Monday, August 22, 2016

That New Baby Smell

On July 17, 1981, my brother, Glen, came home with the best news I had heard all year. He said that my older brother, Otis, and his wife, Joy, had had their baby. Kevin!!! As the words fell from Glen's mouth, I leapt into his arms with joy. Besides the fabulous news that the baby had arrived safely, we rejoiced over the fact that Glen and I had not tumbled down the stairs he was standing on at the time. The two of us could very well have ended up in the same hospital that Kevin had been born in if we had fallen down the brick stairs on the front of our house.

I would imagine that Otis and Joy got sick of my near-daily visits to their apartment to see and hold bathe and snuggle with their sweet baby boy. I spent hours with him in my arms, sniffing that new baby smell. Certainly there were moments when there were other smells as well, but the smell of his breath, the smell of the top of his head, the smell that lingered after I uncurled his tiny fingers and laid his hands on my face - that smell became an addiction that has yet to be broken.

Kevin's little brother, Matthew, was born during my freshman year in college, so I didn't see him for several weeks - but when I got home from college, I had another baby to snuggle with and sniff. I know that sounds a little weird, perhaps a little creepy, but that new baby smell is unrivaled in its miraculous bouquet.

Otis and Joy's third and final gift to me, I mean their final addition to their family, Raquel, was born when I was in England. Why I felt the need to be so far from home when they were bringing new life into the world is beyond me, but there I was. She was born in July, and I didn't get back to the States until December. Far too long to wait to meet my first niece, but not so long that I missed out on the wonder of holding her little body in my arms, closing my eyes, and taking my first hit of the splendorous scent of new baby girl curls.

Three more nieces were born to my two other brothers in the years that followed.
I changed their diapers. I bathed them. I fed them. I babysat them all for free.
And when nobody was looking, I lifted their arms and smelled their perfectly formed armpits.
I peeled off their socks and smelled their tiny toes.
I nuzzled them and sang to them and shook my head at the magnitude of their beauty.

If my memory has not failed me and my calculations are correct,
Kevin is now 35, Matthew is 32, and Raquel is 30. They are married.
And they all now have babies of their own.

On July 21 of this year, Kristiana and I were on the tail end of a two day visit with Raquel and Jay and their gorgeous little girl, Aurora. On the final day of our visit, we met up with Matthew's wife, Monisha, and their son, Myles, and Kevin's wife, Susan, and their daughter, Pem. Raquel's husband was in the room with us - but he hardly counted - no offense, Jay, but that visit was all about the babies! Matthew and Kevin were both out of town for work - we were sorry to miss them, but again, it was all about those babies.

Right - Kevin and baby Pem
Top left - Matthew and baby Myles
Bottom left - Jay and baby Aurora

That afternoon, I watched those three new moms care for their babies, feed them, nurse them, and change their diapers. I watched them love those babies and nurture them, speaking to them with tenderness, laughing with them, playing with them, mothering them as though no one else was present. Even as I type these words, tears well up in my eyes as I think of the love that filled that apartment, the adoration, the intimacy between mother and child, between husband and wife, between the three new mothers, as they helped each other resolve the issues and challenges that came up in the few hours we spent together. One by one, I took each of those children into my arms, held them close, silently prayed over them, and breathed in that new baby smell.

There are far too many families in which terms like "sister-in-law" and "niece by marriage" designate some level of separation or formality. There are far too many families in which the presence of a mother-in-law in the room - be it the birthing room or the living room or the baby's room - means there is tension in the air. There are families in which an aunt and a cousin who live six states away are not easily or quickly folded into the new life of a newly formed family. I am blessed to say that none of those things is true for or among those three siblings and their spouses and new babies.  My sister-in-law, Joy, is about as adoring, patient, generous, available, and encouraging a mother and mother-in-law as I have ever known. And those three new mothers are more like sisters than most "real" sisters I know. They all welcomed me and my daughter with open arms, generous hospitality, and complete trust in our love for them and their babies.

In this day and age where some people insinuate that immigrants need to be kicked out of our country, in this day and age in the world when some people insinuate that people of different backgrounds and cultures and languages cannot live together in peace, Kevin and Susan, Matthew and Monisha, and Raquel and Jay are proof that those insinuations are far off base.

My African-American brother, Otis, married Joy - whose family originated in Honduras.
Kevin married Susan - whose family originated in Cambodia and Laos.
Matthew married Monisha - whose family originated in Jamaica and Aruba.
Raquel married Jay - who is a first generation immigrant from Poland. He is the only member of his birth family living in the United States.
Truly a uniting of nations.

But back to the babies and that new baby smell.
Two days and two nights with Jay and Raquel provided me with many hours of bliss with Aurora.
How could I possibly be expected to resist this face???

Indeed I could not resist kissing her and holding her and taking in her sweetness.

 Pem is more serious than Aurora,
and her hard-earned smiles are dazzlingly beautiful.
Awake and asleep, she was comfortable in Auntie's arms.

 Myles, Myles, Myles. So handsome, so strong, so active.
Most of the photos I took of him are blurred because he is a little man on the move.

Monisha hanging out with Myles and Aurora
while Jay played with Pem.
One family. One love. 
One beautiful moment for Auntie.

The only thing I didn't like about my time with my nieces and nephew and their babies was the knowledge that I would soon have to leave them in NY and make my way back home to Charlotte. Truthfully, I try not to look at the pictures or reread my journal from those days too often - because I miss them so much. I am beyond sad when I think about all the days and weeks and months I will not share with them because of the distance between us. The milestones. The celebrations. Their first words and first steps.

If you scroll back up and look at the photos of these three little people in my arms, you will notice that my head is down in most of the photos. Do you want to know why? Because I am trying to draw in as many deep breaths of that new baby smell as possible.

Thirty five summers ago right now, I was most likely on my way home from Otis and Joy's house, after spending the day with Kevin... and his parents. I was most likely trying to figure out when I could get back there. Not much has changed. I am still trying to figure out when I can get back there and see Myles, Aurora, and Pem... and their parents.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Sabbatical Over: "This is Now"

Last week, I went to hang out with my mom and watch the Olympics for a couple of hours. We watched television and talked and ate. That's our routine every time I visit her: watch tv, talk, and eat. She always has treats at her place that we don't have at our house. Things that I would consume in large quantities over brief periods of time. Nutter Butter cookies. Fresh roasted peanuts. Miniature Hershey's chocolate bars. Mixed nuts (without peanuts). Lance cheese crackers. Cheesecake. K-cup coffee and tea pods. Those butter cookies that come in huge dark blue cans.

