Monday, February 23, 2015

Operating Instructions

In 1993, Anne Lamott published the journal of her first year of motherhood and called it, Operating Instructions: A Journal of my Son's First Year. In her barbed, humorous, heart-moving, impassioned way, Anne describes her journey into single motherhood. Overwhelming motherhood. Desperate motherhood. More than ten years ago, I devoured the book, laughing and groaning and nodding my head in agreement with so much of what she expressed.

I pulled it off the shelf again tonight and flipped through it, hoping that I somehow missed the section about parenting those "little ones" when they are driving, when they are away in college, when they are adults, and when they are struggling.

I hoped that there was an appendix related to dealing with children who want to be treated like adults, except when it comes to money and emotions and academics and athletics and friendships and love and faith and family and food and the future and the past and the present. Other than that - they've got it covered.

Today I had lunch with a new friend, an instant sister-friend. Sensing her spirit of deep discernment, I asked her a couple of questions about parenting, and then basked in her words of wisdom. Although her children are younger than mine, her soul is much wiser and stronger and more experienced.

She taught me about how to listen when they are speaking, how to ask them questions, and how to answer theirs. She taught me about how to pray more effectively for our children, about stepping out of the way and letting God work in and through their lives, even when it looks like they are going through a tough time. (Your will be done, Lord. Yours alone.)

She reminded me that the struggles we face, whether they are related to parenting or work, faith or fidelity, whether they are our struggles or our children's struggles, these difficult moments don't last forever. A wise uncle of mine turned a familiar phrase upside down during my daughter's illness back in 2008. He said, "This trial has not come to stay. It has come to pass." My daughter's trial did pass. It felt like it would never end, but it did.

Paul said it well at the end of 2 Corinthians chapter 4 - Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

When we are in the midst of them, our troubles do not feel light or momentary. On the contrary, they feel - they are - weighty and burdensome. I am grateful that I haven't lost heart, that I haven't given up. And that is my prayer for my children - to never give up, to never lose heart. I pray that they will know that this too, whatever this is, will pass.

My friend challenged me to ask God questions when I am facing challenges and when my children are facing theirs - "What are you saying to me in this, Lord? What am I supposed to learn through this?" On my kanswer journey, I returned to that query many, many, many times - "What am I meant to learn from this, God?"

I remember pleading with God to take the kanswer away, to keep me from having to go through the chemo and surgery - that whatever I needed to learn, I was willing to learn another way, any other way. Couldn't there be another way to learn about faith and strength and courage and pain and suffering and illness and healing and love and friendship? Eventually, I laid down my resistance and my armor and most of my anger, and I acknowledged that there was no way out but through. Whatever I needed to learn, I wanted to learn it well so that I won't have to take the course ever again. Ever.

Similarly, I have to lay down my anger and my resistance and my armor and allow my children to fight their own battles, to pray their own prayers, and to figure out what they need to learn from the deep waters they are currently treading.
I have to allow them to find their way through the dark valleys and the deep shadows.
The times of fear and loneliness, of doubt and despair, of difficulties and disappointments.
My children are wise and foolish, thoughtful and impulsive, contented and complaint-ridden. Aren't we all?
My children are determined and hesitant, strong and weak, faith-filled and doubtful. Aren't we all?
My children can and will find their way into the light, into the joy, into the strength that are theirs to receive and to claim. On their own terms. In their own time. According to the will and plan of the God who loves them most of all.

As much as I would like to keep them from suffering,
as much as I want to do their laundry and clean their rooms,
as much as I long to have them back at the homeschooling table under my watchful gaze,
as much as I would like to write their papers for them,
take their Spanish tests,
answer all the questions on every test,
intercede with their professors and coaches,
I cannot. I will not.

My friend said, "You cannot cheat a person out of their life experience."
Ouch. I cannot and I will not cheat my children out of the challenges and demands of college.
They spent most of their lives here at home with me.
They never had to deal with bullies in the classroom or on the playground.
They never had excessive amounts of homework or twenty-page papers to write or entire novels to read overnight.
There were never science fair projects that we had to do for them.
Some would argue, some have argued that we cheated them out of important school-related experiences.
If those people are correct, then it's time for that cheating to stop - my babies are no longer babies. They are grown people making their way into and through their own lives.
I will never abandon them. I will always love them and listen to them and laugh with them and cry with them. But I do need to release them into the care of keeping of the God who lent them to me for these past few years.

My friend said, "Our life experiences are what God uses" to make us who we are.
Do I wish I didn't have to go through kanswer? Absolutely.
Do I wish my daughter had never gotten sick? Absolutely.
Do I wish my father hadn't died of kanswer back in 2001? Absolutely.
Do I wish my childhood church hadn't split open back when I was 12 years old? Absolutely.
But if those things hadn't happened, I would not be the woman, the mother, the wife, the teacher, the writer, the person I am today. Absolutely.

If I hadn't gone through kanswer, there are people I would never have met, people I wouldn't be able to encourage and walk with right now.
If my daughter hadn't gotten sick, there are a lot of lives that we wouldn't have been able to touch, a lot of friends we wouldn't have made, and a faith community we would never have discovered.
If my father hadn't died, I wouldn't be able to sympathize with those who have lost dear ones.
If my childhood church hadn't imploded, I wouldn't appreciate the amazing group of people I get to worship with these days, nor would I understand the importance of healthy conflict resolution.

I wish there were operating instructions - not only for the first year of life, not only for raising teenagers, but for every stage of life. I am grateful for the strong, wise, transparent, loving, patient, hilarious, prayerful women (and men) that I have been blessed to know, that have spoken into my life, and have provided some operating instructions all their own to guide me on this, my life's journey.

Today I am especially grateful to and for you, Tish.
Girl, you rocked my world today.
All the way to the core of who I am.
I thank God for you.


PS. My children are both dealing with the usual social, academic, athletic, and emotional challenges of being college students. I am at home spending too much time thinking about them, worrying about them - and today my friend, my wise, caring, prophetic friend steered me back towards a posture and position of faith and trust that I had lost sight of.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thankful Thursday

Several years ago, when my children were still quite young, I was droning on and on about some topic that they weren't interested in, but that didn't stop me from pontificating mindlessly and endlessly. At one point, I said, "I know I sound like a broken record, but..." and I continued with my rant.

In unintended unison, they asked, "What's a record?"
Thus ended my lecture.
Well, probably not, but it did silence me for a few seconds.


I know I sound like a broken record, but it's Thankful Thursday.
I know I sound like a purebred optimist, but it's Thankful Thursday,
the day to share some of what I'm grateful for.
As far as gratitude goes, I hope to sound like a record stuck in the same groove
every Thursday - and all the other days of the week as well.

Today, I am thankful
* for a warm and sturdy house during these days of record-shattering cold temperatures
* that we didn't lose power due to freezing rain and ice

* for a challenging Ash Wednesday service - the challenge being to hold fast to these days, to God's dream of justice for all, to hold fast for peace and prayer, and forgiveness
* for Erika's explanation that in the past, the meaning of "fast" was more about "fasting for" something than "fasting from" something
* for these days of Lent, these days to ponder and read and write and pray in preparation for Easter
* for the many books, podcasts, devotionals, blogs, and gatherings that provide encouragement, support, resources, and insights about Lent and faith and what it means to follow Christ to the cross, to the tomb, and out the other side to a transformed, recreated, renewed life
* that at the end of these days, we will celebrate the wonder and power of the resurrection, of new life, of hope, of joy unspeakable
* for the community of people all around the world that is observing this holy season
* for the millions of prayers that are being raised every day - for peace, for forgiveness, for wholeness, for healing, for reconciliation, for restoration, for a halt to wars and violence of every kind

I am thankful for a stove, a crockpot, a kettle, a juicer, a blender and a toaster
* for a pantry, for a refrigerator, for a freezer, and for a microwave oven
* for a washing machine, a dryer, an iron, and a vacuum cleaner
* for air conditioning, heat, and ceiling fans
* for closets and dressers and shelves and the abundance of food and clothing and books and cosmetics that fill them

