and share a few moments with her.
I sat and talked with a dear, dear friend for an hour or so, sharing stories about the places in our hearts and minds that hurt the most these days.
I talked to another friend on the phone and she reminded me of the importance of enjoying the chocolate chip cookies and a glass of wine and the company of my husband and son, even in the midst of another dark chapter of our life as a family.

But still...
But still..

It's gonna be a while before I can truly understand what has been good about today,
what's good about this situation,
what's good about this prolonged sojourn through the valley of so many shadows.
It's gonna be a while before I understand how any of this is working together for good.
Before I understand how any of this is tied to hope and a future.
A good long while.

I do believe, Lord,
Please help my unbelief.
Help me to trust that all shall be well again. Someday.
Help me see beyond this sadness and sorrow.

It is Friday. Sunday is coming.
In the meantime, darkness descends.
In the meantime, hope wanes.
In the meantime, tears flow.
In the meantime, sorrow runs deep.
In the meantime, we watch and wait.
In the meantime, we pray for resurrection.

Deep sighs.
Deep groans.
Deep sorrow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Darkness and light.
Peace and chaos.
Sorrow and rejoicing.
Pain and relaxation.
Health and illness.
Anger and hope.
Trust and hopelessness.
Silent and raging.

Why her and why not her?
Why us and why not us?
Why them and why not them?

How do we balance our hopes and expectations for healing and wholeness with patience and trust that all shall be well? That there is hope and a future?

I've spent a lot of time reading and pondering the Biblical account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11. His sisters sent a message to their friend, Jesus, informing him that their brother was sick. 

"Lord, the one you love is sick."
The one you love is in the hospital. 
The one you love is afraid.
The one you love is looking for a job.
The one you love is hurting.

When Jesus got the message, he stayed where he was for two days.
And then took several more days to arrive at the home of the three sibling,
but Lazarus was already dead.
Sick. Hospice care. Deceased. Dead. Gone

"If you had been here, my brother would not have died."
If you had been here, my child would not be sick.
If you had been here, my marriage would not be ending.
If you had been here, my church would not be imploding.
If you had been here, those bombings wouldn't have happened.
If you had been here, he wouldn't have hit me or cursed at me.
Where are you? Where have you been?

Jesus saw Mary and Martha and their friends in sorrow, in grief, and Jesus wept.
Does Jesus weep with us now, in our suffering and sorrow?

What if Jesus is with us AND we still have to go through this sorrow?
What if our friends and family love us AND we still have to go through this sorrow?
What if there is hope and a future AND we still have to go through this sorrow?
Both hope and sorrow.
Both love and sorrow.
Both Jesus and sorrow.

The good news for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is that Jesus raised him from the dead.
Called him out of the tomb.
Celebration. Rejoicing.

Around here, we are waiting for resurrection.
For new life. For restoration, healing, wholeness, and true freedom.
Clinging to hope, pleading for relief.
Outside the tomb, waiting for new life to emerge.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Is it well? Yes, it is well.

I love me some old Gospel hymns.
In four part harmony.
Sung with organ and piano.
Preferably with a choir.
A swaying choir of powerful voices.

Great is thy faithfulness
To God by the Glory
Blessed Assurance
When we all get to heaven
I must tell Jesus
Stand up, Stand up for Jesus
It is Well with my soul

That last one is on my mind today, this past week, for the past two weeks, actually.
Here are a few lines from that great old hymn of the church:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

If you have read any of my ramblings in the past, you know that I spend much of my time looking for and finding reasons to be grateful. Peace like a river has attended my way for much of my life. I have traveled extensively - and safely. I have loved and been loved. I have worked with wise and kind-hearted people. My friends call me and text me and come visit me and meet me in cities and towns all over this country and even internationally. They tell me and they show me that they love me. I have seen beauty and I have felt deep joy. Even my dog seems to like me these days - and she is a picky dog. Peace, joy, hope, love, trust, grace, mercy have indeed followed me and guided me and filled me and surrounded me in these 50 years I have lived. I am enormously, profoundly, overwhelmingly grateful.

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

At the other end of the bell-shaped curve, as my dear friend, Karen, says, I have seen darkness. I have known sorrow. I watched my beloved father breathe his last labored breath fifteen years ago this month. I was laid low by breast kanswer. I have watched my children suffer heartbreak, physical injury, and mental and emotional anguish. I have sat on the floor in my bedroom, in my study, in our family room back in Connecticut and here in North Carolina and wept over the horrors of September 11th, 2001, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in Haiti, civil war and genocide in Rwanda, shootings in schools and theaters and on the streets of our nation, and the untimely deaths of people I love and people that are loved by people I love.

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."

What is my lot? My lot is sorrow and joy.
My lot is plenty and little.
Worry and peace.
Health and illness.
Anger and love.
Trust and suspicion.
Power and helplessness.
I've felt it all. I feel it all right now.
What I like about this line and the chorus that follows is this:
It doesn't say, "It is well with my body." Or "It is well with my family."
Or "It is well with my school work or my job or my marriage or my house."
In truth, it is well with most of those things right now.
Not all of those things, but most of those things.
But that's not what the song declares. That's not what the Bible declares.
What it says is this: It is well with my soul.
With my soul, peace. With my soul, hope.
With God in my soul, strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

The Apostle Paul penned a letter to the church in Philippi from a prison cell
- and he wrote about being contented - even in prison.
He told the recipients of his letter: be anxious for nothing
(I haven't lived up to that one...)
but in everything by prayer and petition
(I do a whole lot of praying and petitioning, for sure)
with thanksgiving
(even at the times I'm anxious? even then, Paul? even then, Lord?)
present your requests to God.
(I have no shortage of requests, of pleas, of cries for mercy, grace and help in our time of need)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(There it is - that place, that moment, that ability to say, to sing, to believe, to know
that it is well with my soul. Take a deep breath, Gail. Take another one. Know that your heart and mind are guarded in Christ Jesus.)

