Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Raising my Ebenezer

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Life is short, so...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Life is too short to take any of my advice. 

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


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


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

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


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thankful, Throwback Thursday

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to God.

*****

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

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

Again I say it - thanks be to God.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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

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



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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Thankful Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divine timing strikes again.
Thanks be to God.


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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

No turning back, no turning back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How beautiful and powerful is that?!?

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

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

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

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Keeping it Real

Today I am grateful for the gift of sight.

It wasn't long after I had my daughter that I realized I couldn't see as well as I used to. Watching television, reading the song lyrics on the screen at church, going to the movies and driving at night forced me to squint. The next time I went to the eye doctor, I was prescribed a pair of glasses. I didn't know how much I had been missing until I began to wear those visual enhancers. I didn't need them for reading, but I did require them for seeing things at a distance. I once was blind, but now I see much better.

Earlier this year, I went back for my annual eye exam. I knew I needed to continue wearing glasses for distance viewing, but I continued to take them off when I read or sew or do other things within arm's length. What I wasn't prepared for was the need to upgrade to bifocals. Progressive lenses, they are called. Graduated viewing range from the top to the bottom of the lens. I am getting old!

I remember seeing my parents' glasses with their miniature windows in the center/bottom half of their lenses. A little blurry box that allowed them to focus on small print and hand-held tasks. I remember thinking, "I will never wear glasses that look like that." Forturnately for me, the science and technology have changed - so now I get to wear "progressive lenses" without the telltale magnifying box embedded in them. I'm probably as blind as either of my parents, but with much cuter frames... I once was blind, but now I see better still.

Two weeks ago, on the first full day of our week in Hilton Head, my husband and daughter waded out into the ocean and rode a few waves in towards the shore. With his back to the incoming tide, he didn't see the water as it rolled in - and one large wave washed his glasses off his face and into the churning water. Just like that, gone.

When he walked back to our chairs, all he said was, "I needed new glasses anyway."
I said, "Tell me you're kidding."
Nope, not kidding. They were gone.

An hour's drive later, we were in Savannah, Georgia, at the closest Lenscrafters store that was open on a Sunday afternoon. He underwent a long overdue eye exam and was fitted with new glasses. We had an hour to waste before they would be ready so we drove into downtown Savannah and had a lovely lunch at a restaurant by the river.

And when I say, "we drove," I mean, I drove. Somebody couldn't see much beyond the end of his extended arm. I wanted to be on the beach, reading my most excellent novel, but I wasn't. I wanted to be sipping ice water and eating chilled grapes by the water, but I wasn't. I was not a happy vacationer.

During the afternoon and evening of that day, Steve repeatedly expressed how remorseful he felt about inconveniencing us that way. He apologized. He berated himself for not taking his glasses off before going into the water. He asked for forgiveness. Externally, I forgave him and told him not to worry about it. Stuff happens. Mistakes happen. Life happens. Internally, I was seething. I'm sure my displeasure was palpable. I was not showing my happy and grateful side that afternoon.

Later that day, I complained about what happened to a friend via text. She challenged me - "There must be some symbolism in there somewhere." That's one of the reasons why I love Lisa so much - she always gives me excellent things to ponder.

The words to that old, old hymn came to me almost immediately.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I'm found,
was blind but now I see.

I wondered: What am I supposed to see now because of this situation?

How many times have I turned my back on the reality of my life, been knocked down by unexpected challenges, and subsequently rendered blind by my refusal to face the truth about myself or my life?

Am I willing to admit when I notice blind spots in my life? Am I able to listen and take advice from friends and others who inform me of my blind spots or do I immediately get defensive and make excuses for my faults and failures?

Am I willing to undergo metaphorical "eye exams" and be given results? Am I willing to listen and receive comments like these? "Your vision is off. Your perception is getting worse. You need to see more clearly. You need to change the way you do things and see things and look at the world around you."

Which lenses, which ways of seeing the world do I need to let go of, need to allow to be washed away and replaced? The old ways of seeing don't serve me well indefinitely. Perhaps it is time to rethink the way I look at my marriage, at parenting, at my friendships, at my walk of faith, at my involvement in church, and at my community service.

