Monday, September 15, 2014

Holding Onto Hope

Tonight I met a group of awesome women.
Brave women.
Strong women.
Determined women.
Beautiful - every single one.
Overcomers - every single one.
Victorious - every single one.
Even if they don't know it or believe it yet.

We talked and laughed and cried and wrote in our journals.
They told their stories.
I told mine.

Please, please, please, when somebody wants to tell you their story,
stop what you are doing and listen.
Let the goose bumps rise. Let the tears fall.
Hug them - if they will let you.
Honor them.
Love them.
Bless them.

Everybody wants to be heard, listened to, understood.
Everybody wants to be seen, to be looked at lovingly.
Everybody wants to be held, touched, embraced.
Everybody feels lonely and afraid.
Everybody wants to be loved.
Everybody's got something.
Joy comes and smiles erupt when we realize that we also have each other. 

A kind and gentle man said something powerful and life-affirming to my daughter a few years ago when she was fighting for her health and her life. It is something I should have said to those powerful, funny, courageous, and insightful women tonight. It is something I will definitely say the next time I see them -
"You may not be able to hold onto hope for yourself right now.
But I will hold onto it for you until you can."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Two Fridays in a Row

Last Friday as I drove home after taking my son to a college visit, I drove the way I usually drive: three or four miles over the speed limit in the slow lane. Every car passed me like I was standing still. Even the eighteen wheelers went around me. Here's the thing: I'm not a NASCAR driver. I'm not in a race to get home. I just want to get home safely.

Then it happened. Just ahead of me. In the fast lane.

Boom. Tires squeal. Rubber flies. Smoke billows. A car careened from the fast lane all the way across the highway and into the grassy shoulder. Did a truck blow a tire? Did cars hit each other. I saw it unfold but it happened so fast that I couldn't decipher what I had seen before I drove past the scene. I'm so glad I was in the slow lane, far out of the way.

My heart raced. I immediately began to pray: Lord, I hope no one got hurt. I hope those people, whoever they are, get home safely tonight. I hope there are no more accidents as other speeding vehicles approach the debris on the highway. Thank you for keeping me out of the way of that accident.

Yesterday as I drove home from a day of silence at Starrette Farm, I was driving the way I usually drive. Only this time, a light was blinking on my dashboard - the low tire pressure warning light. Shoot, shoot, shoot. I remembered that the warning light comes on every 5,000 miles to remind me to get the tire pressure checked, but I had recently taken the car to get the oil changed and knew they had checked the tire pressure. I hoped this warning light was on because they had neglected to reset it. But still... I was concerned. I didn't want to be in the fast lane or the middle lane if I did have a problem, so I moved over to the slow lane, driving warily while watching that light, hoping it would go off on its own.

That's when it happened again. Just ahead of me. In the fast lane.

A Walmart truck blew a tire. Rubber flew. Tires squealed. Cars swerved to avoid each other, some did so unsuccessfully. I pulled off onto the shoulder to avoid the cars that were trying to avoid the vehicles involved in the accident. A pick up truck careened from the fast lane all the way across the highway to the shoulder. It stopped right in front of me. Plumes of white smoke bloomed from the front right corner of the engine block. It reeked of burning rubber. I slowly pulled around the pick up truck and looked over to make sure the driver was okay. He was. The driver of the Walmart truck climbed out of the cab and walked back to the pick up truck. I moved along.

My heart raced again. Again, I began to pray for safety, for peace, for calm, and for a joyful reunion with their loved ones later in the evening.

I looked down at my dashboard - the warning light was off.

What if that warning light was meant to warn me to get into the slow lane and avoid that accident? What if that warning light was meant to put me in a position to make sure the driver was okay after that accident?
What if I'm not so fortunate next time and the blown tire hits my car and I'm the one who careens from the fast lane onto the shoulder?

Two Fridays in a row, I have seen accidents from the slow lane.
Two Fridays in a row, I prayed for safety for all those involved.
Two Fridays in a row, I gave thanks for my own safety.

All the way home after seeing yesterday's wreck (down here in NASCAR country, car accidents are referred to as "wrecks."), I sang this verse from an old Amy Grant song to myself -

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.
A wreckless car ran out of gas before it came my way.
Near misses all around me, accidents unknown -
Though I never see with human eyes that hands that lead me home,
I know they're all around me all day and through the night.
When the enemy is closing in, I know sometimes they fight.
To keep my feet from falling, I'll never turn away.
If you're asking what's protecting me, then you're gonna hear me say:
"He's got his angels watching over, every move I make.
Angels watching over me.
He's got his angels watching over me, every step I take.
Angels watching over me."

When I think about the many times my life has been saved - not just these two Fridays in a row, but every day of my life - I have to wonder, "Did God have his angels watching over the people who got into the accident? What about the ones whose kanswer treatment doesn't halt its spread? What about the young woman who is hospitalized for 31 days due to a bad drug side effect? What about the victims of domestic violence and the subsequent public humiliation? What about the woman who loses her husband and a couple of years later loses her only son? What about the 30 year old mother of three little beauties who will undergo a kanswer-induced double mastectomy and reconstruction on Monday morning? What about the child who drowned, the one who is kidnapped, and the parents whose anguish is indescribable? Are there angels watching over them too?"

I believe the angels are even closer to them. Holding them. Offering comfort and peace and courage and strength. Granting them space to grieve, to weep, to scream, to accuse, to ask why. I believe the angels stand guard over and around them while they mourn, while they writhe, while they clench angry fists and wail. I believe the angels hover ever nearer to those whose hearts and lives are shattered by sorrow and loss.

That is certainly what I have prayed for those I know in those situations.
I have prayed those requests for two Fridays in a row.
I will continue to do pray that way for as many Fridays as remain for me -
and every day in between.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thankful Thursday - 9/11

I settled in at the barber shop this morning, waiting for my barber, Rodney, to be done with the client in his chair. I pulled out my cell phone and started to play Spider Solitaire, listening only intermittently to their conversation.

The five barbers were taking turns saying where they had been on September 11th. No one has to add the year when that date is mentioned. One young man said he was in elementary school, and he remembers being able to go home early that day. The rest of them laughed at his youth and innocence. Then the laughing stopped and silence descended for a few seconds. Clumsily, the chatter started up again. Tears began to well up in my eyes as I thought about where I was on that fateful day thirteen years ago today.

September 11th, 2001, was a beautiful Tuesday in Norwalk, Connecticut. The sun sparkled in the cloudless sky. I was in the basement of our raised ranch at the corner of North Seir Hill and Grey Hollow Roads - and I wasn't alone. My two children were with me in our homeschool room. Kristiana was 7 and Daniel was 4. We had begun our daily lessons and were happily buzzing through math problems or spelling or science when the phone rang.

I thought, "Everybody who knows me knows that I'm homeschooling right now. So I will let the call go to the answering machine. Wait - everybody who knows me knows that I'm homeschooling right now, so I probably should answer because this must be something I need to handle now."

It was a friend from church, Dianne. She said, "I know you're homeschooling, but you need to turn on the television. There's been an accident at the World Trade Center."

I walked out of the homeschool room into the family room and turned on the television. My children followed me - I'm sure they were wondering why Mom was turning on the television during homeschool time. Just as the picture came into the focus, the second plane hit the second tower. I told Dianne what I had seen, and she said, "No, you're probably watching a replay of the first one." I said, "No, Dianne, both towers have been hit."

I don't remember hanging up the phone, but I do remember falling onto my knees and weeping loud anguished, deeply guttural wails. My children wrapped themselves around me and asked what was wrong.

Oh, crap. My kids. I have to pull it together for my kids.

I told them that there had been a plane accident and we needed to pray for the people involved. I didn't tell them that it was intentional. I didn't tell them that it was less than two hours from where we lived. I didn't tell them that I was terrified. I didn't tell them that I was worried about where their father was. I mean, I knew that he worked in Stamford, only 25 minutes from our home. I knew that there was no reason for him to have been in NYC, but I still needed to hear his voice. I needed to know he was okay. I called his cell phone. He was right where he was supposed to be - at the office in Stamford. He and his office mates were watching the horror unfold on a television in one of the conference rooms there.

I hung up from talking to him. I wiped my eyes. I blew my nose. And I got back to homeschooling the kids - with sorrow welling up, with tears brimming over, with a heart shattered with grief and fear and worry, and with my soul still on its knees, pleading for mercy and strength and restraint and rescue.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

A couple hours later, I took the kids for a walk in our quiet neighborhood. For most of our walk, I didn't see anyone. When I did see someone standing outside of the clubhouse of a nearby golf course, I commented on the beauty of the day. And then I said, "It's hard to believe what's happening in NY and Washington on this gorgeous day." We both nodded somberly. The kids and I walked on.

It was six months later, in March of 2002, when I took Kristiana down to Brooklyn to see my Mom. As we drove along the East River towards the Brooklyn Bridge, I pointed out the gaping hole in the skyline and asked her, "Do you remember that day when I told you there had been an airplane accident in New York?" Of course she remembered. I told her that the buildings that had been destroyed had been right there. And it wasn't an accident. That people crashed those planes on purpose. She stared silently at the sky. We both did.