Yes, my mother, who lives alone, is a member of BJs. Why? So she can buy huge quantities of food to feed her family and friends as often as possible. She is one of the most hospitable people I have ever known. I remember many parties and meals and gatherings at our home during my childhood, many of which would include several friends spending the night, sleeping on couches and on the floor in our Brooklyn duplex. True to form, she is hosting the family reunion for the family of her birth, the Elliotts, this coming weekend. She already has the chairs set up in her living room, and she has made one of several trips to BJs and other stores to buy all kinds of goodies.

Anyway, last week I was sitting with her in what she refers to as her "woman-cave" watching television and eating fresh roasted peanuts. Except they weren't too fresh. Actually, they were quite stale. She apologized for the status of the peanuts and followed her apology with an invitation to me to open the large jug of mixed nuts she had recently bought in anticipation of the family reunion. I thanked her for the offer, but said, "Don't you want to save those nuts for next weekend?"

She answered, "This is now. You don't know what's gonna happen between now and next weekend. One woman who was supposed to come to the family reunion recently had to have emergency surgery and she can't come. This is now, Gail. This is now."

Her response landed immediately in my journal.
I am the queen of postponing things I like,
things I like to eat, things I like to do,
things I like to read, things I like to experience -
the more I like to eat something, the more likely I am to postpone eating it for some future time.
For some special occasion.
I spend more time than I care to admit figuring out ways to do things I love -
next week, next month, next year.
Just not right now.
Gail, this is now.

A little more than fifteen years ago, after getting undressed after church, it occurred to me that I always felt my best when I was wearing a dress or a skirt. Getting ready for church, choosing my outfit, was one of the highlights of my week. As I stood there looking at my "church clothes," pondering what pair of baggy sweatpants or uncomfortable jeans I was going to don, it hit me: if I save these clothes I love, these comfortable dresses and clothes, for exclusive use on Sunday, then each item will be worn only three or four times each year. And the rest of the time, the other 300+ days of the year, days of homeschooling and driving my kids to their music lessons and athletic practices and trips to the supermarket, all of which composed the majority of my life, I would be wearing clothing I didn't like nearly as much and that didn't look nearly as good on me. Sooooo - I decided to start wearing my favorite clothes every day. I no longer own baggy sweatpants or uncomfortable jeans. And every day, I get to pick dresses and skirts and jeans and tunic tops that I love to wear.
This is now.

When one of my kids wants to have breakfast or lunch with me, when they come into my bedroom and plop down on the bed to watch television or talk or just hang out, I say a silent prayer of thanks, and turn up my emotional/relational/parental hearing aid and listen closely. My children will soon be 20 and 23 years of age; the fact that they still like hanging out with me, telling me their secrets and asking my advice is miraculous to me. I will go out for a mother-son breakfast date tomorrow morning. Sure, I could have offered to cook breakfast here at home for him and the rest of the family. But when my 19 year old son asked me to go out on a date with him two mornings before we take him and get him set up for his sophomore year in college, I said "YES" - and thought to myself, "This is now, Gail. Go out with your boy. This is now."

When friends write or text or call and ask to get together for tea or lunch or dinner or a walk, I try to do whatever it takes to make it happen.
Life is short.
This is now.

Drive six hours one way to visit the incarcerated son of a dear friend?
Go with her, Gail.
This is now.

Tell someone my story about kanswer,
my family's story about mental illness,
about the challenges of marriage and parenting,
about how hard this faith journey, this life journey can be,
even when telling those stories moves me to tears?
Cry if you need to, Gail, but this is your story to tell.
This is the time to tell it.
This is now.

Speak up against racism and prejudice of other kinds, even when it feels uncomfortable?
When I feel uncomfortable and those who are listening are also uncomfortable?
People are dying now because of fear and misunderstanding.
Say something now, Gail.
This is now.

Don't keep postponing the good stuff.
Don't even postpone the challenging stuff.
Don't save your best dishes or dresses or smiles or compliments for some other time.
Don't save your hard-won wisdom or deepest convictions for some more convenient time,
for some more comfortable conversation.
Tell the truth now.
Stand up for justice and peace now.
Live with joy now.
Go for a walk and watch birds flitter from tree to tree now.
Eat the Nutter Butter cookie -
or better yet, make some vegan homemade chocolate chip cookies - now.
This is now.

Thanks, Mom, for challenging me to rethink how I live my life.
And all it took was an offer to eat some mixed nuts.

PS. Thank you all for your comments and encouragement during this month of blogging sabbatical. Thank you for coming back to read my ramblings.
Thank you for coming along for another leg of my life's journey.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Sabbatical

I'm going on sabbatical from the blog.
I need to take some time to refuel, recharge, to be refreshed and renewed.

I'm heading off on a journey.
With my daughter for a few days.
Then alone for a few days.
Then back home.

I am thankful for the chance to rest.
Thankful to the friends and family who will be rest stops along the way.
And to those I don't yet know who will be encountered on our journey.
And then on my solo journey.

Thankful to those who will be praying for our safety and for our enjoyment.
Thankful to and for those whose prayers have made this journey, this adventure possible.
Two months ago, I wasn't so sure this trip would happen.
But it is happening.
I am enormously grateful.

May hope abound in you and around you.
May joy, indescribable, inexplicable joy, surprise you.
May you find reasons to give thanks every day.
Peace be with you.

I will be back in a month.
Well, I will get back home in less than a month,
but I will return here to the blog in a month and a day - on August 15.

Adventure awaits.
Traveling mercies to you.
Go well.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Thankful for tears

So much sorrow.
Too much sorrow.
A man was shot to death in his car - with a woman and a child in the car.
As he reached for his license.
And explained that he had a gun in the car.
A gun he was licensed to own and carry.
In this country so obsessed with the 2nd amendment, the right to bear arms, it would appear that a black man exercising the right to bear arms is fair game to be shot - in his car. Without even having the gun in his hand. A black boy with a toy gun in a park is fair game too. A black man with a toy gun in Walmart too.

My heart is broken.
This is incomprehensible to me.

