Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful Thursday - In life and in death

In August of 1997, we moved into our first "real house." Not an apartment. Not a townhouse. Our first stand alone house. In the Silvermine section of Norwalk, CT. (Hence, the URL of this blog - Our daughter was three and our son just under a year.

Before we even got out of the car, our new neighbors were on our driveway. A luminous, smiling, pregnant mom, Barbara, and her two young children, aged three and two or thereabouts, greeted us with hugs and introductions and the warmest welcome we could have imagined. More than we had imagined, to be truthful. Later that same day, we met her husband, Tom.

When she explained that she would be having her baby at home just as she had done with her first two children, I knew that beautiful woman and I were going to be good friends. We talked about home births and nursing. We shared recipes and baked Christmas cookies together. We talked about homeschooling (which she didn't do) and public schooling (which I didn't do). Not many days passed without someone from our house going to their house or somebody from their house coming to our house.

My husband and Tom cut a path through the woody brush between our houses so that our children could run back and forth to each other's homes without having to walk on the road. They came to swim in our pool. We sat at their kitchen table for painting projects. (I still have a child's wooden chair that my daughter and I painted at their house in my bedroom.) They played basketball on our driveway. Our children ran in the woods behind their house. Chalk drawing on driveways. Trick or treating as a clan. Sledding together at a nearby golf course on snowy days. Hot tea and snacks with Barbara at the kitchen table while the kids played in their family room or in the children's bedrooms. Sitting at their island while she cooked dinner. Sleepovers.

One winter afternoon, Barbara told me that a few days earlier, after spending some time outside playing, her children had come into the house soaking wet. In their winter clothing. Wet. She asked how they had gotten wet and they informed her that they had been "jumping on Kristiana's trampoline." We didn't have a trampoline... turns out they had been jumping on our pool cover! We were all tremendously grateful that the cover didn't break under the weight of their little winter-bundled bodies. Once the shock of thinking about what could have happened wore off, we laughed at their antics - and marveled at how comfortable they felt coming into our yard to play. Truly excellent neighbors, from the oldest to the youngest of the two families.

Tom and Barbara proved to be generous, kind, funny, loving, and enthusiastic neighbors until they moved from Connecticut to Florida. We were sad to see them leave the neighborhood, but we visited them twice in their new surroundings. Beautiful people in a beautiful home creating yet another beautiful community of friends around them. We have lived here in Charlotte for more than thirteen years. They have lived in Florida longer than that. For the past few years, our sole contact with them has been through Facebook. But still, somehow, it felt like they were still good neighbors. Beloved neighbors. We couldn't have asked for better neighbors or friends.

I found out this morning that Tom recently passed away.
I don't know how. I don't know when.
But he's gone.
One of the kindest, funniest, brightest, gentlest men I have ever known - gone.
He who loved his wife and children with a passion and depth that I have not often seen - gone.
The sky over The Sunshine State is not as bright these days.
It can't be.
Because Tom is gone.

In life, there is no time to waste on mean-spiritedness or emotional stinginess.
There is barely enough time to show our loved ones how much we do love them.

In life, Tom showed Barbara and their children that no one and nothing mattered more to him than they did.
In life, Tom showed me how to be present with and to those we love.
In life, he laughed, he ate, he talked, he lived with his whole body and spirit. No holding back.

In death, Tom's light still shines.
In death, Tom's smile radiates from the faces of the three wondrous and stunning children he left behind.
In death, Tom's spirit brought great memories to the minds of my family here in Charlotte, smiles to our faces, and tears to my eyes as we recalled his joyful merrymaking. I am heartbroken for them and for all of us who will have to live without his enormous heart beating in the world.

In life and in death, Tom belongs to God.
May his soul, spirit, and body rest in divine peace.
May he enjoy and glorify the God he loved - forever.

May Barbara, GM, B, and LJ know the comfort of God's loving presence.
Today, tomorrow, during the memorial service on Saturday, and forever.

Thanks be to God for his life.
For his example.
For the gift of his presence in my family's life.
For all that he meant to so many.
Rest in peace, dear Tom.
Rest in peace.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mixed Feelings...

I am thankful that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a day we've set aside for intentional gratitude.
But it's also a day when many will still be hungry.
Many will still be homeless.
Many will still be trying to flee war torn countries and cities, seeking safety.
Many will still be mourning the death of loved ones.
Many won't be invited to table with family or friends.
Many will be lonely.
Many will be hospitalized.
Many will be in prison.
Many will be unemployed.
Many will have to work in stores, selling people things we don't need.
Many will struggle to find reasons to be thankful.

I am grateful for the ability, the freedom, the finances, and the opportunity to go to the supermarket today to get food for my family.

I am grateful for the ability and the opportunity to donate money so that others can eat, not only tomorrow but also other days as well.

I am grateful for the bounty at the Loaves and Fishes pantry, a place where those who aren't able to provide for all of their needs can receive help.

I am grateful for the many people who are working to create systems and programs that will solve the problems that cause such disparity and poverty.

I am grateful that my daughter is home from college for the next few days.
I am grateful that my son will make time to hang out with us between visits with his friends this weekend.

I am grateful for the friend who sent me her sermon - with difficult but necessary words that put Thanksgiving in perspective. That the meal we will enjoy tomorrow harkens back to that first Thanksgiving, after which began the slaughter and the displacement of the native peoples that lived on this continent. That we ought to be aware of our history and that we ought to be working to repair broken relationships with the broken people around us, to allow ourselves to be broken for the sake of healing and reconciliation.

I am grateful for this piece by Tim Wise and how directly it speaks to the near impossibility of talking to some people about racism.

I am grateful that I got to hear TaNehisi Coates speak at Davidson College last week. His book, Between The World and Me, is one of the most important books I've read in the last five to ten years. His perspective on race and racism infuriated me; his perspective on the beauty and strength of African-American people encouraged me; and his reading of the history of slavery and injustice in this country enlightened me. It wasn't an easy read. It wasn't a fun read. It was a weighty read. A sobering read.

I am grateful for the challenges of seminary - the questioning of my ideas, the questioning of my integrity, the requests that I cannot grant, the requests that I will not even entertain.

I am grateful for the realization that in seminary, in my classes, in my small groups, in my exchanges with other students, fear, pain, sadness and woundedness are evident. Even though I hate having that fear and pain directed at me, I am grateful for their vulnerability. And for my own. I am grateful that our mutual transparency provides us with chances to move together towards healing, with the goal of becoming wounded healers.

I am grateful because these exchanges force me to see the humanity, the fragility, the brokenness, the lostness, the beauty, the strength, the humor, and the courage of the students around me and the professors in front of me - and also in myself.

I am grateful for the conversations that I have had with family, friends and pastors about the exchanges I have had at seminary. I am grateful for the wisdom and advice I have received on how to deal with those with whom I may disagree. If I am going to be a pastor, I need to learn to deal with those who don't believe as I do, who don't want to hear what I think, and who have no problem with telling me to keep my opinions to myself. In truth, I have to learn to deal with those issues and situations even if I never become a pastor. Perhaps I should have learned all this in the first forty-nine and a half years of my life - but I have to believe that it's better to figure it out now than five years from now or ten years from now.