Am I brave enough to apologize when I've messed up and ask for forgiveness? Am I humble enough to ask repeatedly when it is clear that the offended party isn't convinced of my sincerity?


As we waited for the final adjustment of his new glasses, I realized that, even though I was angry about having to leave the beach that day, we were blessed to be able to get new glasses without having to wait for the next paycheck to come in or having to put it on a credit card that wouldn't get paid off for years. We are blessed to be able to work together to resolve that kind of situation together and quickly.

We are blessed to be in a marriage where such mistakes are not held against one another. We don't bring up past wrongs and make each other feel bad about mistakes made. (Yes, I'm writing about this publicly, but I asked his permission to tell the story. He said it was fine with him. And once again he apologized for having lost his glasses that day...)

Losing a pair of glasses is inconvenient. When held up and looked at against the backdrop of all that is happening in the world, losing a pair of glasses is an extremely minor inconvenience. Even within the context of our vacation, that was an extremely minor inconvenience - fortunately it was the worst thing that happened all week. I am enormously grateful for that.

Inconveniences, major inconveniences happen to all of us and to those we love -
and also to those we don't love and don't know.
Kanswer happens.
Recurrence happens.
Bipolar disorder happens.
Addiction happens.
Disappointment happens.
Frustration happens.
War happens.
Evacuation happens.
Ebola happens.
Death happens.
Accidents happen.
Arguments happen.
Disagreements happen.
Infestations happen.
Botched surgeries happen.
Fractured bones happen.
Broken hearts happen.
Blindness happens.

With each happening, each inconvenience, I need to return to my calmest state and ask myself -
What am I supposed to see, to learn, to experience as a result of everything that happens to me, because of me and around me?
Who am I meant to assist in their journey towards new ways of seeing and experiencing their lives?
To whom will I turn when I lose my glasses and cannot find my way?
What can I be thankful for in the midst of the messiness, the mystery, and the miracle of this life journey I'm on?
Is it still true that all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of thing shall indeed be well?

Thank you, Steve, for the opportunity to take care of you in your moments of blindness.
Thank you for enduring my bad attitude and obvious impatience that day.
Thank you, Lisa, for challenging me to find a new way of seeing a new problem.
Thank you, Lord, for this yearning in me to find ways not only to be grateful, but also to learn the necessary lessons no matter what the situation. Thank you for allowing me to stumble in blindness sometimes so that I can learn to have a greater appreciation for the wonder of sight.

As much as I want to write - "I once was blind but now I see,"
the truth is that I'm still pretty blind in a lot of areas in my life.
But thanks be to progressive lenses and a progressive learning curve,
I see a whole lot better than I used to. Literally and figuratively.
Just keeping it real.
Thanks be to God.

***
Still thankful the following day... I met a friend for lunch today and in her prayer over our meal, she said, "And Lord, please remove the scales from our eyes so that we can see your kingdom breaking through into our lives and the world." Considering the fact that she hadn't read this Thankful Thursday post, I took her words as an awesome moment of synchronicity and confirmation... Amen? Amen.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

What I don't want to write about

I don't want to write about the war between Gaza and Israel.
I don't want to write about the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I don't want to write about guns and bombs and shootings.
I don't want to write about airplane crashes or planes being shot out of the sky.
I don't want to write about the fact that an airplane full of passengers has been missing for months.
I don't want to write about the school girls that were taken from their school more than 100 days ago.

I don't want to write about refugees fleeing bandits and soldiers.
I don't want to write about corrupt government officials and the ways they take advantage of the people under their care.

I don't want to write about thousands of Central American children entering this country by themselves and turning themselves into border control officers.
I don't want to write about what they must feel when they are screamed at and threatened in a language they don't understand.
I don't want to write about how terrible their prospects must be for their parents to send them on a journey of hundreds of miles by themselves.

I don't want to write about child abuse, sexual trafficking, and incest.
I don't want to write about missing children or kidnapped children.
I don't want to write about children with kanswer or autism or diabetes.
I don't want to write about children with special needs.
I don't want to write about abortion.
I don't want to write about the ebola virus either.

