Monday, April 14, 2014

The End of the Journey

Earlier today, I read on facebook about a beautiful woman named Gwyn who recently left the hospital to go spend her last days on earth surrounded by family and friends in the comfort of her own bed. I hope and pray that she isn't in pain or afraid.

I hate reading stuff like that. We all do.

I don't even know Gwyn or Steve, her husband, but I know someone who does. The someone I know asked us to keep Gwyn in our thoughts and prayers - and of course I will. Even without knowing her, I am sad that she is coming to the end of her life journey.

Whenever any of us hear that someone is near the end, we are stunned a little and saddened a lot. We all know we're gonna die sometime and we know everyone else is gonna die too. But the younger the person affected or the closer the person is to our age, the more "real" it feels, the more devastating, the more sobering.

I can't decide if I think it is a good thing or a bad thing to know the end is so near, to go through a series of "lasts" - this is the last time I will go to the supermarket, to ride in the car, to see this friend, to eat this meal. This is the last time we will make love or celebrate our birthdays, our anniversary, and go to church. This is it - and I know it.

I hope that knowledge would make me embrace and enjoy every day with greater attention and alertness. I hope it would make me more grateful for all the days I have lived, all the love I have known, and all the joys I have experienced.

This week is the most important week of the year for me on my faith journey. This is the week that I will focus on the end of the journey of Jesus of Nazareth.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day of the parade given in Jesus' honor. The pastor at church described that parade in a way I'd never heard before: the formerly lame people that Jesus had healed were probably dancing in the crowd. The formerly blind people were making eye contact with the one who had restored their sight. The former lepers mingled freely in the crowds. The girl who had been raised from the dead was probably there, celebrating and welcoming the one who given her new life. To that list, I would add Lazarus, also recently raised from the dead. And some of the people he had recently fed were feasting on his presence and the praise that he so richly deserved. I bet those people were thinking about all the days they had spent with their Teacher, the meals they had shared with their Rabbi, the miracles their Healer had performed in their lives and in the lives of those they loved.

And all the while, he knew what was coming. He knew he was less than a week from the end of his life. That he was soon going to be taking his last walk through the garden of Gethesemane. His last time in the temple teaching. His last conversation with his mother. His last supper with his disciples. His last moments - carrying the cross, being nailed to that cross, bleeding and dying. The end of his journey was not going to be surrounded by friends, sipping cool water, numbed to the pain by morphine and sleeping pills in the comfort of his own home and bed.

I shudder with every reading of the story of what happened to Jesus during his last week. The betrayal. The denial. The arrest. The mockery. I hated watching The Passion of the Christ and seeing such a graphic depiction of what happened this upcoming weekend. So much pain, so much suffering, so much disdain, so much sorrow. Even though I know that "the end of the journey" was not the end of the story, I still weep when I ponder the horror of that final day.

Sometimes I still cry when I think about the dark and painful moments I endured during kanswer treatment. Sometimes I cry when I ponder the possibility of kanswer returning and having to go through another round with that dreadful disease. I know that I too will someday be in my final week. It may be due to kanswer or some other illness. I may be an accident or a fire. I do not have any idea. But the time will come when I will take my final walk up the street, my final trip to Spain, my final time with friends, and my last supper.

But I also rejoice, truly I can smile through my tears, when I think of the countless blessings I have had in my life, when I list the many things I am grateful for, when I think of all the people I have loved and have loved me, and when I think of all that is yet to come, between now and my own walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Most of all, I rejoice when I remember that, if God is true to God's Word (as I have come to understand it), then the end of my journey will not be the end of the story.

But still...

I wish Gwyn traveling mercies on this final leg of her life pilgrimage. I will pray for her and her family, for peace, for comfort, for love, for everything she needs and wants from now until the end of the journey. I will pray the same for you and for me too.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Do you see what I see?

As I look around me these days, I see signs of new life. The sun is rising earlier and staying up later, warming both the earth and its inhabitants. Flowers are in bloom. Trees are sprouting leaves of all colors and sizes. I've been able to get outside to take long walks, to listen to the birds, to stare into the bright Carolina skies, and to take deep breaths of pollen laden air.

Speaking of pollen, until about four hours ago, my car was covered with it. Last Wednesday night, as I stood and talked to a dear friend, she nervously tapped her fingertips on the hood of my car. A couple of days later, her fingerprints were eerily visible, highlighted by the pollen that seemed to fill every ridge. Today, I finally washed her fingerprints and that film of flower sperm from my car. And then I had a serious sneezing fit.

As I sneezed and blew my nose, I also gave thanks for the fact that all that pollen and all that sneezing are signs of transformation, of resurrection, of new life. Winter is behind us. The dried, cracked earth has softened and baby buds are breaking through. Worms are making their appearance after rainy days. Trees that were barren and brown for the past four months are now pink and white and red and green. Shadows fall over previously uncovered sidewalks and streets. Tiny yellow-green inch warms are bungee-jumping from branches down onto passing vehicles and pedestrians. My little doggie doesn't run for the garage door as soon as she's done "doing her business" anymore. Nor do I.

What else is in bloom around here? Hope. Hope for a strong finish to the school year for my two children. Hope for longer days and quieter nights. Hope for healing for a woman I know who was recently diagnosed with kanswer and will begin chemo afte Easter. Hope for a dear friend who is dealing with her step-father's death and her mother's grief. Hope for a rekindled friendship. Hope for answers to the questions my soul keeps asking. Hope for an inspiring and encouraging visit with my daughter this weekend. Hope for good health and a long life. Hope for strength and grace and the ability to forgive. Hope for new and deepening friendships. Hope for laughter, love, joy, and peace for all people everywhere.

Joy is also in bloom. Joy at the news of one baby's safe arrival and another one on the way. Joy at the news of a friend's daughter who is overcoming her anxiety. Joy at the birth of a book now available in paperback. Joy because of a married couple's reconnection after years of marital malaise. Joy at the frequency of academic breakthroughs and the growing confidence in his study skills. Joy at being discovered by distant and long-lost friends on Facebook. Joy at making new connections through this blog. Joy at setting up dinner, lunch, and coffee dates with friends. Joy at a lively communion service on Sunday night. Joy because Easter is only eleven days away.

Newborn hope.
Newfound joy.
Newness of life.

In the yard, in the trees, in the flowers,
in life, in love, in friendships,
in conversation, in connection,
in prayer, in silence, and in gratitude,
there is so much beauty.

Do you see what I see?

Monday, April 07, 2014

This Little Life of Mine - My Messy Beautiful

So there's a huge thing happening over at Momastery these days. She has invited bloggers to share stories of their "Messy, Beautiful." Their messy, beautiful lives, that is. And a lot of women have posted links to their blogs and to their stories. I've peeked at her wall of writers a few times today - a lot of messiness and even more beauty. Cuz like I've said for years, "Everybody's got something."

There's something wrong with my daughter's car, something I don't want to pay $400 to fix, but I realize that that's a far cheaper price than buying a new car.