I am grateful for the students in my class who are teaching me to think, speak, and act courageously, opposition and criticism notwithstanding.

I am grateful for the lessons I am learning beyond the classroom -
It's okay to say "no." No explanation necessary.
It's okay to speak my mind. No explanation necessary.
It's okay to ask questions. It's okay to answer questions.
It's okay to be wrong - as long as I am willing to be corrected.
It's more than okay - it is my right.
It is everyone's right to speak, to listen, to learn, and to be wrong.

I am grateful for these early lessons that have nothing to do with either class I'm taking,
but have everything to do with listening to the still, small voice that assures me that
all shall be well and all is already well.
The voice that reminds me to trust that all things, even difficult things, work together for good.
That none of this is a surprise to the God who called me into this next phase of my life journey.
That nothing and no one can separate me from the love of God.
That every lesson is a blessing.
That silence is no longer an option.
That I have nothing and no one to fear.

But I have mixed feelings.
I am grateful and sorrowful.
I am hopeful and discouraged.
I am frustrated and excited.
I am prayerful and skeptical.
I am feeling mixed up.
Feeling human.
Feeling grateful.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thankful Thursday - This is my story...

I went to The Well tonight. (I love the image that comes to mind when I ponder that statement - going to the well. To drink deeply. To quench my thirst. To receive the water of life. Living water.)
The Well is a new worshipping community here in Charlotte.
It meets at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church every Thursday evening.
Dinner is from 5:15 until 6:15, with a time of worship, storytelling, and community starting at 6:30.
Come join us sometime...

Tonight was the third time that the participants of The Well have gathered.
We eat together.
We pray together.
Someone reads a passage from the Bible.
Sometimes we sing.
We listen to each other's stories.
We talk.
No sermon. Just someone telling a story.
Just us sharing. Listening. Reflecting.
It's a beautiful thing. A rare thing. A precious thing.

Tonight, Mark Yaconelli told the story of his friend and mentor, Morton Kelsey.
A story of love, redemption, trust, broken trust, music, restoration, and the creation of a new story.
What happens when the life story we've told ourselves for decades turns out to not be the whole story after all? What if we are loved beyond all our wildest dreams and expectations? What happens to our hearts and our lives? What happens to our souls?

Then he directed us to turn to one another and tell a story about a time in our lives when we were trusted, when someone counted us worthy of their trust. What did that feel like? What did that trust bring up in us and bring out of us?

Other questions followed: what happens to people who are never trusted?
What happens when someone breaks our trust?
What happens inside of us when our trust is broken?
What happens when we interact with the person who has broken our trust?

I was reminded of one time (one of the many times, for certain) when I broke someone else's trust.
In one of the worst ways a person's trust can be broken.
I spoke about the moment of being forgiven, being welcomed back into relationship with the one whose life I had shattered.
Someone responded by saying, "I'm sure your remorse helped her along in her forgiveness."
I had to disagree - "No, she came to me first and forgave me before I asked."

Hers was life-transforming forgiveness. Love. Radical reconciliation.
Undeserved. Grace. Favor. Mercy.

Now, that is good news. The best kind of good news.
I'm not sure that better news has ever been shared.
"You don't deserve this. You haven't earned this. You haven't even asked.
But I forgive you. I love you.
Please come and be a part of my life.
Come back home. Be my friend. Be part of my family."

This is my story - selfishness, foolish choices, broken trust.
Confession. Tears. Sorrow. Forgiveness.
I was the prodigal friend welcomed back into the fold of friendship even though I knew I was unworthy. She was the prodigal friend, excessive and extravagant (that's what prodigal means) in her compassion and mercy towards me.

Tomorrow I will spend most of the day listening to Mark teach about storytelling, about giving testimony of not only the blessings, but also the brokenness in our lives.

Here's the text from the brochure about the workshop.

A Leadership Conference with Mark Yaconelli Building Community. 
Building Trust: The Power and Practice of Personal Storytelling 
Where? Union Presbyterian Seminary Charlotte 
5141 Sharon Road, Charlotte, NC 28210 
When? Friday, November 20th 
Session One 9:00am-12:00pm 
Session Two 1:30pm-4:30pm 
Participants are encouraged to attend both workshops, but may attend only one. 

What? This one-day training will be an exploration of personal storytelling in ministry. Through presentation, contemplative exercises, theological reflection, and a variety of narrative practices, participants will encounter the power of personal storytelling for spiritual formation, outreach, social justice, and other ministries. The workshop will give participants practical skills for telling stories, creating narrative events, and assisting others as they "give testimony" to the work of the Spirit in their lives.

All of which has me wondering...

What would be the impact on our families, on our friendships, on work, on service, on ministry, on our entire lives if we learned to both tell and listen to one another's stories with grace, with attention, with intention, and with love?

What if we trusted one another enough to be vulnerable, to be transparent, to tell the truth, to give testimony of what we have seen and heard and felt and tasted and how we are being transformed by the stories around us and with us?

What if God's story really is embedded in our own stories and by not telling our stories, we are depriving each other of some chapters of God's Great Story of love and inclusion and hospitality and trust and forgiveness?

What if preaching and teaching and leading are really about telling stories?
Wait... that's exactly how Jesus preached and taught - through stories and parables.
What if we learned from the example of The Greatest Storyteller?

I am grateful for all that Mark brought to The Well tonight.
I am grateful for the stories we shared with each other and the lessons we all learned from those stories and experiences.
I am excited about tomorrow's sessions.
I am excited about learning how to craft my life story and how to tell my story.
I am grateful in advance for all that tomorrow will bring.

Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

So much sorrow

The attacks in Paris. At sporting events. In a concert. In restaurants.
Senseless killings. Shooting. Horror. Terror.

So much sorrow.

Refugees flooding across borders.
Dying in transit. Losing one another on the way.
Former neighbors, colleagues, and friends joining in on the brutality.
No place to return to even if the violence stops.

So much sorrow.

A friend who is a flight attendant, to whom I had wished a safe trip,
responded correctly: "We aren't safe anywhere anymore, are we?"
She's right.

So much sorrow.

But -

Even though I know I won't be able to stop such attacks from happening,
even though I know I won't be able to stop people from hating each other,
or disrespecting each other,
or silencing each other,
or wanting to kill each other,
I will never let go of hope.
I will never let go of grace.
I will never let go of prayer
I will never stop praying for peace.
I will never stop praying for forgiveness.
I will never stop praying for change.
I will never stop finding ways to do something, to say something,
to speak and act and live in such a way that peace prevails in my immediate surroundings.

So much sorrow.

But I will never give up.

After telling his disciples about the love and presence and Spirit of God that would come to them, guide them, and keep them connected to himself, Jesus said this -
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.
In the world, you face persecution; 
But take courage - I have conquered the world.

There is persecution in this world - sometimes simply for being human and being alive.
There is trouble. There is so much sorrow.
But I refuse to bow down to despair, to fear, and to hatred.
Because my hope is in the Lord. Always will be.