Chorus - It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.

Even when all is not well with my body,
when all is not well with my children,
when all is not well in my church or my city or my country,
it can be well, indeed, it is well with my soul.
Deep breath. Deep sigh.

Though satan should buffet, though trials should come,

In John 16:33, Jesus is coming to the end of a long discourse with his disciples, shortly before he is arrested and condemned to die on the cross. He said, "I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world, you face persecution. But take courage, I have conquered the world." Another translation of the Bible says, "In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world." So trouble and trials should not be a surprise. They certainly aren't a surprise to God. Trouble and trials, persecution and pain are part of everyone's lot in life. I don't know anyone who walks this world unscathed, unscarred by the atrocities of disease, death, loss, pain, fear, loneliness, abandonment, mental illness, kanswer, financial insecurity or concern. And there are billions of people who wish they had a job to lose, a house to take care of, and children to fret over. There are countless people who wish they had the option and opportunity to choose which megalomaniac to vote for in the next election. Trials come. Trials are inevitable. For everyone.

Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul.

Helplessness sucks.
I've been wallowing in helplessness for a couple of weeks now.
There is nothing I can do. Nothing I can say.
I can't fix it. I can't fix him. I can't fix her.
I can't do anything at all. But wait. And pray.
Advocate for my beloved one, yes. Speak up for the cast down, absolutely.
But I can't fix anything or anybody.
I can't change the medical system or the school system or the political system.
I wish I could, but I just can't.
I will probably keep trying, but my efforts are likely to be of no avail.
Perhaps someday I will accept the fact that it's okay to stop trying so hard,
and learn to live life on life's terms.

The thought that God came to earth in Christ,
that Christ wept with those who mourned,
that Christ touched and healed lepers, blind people, those who were crippled,
those whose minds were out of their control,
that Christ sat with, ate with, talked to, and seemed to prefer
the helpless ones, the outcast ones, the lonely ones, the rejected ones -
knowing all of that gives me hope in my hopeless times,
joy in my joyless times,
peace in my stormy times.
And those times come frequently - they don't come to stay.
They do come to pass, but they do come.
For as much as I continually hope otherwise, I have not been spared.

Just as Christ saw the woman at the well, the one who came by herself, and he sat with her,
just as Christ saw the woman accused of adultery, the one who was dragged to the temple in anticipation of being executed, and he talked with her,
just as Christ saw Mary and Martha weeping over the death of their brother, and he wept with them,
just as Christ saw the men on the road to Emmaus, and he walked with them, listened to their story of hopelessness, and explained why things had to happen the way they did,
just as Christ regarded and honored and accompanied them in their helpless estate,
Christ also has regarded my helplessness and my despair.
Christ's healing power has shown up through the presence of doctors, nurses, and medical technicians who have provided protection and solace and comfort.
Christ's comforting presence has shown up in the visits, meals, cards, messages of support from as far away as India and Denmark and Spain and Connecticut and New York City and New Jersey,
and as close as the generous neighbors who live next door.
Christ shows up with wounds still visible, reminders of his own suffering, his own loss, his pain, his helplessness, his death - and also his victory over all of that.
Glory! Hallelujah! I am grateful - tearful and grateful.

I know, I know - it's a crazy story.
But it is my story.
This is my crazy faith story. This is my crazy life story.
With all of its upheavals and deep valleys.
With all of its joy and its soul-rending sorrow.
With everything and everyone in various states of emergency and delusion.

It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.

A medley that includes "It is well with my soul."

If you need a slow song to remind you of the power of praise - I will Praise Him Still

If upbeat gospel music is your preference, Whitney Houston's rendition of "Hold On, Help is on the Way" has brought a smile to my weepy face several times in these past two weeks. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Thankful Thursday

I thank you for your thoughts, your prayers, your emails, your text messages, your support.
My precious lamb is still sick, doing better, much better, but still in need of ongoing prayer.

In these most difficult times, I am reminded of the many blessings of life.
In the midst. While still in the valley. Facing the giants of fear and worry.
Watching in horror as fear-mongers whip up hysteria in our country and in the world.
Wondering what will become of this nation and the rest of the planet if Donald Trump is elected president.
Even now, I can find reasons to be thankful. To be joyful. To be hopeful.

