Monday, June 27, 2016

The Knowing Place

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I like the first verse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Top Ten List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Never Alone

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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

Dr Carson Brisson, June 4, 2016.

Benediction after Greek class.


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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sighs too deep for words...

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Thankful Thursday - One Good Thing

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Thankful Thursday - "Don't Miss It"

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

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

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

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

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

Tonight I am thankful for -

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

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

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

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

Watermelon and blueberries and pineapple
Greek yogurt
Cheese from Spain

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

How blistering
How demanding
How delightful
How beautiful

Don't miss it.

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thankful Thursday - It's Still Raining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Monday, May 16, 2016

"Don't Help Him"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Prodigal

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Lord, the one you love is sick.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(How long, Lord? How long?)

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

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

Friday, April 22, 2016

Waiting in hope

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

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

Anywho...

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

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

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

I am tired.
But also renewed. 
Strengthened. 
Energized.
Held. 
Lifted up.

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

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


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

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

I Have a Hope
by Tommy Walker

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Really, Lord? Really?

Not long ago, I reread one of my favorite Bible verses. Then I flipped a few books back and read two more of my favorite verses. Here they are:

In John 16:33, Jesus spoke these words to his disciples not long before he was arrested and executed -
"I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Paul wrote this to other followers of Christ in Philippians 4:6-7 - Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Really, Lord? Really?

In you, I can have peace? I need some peace right now. Deep peace. The kind of peace Paul wrote about in Philippians, the kind of peace that transcends all understanding.

Cuz right now, I don't understand a whole lot. I don't understand why the suffering continues. I don't understand why the pain continues. I don't understand.

And I'm almost all out of peace. Any kind of peace. The deep kind and the shallow kind.

I am reminded of the scene in the movie, "The Apostle," where Robert Duvall's character is up late one night praying, praying so loudly that the neighbors call to complain about the noise. One line he repeats is one that I've been repeating a lot lately: "Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace. Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace."

Lord, right now, I beg of you, please: "Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace."

You were certainly right when you said that in this world, we would have trouble.
So much trouble. War. Violence. Abuse.
Addiction. Disease. Mental illness.
Loss. Grief.
Crime. Injustice.
Sleepless nights worrying about any and all of the above and so much more.
Trouble that begets more trouble.

I know there are a lot of people who say, "Trouble don't last for always,"
but sometimes it feels like always, like forever.
These past eight weeks have felt like forever.
Can you please grant us peace, a break from the trouble, from the pain, from the suffering?

I know, I know. Some people, a whole lot of people have it worse than we do.
I know that's true - but this still sucks. This is still deep trouble for us.

One of my pastors recently told me about a seminary professor who talked to the class about
Psalm 13.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," 
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

But I trust in your unfailing love,
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.

My pastor said that the professor said - that space in between verses 4 and 5, that space that you see between the words "fall" and "But" - we don't know how long it took the psalmist to get from verse 4 to verse 5. We don't know how long it took to go from almost wishing for death to trusting in God's unfailing love again.

Two weeks ago today, I preached a sermon at church called, "A Yet Praise." I based it on a passage from the third chapter of the book written by the prophet Habbakuk.

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen 
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Though trouble seems to be lasting far too long,
though she struggles with opposition to her leadership,
though he struggles with temptation to be unfaithful,
though they are on the brink of divorce,
though their child was shot and killed by a madman,
though my heart breaks every day and every night watching her suffer,
even in the face of all of that,
the prophet says, "I will yet praise God."
I will find ways and reasons and means to offer "a yet praise."

I am not gonna lie - this praise thing isn't easy right now.
This "being anxious for nothing" thing is the hardest thing I've tried to do in years.
Literally in years.
This is harder than when I was dealing with kanswer.
And kanswer is hard. Kanswer sucks.

I find myself asking over and over: "Really, Lord? Really? Again? Again???"

I go back to the beginning and reread those verses and I am reminded:
"Take heart! I have overcome the world."

Really, Lord? Really?
You have overcome it all???
Violence and fear and hatred and prejudice and death and mental illness too?
You have overcome it all?