It's hard to come up with a list of things to be thankful for from that day. Anything I write will seem trite, trivial, dismissive, insulting in the face of all the people that were lost, the buildings that collapsed, the sorrow that befell this nation that day. Not to mention all the war and death and torture and mistrust and hatred that have followed from that day's events.

But if we give up on hope, joy, love, and gratitude, then fear wins. And we know that fear can't win. We know that love wins. Hope wins. Laughter wins. Joy wins. Gratitude wins.

I am grateful that I was homeschooling that day and that I didn't have to go get my children from school. I am grateful that homeschooling allowed me to delay talking to my children about terrorism and what 9/11 meant for months.

I am grateful that my brother, the one closest to me in age, who was on his way to work in lower Manhattan that day, missed his New Jersey Transit train. His designated train station was below the World Trade Center.

I am grateful that my oldest brother no longer worked at the World Trade Center. Several years before, he worked on one of the highest levels in one of the towers. Above the 90th floor.

I am grateful for every person who missed a train or bus, who couldn't catch a taxi, who somehow didn't make it to work in the two towers that morning.

I am grateful for all the people who were able to get down and out of the buildings before the collapse.

I am grateful for the bravery of those who rushed in to help others, for the fireman and policemen and civilians who were on their way up the stairs while so many others ran down.

I am grateful for the courage of the passengers and crew on Flight 93 who took their hijacked plane down into the fields of Pennsylvania, preventing a different, more destructive crash.

I am grateful for the ways in which people who were not directly affected by those events stepped into the lives of those who were and provided love and support and a safe place to grieve.

I'm grateful for the people whose lives were directly affected and how they reached out to others even in their own grief.

I am grateful that the names of those killed that day are still read aloud every year.

I am grateful that there are people who will not let us forget.

I am grateful for the open eyes and hearts that those tragic moments have created - open to the world, open to the way this nation is seen by the world, open to learn about the ways that our way of life affect people in other places, open to the idea of reaching across cultural, national, religious, and person lines in order to understand where and how such anger and hatred can fester internally and then explode - and open to the need for peace, for trust, for forgiveness, and for asking to be forgiven.

I pray that the names of the many thousands, some estimate that there are hundreds of thousands, of people who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since that day will be read aloud as well. And those who have died in Ukraine, in Israel, in Gaza, in Syria, in Liberia, in Congo, in Spain, in Italy, in India, in Pakistan, in Libya, in France, on the streets of this nation - and all over the world. We can all name people lost to car or airplane or bus or train crashes, to addiction, to illness, to violence, to starvation, to suicide, to old age, to dementia, to racism, to anti-Semitism, to more causes than I can name here. Death happens. Death is coming for all of us.

May we all be remembered with love. With prayers. With smiles. With tears.

Thirteen years ago today, life in these United States of America and in much of the world, changed suddenly and permanently. The cause for that change was tragic. The way forward doesn't have to be. As Alice Walker wrote, "The way forward is with a broken heart." Brokenhearted though we may be, let us move forward.

The question I keep asking is - how now shall we live? How will we live out the days that remain? I don't know about you, but I plan to live a life marked by faith, by hope, by joy, by love, and by gratitude.

PS. What she said... Patti Digh, you inspire me, challenge me, and make me think hard. Big time.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Coming up on ten years of blogging about my life's journey

Yup, you read that right. I've been doing this for nearly ten years. Telling stories. Sharing photos. Asking questions. Trying to live into the answers.

I just spent a little over an hour looking at the archives of the ten Octobers (I began this blog on October 1, 2004) in which I've been blogging and chose a post from each of those months to link to here. A "favorites list" of sorts. A list of pieces that were relevant at the time but also that were pointing the way to this moment, this hour, this life I live in September of 2014.

October 2013 - Coming to the finish line - does "the finish line" even exist? Will I know when I've crossed it? Do I want to know? Do I even want a finish line to exist? I may be done with breast kanswer treatment, but breast kanswer is not done with teaching me lessons and giving me answers to some of my deepest questions. Hence my decision to spell it this way - kanswer.

October 2012 - Everybody's got something -  I had no idea of the HUGE something I was going to encounter less than three weeks after writing that piece and how my life would be altered in theretofore unimaginable ways. I was about to embark on my own "worst of times." And now, looking back, I recognize that it was also one of my "best of times."

October 2011 - Looking back ten years - I am continually humbled and awed and overwhelmed with gratitude for this wonder-filled life I've lived. Ten years before I wrote that piece, I had taken my first trip to Italy. I have been enormously blessed with a lifetime of adventures, flights, bus rides, train trips, road trips to beauty-filled, mysterious, faith-expanding places. My gratitude for these many journeys and the ways in which each one has shaped me into the woman I am now is boundless.

October 2010 - What I need, what I feel, what I want - most of the questions and longings and hunger and thirst that I describe in that piece still exist within me. This past Saturday, I sat with some friends from church and as Pen prayed, he used the phrase, "a hunger we cannot name." I pulled out my notebook and wrote that down - during prayer. That unnamed and unnameable hunger gnaws at my soul every day.

October 2009 - Wanting it both ways and getting it - I want to give and receive. I want to love and be loved. I want to leave and I want to stay. Sometimes I can have both, and sometimes I cannot. The goal is to practice gratitude no matter what.

October 2008 - I wish you... I love the photos in that piece, images of us celebrating our life together... not knowing about the huge challenge just ahead. Each of us has gone through moments in life that have served as markers on our life calendars - before and after this moment. Our own BC (before crisis) and AD (after deliverance). I would like to add a new dating category, IC - In Crisis. On November 15, 2008, we had one of those moments in our family, one of those IC moments that defined who we are as a foursome. This piece reminds me to celebrate life right now, this moment, no matter what category I find myself in. Isn't there always a challenge ahead - and many reasons to be thankful right now???

October 2007 - The now and the not yet... As I reread that post, I realize now that it was a piece of prophetic writing. Storms were raging in the world then. Storms continue to rage. Fears rise and fall. As do illness, the economy, flood waters in India, deaths by gunshot, acts of war, and incidents of domestic abuse. Just to name a few. I continue to turn to God in prayer and ask, "Don't you care that we are drowning? That the world is falling apart?" The answer I hear most often is this: "Do you care, Gail, that so many people in the world are drowning and hurting and hungry and lonely and afraid? If you care, what are you gonna do about it?"

October 2006 - She fell off her high horse - and into my heart. My sweet daughter fell off her horse at her horseback riding lesson. Broke my heart. And that minor crisis deepened my preparation for the major fall that she would take two years and one month later.

October 2005 - But will it make a difference? Absolutely. It will and it does. Every hug, every note, every kind word, every home-cooked meal, every moment of full attention given to another person, every shared sorrow, every smile, every tender and loving gesture makes a difference. Always has and always will.

October 2004 - The day it all began - I had no idea this blogging adventure would last this long. I have no idea how much longer it will last, but I will keep on writing and sharing my stories for as long as I am able.

One thing I know for sure is that I am enormously glad that I have kept this online record of my life. I am grateful for the ways in which this blog has caused me to live my life more attentively and intentionally.

I am grateful for the many truly wonderful people I have met through blogging and for the ways in which my rantings and raving here continue to connect me with remarkable men and women. I found out this morning that a woman who googled the name of a deceased mutual friend found my blog, reached out to me, and became a sweet email-virtual-kindred spirit died in February. Even though she and I never met in person, our relationship with our mutual friend bonded us in unexpected ways. I will miss that woman that I never met, and I will be ever grateful that she found me and that we shared a few months of funny, insightful, gossipy reminiscences of our scoundrel of a mutual friend. May God give rest to both of their souls.

I am also grateful that I have kept a journal since 1985 or so. Hundreds of volumes of my life story. Thousands of pages of stories of my foolishness, God's goodness, the love of friends, adventures overseas, road trips, love, loss, death, birth, weddings, funerals, hopes, dreams, sorrow, joy, peace, faith, friends, books I've read, movies I've seen, food I've eaten, mistakes I've made, questions I've asked, advice I given and received, and every other doggone thing that has crossed my mind, shaped my soul, and infiltrated my heart.

I have wept abundantly.
I have laughed abundantly.
I have loved abundantly.
I have lived abundantly.
Here at home. At church.
With friends and family and strangers and The One Who Loves Me Most.
In the hospital. In doctor's offices. In chemo treatment rooms. In "behavioral health" units.
In New York City. San Francisco. Wernersville. Amherst. Atlanta. Greenville.
In Charlotte. Durham. New Canaan. Newtown. Norwalk. Watertown. Stamford.
In Rome. Firenze. Orvieto. Siena. Milan.
In Madrid. Sevilla. San Sebastian. Valladolid. Barcelona.
Is there any appropriate response to all of this other than gratefulness?
I think not.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Why I haven't blogged in a week

I think about blogging every day. Every day. Here's a small taste of what goes through my mind when I'm thinking about blogging - "What should I write? Will I sound crazy? Am I too happy and too thankful? With all the terrible things happening in the world - in Ferguson, MO, in the Middle East, the earthquake in CA, sexual trafficking, abuse, more and more and more people being diagnosed with kanswer - how can I write happy, thankful, simplistic, God-focused pieces on this silly little blog? Who cares? I care. Some people care. There are people who read it. But they must be getting bored with my ramblings..." You know, stupid things.