* conversation, laughter, and hot tea with a friend from seminary earlier this week
* lunch with a friend whose gentle spirit and wisdom elevated my day today
* getting to return the favor today: praying with and for a weepy sister friend who prayed with and for a weepy me late last week
* my daughter's recent foray into organizing some of the messy places in our home - the two "junk drawers" are now in order. Our pantry: it finally makes sense. Gotta think of a few more spots she can tackle at some point soon... No, she's not for hire as an organizer. She needs to perfect her skills on the home front before she can lend her services elsewhere.
* a pot of soup made for my family by my neighbor, kept warm on her stove until I could pick it up at 8 pm tonight
* chicken potpies, bread, roasted broccoli from a church friend on Sunday
* lasagna, bread, salad, and a bottle of red wine from another one on Monday
* Are you seeing a theme? We are blessed with loving, caring, generous, hospitable friends
* a cohort of classmates from seminary that support, encourage, pray for, and laugh with one another (for the most part...)
* the opportunity to speak with all four of the full-time ministers at my church today - and being received and spoken to with love, respect, prayerfulness, and humor too
* tea and a scone shared with my husband this afternoon
* the fact that no trees fell on our house or our heads during these past two days of very high winds and severe weather
* I get to spend time with my spiritual director tomorrow morning, telling stories of what is going on in my life these days, and marveling at her ability to help me discover how and where God is at work, present at all times, and bringing me towards wholeness and healing, no matter how little I can see or understand at the moment. I don't know anyone who asks me more probing and heart-opening questions about life and faith and prayer and God
* the boost of my spirit that comes when I remember that, although we may be walking through a valley with many shadows currently, we do not walk alone. We never have. We never will.
* sleep, the gift of deep sleep, restorative sleep
* learning that I don't have an ear infection, nor have I suffered any hearing loss - but wishing for some reasonable explanation for three weeks of persistent ringing in my ears (Any ideas or suggestions for how to silence the audible whining?)
* hot oatmeal on cold mornings: Steel cut with coconut milk, almonds, cinnamon, sliced banana, flas seeds, chia seeds, and a drizzle of maple syrup (Having given myself reason to drool at this late hour, I think I will head to bed so that I can make us some hot oatmeal on what will undoubtedly be a cold morning tomorrow. Can't wait to shove a heaping spoon of steel cut goodness into my pie hole in nine hours. Yes, I'm counting!)
* sleep. Did I mention the joy and blessing of sleep? It's not just for newborns.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Standing in the need of prayer

One of the most heart-wrenching and life-giving stories in the Bible is found in John 11 - the story of Lazarus. He was the brother of Mary and Martha, and a friend of Jesus.

 One day, Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus: "The one you love is sick."

The thing is - the author of that Gospel, John, often referred to himself as "the one Jesus loved," as "the disciple Jesus loved." So it's interesting that he would include this story - this account of Lazarus being described as the one Jesus loved. It's telling. He knew, he understood that Jesus loves so many. In fact, one of the most often quoted Bible verses appears in this Gospel. That verse begins this way: For God so loved the world... God didn't just love John or Lazarus or Eve or Sarai. God loved and loves the world.

The story is heart-wrenching because anytime someone suffers, someone else's heart is breaking. But it is life-giving because the Scriptures tell us that Lazarus died - but Jesus showed up four days later and raised him from the tomb. Crazy story, I know, but if it's true, then everything changes. If Jesus really had enough power to raise Lazarus from his grave, his tomb, then there is always hope for healing, wholeness, and resolution to whatever ails us.

Tonight, I am Mary. Tonight, I am Martha.
I am praying fervently tonight - because the one Jesus loves, one of the ones I love, is sick.
Not sick unto death, like Lazarus. But sick, nonetheless.

Even if I don't give any details, will you pray for this precious child,
this one that Jesus loves?
Will you add your prayers to mine?


All shall be well.
I believe that. I know that.
But in the meantime, we wait.
In the meantime, we mourn.
In the meantime, we plead for mercy.

Kyrie Eleison.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Thankful Thursday: My racing and anxious heart

Yesterday morning, my heart started racing.
So much so that several times I had to stop and stand still, take a few deep breaths,
close my eyes, and place my hand over my heart.
I prayed that God would calm my anxious heart,
and more than that, I prayed that God would show me why I was so unsettled.
What came to mind almost immediately was a flurry of questions.

Gail, what is so fear-producing in your life right now that God can't handle?
What is so big and complicated that God can't take care of it, but you can?
How will worry and fear and a racing heart fix anything?
Is the goal of your life to fix anything or everything?

On Tuesday, I heard someone say: "Worry is a misuse of the imagination."
I like that. But I prefer another quote about worry: "Worry is praying for what you don't want."

What am I praying for when I worry?
To whom am I praying when I worry?
Why do I revert to worry so often?

The Bible says, "In everything give thanks." Having remembered that passage, another question emerges: How can I be thankful even in the midst of having a racing and anxious heart?

First of all, those anxious moments reminded me of how much of the time of my life I spend not bound up in or by worry. I know people for whom anxiety is a normal state of being. Stress is far more the norm than calm for many people. I am grateful, so grateful for the increasing peace that God has given me in these past few years.

Don't get me wrong: things fall apart within me and around me.
Family members and friends are going through some stuff.
Stuff that is horrible: the husband of someone I have know since I was a young child died this week.
Another is dealing with her mother's increasing physical needs.
Job stress for some. Financial worries for others.
Kanswer. Diabetes. Congestive heart failure.
School issues. Homelessness. Poverty. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan.
And don't get me started on the topsy turvy world of politics these days.
Not that any of that compares to the tragedy of human trafficking and slavery,
the humanitarian crises, people on the move, on the run, on their way to who knows where -
there is so much to worry about.

But what does worry accomplish or solve? Nothing.
How does a racing heart resolve anything? It doesn't.
Do I need to find my niche, find the sweet spot of my passion, and do something to make a difference? Absolutely. But worrying doesn't help that in any way at all.

Second, those worry-filled moments remind me of how much more time I can, need, and want to spend in prayer and meditation on the goodness of my life, the beauty of the world, and the power of hope.

Hope for healing.
Hope for wholeness.
Hope for freedom.
Hope for justice.
Hope for change.
And I need to do more than hope: I need to act.