There's a crack in our kitchen counter - and water is running down into the wood of the cabinets beneath.

The umbrella on our deck table broke in the last snow storm, and the broken pieces are still out there.

The wood of the deck is rotting... again.

We need to paint and replace and repair and renovate many baseboards and walls and window sills and the kitchen back splash and the tiles in our shower.

The carpets need to be replaced, but I may have to settle for just getting them professionally cleaned. I'm a little bit afraid to rip it up... only heaven knows what the floorboards look like underneath.

I dealt with kanswer a little over a year ago.

My daughter had a serious health challenge of her own a few years back.

My father died of lung kanswer, and my mother still mourns for him, thirteen years later.

One brother is dealing with the devastation left in the wake of chronic illness.

My other two brothers still live with the fallout of divorce.

Their children wonder what the heck happened and why???

Broken bones. Fractured bones.

Broken promises. Broken hearts.

The list goes on and on and on. I've seen a lot of pain and suffering wash through my own life - and everybody else's as well.

But here's the thing - this little life of mine still shines.
There's lentil soup simmering on the stove on this rainy Monday afternoon.
There are bananas, lemons, limes, clementines, mangoes, and a cantaloupe on the counter.

My husband is talking to his colleagues on the telephone.
My son is upstairs watching English premier league soccer on television.
My daughter is working her way through her university studies with determination - most of the time -  and tears - some of the time. (But isn't that the way we are all making out way through our messy, beautiful lives?)
My kids still like to talk to me and hang out with me - even though they are 20 and 17 years of age.

My double mastectomy scars are smooth and straight.
The lump that my chemo port used to create under my skin has disappeared.
My hair won't stop growing - now that I want to keep it short.
I'm getting more flexible with yoga and stronger with jogging.
My bifocals are helping me see a world I didn't know was out there.
The folks at my church welcome me with open arms every time I darken the door.
The seniors at Plantation Estates keep inviting me to come back and tell them more about what I understand about the Bible and to cry in front of them.
Some lovely latina ladies also seem to like watching this Americana use her Spanish-from-Spain lisp to share stories of this life journey of mine and how I've been turned upside down and inside out by the craziest story of virgin birth, miracles, love, life, death, and resurrection the world has ever heard.

Cuz if Jesus really was God and came to earth to live and die for us, if Jesus really did restore sight to the blind, talk to that lonely woman at the well, reach out and touch lepers and dead bodies and cast out demons from one of my favorite Bible characters, Mary Magdalene, then there is a really good chance that Jesus loves me too. That Jesus isn't afraid to reach out and touch me through the hands and words of doctors, nurses, friends, neighbors, as well as my husband and children. That my story isn't yet over, that joy and hope and peace and healing and wholeness and love will eventually win. Love always wins.

The truth is that I've faced down a few demons of my own - the demon of the fear of thunderstorms (I no longer hide in closets or crawl down the hallway to check on my children as I used to), the demon of the fear of death (we're all gonna die, so who am I to think I might be the exception to that rule?), the demon of worry about my husband and children's health (we've had so many great years together in mostly excellent health, so why do I worry about the future?), the demon of wishing I could live someone else's life (I would choose Mirka Federer, Roger's wife... except for the rumor that she is currently pregnant with a second set of twins), the demon of jealousy (did I mention that SHE makes all of her own clothes and SHE makes such awesome artwork and HE gets to travel all over the world whenever he wants to), and the demon of comparison (look at all HER blog readers and all of HIS friends and all of THEIR money in the bank) to name a few. Plus if kanswer isn't a demon, then I don't know what is! Certainly, those demons still lurk in the corners of my heart. As long as I'm alive, there will be battles for my heart and mind, body and soul; it's a part of this life's journey.

Yes, this little life of mine is raw and fragile,
broken and cracked,
lovely and lonely,
faithfull and doubtfull,
hopeful and joyful,
scarred and healed,
perfectly imperfect,
evergreen and also on its way to its inevitable conclusion,
messy and beautiful.

This little life of mine, it's the only one I will ever have,
so I'm gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it SHINE.

This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Saturday, April 05, 2014

It's Saturday - how could I not be thankful?

This morning, I woke up without an alarm and lingered in bed for a while, looking at the ceiling, enjoying the prospect of several hours without any plans or any company. Steve left early this morning to drive up and visit Kristiana for the day. Daniel spent the night at a friend's house. So I was left alone with the little doggie to find ways to enjoy this glorious spring morning.

I am thankful for -

* the sandwich made of an egg, whole grain bread, pesto veganaise and spring mix that I made myself for breakfast
* the green tea latte with coconut milk
* the brief walk I took with Maya
* talking to a neighbor for a few minutes at the end of the block
* the long walk I took to the library
* the many prayers and thoughts that passed through my mind as I walked
* phone conversations with my daughter and my dear friend as I walked
* how patient the librarians were with the mentally disabled man who was talking to them as I entered the library and was still talking to them when I left fifteen minutes later
* watching these two videos of the cutest and funniest couple I think I've ever seen (one and two) (I so wish I could be their friend.)
* Mimi, the woman in those videos, and how she inspires me to sew simple and beautiful dresses and skirts
* a green smoothie with mixed greens, mango, watermelon, almonds, flax seeds, water, and orange juice
* vegan chocolate chip cookies
* final preparations for a talk I will give tonight for a women's gathering at a Spanish-speaking church
* an invitation to speak at a conference for Spanish-speaking women this August
* the fact that both my husband and my daughter (in separate conversations) laughed heartily when I told them that I've been asked to speak on being a submissive woman
* the knowledge that I will NOT be giving the talk they expect me to give cuz submission is not the same as obedience or silence or weakness or inequality - and that is what a lot of women, myself included, have heard for most of our church-going lives
* remembering the brief time I spent on my church's women's retreat last weekend (where there was absolutely NO discussion of submission!)
* having nearly four months to get ready for that talk
* the warm weather during these past few days
* fans, air conditioning, and dehumidifiers
* irises beginning to grow and daffodils already fully grown
* my son getting the green light to get back to playing tennis after having to take five weeks off due to the beginning stages of a stress fracture in his wrist
* Dr. Rainbow, the sports medicine doctor that we found on our health insurance website, who treated Daniel and the fact that she herself played college tennis so she understood the rigors of his training and how difficult but necessary it was for him to take time off
* her bubbly, humorous, and gentle spirit - how can you be anything but sunny and kind when your last name is Rainbow?
* how well she and Daniel got along during his visits
* being asked to make someone an infinity scarf and finally finding a fabric I think she will like
* the birth of a son to a friend of mine out in Arizona - YAY, Mel, Andy, Liv and Locke!!!
* the wedding invitation that arrived this week - it would appear that my nieces and nephews are full grown adults.
* how clicking on the wrong box on the template of my blog turned into a new look once I realized that I couldn't figure out how to go back to the previous look
* how many times my mistakes and bad choices have worked out in the end
* the hope that those that haven't been resolved or worked out yet eventually will
* so many opportunities to live vicariously through other people's photos and stories - friends who recently went to Rome and London, someone who is wedding planning and shopping in Atlanta this weekend, Pinterest, others who are working on their second books, someone who is about to go back to work as a flight attendant after taking time off, and also the great stuff I find on youtube
* tear-soaked conversations sealed with hugs and kisses
* the awesome quote I found this week that said something like - "the percentage of the time that I have survived terrible days is 100%."
* being able to look back at where I was a year ago right now - awaiting a date for surgery, watching and waiting for my hair to regrow, being thrilled that chemo was behind me - and having my eyes still fill with tears of gratitude for life and health, for hospitals and operating room dance parties (why didn't I think of doing that?), for celebrations of life even at the moment of facing one's mortality
* memories of this week's miracles: coffee dates, dinner dates, an invitation to the theater, going for a walk with a neighbor, walking through Target with my husband, walking through the mall with my son, fantastic sales going on at Harris Teeter (I do love going to the supermarket), much laughter, many times of prayer, hours of writing and reading, and lots of delicious food
* for Easter morning sunrise services and Easter hymns
* for the power of resurrection, new life, surprise visits, and hope in the wake of darkness, fear, silence, and death