I go back and reread them again - offer thanksgiving in everything?
be anxious for nothing?

Really, Lord? Really?

Somewhere in there I get the impression that the promised peace isn't tied to the answers to my requests. In fact, there is no mention in that Philippians passage about answers. It simply tells me to present my requests - with thanksgiving. Then the transcendent peace will guard my heart and mind in you, Lord God Jesus.

Bring it on - please.
You know I have presented my requests.
I've left out the thanksgiving part a lot these days.
Gotta go back to being thankful - even in the midst of this.
Even in the darkest valley with all the shadows of death.
The death of dreams. The death of quietness and calm. The death of ease and simplicity.
The death of so much of what I had hoped for.
Even now, even here, in this terrible place - I can, I must find reasons to be thankful.

(Thank you for health insurance and doctors who listen.
Thank you for friends who talk and text and pray.
Thank you for food and water and heat and air conditioning.
Thank you for gas stations and post offices and public libraries.
Thank you for pens, colored pencils, and journals.
Thank you for eye glasses and hearing aids.
Thank you for music and movies.
Thank you for Law and Order marathons.
Thank you for seminary - the classes, my classmates, and professors.
Thank you for my bed and my pillow and my comforter.
Thank you for wine and port and pineapple martinis.
Thank you thank you thank you.)

And now I'm gonna hold you to your promise, Sweet Jesus.
Cuz you promised peace. To give peace. To be peace.
Please. Please. Please. Please.

"Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me, give me peace."


And not just to me alone.
To the one in the difficult meeting right now.
To the one in the difficult relationship.
To the one in the refugee camp.
To the one in jail.
To the one in the hospital.
To the one in the welfare hotel.
We all need your peace, Lord.
Every single one of us.
We beg. We plead. We beseech you.

Give it to us, give it to us, give it to us, give us peace.

***************
Half an hour later - I was advised to take a few deep breaths.
To not take it all so seriously.
There is humor and joy available.
So I'm gonna avail myself of some of both of the above.
Please don't worry about me - I'm okay.
Truly I am.
All is well. All shall be well.
Breathing deeply.
Feeling better already.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Thankful Monday

Sometimes I have to give thanks on Mondays too.
Today I am thankful for -

* the sunshine on this gorgeous spring day
* flowers and trees in bloom
* a long walk and jog before the heat of the day
* seeing light stream into places that used to be dark
* a delicious and decadent dinner provided for our family tonight
* all the dear ones who have walked with us, prayed with us, and brought us dinner
* the simple pleasure of watching television with my dearly beloved daughter
* rotisserie chicken, cresecent rolls, cream cheese, butter - and the promise of learning how to mix them all together to create "chicken squares" with my neighbor - who is a gourmet cook
* clementines
* UNC Chapel Hill men's basketball team playing in the NCAA final game tonight (Go HEELS!!!)
* finishing my second semester of seminary
* completing the papers and projects required
* connecting with both professors and feeling heard deeply and seen thoughtfully by both of them
* being able to share my stories and photos from my kanswer journey with someone else who is on a similar journey (praying for you, M)
* being about to share our stories and experiences with someone else on a challenging journey with her child (praying for you, A)
* having the chance to preach at my church
* the friends who came to listen and support me and give me big hugs when the service ended
* traveling to Israel with friends from my church - vicariously
* beginning to plan an escape or two of my own - that won't be vicarious!
* yerba mate tea in my favorite mug
* a double batch of vegan chocolate chip cookies to dip into my tea
* watching a resurrection miracle over Easter weekend - a loved one raised from her sick bed
* returning to the best barber I've ever had - after months of trying to find a replacement
* a family therapy session this evening - so much to talk about, so much to reflect on, so much to be thankful for
* eating through my secret stash of my favorite Kind Bars - and then learning that they are on sale again at a nearby health food store (time to restock!)
* green juice made at home - romaine, apples, mint leaves, lemons, clementines, and carrots
* a new journal with a sheaf of empty pages that I get to fill
* being able to refer to old journals for recipes and ticket stubs and sermon notes and detailed accounts of both sorrows and joys gone by
* swedish fish and Starburst jelly beans at Easter time
* prayer, with friends, with family, alone, silent, out loud, written, read
* Pinterest
* marathons of silly television shows, especially after weeks and weeks of reading and writing for seminary
* piles of books and magazines to plow through during my brief break from school... before starting Biblical Greek (alpha, beta, lambda, rho, omega - and everything in between)
* a really old cell phone that still works, keeping me in touch with friends and family across miles and oceans
* reminders everywhere I look of how blessed I am to be alive and well at this time in the world - a home, cars that run, clothes in the closet, food in the fridge, electricity, running water, medical insurance, friends, family, a community of faith, cell phones, a computer. But more than the stuff, apart from the stuff, I have been filled with and surrounded by love, friendship, grace, mercy, healing, joy, laughter, and hope my whole life, even in the darkest valleys.