Which brings me to the third reason why I am grateful for yesterday morning's racing and anxious heart: I need to translate that nervous and anxious energy into useable energy for justice, for healing, and for peace.

I need to listen for opportunities to give, to speak, to act, to support, to pray, to challenge myself and others to not just worry, but to act.

I need to be willing to tell stories about my fears, my doubts, my worries, my insecurities and failures, so that no one looks at me or reads these ramblings and mistakenly believes that I've got this worry/fear thing figured out completely. I do not. Not even close.

I need to listen to the stories that other people tell about their racing hearts,
their broken hearts, their wounded hearts.
Your broken heart. Your wounded heart.
I need to not try to fix anything, but simply listen.

When I was a sophomore in college, for several weeks, I suffered with a debilitating stomach problem. When the pain would hit, I would be doubled over at the waist, completely unable to stand up straight. That pain often lasted for hours. I could make it to and through my classes most days, but only barely. If the pain hit in the middle of the night, I would be unable to sleep. I tried several medicinal remedies - with no success. A college psychologist suggested that it was "in my head." A nurse I frequently visited at the student health center agreed with his suggestion.

Not long after that, I began to notice that if I could rewind my worried mind back to the moment when the pain began, if I was willing to analyze and release the thought, the issue, the circumstance that triggered the pain, then the pain would go away. Literally, in the moment that I recognized, "Oh, it's that guy I still like; I'm obsessing about him again," the pain would go away.  Or if I realized, "Oh, it's that issue with _____________. That's what I was thinking about when this started," the pain would go away. Instantly. I am happy to report that I haven't experienced that same pain in my gut in years. Thanks be to God.

I am grateful that yesterday morning's heart palpitations followed a similar pattern. Once those questions about my power versus the power of God surfaced, once I realized that yesterday's worry was directly tied to my desire to control some situations and people and circumstances that are completely out of my control, once I removed my right hand from my chest, pressed it together with my left hand, and bowed my head to God in prayer, my heart slowed to its normal pace. And it hasn't accelerated again since that moment - except for when I was walking up a hill in my neighborhood on my way back from the library. That kind of racing heart is exactly what the doctor ordered, literally and figuratively.

Speaking of which, I'm gonna get up from this computer now and go for a walk.
Thanks be to God for a beautiful day here in my hometown.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Love Day

Valentine's Day is one of my favorite holidays.
Not because of cards or candy or gifts or flowers.
But because it is a day set aside to celebrate love.
I often say "Happy Love Day" on February 14th.
For me, that's what it is.
A day to celebrate the gift of love.
The love of family and friends.
The love of partners, past and present.

Love is truly a many-splendored thing.
Love sparkles on celebration days - with hugs and kisses and stories of Love Days past.
We spent time today recalling some of the joyful, romantic, laughter-filled moments we have shared.
We talked about places we have lived together and why we were so happy in each one.
But we also acknowledged that we haven't always been happy.
We haven't always sparkled together.

In the aftermath of those days when "sparkling" doesn't happen, I have seen and experienced how
Love has smoothed over some of the rough edges in me - and in our relationship.
You know, the edges that sting and slice.
The edges of sarcasm and anger.
The edges of fear and loathing.
They are all there - at least they are in me.
But when I remember what drew us together, what keeps us together,
what draws us back together after we have allowed apathy and laziness to drive
us away from each other - when I look over at this man I've been with for 29 years now -
(On this night, Valentine's Day, 1987, Steve and I graduated from "just hanging out together" to "being a couple.")
Love coaxes me to file down the sharp claws that I have honed to a point in my mind.

Love tenderizes my tough heart too.
When I put on the full armor, not of God, but of self-preservation,
when I pull the blanket of relationship resignation over my weary head,
when I fantasize about the life I will create for myself when I abandon my current situation -
full-fledged journaling sessions planning how I will empty our bank accounts,
pack my backpack, head for the airport, buy a first class one ticket on a credit card,
and then ditch the card so I cannot be tracked down
(I have watched a lot of Law and Order, NCIS, and Criminal Minds
so I know how that sort of thing works!)
deciding where I will live in Madrid and how I will earn a self-sustaining income -
when I come to the end of those free writing exercises, I laugh at my vivid imagination.
By the time I pour it all out on paper, I remember: I love these people I live with.
I love my life. I love LOVE.
It's not always easy to love them or to love myself.
It's not usually easy.
Truthfully, it's never easy.

When I am reminded of my helplessness in drumming up love on my own,
when I am reminded of my willful and willing participation in angst production,
when I am reminded of how difficult I am to love and to live with,
that's when I fall on my knees, literally get down on my knees,
and plead with LOVE to give me love.
I ask for grace. I ask for strength. I ask for mercy.
Then I ask for a second helping of grace, strength, mercy, and love
to pour out on those with whom I travel on this, my life's journey.

I pray the morning prayer from Robert Benson's Daily Office Prayer book.
"We offer prayers for all those with whom we share the Journey:
those who have been given to us and to whom we have been given,
those to whom we promised our faithfulness and prayers.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
We entrust all who are dear to us to Your never-failing love and care,
for this life and for the life to come, knowing that You will do for them 
far more than we can desire or pray for."
(I couldn't find a link to the book I have,
but here is another book of prayers that he has edited and written.)

Today, on Love Day, I pray that prayer for you too.
Because you who have found your way to this page,
you who subject yourself to my ramblings,
you are someone with whom I share the Journey.

You may not feel loved today.
You may feel actively unloved today.