I am thankful for yoga
I am thankful for yoga videos from the library
I am also thankful for the freedom to compose my own yoga practice
I am thankful for health and strength and the ability to exercise

I am thankful for friends who call me on my crap, who hold me accountable when necessary
* for those who answer my questions with wise words
* for the ones who answer my questions with more questions
* for those who encourage me to keep asking questions for and of myself
* for their reminders that I don't need permission or approval from anyone to be the woman I was created to be
* for Jen Lemen - whose answer to my question about why I'm having such a hard time with my writing lately, included these words: "Go take a bath. Clean. You are forbidden to write until you stop lying to yourself and are back in your body, doing simple tasks with rhythm and joy."
* for the brief break I took from writing and used it for thinking and praying and watching Super Soul Sunday episodes that I had recorded
* for the clearheadedness, the advice, the patience my friends have with and for me

I am grateful for the many opportunities I have to tell stories of my faith walk at church, here at home, on the phone, in emails, in texts, and in person
I am grateful for how the stories of the Bible are coming alive for me in new ways lately
I am thankful for that burning bush and the curiosity that drew Moses towards it
(Makes me wonder what unusual sights in my life are meant to draw me towards God)
I am thankful for Isaiah, for his prophetic boldness
(Makes me wonder what prophetic words I am called to speak and write)
I am thankful for Jonah's honesty: "God, that's why I didn't want to tell those bad people about you. I knew that if they asked for forgiveness, you would forgive them, and I wanted them to be destroyed."
(Makes me wonder who I don't want to forgive, whose demise I secretly long for)
I am thankful for David, for his love for Jonathan, for his lust for Bathsheba, for his resignation in the face of the tragic consequences of his selfishness, and for his understanding of God's grace and mercy after he messed things up so badly
(Makes me have to face my own love, lust, resignation, and the consequences of when I mess things up)
I am grateful that the Psalms include angry rants, pleas for revenge, and confession of wrongdoing
(Makes me want to write my own rants, pleas, and confessions in my journal far more honestly)
I am thankful for Mother Mary's trust, courage and willingness to invest her life and her future in the crazy story of an impossible pregnancy made possible
(Makes me wonder how many crazy stories I have dismissed - and how many miracles I've missed out because of my skepticism)
I am thankful for Mary Magdalene and her friends and their love for Jesus
(Makes me want to spend more time with my sister-friends and talk about the ones we love most of all)
I am thankful for the way that the woman at the well asked Jesus tough questions and answered his  
(Makes me wonder what I would ask and what I would say if I could spend some time alone with Jesus, literally sit with Jesus to talk. Makes me wonder if I would be smart enough to shut my mouth and just let him talk or if I would fill the air with my words and wondering)
I am thankful for the questions Jesus asked: Do you want to be well? What do you want me to do for you? What are you talking about as you walk along the way? How much bread do you have?
(Makes me wonder how I would answer those questions - what do I want Jesus to do for me? do I want to be well, to be better, to be whole or am I too comfortable with and in my illnesses? What am I talking about and thinking about and mulling over with my friends? How much do I have and how much of it am I willing to share with others?)
I am thankful that I can read the Bible with my whole heart, soul, and mind
I am grateful for a faith community that welcomes questions, that encourages questions, and that doesn't seek to answer every question
I am glad to be living into the answers and also into deeper questions

I am grateful for the gifts of life, of love, of laughter
Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lord, please forgive us

Shootings. Murder. Executions.
Kidnapping. Rape. Sexual slavery.
Genocide. Human trafficking.
National and international unrest. Civil war.
Infringement over borders.
Religious hatred and intolerance.
Racial injustice. Prejudice. Fear. Mistrust.
Immigration issues. Deportation. Extortion.
The list of horrors, the list of sorrows, the list of needs is long.
And getting longer.

In response, some advocate for more guns.
Repay violence with violence.
Hatred with more hatred.
Fear with more fear.
Higher walls. Thicker walls. More walls.
Do it to them before they do it to us.
Defend yourself. Defend your property. Defend your borders.
Stand your ground.

I go on Facebook and blogs and media sites and read people's angry and shrill responses to what is happening in our city, in our nation, and in our world.
I read diatribes against our President and politicians of all persuasions.
I read accusations about civic and community leaders, about pastors and teachers.
I read the same names over and over - followed by their ruthless and remorseless verbal attacks on "friends" that are trying to figure out what is wrong with our country and our world.
I read taunts and insults, slurs and innuendos.

I read people's desperate questions.
I read people's hopes and dreams of peace and justice.
I read about an army of love, taking back the night in their cities and towns.
I read about random acts of kindness and love.
I read about generosity and community, about dreams realized, wishes granted, and victories won.
I read challenges to stop engaging in meaningless online exchanges and get out into the community, into the world engaging with hurting people.
I read accounts of sworn enemies sitting together at the table of peace and conversation.
I read news of lives saved, families reconciled, and hope restored.
I read prayers of gratitude.

Then I get on my knees.
I speak up - as in, up towards heaven.
Then I get up.
I stand up - as in, stand in front of people and plead for peace and love and mercy to be extended to those we see and ought to love. To the "least of these" - whoever and wherever they may be. Wherever we may be.
I turn up - as in, turn up the volume on kindness and grace and attempts at understanding.
I turn down - as in, turn down the volume of my voice and the vehemence of my opinions.
After all, as sincerely as I believe what I believe, I may be sincerely wrong.

I may be wrong about not repaying evil with more evil.
I may be wrong about not caring where people are from, but instead focusing on where they are right now.
I may be wrong about praying for all people everywhere to know peace and safety and have enough to eat and access to medical care and an education.
I may be wrong to dream of living in a nation in which paying our teachers, our nurses, our nurses' assistants, our community leaders, our librarians, our preschool childcare workers, and our social workers a generous wage to promote health, peace, understanding, reading, writing, listening, creativity, and education, was a higher priority than paying our professional athletes and actors millions of dollars to play games, to pretend, and also to promote soda, fast food, diet trends, alcohol, and overpriced shoes.
I may be wrong to want to acknowledge how little I know and how wrong I'm sure I am about so many things I think and believe.
I may be wrong to pray, on behalf of myself, my family, my city, my nation, and my world, but nothing will stop me from doing so.


Lord, please forgive us.
Forgive us our fear and the many ways that fear motivates our lives and our choices.
Forgive us for turning to violence as an imperfect and ineffective response to our fear.
Forgive us for how often we accuse others of and judging others for doing the same things we do.

Forgive us our tendency to pull the trigger first and ask questions later.
Forgive us for creating the triggers in the first place.
Forgive us for relying on the triggers we have created.
The trigger of prejudice.
The trigger of defensiveness.
The trigger of violence.
The trigger of addictive behavior.
The triggers of anger, of rage, of volcanic outbursts.
The trigger of competitiveness.
The trigger of jealousy.
The trigger of comparison.
The triggers of superiority and inferiority.
The trigger of isolation.
The trigger of abandonment of others.
The trigger of abandonment of ourselves.
The trigger of sarcasm.
The trigger of ridicule.
The trigger of gossip.
The trigger of excuse-making.
The trigger of manipulation of others.
The trigger of ill-conceived humor.
The trigger of lying.
The trigger of abuse.
The trigger of retaliation.
When in doubt, when afraid, when threatened, pull the trigger. Any trigger.
React first. Process later.
Lord, please forgive us, I pray.


Lord, please forgive us because most of the time, we don't have any idea what we're doing.
Lord, please forgive us because some of the time we do know what we're doing.
We know that what we're doing will hurt others and hurt ourselves.
Please forgive us because, even knowing that, we do it anyway.

Lord, please forgive me, I pray, because I am often more interested in being safe and staying safe than in helping others, reaching out to others, acting with and for others, and speaking up for others.
Forgive me, I plead, for all the times that I too have pulled the trigger and later had to hope and pray that my words, my actions, my greed, and my self-righteousness have not caused irreparable damage.
Lord, please forgive me because I often know that I am about to hurt someone,
but I do it, I say it, I write it anyway. Whatever "it" is.