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Things I have loved in this unfair and beautiful world

Another excellent piece of advice from the book I mentioned yesterday,
Survival Lessons, is this: Choose the Evidence. 
Write it down. Even if it's a few sentences. Because you won't remember.
You think you will never forget, but you will. Write down your life story
or a poem. Sometimes shorter is better. Make a list of what all you have 
loved in this unfair and beautiful world. Fireflies. Blue herons. Fresh coffee.
Manhattan as dusk. The man waiting in the other room. The woman
with dark eyes. 

So today, I'm gonna share a partial list of a few things and people and places I have loved in this life of mine. This list fits in with Thankful Thursday, right?

* Pistachios and cashews and pumpkin seeds
* the library
* journals and pens and watercolor paper
* candles and incense
* riding the bus and the subway, especially in foreign cities
* walking through airports
* wearing a backpack
* trips that require a passport
* seeing women with babies in slings and other close carriers
* redheads
* being pregnant and nursing my own babies
* vegan chocolate chip cookies from Karen's recipe
* every single place I have ever lived
* the movie "The English Patient"
* movie - Out of Africa
* movie - The Apostle
* movie - When a Man Loves a Woman
* cardio funk classes with Andre and his cardio crazies
* automatic dishwashers
* Eileen Fisher clothing, especially when it's on sale
* yoga
* long walks on warm days
* making love
* dancing
* car rides of all lengths
* wandering through museums, especially the Prado in Madrid
* scarves and mittens
* holding hands
* singing and listening to hymns
* teaching
* eating candy and other goodies with my Dad
* watching Karen's children being born
* pineapple: cutting it open and devouring it
* oatmeal with blueberries and mango
* green smoothies
* going to the zoo
* ancient cathedrals
* taking communion
* watching baptisms
* Madrid, Sevilla, Barcelona, Roma, Firenze, Siena, Orvieto, Bologna
* those old records, The Bible in Living Sound, that I listened to as a child
* hot showers, clean hair, shaved legs
* swimming pools
* riding a bike on the beach at Hilton Head
* watching television
* Roger Federer
* Serena Williams
* Peyton Manning
* planning trips
* getting email and snail mail
* hearing good news
* caller ID on my cell phone and our house phone
* laughter, belly laughs
* babysitting
* learning new things
* being a student
* when people ask me how I'm doing and really want to know the answer
* solitude and silence and prayer
* Caravaggio's paintings
* recognizing and being able to identify paintings and their creators
* ripe bananas
* watching track and field meets and the memories of when I was a runner
* reading to my children
* bacon and sausage and pepperoni
* Reese's peanut butter cups and Snickers bars
* Cherry Coke and Pepsi and Diet Dr. Pepper
* sweet tea, Southern style
* balsamic glaze from Trader Joe's
* their Sublime ice cream sandwiches
* Menchie's frozen yogurt
* going to the movies with Steve or Kristiana or Heather or Antonio
* knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour guides who also happen to be great friends
* Hindi movies
* almond butter and peanut butter
* daffodils and irises in the spring
* screened in porches
* bungalows on tree-lined streets
* swings, in playgrounds and backyards
* blue corn chips with mango salsa
* Anne Lamott
* Sue Monk Kidd
* Henri Nouwen
* Alice Walker
* Rebecca Walker
* Barbara Brown Taylor
* bookshelves filled to overflowing
* sleeping late on Saturday mornings
* staying in my pajamas all day
* lifting weights
* being remembered
* being loved
* being invited to speak or teach
* thank you notes, sending them and receiving them
* India Arie
* Kevin Hart
* Oprah's Super Soul Sunday show
* Huey Lewis and the News
* James Taylor
* Gavin Degraw
* outdoor concerts during the summer
* hugs and kisses
* olive oil and balsamic vinegar on salads
* veggie burgers, lemon drop martinis, and key lime pie from 131 Main
* running into friends unexpectedly
* making plans to meet up with friends
* paper towels and cloth napkins
* water with lemon
* synchronicity
* the way in which my pulse and my breathing slow down when I make lists like this.

Gratitude and love and contentment and joy seem to grow together in bunches.

Sometimes when I make these lists, I include the same things and people more than once. I guess I love those things and people a lot. The things that I am grateful for and the people and places I have loved come to mind frequently and repeatedly. I have so much to be grateful for. And I'm enormously grateful for that fact.

Sometimes when I think about my favorite things, I wonder if my tastes are too simple and ordinary. Then I remember - these are my pleasures and they certainly aren't too simple for me. And by no means are they ordinary.

Here's an example of why I say that: when I think about all the stories that have to coincide, all the details that have to come together perfectly, all the people who have to be at exactly the right place at the right time in order for key lime pie to be made at my favorite restaurant and brought to my table, I am moved nearly to tears.

Buy the land. Cultivate the land. Raise chickens and harvest their eggs. Grow the key limes. Grow the sugar. Grow the wheat to make the crust. Harvest it. Process it. Ship it. Distribute it. Measure it. Bake it. Cut it. Someplace else in the world, plates are made. So are forks and knives and ovens and baking tins. Someplace else, chefs are trained, recipes are created, and restaurants are established. Then somebody creates a menu, hires cooks and bakers, trains the servers, and makes sure that there are enough of all of the above to keep the pies coming. See what I mean?

Is there really such a thing as "a simple pleasure?"
Or is every moment, every meal, every encounter, every conversation
truly a series of inconceivable and inexplicable miracles?

As I ponder that final question, I'm gonna eat a few clementines.
Isn't fresh fruit simply fabulous?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Survival Lessons

On a recent trip to the library, (Have I mentioned how much I love going to the library?) I found a book by Alice Hoffman called Survival Lessons. I liked the brief synopsis on the book flap and it was a small book so I figured I would bring it home and see what it was all about. I like small books - silly little admission, I know, but it's true.