I want you to know that I offer that prayer for you,
entrusting you into the hands of The One who truly loves you most,
The One for whom every day is, in essence, Love Day.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

You never know who you might meet

A friend of mine is dying of kanswer. (Kanswer sucks!) She is in a hospice house here in Charlotte. I've visited with her several times over the past few weeks - talking with her, telling stories, laughing, sitting silent. I've read to her and sung to her and described to her some church services and events she has missed lately. I'm not sure how much she understands these days, but that hardly matters. I'm honored to be able to sit with her, sometimes alone and sometimes with her children in the room, as she makes her way along this final stretch of her life's journey.

Today when I went to see her, I had to wait outside her room for a while as she was being cared for by one of the saints who works there. As I stood there in the hallway, I was approached by a woman who introduced herself to me as a hospice volunteer. Cane in one hand, list of hospice guests in the other, she told me that she has volunteered there for eleven years, making her way down the corridors, into and out of rooms, chatting with, listening to, holding hands with, praying with and for those who find themselves facing the end of life. She talked about some people not wanting her to pray with them or for them. She told me about the supreme value of simply being present with and for those who find themselves facing the end, but not facing it alone.

Somehow our conversation rolled around to the disappointment of our beloved Carolina Panthers losing the Super Bowl on Sunday. A woman in her 70s, at least, she talked about how sad she was for the team and the city - after such a great football season for our hometown team. Then she said something I wasn't prepared for - she said something like this: "All the money that is spent on that one game - it's immoral, immoral, immoral. There are so many people living in the streets, it's immoral. That's right; I said it. I said it."

Yup, she said it alright. She said it.

I agreed and added, "And so often, we talk about there not being money to fix our broken school system, to feed the hungry, to get homeless people off the streets, and to fix the water problem in Flint, Michigan. But then we spend so much money on sports. I heard that the amount of money spent on security alone was outrageous. I agree with you - it's immoral."

When I added, "But I am encouraged by -" she interrupted me and said, "Please, tell me what you're encouraged by because I'm not feeling very encouraged about the state of things these days."

So I went on, "I am encouraged by the people who are working for justice, to change our school system, to get permanent housing for the homeless, to feed the hungry. That gives me hope."

Our conversation lasted a few more minutes, until she said she needed to move on down the hall to visit with patients and their visitors. But before we parted company, she seemed to hesitate. To linger. I wondered what she was waiting for, and then she said something else I wasn't prepared for: "Can I hug you? Because you have been a blessing to me today."

So she, a white southern woman in her 70s, and I, a black woman, previously-northern, now-southern, a mere 57 days after turning 50 (yes, I'm still counting the days), embraced there in the hallway of a hospice house here in Charlotte, NC.

After the caretaker had done her divine duty and exited, I entered the room of my friend, the one who is surely in her final days of life on this side of the great river of life, smiling, shaking my head, grateful for the delay in being able to see her, grateful for the exchange I had had with an unlikely ally, an unexpected sister in the family of faith. Because you never know who you might meet in the hallway of a hospice house before sitting with a dear one.

PS. Kanswer SUCKS!!!

Friday, February 05, 2016

What's wrong with this picture?

Yesterday, the woman with the job I most envy (she's a flight attendant for American Airlines and flies regularly to Madrid!) sent me this photo from my favorite city in the world. This is the front of what used to be the central post office in Madrid - it is now a cultural and artistic center, with spaces for people to sit and read and enjoy the view over the Plaza de Cibeles.

Did you figure out what's wrong with this picture?
It's the banner.
The banner is in English - in a city where English is spoken almost exclusively by foreigners.
In a city where the language of heaven, Castillian Spanish, is heard at every turn.
So why is this sign in English?
I'm guessing - because whoever made it knew that the refugees are unlikely to speak Spanish
but far more likely to speak and understand English.
So there flies that banner, high above one of the most beautiful and central plazas and roundabouts in the city I love most in the world. Welcoming refugees. Welcoming the stranger.

What else is wrong with that picture? Absolutely nothing.

One thing I do think is wrong is that I haven't seen photos with banners like that on any central, artistic or cultural centers here in the USA. Now I confess that I don't watch the news often and I never read the newspaper, but I haven't seen or heard of any such sights here.

What I have heard is all to the contrary - keep the refugees out of our state, out of our city, out of our nation. Don't let them in. Don't trust them. They are all ______________ - fill in the blank with something horrific and racist and fear-based. Even though everyone I have ever heard say or write such things live in this country because they or an ancestor of theirs arrived here as an immigrant or a refugee from across an ocean. The people who were already here when those immigrants, those refugees arrived nearly 400 years ago, were subsequently diseased, displaced, exterminated, and those who dared to survive all that were placed on reservations.

I can only imagine what this nation would look like and be like if they had the power to enforce declarations like, "Keep them out. They are all ____________________. Don't trust them. Don't let them in."

Nowadays, we struggle with other types of refugees. Homeless people. Mentally ill people who do not receive adequate mental health care. The poor. The sick. The enslaved. The trafficked. The outcast. We refuse to allow low and mixed income housing in our neighborhoods. We refuse to allow children of all levels of income and privilege to attend school together. We refuse to worship with people who look and live differently than we do. We turn away with disdain and mutter, "Not in my backyard."

Don't even get me started on slavery, Jim Crow, and the ongoing racism against Americans of African descent. It's black history month - the shortest month of the year, of course - and I am being reminded every day this month of all that we have already overcome - and all that is yet to be done. A reasonable argument could be and has been made that African Americans continue to be treated like unwelcome refugees right here at home.