But then Thursday rolls around and I feel compelled to write what I'm thankful for again. This is the easiest blog for me to write. I spend much of my life with my mouth hanging open - physically and mentally. I am amazed by the wonder and beauty of the world we live in. I am awed by the generosity and kindness of people. I am silenced by trees and dogs and babies and rainclouds. I get goosebumps when I hear people's stories and ponder all the miracles and co-incidents that bring people together at just the right time for a conversation, a hug, a connection, deep laughter, and soul-cleansing tears. Sometimes the miracles of life, the joys of life, the experiences of my life are so moving, so deep, so intense that I have to take a few days, a few weeks to process them before I can write or talk about them in a public setting.

Today's post on thankfulness will consist of a list of things that happened to me, things I saw, and things I felt this past week.

* Today, I had to drive my son to community college because his car was in the repair shop. I sat in the dining area in the building and wrote this blog while listening to and watching the students mill about, hugging one another and eating and surfing the internet and studying. Young women in hijabs. Young men with ear gauges - stretching out their earlobes. Study flashcards. Backpacks. Highlighters. No 2 pencils. Oh, the energy of college campuses. Oh, the power of being educated. Oh, the beauty of young people socializing across racial, gender, and ethnic lines.

Then I dropped him off so he could pick up his car and I headed off to my favorite volunteer activity, giving food away to people who need it - Loaves and Fishes. An elderly gentleman, family of one. Another family of one, but he came with a female companion. A woman who represented a family of six - she chose a lot of cans of veggies, fruit, and a lot of macaroni and cheese. Her sweet baby boy pulled at the hem of my skirt every time I got close enough for him to reach it. A family of five. Yogurt, rice, chicken, turkey, cheese, pork, dry milk, cereal - food to feed the hungry. I want to hug them all. I want to hear their stories. I confess that I often let them take a few more items than they are eligible for - may I be forgiven for my excessive generosity. Once I was done with serving the clients, I spent half an hour breaking down five pound bags of rice into one and two pound bags. Scooping it into small zip loc bags. I smiled often as I thought about the many meals that will be made from those bags of rice. I am grateful to the many supermarkets and businesses that donate food for our friends.

* Yesterday, I went to Wednesday Worship at our church, a noon time service of quiet worship, prayer, singing, and a devotional, given by a new pastor who is becoming a dear friend. After church, I went to lunch with another woman from the church - where we talked about art and Charlotte and where my parents grew up, my interracial mariage, racism and prejudice and why I think white people need to talk to other white people about racism and not ask black people to explain it all to them.

When she returned to work at one of the big banks here in town, I went to the library where I watched a documentary called "Food Matters - You are what you eat," on my ipad and had my mind and heart challenged about the food I eat and the effect it has on my body. I spent much of the afternoon and evening pondering what I learned. Is it possible to eat my way to excellent health? What would I feel like if I ate a diet that was 80% raw, vegan and organic? At 4:30, I returned to the church to discuss an upcoming event with my pastor friend, Erika, and then drove her to get her new car. The salesman who worked with her told us some amazing stories about what he does when he's not selling cars. What a guy. What a story. What a day.

I am grateful to have the free time and the resources to go to church in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, to eat a beautiful salad at an outdoor table in the center of our fair city, to sit for hours at the public library - that amazing place where they give out books and videos and resources FOR FREE, and that I get to be closely involved with both members and pastors of our church. I am grateful for the technology of ipads and WiFi connections and headphones.

* On Tuesday, yet another friend and I drove up to Asheville to see my daughter, to take her a few goodies and also to take her out to lunch. Fortunately, Kristiana is thriving at school and making friends and doing her school work and going on adventurous walks and spending time in tea shops doing observations (two or three hours of people watching while sipping tea sounds like quite the awesome homework assignment) for her sociology classes. After meandering conversations in the car, excellent food at my new favorite restaurant, many hugs and much laughter later, we found our way back to Charlotte where she went to comfort a bereaved friend during which time I bought new undies at Marshalls, and then we reconnected for a delicious dinner at one of her favorite restaurants. I came home from dinner and watched some US Open tennis with my husband and then stumbled upstairs to bed. The last thing I wrote in my journal that night was, "What should I write about, Lord?" See? I'm always thinking about this blog, even when I'm not actually writing anything.

Have you ever seriously pondered the wonder of highway travel? The mountains, hills, and valleys flattened, the trees cut down, the property acquired so that roads can be laid. The ramps and exits and bridges and drainage, the lanes, the lane markings, the shoulders, the guard rails, the reflectors, the overpasses - the thousands of people who create all those things, manufacturing beams and paint and tar and asphalt, those who operate the machinery, and those who inspect it all to make sure it won't collapse unexpectedly. The measuring and remeasuring - because if the beams don't meet properly and the curves are not at the right angles and grades, then disaster is imminent. The upkeep and repairs are endless, it seems. Then there are the cars and trucks, the drivers and GPS systems, the CB radios, the state troopers, the tacit agreement that (for the most part) we will follow some agreed-upon rules of the road in order to not kill ourselves or others. Fortunately we have access to the tow truck drivers, the ambulance drivers and helicopters that are available when traffic rules aren't followed. Who designs and creates and manufactures and purchases and maintains and drives and improves all those rescue vehicles and the tools they employ? Who cleans up the deer and raccoons and squirrels and other critters that are killed on our roads every day? What happens to the people whose homes and property are bought and sold in order for the roads to be made? Who decides what roads need to be created and where they should begin and end? Why have I been so enormously blessed as to never run out of gas or have an accident or a flat tire while on the highway? How can I NOT be grateful for the blessing of safety on all of my journeys?

* On Monday, I made a huge green juice and ate a large salad and cleaned a little and listened to music a little and otherwise enjoyed my final day alone - Steve and Daniel were making their way home from Alabama where Daniel had participated in a tennis tournament. I read and journaled and walked my dog and watched a marathon of silly shows on television. I began this year's "Learn Something New Every Day" class with Shimelle Laine. She is a gifted teacher and guide in the world of journaling and creativity. And she is extremely generous - you sign up once and every year you get to participate in the same class again. I take this September class with her - this is probably the fifth or sixth year I've done it - and I also take her Journal Your Christmas class and have done that one for seven or eight years.

Here are a few quotes/notes I wrote in my journal that day from my current read, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo. (They are not necessarily direct quotes, but they are my response to what I read.)

- The soul's calling helps us discover our life's work. The calling of the soul is a continual call to aliveness.

- The aim of spiritual practice, whatever its form, is to untangle the nets that life snares us in.

- Life is a never-ending weave of becoming tangled and working to get untangled. I must accept the weave of tangle.

- We need to put what we've been through into the small fires between us to keep us warm for yours. (I love this image so much - that what we have endured, what has scarred us and scared us, can serve as kindling for the fires between us and keep us warm and connected and on the road to healing and wholness.)

- When someone we know and love has "fallen through the ice" in their lives and are in the frigid waters of life's challenges, we can listen to them and stay close to them. We can offer ourselves, our presence as blankets to keep them warm. We do not need to offer a rescue but we can stay close until the way out presents itself to them.

- If we want to be held, we have to behold. When present enough to behold the Universe, we will be held by the mystery.

- Direct quote - "I know I'm being held by the nature of things when I feel this ache way inside. After kanswer, I began to realize that this deep ache is the tuning fork of my soul. It is how I know I'm close to what matters. This deep and nameless ache in the presence of beauty and suffering has been a steadfast teacher and friend... The breakings of heart are awe-filled events from which I don't recover but through which I am uncovered. When I am present to the breaking process, I am broken open. When I withhold my presence, I am just broken."

* On Sunday, I went to church for an old-fashioned hymn sing which was followed by the morning service. On the way home, I stopped and wandered through the mall, where I didn't buy anything, but I thoroughly enjoyed my stroll and the people watching. From there, I went to the shop where my favorite brand of clothing is sold... Eileen Fisher. I went straight to the sale rack - and found two pieces that I invited to join the other items in my closet. Both pieces graciously accepted my invitation. The thoughtful woman behind the counter added a $25 online coupon to the 25% discount that was added to the previously marked sale price. They were practically giving those things away - not really, but it's what I told myself in order to justify buying clothes I didn't need but wanted nonetheless. All the more...