And Lord, please help us to forgive one another.
Help us to walk slowly and patiently with one another through the minefield of life.
Help us to listen closely enough to hear the terrified pounding of each other's heartbeats.
Help us to recognize that we do, in fact, all bleed and ache and shake and wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, wondering if we are going to be okay. If our children are going to be okay. If this planet is going to survive our abuse of it.
Help us to look past our clean and well-manicured facades, to look beyond the outward appearance of things and people and situations and see each other's true selves, hear each other's true stories, and bear each other's true burdens.
Help us to love one another.
Help us to love you.
Lord, please help us, forgive us, transform us, and make us new.
Otherwise, the long list of horrors, sorrows, violence, executions, shootings, attacks, kidnappings, fear, and everything else that is plaguing and killing us will only get longer.

Lord, please forgive us.
Lord, please have mercy on us.
Lord, please give us the courage, the strength, and the fortitude to have mercy on each other.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Since last I was here...

It has been a busy eight days since my last post. (If you are uncomfortable with stories related to female anatomy, then you should probably skip this post. I'm warning you now.)

Last weekend, I attending the most lavish, beautiful, fun, well-planned, no-detail-left-unattended-to wedding I've ever had the pleasure of being invited to. The daughter of a dear friend was wedded to the love of her life in the presence of dear friends and family. My husband and I were honored to be included in the festivities. We attended the rehearsal party on Friday night. And on Saturday, we stayed until the last dance of the reception, hugged and applauded the bride and groom, and then I hobbled back to the car in my high heeled shoes purchased especially for the nuptials. How do women wear such shoes every day? I'm so glad there was never a dress code for homeschooling that included such instruments of torture. But it was worth the pain. As someone said to me nearly twenty years ago, "Sometimes you have to suffer for sexy." I suffered last weekend with high heeled boots on Friday and then towering toe-crushing shoes on Saturday.

On Sunday, I attended a Sunday school class at church and listened to the principal of a local K-8 grade school talk about the challenges and the rewards of working at a school where more than 75% of the students come from economically disadvantaged families. Keeping teachers motivated, involving parents who don't have a high school diploma themselves, working in a community where churches are closing down and unable to assist - she has her hands and her heart full. But she spoke with joy and excitement and gratitude for all that is happening there. She spoke with candor about the need for more volunteers and more time with students and more money to keep the whole thing up and running. She has a tough job - and also a huge, generous spirit.

On Tuesday, I attended a writing class with my favorite writing teacher. Writing prompts. Reading aloud. Discussion. Laughter. Tears. Eleven or twelve women with writing projects under construction gather to share our stories and our work. We sit together as a group for an hour, and then we break into small groups to share pieces we have honed and receive support and suggestions from each other. My group is the best - of course! We laugh and groan and ask questions and share insights and encourage each other so seamlessly. I hope the three of us remain friends beyond the timeframe of this class.

On Wednesday at Wednesday Worship, Erika preached a great sermon about peace in life and in death and included stories about Oscar Romero, the priest who was assassinated at the altar while serving communion at a church in El Salvador. The Scripture passage for the day was the story of Jesus showing up among the disciples after the Resurrection and showing his wounds to Thomas. Even though his terrified followers were behind locked doors hiding, Jesus appears and offers them peace. Then he offers his wounds as proof of his death and of his resurrection. Rather than heaping condemnation or shame on Thomas, Jesus offers his comforting, peace-giving presence.

In her prayer after the sermon, Erika said, "Into the locked rooms of our lives, Christ comes." That statement has stuck with me ever since. How many locked rooms and secret places do I think I can hide in? Why wouldn't I want Christ there with me? Why wouldn't I want to be reminded that death has been swallowed up in victory? Don't those wounds remind me of that victory? Don't my wounds remind me of the many trials and difficulties I have overcome? I hope and pray that I will never try to lock Christ out of any dark or shadowy or dusty or dank or messy areas of my life.

On Wednesday evening, I taught a class on journaling as a spiritual practice at church. The folks in the class were great - participating, asking questions, sharing their journaling experiences, fully engaged. I hope they all come back next week and bring friends. I love to journal. I love to teach. Combining the two? Priceless!

On Thursday morning, I got up extra early and drove half an hour to babysit for two precious little people while their 30-year-old mother underwent chemotherapy. (Have I mentioned lately that KANSWER SUCKS???!!!) The three year old boy and two year old girl had me singing and jumping and dancing and reading and laughing. I fed them and changed diapers and filled cups with milk and water and cooked ravioli and baked cookies and followed them up and down the stairs to their bedrooms several times. I loved every minute of it. They were so polite - saying thank you for everything I gave them and did for them. I cuddled with the little lady in her bedroom before putting her down for her nap: she nodded slowly and sweetly when I asked her if she was ready to be in her crib. I didn't hear a peep out of her for the next three hours. I hate that their mother has kanswer, but I am glad to know them and be able to support them and encourage them through this dreadful battle.

Late that same afternoon I tutored a young man in Spanish. Such a sweet kid. Such a tough road he has had to travel to get to Spanish 3 as a junior in high school. I tutored him on Monday as well. I am glad to be able to help him gain some level of proficiency and enjoyment of the language I love so much.

This morning, I met with a new ObGyn for an annual exam. It's a strange thing to have an appointment with a gynecologist being that I don't have many "female parts" left to be examined. I had to do an online health assessment earlier in the week and the program practically screamed at me because I haven't had a mammogram in more than two years. Um - I don't have anything to be mammogrammed, people! Nothing else to press in your torturous device. Thanks be to God!

It is a strange and a wondrous thing to be able to give thanks that I no longer have breasts. There's a great tee shirt I've seen online about that very thing. It says, "Yes, they are fake, but the real ones tried to killed me." There ought to be one that says something like, "Yes, I'm completely flat chested. But I got rid of them because they tried to kill me."

Anyway, great doctor. Patient. Funny. Kind. Gentle. Exactly what you need when you lay back with your feet in stirrups.

Which reminds me of a story I heard more than twenty years ago. A woman I worked with at the time had bright red hair. I think she was the reason that I am so drawn to "gingers" nowadays. I loved her and I loved her hair. She was beautiful and funny and generous and thoughtful and, for some crazy reason, she appeared to like me as much as I like her. We talked about food and exercise a lot. At the time, I was a member of a gym but hated going. It felt like a waste of time to get ready to go to the gym, drive there, work out, drive home, shower and get on with my evening. I wished there was a way to get a good workout at home. She introduced me to workout videos - which I have been pretty much addicted to ever since. How did I not know about workout videos???

Anyway, she told me about going to the ObGyn one time. Her doctor was a man. When she laid back on the table and looked up at the ceiling, she was shocked to discover that there was a picture of George Clooney on the ceiling. What on earth would make that doctor think that a woman would want to see that handsome face staring down at her at that precise moment in her day? And then the doctor, trying to make small talk at one of life's most awkward moments, asked her, "Is your hair naturally that color?" Her answer was: "Well, doc, you should be able to tell." How funny is that???

Okay, back to my day... After the doctor's appointment, I went to the supermarket and loaded up on salad fixings, ingredients for green juices, some fruit, and kombucha. It's gonna be a healthy eating weekend for me. I sometimes miss my bags of red australian licorice washed down with cherry coke, followed by sour cream and onion potato chips, but I feel so much better now that I eat better. I am always a little shocked when people tell me they don't like salad or fruit. Then I remember that when I was pregnant with Kristiana, I used to eat a big spinach salad nearly every day to provide dark greens and healthy protein to my growing baby - and I would hold my nose while I ate. I hated salad that much back them. I've come a long way from there. Thanks be to God.

This afternoon, I had to go exchange to shirts I bought for Steve for Christmas. They were too big for him. The saleswoman who helped me find them in a smaller size informed me that the price had fallen since the holiday. So I ended up returning two shirts and leaving with four shirts - and the price difference I had to pay was less than $8. After that, I spent almost two hours with a friend whose daughter is getting married this June. Wedding preparations. Job searches. Stories. Laughter. And more to pray for. Life is full. So very full.

While I ate dinner tonight, I talked on the phone with the guy who was my boyfriend on my first trip to Spain. We've known each other since the fall of 1986. The last two times I have gone to Spain, he and his wife and daughter have taken me out to dinner. What a beautiful family. What great memories and stories we share. I am enormously grateful that we are still such good friends.