Our banner, if we were courageous enough to hang it in public, would say, "Tired, poor, huddled masses, wretched refuge, homeless, and tempest-tossed, you are not welcome here."

Here's the painful thing - I have to confess that I don't do well with houseguests. I mean, friends come and stay with us for a few days. Perhaps even a week or two. But I get antsy. I need my solitude and silence. I need to not have to drive people everywhere and make sure that food issues are resolved and floors are clean and towels are available. So I don't think I could handle having a refugee family live in my house for months at a time.

But I can and I should hang out a sign of welcome on my face, in my interactions, even in confrontational exchanges - I must be a gracious host everywhere I go. At Loaves and Fishes. When I disagree with someone's political position. When my children speak their mind. When I am approached by someone living with homelessness. When I am engaged in uncomfortable exchanges at seminary. At church when I see someone I don't know. At the supermarket, even when women remove their purses from their buggy when they see me approach. In my neighborhood, when I wave at passersby and they don't wave back (for those of you who don't live in the south: we wave at people who drive in our neighborhoods. The polite and expected thing is to wave back.)

"Refugees welcome."

Cuz aren't we all refugees?
Escaping some form of emotional, physical, spiritual oppression?
Aren't we all running away from our secrets and shame?
Aren't we all being pursued by faces and ghosts of blunders past?
Aren't we all in search of safety, refuge, comfort, and welcome?

Isn't fear the main reason that we seek to keep "them" out, whoever that "them" may be?
Aren't we afraid because we think others just might do to us what we have done to them?
We belittle and humiliate others.
We criticize them.
We reject them.
We insist on them serving us.
We harbor our suspicions and prejudices.
We mindlessly spout stories and accounts we have heard, even though most of us have never suffered at the hands of anyone we think we are justified in rejecting.
We refuse to lay our weapons of mind and soul destruction down.
What if "they" treated us the way we treat "them"?

So when "they" cross our borders,
whoever "they" are,
wherever we build our borders,
our fear of all things and all people and all practices that are not our own
dictates our response.

We say thoughtless things like, "Better safe than sorry."
Is it really better to be safe than sorry?
I read a book today at 24/7 that posed the question -
imagine if God had acted that way?
imagine if God decided that it was better to be safe than sorry,
and Jesus decided not to come to earth after all?
Being born to an unwed teenage mother in ancient Israel is not safe.
Choosing fishermen and tax collectors and former prostitutes and lepers
and hungry people and poor people and outcasts as your friends is not safe.
Rebuking the religious authorities,
knocking over tables in the temple,
touching the untouchable,
walking on the water in the midst of a storm,
remaining silent when the governor questioned him,
being nailed to a cross and buried in a tomb -
none of that was safe.

Standing with those who cannot stand for themselves,
speaking with those whose voices are usually unheard,
sitting with those who sit alone,
speaking against those whose voices dominate.
standing against perpetual mistreatment,
sitting at tables of powerful people and challenging them to be kind and compassionate -
none of that is safe.

But that is what we are called to do.
That is what I am called to do.
That is the right thing to do.
That is the just thing to do.

I wish I could spend most of the rest of my life living in Madrid, walking past that roundabout every week. Sipping hot sweet coffee a few mornings a week. Improving my Spanish. Learning how to make paella.
Unfortunately, that's not going to happen.
Perhaps where I can actually spend the rest of my life is
in the roundabout of living out the message on the banner that hangs above la plaza de Cibeles.
"Refugees welcome."

Welcome in my backyard.
Welcome in my front yard.
Welcome in my church.
Welcome in my friendships.
Welcome in my heart.
Maybe, someday, as God sets me free from my attachment to the quietness and coziness of my house, maybe someday I will even be able to welcome refugees into my home. That's a mighty big maybe...

Saturday, January 30, 2016

What if...

I love when people ask me to pray for them.
A couple of years ago, I asked people to send me an email with prayer requests.
I received far more than I expected.
Even from people who themselves do not pray, don't consider themselves religious people.
I was honored to pray for them, to kneel in my brokenness and plead for mercy for the brokenness of others.

I have no idea how prayer works.
I don't know how (or if) prayer actually changes situations.
But I do know that prayer changes me.
Prayer strengthens me.
Prayer motivates me.
Prayer gives me courage.
Prayer calms my fears.
Prayer reminds me that I am not in charge of anything.
Prayer settles my anxious heart.
Prayer connects me with people I know and people I don't know -
before the throne of God, we are all in need of healing, wholeness, and true freedom.

Who are your favorite prayer warriors?
The ones whose prayers you can count on?
The ones that, when they say they will pray for you, actually do pray for you?

What if the Bible is true when it says that Jesus is at the right hand of God praying for us?
What if Jesus is God? If Jesus is God, then is God praying for us to God?

If Jesus is praying for us, if Jesus is praying for me, then what on earth should I be afraid of?
What on earth should I worry about?

What if I actually believed that Jesus is praying for me?
How would that change the way that I live and breathe and move around in the world?

What if...?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Thankful Thursday - On Worry and Gratitude

Ask the average person what they think the Bible is about and I would guess that most people would either say that they have no idea what the Bible is all about or they would say that they think the Bible is a book full of statements and chapters that begin and end with "Thou shalt not."

Truthfully, there are many times when I think the same thing - on both counts.
There are parts of the Scriptures that I cannot decipher, and there are other sections, many sections that begin and end with "Thou shalt not..." And "Do not..."