In the meantime, my heart breaks.
I shake my head.
I am rendered nearly speechless. Nearly.
I am left with this:
"Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
And help us to have mercy on each other."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for the gift of new life.
My nephew, Matthew, and his wife, Monisha, had their first baby yesterday.
This is one of the rare moments when I wish I still lived up north.
I miss holding babies in my arms, that baby smell.
I miss seeing the look on the parents' faces as they admire the miracle that their love produced.
I am thankful today for baby, Myles.

I am thankful that Matthew's brother and sister are also expecting their first babies in the next few months. Three siblings and their spouses all "in the family way." There is so much to celebrate in the Henderson family these days.

I am thankful for the gift of safe travel.
Back and forth to church
back and forth to the supermarket
back and forth to meet up with friends
to teach classes
to take classes
to the post office.

I am thankful every time I see our garage door open in front of my car.
Thankful that I returned home safely.
Thankful that my house is still standing.
Thankful for the electricity that lifts that heavy door.

A few weeks ago, I saw a horrible car accident. Someone in a minivan thought they could beat other cars through an intersection, sped past two lanes of stopped traffic in the right hand merging lane, and slammed into the back end of an ambulance that was crossing the intersection. (Hence the stopped traffic!) I almost pulled over to see if I could help in some way, but when I saw the attendants get out of it apparently unhurt, I realized that help was already on the scene. As we crept past the broken glass and car parts strewn on the street, I saw that all the airbags in the minivan had been activated. And I heard that awful sound of the car horn, you know the sound that happens in movies and television shows when someone has been hurt in a car and is leaning on the horn.

Every time I drive past that intersection now and every time I drive past the intersection where my daughter's car accident happened, I breathe a prayer for the people involved in both of those accidents - and I give thanks for all the thousands of trips and walks and flights and bus rides and train rides and bike rides that have ended safely.

I give thanks for all the ways in which rides that didn't end well often attract helpers and rescuers and support from among concerned citizens and bystanders. Here's one such story - when my daughter had her accident back in August, one of the men who pried open the door of her overturned minivan so she could crawl to safety called and texted me three times after the accident to check on her, to let us know he and his family and church were praying for her, and to invite us to visit his church. One of the times he texted was after she had gone back to college for the fall semester - during a phone call that she and I were having. She was on his mind at the same time that she was on my mind.

I am thankful for my seminary classmates and the ways in which we are bonding as friends, as students, as co-travelers on this journey. We share prayer requests. We share stories. We share Halloween make up and costume tips. We share study tips. We share laughter. We share meals. We share our questions.

I am thankful for the neighbor who takes long walks with me. She and her husband and daughter recently spent ten days in Spain, so you know I asked two or three dozen questions on our last walk together. She and I will head out for an early morning jaunt tomorrow.

I am thankful for the new friend (who feels like an old friend) with whom I write these days. She showed me a library book full of writing prompts - the book is aimed at middle schoolers but it's one of the best books of its kind that I have ever encountered. It's called Leap Write In! Adventures in Creative Writing, by Karen Benke. We have both borrowed copies from the library and have gotten together twice to write. And we have written responses to the same prompt on our own and then shared them when we have been together. Writing buddies rock. Especially when they are spontaneous, easy-going, honest, and funny. Especially when they brew up peppermint tea in cast iron pots. Especially when they slide their journals across the table and say, "Why don't you just read it for yourself?" Especially when we use the same Pilot Precise V5 pens. Little details like that make me even more thankful.

I am thankful for the movement, the protests, the unrest that are forcing change in this country. That are forcing deeper conversation. While I know that there is backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement, while I know that there are some who argue that people don't have the right to not be offended, I am thrilled to see more people standing up and dying in and marching and raising their fists in defiance of racism and classism and homophobia and racist voter laws (have you heard about Alabama closing DMVs in black counties so that it is harder for black people to get photo IDs?) and violence.

I am grateful for the college students and faculty at Yale and Duke and the University of Missouri and elsewhere who are wielding the power they have to force conversation and change. Those who condemn their use of emotional, athletic, academic, and financial power and influence sound a lot like those who condemned the protesters during the Civil Rights movement. "Be patient. Don't get angry. Be respectful. Don't yell. Wait your turn." Wait for what? For how long? For the powerful to decide to voluntarily share power? For the wealthy and the greedy to share their take? For the higher ups to care about the needs and desperation of those below them? For the influential to intercede for ignored?

TaNehisi Coates wrote about the comfort this country has with seeing black people hosed down and beaten, shot with rubber bullets and with real ones, tazed and taken into captivity - all while singing, "We shall overcome... someday." But when those battle-wounded and soul-weary people stand up and say, "Enough is enough," when they walk off football fields (as opposed to when they show up at the courthouse plead for justice for Tamir Rice's unjust killing in a community park), when they demand that presidents and professors, coaches and CEOs step down, then force and threat of force, then calls for resignations and impartial investigations and firings are condemned.

I am grateful for the attention that is being paid to this horrendous trial. Have you even heard about this white police officer charged with 36 counts of sexual assault and battery against black women? This Oklahoma officer is being tried now and will be judged by an all-white jury. There seems to be very little wide spread press coverage of the proceedings. I keep asking myself what the media coverage would be if the cop was black, the thirteen victims were white and the jury was all black.

I am grateful that I am learning how to express my thoughts and feelings about these difficult topics and also how to listen to other people's opinions without undue anger and resentment. I still have a whole lot to learn in terms of not wanting to throw something at my television or computer screen, but knowledge of the cost of replacement of either of those items has served as an adequate deterrent thus far.

I am grateful for my husband, my brother, Darryl, Kim, Rick, Indhira, Jen, Jena, Colman, Anthony, Steve, Rodney, and several other people in my life who push me to think more carefully and deeply about these tragedies and injustices and to stand up, speak up, and write about what I think and feel.

I am grateful for the power of prayer to bring about change and healing and peace and rest - and also unrest and disruption and upheaval and transformation. In me. And in the world.

I am grateful for hope and a future.
Even in the face of so much sorrow and suffering.
Even in the face of so much injustice and injury.
Even in the face of death and dying.
Even when so many say that hope is a waste of time and energy and effort.

Today, itty bitty baby Myles brings me an extra dose of hope.
I cannot wait to meet him and hold him in my (great) Auntie arms.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Friday Edition

Cuz everyday can be Thankful Thursday, right???

Today is a special day of thanksgiving because it is the third anniversary of my kanswer diagnosis. Every time I flip through the pages of the journal I kept at the time,
every time I scroll back through the pages of my memory,
I shake my head in disbelief.

These three years have flown past.
So many doctors' visits and treatments and pills and supplements.
So many prayers and tears and cries out for mercy.
So much gratitude and laughter and joy and peace.
Good food. Kombucha. Green tea. Salads. Juices. Smoothies.
Hugs, kisses, snuggles, and smiles.
Hand holding, hand wringing, and hand raising.

I am grateful to be alive, to be healthy, to be here.

I am grateful to be in seminary.
Grateful to be in service at my church and in my community.
Grateful to be in relationship with people who are willing to love me and receive my love.

I am grateful for Kevin and Susan, Matthew and Monisha, and Raquel and Jay (the three names in bold are the children of my oldest brother) and how they managed to all get pregnant within months of each other. Triplet-cousins is what I have decided to call the three little ones who are being nurtured and loved in the bellies of their sweet and beautiful mamas.