* Here's what I tell myself in those moments - "You are 48 years old, Gail. Almost 49. You have always been a bargain shopper. You still buy clothes at Good Will and the Salvation Army store. Heck, you even sew some of your own clothes. You deserve new clothes every now and then, so it is okay to buy new garments that are appropriate for your age and station in life. Go for it." Not bad as far as justification goes, right?

* Last Saturday morning, I got up early to head off to volunteer at the Sandwich Kitchen where I worked with a team of ten or twelve people making hundreds of sandwiches for our homeless neighbors in town. Then I met up with a friend and her daughter - who is planning her wedding. Can somebody say "Cake Tasting"? On display in the shop were novelty cakes in all shapes and sizes, cake pops, and cupcakes of all types and colors. Good thing I've cut back on my sugar intake or I might have taken several of those treats home. Lunch with them overlooking a golf course. Laughter and stories and job descriptions and childhood perceptions. A delightful time was had by all - especially by me.

I came home and sewed an infinity scarf from a rich purple knit fabric. I had cut a skirt from the same fabric on Friday night and with the leftover fabric, I made the scarf. I had an unusually difficult time getting the fabric to lie flat on the cutting board and the results of my imprecision and impatience were evident when I attempted to sew the skirt together. Disastrously uneven edges on the sides and the bottom. I'm hoping I can convert the maxi skirt to a knee-length skirt and salvage the project. Considering the fact that I have made several skirts and scarves and dresses without any similar difficulties, I am not as upset as I could be.

Every time I make a garment while sitting comfortably at my dining/craft table, cooled with air conditioned, satiated with ice water, able to get up and stretch and take breaks and postpone completion for hours or days at a time, I am mindful of the thousands, the millions of people who create clothing in sweatshop conditions. I am mindful of how little they get paid and how much they are taken for granted or not even thought about when we wander through stores and malls and even tag sales. I am grateful for their hard work and sacrifice. I am grateful for the ability to buy clothing and fabric and thread and grateful for electricity and the internet and curiosity and everything else that has made my sewing hobby possible.

* Last Friday morning, I met my mother for breakfast at Panera - her treat, thanks, Mom. We talked and laughed and she flirted with the toddler at the next table. When I left, she was sitting at the table with a fresh cup of coffee creating a grocery list and planning out the rest of her day. I went and meandered around in a Good Will store, where I didn't buy anything but thoroughly enjoyed the few moments I spent there. Of course my mind wandered while I wandered - who brought these things to the store? Why did they let these things go? Are they downsizing and no longer want these items? Did they upsizing and can no longer fit into these items? Who has bought the things I've taken to Good Will? Who thought of this idea - selling used clothes and household goods on such a large scale? Who decided that this business would be focused on providing work for people who sometimes cannot find work in more "traditional" businesses? What am I doing here? I don't need anything - that's when I left. But notice - that line of thinking did not stop me from buying garments at the Eileen Fisher store two days later.

When I got home from that visit to Good Will, I spent an hour or so organizing and decluttering the garage. I filled the back seat of the car with things that we needed to pass along. It feels so good to reduce and recycle those things that are no longer useful to us. May those who find them be as blessed to have them as we were.

And that takes me back to last Thursday, when I wrote the last Thankful Thursday post.

Why didn't I blog all week? I was busy living. I was busy being awed by the gift of life, of friendship, of love. I was reading and journaling and talking on the phone and exercising and laughing and telling stories and scrolling through Pinterest photos and cooking and cleaning and driving and eating and praying and spending time with friends. I was obsessing about my hairline and my waistline and how much money I spend and how much our hardwood floors need to be refinished and our need for new gutters on the house and whether or not I would forget an appointment and hurt a friend's feelings or be charged a no-show fee by some money hungry doctor or dentist. I was texting with my daughter and talking to my son, laughing at my husband's antics and trying to figure out why our dog threw up in three different places in the house on the same day.

I was shaking my head and feeling outrage at the racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and gun violence that are wounding and dividing our country. Does a child really need to learn how to shoot an Uzi? How can we be shocked or surprised that the powerful recoil of such a weapon caused her to lose control of it? What were they all thinking? I pray for that young girl and her family and the family of the man who died - and I pray that they will never, ever, ever feel the need to pick up a gun again. Ever. I was praying for peace, for forgiveness, for provision, for safety for people I knew and for their children who were traveling, for discernment on various decisions I need to make, for those who are sick, for people in search of gainful employment, adding "and please bless all people everywhere" frequently.

I have lived a beauty-filled, wonder-filled, joy-filled, tear-filled week. I am grateful for this Thankful Thursday habit I have created and for the opportunity I give myself each week to look back and recall the many miracles and gifts that come my way.

Thank you for inspiring me to be aware of the majesty, the devastation, the joy, the despair, the need, the bounty, and the pageantry of life and for encouraging me to keep on sharing what I see and feel. Thanks be to God.

FYI - I am not involved in any affiliate programs for any of the courses or books or other items I post on my blog. I connect you to them because they matter to me.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Raising my Ebenezer

This past Sunday, we sang one of my favorite hymns at church, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Here it is being performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace.
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I'm fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love. 

Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God.
He, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood."*

Oh, to grace, how great a debtor, daily I'm constrained to be.
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

In the third verse of this song, I recognize my tendency to wander. My heart has wandered from the God I love every day of my life, wandered from my husband and my children,wandered from my church and friends, and wandered from my own inner wisdom and what I know to be true.
My heart, my mind, my body have all wandered. Often. I desperately need and want my heart to be sealed for and by the God I love, sealed and seared by the love and grace and mercy of God, strengthened and emboldened to love deeply, to laugh loudly, and to live joyfully.

But it is the first line of the second verse that causes me to sob quietly whenever I hear or sing this beautiful song. "Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come." 

What is an Ebenezer? The word comes from an Old Testament story found in the book of 1 Samuel. The people of Israel have been doing their own thing, worshipping other gods and idols, and have lost control of the Ark of the Lord, the place where they carried reminders of God's presence among them. It was captured by their enemies, and they longed for its return. They confess their wrongdoing before God and their leader, Samuel, prayed for deliverance from their enemies. They were delivered. They eventually recovered the Ark. 

1 Samuel 7:12 says this: Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it, Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." 

Ebenezer means "Stone of help." To me, it is a stone of help that causes us to remember the goodness of God. Ebenezer is also the name of the place where the Israelites lost their battle with one of their archenemies, the Philistines, the people from whom the giant, Goliath, emerged. So that name wouldn't have brought up great memories for those who heard it. 

But that's why it is important to me about naming the places and times where and when I have faced the giants in my life. That's why I keep a journal and keep a blog of "My Life's Journey." I need to be reminded of the battle grounds in my life, the dark times, the deepest pits of my life. I need to be reminded of how and when I emerged victorious from each of those difficult times. Sometimes I must recall and name the defeats in order to bask in the subsequent victories. It proves too easy not only to forget the darkness when I find my self in the light, but also to forget the light when my soul is lost in the shadows. That's why I write it all down and then I raise it all up in the form of my own Ebenezers in order to return to a place of gratitude and joy. Sometimes it seems like my dark valleys stretch farther than my bright plateaus and mountain highs. Even then, especially then, I need to take up a stone of remembrance, a stone of help, so that at some future time, I can retell, to myself and others, stories of God's gracious providence and boundless love in the valley of the shadow of death, of fear, of illness, of every sorrow, great and small.

So on this Thankful Thursday, I want to raise a few of my own Ebenezers, my stones of help and remembrance. Some of them represent the worst moments of my life; some of them the best. But I can honestly say that where each of them exists in my memory, it is surrounded by memories of prayer, of love, of laughter, of support, of the gentle, quiet presence of God, and the noisy, physical presence of people I love.

* the implosion of the church of my youth, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Brooklyn, New York. A disagreement between my parents and the senior pastor resulted in us being expelled from the church. I listened to adults yelling at each other, speaking ill of each other, and accusing one another of heresy. All I wanted was for all of them, all of us, to get along, to forgive each other and move on. I burst into one of those meetings, at the tender age of 12 years old, tears cascading down my cheeks, planning to plead for peace and reconciliation. I was so broken-hearted, so choked with grief, that I couldn't utter a single word. I was immediately shushed and ushered into another room. Was that the first time I was silenced by the church? Was that heart-rending church crisis the first step in helping me understand that pastors, adults, and those who claim to love Jesus aren't perfect, not even close?

* the affair I had with a married man when I was in college. That was undeniably one of the worst decisions I have ever made. The miracle that came out of that debacle was that his wife forgave me and considers me a dear friend even now. If she could forgive me for that abysmal, inexcusable breach of trust, who am I to not forgive anyone for anything they could do to me?

* the gift, the wonder of Spain. I arrived in Madrid for the first time twenty-eight years ago this month, in August of 1986. I didn't speak Spanish fluently when I arrived. I didn't speak it fluently when I left. Within days of unpacking my backpack in my home away from home, I knew that I had found the place where my soul was most at peace. I was impressed by the architecture. I was enthralled by the history, bloody and brutal, though it was. I stayed out as late as I could as often as I could. And with each outing, each visit to the Prado Museum, each viewing of my favorite painting of all, to El Corte Ingles, each class and lecture, each field trip, my heart grew more attached to this new place, to this ancient country. I have returned more than twenty times, and I fall deeper in love with Spain - and also with my Spanish friends - each time.