I am a tall black woman with extremely short hair.
I couldn't be any more flat chested - after the double mastectomy.
So I wear earrings every time I leave my house, dangling earrings.
I try to wear bright colors and other things that make me stand out as a woman.
Because I don't want to be mistaken for a man
walking through my predominantly white neighborhood.
I don't want to be gunned down because someone things I'm a black man
walking through my predominately white neighborhood.
And I always carry my cell phone with me because in my photo file,
I have a photograph of my driver's license  -
to prove that I live in the neighborhood.
I have rehearsed my appeal should I get stopped -
"I'm reaching into my pouch for my cell phone to show you the photo of my driver's license.
I don't have any weapons. Can I lower my hand and take out my cell phone? Is that okay?"
I could carry my license, but since I take my phone to listen to music anyway,
I took a photo of my license.
(Most of the time that I'm out walking, I am not using earphones, mind you,
so I can hear what's going on around me. I can't afford to be unaware of my surroundings.)
It sucks that I have to think about all this stuff - but I do.
Every time I leave my house to walk alone.

Black people everywhere are praying over our children more.
Especially our sons.
Giving thanks every time they arrive home safely.

I've told my son that if he goes out running,
he can't wear a sweatshirt with his hood up.
He can't run with earphones in -
he needs to be able to hear if someone speaks to him or calls out to him.
I've told him how to respond calmly and cooperatively if he is ever stopped by the police.
And I give thanks to God every time he arrives home safely.

How long, America? How long will we allow this brutality to happen?
How many must die this way?
Are justice, fairness, and equality even possible in this country?
Today, I am thankful for tears.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Knowing Place - Take Two

This is what I wrote yesterday about the knowing place.
I woke up at 4 am this morning thinking about it.
I turned on my light, took some notes in my journal, and went back to sleep.
Here's what woke me up - the fact that the knowing place exists,
the fact that I have discovered peace and rest there,
doesn't mean that I am free of all doubt and fear and uncertainty.
Not even close.

During the hardest times in my life - this spring, four years ago on my kanswer journey, back in 2008 during another family crisis, and during the other major storms in my life - the knowing place has held firm. I knew that we weren't alone in our trials. I knew that we were loved and being prayed for and supported by many, many beloved friends and co-travelers on our life journey. I knew that God was with us. I knew that all would eventually be well.

But still.
But still.

I doubted. I had questions.
I wondered. I worried.
I held my Bible up and reminded God of the promises contained therein.
I battled despair and wondered if life was better than death.
I had no blessed idea of how the crises would be resolved.
Or if they would ever be resolved.

My journal is filled with pages of large letters -

Pages of questions -
What if I die?
What if he dies?
What if she dies?
What if she lives and this is as good as it gets?
Is this a life that will be worth living?
What if insurance won't pay for this?
Will I trust God even then?
Will I believe God's promises to be true even then?

There are pages of Bible verses - particularly verses and passages taken from the book of Job.
"Job 1:21 - Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; 
the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Job 13:15 - Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.
Daniel 3:16-18 - Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up. 
Mark 9:21-24 - Jesus asked the father: "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us." Jesus said to him, "If you are able! - All things can be done for the one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief."

For anyone unfamiliar with the stories of Job and the three guys mentioned in the Daniel passage, here is a very brief synopsis. Job was a rich man who lost everything, including his children (but not his wife), in several tragic incidents that all took place on the same day. After hearing about all that had gone wrong, Job responded with that noble quote in Job 1:21. Later in the book, he declares his trust in the God who is said to have allowed all those tragedies to happen. Spoiler Alert - at the end of the book of Job, all of his stuff and family are restored, in even greater abundance.

The three guys mentioned in Daniel are captives of the king to whom they are speaking. They have been summoned and required to bow down to a statue the king has made of himself, ninety feet high and nine feet wide. These three young men refuse to bow down and are threatened with being tossed into a fiery furnace. They stand in defiance to the king's order, declaring their belief that the God they worship could deliver them from the fire, but even if God didn't deliver them, they still wouldn't worship that statue. They end up being thrown into that fiery furnace. Spoiler Alert - God protects them, they are not burned by the fire, a fourth person (could it be God?) is seen in the fire with them, they are delivered out of the furnace and promoted into high positions in the king's service.

In Mark, Jesus is introduced to a father whose son has suffered with "a spirit" that made his life horrible. The father asks Jesus' disciples to heal the boy, but they are unable to do so. Finally, the father appeals to Jesus himself - and he simply states what I have felt often - "I believe; help my unbelief." Spoiler alert - the boy is healed!

My appeals to God went something like this - "I'm here in the knowing place, God, trusting in your power to heal. Believing that you can deliver her and me and us from the fiery furnace of illness and fear and worry and helplessness. Don't you want to deliver us? Since you are able to deliver us, Almighty God, why won't you do it - and do it right now??? What about the happy endings that appear so often in Scripture - like in Job and with those guys in the book of Daniel? When do we get our happy ending, our healing, our deliverance?"

These passages and several others rested comfortably, or rather uncomfortably, in my journal and in my heart during the horrors of this spring's doings and undoings. There were moments when I had enough strength and faith to stand firm in the knowing place and declare, like Job, "Blessed be the name of the Lord" and "Yet will I trust in God." But there were many, many moments in which I read and spoke those words through clenched jaws and gnashing teeth.

These passages and several others also reminded me that not all Biblical accounts end happily. In fact, very few of them do. Execution and exile and enslavement are not uncommon responses to those who declare their trust in and reliance on God.

One of my favorite Bible passages temporarily lost its shine, but after I broke the rose-colored glasses through which I had desperately tried to see my life and the world, it was restored to its luster... John 16:33 records Jesus saying to those he loved, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

I used to like the parts that talk about me having peace and Jesus overcoming the world. What I didn't want to think about or experience was the part where he talked about us having trouble. When I encountered difficulties, I retreated into "Why? Why me? Why her? Why us? We are so good." I couldn't even finish that last statement without laughing to myself, sometimes laughing through my tears. We are so NOT good. Nor are we immune to the pain and suffering that are part of the human experience. Who are we not to suffer? Who are we not to face trials, tribulations, and difficulties?

But still.
But still.

On those same journal pages, on those long drives to the hospital for visits, during the wee hours of the morning when I would find myself awake and on high alert, even as abundant tears flowed and unsavory language found its way through my furious fingers, even then I knew. I knew that our story would not be one of bitterness and sorrow and fear forever. I knew that God was working - even when I didn't feel it. I knew that I would not devote myself to the worship of despair and fear. I knew that I believed - even in times of unbelief.