I don't want to write about loneliness, anger, disappointment and abandonment.
I don't want to write about separation, divorce, and widowhood.
I don't want to write about infidelity, emotional or physical.
I don't want to write about arguments and disagreements, insults and sarcasm.
I don't want to write about the effect of broken relationships on all of us.

I don't want to write about job loss and chronic unemployment.
I don't want to write about bankruptcy, unpaid medical bills and credit card debt.
I don't want to write about the burden of second mortgages and school loans.
I don't want to write about foreclosure or being upside down on the mortgage.
I don't want to write about retirees whose retirement funds were stolen from them.

I don't want to write about watching a loved one die of a debilitating illness.
I don't want to write about the shock of hearing a terrible diagnosis.
I don't want to write about having to decide between two or more horrific courses of treatment.
I don't want to write about odds of survival.
I don't want to write about chances of recurrence.

I don't want to write about mental illness.
I don't want to write about addiction.
I don't want to write about anorexia.
I don't want to write about obsession.
I don't want to write about borderline personality disorder.

I don't want to write about wildfires, floods, typhoons, drought, and tropical storms.
I don't want to write about poverty and homelessness.
I don't want to write about hunger and the inability to feed one's children.
I don't want to write about women who are forced to have children they cannot provide for or take care of.

I don't even want to think about those things. About deep and long-term suffering, especially when those who suffer are children. But I think about those things a lot. I wonder how mothers of the missing maintain hope. I wonder how difficult it must be to walk away from a marriage. I wonder about the anorexic woman I saw at the bagel shop this morning - truly the thinnest adult my son and I have ever seen. I was glad that she was ordering a bagel and that the man behind the counter seemed to recognize her. I wonder about the family of someone I know with borderline personality disorder and how difficult their lives must be. I wonder what it feels like to lose control of your thoughts and emotions, to spiral into a manic episode or descend into depression. I wonder what mothers do when they send their children to bed with empty stomachs. I wonder about the doctors and nurses, therapists and hospice caregivers who care for the living, who comfort the dying, and who must maintain courage and strength to do it all again.

I wonder about the things I don't want to write about. I cry about those things.
I send small amounts of money to various places to try to ease suffering.
I volunteer at a food pantry twice a month.
I pray about those things - and the millions, the billions of people suffering.
I pray for peace, for comfort, for the love of friends and family,
for an end to war, for the willingness to lay down weapons and work for peace,
and I pray desperately that there are people who can give more money and more time
than I do helping those in need.

I want to believe that there is progress being made towards the resolution of some of these crises.
All of these crises. All of the world's problems. All of my own problems.
But I don't want to write about them.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thankful Thursday

* long walks on unseasonably cool July mornings

* a three hour conversation with a dear friend punctuated by laughter, tears, gasps, and head shakes. We shared stories of church sagas, being alone but not lonely, travel, spiritual growth, and food.

* locally grown tomatoes given to us by a neighbor

* homemade pasta sauce over egg noodle linguine - I will miss my daughter/personal chef when she goes back to college in just over two weeks

* having neighbors that stop their cars and chat before heading off to do errands or to work

* eating toast made from bread that was baked this morning at a bakery that is a mile from my house

* Rodney Yee's yoga workouts - my dream is that someday I will be able to sit in lotus position

* time spent decluttering closets and bookshelves, then donating the decluttered items to Good Will

* lunch yesterday with my daughter and the senior pastor of our church - it is a precious and beautiful thing to be welcomed into a community of faith, heard, seen, and invited to share my story

* the lessons learned in and from walking a labyrinth



* seeing my family in a llama family


* sunrise on the beach



* breakfast and a good read at the beach house


* "Time stands still best in moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life."


* I am grateful for the extraordinary beauty and joy of ordinary days

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

So many new faces - and a few repeats

I love watching people. At airports. At the supermarket. In church. At the beach.
Last week, on Hilton Head Island, I did a lot of people watching.
Perched comfortably in my chair, I watched parents play with, scold, feed, and dig holes with their children.
I watched couples rub sunscreen on each other's backs.
I watched young men and old women drink beer after beer after beer.
I watched pot-bellied men read the newspaper while being seared by the sun.
I watched children run and jump onto skimmers and nearly break their backs trying to stay upright.

