Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Thankful Tuesday - one day late

There are times in life when all I can do is bow my head
in wonder
in awe
in gratitude
in joy
in shocked and stunned gratitude.
Did I mention gratitude already?

This has been a tough year for our family. The details of the story are not mine to divulge, but I will tell what is mine to tell. From February 19th until May 20th, we were in a battle over here in our house. A serious battle. Illness. Fear. Worry. Sleepless nights. Restless days. Hospital stays - four of them. Desperation. Anxiety. Weeping, much weeping. Ceaseless prayer. Friends came over with food. Friends stayed away and prayed. Friends didn't know what to do or what to say or even what to pray. We didn't either. Although the battle "officially ended" on May 20th, there were several skirmishes that followed. Watchfulness. Tension. More crying. Slow and steady progress towards health, healing, wholeness.

We never gave up hope. Don't get me wrong; I had moments of wanting to pack a small suitcase, grab my passport, and hit the road for the longest pilgrimage I could find. I had moments of wondering just how many days and nights I could survive on less than two hours of sleep. I tried not to spend too much time fantasizing about sleeping six or seven or even eight hours in a row. Uninterrupted. I forgot what that felt like. Around that time, a friend told me that sometimes in life you have to renegotiate your relationship with "hope." This past spring was certainly one of those times - on some days, hope meant eating a meal in peace. On some days, hope meant going for a car ride and having it end with a nap. On some days, hope was the prospect of going off to seminary on Saturday and being able to sit through my two classes.

And all year long, there was a cloud hanging over over all of our heads. That cloud was this: my daughter had to complete her senior thesis in sociology for UNC Asheville. She had to do a lot of reading and writing and research and conduct interviews and write it all up in a paper that was supposed to be 20 pages long, at least. Plus she would have to give an oral presentation of her paper at school.

Day after day, for weeks on end, for months, I prayed a variation of the following prayer:
"Lord, this is an impossible ask.
She can't do it. It's too much.
Today, Lord, can you please just give her the strength and courage to make it through the day?
I won't keep asking about the paper; I just want her to be okay.
I just want her to be okay.
Please please please please please.
Help help help help help.
Mercy mercy mercy mercy."

In the midst of my many crying jags, the senior minister of my church sent me a text. I don't think it could have been any simpler: "Lord, in your mercy..." That was it. None of us knew what to ask for anymore. None of us knew what to pray. That one would have to suffice. That one, it turns out, was more than enough: "Lord, in your mercy..."

In September, Kristiana completed the interviews and typed up the transcripts.
Soon thereafter, she did more research and summarized it succinctly.
She wrote one paragraph at a time, one page at a time.
In between, we cursed and cried and wondered and hoped and prayed.
In between, we went for walks and out to movies and watched Law and Order marathons.
In between writing and reading and making pots of pasta and soup, the cloud began to lift.
The paper grew, as did our confidence in the miracle of healing.
Her spirits lifted and so did ours.
Then the professor sent two sets of spirit-crushing comments on and critiques of her paper.
I prepared to write a scathing email and follow it up with a scathing phone call.
You cannot do this to my daughter. You cannot be so mean and so insensitive.
You have no idea how hard we have had to fight to get to this place and this moment in time.
We cannot go backwards. We cannot lose our momentum. We cannot lose hope.
Yes, by then, it was a group effort; we were in this together.
As we have always been.
And we will NOT be moved.

Nearly three weeks ago, on Thursday, November 17th, as my daughter and I drove home from an evening outing, she wept tears of sadness and overwhelm. Between sobs, she repeated, "I don't know if I can do this. I'm just not sure I can finish it." I listened to her with sorrow in my heart and tears in my eyes. I listened for what God might want me to say in response to her, because I had nothing to offer. Nothing. I was devoid of wise words or helpful advice.
So I went back to the prayer that my pastor  gave me: "Lord, in your mercy..."