I knew and I wondered.
I believed and I doubted.
I questioned and I was convinced.
I rested peacefully and I woke up in the middle of the night.
I felt God's presence and I felt God's silent absence.
All of the above.
All in the knowing place.

The way forward was not (and is not) always lit beyond the very next step.
The way forward was not (and is not) easy.
The way forward passed (and passes) through unspeakable sadness.
But it was and it is ever and always moving forward.
Thanks be to God!

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Knowing Place

Today I told someone a story about the past four months of my life. I told her that several people who knew what was going on suggested that I take a leave of absence from seminary while we groped our way through the dark valley of shadows and sadness. I explained to my friend today that I never even considered taking a break. That seminary classes were an oasis for me. And I told her that I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be - reading, writing, studying, learning about history and the Bible and the church.

She asked where I knew it - where in my body or mind or soul I knew that I was where I needed to be. My answer was: "In my entire being." Every part of me knew. I never doubted that I was on the right path, doing what I have been created to do. Preparing to do what I'm already doing - listening to stories, walking with other pilgrims, stumbling along the rocky path of life with others, sharing some of the lessons I'm learning about how to walk fully, hope-fully, joy-fully, peace-fully, and gratefully.

Fifteen years ago, a pastor-friend of mine, Ian Cron, wrote and recorded a CD that included a song called, "The Knowing Place."

I have no words for it 
It is a sureness in my soul
I have no words for it 
In the flood, it is my stone
I have no words for it
It is a chamber in my heart
I have no words for it
My only candle in the dark
It has come to me through losses
It has come to me through pain
It has struck me like a clear blue sky 
in the pouring pouring rain.

Chorus - 
The knowing place is here in my heart
It's where I can know I'm safe in the dark
The knowing place is where I'm sure
That here in his arms I'm always secure
Oh here in the knowing place.

I cannot take you there
It's down a road I've walked alone
I cannot take you there
It's paved with blood and broken bone
I cannot take you there
I cannot share this private view
I cannot take you there
There's only room enough for two
He has thrown my windows open
He has trampled down my gates
He has honored me with burdens
And the weightlessness of grace

I have spent hours singing and pondering this song since it was recorded in 2001.

I like the first verse.

"I have no words for it" - for the peace, for the calm, for the knowing
even in the midst of the storm, even as the tears flow.
Knowing that all shall be well - even when it didn't look that way.
Knowing that we were not at the end of our story.
Knowing that hope remains. Knowing that joy is possible.
Even in the midst of the storm.

"It has come to me through losses. It has come to me through pain."
Losses? Pain? Oh yes.
Physical losses. Emotional losses.
Some relationships lost. Confidence in other relationships lost.
And in the midst of all that loss, in the midst of all the pain -
knowing even then.
Knowing that I am not alone. I am never alone.
Knowing that I have hope and a future.
Knowing that the loss of body parts to kanswer,
the loss of my father,
the loss of connections with people I thought would be with me forever -
even then, I know that I am well, that all is well.
And whatever isn't yet well, shall be well.

But the second verse is the one that resonates more deeply within me.

I have been loved. I have been supported. I have been held. All life long.
She sat with me through chemotherapy. He sat with us in the Emergency Room.
They put our names on prayer lists. She keeps us in the center of her prayer circle.
She has been my friend since my daughter was three weeks old.
He has been my companion on this journey of faith since the fall of 1989.
He has been my husband for 24 years and 363 days.
There have always been people with me, around me, near me.

But this life, this journey, this painful and beautiful life pilgrimage, is a road I walk alone.
A road that is paved with blood, broken bones, pieces of my broken heart, and so many tears.
In the painful recuperation from chemotherapy and surgery,
in the wretchedness of mourning my father's death,
in the sorrow of being abused be someone whose job it was to help me,
in the pain and the power of childbirth,
in the helplessness of watching the daughter I love suffer unrelentingly,
there was only room enough for two - for me and God.

It's strange to write that - to write about being alone with God.
Talking to God in prayer and in journaling.
Crying out to God - literally shouting and screaming at God.
Listening for God in The Word and in the words of others.
Pleading with God for visible signs of mercy and healing.
Knowing that God was listening and feeling that God was actively working.
Even when I couldn't see it or explain it or prove it.
I just knew.
I just know.

That's exactly what the song is about.
That's what this life of faith is about.
Having no words for it.
But knowing that God is present.
Knowing that God is at work, even when it looks like nothing is happening.
But resting, basking, living in that knowledge anyway.

I cannot prove that God had anything to do with the conversation I had with friends at the wedding reception in which I broke down and cried as I told some of my story. I cannot prove that God had anything to do with the phone call that he made after that emotional outburst of mine. I cannot prove that God had anything to do with the fact that the doctor that wasn't taking new patients accepted one more. I cannot prove that God had anything to do how great that doctor has been for our family. But I believe God had everything to do with all of it - because when she asked how things were going, I could have said, "Things are going fine." I could have held myself together, but I didn't. I told the truth about how things were going and they listened and he acted and things shifted.

I cannot prove that God had anything to do with guiding that woman to the journaling class I was teaching more than ten years ago. She didn't even attend the church where I was teaching. But there she was. I cannot prove that God had anything to do with her saying to me, "You belong in the pulpit." I cannot prove that God had anything to do with her suggesting that I think hard about leaving that church and finding someplace that affirms the voices and wisdom and teaching of women. I cannot prove that God had anything to do with her inviting me to attend my first eight day silent retreat in 2011. I cannot prove that God had anything to do with her recommending that I develop a relationship with a spiritual director - the woman who asked the question I mentioned at the start of this blog post - "Where did you know it, Gail?"

I cannot prove that God had anything to do with any of it.
But I know it's true. In my entire being.
In the knowing place.

***Part two is here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Top Ten List

One mass shooting after the other. Hatred. Fear. Prejudice. Discrimination.
Members of our government vote to keep it legal for anyone and everyone to buy weapons of war without a background check, even people who cannot legally board an airplane. 
Sixty five million people displaced from their homes during the past year due to war and other horrors.
Someone we know arrested for child molestation.
In the face of all that, I must give thanks. 

Here's my top ten gratitude list. In no particular order.

1. One of my nieces flew down here to Charlotte from NYC for a few days. 
She was recently engaged to be married - and is blissfully happy.
She has never needed help in this area, but she is positively glowing.