I watched people throwing footballs, kicking soccer balls, and flying kites.
I watched children feed the flotilla of turtles in the small pond at the entrance to the walkway to the beach. 

I watched too many people ask the lifeguards for the spray that you use after getting stung by a jellyfish.
I watched and watched and wondered.

What brought all these people here to this island this week?
Why this week and not some other week?
Where are they from?
How long are they here?
Will they sleep well tonight in their hotel rooms or rental homes?
Are they worried about how they will pay for all this?
Where did she get that bathing suit?
With that deep sunburn, isn't he afraid of getting skin kanswer?

How many of them have had kanswer?
How many of them have watched their loved one deal with illness?
Have any of them lost someone recently?
Are they happy? Are they at peace?
Do they feel loved? Are they in love?

The best part of people watching for me this week was seeing the same people more than once. 
There was one family with five kids, three teenaged daughters and two younger sons. The parents ran with them down to the water and sat with them in their chairs. They talked and laughed and played games. They appeared to be a happy and contented family. The photo below is them leaving - Dad in front, kids and wife following.

There was another family with three young children, the oldest one not more than 7 years old. The youngest was a little red-headed girl with the cutest pink and white "rash guard" tee shirt that she wore every day. They too appeared to be having a great time together. I saw that family two or three days in a row, then on the final day, we arrived at the beach at the same time, so I had to take another photo as we followed them onto the sand. How cute is that little redhead?


I took this one the day before as she left with her family.


There was a couple, a woman who appeared to be Indian and her white male companion. (Of course, I would notice the interracial couple...) They set up a rather elaborate looking tent contraption one morning, and then promptly left with their dog. They returned a couple of hours later - without the dog - and sat under that tent until after we left at 5 pm. They looked like they were enjoying each other's company very much, laughing and drinking and feeding each other crackers with hummus (yes, I was watching closely enough to see exactly what they were eating. They had the same pretzel thin crackers that I had!) Unfortunately, he was smoking one of those ridiculous e-cigarettes. 




My favorite people to watch - and sneak photos of - were the older couples. The ones who seem like they had been together for years and knew each other's needs and preferences without seeming to ask out loud. This couple below was very friendly and inquisitive. Every now and then, he would go off on a bike ride or a walk to the water. She sat and watched and dug her toes into the sand and made conversation with me. So kind.


The woman in the photo below, in the near chair, looked like she was frail, weak, perhaps even suffering with an illness. Her husband also went off on bike rides during the day and then they left together for a while. I assume they went for lunch and a nap. After they returned, they sat and stared out at the water for a long time. I didn't even realize they were holding hands until I looked at this photo days after taking it.


As I watched these two older couples interact, I wondered: what do they think when they look at all these young families with children? Do they remember beach vacations with their own little ones? Or perhaps they never had children and wish they had or are glad they never had any. I wondered if they cared what people thought of their thighs and their abs and the shape of their biceps - like those of us who still are foolish enough to think those things matter. When they sat there holding hands in quietness and tenderness, do they wonder if they will ever be back at the beach together again? Maybe they aren't married and are here as recently discovered love interests. 

I let my mind wander in all kinds of directions during my many hours of scoping out my vacation mates. I am never bored with my thoughts or my imagination - especially when I am people-watching.

Nearly everyone looked happy at the beach, like they were enjoying the bright sunshine and warm water, the food and drinks they had brought with them and the relaxed atmosphere. All the while, I wondered - are they really happy? Will they yell and scream at each other later when no one else is around? Will they return to a peaceful or a chaotic household? Are they afraid for their future and for the future of our planet? Are they thinking about or praying for someone they know that is gravely ill or out of work or struggling with an addiction? Are they worried about how they will pay for this vacation? I suppose we all can answer "yes" to all of those questions at one point in our lives, perhaps every week, or even as frequently as every day.