From the book flap - Survival Lessons provides a road map of how to reclaim your life from this day forward, with ways to reenvision everything - from relationships with friends and family to the way you see yourself. As Alice Hoffman says, "In many ways I wrote Survival Lessons to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that's all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts of sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other. I wrote to remind myself that despite everything that was happening to me, there were still choices I could make." Wise, gentle and wry, Alice Hoffman teaches all of us how to choose what matters most.

Of course, I was reminded of my kanswer journey - of the lessons I learned about sorrow and happiness, beauty and baldness, laughter and tears, and how to choose hope, joy, and peace in the face of surgery, chemo, and hot flashes.

We do not always have a choice about what happens to us, but we always have a choice about how we will respond to what happens to us. And every time we choose bitterness, anger, complaining, and resentment, we also get to change our minds - and choose joy, forgiveness, acceptance, and to take deep breaths until all that stuff passes.

When I found myself battling fear, wrestling with doubts about how strong I didn't think I was,
when I find myself battling fear now, wrestling with doubts about how strong I still don't feel,
when I find myself dealing with jealousy, worry, disappointment,
I knew then and I know now that I have a choice.
I have many choices.

Here's what I found on the page between the Preface and the first chapter.
"There is always a before and an after.
My advice, travel light.
Choose only what you need most to see you through."

Before and after the doubt,
before and after the apprehension,
before and after the angst,
before and after the pain,
before and after every step I take,
I can choose what I will carry into the next phase of my journey.

Alice Hoffman's book reminded me - and reminds all of us - of some of the things that we get to choose even in the face of breast kanswer - which she also battled. Here are a few of the lessons she included in her list of lively little book -

* Choose your heroes - she described a friend about who battled kanswer this way: "She, herself, remained the same beautiful person she'd always been, with or without hair. You could take one look at her face and know she understood joy. In a last card to me, she wrote: Life is beautiful, just very unfair."

May that be said of more of us - that one look at our faces will reveal that we understand joy.
May more of us accept the truth of her final statement - life is so very beautiful, and so very unfair.

* Choose to enjoy yourself - "Start by eating chocolate," she suggests. "In fact, if you can, eat whatever you want. Any time. Any place. Cook your dream dinner."

Certainly that suggestion won't sit well with some people for very good reasons, but there is definitely a lot to be said for choosing to eat things we love and love what we eat. For choosing to enjoy our meals, our friendships, our conversations, our bodies, our relationships, the beauty of spring, and even the wildness of the weather. I choose to be grateful. I choose to be joyfull.

* About friends, she writes this - "If people aren't there for you now, when you really need them, they never will be, and it's time to move on. You'll be amazed by how many new friends you have in the after. They'll be the ones who aren't afraid of sorrow, who know we can't avoid it. The best we can do is face it together."

The first part of that description is sad, but true. Some folks that used to be good friends, that used to regularly check in with me, stopped doing so when I got sick. I am sorry to have lost contact with them. I wish them well. I wish them peace.

The good news is that I have many old friends and a few new ones that I met during the darkest time of my life who have flooded my life with light and laughter. Friends who aren't afraid of my tears or their own. Friends who are committed to facing their own battles bravely and willing to walk alongside me as I face my own with whatever bravery I can muster.

Enjoying life day by day, hour by hour,
spending time with friends, talking and looking up to my heroes,
eating chocolate every now and then, drinking tea and kombucha and fresh juices,
doing yoga, lifting weights, going for long, meditative walks
reading, journaling, sewing, painting, baking,
spending time in solitude and silence and prayer,
being honest with myself about how I'm feeling, what I need, and what I want,
asking for help, for support, for forgiveness, for a hug, and for time with my loved ones,
reclaiming every aspect of my life and also giving it over more fully to God,
these are a few of joys I have chosen and the lessons I have learned.

PS. I choose more than survival. I choose to thrive.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Not that it was any of her business...

Yesterday, I did some shopping at Trader Joe's. I love that story. It is my favorite supermarket.

I arrived at the register and discovered yet another super friendly cashier, as nearly all the employees tend to be. There was one young woman who used to work there who managed to never say "hello" to me. Now that may not be a big deal in some supermarkets, but in Trader Joe's that is a rarity. That chick used to greet everybody around me and near me, but look away and never even acknowledge my presence. I have no idea what that was about. But once I made the intentional decision to ask her for help finding something. She had to talk to me then. I haven't seen her much lately. Perhaps Trader Joe's was too friendly a place for her.

Back to yesterday's story. I got to the cash register and she started unloading and scanning my stuff. She asked if I just really liked carrots or was I going to juice them?
Not that it was any of her business.
I told her I was going to juice them.

Then she pulled the two packs of bacon out of my carriage.
With a judgmental and sarcastic tone, she inquired: "Juice with a side of bacon?"
I said, "The bacon is for my son."
Which it is... mostly. He loves bacon. I do to.
The packs only have eight slices, so he eats five or six and I eat two or three.

She asked how old he is.
I told her, "He's 17."
She continued, "So he's old enough to eat everything."
"Yup, he sure is."
Not that it was any of her business.

I have thought a lot about that conversation since it happened.
Why did she have to use such a judgmental tone?
Why did I care what she thought?

What on earth is wrong with drinking a juice and having "a side of bacon"?
Isn't it better to have a juice if I'm gonna eat bacon?
Not that it was any of her business.
It's my story. It's my body. It's my choice.

Why am I still stewing over her comments and questions?
Why expend so much mental and emotional energy on such a small exchange?
Why do I care so much what she thought or whether or not that other employee spoke to me?

It is because I, like everyone else, want to be seen, to be heard, to be loved, to be accepted as I am. I don't want to be ignored or belittled, judged or dismissed. I want my choices to be accepted and trusted as well-thought out and, even if they are not, they are my choices to make. What I decide to eat or wear, think or believe, read or write is up to me. It's between me and God, me and my sweet Momma Jesus, me and the ones with whom I choose to share myself, my heart, my thoughts, my fears, my doubts, my inconsistencies, and my questions.

I hope that the next time someone asks me if I'm having a juice with a side of bacon,
if I'm gonna be teaching a Sunday School class about contentment to women AND men,
if I'm gonna keep my hair short even though some say that "long hair is a womans's crowning glory,"
if I'm upset with or embarrassed by the decisions and choices my children make in their lives,
if I'm afraid to die or afraid to live,
I hope I will be courageous enough to say, "Yes" or "No" with strength, courage, determination, and without apology, explanation, or any sense of embarrassment.
Not that it is anybody else's business!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday

So much to give thanks for today.