2. The ridiculously sweet cherries and watermelon we have bought this week.
The bounty that we are privileged to enjoy every day.

3. Being hugged by an almost-two-year old. 
Being called by name by a three year old. 
Having that sweet little guy ask where my daughter was.
The love of a child is a precious gift.

4. The House Democrats who sat down in the Capital chamber for gun legislation.
Their determination to demand a vote in the face of the ridicule and dismissal of their political opponents. 
NO ONE will ever be able to convince me that private citizens need to own assault rifles. 
The same constitution that allows for gun ownership allowed for slave ownership. 
That same constitution prevented women and people of color from voting. 
I think that at least one more part of that constitution needs to be changed.
Cuz enough is already enough.

5. Barbara Brown Taylor's books - including Bread of Angels, When God is Silent, God in Pain.
Lately I have been reading her sermons - which I probably shouldn't do because it will be very hard to NOT want to just read them from the pulpit when it's my turn to preach. 
She will certainly inspire me to study hard, to write thoughtfully, and to preach with fear and trepidation - that is a profoundly serious and important work, standing behind that sacred desk and speaking words of truth, challenge, encouragement, and joy.

After describing the Biblical phenomenon of manna, BBT challenges her listeners and readers to ponder, "how you sense God's presence in your life. If your manna has to drop straight out of heaven looking like a perfect loaf of butter-crust bread, then chances are you are going to go hungry a lot. When you do not get the miracle you are praying for, you are going to think that God is ignoring you or punishing you or - worse yet - that God is not there... If, on the other hand, you are willing to look at everything that comes to you as coming from God, then there will be no end to the manna in your life. A can of beans will be manna. Grits will be manna. Bug juice will be manna. (You've got to read the sermon, Bread of Angels, to understand that reference...) Nothing will be too ordinary or too transitory to remind you of God... Because it is not what it is that counts but who sent it, and the miracle is that God is always sending us something to eat. Day by day, God is made known to us in the simple things that sustain our lives - some bread, some love, some breath, some wine - all those absolutely essential things that are here today and gone tomorrow. " (Bread of Angels, pages 10-11) 

6. Arriving at the airport overlook area five minutes before my niece's flight was scheduled to land. I love sitting there watching airplanes land and take off - dreaming of faraway cities I would love to disappear in and explore. Seconds after I pulled into a parking space - I hadn't even turned off the engine yet - I looked up to see an aircraft approaching the runway to land. Delta - the airline she was flying on. I hurriedly pulled out my cell phone and took photos as the jet landed. Then I sent her a text telling her that I had seen a Delta plane land and wondered if it was hers. One minute later, she responded and said that, yes, she had just landed. Yay! Perfect timing. 

7. During the worst four month period of our lives, from the middle of February until the middle of June, we had to hire a lawyer. She is fantastic. Truly a wonderful lawyer and a kind and compassionate woman. Today we spoke on the phone - and she said, "You're one of those good clients who makes all the tough ones easier to take." It sucks to have to hire a lawyer - no offense intended against any lawyers, but having to hire one usually means something is wrong - but if you've gotta have one, let it be a kind one, a generous one, and an highly competent one. Our lawyer is proof that such a combination is, in fact, less rare than the Lochness Monster. (Again, no offense intended.)

8. Laughter with my family during a lively round of Cards Against Humanity
That is one wild and crazy, crude, and very funny game. 

9. The opportunity to live vicariously through people I know who are traveling and on vacation.
Horseback riding near rivers and mountains and open plains. 
Sitting poolside near the lake.
Crossing the ocean.
Long pilgrimage-style walks overseas.
Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Reading at the beach. 
Those who live in their favorite places - no need to own a vacation home when you can live in your dream house, looking out over the water every morning.

10. Looking forward to eight days at this place.
This quiet, prayerful, beautiful, thought-provoking place
I haven't been there since the summer of 2012 - the summer before I was diagnosed with kanswer.
May the silence envelop me and heal me - and may that healing overflow beyond me.
May the prayers raised from that sacred space join the millions of other prayers raised every day -
for peace and mercy and salvation and the healing of the whole world.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Never Alone

This coming Saturday, I will sit through the final seven hours of what my seminary professor calls, "Baby Greek." Ten weeks of Biblical Greek will come to an end at 5 pm, just under 48 hours from now. Twenty five or so students laughing, groaning, stumbling, stuttering our way through New Testament Greek. We have had to learn about prepositions, participles, particles, aorist, pluperfect, and case. We have been introduced to terms like nominative, genitive, ablative, vocative, accusative, and dative - words that meant absolutely nothing to me ten weeks ago. Honestly, I'm not sure how much more they mean to me know, but I've had to memorize them and figure out when they apply to the nouns they are related to. For the first time in decades, I have had to create index cards with vocabulary words - in Greek. I have had to learn what a lexicon is and how to use it. Once again, I confess to you, my patient readers, that I am a geek: I have loved this class. 

The professor cracks himself up - bending over in laughter several times during each class. But then he snaps to attention and blows my mind with insights on Scripture and the life of Jesus and what it means to be a follower of Christ. How he ties it all to the vocab lists and new grammatical terms moves me to tears even as I keep my hand tightly gripped around my pen taking copious notes. We do translation work with our classmates. We look over our shoulders at each other with impatient glances when someone in the class asks one too many questions. We huddle over our weekly quizzes and plead with God to remind us of the stacks of cards we have perused all week. We count down the hours until the end of the day - class goes from 8:15 am until 11:45 am. Chapel service at noon, then lunch. Class resumes at 1:30 and ends at 5 pm. Together. 

I am enormously thankful for the hard work, the piles of cards, the new alphabet, the deeper appreciation for the Holy Scripture. 

Two weeks ago, my daughter and I went to the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. As we explored the gardens, we stopped and sat down on nearly every bench that was in the shade. I especially liked the rainforest greenhouse - misters keep the plants damp and the visitors as well. 

There weren't many other visitors - it was a very hot day. But there were a few. Children in sun hats. Older couples also scampering from shady bench to shady bench. Empty walkways. Gratefully, I had my daughter. We walked and talked and laughed and sipped water from our thermoses. I am thankful for the simple pleasure of a walk through a garden with my dear, dear daughter.