After saying "adios" to Jorge, I finished my preparation for teaching Sunday school this Sunday. And then I began preparation for teaching next Sunday. Yes, it's true - two Sunday school classes and two Wednesday night classes within two weeks. There is precious little that I like doing better than studying, planning, preparing, and then teaching from the Word of God to the people of God in the church of God.

Tomorrow morning, I head off to a day-long retreat with the elders and deacons from church, to plan and dream and think and pray about the direction we will go as a church in 2015 and beyond. Lots to ponder. Lots to discuss. Most important of all, lots to pray about. May God lead us, guide us, direct us, and woo us into the kingdom building work that is ours to accomplish in the coming months and years. And may we have fun together as well.

So, there you have it. My week in a nutshell.
My life these days as an empty nester is busier than ever.
I am grateful, so very grateful for the freedom and for the limitations.
For the free time and for the ways in which my calendar is filling up.
I am grateful that my relationship with my children is still strong - even though they have both flown the coop and are making their way in the world of university study.
I am grateful for the deep conversations and deep laughter I have shared with my husband now that we are alone together again.

Since last I was here, I have seen joy and pain, sorrow and celebration, peace and suffering.
Since last I was here, I have written and read and prayed and laughed a lot.
Since last I was here, life has been so good.
I am enormously grateful.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thankful Thursday

My alarm sounded at 3:50 this morning. I kissed my husband's forehead and climbed out of bed.
Feet into slippers. Arms into robe. Body into bathroom.
I dressed quickly, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and shuffled downstairs to the kitchen.
Turned up the heat, turned on the kettle, and reached for my Sevilla mug and matcha green tea powder and coconut milk. I poured the steaming elixir into my travel mug.

I backed out of my garage at 4:16 am. A few minutes into my trek, I was forced to make a u-turn and head back towards home, but not because I had forgotten something or changed my mind about my destination. Police cars and fire trucks blocked Providence Road, so I had to turn around and find another way to church. But not before I breathed several prayers on behalf of those that were being aided by those men and women trained to respond to what had to be a crisis situation.

Back on the right path, I pondered where I was going and why. I was on my way to church. I needed to be there before 5 am to work as the church's host to nearly 100 volunteers who were mustering in our fellowship hall before the "Point in Time Count."

Cities all over the country are charged with counting the number of their citizens who are living with homelessness - to choose a "point in time" and do the count. An organization called Housing First has laid claim to the hope and expectation that they will be able to end chronic homelessness in our fair city by the end of 2016. But in order to meet the needs of our most vulnerable neighbors, we need to know who they are and where they are.

This morning, tomorrow morning, Friday, January 30, and Saturday, January 31st, groups of volunteers will meet at the church and then fan out all over the city and county to look for, greet, and talk to those who are currently sleeping outside - in camps, in their cars, under overpasses, on benches, wherever they may be.

My job was simple - be there, be a welcoming representative of the church I love, the people I love, and the God I love. I admit to being a wimp when it comes to cold weather and having to be outside in it. I admit to being a wimp when it comes to talking to people who live outside. But I also admit to enjoying the opportunity to talk to, encourage, and serve those who aren't as wimpy as I am.

Those brave survey takers arrived in boots and hats and coats and scarves, and left with hygiene packs and towels and blankets and plates of muffins for those who might want or need them. Those brave men and women walked around the center of our city and drove to the edges of our city. They introduced themselves to those they encountered and offered services as well as the tangible goods they carried.

When they returned an hour or two later, they were chilled to the bone, but glad to have been out there on the search. I offered them hot coffee and fresh muffins. I listened to them talk about the folks they met, calling them by name as though they were friends. As it turns out, some of the volunteers have had previous conversations with those they interviewed this morning at various locations that serve and support those who are without housing.

I spoke to one volunteer whose wife died a few years ago of a chronic lung disease. When he saw me writing in my journal - cuz I write in my journal everywhere all the time, even at 5:20 in the morning in my church's fellowship hall - he told me about the journal his wife kept when she was sick. She wrote lovingly about his tender care for her during her illness, driving her to work, walking with her, loving her through her decline. As he shared that with me, his emotions flowed down his cheeks with his tears. He encouraged me to love my husband and children, to spend time with them, and to write about them in my journal. He reminded me of something kanswer taught me: life is short, so live and love well.

I spoke to a woman who attends our church regularly but isn't sure she wants to join. She's never been a member of any church and doesn't know why membership matters. We talked about homeschooling. We talked about stomach bugs. We talked about parenting. We talked about the woman who had coordinated Charlotte's Point in Time count. I listened. She listened. I talked. She talked. I hope we see each other again.

I talked to three of the men who work at the church in security and as custodians. We talked about the cold weather and football and food and the work they do at the church and the people they work with and teenagers who think they know more than their parents and people they know who have lost their homes. We talked and laughed and made predictions about the Super Bowl.

As the sun rose and those great-hearted men and women exited the church to return to their regularly scheduled Thursday morning programming, I thanked them for their work and wished them well. Most of them responded, "Thank you for being here. See you tomorrow."

What? You're gonna get up at 3:45 tomorrow morning as well? And Saturday too?

I assumed there would be a fresh batch of volunteers each morning, and there probably will be some newbies on hand. But apparently, there will be many returnees. I will not be among them.

Tonight as I fall asleep and tomorrow as I wake up, I will pray for them and for their safety in their work. I will pray that many more volunteers sign up next year. I will pray that word of this project will reach the hearts and minds and wallets of those with the means to help end homelessness all over this country - and beyond.

More than that, though, I will pray for those who did not wake up this morning in warm pajamas in a warm bed. I will pray for those sleeping at the top of concrete embankments inches below highway traffic because that narrow sliver of concrete is the only place where they are not directly in the wind. I will pray for those living in invisible tent cities in the woods and on the fringes of this city and all cities. I will pray for those who have lost hope that they will ever have a steady job and a home that is their own. And I will pray for reminders to pray for them daily.

I am thankful that Erika sent out an email asking for someone to host this morning.
I am thankful that I said "yes."
I am thankful for the men and women I met today.
I am thankful for their willingness to talk to me and share their stories.
I am thankful for the chance to serve and support those who serve and support others.
I am thankful for the men and women who made the coffee and baked the muffins and breads.
I am grateful for a church that opens its doors, not only to volunteers on these three cold Charlotte mornings, but also two nights each week to those who would otherwise have to sleep outside.
I am thankful for The National Alliance to End Homelessness and The Urban Ministry Center and the work they do.
I am thankful that I am finally acknowledging and confessing my fears about interacting with those living with homelessness.
I am thankful for the call to move through and beyond temporary discomfort for the sake of love, peace, and justice.
I am thankful for the conversation on race that I listened to last night and all that I learned from those amazing activists at TransFORM Network. (One of their mottos is "Love God. Love your neighbor. Take collective action." They talked about race. They talked about homelessness - and the ways in which we can strip the dignity of people when we do "the sandwich toss" or stand behind counters and serve food from our place of abundance into "their" empty bowls. They talked about how not only black lives matter, but also women's lives matter and gay lives matter and homeless lives matter as well. My mind was blown. My heart was expanded. My toes were trampled. Ouch. But it was a good and necessary pain.)
I am thankful for the many ways in which God is tearing back the veil over my eyes and showing me the pain and suffering of others in ways that are moving me to do something and not just pray - not that prayer doesn't matter. But prayer alone doesn't feed the hungry or provide housing for the unhoused.
I am thankful that in a couple of hours I will climb back into my warm bed in my warm pajamas and snuggle up next to my warm husband.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, January 26, 2015

I love women.

There, I said it. It's true. I love women.