* Spring has sprung around here with trees in bright bloom, daffodils bending in the breeze and warming temperatures predicted over the next three days. I plan to get out for a few long walks.
* Rain, long-lasting, earth-soaking rains.
* Two excellent college visits in the past ten days with my son.
* Confirmation that homeschooling as gone well over the years and that he is very close to be ready for college.
* Safe travel, not only to the colleges we've visited, but also back and forth to the supermarket, to church, to doctor's appointments, to pick Kristiana up for spring break, taking her back to school, and everywhere else we have gone, ever.
* An enjoyable and busy week with my daughter when she was home for spring break last week.
* How well the four-month follow up visit with my oncologist went on Monday.
* Seeing the nurses in the chemo treatment room and getting warm hugs from two of them.

* The pleasure of wearing clothes that I have made. (Have I mentioned that I have learned how to make infinity scarves, maxi skirts, and maxi dresses? What a challenge and what fun!)
* Teaching my daughter to make skirts for herself as well.
* The fact that my son still likes when I read to him - at he's 17.
* Emails that let me know that I am being thought of and that this blog is affecting the lives of other people. (Thanks so much, MM.)
* The promise of a few days alone - time to write, to read, to eat whatever I want and not have to feed anybody else, to sleep late, to go for walks, to do a solo Lenten retreat, to paint, to prepare for upcoming teaching and speaking engagements... but also to not overplan.
* Opportunities to do what I love so much - teach and lead groups in prayer and Bible study.
* Finding great uses for coconut oil and baking soda and hydrogen peroxide in my cleaning and beauty routines. Sometimes the simplest stuff is the best and most effective stuff.
* Fresh juices, cold water, clay face masks, pedicures, and sugar and salt scrubs.

* Glowing, healthy skin.
* Bifocals - yes, I've graduated to wearing bifocals.
* Being able to afford new glasses for myself and my daughter.
* Laughing at how much I can see now. We have really high quality televisions in this house. The images on the screens aren't as fuzzy as I thought they were. I realize that I couldn't even see myself clearly in the mirror before, but now I can. I once was blurry-eyed, but now I see.
* Laughter - I love to laugh.
* The courageous people I know who are taking on big issues and dealing with all the flak related to their choices to stand up for the oppressed and stand up against bullies. Like Anthony and Toni trying to get the people of Salisbury involved in local politics. Like Glennon encouraging all parents to see the giftedness and strengths of their children. Like Kathy out in Colorado who is working with folks who are often left out on the margins of faith communities. Those who are working to free slaves and prostitutes. Those who are working with refugees and immigrants here in the States and also in war-torn parts of the world. Those who provide health care, malaria nets, and food to those in need.
* The book that has taken me to a deeper, more meaningful, potentially life-changing way of writing. More than journaling, it is called Writing Down Your Soul. I bought it in Asheville back in January and I'm slowly working through it. Truthfully, it is working through me.
* How getting new glasses and seeing my physical world more clearly has lent itself to the recognition that there are many things in my spiritual, emotional, marital, parental, and relational life that I haven't seen clearly for a long time. Having to decide that I can act on these new insights. Deciding on what changes I want and need to make. Looking forward to those changes and their impact on my life.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What I think about when I'm on the road

About an hour and a half ago, my son and I arrived back at home after going on a college visit trip. It was a two hour drive from here to one of the state universities of the great state of North Carolina. I love to travel - whether it is to Spain, New York, Italy, or a mid-sized city here in my home state.

As we made our way home, my mind pondered dozens of questions.

* Who was the person who came up with the idea of highways?
* How many millions of trees had to be cut down in order to make highways?
* How many houses had to be demolished?
* How many farms were dismantled so that we could have roads to drive on?
* Who decided where the roads would be?
* How the heck do they build exit ramps and those amazingly tall and strong pilings that hold up the roadways?
* What is it like to be a construction worker with cars flying past you at excessive speeds all day?
* Who decided to plant wildflower seeds along the highway?
* Why do people throw garbage out of their cars and trucks onto the highway?
* Why do smokers think that it's okay to throw their lit cigarette butts out onto the highway?
* Who thought it was a good idea to put fake branches on cell phone towers?
* Am I the only one who thinks that cruise control was one of the best inventions in automobiles in many years?
* How much fun must it be to lay down the lane markings and those little reflector thingies on the road? To sit on the back of the truck and guide that paint gun thing?
* What does it feel like to be involved in the production of a street, a road, a highway, and know that countless cars will make their way to countless destinations because of your hard work?
* Who came up with the idea of making runaway truck ramps? And after a truck uses one, how does it get out of that deep sand?
* What happened to bring speed limits into being?
* How fast would people drive if there weren't any posted limits?
* When the speed limit is 70 mph, why do people feel the need to drive faster than that?
* How many people drove off of roads and hills before somebody invented and installed guard rails?
* When I see skid marks go from one lane off onto the shoulder, I wonder: What happened? Was there an accident? Is that person okay?
* Twelve days ago, when Kristiana and I were on the road, we saw two four-car accidents within half a mile from each other. I definitely wondered and still wonder: how the heck did that happen, two such serious accidents so close to one another?
* When did my son grow old enough to be looking at colleges?
* How is it possible that I was a freshman in college 30 years ago right now?
* How many more road trips will I get to take in my life?
* How many more wonder-filled places will I get to explore?
* Will I continue to appreciate and be grateful for the wonder of travel and of road trips?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

One year later...

Which was brighter - the sunlight or the glare off my forehead?

One year ago tonight, I was recovering from my final round of chemotherapy.
One year later, I am recovering from running errands all day with my children.

One year ago tonight, I was looking ahead to a week of aches and pains and exhaustion.
One year later, the only aches and pains I deal with are after working out.

One year ago tonight, I was figuring out how long I would have to wait until surgery.
One year later, my chest is as flat as a 12-year-old boy, the scars are healed, and I'm still glad I didn't have reconstructive surgery.

Thank you, everybody, for not telling me how puffy my face was.

One year ago tonight, I ordered my tickets to go to Spain in the fall.
One year later, that trip is behind me and I'm already dreaming about the next one.

I sure did!

I remember lying in bed three or four days after the first round of chemotherapy in November of 2012. I was in agony. Every joint ached. My mouth was sore. My head hurt. It felt like all systems were down or on their way there. I remember thinking, "If every round is worse than this, I am not going to survive six rounds." Over the next two weeks, I researched side effects and effective remedies for those side effects on the internet. I asked friends and nurses and anyone who seemed like they might know anything about chemotherapy. By the time the sixth round began, I was a pro at chemo. I knew when to take the right pain relief, when to take sleeping pills, when to eat and drink, when to give in and give over to the waves of exhaustion and just rest.

If you're gonna be bald, you may as well be fiercely bald.

I learned about taking claritin to relieve the aches and pain. The oncologist and the nurses don't know why it works, but it does. I can testify to that.

I learned about mouthwashes that relieve chemo-mouth. Who knew there was such a thing as chemo-mouth? I sure didn't.

I learned about the love, loyalty, and wonder of good friends and caring family members.

I learned that baldness is pretty awesome, that water feels amazing on a bald head, and that there are a lot of great hats in the world.