Last week, I attended the graduation of three dozen preschoolers from the Charlotte Bilingual Preschool here in Charlotte. I think I was the only person in the room who was neither related to a child nor a member of the school staff. Children singing in English and Spanish. Adults taking photos and videos. After they received their diplomas, the new graduates were asked if any of them wanted to say anything to the audience. Several bravely took the microphone and said things like: "I really like this school and I don't want to leave." "I like everything about this school." "I really want to stay here." Could any teacher ask for a better compliment or higher praise?

As I watched and listened and looked around the room at all those proud parents and grandparents, hailing undoubtedly from a dozen Central and South American countries, I wished I could hear their stories - why they left their home countries, how they got to the U.S. and why they chose Charlotte. I wanted to know how many of the people around them they knew before sending their children to that innovative and inspirational school, and what their hopes and dreams are for the precious boys and girls they celebrated that day. I wanted to know who their companions have been on their life journeys. I hope and pray that they have never known what it is to be alone.

I am thankful for how welcoming they were to me - the stranger in the room, the one taking photos from the corner, the one who teared up as their favorite little people marched into the room to the tune of "We Are the World." I hadn't heard that song in more than fifteen years. Those rising kindergarteners had no idea just how relevant that song is to their situation - We are the world. We are the children. Together. Never alone.

On Tuesday night, I attended a support group gathering for family members of people dealing with brain conditions and sensitivity (often called "mental illness"). There is something encouraging, sobering, and heartening about sitting in a room surrounded by others whose loved ones are dealing with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and personality disorders. Some have children as young as eleven years of age. Some have children who are in their late 50s, adult children whose guardianship rests in the hands of these brave older adults. We look into each other's eyes, sharing sorrows and victories, rubbing each other's shoulders and offering tissues to wipe each other's eyes. We hope for the best and prepare ourselves for the worst. We share email addresses, medication compliance tips, and tales of sleepless nights. Together. In our darkest hours, on our scariest days, during our longest nights, these monthly gatherings, these support group sessions remind us that we are never alone.

Recently, I've had coffee and tea dates with friends facing their own challenges - with children, with spouses, with ex-spouses, and also celebrating their new joys - with new friends and lovers, jobs they enjoy, new homes being built and renovated, and upcoming trips. Today I had lunch with a new friend, another mother who is on a similarly heart-breaking parenting journey with her beloved children.  I laugh and cry with my friends. We tell stories. We share tips and suggestions. We sit in silence. We journal. We share food, wine, water, and long, fast paced walks. Together. Even when I'm sitting in my study, writing and editing these blog posts, I know that I am not alone. What a gift friendship is. Companionship. Tenderness. Compassion. Love. Co-traveling along life's journey. Never alone.

The moment in Greek class that I like best is the last one. Not because I want to leave and go home - remember, I'm a geek and I love Greek. But rather because of the benediction that Professor Carson Brisson prays over us each week. He wrote it years ago (I know because I Googled "Carson Brisson benediction" and discovered that it has been quoted many times.) and apparently he prays a version of it at the end of every class he teaches. I have videotaped it twice, taken notes on it twice, and edited it three times in a computer document. I love this prayer. It is a reminder, another fantastic reminder, that we are not alone. Never alone. He prays it. We hear it. We live it out. Together.

May joy and nothing less find you on the way.
May you be blessed, oh may you be a blessing.
And may light, Love’s own crucified risen light
guide you and uncounted others
(I cannot make an ultimate judgment;
I am not in charge of that number.
God’s in charge of that number, thanks be to God)
you and me and uncounted others out of every darkness,
some of which are absolutely beyond imagining,
heartbreaking darknesses that kill us and 
we have to be resurrected,
out of every darkness and then the darkness itself,
all the way home.
I speak of home with trepidation, I admit that, 
perhaps some of you would speak of home with trepidation too.
But I will speak of home.
I tell you, this is what I believe about home:
those most home,
you can see them, you can find them,
those most home, relentlessly,
those most home, most seek the very least home.

Dr Carson Brisson, June 4, 2016.

Benediction after Greek class.

May we seek those least home, those who feel least loved.
May we reassure them, each other, and ourselves, that we are never alone.
Never ever alone.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sighs too deep for words...

It was a year ago tonight that it happened.
Wednesday night prayer meeting.
It wasn't his first time in attendance, but it was his last.
And theirs as well.
They studied the Bible together. They prayed. They sang.
Then that young man pulled out his gun and shot down nine people.
In church.

When I think of the way they welcomed him into their midst,
when I imagine their shock as he opened fire on them,
when I ponder the grief of those who survived,
I shudder with sighs too deep for words.

Less than a week ago, another mass shooting.
Fifty died. More than fifty wounded.
Some have said that it wasn't his first time at that club in Orlando.
But it was his last - and theirs as well.
They danced. They sang. They laughed.
And then that young man pulled out his gun and shot so many.

When I hear the stories of the men and women who had gathered there that night to have fun,
to enjoy themselves and each other,
when I ponder the grief of those who survived,
the sorrow of those who mourn,
the relief for those who escaped,
the terror and horror for those trapped inside,
screaming for help, texting their loved ones,
I shudder with sighs too deep for words.

Last night I attended a prayer vigil for those in mourning in Orlando.
Hundreds of us gathered to sing, pray, to light candles, ring bells, and remember.
Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Bahai, non-religious - together.
Longing for peace. Clinging to hope.
Crying. Pleading. Sighing. Groaning.

This morning, the We Walk Together crew walked from the Islamic Center of Charlotte (seen in the photo above) to a Middle Eastern bakery. These walks are planned months in advance - and we all marveled at the beauty and timeliness of starting out at the gathering place of our Muslim neighbors today. One of the men there came out to where we were gathering in the parking lot and explained the holy month of Ramadan to us in simple terms. He talked about how true Muslims do not embrace violence or kill others. He read to us from the Quran and encouraged us to come back when there were more learned people around who could answer our questions. What a kind and gentle man he was. 

He too sighed with deep sorrow as he talked about those who have misread, misunderstood, and misused the name of their Prophet to advance their own evil agendas.

All of this sorrow, all of these tears, all this broken-heartedness, and
all of this prayer remind me of one of my favorite passages of Scripture.
Romans 8:26 says - The Spirit helps us in our weakness.
(and boy oh boy do I feel weak at times like this)
We do not know what we ought to pray for,
(most of the time I don't know what I ought to pray for)
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans 
(so much groaning going on these days - thankfully, we are not alone in our sorrow)
that words cannot express. 