I love women who laugh and women who cry.
I love women who call me on the phone and pour out their hearts, their triumphs, their sorrows, and their tears.
I love women who are willing to do that in person.
I love women who welcome my phone calls, my complaints, and my boasting.
I love women who send me notes and cards and bookmarks via snail mail.
I love women who bake me cookies and make me granola and treat me to lunch.
I love women who allow me to back them cookies and invite them out for coffee and dinner and lunch and breakfast too.
I love women who wear white socks while sitting out on their front porches.
I love women who reach out to my children and pray for them.
I love women who are trying to raise their black sons to be strong and confident men in a country that greets them with fear and disrespect.
I love women who are raising strong daughters in a world that tries desperately to deprive them of their voices, their strength and their dignity.
I love women who are preachers and teachers and leaders in their communities.
I love women who face, fight, and overcome kanswer, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and arthritis.
I love women who don't have children and don't want children.
I love women who refuse to fit in, to conform, to be predictable.
I love women who speak the truth, even when it scares themselves and others.
I love women who are applying to grad school, to seminary, to college, to new jobs.
I love women who homeschool and women who have stopped homeschooling.
I love women who run, walk, swim, do yoga, and bike.
I love women who refuse to exercise at all.
I love women who live in houses, in apartments, in cities, and in small towns.
I love women who are transitioning from homelessness to homes of their own
I love women who decided that enough was enough and they said, "no more."
I love women who decided that enough was enough and they said, "yes."
I love women who love men.
I love women who love women.
Most of the women I love love both men and women - and I love that.
I love women in Spain, in India, in England, in Nicaragua, in Haiti, in Ecuador, in Australia, in South Africa, and all over these United States.
I love women.

Women are amazing, beautiful, strong, determined, creative, generous, loving, wise, resilient, long-suffering, kind, gracious, forgiving - except when we're not...


One of the women I have loved for a very long time died last Friday morning.
She had overcome kanswer. She had overcome pneumonia. She had overcome widowhood.
She was truly an overcomer.
But now she is gone from our sight, gone from our arms, gone on ahead to check out our next stop on the journey.
Until I see her and can love her in person again, I will love her daughter.
Te echaré mucho de menos, Marta.
Gracias por ser una mujer de mucho amor, de mucho gozo, y de mucha fé.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

We Will Be Landing Shortly #SpeakeasyBookReview

This is what Mike Hamel chose to put on the back cover of his book entitled, We Will Be Landing Shortly. The quote is superimposed over the photograph of an airplane window.

I've tried to learn from life events beyond my control, including cancer (his spelling, not mine) and the death of a spouse. I've thought deeply and written candidly about their physical, emotional and spiritual impact. While I'm unique, I'm not special. Our experiences may be different but we're on the same flight from the past to the future and we can encourage one another on the way. 

This book caught my eye in a Speakeasy email back in November or October because of his reference to his wife's death to kanswer. Kanswer sucks. When it claims a life, when it deprives a family of someone beloved, one of the ways in which that person can be honored is through the telling of her or his story. I thought the entire book would be the telling of her story, but I was mistaken in that assumption. I'm enormously grateful that this book is more than the story of her illness and her death.

This book is Mike Hamel's story - and not only the story of losing his wife, but also the story of finding himself adrift in a sea of questions and emotions, of doubts and ambiguities, and how he is making his way along the journey. Some people write reflective books like this with the tantalizing promise of explaining how they found their way back home to a strong and unshakeable faith. Some write about the Bible verses that inspired them along the way and the sermons that answered their questions. Some write only about the joy of the Lord being their strength, refusing to be truthful about their anger.

Mercifully, this book is not like that. This book speaks of the ravages of time on the body and the ravages of false assurances of easy answers on the mind and spirit. This book challenges the believer and the doubter. This book unearths gems like these -

Early in the book, Mike explains that he made the decision to no longer be a teaching pastor in a church and dedicated his life and time to writing. Once I no longer felt responsible for leading others, I delved more deeply into what I thought I knew about God. When I started pulling on some loose threads, parts of my theology began to unravel. Through the holes I saw some troubling discrepancies between the goodness of God and a suffering world. I prayed for help but the heavens went silent. My spiritual life cooled. My relationships with God and his people changed. (p. 6)

I believe theology reveals more about its authors than its subject. I believe asking questions is not a sin, even if we sometimes come up with the wrong answers. (p.18)

Just as there's something in us that recoils from suffering, there's also something that resonates with pleasure. I don't mean the excesses of hedonism, but the small sips of life's ambrosia: a child's laugh, beautiful music, the touch of warm skin, variegated sunsets, a good night's sleep, ocean waves, fresh fruits and the ten thousand taste buds to enjoy them. (p.36)

As my faith has wavered under close scrutiny I've come to lean more heavily on hope to keep doubt from debilitating me completely. I'm not alone in this regard. Many have questioned or abandoned the faith of their youth but are reluctant to lose hope. Faith is the light and hope is the heat in a relationship with God. I see the two intermingled as in a flame. Flames cast shadows, an apt metaphor for doubt. Not everyone is troubled by the shadows, but I am. (p. 179)

Rare is the pastor, rare is the follower of Christ willing to admit to a cooled spiritual life and changed relationships with God and God's people because of the silence of heaven. Rare is the book that lays out such confessions, questions, pondering, and wondering and leaves so many of them unresolved. Rare is the author who speaks angrily of death and dying and then tenderly about fresh fruit and life's pleasures. Rare are the books that speak so candidly about doubt, loss, death, fear, atheists, agnostics, evangelicals, Catholics, widows, pastors, heaven, hell, the Bible, prayer, homeopathy, and the placebo effect - and manage to hang together coherently. This book is rare and precious for all those reasons.

Warning: do not read this book if you want easy answers to your big questions about suffering and God and evil and kanswer. Do not read this book if you want to be told what to think and believe. Do not read this book if you are safe and comfortable and have no questions or doubts about what, why or in whom you believe.

Then again, you should read this book even if you want easy answers, want to be told what to think, and are completely secure and satisfied with your faith journey. This book will raise some questions that are worthy of consideration and will prompt you to think and rethink, consider and reconsider your positions and stances. You should read this book if you have lost a loved one to kanswer and think you would find solace in reading someone else's experience of that same painful outcome. Read this book if you find yourself wondering about the practice of parsing Scripture to suit our own needs and agendas, a practice we tend to criticize in others but defend in ourselves. He calls it "weighing Scripture" - and he dedicated a chapter of that same name to this prickly topic. Read this book if ambivalence and ambiguity about the things of God have found their way into your deepest and darkest moments.

I certainly don't agree with everything he says in this book. For example, he shares the story of obtaining medical insurance even after being diagnosed with kanswer. (Yes, he has had kanswer as well - more than once.) He wonders if being able to get insurance was a miracle or merely the result of having a fortuitous connection with someone who walked him through the application process. At the end of that chapter, the author writes this: "Daily miracles" is, after all, a contradiction in terms. Well, anybody who reads this blog or knows me personally knows that I completely disagree with that statement.

He also wrote: We have vast networks of highly specialized pain cells but no nerve cells dedicated to pleasure, which appears to be a product of neurochemical processes alone. (p. 36) What about the nerve cells of a woman's clitoris? Perhaps I misunderstood him here. Perhaps I don't know enough about neurochemical processes - but I questioned and commented on that statement in the margin of that page.

There are a few other places in the book where I underlined passages or drew boxes around them and wrote, "No!" "I disagree." "Not true." Even then, I was deeply and attentively engaged with the writing. This book encouraged me to stay strong and maintain hope on my faith journey. It offered me reasons to be more grateful in and for my life. It increased my desire to write more candidly about my own uncertainties and my yearnings, my pain and my losses. I highly recommend this book.

Indeed, we will be landing shortly - landing on the other end of the journey we call life. I thoroughly enjoyed the questions and challenges, the insights and exploration this book provided regarding the remainder of the flight. Traveling mercies to Mike Hamel and to all of us.

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

Monday, January 19, 2015

On this day...

My husband and I went to see the movie Selma today. We sat in a crowded theater surrounded by white people and black people and Indian people watching that movie about voting rights and freedom and racism and anger and fear and courage and justice and determination. When we left the theater we both used the restrooms then walked across the plaza to a pizza restaurant where we ate and drank and talked about the film we had just seen.

Together.
In a movie theater.
In a restaurant.
In Charlotte, North Carolina.
Fifty years after those brave people put their lives on the line that separated black people from white, angry people from peaceful people,
fearful people from other fearful people - because they all had to have been terrified.
But there they were.
And now here we are.