I am grateful for my two children who continue to put up with my interference and questions and overt attempts to keep them from branching out as the (young) adults that they are. They make me laugh. They make me cry. And they make me pray. A LOT.

I am grateful for this sweet man of mine, the one who watches Project Runway with me and eats my randomly prepared meals while also determining that sometimes he would rather cook for himself than wait for me to make up my mind and who loves all my idiosyncrasies and weirdness.

I am grateful for honey and maple syrup and pistachios and cashews and dark chocolate covered almonds with sea salt and turbinado sugar and limes sliced and squeezed into glasses of ice water.

I am grateful for spaghetti squash, broccoli, brussels sprouts - and Pinterest, which provides recipes that combine these ingredients in various and delicious ways.

I am grateful for the ability, the privilege, the opportunity to go to the supermarket and choose such bounty for my family.

I am grateful for the chance to serve at the Loaves and Fishes pantry so that I can help those who aren't able to buy groceries for themselves to receive food that has been donated for their edification. Yesterday I met a mother of six sons who recently lost her job. Her two youngest sons were with her - and she expressed deep gratitude for the counselor at their school who gave her the referral to the pantry. Her love for her children, her desire to care for them and raise them well, and also their respect towards and honor for her were palpable. There was another woman who came to the pantry because she (and her husband) had recently gained custody of her three step-children and needed assistance to feed additional mouths. She works at a local market and spoke reverently about her boss' generosity in letter her take extra groceries home at no charge.

I am grateful that last night I had the chance to hear the story of a Mexican immigrant and his love for this country. He came here to earn money to pay for his last year of law school in Mexico but fell in love with this country and the life he found here. He fell in love with a woman from his hometown in Mexico and they got married and now have two children that were born here. Their love for each other as a family, their love for and pride in their lives here in Charlotte, and their yearning to become legal citizens of this country inspired everyone who listened to think differently about immigration and amnesty and grace and hope. Every person in that room was the descendant of someone who arrived in this nation without documentation and uninvited (or, in my case, against their will) - that dear man simply asks for the same chance, the same opportunity that others have misguidedly forgotten that they too benefit from. I am grateful for his courage, his honesty, and his tears.

I am grateful for sunshine and rain and fallen leaves and birdsong and scampering squirrels.

I am grateful for blenders and juicers and Nutribullets and refrigerators and ovens and sinks and dishwashers.

I am grateful for washing machines and dryers and hanging racks and detergent.

I am grateful for cameras and computers and paper and pens and books and backpacks.

I am grateful for the friend who gave me flowers in honor of my three year diagnosis anniversary and for the friend who sent me a journal in which to write down sermon ideas and other seminary-related inspiration.

I am grateful for the company of loved ones and time alone with The Alone.

I am grateful for safe travel, for safe arrivals, and for safe keeping.

I am grateful, grateful, grateful.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Why eating poorly is sometimes a good thing

Three years ago today, on November 2, 2012, I had the biopsy on my left breast, the one that tried to kill me. Four days later, I got the worst news of my life: kanswer.

Blah blah blah.
Hair lost.
Other body parts lost.

I find it hard to believe that nearly three years have passed since my diagnosis.

Anyway, I went to the doctor this morning - the oncologist. I go see him every six months to prove to him that it is possible to live well after kanswer. To be healthier than ever.

Because I hate getting weighed at the doctor's office (why are the scales at doctors' offices always meaner than the ones we have at home?!?), I didn't eat breakfast before my appointment in a foolhardy effort to weigh four ounces less than I would have weighed if I had eaten a bowl of oatmeal and had a cup of green tea.

As soon as I got the all clear from him and made an appointment go back in six months, I headed across the road for a bagel sandwich.

Dare I confess it fully? I ordered a rosemary olive oil bagel with butter, an egg, and turkey sausage. And I washed it down with a cup of dark roast coffee.

Eating poorly is sometimes a good thing - it certainly tasted good going down.

As I stood at the counter waiting for my bagel sandwich to be constructed, I looked over towards the cash register and saw a local television personality, a weatherman from one of the nearby affiliates. He also happened to be a former pastor at a former church of mine. I remembered his high energy and sense of humor and couldn't suppress the smile that floated across my face.

I got my food and sat down to eat and read about the Crusades (seminary reading at its finest). He sat a few tables away with his computer open, two notebooks open, a phone on the table, and pens nearby. He was lost in his work.

Every few moments, I felt an urge to speak to him. To thank him for his service at the church. But I kept resisting the impulse; after all, he left the church between eight and ten years ago. And he was clearly engaged in important work at the moment. Typing and writing. Writing and typing.

I got up from my table to dispose of my tray, and after doing so, I stopped at his table.

"Although I know you are on television now, and I appreciate the work you do there, I just wanted you to know that I still remember you as one of the most energetic pastors ever at _________ Church."

He threw his hands up in the air, literally both hands, as though as I had pulled a gun on him, and nearly shouted his response. "What? Oh my goodness. I can't believe you remember that. That was so long ago."

He pointed to the spiral notebook on the table and said, "I was just writing in my morning devotional journal about how discouraged and disheartened and stupid I feel. I had just asked God to encourage me in the eternal."

He read directly from the page his journal was open to.
Then he looked up at me and asked, "What is your name?"


He picked up his pen, wrote a few words, and then read them to me:
"Gail is the answer to my prayer."
Then he added, "This is such a God moment."
I clapped my hands and exclaimed, "I love God moments."

A few minutes later, after saying farewell to my new friend, when I got into my car to head up to church for a meeting, I chuckled to myself as I thought: "If I hadn't made the decision to hold off on breakfast at home, if I hadn't decided to eat that fatty, buttery, delicious bagel sandwich this morning and sip that hot sweet coffee, if I didn't have the three year follow up appointment to the worst news I ever received in my life, I would never have been the answer to that man's prayer this morning."

That, my friends, is why eating poorly is sometimes a good thing. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for:

* apple picking adventures with Heather, Shawn, and Graeme

* fresh homemade green juices (today's is deep orange because of carrots)

* watching my son make sandwiches to cook in the panini press

* my daughter's 22nd birthday tomorrow

* butternut and acorn squash roasted with coconut oil, and freshly ground sea salt and rainbow peppers and topped with a scoop of brown rice

* being invited to preach again at my church last week

* Fall Fest @ First - the fall festival at my church two Sundays ago: Food trucks, awesome jazz music by Tyrone Jefferson and A Sign of the Times, face painting, pumpkin decoration, and other fun activities

* we worked together to create a book of prayers and words of encouragement for Mother Emanuel AME Church down in Charleston, SC. 

* meeting an absolutely fascinating, funny, wise, well-read, well-traveled, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, uni-gorgeous group of seminarians last weekend in Clinton, Tennessee, at the Racial Ethnic New Immigrants Seminarian Conference, hosted by the Racial Ethnic and Women's Ministries arm of the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA, my church's denomination). 