Words fail. Words fall short.
Sometimes the best word is no word at all.
Sometimes all that is needed are those sighs too deep for words.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Thankful Thursday - One Good Thing

Earlier this week, I rediscovered this blog.
And found this archive of her newsletters.
And just now, I read her eloquent reminder to be grateful for one good thing every day.
I had the honor of meeting this gifted writer and photographer back in 2008 in San Francisco, when I joined her and a group of adventurous and creative bloggers as we toured China Town, cameras in hand.

I am tired.
I am ready for a break from studying Greek and cleaning my house.
I am ready for a break from driving all over town and making appointments.
I am ready for a break from serious conversations and high-achievement oriented meetings.
I need to laugh more.
I need to sleep more.
I need to rest my weary brain a whole lot more.

But still, but still - all of my problems are far outweighed by the blessings in my life. The goodness. The beauty. The love. The companionship. The generosity and hospitality and compassion of so many people. And I am profoundly grateful.

The thing I am most grateful for, the one good thing that I give thanks for tonight is -
the library.

Seriously? Do we really get to read books, do research, and watch videos for free?

Plus I can sit there and study, journal, and browse the shelves for hours.
I can go there to vote.
I can drop in to use the ladies' room when I am out for my neighborhood walks.
And all those things that I said I'm tired of - I can take a break from all of them at the library.
I don't plan to sleep more or laugh more while I'm there, but one never knows...

What's one good thing that you are grateful for?

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Thankful Thursday - "Don't Miss It"

When storms blow through,
when thunder rolls and lightning flashes
it's easy to miss the beauty of the clouds,
it's easy to overlook the reprieve from the heat and humidity.

When storms blow through my family,
my faith, my home, and my heart,
it's easy to miss the beauty of quiet evenings,
it's easy to overlook the gift of a shared meal eaten in peace.

A dear friend brought dinner for us tonight, and we spent a few minutes talking before she headed home to her own family. She is the one who gave me this phrase - "Don't miss it."

After the storm we have weathered over the past three months, I find myself walking through my life with my shoulders tensed and raised, with my ears piqued to hear every step and movement in the house, with my heart rate increasing every time my mind forms the question, "What if..."
What if it happens again?
What if things don't get better?

She listened to me describe how my heart ached.
She didn't turn away when I cried.
She welcomed my lament along with my joy.
She asked if I could hear what she heard.
She asked if I could see what she saw in my story.
She said, "Don't miss it. Don't miss the beauty in the midst of the pain."
To her admonition, I add my own: "Don't miss it. Give thanks."

Tonight I am thankful for -

The laughter we share over silly things
The morning walks
The evening drives
Finding all but one thing we needed at Target and CVS on sale today

The games we play - dominoes and Canasta
The adult coloring pages we have filled
The trip to the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Holding hands while tears flow
Salt scrubs on our tired hands
Coconut oil on our dry skin
Sun hats and sunscreen

Ceiling fans on hot days
Ice water
Insulated thermoses that keep ice water cold

Watermelon and blueberries and pineapple
Greek yogurt
Cheese from Spain

Watching Golden State Warriors games as a family
Watching Serena Williams win matches at the French Open
Law and Order marathons on lazy days

The chipmunk that eats the bird seed out of the dish on our deck
The hawk that keeps showing up while I'm out walking the dog
Rainy afternoons

Newly paved roads
Freshly cut grass
Magnolias in bloom - that scent

Four or five weeks ago, I went out for a walk/jog. As I ran up the last hill, huffing and puffing, I passed an African-American woman who was pushing a child in a stroller. I assumed she was African-American because of the color of her skin. I hadn't seen her in the neighborhood before, so as I jogged past, I waved at her. About fifteen steps later, I stopped, pulled my earphones off my ears, and walked back to her. I introduced myself - she is not African-American. She is Jamaican - it has been far too long since I have heard that songlike accent.

Since the day we met, she and I have gone for walks together. Texted. Laughed. Told stories. Sadly, I wished her farewell two nights ago - turns out she was here in Charlotte as a live-in nanny for only four months - and her time here ended yesterday. We both wished that we had met when she arrived in February. What a beautiful, strong, funny, generous, kind, hospitable, courageous woman. I will miss her.

It was easy to jog past her and wave that day. I was listening to my favorite "end of exercise" song. I was in my exercise groove. But something told me, weeks before my friend articulated it so succinctly this evening, "Don't miss it, Gail. Don't miss this chance to meet someone new in your neighborhood."

Tonight I am thankful for the words of encouragement we give and receive from friends and family and even strangers (like the cashier at Trader Joe's today)
The set of Bible verses on the tiny easel that I received in the mail today (Perfect, SC!)
Having a friend of my son mention the very Bible verse my daughter and I were talking about earlier today (Romans 8:18 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.)

I am thankful for the wonder, the miracle,
the afflictions and fragility of life
How short it is
How long it is
How joyful it is
How sorrowful it is
How pleasurable
How painful

How blistering
How demanding
How delightful
How beautiful

Don't miss it.

Thank you, M, for that reminder and challenge.
Thank you for the gift of your friendship.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thankful Thursday - It's Still Raining

It has been a rainy week here in Charlotte.
Days and nights of drizzle and downpours.
Downed trees and flooded basements.
We need the rain. Big time.
In some parts of the area, it's still raining.

It has been a rainy 90 days in our house.
Ninety days ago today, we entered a storm.
Thunder. Lightning. Dark nights. Cloudy days.
Many tears cried. Many prayers lifted.
I have come close to losing my joy.
Truthfully, I have had days when I felt no joy, no happiness, no hope.
There have been Thursdays when I couldn't bring myself to write a Thankful Thursday post.
It felt forced and phony, so I didn't bother.
It's still raining. The storm hasn't completely passed by us yet.
But I am grateful. Thankful.

For friends who bring meals and stay for a while to talk.
For friends who meet me at cafes to drink lemonade and talk.

For the wife who brought muffins and her husband who sent a letter of encouragement.
The note she included with the muffins contains a phrase that will surely be a future blog post, perhaps even the title of one of the books I have yet to write... I need to ask her permission to use it.
He sent the letter snail mail. A real letter in an envelope with a stamp.

And the other man in our church who sent a letter a couple of weeks ago. Handwritten with a stamp on the envelope.
The emails and notes and flowers and phone calls - a deluge of another kind. A deluge of love.
The pastors who have made hospital visits.