I learned that hot flashes are real!

I learned to savor and appreciate the ordinary details of life - from the comfort of a robe and slippers, to the deliciousness of my neighbor's matzo ball soup and banana bread, to the smiles of cashiers at the supermarket, to the beauty of the full moon, to the miracles that medicine, chiropractic adjustments, supplements, healthy food, kombucha tea, filtered water, Juice Plus capsules, and prayer can produce.

My most recent haircut. Yup, I'm keeping my hair short. No more locs for me.

One year ago tonight, I was celebrating the end of chemotherapy and the beginning of my (steep) uphill climb back to health and well-being.
One year later, the celebration and the uphill climb continue!
Thanks be to God!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Can I like you too much?

I like facebook. A lot. I like seeing what my friends are up to in their lives.

One woman I know posts photos of the food she makes with her husband and I drool over every single one.
Another one posts photos of herself and her children, skiing and hiking in Vermont, and I wish I were more of an outdoorsy person.
There is the horse and goat lover who runs a farm outside of Charlotte.
The Zen priest posts her words of wisdom.
The two poets share their latest creations.
The Reiki master finds the best quotes about parenting and autism and stress.
A woman who started teaching the same year I did, back in 1989, is now the head of a school in New York State. I love looking at the photos of her beautiful headmaster's house, and the photos of the fabulous trip she and her family took to France last year.
Another former colleague who recently attended a conference on the adolescent brain posted lists of the some of the things she learned there.
A college classmate who lives in Oslo takes THE MOST AMAZING VACATIONS of anyone I know - Bali, Italy, Singapore, India, and many more of the most colorful places in the world. She is beautiful. Her husband is handsome. Their children are more of the same.
Several of my cousins and a couple of friends from church post Bible verses almost exclusively.
Then there is the former student who is now a model - gorgeous woman. Amazing abs.
My nieces and nephews and their partners in life, on trips, at home, in church.
The blogger who has begun a Lenten gratitude practice with some of her 100,000+ followers.
The friend out in Arizona whose beautiful daughter steals her food and her heart every day.
Her friend and mine, who now lives and works as an advocate for refugees in the Middle East.
Photos of weddings and newborn babies and art projects and performances...
No matter how much my family and friends post, I want to see more. I want to read more. I want to know more.

I could spend hours every day looking at their posts and their photos. I click on the links they put on their timelines and laugh or groan, alternately, at the blogs, websites, photos, videos, and articles I land on. I have clever, funny, generous, interesting, witty friends. At least, that's the side of themselves that they post on facebook...

I like almost everything my friends post.
And I want to like it all. You know, "like" it.
Hit the "like" button and add my bright blue thumb to all the other likers.

But how much is too much? Can I like their posts too much? Can I like my facebook friends too much? If I like every photo and every post, then I worry that my friends will think I'm a stalker and a creeper. Then again, isn't that why people tell their stories and post their favorite photos? Don't we all tell our stories because we want our friends and family to like us, to hit that button, to boost our ego, and let us know that we are seen and liked.

That's why I blog too. To tell my story, to share my photos, to get affirmation and confirmation that I'm okay, that I'm not crazy, and that I'm not alone on this life journey.

But that's not the only reason I'm on facebook. That's not the only reason I blog. I pour my heart out here because I want you to know that you are not alone, that you are not crazy, and that there is another person out here on the information superhighway trying to slow myself, my thoughts, and my soul down enough to notice the details and appreciate them. I want you to laugh and groan with me. I want us to find ways to connect with each other even though we can't always be together. I want to look more closely at the world around me and within me - and share some of what I see with you, my friends and readers. I want to share the good parts of my life, of course, but also the messy parts - the sickness and health, the better and the worst. I want to show you who I am, share what I believe, and offer you the opportunity to show me who you are and share what you believe.

Can I like you too much? I hope not.  Am I willing to be considered a stalker by liking you a lot? Yes, I am willing. After all, no one has ever liked my posts or my writing too much. No one has ever liked me too much. No one has ever loved me too much, too passionately, or too frequently. And I don't think that anyone has ever been told how liked and loved they are often enough.*

So here goes - I like you.**
I like you because you come here and read my ramblings.
I like you because (some of) you have come to my home and visited with me in person.
I like you because you walked with me through my kanswer journey.
I like you because you are your beautiful, funny, witty, present, loving, kind self.
I like you because you are generous and patient, messy and silly.
I like you because you are alive and attentive and affectionate.
I like you because you are my friend, my family, and my companion.
I like you because you are fully, uniquely, irreducibly you.
I like you a lot.**

* Except for people who have real stalkers. And I promise I am not one.
** Seriously, I promise. I'm NOT a stalker.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

It's Ash Wednesday...

For the past fifteen years or so, on this day, I have begun a series of readings or prayers or actions or stoppage of actions "for Lent." In past years, I have given up candy, coffee, dessert, certain activities, and certain television shows. Often I have shared with others what I have given up and taken on, usually because I wanted to get their support and but partly to gain their admiration.

This morning, while listening to Rezandovoy, I was reminded of the challenging words of Jesus taken from Matther chapter 6. Jesus, the one whose life, death, and resurrection are the reason for Lent, told his disciples,
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites , for they love to pray standing in the synagoges and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father who is unseen; and your Father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

As I listened to today's prayers, I was confronted with a question about this very topic: do I do this, do I share my Lent-related decisions and activities with others in order to be applauded and adored by them? Do I want to live this Lent in order to draw closer to God and move deeper into my walk of faith? Or do I want to receive some kind of external, visible and tangible reward for all of this?

Does my desire to publish or share a list of what I'm going to do and not do for Lent come from a yearning to impress people and get their attention or from a yearning to engage the Gospel story more fully and in greater depth? Truthfully, I would probably get more blog readers if I made a promise to write a post every day or carry out some random act of kindness or give something away or serve the homeless everyday of Lent. All of those are good things to do and fine things to have done at the end of these 40 days. But if I tell everybody ahead of time, who am I doing it for? If I keep a daily and public record of all that I do during Lent, whose attention and praise am I seeking? What reward will I receive? I have to wonder - am I doing this for a reward?

If doing stuff to be seen by others is the mark of a hypocrite, then I am guilty of being a hypocrite. I cannot and will not deny that I do a lot of what I do to be seen by men and women and children. For example, every time I sit down to write a blog post, I think about some of the people that I imagine are reading it. "What will she think? What will he think? Am I being too blatantly religious? Am I not being religious enough? What does "being religious" even mean in this context? It's my blog; I can write whatever I want... but still - what if ______________ reads this post? Will she think I've lost my mind and become a fundamentalist? Will Pastor __________ think I have lost my mind and become a liberal? Will they think I'm not serious enough or dedicated enough?" I sometimes get so completely bogged down in what other people will think of me that I write nothing at all and watch the days slip by silently as I talk myself out of sharing what is on my heart.