They were granted the right to sit anywhere they wanted on buses and trains.
They were granted the right to eat at public lunch counters and other eateries.
They were granted the right to stay in hotels and motels along our nation's roads.
They were granted the right to attend desegregated public schools.
They were granted the right to vote.

Sadly, the right to vote, the right to easy access to voting is being overturned in many southern states. Schools are increasingly separate and unequal yet again.
Our prisons are populated disproportionately by men and women of color even when their crimes are the same as their white counterparts.

Violence trumps peace on nearly every side.
Greed trumps generosity.
Fear trumps trust and courage.
Apathy trumps involvement.

And today I ask myself: what am I going to do?
What am I willing to do? To not do?
What am I wiling to say? To not say?
For whom will I speak? To whom?
What price am I willing to pay for my own freedom and for the freedom of others?

Today we saw a movie that I think everyone should see. Everyone. North and South, East and West.
Today we were reminded of why the third Monday in January is a national holiday.
We were reminded of why Dr King earned the Nobel Peace Prize and also the ear of so many people; some loved him and others loathed him, but they all heard him.
Today I was challenged to continue that march, because of Dr King's own words, written in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama: "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Thank you, Dr King. Thank you, Coretta King.
Thank you to all the marchers and supporters and volunteers and prophets.
Thank you to the ministers, priests, nuns, rabbis, mothers, fathers, children who stood and fell, who lived and died for the sake of righteousness, justice, and peace.
Thank you to the brave women and men who continue to fight that good fight,
to speak for the oppressed, suppressed, depressed, and dispossessed.
Thank you to my parents for surviving the brutality so present in North Carolina and South Carolina where you grew up so that you could meet each other in Brooklyn, New York, get married and give me and my three brothers an easier life than the one you endured.
Thank you to The Lovings whose love for one another forced the Supreme Court to strike down the laws that prevented interracial marriage so that my husband and I could go to the movies today.
Together.
In Charlotte, North Carolina.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Daily Bread

I woke up this morning with an odd image on my mind; I assume it came to me in one of my dreams. It is the face of a child, a boy, holding and staring at a large lollipop. He is clearly pleased with his possession, but there is something else happening as well. His gaze is both on the lollipop and beyond it. He is deciding whether to eat the sweet treat now or save it for some other time. If he eats it now, then the next few minutes will be the happiest and sweetest of the day. If he saves it for later, then he will have something to look forward to. If he eats it now, then what will he eat later? If he saves it for later, then what will he eat now?

I think it odd that the face in my dream is that of a little boy because I often struggle with that lollipop dilemma. I will buy a dark chocolate bar with almonds (one of my favorite sweet treats) and save it for weeks before beginning to eat it, small square by small square. I will buy a box of mints at the cash register at Trader Joe's and not eat it for months. I will buy clothing and not wear it for unreasonably long stretches of time. Pens and journals are safely held in my study closet stash far too long.

If I eat it now, if I use it now, if I enjoy it now,
then will there be enough later?

For a brief stretch of time a few years ago, I read about and began to plan a way to purchase and store enough food in my house to last us a year - just in case we lost our income or there was a shortage of food or an earthquake or ... Kind of like a doomsday prepper, but without the guns, ammunition, gas masks, and bomb shelter. I looked at websites and scrolled through impossibly long lists of how much and how many of each item we would need. I looked around my house for places to store the items. I tried to decide which kinds of grains and beans and condiments and hygiene products could last a year. I even thought about starting a vegetable garden in our backyard.  Yes, me - the chick who would rather be in a doctor's office drinking a radioactive drink awaiting a bone scan than digging in the dirt where I might touch a WORM or encounter a SNAKE!!!

Then I remembered: Give us this day our daily bread.
Then I remembered: Do not worry about tomorrow, what you will eat or drink or what you will wear.
Then I remembered: I could never keep a year's worth of food in my house, providing only for my family, if my neighbors were hungry, if my friends were hungry.

We started eating through the stash of canned beans and bags of rice and boxes of Quaker Oatmeal Squares that no one in my family knew I was creating. I brought some of my hidden chocolate bars into the kitchen so that my family could enjoy my hidden treasures - some of them, not all of them. I tore the tags off the unworn clothing and started wearing it - joyfully and gratefully.

But more than that, I laid my fearful heart open in my journal and in prayer. I asked for the courage to enjoy this life in this moment and not worry about the future. I have always been provided for. I asked for the willingness to share with others from the abundance that we have received. Others have shared so much with me. And even more have far deeper and more chronic needs than I have ever experienced. I asked for the ability to recognize when the inclination towards saving and planning leans over into hoarding and worrying. I asked to be able to give more away as my worry increased. I asked to regularly be reminded that --> All has always been well. All is well. All shall be well.

There may yet come a time when our cupboards are bare, our refrigerator is empty, and perhaps even our electricity is off. God knows and I know that billions of people on our planet live on far too little far too long. That may be in our future as well.

But on this cool Sunday morning, in this house, on this quiet street, I have been provided with my daily bread - and my daily tea, my daily green juice, my daily eggs, my daily cereal, my daily salad, and my daily clementines. My cup and my cupboard and my closest and my chocolate stash runneth over.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Mad Ones

Jack Kerouac wrote:

The only people for me are the mad ones,
the ones who are mad to live,
mad to talk,
mad to be saved,
desirous of everything at the same time,
the ones who never yawn or say a commonplae thing,
but burn, burn, burn,
like fabulous yellow roman candles
exploding like spiders across the stars.

********************************************************

I want to add to that list of the mad ones:

the ones who are mad to seek the truth
mad to speak the truth
mad to hear the truth

mad to tell their stories
mad to listen to the others' stories
mad to write their stories
mad to read their stories out loud

mad to ask questions
mad to live into the answers
mad to keep learning
mad to share wisdom

mad to see, notice, list and marvel at the ordinary
mad to see, notice, acknowledge and name the miraculous
mad enough to give thanks for both

mad to serve others
mad to pursue justice
mad to feed the hungry
mad to sit with the lonely
mad to weep with the sorrowful
mad to laugh with the joyful

mad to admit faults and failures
mad to not hide wounds and scars
mad to ask for help when help is needed

mad to stand up for those who have fallen
mad to help the fallen back to our feet
mad to offer help when help is requested

mad to seek deeper meaning in their lives
mad to journey with other seekers and pilgrims
mad enough to keep walking the path even when the destination is unknown

mad to share the road with others
mad to share the lessons learned along the way

mad to spend time with others
mad to enjoy separation and solitude


mad to wonder
mad to wander
mad to walk the camino, the journey with eyes, mind, and heart wide open
mad enough to believe that we will all find our way home


mad to sit for hours over coffee and talk
mad to nurse a mug of tea and talk on the telephone if face-to-face meetings aren't possible
mad to nurse themselves and others back to health and strength

mad to hope
mad to dream
mad to hope in, dream about, believe, and do what others think is impossible

mad to remember the past and all the dreams that have come true
mad to live in the present moment while nursing dreams for the future
mad enough to believe that all shall be well, present tragedies and sorrows notwithstanding

mad to move
mad to be moved
mad to rest
mad to be still

mad to pray
mad to meditate
mad to talk about, talk to, listen for, and live for God
mad to listen to, live alongside and love those who don't believe in God
mad enough to believe that Love will win in and over every heart

mad for peace
mad for joy
mad for contentment
mad for fullness of joy
mad for fullness of life
mad enough to live fully to the very last moment of the last day

Friday, January 09, 2015

Untitled

Why do we do this over and over?

Insult one another.
Belittle one another.
Humiliate one another.
Taunt one another.

Incite fear and loathing.
Incite anger.
Incite attacks.

Arm ourselves.
Justify ourselves.
Excuse ourselves.

Threaten one another.
Goad one another.
Torture one another.

Bomb one another's places of worship.
Shoot one another without provocation.
Blame one another for our own terrible and tragic choices.

Kill one another.
Kill one another's children.


Call me simple-hearted and heavy-hearted -
but these days of tragedy, of horror, of brutality still shock me.