Suddenly it came to me: Our difficult journey had begun on Friday, February 19th.
It was now Thursday, November 17th. Nine months later.
Just two weeks remained before her paper and presentation were due.
Nine months and two weeks...
What is significant about that length of time?
As it turns out, nine months is the length of time of most pregnancies.
When I was pregnant with her, however, I was pregnant for nine months and two weeks. She was two weeks late. Overdue. Overcooked. She was born with her fingers and toes wrinkled, like she had been in the bathtub for too long. Which was exactly the case: she was in the tub of my tummy for too long. Actually, that's not actually true. She was in my womb for exactly the amount of time she was supposed to be there - even though it was a full two weeks past her due date.

As I explained that to my daughter three weeks ago tomorrow, I told her that, although I had loved being pregnant with her, the last two weeks were awful. The longest two weeks of my life - up until that point. I was miserable and sad and moving slowly and uncomfortable. Then thirteen hours of hard labor. But then - there she was. A new life. Beautiful. Healthy. Strong. Alive. Ours.

With tears now flowing freely, I told her that she was in the same situation twenty three years later. Nine months of hard work, gestating, growing, becoming whole.
She had two more weeks before the due date for her paper and her presentation -
and they were gonna be tough.
Hard. Demanding. Painful.
She would be miserable, uncomfortable, sad, and moving slowly.
But then it would be over - and she would emerge. A new life.

Yesterday, my daughter, my dearly beloved daughter, presented her senior thesis in sociology for the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She focused on the work of two organizations in North Carolina that offer guidance, companionship, and care for queer homeless youth: TimeOutYouth (here in Charlotte) and YouthOutRight (in Asheville). Some of her UNCA friends came to hear her give her talk. Some students came simply because they had read about her topic and wanted to hear what she had to say. Her presentation at 2:20 pm was the last of the day - and many of the people there had been listening to student presentations since 8 that morning. But still, several took notes on her talk. Several asked questions. They applauded when she was done. And then several students, extremely busy and easily bored college students, waited in line to thank her and compliment her on her research and her presentation.

Her professor greeted her afterwards and gave Kristiana high praise.
She said, "I still have to read the final draft of your thesis,
but rest assured, you are a college graduate."
She did it! She did it! My child is a college graduate.
All we have to do now is wait for her diploma to arrive in the mail!!!

Nine months and two weeks since February 19, 2016.
Eight years and twenty one days since November 15, 2008.
Twenty three years and thirty seven days since October 30, 1993.
But who's counting?

Words cannot capture the joy, the pride, the relief, the gratitude,
the love, the hope, the belief in miracles, and the awe that we all feel today.
Thankful Tuesday.
Thankful Wednesday.
Thankful Thursday.
Thankful and thoughtful on Friday.
Thankful on Saturday too.
Thankful and singing on Sunday.
Perhaps I should just go ahead and be thankful everyday.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"We are praying each other strong"

Back in the spring, in the midst of a very dark valley on our life journey, a friend from church came over with muffins and a card with words of encouragement and support. She just showed up, unannounced. Unexpected. In her card, she wrote a phrase I had never heard or read before,
"We are praying each other strong."

When I read that phrase, I knew it was exactly what I needed at that moment.
At that dark and challenging moment. At that fearful and inescapable time of trial.

There's so much packed into that simple declaration.
Beginning with the "we." Plural. Together. Not alone.
Her wise words reminded me that I was not alone; after all, "we" are "we."
I am not alone now.
I have never been alone.
Nor are you. Not now. Not ever.

"We are praying."
It's an ongoing activity.
The praying wasn't finished when she arrived that day. 
The praying isn't finished now.
The tears were flowing freely back in the spring when she dropped by. 
The tears are still flowing now, at the end of November. 
The emotions are still real and raw, and so the prayers must be as well.
Real and raw prayers.
Lord, in your mercy...
Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me - give me peace...
Heal our land...
Please send rain...
Don't you care that we are drowning?
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage.
We pray together. We pray for each other. 
We continue to pray.
We are praying.