* the death of my father. I stood at his bedside at Brookdale Hospital, holding his hand, looking at his handsome face when he suddenly took in a deep breath, opened his eyes wide, looked out the window, and slipped away. I remember leaving my home in Connecticut for the drive to the hospital in the early morning hours, praying that I would get there before he left us. I also wondered how I would talk my way past the hospital security guard at 2 in the morning. I needn't have worried  - why do I ever worry? When I arrived at the hospital, the security guard at the main entrance was sound asleep. I tip-toed past his slumbering form and ran down the hallway to the elevator. Four hours later, the best man I have ever known passed from this life to the next.

* giving birth to my two children, safely, painfully, with awe and gratitude at being chosen to be the channel by which two people with souls of their own entered the world.

* moving to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2002, finding a home we loved, neighbors who welcomed us warmly, and a church where I met and befriended some of the most beautiful, courageous, funny, warm, generous women I've ever known.

* my first trip to Italy in October 2001. Solo trip. Less than one month after September 11th. Many concerned friends told me that I shouldn't go, that the world was so dangerous, that it was selfish of me to put my life at risk at such a time. My husband and I agreed that I could be killed while walking across a supermarket parking lot by a woman who is distractedly handing a juice box to her kid while driving her Suburban. Off I went. The fact that there was a gaggle of nuns on my flight from New York to Rome did a lot to calm my nerves; I was sure that flight was "prayed up." I don't think I've ever felt the presence of God more acutely on any trip in my life. Churches, Cathedrals. Museums. Galleries. Restaurants. Fortresses. The Vatican. Rome, Siena. Orvieto. Florence. I wept my way through Italy - but then again, it doesn't take much to make me cry.

* going through my kanswer journey - the love and encouragement still flows from family and loved ones. I remain grateful for the doctors, nurses, chiropractor, technicians, receptionists, breast kanswer navigator, family, church members, sisters of my heart and soul who walked with me then and continue to walk with me now on this journey towards wholeness and healing.

* the gift, the stone of remembrance, that is my daily life. There are countless ordinary events of life - doing laundry, putting food in the crockpot, hugging a courageous and terrified thirty year old mother of three young children who is embarking on her own breast kanswer journey, laughing with my husband and son about the college application process, preparing to go on college visits with the aforementioned son of mine, looking down into the eager, sparkly eyes of my teeny tiny doggie, having to deal with ants and spiders in the house, watching a friend grow to be "great with child," talking my daughter through a tough moment in college, failed sewing projects, gathering groceries at the supermarket, falling asleep, drinking a green juice in the morning, forgetting to pay bills, going to Cardio Craze class, babysitting a precious little almost-two-year-old boy - that remind me to be grateful I am still alive. To remember that in the simplest moments I can find hope and joy. In this moment, right here, right now, on a hot August afternoon in Charlotte, I know hope and joy, peace and grace, love and mercy.

"Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I'm come."

It is with help of God, the peace of God, the guidance of the Spirit of God that I have come this far. It is with the help of my husband, my children, my friends, my mother, my brothers, my sisters-in-law, my nieces and nephews, my neighbors, and all my other co-travelers on this life journey that I have come this far. I live surrounded by Ebenezers. I am committed to raising Ebenezers for as long as I live. Further, I want to be an Ebenezer in the lives of those I know and love.

I am perpetually and profoundly thankful. 
Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful
gratefulness - is flowing from my heart.


*Here are two explanations about this second stanza that I found helpful.
This one is from an online discussion.
This one was written by a pastor.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Life is short, so...

Every now and then it hits me: I'm almost 50 years old. If that is true, then I am "on the back nine," as a friend of mine said a few years ago. For those of you who don't play or know much about golf, that phrase refers to being on the second half of the golf course. If you are playing the full eighteen holes, the back nine are holes 10-18. I hope I don't live another 48+ years. Ninety-six years are simply too many to walk this planet. I don't want my children to have to pay my bills or visit me in a nursing home. No, no, no.

I don't "feel 48," whatever that means. Many people have told me that I don't "look 48" - whatever that means. Whether or not I feel or look my age, I am my age. I am less than four months from turning 49 - it's not too early to start birthday shopping for goodies to send my way, my friends. I am less than 16 months from hitting the half century mark. The odds are that the remainder of my life will be shorter than the time I've already spent on this magnificent planet we've been blessed with.

When I was a child, I asked my mother questions about being married and having children. I asked her about growing up and being a grown up. I told her that sometimes it felt like life was moving very slowly (during the school year, for example) and sometimes it felt like life was moving very fast (like during summer vacation). My mother told me that as I got older, the years would seem to go by faster and faster. I didn't want to believe her. I wanted her to be wrong about that. But she was right.

These past twenty-five years of my life are a blur.
I have a 20 year old daughter, soon to be 21.
I have a 17 year old son, soon to be 18.
I have been married for more than 23 years and have been with Steve for more than 27 years - more than half of our lives.
If I didn't have more than 250 journal volumes to refer to, I might be tempted to deny how old I am, how quickly these years have gone, how much I have seen and experienced during these 48 years of mine, and how short life is.

Life is short, folks.
Life is short, so hug your family members, your friends, your neighbors, but not the people you work with. That might get you fired.
Life is short, so make slow, sweet love to the one you adore.
Life is short, so eat dessert - but not everyday.
Life is short, so laugh at yourself, out loud.
Life is short, so read good books and juicy magazines.
Life is short, so offer your gifts and yourself to the world.
Life is short, so smile at the cashier, the parking attendant, and the delivery person.
Life is short, so sing and dance and listen to music you love.
Life is short, so spend as much time as possible with the people who matter to you.
Life is short, so tell your dear ones how you feel about them.
Life is short, so ask for forgiveness when you screw up.
Life is short, so when you receive a compliment, say "thank you," without excuse or explanation.
Life is short, so take photos - then you can be reminded of the beauty you have seen.
Life is short, so keep a journal - then you can read about your short life.

Life is too short to keep postponing our dreams, our hopes, and our love.
Life is too short to hide our true feelings.
Life is too short to downplay or ignore the feelings of others.

Life is too short to postpone telling the truth and asking for the truth to be told.
Life is too short to take it seriously all the time and also too short to take it lightly all the time.
Life is too short to hold back our laughter and choke back our tears.
Life is too short to stay home and stay safe.
Life is too short to drink and drive or text while driving.

Life is too short to judge other people and too short to worry about the judgment of others.
Life is too short to waste our energy and time and money on trying to impress others.
Life is too short to ignore the words of wisdom that have come to us from those who have gone before us.
Life is too short to deny that we too have words of wisdom in us that need to be shared.

Life is too short to eat only junk food and too short to eat only organic quinoa salads.
Life is too short to refuse to floss your teeth and end up with rotten teeth and bad breath.
Life is too short to eat food that gives you heartburn, gas, and acid reflux.
Life is too short to ignore what your body is telling you about what it needs and doesn't need.

Life is too short to obsess about having a museum-clean house.
Life is too short to allow clutter and dust bunnies to keep you from having friends and loved ones over to visit. 
Life is too short to iron your sheets and towels.

Life is too short to care what I think about whether your iron your sheets and towels.

Life is too short to care what I think life is too short to do.

Life is too short to take any of my advice. 

But that won't stop me from giving advice, will it? Absolutely not.

I hope you will get out of your house, out of your shyness, out from behind your limitations and enjoy it fully.
I hope you will find joy even in the difficult times. Especially in the difficult times.
I hope you will know love, deep, passionate, laughing in bed and laughing in the kitchen love.
I hope you will pour out your heart and your hopes in the company of people you trust.
I hope you will experience peace, the kind of peace that surpasses understanding.
I hope you will see beauty all around you and within you as well.
I hope you will travel often and be amazed by the wonder-filled world around you.
I hope you will feel the ocean breeze and the summer's heat.
I hope you will shiver on cold mornings and sip hot tea to warm you up.
I hope you will be blissfully and painfully aware of both the brevity of life and the length of it as well,
the breadth and the depth of it.
I hope you will embrace the light and the darkness that life brings.
I hope you will be able to endure life's inevitable pain and welcome the transformation it brings.
I hope you will use your life to serve others, to love others, and to become the wise, bright. strong, awake, engaged, contented, hopeful, joyful, courageous person you were created and born to be.
I hope you will recognize, accept, and bask in the love of God, the One who Loves you most of all.

Life is short. Life is painful. 
Life is beautiful. Life is good.
Live well, my friends.

You know that I love when I find confirmation and affirmation of my ramblings and rants. I found it on facebook.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thankful, Throwback Thursday

Two years ago this week, I was on my second silent retreat at The Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. Loving the sunshine, the trees, the quietness, and the spirit of that peace-filled place. I pulled out my journal from those gloriously quiet eight days earlier this week and reread it. That retreat happened a mere three and a half months before I was diagnosed with kanswer. In fact, I probably already had tumors developing in my body.