Friday, March 25, 2016

What's so good about Good Friday?

This morning, my husband said, "I've never known why we call today 'Good Friday.' What's so good about it?

I tried to give an answer that made sense - we call it "good" only because we can look back at it from this perspective. Jesus was crucified and a few days later, he rose from the dead. He overcame death, the thing that frightens most of us most of all. It's good because Christ showed us power over even the worst suffering and death itself.

And I believe every word of that is true.
But still...
But still...

Death sucks.
Execution sucks.
Suffering sucks.
Waiting sucks.

I am a mother who has seen her children suffer.
I am a mother who sees her child suffering. In pain. Afraid.
I have wept and still weep with and for my children.

But I have never seen a child of mine arrested, tried, tortured, and sentenced to death.
I have not seen a child of mine be executed.
I have not seen a child of mine buried.
Mary, the mother of our Lord, saw all of that.
There was nothing good about that day for her -
perhaps except for the fact that her son didn't live too long on the cross.
His suffering ended relatively quickly that fateful, faithful day.

Today I spoke to a woman whose son is suffering.
She knows that I have traveled down the same road a little longer than she has.
But I didn't have any answers for her. I don't have any solutions for her.
I looked at her and listened to her, answered her questions as best I could,
and then we wished each other the best as we went back to loving our hurting children.
Tears filled our eyes. Horror filled our hearts. Along with love. So much love.

What was so good about Good Friday today, about the time I spent with that beautiful, heartbroken, terrified, hopeful mother?
I got to talk to her and walk with her and share a few moments with her.
I sat and talked with a dear, dear friend for an hour or so, sharing stories about the places in our hearts and minds that hurt the most these days.
I talked to another friend on the phone and she reminded me of the importance of enjoying the chocolate chip cookies and a glass of wine and the company of my husband and son, even in the midst of another dark chapter of our life as a family.

But still...
But still..

It's gonna be a while before I can truly understand what has been good about today,
what's good about this situation,
what's good about this prolonged sojourn through the valley of so many shadows.
It's gonna be a while before I understand how any of this is working together for good.
Before I understand how any of this is tied to hope and a future.
A good long while.

I do believe, Lord,
Please help my unbelief.
Help me to trust that all shall be well again. Someday.
Help me see beyond this sadness and sorrow.

It is Friday. Sunday is coming.
In the meantime, darkness descends.
In the meantime, hope wanes.
In the meantime, tears flow.
In the meantime, sorrow runs deep.
In the meantime, we watch and wait.
In the meantime, we pray for resurrection.

Deep sighs.
Deep groans.
Deep sorrow.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Both/And

Darkness and light.
Peace and chaos.
Sorrow and rejoicing.
Pain and relaxation.
Health and illness.
Anger and hope.
Trust and hopelessness.
Silent and raging.

Why her and why not her?
Why us and why not us?
Why them and why not them?

How do we balance our hopes and expectations for healing and wholeness with patience and trust that all shall be well? That there is hope and a future?

I've spent a lot of time reading and pondering the Biblical account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11. His sisters sent a message to their friend, Jesus, informing him that their brother was sick. 