I don't believe that violence ends violence.
I don't believe that guns make us safer.
I don't believe that anybody should insult anyone else's religion -
not even in the name of journalism or satire or sarcasm.
I don't believe that "freedom of speech" justifies racist or sexist or homophobic or any other kind of fear-inducing, hate-mongering speech.

I do believe in the power of Love to heal and restore brokenness.
I believe that listening to each other's stories and fears and hopes can also bring about healing.
I believe that walking alongside one another on our life journeys, talking, sharing, asking questions summons the Prince of Peace to walk with us and open our eyes and hearts to the message of Love that has been the common thread being woven through all of time.

I believe that saying, "All these things are signs that we are in the last days," is an excuse for not being angry and not doing something, anything, to foster peace and wholeness and healing and the building of the peaceable, beautiful community Jesus came to earth to establish.

I believe that all things will be made new as God promised in the Bible.
I believe that Aslan is on the move. In us and through us.
I believe that, in spite of all that is being blasted on the news today, change is coming.
Revolution, a revolution of love and hope, is already underway.
Perhaps in small ways, in tiny increments, behind closed doors.
I believe that there is much to be done, much that I can do to help bring about that newness God promised.
I believe and I will keep on believing.

What choice do I have?

***********

Lord, I am part of the tension and injustice in the world.
     Forgive our human selfishness, to which I contribute;
     heal the resentment between people, of which I am a part;
     and come into the world's conflicts, in which I share by being human.
Take my unworthiness and sorrow,
and use them in your great work
of healing and redeeming humanity.
(The Book of a Thousand Prayers, compiled by Angela Ashwin, page 199.)

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
(And may we learn to have mercy on one another.)

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Especially Thankful Thursday

I am thankful every Thursday whether or not I write a post here. In fact, I am thankful every day. I am thankful for every day, every hour, every moment that I am alive and active in the world.
But I am especially thankful on Thursdays.

I am thankful for the rising of the sun.
I am thankful for sunsets.
I am thankful for the beauty that begins and ends each day
- even when sunrise and sunset are hidden behind clouds and buildings.
I am thankful for every new day, for the mercies and compasion that accompany each one.
I am thankful for the ways in which days flow into weeks, then into months, and then years.
I am thankful for the decades that my life has included.
Today I am especially thankful for the gift of the days, weeks, and months that will comprise this new year - 2015.

I am thankful for the countless miracles and blessings that I experience every day.
I am thankful for a warm house, robes, and slippers on this frigid day.
I am thankful for food and water, for electricity and natural gas.
I am thankful for the safety and protection of my family.
I am thankful not only for our good health, but also for access to excellent medical care when we need it.
I am especially thankful for our warm house on this frigid day.

I am thankful for the gift of good friends.
I am thankful for their invitations to coffee, conversation, movies, and meals.
I am thankful for their emails, cards, texts, and gifts.
I am thankful for their challenges, wisdom, advice, and guidance.
I am especially thankful for how well they love me and support me even when I am not as attentive to them as they are to me.

I am thankful for the library. 
I am thankful for books and magazines and blogs. 
I am thankful for the ways in which men and women far wiser and more eloquent than I find ways to combine the 26 letters of the English language into words, phrases, poems, articles, and volumes that inspire, challenge, and entertain me. 
I am especially thankful today for Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore

I am thankful for humor and laughter.
I am thankful for curiosity and questions.
I am thankful for anger and cuss words.
I am thankful for forgiveness and grace.
I am thankful for sadness and sorrow and tears.
I am especially thankful for the ways in which my tears have sculpted and shaped me just as steady and slow-moving waters sculpt and shape caverns below the earth's surface and mountains above it.
(Speaking of humor, if you have two minutes to spare, click on this link and enjoy a good laugh. Make sure you watch all the way to the end.)

I am thankful for the body of Christ, broken for us more than 2,000 years ago.
I am thankful for the body of Christ, broken on a daily basis in churches and homes and other places on a daily basis.
I am thankful for the body of Christ, people who welcome other broken people into community.
I am thankful for the way that this thoughtful, prayerful woman describes her ordination and installation into a leadership role in her church.
I am especially thankful for the body of believers in and followers of Christ into which I have been invited to serve the body of Christ as an elder, the role into which I will be ordained this weekend, broken, wounded, scarred, afraid, awake, alert, hopefull, joyfull, and tearfull though I most certainly am.

Thankful, thankful, thankful, thankful.
Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

What are you especally thankful for today?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Twelve Grapes

There is a tradition in Spain on New Year's Eve that involves twelve grapes. At the stroke of midnight on one of their televised end of year celebration shows, there is a clock that strikes twelve times. When the chimes begin, the viewers begin to eat twelve grapes, one at a time. If you can eat all twelve grapes before the end of the 12 chimes, then you will have a great new year. Or good luck. Or something along those lines. All over Spain today, people are setting up little bowls with twelve grapes in each one, hoping to be able to eat the grapes and not choke on them. To eat the grapes and usher in a blessed new year. Or perhaps just to eat and enjoy the grapes while making plans for a fantastic new year.

For me tonight, the twelve grapes will represent twelve blessings from this year.
Twelve gifts that 2014 brought to me.
Twelve reasons to be grateful - one from each month.


January. We started the year with two big family changes. Kristiana went off to sleep away college up in the mountains of North Carolina. And we joined our church. Kristiana said that when she was away at college, she wanted to have a church home to come back to, a place where she knew she belonged and was welcome whenever she returned. There are many other reasons why we joined our church, but that was a huge one.

February. A month of adjustment to having one child at home. A month of getting together with strong women friends to talk and laugh and cry and tell stories. A month when I sat under the teaching of Roberta Bondi. A month of questions and answers and more questions. A month of growth and strength and health and peace.

March. As I looked back over my calendar for the month of March, I saw many medical appointments - the eye doctor with Kristiana, my chiropractor, an MRI for my son's wrist, a sports medicine specialist, a follow up with my oncologist, and the dentist. We are enormously blessed to have excellent medical insurance and coverage. We are blessed to have access to excellent doctors and nurses and various kinds of therapists. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to not have insurance or to not have adequate insurance. Every time I hand my medical card to someone, every time I am able to leave an appointment without a prescription or a date for a follow up appointment, every time my children receive excellent medical care and support, I am grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

April. The month of Easter. Blooming evidence of new life emerging from the soil and the trees and the bushes. Death and new life. Barrenness and fertility. Loneliness and fear. Darkness and tenebrae. Silence and sadness. Then resurrection. The most important day and moment in my faith, in the faith of millions, billions of people.

May. Kristiana came home from college for the summer. I felt like I started a new semester of schooling in how to love and honor people. In a powerful and challenging Sunday school class, we talked about dignity, grace, hospitality and our homeless neighbors in Charlotte. Our church collaborated with a predominantly African-American Presbyterian Church for a series of classes, meals, and conversations on community and power sharing and love in the family of faith and beyond. I hope we are able to deepen and continue those conversations between churches and between people. I am grateful to have begun a friendship with one of the women I met there. None of our conversations or beliefs or creeds matter if we don't engage in relationship, in transformative, honest, tear-soaked relationships.

June. Kristiana and I hit the road in June - for Massachusetts, where we met Jena and Mani. To Connecticut, where we reconnected with friends we have known for fifteen to twenty years. To New York, where we attended the wedding of one of my nieces. To New Jersey, where we spent the night with my sister-in-soul, a woman who used to be married to one of my brothers. And I still feel guilty for not going to see a friend I had arranged to visit. When I think of how she must have prepared to welcome us, to feed us, and for us to spend the night at her home, I shudder to think of my rudeness and thoughtlessness in not going and not calling. I can't even explain what happened, what I was thinking or not thinking at the time - I'm so sorry, Kathleen. More than you can possibly imagine.

July. The heat of July. A week on the beach. A visit to a museum where a photograph etched itself onto my brain and into my psyche. It was the photo of two reindeer skulls, discovered by a reindeer farmer up somewhere in the north tundra lands. The horns of these two female reindeer became entangled during a fierce battle. The reindeer died as a result of not being able to disengage. If they had offspring, those baby reindeer probably died as well for lack of milk. I have thought a lot about those reindeer and talked about them as well. What battles entangle me? What rights or territory or opinions or stances am I willing to die for? Which battles will I no longer enter because, in fact, they are not worth dying for?