* this beautiful statue of "Mother Africa" at Alex Haley Farm, which is where the conference/retreat took place

 * the ark of safety at Alex Haley Farm down there in Tennessee - it is actually the chapel. The farm is under the auspices of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), which is led by Marian Wright Edelman. The statement on the logo of the CDF is, "Dear Lord, be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small." Hence, the large boat - a place, an ark of safety.

* some of my new friends - from Puerto Rico, Kenya, Korea, Dominican Republic, and the USA. We talked, prayed, read Scripture, and worshiped in our own languages. Magnificent.

* the chance to pray with and for the group during one of our times of worship

* you know me - if there's a library, I am going to find it and figure out a way to get there by myself

* this is the view from the main window of the library

* being back in contact with a dear, dear friend after more than a decade without intentional, ongoing contact. We may not be able to see each other face to face, but emails and phone calls and facebook messaging feel pretty great at the moment.

* I met up with a friend for dinner last Tuesday, a wise, funny, thoughtful woman who advised me on a dilemma I'm dealing with these days. As I walked back to my car, I pondered the "extravagance" of spending $21 on dinner. Why couldn't I have picked something less expensive on the menu? Why do I insist on wasting so much money on restaurant meals when we have so much good and healthy food at home? As I belittled and berated myself for what should never be considered a punishable offense, I crossed my arms and began to look down at the sidewalk - where I discovered a $20 bill!!! How funny and perfectly timed was that??? God has such a great sense of timing and humor.

* the miraculous diminishment of Hurricane Patricia before it did horrific damage to Mexico

* this article written by a new friend, Amanda, a beautiful young woman (inside and out) who I walk with here in Charlotte. This coming Sunday afternoon at 2 PM we will begin our final walk at the train in Freedom Park. I will miss these people, our spirit of unity, our love for one another, our welcoming community, and our courage to enter so many areas in Charlotte that we have never explored before. This group will have completed more than 100 miles walking together. May our rear ends and our hearts be forever reshaped and reformed because of the time we have spent and the distances we have covered together.

* last week, I asked you to consider giving money for the building of a maternity ward and women's health facility in Haiti. This is what happened: $475,141 given in 24 hours with the average gift being $22.

* having the best spiritual director I could ever hope for. To sit with her and share my heart, my questions, my stories, my doubts, my tears, and have her ask the best questions, direct me to listen to my own heart, to descend into the knowing place where God speaks quietly and gently, where Spirit breathes and moves, where grace abounds, and where love grows. 

* Life itself. I am enormously grateful to be alive. To breathe. To walk. To eat. To travel. To read. To write. To laugh. To take hot showers. To drink cold water. To wear clothes I love. To attend a church where I am welcomed and where I serve. Seminary classes and classmates. 

*At the end of his sweaty Tae Bo workouts, Billy Blanks often says, 
"Every day above ground is a blessed day." He is right about that. 
Life is not always easy. Life is not always simple. Life is not always comfortable.
But for me, even in the worst of times, I am grateful to confess that life is good. 
To be alive is a blessing and a gift. 
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"Send money!"

A long time ago Alice Walker recorded a short story about an illiterate mother who received a letter from her daughter who was away in college. I looked for it online, but was unable to find it. So I will attempt to write it out here - but I must share two disclaimers first.

1- I heard her tell this story in a recording. I have never read it.

2- I heard it many years ago, so this is a rough and inaccurate retelling of the story.
Hopefully, you will get the point...

Well, here goes.


After she received the letter from her beloved child, the mother, who missed her daughter terribly, took the letter to a neighbor and asked her to read it. The neighbor read the angry, demanding letter - "Mom! School is good! The weather is cold here! I need to buy a coat! Send money!!!"

In a huff, the wounded mother snatched the letter from her neighbor's hand and stormed back to her house, thinking, "I will show that ungrateful child who to treat me better. I'm not going to send her any money. How dare she talk to me that way?"

A few days later, she decided she wanted to reread the letter and took it to the neighbor who lived on the other side of her. This neighbor read an altogether different letter, a gentle, kind, and solicitous letter. "Mom, school is good. The weather is cold here. I need to buy a coat. Send money."

The mother nodded her head, took the letter, tenderly folded it and slid it back into the envelope. She looked at her neighbor and responded dreamily, "If she had said it that way the first time, I would have sent her the money."


I love that story. I love the lesson of how tone of voice matters. I love that the mother wanted to hear the letter again, to read it again, to give her beloved daughter another opportunity to speak to her. And it gave that loving mother the chance to bless, protect, and provide for her daughter by sending her the money she needed for a winter coat.

Sometimes we receive requests for money and other forms of help that are shrill and self-serving. Sometimes they are demanding and insulting. Sometimes they are all about making you feel guilty. Sometimes the requests are meant to flatter you at first and then manipulate you into doing something you might not otherwise consider doing.

At other times, those appeals are thoughtful, joyful, hopeful, grateful, touching, tender, and easy to respond to in a generous way. Sometimes those requests strike a chord, ring a bell, touch a nerve - and eventually move me beyond my usual string of cliches and leave me almost speechless. Almost. Sometimes we are so profoundly affected by the way a story is told, by the way an appeal is made, that we are moved to love, to get involved, and to give generously.

Today is one of those days.
Today is a Love Flash Mob day over at Momastery's blog.
It is a beautiful story about beautiful people in need of our help.
We get to help. We get to give. We get to make a difference in many, many lives.

Here is the link to this love letter asking you to "Send Money."

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Really, Lord?

THWAP!!! It was a strange sound. It was an strange sight.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something fall from above the kitchen door to the deck below. I didn't know what had fallen, but I was grateful that it was outside and not inside.

Wrong! It was inside. It was a small lizard. IN MY KITCHEN. Less than five feet from where I sat.
What? Seriously?
It became obvious to both of us, to me and that critter, that he had landed on the wrong side of that glass door.
(I say "he" because no female would show up at the home of another female without being invited.)
Shoot, shoot, shoot.
I am NO close friend or fan of four legged critters. I can barely stand my own dog. She's cute and all, but after ten years, she still isn't feeding herself or bathing herself or cleaning up after herself. And it doesn't look like she's trying to learn any self-care skills either.

Anyway, I watched that rascally lizard slither around the base of the kitchen door and then begin to climb it in a frantic effort to get back outside. I began to wring my hands and call upon the name of the Lord to help me figure out what to do. I also shouted out variations on the word, "Shoot."

I knew I couldn't just let it wander freely in my house because... just no.
I knew I couldn't kill it because then I would have to clean up the mess.
I knew I couldn't wait for somebody else to take care of this visitor because no one else in my house would be any more interested in chasing him down than I was.

Lord God Jesus, what do I do now?

I tried to open the door to let him out, but he crawled onto the doorknob.
Then he jumped over to the window sill nearby, dropping two little black souvenirs of his fear.
Really, dude? You come into my house and leave your leavings for me to clean up?

The open door idea didn't work, so I grabbed a paper bag, put it on the floor beneath the window, and then attempted to sweep that slippery little bugger off its feet. He hung on to the window sill with his tail for a few awkward seconds before cascading into the bag below. I grabbed the bag and ran out the door, dumping its terrified occupant into the bushes below the deck.

I am still shaking off the shivers. Let me repeat - I do not like four-legged critters, especially the uninvited ones.