One of my spiritual practices is this - when I see someone more than once, I pray for them. I figure that if God wanted me to see them several times and notice that I had seen them several times, then there must be a reason for it. So I prayed for those families, those couples, those singles, for the lifeguards too - for safe travels back home, for peace, for love, for health, and for happiness. And as often as they come to mind, I will lift them in prayer. I don't need to know what their needs are. I am honored to be able to lift them before the throne of grace and mercy so that they too can find help in their times of need. We all need allies and companions on this journey of life, even if we don't know their names, their stories, or their particular circumstances. 

I confess that I wonder if any of them remember seeing me more than once. I wonder if they took any surreptitious photos of me in my chair, reading, journaling, eating cherries and pretzel crackers and my newest sandwich combination - freshly ground almond butter and a sliced banana on multigrain bread. Delicious and nutritious! 

So many new faces - and a few repeats. So many stories. So much pain. So much joy. So much abundance. So much beauty. So much suffering. So much heartbreak. So many choices and providential occurences and outright miracles that brought us to that place last week for a few shared days down by the sea. I am grateful for every face I saw and every life whose path I crossed. 

I wish them all well as they transition back into whatever their lives may be and may bring. 
I wish them fond beach vacation memories. Especially that adorable little redheaded girl. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Down by the sea...

It's been quiet around here for a while. I've been on the road again.
The family and I just got back from a week at the beach on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Before I post pictures about that trip, let me explain a little of my relationship with the beach. My husband and I went to Hawaii on our honeymoon, to the island of Kauai, actually, and it was beautiful. Colors of trees. Scents of flowers. Sky. Sunshine. Mountains. Volcanoes. We watched fireworks from Poipu Beach. We saw an eclipse of the sun. Magnificent. And the beaches were fantastic.

At the time, however, I loved everything about the beach - except for the sand and the water. I'll let that sink in for a moment. So Steve would go out and lay on the beach and sunbathe. And I would stay in the room and wave to him every now and then from the balcony. Yes, it's true - I was inside our second floor hotel room in Kauai, Hawaii, reading trashy novels and watching soap operas on television while my husband, my brand new, remarkably understanding and patient husband, sunbathed alone less than 50 yards away.

Fast forward five years, we took Kristiana to Florida for a week. I was pregnant with Daniel. That trip I sat with them on the beach but never got into the water. I didn't want Kristiana in the water either, so she sat with me and we watched others frolic in the water. That was also the time when a seagull snatched my sandwich out of my hand, just inches from my face. What the what???

Five years later, Steve and I went on a cruise in South America which included a stop in Rio de Janeiro, where we sat on Copacabana Beach and once again, I DID NOT GO INTO THE WATER. There was something seriously wrong with me. I don't even think I put on a bathing suit that day.

Soon thereafter, we took our first trip to Puerto Rico, to an amazing resort called the El Conquistador Resort. That time I did go into the water. I loved it. And I looked back on those earlier trips and shook my head at my silliness and stubbornness. We went to that place in Puerto Rico three times. Then Costa Rica. Then Menorca in Spain. I was hooked on seaside vacations.

Then we discovered Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. The beach there is wide and flat and slopes gently down to the gently rolling ocean. The beach was packed with other vacationers, sunburned adults, pale faced children, vigilant moms, beer sipping older women, newspaper reading older men, families, people alone, walkers, bikers, runners - and there I was. Every day. Sitting. Watching. Reading. Taking photos. And even going into the water. The only thing that deterred me was the number of people emerging from the surf complaining of having been stung by jellyfish. As sand swirled vigorously below the surface of the water, seeing the jellyfish was rendered impossible.

On Friday, our last full day at the sea, I arrived at 9 am with Steve and Daniel. We rented an umbrella and two chairs (our umbrella fell victim to an assault by a brutish southerly wind the day before) and set up camp for the day. Steve went back to the rental house to work on his computer - poor baby - while Daniel and I sat and watched the beach come to life. Ninety minutes later, Daniel abandoned me for higher and cooler ground back at the house. Kristiana came to join me around 11:30 am and Steve arrived soon thereafter. (So much individual coming and going is made possible and sponsored by Peddling Pelicans, the bicycle rental company that we use when we are on HHI. Bike riding is one of the highlights of our time there - at least it is for me.) Steve stayed for a little over an hour and had to go back for more work. Kristiana returned to the house with him. Then he came back at 3 pm and stayed with me until 4:50 PM. Sadly, our umbrella and chair rental ended at 5 pm.