I am thankful that I went on retreat that summer. I am thankful that I read so much and wrote so much and spent so much time outside and prayed so much. I am grateful for the way in which most of what I read, wrote, and thought about that week was preparing me for the journey that was a few months ahead of me even though I didn't realize it at the time.

I am grateful that I had the impulse to ask friends on Facebook to send me prayer requests so that I could lift them up during the silence. At least 15 people sent me requests. I was grateful for their trust in me. When I saw that list again today, I prayed for them all again. I am thankful for the privilege of interceding for those in need.

I spent many hours that week staring at, touching, and paying attention to the trees on the property there. Here's some of what I wrote in my journal about them -

Contemplated the trees.
Bark. Branches. Patches.
Living. Dead.
Thick. Thin.
Each is unique. Its own pattern, size, ecosystem.
Different stages and cycles.
No comparisons, fears, doubts, no plans.
Just be the tree I am.
Receive the sunshine, rain, nutrients that come my way.

My favorite tree is dying. 
Having lived, twisted, grown, stretched and found the sun.
I took photos, touched it. 
Stared, admired its uniqueness.
It probably won't be there next time I come. 

Broken trees, bent trees, leaves, empty,
struck by lightning, peeled, diseased, strong, weak.
Pruned, wild.

Staring at those old trees, I learned so much. I heard many messages.
One tree in particular caught my eye because a large branch had broken away from the trunk but had gotten stuck in the tree. It hadn't made it to the ground yet.
Another tree was dead, no leaves at all. But still it stood strong. Perhaps it wasn't dead... barren, but not deceased.
An enormous willow tree had chairs beneath and inside of its drooping boughs.

Protect the little ones (the seedlings and small trees).
Regardless of outcome, drop the seeds.
Let the broken parts go. They cannot be grafted back on.
Watch the storms. Let them blow in, blow thru and blow by.
Falling leaves? Just wait and see (what happens next).

I saw a tree with chairs underneath. A cave of a tree. Amazing. 
I'd love to go underneath. We shall see how brave I am at some point.
It seemed to beckon me: "Come on in. Come on in."

I found a haven and a hideaway in that tree-cave. It's quiet, lush and beautiful in there.
I took photos. I didn't stay long or sit down, but I did go in. Gorgeous. 
I bet she (the tree) has heard many stories and prayers, hasn't she? So very many.
Again, she spoke to me - "You don't have to be afraid. I won't hurt you. 
You aren't the first one I've sheltered here. You won't be the last. It is safe here.
You are safe here. Be still and know." 

Another tree - What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Look at my holes,
broken palces, branch stumps. Sometimes broken parts get caught as they fall.

Can you see the part that is brown and dead, 
stuck on top of the other branch?

Separate but not fallen yet. Carry them until it is time to release them.

See all my broken and rough edges? See my dry patches? I could tell you stories for hours, years. Trust me; these scars have their own sagas. 

An acorn rolled past my heart, literally touching my shirt. Here's a see, a tree - take it in remembrance of me. It broke open when it hit the ground at my feet. What broken thing am I carrying? When will it be time to lay it, lay him, lay her down? What broken things do I want to keep close by? Reminders? 

There are as many stories as there are trees. Listen for them all. 

When my children were babies, I spoke to them a lot in Spanish. One thing I used to say as I got ready to nurse them was, "Mira lo que te tengo." Look at what I have for you.

When that acorn fell from the tree, rolled down my chest and landed on the ground, that phrase came back to my mind - and I thought about the theme of the retreat, "Praying with Female Images of God," thought about God as my loving mother who was also represented by those strong trees and wrote this:

Momma says: Mira lo que te tengo.
At my breast. near my heart.
Nourishment. rest. peace. comfort. safety. 
In the womb: separate but one.
Nursing: separate but one.
Walking, independent: separate, still one.
Look at all I have for you. All you need.
Sure, go eat other stuff but come back 
and see what I have for you. 

In less than four months from scribbling those metaphors and thoughts in my journal, I was devastated by a dreadful diagnosis. I faced the worst storm of my life - and had to let it blow in, blow through, and then blow out of my life. In less than a year from that week, I lost the breast that acorn rolled down - and the other one as well. I had to let go of a few broken parts of myself. Having released what I needed to let go of, I had to wait and see what would happen next. I had to seize the courage to enter into the darkness, the loneliness, the unknown - and sit there, waiting, crying, afraid, and alone. I have since come to love my scars, to show them to others, and to tell my story freely and frequently.

In that retreat journal, I filled almost two pages in my journal with a list of the ways in which I compared myself to others - it included - my hair, my health, and my body. I have since learned to embrace the uniqueness of my story, of my newly reshaped body, my newly replenished soul, and also to release the urge to constantly compare myself to others.

Throughout the difficult months of kanswer treatment and recovery, I was reminded of the nourishment my body had provided to my children. From the moment of their conception until they were six months old, my children were fully dependent on me and on my body to create and nourish them. I also pondered the fact that, after surgery, my body was no longer able to carry or feed any other babies. Perhaps, I concluded, it was time for me to carry and feed myself. Perhaps it was time for me to carry and feed other people's children. Certainly it was time for me to accept and indulge in all the nourishment, the living water, the bread of life, offered by The One who loves me most.

After I spent some thinking about today's blog post earlier today, I pulled out Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo and stumbled upon this quote. George said, 'When a tree is very young it's covered with limbs, but as it grows older most of its limbs die and break off.' We stopped by a mature oak, and I put my hands on the bark of this very old, straight tree, light flooding its length, and felt the wisdom of its years. It struck me squarely: trees in the forest start out reaching for the light and end up standing in the light. Once standing in the light, there is less need to reach. I feel this happening to me. The ways I've reached into the world are dying and breaking off. I'm losing limbs... After all these years, I'm reaching less and being more.

I too have lost a few branches, but I find that I don't need those old branches anymore. The locs were great while I had them. But I barely remember them now. I love my short hair. I am losing most of my urge to reach out and plead with people for their attention, for the light they used to bring into my life. I am learning to reach less and simply be where I am as I am. I am listening for the lessons in the trees, in the ocean, and in the light. I am thankful for the ways that the creation points to the Creator and causes me to overflow with gratitude and contentment and joy.

Jena Strong wrote an short and powerful post on her blog just a few days before I left for that retreat back in the summer of 2012. It included a portion of a conversation of hers -
"What would you do if you knew you had ten seconds to live?" he asked me.
I teared up, closed my eyes, then opened them again. And without a thought, I said,
"I'd keep my eyes open, and I would pray, and I would say thank you."

Amen, Jena. Thank you for saying it so well.

I hope and pray that, having faced the prospect of a very limited time left to live, I too will keep my eyes open, even though they often brim with tears, that I will keep on praying, and that I will say, "thank you" not only here on Thankful Thursdays, but also every other day of the week. And I also hope that sometime soon, I will be able to return to those sacred acres in Pennsylvania for eight more days of silence.

Thanks be to God.


Friday morning confirmation - While out on my walk this morning, I saw several leaves suspended in midair. The first couple startled me; as I approached them, I wondered what I was seeing and why it was hanging there. By the time I saw the third or fourth one, I had begun to think about the trees from which they had fallen and the means by which they were held between branch and earth. It was an invisible strand, a thread, a bond. I couldn't see it, but the mere presence of the leaf at eye level was proof that something was holding it, sustaining it, keeping it where it needed to be. At that moment. In my line of sight. Why? What was I supposed to see, to learn, to absorb from those leaves?

As I continued my walk, I pondered, thought, wondered, asked - what is holding me? who is sustaining me? what invisible bond is keeping me upright and strong? to what, to whom am I invisbly tethered? at some point, I will fall and my life will end - but in the meantime, will I live fully, moved by the winds of life and held aloft by the Breath of Life? for whom can I be a sign, a symbol of the invisible power of love, of courage, of strength? The trees are still teaching me. I hope I can keep listening and seeing and learning.

Again I say it - thanks be to God.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Do you remember that awesome commercial for "back to school" sales, the one where the father is skipping through the store (was it Staples?) collecting school supplies while his children followed along with long faces? Here it is - in case you don't remember it.

My daughter started her fourth year of college yesterday. We drove her there on Saturday morning, unpacked the car, bought her a few groceries at the local Trader Joe's - and by 1 pm, we were on the road heading home. No tears. No sadness. She was ready to catch up with friends and get her room organized. She was ready for us to leave her to her new life.

Today my son started classes at the nearby community college. Only two classes. Only two days per week. He will take two other classes online. This week, he will drive back and forth to school with me in the car - and on Friday, he will take his driving test. If he passes, when he passes, he will begin to drive himself back and forth to school, without me in the car. He will get up in the morning, get himself ready, and head out into the big bad world all by his lonesome. What a concept!