But that's not always a bad thing. For example, one of the most repeated "Do not..." statements in the Bible is this: "Do not be afraid." Angels appear to people and say, "Do not be afraid." After receiving CPR from said angel, many of those who were told to not be afraid must have been thinking, "That's easy for you to say, Angel dude. You knew you were coming to see me. I had no idea. How on earth am I supposed to not be afraid?"

Do not be afraid in the flood or in the fire - God says in Isaiah - because I am with you.
Do not be afraid - Jesus says to the disciples as he approaches their boat, walking on the water in the midst of a terrible storm - because it's me.
Do not be afraid - the angel Gabriel said to Mary - just before he informed her that she was going to give birth to the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Huge news. Huge life changing news. And a command - Do not be afraid.

Another Biblical mandate is this: Do not worry.
Don't worry about what you will eat or drink or wear.
Don't worry about tomorrow.
Don't worry about anything.

That last one is the one that has been on my mind a lot today.
Here's the verse in its entirety and also the one that follows - Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Easy peasy. Don't worry about anything. Tell God everything. Give thanks in everything. Understand that God's peace is beyond your understanding. Trust that God's peace will guard your hearts and minds. Like I said - easy peasy. Just kidding... this is one of the hardest things in life - this "not worrying" and "not being afraid" thing.

I remember reading someplace that worrying is praying for what you don't want.
But it makes sense - for me, prayer is keeping people and situations in mind, giving them to God over and over again, pleading for peace and healing and restoration and reconciliation.
Worry follows a similar pattern - keeping people and situations in mind, giving them to nobody but my own fear-filled and fear-driven self.

So I get it - I understand why fear and worry don't help anybody.
I understand why fear and worry paralyze me sometimes.
I understand why the Bible commands us not to fear.
But still I worry. Still I struggle with fear.
I admit it - I don't do this Christian walk thing, this life thing, particularly well.

So today, I'm going to tie my fears and worries to gratitude.
I am going to share with you the three things I worry about most.
And I am going to attempt to find reasons to be grateful for those fears and worries.

1. I worry about money.

What if we don't have enough to pay our bills? What if we have an unexpected expense? What if we aren't saving enough for the completion of the kids' college education? What if we aren't saving enough for retirement? What if one of the cars breaks down? What if there's another major medical expense?

Embedded within each of those questions, each of those worries, are reasons to be grateful. Our children are both college students. We have cars that run. We have good enough health that we are not currently in a major medical challenge. We have hope that at some point my husband won't have to work full time to provide for us. We have hope that someday we will be able to travel more, to sit and sip cool drinks on a screened in porch. We have money to worry about. We have savings to add to. My husband is gainfully employed, so much so that for more than twenty years, I was able to stay at home and be a full time, at home, homeschooling mother. And now I am a student again, reading, writing, learning, preparing to serve God and serve people. I am enormously grateful.

Considering how many people have lost their jobs and remain unemployed for years, how many people have lost their homes, how many have never had homes, how many live with homelessness and joblessess, I am challenged to stop my complaining and release my worry and fear. I am challenged to be grateful every day for the ease and abundance I enjoy.

2. I am afraid that something is going to happen to our house, our cars, our computers, our stuff.

In our twenty-four and a half years of marriage, we have lived in four different places: an apartment, a townhouse, and two single-family houses. In those four different settings we have had to do a lot of house repairs. We have laid out a lot of money to keep the roof over our heads and the floors under our feet.

Mold. Mildew. Ants. Cracked bricks. Cracked hardwood. Cracked foundation. Overflowing gutters. Windows that need to be replaced. A driveway in need of repair. Carpeting in need of replacement. A doorknob that no longer works properly. A storm door that no longer closes completely. Dampness. Kitchen cabinets in need of replacement. Painting to be done. Appliances in need of repair or replacement. Leaking pipes. New septic tank. Swimming pool repair. Roof replaced. Wallpaper taken down. Wallpaper put up. Computers infected, disinfected, dead, and replaced. Phones broken. One phone used underwater in a waterproof case that wasn't properly closed.

Here's the thing - that whole long list of work that has been done is also a long list of blessings. We have lived in four amazing homes, places to which we always returned with joy and gratitude. Places where we welcomed friends and families for meals, for parties, for celebrations, for sleepovers, for Bible studies, for baby showers, for bridal showers, and just to hang out together to talk. We have never had a house fire. We have never had our home broken into. We have never had a significant infestation of any kind. We have always had kind, attentive, generous, caring neighbors. They have brought meals when we are sick. They have taken care of our dog when we are away. They have invited us over for parties. Their children have played with our children.

I said I am afraid that something might happen to our house and our stuff. Well, stuff happens all the time. Things break. Things malfunction. Things fall. I am grateful that each one of those things serves as a reminder of the countless things that have been mine to enjoy, mine to clean, mine to repair, mine to replace.
Mine. Ours. God's.
Grateful, grateful, grateful.

3. And I worry and am afraid, most of all, that something will happen to my family, my friends, and other people I love.

Stuff has happened to my family, my friends, and everyone I love. Stuff does happen. Stuff will always happen. Kanswer. Diabetes. Depression. Job loss. Divorce. The loss of a parent. The loss of a child. The loss of a pet. Finding a job after many years of unemployment - and facing the challenge of maintaining relationships and a home that had been the focus of attention during those years at home. Getting pregnant within months of completing kanswer treatment - wondering about the possibility of a return of the kanswer due to elevated estrogen levels during pregnancy and beyond.