This Lent, I plam to spend less time worrying about what people think of me and more time wondering what God thinks of me and I think of God. I plan to worry less about being the recipient of admiration, attention, rewards and readership from the outside in order to be more aware of and receptive to the voice of the Spirit of God on the inside.

What am I giving up for Lent this year? My habit of talking about what I'm giving up for Lent.

Lord, please help me to remember that all of this - Ash Wednesday, the many weeks of Lent, and the triumph that is Easter -  is about you, your love, your life, your death, and most importantly, your resurrection from the dead. Please stop me before I do or say or write anything that makes a mockery of your love or makes it more about me than about you. Thank you for the reminder that sometimes keeping things a secret is the best thing I can do. Thank you for the challenge of these words and the challenge of living a life that pleases and honors you, not only during Lent but all life long.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Things that are wonderful* - also known as Thankful Thursday

Andrea Scher wrote this piece recently. It is a timely and necessary reminder of the hope, the faith, the trust that "underneath the mess, everything is marvelous, I'm sure." Within that fine blog post was a link to this one - from which the title of my post is derived. Maya Stein, one of my favorite poets, wrote a poem called, "Comforts," that Andrea includes in her post about things that are wonderful.


This tall glass of ice water. This quadrant of untamed grass. This half of a grapefruit, pixelated with sugar. This final plank of an empty dock. This red-hued living room. This carved rhinoceros from a place where the real thing runs wild. This echo of a laugh, a touch, a conversation that turned the world upside down. This piece of lined paper. This single bloom from a late summer garden, tucked inside a thin vase. This teeming silence. This warmth. This brief break 
between disruptions. This sprawl of newspaper on the porch. This blank canvas. This tube of paint. This back road squirreling a mountain range. This maple donut filled with custard. This soup you’ll make when your father comes to visit. This five-dollar bill found after two loads of vacation wash. This faint smell of mint coming back from a run. This atlas on the driver’s seat. This curtain parting from the stage. This tree angling its leaves toward autumn. This story birthed from ashes. This unstoppable turning of the page.

How could their beautiful, well-chosen words do anything but draw me to the keyboard to compose a list of things that I think are wonderful, the things for which I am thankful today?

* getting paid for babysitting with homemade chocolate chip cookies and homemade granola
* the lentil and veggie stew that came from the same awesome friend... who is also an awesome cook
* laughing at Jimmy Kimmel and Paul Rudd with her while the cookies cooled
* driving home in the dark with my son, both of us eating those warm treats

* the sour, pungent, healthful experience of drinking kombucha
* the sweet, warm delight of drinking coffee
* the goodness of a freshly pressed green juice
* the sticky, gooey, artificially colored confection that is red Australian licorice

* a handmade Valentine's Day card from my niece
* sending a handmade Valentine's Day card to my daughter
* the bounty of love, affection, and presence that envelops me from all sides

* watching my tiny little doggie sniff at the grass, the bushes, the car tires, and nearly everything else she sees at her eight-inch line of sight, curious about everything she encounters
* the pure and unconditional nature of her love and loyalty to us
* the way that she can always tell if something is wrong with one of us - whether we are dealing with emotional, physical, or mental distress, she stays nearby until we are feeling better. Her empathy, her gentleness, her emotional connection to us is beautiful to behold and experience.

* taking long walks on warm days
* feeling the sweat bead up on my forehead and run down my temples - and not because I'm having a hot flash
* having the strength, the will, and the desire to exercise regularly
* the prospect of stringing together many days of long walks in the days, weeks, and months to come
* thinking of Leonie and her family who have enjoyed a hot summer during this same time that we have wrapped ourselves in robes and blankets to stay warm. For some reason, when I am cold, I am comforted by knowing that it is warm someplace and someone I know is enjoying the summer sun.

* the full moon sliced into slivers by the trees
* the pale pink blossoms on the trees
* the rise of the daffodils
* the refusal of most of the trees and bushes to be destroyed by the weight of the snow two weeks ago

* the simple but profound wonder of sending snail mail - I take it to the box at the end of my driveway. a stranger takes it out of that box and puts it in her truck, drives it to a building a few miles away, sends it through a sorting system, puts it into another truck or perhaps into a bag that will be put onto an airplance, and a certain time later, that letter ends up in the hands of the person to whom I sent it... most of the time.
* the way in which other strangers, some in brown outfits, some in outfits of other colors, show up at our front door with packages of all sizes, shapes, and weights
* the fact that they can leave those packages outside of our house if we aren't home - and we have never had a package stolen from our front steps or next to our garage
* finding letters or packages with my name on them either in the mailbox or at our front door and smiling with the recognition that someone else someplace else thought about me and trustingly went through that same process with me in mind

* the courage of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as they stand up against discrimination, ostracism, and isolation by some of my Christian brother and sisters
* the many Christians who are standing up against this same discrimination, apologizing for the short-sightedness and fear, ignorance and misunderstanding of Jesus' call on us to love one another, to put down our stones, and to go and sin no more
* remembering that Jesus didn't feed crowds of four or five thousand people - except for "the gays"
* the reminders that the only people Jesus got mad at were the religious people who were constantly challenging him for his association with social and religious outcasts, and his own disciples who often tried to keep children and needy people away from him
* the conversations, debates, blog posts, poetry, gab sessions, and other exchanges that are causing me to rethink my sometimes too-firmly-held-but-not-carefully-thought-out positions and figure out new and deeper ways to be who I am called to be in the world with and for others
* knowing that I am not alone when I acknowledge the fact that as my mind is being changed, I risk the loss of respect and communion with some folks whose opinions I used to share and agree with. There is a cost to taking a stand like this.

* watching a documentary about the Supreme Court decision on Loving vs. Virginia, the case that struck down all state laws that prohibited inter-racial marriage. I love that their names were Richard and Mildred Loving. They simply asked to be allowed to do their loving however and wherever they wanted. I am in the middle of watching (and discussing) it with my son, who is himself a product of the freedom granted by that decision.
* This is my second or third time watching it, and it makes me get emotional every time. What brave people they were. What courage it took for them to fight that battle and set an example for their three children of how to stand up for what you know is right, even in the face of danger and opposition. Even when that danger and opposition comes from the government, the police, and one's own neighbors and fellows townspeople. I am glad to know that the decision was unanimous.
* reestablishing the habit of kissing my 17-year-old goodnight and saying a bedtime prayer with him After all, who in the world is too old to be kissed and prayed with before drifting off to sleep? To be clear, I am usually the one going to bed when we kiss and pray, not him.

* The most wonderful thing right now is simple: I am alive. We are alive. And as long as we are alive, there is hope for the future, a future that can be built with love, courage, hope, faith in the midst of the pain, loss, suffering, and fear. We can find beauty and wonder all around us and within us. Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Out on a walk today

Today was another gorgeous day in Charlotte. Bright sunshine. Light breeze. Mild temperatures.
As I walked, I talked on the phone for a bit.
I looked at groves of trees and soccer fields.
I watched cars sail past a little too fast and a little too close.