All of that got me thinking -

How often have I fallen on the wrong side of the door?
Fallen into arguments? Into misunderstandings? Into prejudice?
Into fear? Into mistrust? Into betrayal? Into a habit of judgment?
How often have I intentionally elbowed my way into places I do not belong?
Into betrayal of someone I love? Into unfaithfulness to people and precepts I espouse?
Into lying? Into mistreating others? Into withholding love and grace?

How often has someone gently steered me back onto the right path?
Shown me grace and forgiveness?
Intentionally chosen not to wound me or step on me?
To each of them, to all of them, I am enormously grateful for their kindness.

How often have I had to do the same?
Extend tenderness and mercy, even when the recipient doesn't ask for or expect it?
How often have I not done that?
How often have I stepped on someone else without regard to their fear or doubts?
How often have I intentionally instilled fear in someone else?

Honestly, as I watched that little creature writhe and shake, jump and slide, I wasn't thinking about any of that. All I was thinking was, "This freaking thing cannot escape my sight or I won't find it again - until it runs across my forehead when I'm in bed."

As soon as I got it outside and tossed it over the deck railing, however, I began to wonder: what is the lesson here? What am I supposed to learn from that tiny teacher?

I learned that I can deal with even God's crawliest creatures without total panic and terror.
I learned that if I don't panic, I have a greater chance of coming up with a reasonably rational response to a challenging situation.
I learned that my dog isn't all that brave - she saw it, licked at it a couple of times, and then walked away. So much for her being a fierce little hunter.
I learned that the gap between the top of the kitchen door and the doorframe is wide enough for wildlife to have access to the inside of my house.
I learned that I ought to pay attention to the gaps - those spaces around the doors of the place where my soul dwells - where fear, hatred, prejudice, shame, anger, insults, suspicion, jealousy slither in. I need to mind those gaps. Fill them with courage, grace, welcome, contentment, prayer, Scripture, and words of truth and peace.
I learned that I can learn something from just about everything.

I am grateful that from start to finish, my run-in with that little runner lasted less than two minutes, probably less than one minute. I am grateful for the lessons that brief course taught me.

At the same time, really, Lord?
Couldn't I have learned these lessons some other way?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Yesterday at Seminary...

Confession: I am a geek.
So seminary classes on Saturday are my favorite time of the week.
Well, except for when I'm at church.
And when I'm reading.
And when I'm doing laundry and vacuuming.
One of the lowest moments of this past week was when my washing machine stopped working.
One of the highlights of the week was when the new one arrived.
See? Total geek.

Anyway, yesterday at seminary, I was responsible to read the Scripture passage for the midday worship service, Acts 12:1-19, the account of Peter's friends praying for him to be released from prison and then being incredulous that he was released. Powerful story that challenges us in our belief in prayer. That story reminds me of the quote I heard first many years ago: "If you are gonna pray for bread, you had better bring a basket."

I cannot begin to explain why prayer works, but I do know this: prayer changes me. It opens my eyes and my heart to the needs of others. It reminds me that I cannot do "it all" by myself or for myself, whatever "it" is. The joy about prayer for me comes through releasing my worries and concerns into God's hands and returns again when I hear and see the outcomes, the results of those prayers. Perhaps a friend finds a job. Perhaps a friend's child feels better. Perhaps my own family finds healing in some wounded place. Perhaps the families of people who have been grieved find some sense of peace and comfort. I am grateful when those positive answers come.

In Peter's case in Acts chapter 12, their prayers were answered with "yes." He was miraculously freed from jail. But sometimes, the prison sentence is not reduced. Sometimes execution happens anyway. Sometimes the answers to my prayers are not what I hope for: the storms still hit and towns are flooded anyway. Perhaps the friend's husband dies anyway. School shootings keep happening anyway. But even then, even in the grief, even in the devastation, eyes and minds and hearts are opened. Important conversations happen. Old expectations may be dashed, but new ones develop. Lives are changed forever. Towns and cities are changed forever. Communities come together to welcome refugees. Attention is paid to the desperation that sends people fleeing their homes, their families, their fears, their enemies. Suffering sucks. Grief sucks. Loss sucks. But God is faithful and present, even when we don't feel it. God provides hope, even in the darkest hour. God shows up in the form of donations, a meal, and card, a smile, a nod, a word of welcome. God shows up through how we respond to sorrow and pain and devastation. One of the great challenges of this life walk and this faith walk is to find reasons to be grateful even in the midst of suffering, grief, and loss.

When those difficult moments happen, when the answer to my prayer seems to be "No" or "Not this time," I am reminded of one of my favorite passages in Habakkuk 3:17-18.
Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; 
though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.

Even though... even though...
I will keep on praying. I will keep on hoping.
I will keep on finding out what I can do to make a difference in someone else's life.
I will also keep on looking for reasons to give thanks.
I will keep on seeking reasons to be hopeful.

Anyway, after I read the Scripture in Acts, I had the opportunity to translate a sermon from Spanish to English for a Cuban pastor I met just a few minutes earlier. You know me: I'm a geek who loves the Bible, worship services, and the Spanish language. What happens when all three of those factors come together? Great joy happens, that's what. I was a very happy geek as I stood there, listening to the language of heaven itself and translating those angelic words for those in attendance who do not yet speak it.

The stories of the challenges Cuban churches have faced in the past fifty years have given me more to pray for. Churches that were reduced to two or three or four members during the early decades of the Castro regime. Churches that began to meet in homes because they couldn't maintain the large buildings they owned. Fortunately, the government did not confiscate the property, so the churches, if they are financially able, can reclaim those spaces nowadays. The government of Cuba recently loosened their grip of fear on those who live a life of faith. Just as felons have to check a box on job applications in this country, people of faith had to check a box on various applications - including job applications - in Cuba. Their forms went into a second pile or perhaps the circular file. That and other discriminatory actions have lessened. Thanks be to God.

The two Presbyterian Cuban pastors I met this week and the testimonies they shared about all that is happening in their home country have planted yet another seed of desire to travel into my wandering soul. I want to visit the Presbyterian churches and the Presbyterian seminary in Cuba to encourage them to stay strong in faith, to persevere in their work, and to remember that they are loved and supported and prayed for on a regular basis.

Often I am asked what I hope to do after seminary - if I can imagine a dream job for myself later in life. Yesterday someone asked if I see myself in a non-traditional work setting as a minister. I told her that it was only recently that I became aware of alternate possibilities for someone with a master's degree in divinity. I could serve a local presbytery or the national PCUSA denomination as a traveling encourager of sorts - going to churches and other ministries to listen to their stories, to take notice and account of their needs, to pray with them, to preach, and to offer the support of other followers of the Christ we all love. Put me on a plane and send me out to bring hope and joy and laughter and good news as well as several boxes of tissues so that we can lament, weep, and grieve together too. It's all part of this life journey we are all on. Combining my love of travel with my love of Spanish and my love of teaching the Word of God would most definitely create my dream job.