"Lord, the one you love is sick."
The one you love is in the hospital. 
The one you love is afraid.
The one you love is looking for a job.
The one you love is hurting.

When Jesus got the message, he stayed where he was for two days.
And then took several more days to arrive at the home of the three sibling,
but Lazarus was already dead.
Sick. Hospice care. Deceased. Dead. Gone

"If you had been here, my brother would not have died."
If you had been here, my child would not be sick.
If you had been here, my marriage would not be ending.
If you had been here, my church would not be imploding.
If you had been here, those bombings wouldn't have happened.
If you had been here, he wouldn't have hit me or cursed at me.
Where are you? Where have you been?

Jesus saw Mary and Martha and their friends in sorrow, in grief, and Jesus wept.
Does Jesus weep with us now, in our suffering and sorrow?

What if Jesus is with us AND we still have to go through this sorrow?
What if our friends and family love us AND we still have to go through this sorrow?
What if there is hope and a future AND we still have to go through this sorrow?
Both hope and sorrow.
Both love and sorrow.
Both Jesus and sorrow.

The good news for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is that Jesus raised him from the dead.
Called him out of the tomb.
Celebration. Rejoicing.

Around here, we are waiting for resurrection.
For new life. For restoration, healing, wholeness, and true freedom.
Clinging to hope, pleading for relief.
Outside the tomb, waiting for new life to emerge.
Both/and.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Is it well? Yes, it is well.

I love me some old Gospel hymns.
In four part harmony.
Sung with organ and piano.
Preferably with a choir.
A swaying choir of powerful voices.

Great is thy faithfulness
To God by the Glory
Blessed Assurance
When we all get to heaven
I must tell Jesus
Stand up, Stand up for Jesus
It is Well with my soul

That last one is on my mind today, this past week, for the past two weeks, actually.
Here are a few lines from that great old hymn of the church:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

If you have read any of my ramblings in the past, you know that I spend much of my time looking for and finding reasons to be grateful. Peace like a river has attended my way for much of my life. I have traveled extensively - and safely. I have loved and been loved. I have worked with wise and kind-hearted people. My friends call me and text me and come visit me and meet me in cities and towns all over this country and even internationally. They tell me and they show me that they love me. I have seen beauty and I have felt deep joy. Even my dog seems to like me these days - and she is a picky dog. Peace, joy, hope, love, trust, grace, mercy have indeed followed me and guided me and filled me and surrounded me in these 50 years I have lived. I am enormously, profoundly, overwhelmingly grateful.

When sorrows like sea billows roll,

At the other end of the bell-shaped curve, as my dear friend, Karen, says, I have seen darkness. I have known sorrow. I watched my beloved father breathe his last labored breath fifteen years ago this month. I was laid low by breast kanswer. I have watched my children suffer heartbreak, physical injury, and mental and emotional anguish. I have sat on the floor in my bedroom, in my study, in our family room back in Connecticut and here in North Carolina and wept over the horrors of September 11th, 2001, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the earthquake in Haiti, civil war and genocide in Rwanda, shootings in schools and theaters and on the streets of our nation, and the untimely deaths of people I love and people that are loved by people I love.

Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well with my soul."

What is my lot? My lot is sorrow and joy.
My lot is plenty and little.
Worry and peace.
Health and illness.
Anger and love.
Trust and suspicion.
Power and helplessness.
I've felt it all. I feel it all right now.
What I like about this line and the chorus that follows is this:
It doesn't say, "It is well with my body." Or "It is well with my family."
Or "It is well with my school work or my job or my marriage or my house."
In truth, it is well with most of those things right now.
Not all of those things, but most of those things.
But that's not what the song declares. That's not what the Bible declares.
What it says is this: It is well with my soul.
With my soul, peace. With my soul, hope.
With God in my soul, strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

The Apostle Paul penned a letter to the church in Philippi from a prison cell
- and he wrote about being contented - even in prison.
He told the recipients of his letter: be anxious for nothing
(I haven't lived up to that one...)
but in everything by prayer and petition
(I do a whole lot of praying and petitioning, for sure)
with thanksgiving
(even at the times I'm anxious? even then, Paul? even then, Lord?)
present your requests to God.
(I have no shortage of requests, of pleas, of cries for mercy, grace and help in our time of need)
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
(There it is - that place, that moment, that ability to say, to sing, to believe, to know
that it is well with my soul. Take a deep breath, Gail. Take another one. Know that your heart and mind are guarded in Christ Jesus.)