So it's official - my days as a homeschooling mother are over. No more lesson planning to do. No more class preparation to do. No more tests or quizzes or papers to read and critique and discuss. No more panicky moments wondering what to have them do, have her do, have him do.

I'm sure there will still be panicky moments when I suddenly worry if he's okay, if he has arrived there safely, if the car is running properly, all that stuff. Plus in the wake of all the horrible stuff happening in Missouri these days, I will add to that the fear of my beautiful, biracial son being stopped by fearful people carrying weapons and armed with prejudice. In other words, I will be plunged into all the stuff that other parents of teenage boys have been worrying about for two or three or more years already (he will turn 18 next month) - but stuff that I have been able to postpone because of homeschooling and his lack of interest in getting his driver's license.

Ever since the day I left my job as a Spanish teacher and college counselor in 1993 because I was pregnant with my daughter, I have been and continue to be enormously blessed and profoundly grateful for the freedom to stay at home, to not have to earn money in order to support our family. Throughout my twenty years and ten months of motherhood and seventeen years of homeschooling, I have wondered what it feels like to send the children to school, to actually have a start date for when the children are out of the house for most of the day. I remember when we lived in Norwalk, Connecticut, watching the boy who lived across the street stand at the corner and wait for the school bus, rain or shine, freezing temps or heatwave notwithstanding. We would sometimes take him a cup of hot chocolate to sip on the most frigid mornings. We felt sad for him and all the other kids who had to wake up so early and spend so much time away from their parents and their homes.

I have often been asked what made me decide to homeschool. Simple: I didn't want to give Kristiana up. When she was a baby, I took grad school classes and had to put her into daycare for six weeks two summers in a row near the school I attended. The women who cared for the children there were loving and kind, patient and gentle, and they really seemed to like my baby girl. But I hated being away from her. I hated not knowing what she was doing and how she was doing. The thought of sending her to school for 180 days a year saddened me. Deeply.

At the time, we attended a church where the senior pastor's wife was homeschooling their three sons. I had never even heard of homeschooling before that, so I began to take out stacks of books from the library and read about it. I would read passages to Steve and ask him what he thought of it. He was more excited about it than I was; my husband thinks that kids should be allowed to be kids for as long as possible. His parenting philosophy is this - They will have their whole lives to work hard and pay bills and be serious. They should be allowed to play and sleep and read and watch television and travel and listen to music and enjoy themselves until they head off to college and then out into adult life.

At first, we figured we would keep the kids at home for the early years; I would teach them to read and write, and then we would send them off to school. After a couple of years, we changed our minds. We decided that if they wanted to go to school, we would not prevent them from doing so, but it would be their choice. We wanted them at home. Kristiana never asked to go to school. Daniel asked to attend 6th grade at a local private school. We had one rule - if he went, he had to go for the entire year. He couldn't drop out at Thanksgiving or Christmas. He agreed. By Valentine's Day of that school year, he had to decide if he would return the following year. He chose to come back home and has been homeschooled ever since.

This year, as a senior in high school, he has embarked on a program of transition into college life by taking these community college classes. And I have embarked on a program of transition into school life by watching my son step out from under my teaching and into the next phase of his young adult life.

Now that my children are growing up and out and away, I have begun to ask myself - what's next for me? Whenever I take a break from pondering the answer to that question, someone else asks me. Friends ask me on the phone. Two pastors have asked me - unbeknownst to each other. My children ask me. Neighbors ask me.

Last night, I talked to my husband about this lingering query of mine.
I said, "So here I am - I'm boobless and wombless. And now I don't even have any kids to homeschool. So who am I now? What am I supposed to do now?"
He said, "You've just been whittled down to your essence, to your soul. All that other stuff is a distraction that takes you away from that."
Good answer. But seriously - what do I do now?

I've thought about applying for various jobs - teacher, translator, flight attendant.
I've thought about going back to school - perhaps even to seminary.
I've thought about escaping to Spain for six or nine months to rest and recover from homeschooling.
I've thought about sleeping late for three to six months and reading the dozens of books I have piled around me.
I've thought about writing a book - but whenever I think about that, my creative juices freeze up solid in my veins.
I want to plan a couple of trips - when in doubt, I say, hit the road.
Perhaps a friend or two, or a sister-in-law or two will come visit me.
I've already got several teaching and speaking engagements lined up in the next few months.
So much to think about. So much to pray about. So much to decide.

For now, for this week, I will ride along with my son as he begins his college career.
I will try not to check up on him or his assignments too often - he must write his own story now.
I will try not to check up on my daughter too often either - she must write her own story now.
I will start to declutter and give away textbooks and other school supplies we have accumulated over the years.
I will give my house a more thorough cleaning than it has had in a while.
I will exercise regularly and drink lots of juice and smoothies and perhaps try a few new recipes.
I will sew a few new garments and produce some more homemade skin care products.
I will spend more time thinking about and writing my own story.
And I will also pump up some music, dance, sing, and celebrate because it feels like this is, indeed, the most wonderful time of the year.

All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for divine timing.
For divine coincidences.
For new friends.
For new opportunities to share some of what I am learning on this, my life's journey.

On Monday, I had the privilege of being introduced to a program here in Charlotte, two programs, actually - Women in Transition (WIT) and Families Together (FT), which are located at the YWCA. Both programs have as their goal helping single women and women with children to move from homelessness (or near homelessness) into permanent housing. I visited the Y with two other women from my church and we were taken on a tour by a most enthusiastic and kind Marianne. She introduced us to Kenya and Michelle and Kirsten and Tishauna. All amazing, bright, loving, determined, open-hearted women who work with energy and excitement to assist the women and families in transition to move into the next phase of their lives, literally and figuratively.

I visited with some of the women from WIT back in January on a Monday evening when a group of women from my church went there, took dinner, and spent some time doing crafts with them. I sure had a great time - and I would like to believe that a good time was had by all. At the end of that evening, I asked if it would be possible for me to return to the Y and lead a workshop on journaling. The woman I asked said she thought it was a good idea, but that I would have to call and speak to someone about setting it up. I don't remember who I called, but I never heard anything back.

Fast forward to this past Monday. At the end of visit and tour, the three of us walked out of the building and headed for our cars. Then I stopped and turned back, explaining that I wanted to talk about the journaling workshop again.

I walked into the office of someone who is destined to become a good friend - but I didn't know it at the time. I asked her if I could fill out the volunteer forms right then, so I sat at the edge of her desk and we chatted while I filled in the paperwork. She called the following day and said that she was sure that my time there wasn't only about volunteering, but it was also about meeting a new friend, making a new connection, and becoming more of the women of God we were created to be together. Amen, girl. Amen.

Later on Monday afternoon, I got an email from another woman who works there and she asked me to return so that she could talk to me more specifically about what my workshop would entail. She met me at the front desk of the Y this morning and her first words were about this blog... that she had read some of my rantings and ravings and that she had enjoyed it. Shaking my head. Giving God thanks. You never know how far or how close your words, your story will go.

We sat in her office and talked, laughed, shared stories, and got excited about the possibility of working with these precious women to uncover, discover, and write their stories in ways that are meaningful to them. Plus we want them to have some fun - and perhaps some snacks as well. After all, who can resist cookies and lemonade on a Monday evening???

After our time together, she walked me upstairs where we stopped in at the office of her colleague, the one I had met on Monday. Together, the three of us talked about brokenness, death, suffering, shootings, how difficult it is to raise black children in a country where so many unarmed young black men and young black women are being gunned down for simply being brown-skinned. We spoke of the sorrow of kanswer and homelessness, the challenges of simply being alive and alert and sensitive in a dangerous, fear-driven, moeny hungry world. And of course we talked about why journaling is such a valuable tool to help us deal with our personal sorrows as well as the heaviness we bear when we ponder the suffering in the world.

One of those beautiful, powerful, dynamic women said, "The Bible says, 'If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray... I will heal their land.' So we need to be praying." I echoed her words, nodded my head, and committed myself again to deep and sustained prayer for our world, our nation, our city, that program, my neighborhood, and my family. If there is to be peace, if there is to be hope, if there is to be joy, let it begin with me. Let it begin in my home, in my conversations, in my interactions with people all around me.

Lord, please have mercy on us. Help us to want to have mercy on one another, to not respond to violence with more violence, to not respond to curses with more curses, to not immediately allow fear and anxiety to flood our hearts and minds, but rather to seek peace and pursue it. It will not be easy, I know that. It will come with a cost, I know that. But the price that is being paid in the loss of precious lives through both suicide and homocide, in the loss of dignity, in the loss of tempers and respect for others, in the loss of hope that there can ever be unity, in increased stress, in increased illness, in divorce and neglect and incest and abuse - the cost of mercy-less living is too high.

Lord, please help us to turn away from our sin - from our tendency to think only of ourselves, to think of ourselves as better than others, to do what is most expedient for us even if it hurts others, from our thoughts of unworthiness, and from our belief that we don't need you or that you don't care about us and aren't with us. Help us to turn towards you at all times, not only on our darkest nights and most difficult days, but also when all is well and we are at peace.