Yesterday at seminary, I sang and served. I read and wrote. I listened and learned. I took notes and read notes. I looked into the eyes of students, faculty, staff, and that courageous pastor, and I felt the Spirit of God at work uniting us, preparing us, and calling us deeper into each other's hearts and lives, as well as out into a hurting, broken, needy, Good-news-hungry world.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

This is my life right now...

* I am sitting at my kitchen counter, reading a book called Theological Anthropology for seminary class. No, please don't ask me what the title means. I'm 96 pages in and I'm not quite sure yet. I am creating a chart to keep track of the point of each of the essays and to answer questions posed by the professor on the study guide. No, please don't ask to see the chart. I'm filling it in as best I can, and still I'm not quite sure what it's all about.

* There's a growing pile of unopened mail a few feet away. None of the people in this house like opening the mail. What does anybody get in the mail except bills and sales pitches and checks? (Yes, I have plowed through unopened piles of mail in the past and found checks that we didn't cash. You would think we would figure it out by now - OPEN THE MAIL.)

* Our washing machine broke down on Monday. The repairman came today with new parts - only to discover that one of the parts we need he didn't have. And the total for replacing the broken parts would be more expensive than buying a new machine. Plus he said that all the new fangled front loading machines with flashing lights and display screens  are more likely to malfunction than the old fashioned top loaders with the tall agitator in the middle. Without doing one minute of research, we marched off to Lowe's and ordered the machine he recommended. That's how we roll.

* This past Saturday evening, I went to a beautiful gathering of beautiful women of color, many of whom are kanswer survivors - it was called "Chocolate for a Cure." I went as the "date" of a friend who is finishing up treatment for breast kanswer. She and two other young women received an award called "The Chocolate Warrior Award."

Get it? Chocolate for brown-skinned women. Not only that, there were several vendors there giving out chocolate cupcakes and lollipops and chocolate bark and chocolate bonbons.

The keynote speaker was Dr Jacqueline Walters, an OB-Gyn from Atlanta, who is more famous for her role on the reality TV show, Married to Medicine. She gave an encouraging and challenging address, pointing out the need for us as women of color (with our higher mortality rate from kanswer than our caucasian counterparts) to eat well, to exercise, to reduce our consumption of alcohol, to get to and maintain a healthy weight - all with the goal of reducing our chances of getting kanswer. She herself is a two time survivor, so her words were all the more poignant and powerful. Lovely event.

Here's my only problem with the program: sugar is one of the worst things we can eat. There is research and evidence that points to sugar's detrimental affect on the body, and more specifically about how sugar feeds kanswer. So why is chocolate and all the sugar that goes into it being offered to kanswer survivors? Don't get me wrong; I love sugar. I ate some of that chocolate on Saturday evening. I even brought a few pieces home. But I know I cannot eat it everyday. I know that I ought to be reducing my intake as much as possible.

I had the same frustration and confusion during chemotherapy. Why are there bowls of candy all over the oncologist's offices? Why are canned sodas offered to the people who are receiving treatment? They can offer fresh fruit and flavored water and almonds. Why candy and soda? Perhaps they want repeat customers...

* I sat for forty-five minutes with a Presbyterian pastor from Cuba today, talking about the church there, the seminary he works at, the country of Cuba, challenges related to the economy and the currency, the connections that churches in Cuba have with churches here in the United States, and a book he is writing about reconciliation and healing. All in Spanish. I really, really, really want to go to Cuba now. To see it. To see the people. To encourage them to stay strong, to hold onto their faith and each other, and to be living proof that their struggles matter to us, to me. I've got a growing list of places I want to go: back to Nicaragua and Haiti, to Cuba and India and Equatorial Guinea (did you know that there is a country in West Africa that has Spanish as its official language?) and a Caribbean island with clear water, wide beaches, and ant-free hotel rooms.

* Tomorrow morning, I will join a group of men and women to walk three and a half miles in our beloved city of Charlotte. Continuing conversations about justice and peace, community and conflict, mercy and friendship. We talk about healing and fear and prejudice and having our minds and thought-patterns change so that we can be people who can bring about change in this city and beyond. We Walk Together - it's a simple name. It's a simple idea. It's changing us, drawing us closer to each other, opening our eyes to the lives and experiences of others, and prompting us to reach beyond our comfort zones to touch other lives and other people.

* I find myself praying a lot more these days.
For my family, my children in particular.
For victims of violence - bombings, gun violence, domestic violence, verbal violence.
For those affected by the terrible storms here in the South.
For friends of mine in life transitions, for the children of other friends who are sick, recovering from concussions, and struggling in school.
For my seminary classmates, their studies, their long drives to school.
For those fighting against school inequities here in the city. I have such respect for the hard work that so many people are doing to provide a better education for our children.
For newly elected officials and the ones already in office - for corruption and injustice to cease.
For those who stand in the way of justice and peace, reconciliation and grace.
For those who think more people should have guns and not fewer.
For those who think that aid to people in need should be curtailed.
I pray for wisdom and clarity for those with the power to affect long term, wide reaching change.
I pray for those whose work is short term and narrow in reach too.
I pray for all people everywhere.
Little stuff like that.

This is my life right now.
Full. Busy. Demanding.
I am grateful.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Life is a whirlwind these days - but in a great way

Seminary has been demanding and delightful these past three Saturdays.
Serious and subtly life-altering already. Giving me answers to questions I didn't know I needed to be asking about the history of the church and the trinity and why those ancient buildings are called basilicas and cathedrals. Who know? Certainly I did not.

I am taking two classes. One is The History of Christianity 1 - from the days of the apostles through the Reformation. The other is The Christian Life - which parallels the timetable of the history class and considers the faith practices and rules of living that faith communities have practiced over the history of the Christian church. A lot of reading and writing.

But if you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know I am a geek. I love to read and write and so seminary is going to be a gift I give to myself - before I get to give the gifts gained to others. A dear friend of mine recently told me to study hard, to read and write well, to do everything I need to do to prepare to serve all the people that God will bring my way, all the people I will meet and serve. I love her perspective - this is a time of training and preparation that I get to go through in order to be better equipped to love and support and learn in future places and times of ministry.

One of the gifts you all have given me, Linda K most recently, is the support and kindness and encouragement that reminds me that I am already doing work to serve others. I am already praying and teaching and listening to stories and telling stories and asking questions and learning more about what needs to be done to bring justice and peace to more people and places and communities here in Charlotte and elsewhere.

Last Thursday, our church welcomed Dr Cornel West to speak, to challenge us, to move us, to make us laugh, to make us think, to push us out onto the front lines of the battle for justice. The title of the talk was - Justice: What Love Looks Like in Public. We can say everything we want about racism and inequality and injustice, but we must act. The skewed economic situation in our country and in our world, the segregation of people by race and socio-economic status, the gross inequality in our schools, the high percentage of people is "a moral disgrace" and "spiritually obscene."

The question is, knowing all that we know now, how now will we live?

What will we do? What will I do? (I guess that's more than one question...)

I had the honor of participating with Dr West and my senior pastor, Pen Peery, during the time of question and answers following the talk. Here is a link to our church website and a video of the talk and conversation we had. Make yourself some tea and grab a few cookies to dunk into the tea. It's long. But oh so good.