Chorus - It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.

Even when all is not well with my body,
when all is not well with my children,
when all is not well in my church or my city or my country,
it can be well, indeed, it is well with my soul.
Deep breath. Deep sigh.

Though satan should buffet, though trials should come,

In John 16:33, Jesus is coming to the end of a long discourse with his disciples, shortly before he is arrested and condemned to die on the cross. He said, "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." Another translation of the Bible says, "In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world." So trouble and trials should not be a surprise. They certainly aren't a surprise to God. Trouble and trials, persecution and pain are part of everyone's lot in life. I don't know anyone who walks this world unscathed, unscarred by the atrocities of disease, death, loss, pain, fear, loneliness, abandonment, mental illness, kanswer, financial insecurity or concern. And there are billions of people who wish they had a job to lose, a house to take care of, and children to fret over. There are countless people who wish they had the option and opportunity to choose which megalomaniac to vote for in the next election. Trials come. Trials are inevitable. For everyone.

Let this blest assurance control:
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul.

Helplessness sucks.
I've been wallowing in helplessness for a couple of weeks now.
There is nothing I can do. Nothing I can say.
I can't fix it. I can't fix him. I can't fix her.
I can't do anything at all. But wait. And pray.
Advocate for my beloved one, yes. Speak up for the cast down, absolutely.
But I can't fix anything or anybody.
I can't change the medical system or the school system or the political system.
I wish I could, but I just can't.
I will probably keep trying, but my efforts are likely to be of no avail.
Perhaps someday I will accept the fact that it's okay to stop trying so hard,
and learn to live life on life's terms.

The thought that God came to earth in Christ,
that Christ wept with those who mourned,
that Christ touched and healed lepers, blind people, those who were crippled,
those whose minds were out of their control,
that Christ sat with, ate with, talked to, and seemed to prefer
the helpless ones, the outcast ones, the lonely ones, the rejected ones -
knowing all of that gives me hope in my hopeless times,
joy in my joyless times,
peace in my stormy times.
And those times come frequently - they don't come to stay.
They do come to pass, but they do come.
For as much as I continually hope otherwise, I have not been spared.

Just as Christ saw the woman at the well, the one who came by herself, and he sat with her,
just as Christ saw the woman accused of adultery, the one who was dragged to the temple in anticipation of being executed, and he talked with her,
just as Christ saw Mary and Martha weeping over the death of their brother, and he wept with them,
just as Christ saw the men on the road to Emmaus, and he walked with them, listened to their story of hopelessness, and explained why things had to happen the way they did,
just as Christ regarded and honored and accompanied them in their helpless estate,
Christ also has regarded my helplessness and my despair.
Christ's healing power has shown up through the presence of doctors, nurses, and medical technicians who have provided protection and solace and comfort.
Christ's comforting presence has shown up in the visits, meals, cards, messages of support from as far away as India and Denmark and Spain and Connecticut and New York City and New Jersey,
and as close as the generous neighbors who live next door.
Christ shows up with wounds still visible, reminders of his own suffering, his own loss, his pain, his helplessness, his death - and also his victory over all of that.
Glory! Hallelujah! I am grateful - tearful and grateful.

I know, I know - it's a crazy story.
But it is my story.
This is my crazy faith story. This is my crazy life story.
With all of its upheavals and deep valleys.
With all of its joy and its soul-rending sorrow.
With everything and everyone in various states of emergency and delusion.

It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.


A medley that includes "It is well with my soul."



If you need a slow song to remind you of the power of praise - I will Praise Him Still


If upbeat gospel music is your preference, Whitney Houston's rendition of "Hold On, Help is on the Way" has brought a smile to my weepy face several times in these past two weeks.