I prayed for people I know and people I don't know.
My neighbor's mother died two weeks ago. She and her mom were best friends.
The mother of two of my favorite bloggers - they are sisters - died this past weekend.
One cherished friend has been actively seeking full-time employment for well over a year.
She also recently lost an uncle.
Another is planning a trip to Europe with her family.
My sister-in-law went back to work today, a couple of weeks after surgery.
Another sister-in-law walked a half-marathon to raise money for kanswer research this weekend.
The daughter of a dear friend who died of kanswer several years ago ran the full marathon at the same event in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Both of them had my name on their bibs. They don't know each other, but the both know me. I am humbled and so grateful for their love and kindness on my behalf and on behalf of the millions of others who have fought and are fighting kanswer.

I just finished reading a funny, sad, poignant book called The Victoria's Secret Catalog never stops coming - and other lessons I learned from breast cancer, by Jennie Nash. She wrote eloquently about the gift of love, friendship, meals, smoothies, hugs, and presence during the terrible ordeal that kanswer is. She wrote about the fear and courage, the decisions and uncertainty, scars and breast reconstruction, arrogant doctors and compassionate spouses, and the worry and hope that all ebb and flow during the months and years of treatment and survival following a diagnosis.

As I walked today, I thought about that book. I thought about Anya and Noemi and their commitment to help end the terrible reign of kanswer in the world by walking and running and raising money for the cause. I thought about all the women and men dealing with new diagnoses, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, recurrences, hospice care, saying good-bye to their friends, their neighbors, their children, their spouses - and far worse, the ones who are facing this battle alone. There are far too many people who keep their illness to themselves, who don't have strong shoulders to lean on, who don't have meals being brought to them, who have been forgotten and abandoned on the battlefield of their health crises. I weep when I think of those lonely, frightened, and exhausted warriors.

As I walked, I couldn't help but wonder about what I would do and how I would respond if I were to have a recurrence. The "what ifs?" do get burdensome sometimes, I must confess.

As I walked along the busy road, I looked down and saw a piece of paper propped up in the grass.

How perfect is that?

I read it as I walked past, and smiled broadly to myself. I took four or five more steps, then I went back and took this picture. For a split second I thought about picking it up and keeping it, but I decided to leave it there with the hopes that it would bless and encourage someone else the way it blessed and encouraged me. 

Out on a walk today, I fell into a pit of sadness because of the battles I know that so many people are facing, as well as a few of my own. Thanks be to God and to the person who wrote and sent a love note out into the world of South Charlotte, I didn't remain in that pit for very long. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

All other ground...

Our house, like many in the Carolinas, is built on red clay.

Soon after we moved in, I was reminded of that fact - the messy way. One day, two of Kristiana's friends came to play with her here in the house. One of them left to go home, but soon thereafter realized that she had forgotten something here. I opened the door and she ran up the stairs, into Kristiana's room, and back down the stairs, tracking red clay up and down the "builder's beige" carpet. Muddy footsteps on our newly cleaned carpet.

That clay might leave permanent stains but it does not provide a particularly stable or permanent foundation for a brick house. Two years ago, I noticed cracks in the brick on the front corner of our house. We had them fixed. Then last year, I saw more cracks. We got those fixed as well. Today, I noticed sizeable cracks in our driveway. I'm not even sure it's possible to fix these cracks - they are that big. Sometimes I want to sell the house and get away from this red clay and all the cracks and start again someplace more solid.

As I stared down at the broken concrete, my mind drifted back to the fortresses and churches and towers I saw in Spain last October. They were built more than 500 years ago, some of them, but they stood strong, no cracks visible, at least not to my untrained eyes. I wish out house was as well built as any one of those edifices.

But the truth is that no matter how well built the house might be, if it is sitting on a shaky foundation, slippery clay, or shifting sands, it will not stand firm forever. It will crack. And someday it will fall.

This morning while driving to a friend's house, as I listened to one of my favorite hymns,
I found myself singing these words:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name. 
On Christ, the solid rock I stand, 
all other ground is sinking sand, 
all other ground is sinking sand.

The first four lines there have not always been true for me.
I have built my hope on many things other than the blood of Jesus.
I have placed my trust in a lot of sinking sand in my lifetime.
I have leaned on many names and many people who have not been worthy of my belief.

I thought marriage would be the answer to my loneliness.
Sinking sand.
I thought parenting would be the most fulfilling job I could ever have.
Sinking sand.
I thought being actively involved at church would quench my doubts.
Sinking sand.
I thought my loyal and loving friends would fill in the cracks
that marriage and parenting and church couldn't fill.
Sinking sand.
I thought having money, a brick house, and a closet full of clothes,
I thought that traveling extensively, reading, writing, teaching -
and everything else I have ever had or done -
would combine to fill my soul, satisfy me, and ease the sensation of living on
Sinking sand.
No such luck.
All those things have helped ease my loneliness, my fears, and my doubts some,
but ultimately it's all sinking sand.
Because all of us are seeking and all of us are sinking.
All of us are a mess. All of us are hoping for that which we don't yet have.
And none of us can fill the holes for anyone or in anyone else.

Which is why I thank God for Jesus, for faith and hope and joy and grace.
I thank God for the stories of healing, of forgiveness, of tenderness,
of attention, of presence, of friendship between Jesus, the disciples, and
all the others who were blessed enough to know Jesus when he was on earth.
I am grateful for the story of the woman who wanted to touch
the hem of Christ's garment in the hopes of being healed.
I am grateful for the story of the woman caught in adultery
(I have often wondered: Where was the man she was caught with?)
whose life was saved by Jesus' intervention on her behalf.
I am grateful for the story of the woman who sat with Jesus at the well
and had the longest conversation with Christ recorded in Scripture.
When I reread those stories, my faith deepens as does my love for Christ.

Let me be quick to add: There are still times when I doubt.
When I question. When I wonder. When I think this faith thing is NUTS!
Born of a virgin? Fed thousands with one boy's lunch?
Died on a cross? ROSE FROM THE DEAD??? Crazy stuff.
Sometimes I can't believe that I believe it. Sometimes I doubt every word of it.

I have two books called, "The Benefit of the Doubt."
Different books by different authors with the same message: doubt happens.
It is normal. It is part of everyone's faith journey at some point.
Doubt is also useful because it always pushes me to ask more questions, to pray more,
to seek others who are willing to be honest about their questions and doubts,
and in the end, my doubt increases the strength of my faith.
Not long ago, I read something that said, "You can't doubt something you don't believe."
Like the father whose story is told in Mark 9, I often say: "I do believe; help my unbelief."

All my doubts notwithstanding, nothing gives me more peace or joy than the name of Jesus, 
than the stories of his life on earth, and the comfort of prayer and silence with 
the One that I believe loves me most of all. 

Shaky foundation. Shifting sands. Cracks in the walls. Broken concrete.
Every crack, every shift, every break I see in my house,
in my family, in my friendships, in my church, reminds me -
All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.