Lord, please heal our land. The land that we walk on and have managed to damage so severely through our misuse of the resources this earth provides for us. The land that we claim as our nation, its streets, its cities, its small towns and villages. Please help us heal the landscape within us, the places where we wound each other and ourselves with senseless violence and poorly chosen words. Please send rain to the dry places in California and stop the rain in the places where flooding is happening. Please send rest to over-worked fields and fieldworkers. Please heal our diseases and re-member us. Please heal our land and heal us. That is my prayer. That is my plea.

Lord, please give us the courage to tell our stories, to listen to each other's stories, and to be open to the possibility that you draw us to people and places in your divine timing so that we can see and hear and understand and appreciate all the ways that our stories not only run parallel to one another but also intersect. May we all pay attention to and live fully into the co-incidences like the divine timing that brought me to the Y on that Monday evening in January, then took me back there this past Monday afternoon and again this very morning.

Thank you, Lord, for bringing these women into my life as new friends, as co-workers in the building and sustaining of your kingdom. Thank you for the work they are doing in the lives of the women they work with and work for. Thank you that they opened up to me the way that they did and have welcomed me into their circle of friends and co-travelers on the journey of life.

I walked out of that building this morning with my heart full and at peace. Looking forward to spending more time with my two new buddies. Trying to come up with some clever ideas for a flyer/invitation for the women to come to the workshop. Giving thanks for yet another opportunity to serve and to learn and to teach. A few moments later, I pushed the button to start my ipod and what song was the next one on my playlist? "If My People," sung by the Promise Keeper Singers.

Divine timing strikes again.
Thanks be to God.

(Can't wait to see you again, Nancy and Tish)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

No turning back, no turning back

On Sunday afternoon as I sat on the floor in my bedroom stretching, I pointed the remote at the television and did my usual channel surfing thing. I found "Super Soul Sunday" on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). I know, I know - she puts herself on the cover of every month of her magazine. She named a television channel after herself. It's all about her. Still, I adore her for her boldness, for how she has laid hold to her own life, her beliefs, her power and used it to change the lives of millions of people around the world. If I had the money and power and influence she has, I hope I would use it to touch others and not just serve myself.

Anyway - the episode I landed on involved Mark Nepo and Kris Carr. They are both powerful, courageous, articulate, encouraging examples of people who have faced the horror of kanswer and emerged from it transformed. I grabbed my journal and began to take notes on what they said. (I confess up front that my notes are not word-for-word what they said but they are what I heard and took away from their accounts. If you click on the Super Soul Sunday link above, you can find Mark and Kris' segments.)

I had only read of Mark Nepo in emails I received from Kris Carr in which she talked about appearing on the OWN show. I didn't know anything about his kanswer journeys, his two bouts with that dreaded life changer. Unexpectedly, in the hour I watched him on Sunday, Mark helped me to alter my opinion on the "dreaded" part of kanswer and invited me to see it as the door-opening, life-opening experience that it was and that it remains for him, for Kris Carr, for me and for countless others - if we let it.

He said that once that door is opened, that kanswer door, there is no going back to the life we lived before. Once we hear that word, receive that diagnosis, everything changes forever. He said that kanswer isn't the only door that opens us to the life we must live, but it is a big one. Death. Other illnesses. Betrayal. Natural disasters. Divorce. Loss is another life-opening door. Oprah said, accurately, that "kanswer is a great loss - the loss of the life you thought you would live."

We cannot and we should not minimize the challenges that these losses, these diagnoses, these terrible moments are for ourselves or others. I do not know the horror of losing a child or the sorrow of divorce or the shock of losing my home to a fire or earthquake or the indiscrimate bombing of my hometown. But I believe, I hope, I pray that it is possible to experience those life-shattering moments, feel the sorrow of them, the loss of them, the pain of them - and then be open to the lessons each one was sent to teach us. Whenever and however they arrive.

I discovered Kris Carr soon after my own diagnosis through the book and documentary called, Crazy Sexy Kanswer (she spells that last word with a "c," but I continue to refuse to spell it that way.) She lives with stage 4 incurable kanswer in several organs in her body. During Sunday's show, at the end of nearly every segment of the interview between Mark and Oprah, Kris Carr would share some of the wisdom she gleaned from her ongoing journey with kanswer. One of the things she said that I wrote in my journal was this: "I was asleep before kanswer shook me awake."

Kanswer sure woke me up. Woke me up to pain, to fear, to shock, to sadness, to baldness, to the very real possibility of my own death, but also to love, to goodness, to kindness, to courage, to hope, to determination, to strength, and to the presence of friends and Spirit. Kanswer woke me up to the need to cherish the flavor and aroma of every meal, to rejoice after every night through which I can sleep deeply, and to appreciate the extraordinary, simple beauty and miracle of being able to do the laundry, wash dishes, go to the supermarket and take showers.

Mark Nepo said that in our darkest hours, we must find a way to embrace hope. Kris Carr said that joy is not something we should look for in the future. We shouldn't wait to embrace hope or live a joyful life. We can and ought to live in hope and joy right now.

I remember sitting in that chemo treatment room with the tube attached to my port pumping poison into my body. I remember that during each of those six sessions, I sat with a friend who had driven a minimum of forty-five minutes to be with me. One had driven three hours. Another had flown down here from Connecticut. Plus all those weeks between chemo treatments, when I underwent herceptin treatments, friends either drove or flew here for nearly all of those fifteen sessions as well. The person in my life who MOST hates to fly flew down here on the day before my surgery and spent four days with me. Then she flew back home - in an airplane - words cannot adequately describe how much she hates to fly. Through those amazing women, with those amazing women, bathed in the prayers and the love of those who couldn't be with me, I was able to embrace hope and laugh and experience joy. Even in those dark days, those tasteless days, those days of numbness in my fingers and toes, I tasted the richness and felt the tenderness of unspeakable joy and inexplicable hope.

As I submitted to kanswer treatment, I had no idea what the future would hold for me. I still don't. But I knew then and I still know that this moment, this ordinary, extraordinary, perfect, dreadful, painful, sad, present moment is the only one I have. This is the day, this is the hour, this is the moment, that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. I remember weeping and thinking and praying and crying out to God and begging my husband to promise me that all would be well - and filling my journal with statements like these - "Kanswer sucks. Chemo sucks. Pain sucks. But I am alive. I am fighting. I am still here. I will yet praise God. I will still rejoice." It felt crazy to write those words down and to speak them between tears, but it is what I felt. It is what I knew to be true and right and the way of my life journey.

Kris Carr, who recently changed the name of her website to Home of the Crazy, Sexy Wellness Revolution, said that she has come to embrace and accept "this beautiful body of mine." She said she has released the need for remission. She has chosen instead to give her body space to heal and grow and be what it needs to be. After all, "Would you yell at a tree because its leaves were turning red? Would you yell at the grass for turning yellow and not being a perfect lawn?" So why should she yell at or be angry at her body? She added, "I'm not broken. I am perfect as I am. I may never be healthy on paper, but I am well." Also this, "Life is a terminal condition. We're all gonna die. How will we live? That is the question."

How beautiful and powerful is that?!?

Not long ago, Kristiana asked me if I ever miss my breasts. Great question. I thought about it for a moment or two and then told her that I don't miss them. I don't miss my locs either. What I miss is the carefree, kanswer-free life I lived back then. I miss not worrying about every sip and every morsel I put into my mouth. I miss not having to wonder if a pain in my back in a recurrence in the form of bone kanswer. I miss not having to wonder if kanswer cells are lurking in hidden places. I miss not having to explain that remission is not a word that applies to the kind of kanswer I had - besides there is no way to know for sure that there is no kanswer anywhere in my body. I miss not going to the doctor every new months and hoping he doesn't find something. I miss the kanswer-free innocence of the first 45 years of my life. But there is no going back to that life.

In its place, I have a new life. A more powerful life. A more grateful life.
A more alert life. A more compassionate life. A more urgent life. A more honest life.
A less competitive life. A less critical life. I less perfection-seeking life.

I have a bra-free life. I have a mammogram-free life.
I have a life in which I will never get my period again.
I have a life in which I will never have to deal with the heaviness or the heat of long hair again.
I have a life in which every meal and every drink matter.
I have a life in which every long walk, every yoga session, every weight lifted makes me thank my body for its faithfulness and strength.
I have a life in which I can laugh and cry with other people dealing with kanswer.
I have a life in which I am willing to tell my story more openly and shamelessly.
I have a life in which I am far less afraid to try new things, to be creative, to ask for what I need and what I want, and to refuse to do the things I neither want nor need to do.
I have a life for which I am grateful for every single moment, even the dark and scary ones.
I have a life during which I will never again be able to check "No" on forms that ask if I've ever had kanswer or if I'm taking any medication.
However, I now have a life during which I will always choose to say, "I am well."
No turning back. No turning back.