Briefly, our photo will serve as the profile photo for the church's Facebook page.
It was a glorious night. Such an honor to meet Dr West.
Sitting with him at the end felt like a conversations with a friend
while others watched, listened, and contributed questions to ask my friend.

He talked about individuals and churches and all the rest of us being on fire for justice and integrity.
Not being driven or motivated by buying and selling and status and position, but rather by love and justice.

I came away asking - Where am I using my energy and my resources?
Where is my anger and indignation at suffering and evil?
What I say matters much less than what I do.
He gave us much to consider - and showed us how much we need to do.

Towards the end of our conversation, he said, "The fight for justice is not a fad or a fashion. It is a way of life."

What a powerful challenge to not go back to being "well adjusted to injustice." We are outraged when tragedies happen - Sandy Hook and Ferguson and Baltimore and Hurricane Katrina and Mother Emanuel Church. We get upset - and rightfully so. We ask for help to understand our nation's horrific history of homicide and racism and inequity. But then we go back to our regularly scheduled consumerism and self-promotion and forget that so many still suffer and will continue to suffer until we, until I am willing to stand up, to speak up, and to change my way of life. For good.

In the meantime -
My daughter comes home from college for her fall break this weekend.
I have to write a paper on Communion before Saturday morning.
Tomorrow is the day I welcome guests to our Loaves and Fishes pantry.
There is another We Walk Together Charlotte walk tomorrow morning.

I am excited about our upcoming Fall Fest @ First. It will take place on October 18th, 4-6 pm at First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. Please join us for food trucks, pumpkin decoration, face painting, music by Tyrone Jefferson and A Sign of the Times. Bring canned food to donate to a local food pantry. We will create a book of prayers and messages of support and hope for Mother Emanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston where those nine church members were killed by a visitor. I recently found out that he had visited the church and attended Bible studies there several times. That fateful night back in June was not his first visit. He was welcomed by his hated victims; he almost couldn't go through with it, he said, because they were so kind to him. We cannot forget those who still mourn - and we hope our small and imperfect efforts will show them that they have not been forgotten.

For now, however, I need to get some sleep.

Life is a whirlwind these days - but in a great way.
Thanks be to God.

Monday, September 21, 2015

"You're Gonna Hear Me ROAR"

Every now and then, I am invited to tell more of my life story in a public forum.
I share my sorrows and my joys.
I share my triumphs and my losses.
I share who I am and what I think,
what I have seen and what I have learned,
how I have been wounded and how I am being healed.

It was with nervousness, excitement, butterflies in my stomach, hope, and gratitude
that I shared some of my faith story in a series hosted by my dear friend,
Jena Schwartz. The series is called "The Roar Sessions" and my contribution
to the series is HERE.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Is thankfulness the only thing I write about these days?

Is it just me or are the weeks of this year absolutely flying past? Is it Thursday again already? Is it time for another thankful Thursday post? I guess so.

How cool is this sand sculpture?

A week ago right now, I was enjoying the last day of a week-long vacation with my husband. At Hilton Head in South Carolina. We absolutely love that place. The Spanish moss hanging from the trees. The alligators floating lazily in the small ponds. Turtles that swim together in clusters. Sand. Shells. Surf. Sunshine. The best salmon we've ever eaten - and we cooked it ourselves. Wine. Blueberry mojitos. Blood orange mojitos.

Water. Popcorn. Sorbet. Towels. Chairs. An umbrella. Books. Journaling. Watching US Open tennis. Riding bikes. Shopping. Marveling at the beauty of the place.

Marveling at the torrential downpours and the depth of the standing water 
after only two hours of rain.

We ate remarkably well.

We walked and biked for miles.

Epic people watching.

Reading books that caused me to rethink 
my beliefs about race and racism.

There were silly moments -
and moments when I couldn't close my mouth long enough
to have my photo taken.

Dark clouds rolled through and unleashed enormous thunderstorms.

If you are married, if you have ever been married, then you know that marriage is hard. Very hard. Demanding. Disappointing. Frustrating. Spending several days alone with one's spouse can be hard, demanding, disappointing, frustrating. I know because I've been there.

This is the man, my man.

Last week at Hilton Head was the best week of our marriage. "Magical" is not too extravagant a word to describe the time we shared there. Reconnected. Recommitted. Reunited. Recharged. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to Steve for his willingness to try all kinds of new things. All manner of new things. (That's all I'm gonna say about that...)

We were happy.

I was happy.

But below all the laughter and beyond all the good food and before the long nights of deep sleep and after all the bike trips and with all the cans of La Croix peach-pear water, there was sorrow, suffering, and sadness. There was reflection and remembrance. There was wordless prayer.

As I sat and watched children run into and out of the water, I thought about the tiny bodies of tiny children washing up on seashores around the globe. Lifeless.
Lord, have mercy.

I thought about the children whose photos have never been and will never be shown on the news here, the ones in Rwanda and Congo and India and Pakistan and Brazil and Nicaragua and Liberia and Eritrea - the ones that are dying everyday of hunger and disease and neglect and war and abuse.
Christ, have mercy.

I thought about the children right here in the United States that are washing up on the shores of our land after being shot by lunatics with easy access to guns. We who claim to live in the greatest country in the world, the wealthiest country in all of human history, are more adamant about defending our right to have and carry guns than the right of our children to eat, have a roof over their heads, have access to health care, and attend school safely. 
Lord, please help us to have mercy on each other.

I thought about the parents and friends and relatives of young men and women who left for a new job or a movie or an engagement party or a department store or a Bible study and never returned home.
Lord, please provide comfort.

I thought about a friend whose husband was in the final days of stage 4 pancreatic kanswer.
Sweet Momma Jesus, please sit with her and hold her in your loving and comforting arms as she mourns his death.

I thought about the men and women who served us our meals when we ate out and the ones who would clean our rental house after we left.
Lord, please open my eyes and heart to all who provide me with service, care, and help in any capacity. May I see them all with eyes of love, greet them with words of gratitude, and remember their faces at future moments of prayer.
I thought about the dozens of people who sat behind a nearby hotel waiting for rides back home or to their next jobs or wherever they were headed. Sitting in groups. Sitting alone. After long hours cleaning up for guests who tried to ignore them, guests they were trained to not disturb. 
Sweet Savior, please protect them and provide for them. Please remind us that we are all guests, we are all hosts, we are all service workers in this world. No one is more valuable or worthy of love and respect than anyone else.
I thought about how much suffering surrounds me, even on vacation. Even on a magical vacation with the man I have loved for nearly 30 years now.
Thank you, Lord God Jesus, for never allowing me to forget that you love all people everywhere. Please help me to see, to acknowledge, to welcome, and to embrace all people.

Thank you for the friendliness of the family that occupied the chairs and sat beneath the umbrella next to ours.
Thank you for the assistance and attention from restaurant staff and supermarket cashiers and the fishmonger.
Thank you for the bounty and the beauty of creation everywhere we looked.
Thank you for safe travel for us and protection for the children we left behind.

Thank you that joy and sorrow, peace and sadness, laughter and prayer flowed together as effortlessly and poignantly as they did last week.

Thank you thank you thank you.
PS. Please have mercy. And help us to do the same. Help me to do the same.