August. This was the month that we began our final year of homeschooling. I'm not exactly sure how to measure the time we've been a homeschooling family. Does it count from the day Kristiana was born or the day we started "doing school" - if that's what you call our easy, simple, not-terribly-organized way of reading and writing and doing math and going to the zoo and counting that as science and going to Spain and counting that as geography and language and social studies? I have been homeschooling either twenty-one years and two months (the length of Kristiana's life) or eighteen years and four months (the length of time since I started trying to teach her to read). Either way, it's been a long, long, long time.

Anyway, this September was the start of our final year as The Silvermine Academy: Student to teacher ratio: 1:1. Enrollment: 1. As it turns out, it was the start of our final semester - my son is going to begin college in less than one week. He signed a letter of commitment to play tennis at Presbyterian College in November. Soon thereafter, the tennis coach asked him to consider joining the program a semester early. He considered it - and he said YES. So we will take him there this weekend. His classes, his official college career, will begin on MONDAY!!! That means I am finished with homeschooling. The Silvermine Academy will close its doors officially tonight at midnight when the ball drops and I start eating my twelve grapes.

I'm not sure the reality of that fact has sunk in yet. I'm not sure it will for a few weeks.
Steve and I will be empty nesters very, very soon.

September. I have always loved the church - going to church, singing at church, Sunday School, teaching, spending time with other people who are searching after God, being found by God, and finding each other on this journey of faith. This year more than any other I can recall, I felt welcome in the church, loved by pastors and members and visitors of members. I have received notes and cards and letters and phone calls, invitations to meals and coffee and people's homes and into people's lives as never before. I have been invited to participate, to speak my mind, to share who I am, what I believe, and what I am learning over and over. Better late than never. Thanks be to God.

October. My exercise and faith mentor, Andre Hairston, came to my house and filmed this video. Yet another chance to tell my story, to share with others the challenges of kanswer and the power of hope and joy even in the midst of life's greatest challenges. Kanswer sucks - always has and always will. But there's hope! Always hope.

November. This month I was reminded to be thankful for thankfulness, for the habit and attitude of gratitude that has sustained my joy for so many years. I am grateful for story and questions and anointing with oil and men and women who weep. I am grateful for the powerful voices speaking loudly against injustice, violence, fear, racism, and are working to challenge the systems of power, privilege and prejudice that this nation was founded on and continues to rely on. Much has been done and much is still necessary.

December. Another year. Another birthday. Another Christmas. Another celebration. Time in prayer, planning, and preparation for 2015. Packing. Donating. Writing. Reading. Wishing. Looking back. Giving thanks. Looking ahead. Getting ready. Putting grapes into a small bowl and eating them while tears and laughter and gratitude flow freely.

To God be the Glory!


There were so many other blessings this year -

The Miro exhibit I saw at the Nasher Museum in Durham, North Carolina.
The baby shower for a dear friend, and later the birth of her sweet baby boy, Dillon.
The book writing retreat at Sunset Beach.
The visit of Ben and Clare. And Joy. And Natalia. And Moneesha.
And Darryl and Noemi. And Glen and Paula.
Hearing Anthony preach.
Seeing a film about La Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona - and being able to say: I've been there, more than once.
Tea with Evette and Sangita and Cathy and Erika and Katherine and Katelyn and Gibbs and Selina and  Pam and Michelle and Krystal and Sheila and Heather and my mother and so many other truly joy-inspiring and love-sharing women.
Meeting women at a journaling workshop at the YWCA. Writing with them. Listening to their stories.


Okay - so I totally cheated. There are dozens of grapes here. Dozens of things and people and situations and lessons to be grateful for this year. When I eat my grapes at midnight tonight, I will remember dozens more.

In this case, however, I believe that cheating is just fine. Appropriate, even. If I could come up with only twelve reasons to be grateful on the final day of an entire year, then that is cheating. Cheating myself of the joy of looking at life through lenses of gratitude. It would be time to get my perspectacles cleaned, examined, or replaced. (Thanks, Glennon, for that wonderful perspective...) Cheating myself of the opportunity to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another.

May your mouth overflow with goodness, with sweetness, and with memories of good, sweet, tart, strong, sour, and juicy moments this night - and every night and every day as well.

Happy grape eating to you.
Happy new year too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Tis the season for Christmas carols, and one of my favorites is this one -
Come, thou Long-Expected Jesus. 

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art,
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit, rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

*************

Dear Lord Jesus, please come to us on Christmas. Come to us on Christmas Eve. Come to us this very day. Perhaps I should ask you to help me come to you. You are always here, always present, it is I who turn away.

Bring peace to us. Bring healing to us. Bring reconciliation to us and through us into this sad and broken, pained and warring, beautiful and glorious people of yours.

From our fears and sins, our prejudices and anger, our violence and addictions,
our sadness and sorrows, our divisions and doubts, our brokenness and selfishness,
our depression and obsessions, our weakness and excuses, please release us.
Please help us to be willing to let them go.

You know me, Lord. You know that sometimes I would rather hold on to my attitudes and opinions, my convictions and predispositions than release them and allow for truth to prevail, for grace to abound, and for peace to reign.

Let us find our rest, our help, our joy, our peace, our strength, ourselves in thee.
Please help us want to find you and find ourselves and find forgiveness and
find grace to help us in our times of need.

You know me, Sweet Jesus. You know that I don't want to forgive those that I think have done wrong, but I want to be forgiven. You know that I don't want to extend grace to others, even though I want to receive grace. You know that I want to be right far more than I want to be loving. Please forgive me, help me, and transform me.

You are my strength and consolation.
You are my healer, my redeemer.
You are the hope of my life, my heart, my future.

You know me, Healing Savior. You know that without your strength, your presence, your comfort, I wouldn't be here. Kanswer and kanswer treatment would have consumed me. You know the attachments I form so easily, the ones that distract me and draw me away from you and those I live with and love. Please, Lord, be my hope, my love, my joy, and my heart.

You are the answer to my deepest desires and my deepest questions.
You are the center of my deepest joy, the reason for my highest praise,
and the source of all that is good and perfect in my life.

You know me so well, Gracious and Generous One. You provide me with everything I need and long for, often even before I realize I am in need. You give me reason to smile, to laugh, to write, to pray, to sing, to dance, and to encourage others. Your grace is all-sufficient. Your mercies are new every morning, every hour, every moment. Great, so very great is your faithfulness.

Lord, I need, I yearn, I long for you to deliver me from my worries,
to deliver me from my jealousy and pettiness,
to deliver me, deliver all of us from our habit of vengeance and violence,
to deliver us from our hopeless cycles of consumerism and guilt,
activism and apathy, criticism and shame.

You know me better than I know myself, Savior, Deliverer and Soon-Coming King. You know that, given enough idle time and aimless thinking, I heap impossible rules and expectations on myself, berate myself for not living the way he or she or they live (whoever he or she or they may be), convince myself that my dearest friends and beloved family members no longer love me, and then cry myself to sleep over my lack of worth.

I am tired of living this way. I am tired of suffering this way.
Reign in my heart, I beg. In my life. In my thoughts.
Because my thoughts sometimes trick me and my fears often tyrannize me.

Lord, I need your gracious kingdom,
your peaceable kingdom,
your reconciled kingdom,
your glorious kingdom,
your joyful, hopeful, love-filled kingdom.

Come, thou long expected Jesus. Not only on Christmas. Not only for a short while.
Oh come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.

************


I like this version of the song -  especially the bridge they added.
"You have come to us, O God; 
You have come to us to save;
You have come to us, Emmanuel;
You are worthy, worthy of praise."





And if you aren't sick of this song yet or tired of singing Joy to the World, 
this is a slow, thoughtful, soothing rendition of the two songs combined.



And this last one is short and so very sweet.
Jesus, oh what a wonderful child, indeed.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Alone with The Alone

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

******************

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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