Stuff happens. Difficult stuff. Painful stuff. Frightening stuff.
Good stuff too. Encouraging stuff. Love stuff. Friendship stuff.
Lunch after too long without any time together.
Writing together with another journaling soul.
Creative activities together.
Meeting for tea and talking.
Texting someone I don't get to see as often as I'd like.
Being asked to teach, to preach, to drop by.

I am enormously grateful that even though "stuff happens" to me and to everyone I know, love remains. Friends remain. Hope remains. Joy remains. And that's not all - love grows, hope grows, joy grows, friendships grow.

Depending on the translation of the Bible you read, it is possible to find more than three hundred places where we are told, "Do not be afraid" and "Do not worry." I disobey both of those admonitions every day. But I am grateful for the people, the places, the stories, the faces, the relationships, and the many adventures that prompt me to worry and be afraid. If I weren't so profoundly blessed, I wouldn't have as much to worry about or be afraid to lose.

I hope and pray that when the rising waters of fear threaten to drown me,
when the fire of worry threatens to consume me,
that is the moment when I need to pull out my journal and make a gratitude list.
That is the moment when I need to get on my knees and give thanks to God for every person and every situation and every meal and every trip and everything I have seen and known and experienced.

Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thankful Thursday

I am thankful for electricity and heat and running water and food.
There's a dreadful winter weather forecast for our area.
Snow and freezing rain and ice. Potential power outages.
Schools have already been closed for tomorrow.
I know it's nothing compared to what is expected a few hours north of here.
I know it's nothing compared to what is the norm in many northern cities and states.
But I live in the South. We don't do snow. We don't do ice. We don't do freezing rain.
We panic. We load up on milk and eggs and bread - an inch or two of snow can paralyze the region for days. Ice takes down our power lines and plunges us into panicky darkness.

At times like this, I worry about the folks who sleep outside in tents, in parks, on benches.
I worry that there aren't enough beds in shelters and churches for those who live with homelessness.
I worry about people who don't have heat in their homes.
I worry about those who may be indoors, may have heat, but don't have enough food.
Worry is the wrong word - I think about them often. I pray for them even more.
I know, I know - praying is good, but it's not good enough.
So after I pray, I give. I serve. I try to find other ways to help.
I encourage others to do the same.
All the while, I give thanks for the blessings of our home, my family and God's bountiful provision.

I am thankful for my children.
I have a friend who has four daughters. When they were younger, she regularly thanked them for choosing her to be their mother. She would say something like, "Before you were born, you were in heaven and God told you that you could pick a woman to be your Mom. I'm so glad you chose me."
Parenting is not easy. Not at all. But I am thankful that my children chose me to be their mom.
I am grateful that they still choose to tell me so much of what is going on in their lives and hearts and relationships.
I am thankful for the homeschooling journey we completed last year.
I am thankful for my children's independence.
Even though I spent more time than I care to admit worrying that they would never be able to handle academics in "the real world," even though I worried that they weren't really learning anything at home, but they were just glad not to have to take the school bus every day - even though I was a chronically underprepared homeschooling mom, they are both articulate, self-motivated, self-confident, critical thinkers inside and outside the college classroom.
I am grateful for all the leftover school supplies - spiral notebooks, colored pencils, folders, glue sticks, watercolor paint, stickers, staplers, paper clips, rubber bands, to name a few - that I still get to play with, journal with, and even use for seminary.

I am thankful for the tough conversations around issues of justice here in Charlotte.
School segregation and desegregations.
How churches can and should be involved in these conversations.
How uncomfortable it makes us all feel.
How we are reminded of our desire to ignore what doesn't affect us personally.
I am grateful for the many people working together and working separately to educate our children.
I am grateful for the challenge to remember that I cannot be concerned only for my children;
rather, I must be concerned for our children. All of us. All of our children.
I am grateful for the patience exhibited by those who are on the forefront of these discussions about equity and education with those of us who are less aware, less involved, less fluent in the language of justice.

I am thankful for -

* adult coloring books. No, I am thankful for coloring books.
I am not sure why some are for kids and others are for adults.

* sweet potatoes, especially when they are peeled and cubed ahead of time

* my yoga mat and the stretching and breathing I get to do when I'm on it

* my Bosu ball and hand weights - and the balancing and strengthening they provide

* stories like this one that give me hope, stories like this one that make me groan, and stories like this one that make me smile. Discussions about how to end - or at least, diminish - racism, watching Stephen Colbert, and travel planning all make me think and live more deeply.

* seminary! Have I mentioned that I love my seminary classes? Or how every Sunday I understand more of what I hear and experience at church because of what I am learning in seminary every Saturday? Or how, even though there have been disagreements and misunderstandings, there have also been moments of discovery and delight? Prayers I have prayed for decades, songs I have sung, beliefs I have embraced - some of them originated more than fifteen hundred years ago, and finally they begin to make sense to me.

Potentially dangerous wintry weather could result in cancelled classes this weekend. Because I have always been addicted to school, tonight is not the first night I have prayed that the forecasters are wrong and that school will be open. Beginning early in elementary school, I was the kid who prayed that school would not be cancelled. I was a conflicted child because I wanted to go to Sunday School five days a week and weekday school for two days. Except for when I wished I could go to my weekday school five days a week. I always wanted to be in school - whether that was at church or elsewhere.

All this writing and thinking about the winter storm approaching has reminded me that I need to get on my robe and pajamas before I strategize about what we would do in the event of a power outage. What we would eat. And what tropical island I will fantasize about living on as this cold night turns into a cold morning.

Stay warm, my friends.
Stay grateful.