Did you notice what or who stayed constant in that account??? ME! I was at the beach from 9 am until 4:50 pm - and I didn't even want to leave then. I spent most of the time in my chair, I must confess, watching people, reading, journaling, eating and drinking. But I also went into the water, sat myself down at the water's edge and allowed the water to wash over my feet and legs. I was in heaven. Heaven in Hilton Head. When I thought back to my time in Hawaii, I had to laugh - I am now the person in our family who wants to spend the most time at the seashore. I've come a mighty long way. It was a glorious trip.

As the planet twisted and turned last week, as airplanes crashed and burned, as Middle Eastern neighbors bombed each other and North Americans tried to expel desperate children back over our border, I sat on the beach and marveled at the beauty of that island just off the coast of South Carolina. The quietness. The peace. The wonder. The bright sunshine during the daylight hours. The storms that rolled over us several nights during our stay. All was so very well down by the sea. I almost felt guilty for how wonder-filled our trip was. Almost.

Riding with Steve

Riding with Daniel

Settled in for a long day by the sea

See these two little people coming in from the water?

We felt sad for the little girl as she had been stung by a jellyfish. She cried hard. 
Then she ran back into the water and played for several more hours.
Their mom explained to us that this was the children's first time at the beach 
so she didn't want to say that the pain was caused by an animal in the water.
They didn't want her to be afraid to go back in.

How wide is that beach?
How blue is that sky?

Family photo session...
Unsolicited photo session advice from a non-photographer -
 pick something other than dark shirts and white or khaki bottoms.
Be original!

Yours truly - reading, eating an apple, and enjoying myself thoroughly

The view from where I was sitting on another evening beach visit

I love when timing is synchronized...
This is a page from Spiritual Journaling, the book I was reading on the beach...
Ride the wave of breath...
(I read it as - Ride the wave of the beauty all around you)

Speechless

Recently I read this post about the things that don't show up in vacation photos and stories. Amber is a pensive writer and shares her stories with vulnerability and depth. 

On this trip, the things that don't show up in my photos this trip are - 
* how grateful I was to be alive and healthy and able to ride the bike every day
* how often I wondered if perhaps this could be my last trip to HHI because I have no idea what life will bring my way in the coming weeks and months and years
* how grateful I was to be there with my whole family on what may be our last vacation like this. The children are getting older and a year from now, we will be empty nesters. They probably won't want to go back to HHI and hang out near the beach for a week. In fact, they made that abundantly clear this past week...
* how much I didn't want to hear my children complain about boredom and lack of internet signal strength
* how much I wanted to tell them about the vacations I took as a child, the many nights we slept on the ground in a canvas tent, not in a rental house that was more expensive for a week than our monthly mortgage payment

* how stressed I was feeling about preparing to give a workshop this coming weekend. In Spanish. At a women's conference. On the topic of being submissive women. Not a topic I chose, of course, but one on which I hope and plan to bring a different perspective than the one I grew up and have spent most of my life trying (in vain) to live up to...
* how often I thought of Doug, who is dealing with kanswer; and Kim, who was doing an Ironman triathlon; and Katie, who is pregnant with her first child; and Jena and Mani, who are planning their wedding; and those affected by the plane crashes and bombings that rocked the world last week, and so many other friends and family members and imperfect strangers going through the messiness and unpredictability and joy and wonder of life and the horror, devastation, and uselessness of death
* but most of all, India Arie's words came to mind over and over again. Every time I changed into and out of a bathing suit, stepped into and out of the shower, got dressed and undressed in front of the mirror in our bedroom, walked up and down the stairs, climbed onto and off of the bicycle, walked up and down the beach - almost on an hourly basis on certain days, I sang these words to myself:
"Breast kanswer, chemotherapy, took away her crowning glory.
She promised God if she were to survive, she would enjoy every day of her life."

And that's exactly what I did last week.
That's what I plan to do every day of my life -
here at home, in the car, across the ocean, or down by the sea -
I promised God and myself I will enjoy every day of my life.

PS. I cannot wait to get back to the beach.