The friend who meets me in the prayer room and holds my hand. Hugs me. Makes me laugh in the midst of my weeping.

For wine and coffee and matcha green tea lattes and fresh juices and kombucha.

For medical insurance and hospitals and nurses and techs and doctors.

For good lawyers and guardians ad litem when you need them.
For the legal system - especially when it works smoothly and in your favor.

For text messages from other mothers in similarly difficult situations.
For those moments when I know that I know that I know that I am not alone.

For being able to speak Spanish - to encourage another family in the same situation at the hospital.

For a new therapist that I love. She makes me laugh and cry and think and hold on to hope.

I am grateful for my dear friend, Karen, who introduced me to the song from which the title of this blog post is taken: "Praise You in This Storm" by Casting Crowns.

It is still raining.
The wind of fear and doubt still blows fiercely within and around me.
Our hearts are torn.

But God walks with us.
God is at work.
We are being shaped, transformed.
As a family. As individuals.

I am grateful for the ways in which this storm, this ongoing storm, has changed the way that I pray, read the Bible, think about God and family and love and friendship and my whole life. One of the pastors in my church, after listening to me tell the latest chapter of the latest saga, said, "I hope this doesn't sound trite, but this is going to shape your ministry." I feel it shaping me in unexpected ways already. Perhaps I can be a hospital or prison chaplain - speaking and listening and praying and writing and encouraging in English and Spanish. Sitting and walking with others who are still in the storm, into whose lives it's still raining.

Monday, May 16, 2016

"Don't Help Him"

My husband has baseball in his blood.
He loves basketball and tennis and football.
But baseball is his true love.
He has played since childhood. Little league. High school. College.
Even some low level almost-semi-pro baseball during the summers of his late teen years and early twenties.
Shortstop. Third base. Second base.
Even now, after passing the half century mark (which I have also passed), he continues to play baseball.
I attended his team's game yesterday.

Late in the game, one of the players on Steve's team began to "talk smack" to and about the pitcher from the other team.

"The ump took pity on you and called that a strike."
"He's gonna pitch it high or higher."
"He can't throw a strike."
"Don't help him."

That last line caught my attention.
If the pitcher is pitching high or higher, don't swing at it.
Don't waste one of your strikes by swinging at a high pitch.
Make him throw strikes; don't swing at the bad pitches.
Don't help him.

When I jotted that line down in my journal there at the game, I wrote,
"Glad that's not a life motto. At least it's not mine...
or is it?
How often do I not help?
Turn away. Ignore. Taunt. Make excuses for not helping."

My mind quickly moved from congratulating myself for a higher way of thinking and living than that baseball player to recognizing how often I do think and live with that very thought in mind: "Don't help him."

Don't help the person whose politics I reject.
Don't help the person who was rude to me after class that Saturday evening.
Don't help the person who constantly interrupts me when I talk.
Don't help the person who belittles gay people, transgender people, poor people, people of color.
Don't help the person who thinks I shouldn't be in seminary because I am a woman.
Don't help the person who reads and understands the Bible differently than I do.
Don't help her.
Don't help him.
Don't help them - whoever I decide "they" are.

I'm gonna spend some time in these next few days and weeks pondering the people I have chosen not to help, chosen to ignore, chosen to taunt. Including people I claim to love. Including my family and friends. Including myself.

My husband's team lost the game yesterday, 17-15. Quite the high scoring affair.
That noisy player nearly came to blows with one of the pitchers from the opposing team.
I guess all of his comments from the dugout had accomplished exactly what he had hoped: he annoyed the players on the other team enough to draw angry and vengeful words from his opponents and the intervention of the umpires.
As the guy from the other shouted at and began to shove him, I wanted to scream,
"Don't help him."

Saturday, May 07, 2016


One of Jesus' better known parables is the one about "the prodigal son." The younger of two sons asked for his inheritance, receives it, and heads out into the big, bad world to have some fun. He spends it all and ends up with a dead end job, feeding pigs. Not a great gig. At least not for him.

The New International Version of Luke 15:17 says, "When he came to his senses, he said, 'how many of my father's hired men have food to spare and here I am starving to death?'" 

He practiced his speech, the thing he would say to his father, the apology, the plea for reinstatement in the household - as a servant, not as a son. He had spent everything his father had given him - his excessiveness is what earned him the title of "the prodigal son" - prodigal meaning spending money or resources lavishly or recklessly.

I have come to believe that the truly prodigal person in that story is the father. Because the father gave him the inheritance - even though he must have known it would mean that his son would leave home and waste the money. Verse 20 says - So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Today, that phrase, "when he came to his senses" is speaking volumes to me. 

Someone I love dearly, someone I miss terribly, is on a journey.
A difficult journey.
Far, far from home.
Far from her senses.
Far from herself, most of all.

(Lord, the one you love is sick.)

I pray daily, hourly, ceaselessly, to be able to use that phrase -
"when she came to her senses..."
In the past tense - that coming to her senses is a turning point that we can look back on.

(Lord, in your mercy, please please please, bring her back to her senses. Bring her senses back to her. For your glory and for her good. We plead. We beg. We beseech you.)

When she comes to her senses, she will see that many, many people have been looking out for her return.

When she comes to her senses, I will run to her and embrace her and kiss her one thousand times.

When she comes to her senses, she will be welcomed home with a grand celebration.

When she comes to her senses, she will be inundated with love and laughter and shouts of joy.

When she comes to her senses, she will both utter and hear testimony to God's faithfulness, to the love and support of family and friends, and to the strength and efficacy of prayer - even when she didn't know what was going on, even when we all struggled to maintain hope, even when we felt our hearts shredded by sorrow, even then, God was and is faithful and present and working on her behalf.

When she comes to her senses, there will be excessive displays of love and affection for days on end.

(How long, Lord? How long?)

I know I've written about this parable before. 
I'm sure I will write about it again.
With each reading, 
with each passing day of this challenging journey,
I learn more. I feel more. I want to ponder it more.
And now that I am studying Biblical Greek, 
I am sure I will write about it again, having read it in its original language.

(Lord, please give her a palpable sense of your presence, your love, your comfort, your healing power. Even tonight. Please bring her back to her senses and bring her back home. Please.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Waiting in hope

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

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


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

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

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

I am tired.
But also renewed. 
Lifted up.

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

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

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

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

I Have a Hope
by Tommy Walker

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

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

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

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