"We are praying each other..."
I'm not just praying for you.
You are not just praying for me.
We are praying for each other.
We are praying each other's names and stories and needs.
We are lifting one another up. We are holding each other up.
We are asking for healing and peace and joy and grace and wholeness for each other.
You know what I need. I know what you need.
Whatever we don't know, and there is so much that we don't know, 
that we leave in the hands of the One who knows us both better than we know ourselves. 
And we keep praying. 
Keeping it simple. Keeping it honest. Keeping in plain.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

"We are praying each other strong."
We aren't just praying for healing or for a job and for marriages to survive. 
We aren't just asking to get through this - whatever "this" is.
This horrendous aftermath of a horrendous election. 
Yet another inexplicable act of violence at a school, Ohio State University. 
We aren't just praying for an end to acts of aggression and hatred.
We aren't only praying for peace and courage.
We are praying each other strong.
Strong to face all that lies ahead for all of us.
Strong to stand against the power of money to manipulate and control us all.
Strong to stand against those who want to pollute and desecrate sacred land.
Strong to stand against politicians who seek to roll back civil, religious, social, and personal freedom.
Strong to stand against the fear and anxiety that cause us to want to 
"do it to them before they do it to us" - whatever "it" is.
Strong to stand against racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, anti-Muslim sentiments,
and all the other fear and intolerance, indignity and indifference that poison and threaten us all.
Strong to fight the good fight, the long fight, 
the fight for justice, righteousness, and all that is good.
This is going to be a long, hard battle. 

I confess that I have wavered in the battle.
I have heard too many tales of terror in the past twenty days.
Stories of people being called names, being beaten up, finding epithets spray painted in public place.
Stories of domestic acts of terror. 
Those stories have planted seeds of fear in me.
Those stories have kept me indoors when otherwise I might go out for long morning walks.
Those stories have brought tears to my eyes and increased my heart rate.
Those stories have driven me to my knees, pleading with God to protect my children, 
my brothers, my nieces and nephews, 
and the children, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews of so many people I know and love.
I have had days lately when I have chosen to not look people in the eye in the supermarket
or at the gas station or even in my own neighborhood.
I have been afraid that I will see hatred and fear in their eyes.
I am afraid they will see hatred and fear in my eyes.
I have been afraid that someone will say something hateful to me.
I have worried that white people are feeling freer to speak words of racism and hatred towards black people. 

But then I remember. I am not alone. 
I remember: white people are not the problem.
Black people are not the problem.
Muslims are not the problem.
Donald Trump is not the problem.
Fear and hatred are ultimately not the problem.
They are all symptoms of what is really ailing us.

Brokenness is the problem. 
Sin is the problem. 
And until we face that thing that is broken within us,
that thing that is broken among us,
until we are willing to confess that we are all in desperate need of healing 
that we cannot provide for ourselves,
until we are willing to lay our weapons down, and lay ourselves open,
then this painful, this dreadful, this fearful thing we are facing now,
it's not going anywhere. 
And we will stay stuck in these repeated patterns of kill, hate, kill; 
fear, loathing, fear;
run, hide, run;
justify, explain, defend;
kill, hate, kill again-
ad nauseum

I refuse to give up. I refuse to give in. I refuse to give over to despair.
So I will do what Flo wrote about in her card back in the spring.
I will be praying you strong.
I hope you will be praying me strong.
We will pray each other strong.
And we won't stop anytime soon.

We are praying each other strong, folks.
We will be praying for a long time. 
Because we are going to need to be strong from this day forward.
All the way to the end.
Wherever and whenever we come to the end. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How Can This Be?

How can it be that swastikas and confederate battle flags and hands raised in the nazi salute are being normalized?

How can it be that our state governor, who has never before mentioned anything about rigged elections related to his own past campaigns or the most recent campaigns of others within his political party, is now whining and complaining because he's behind in the vote count this time around? Suddenly, now the election is rigged and there has been voter fraud.

How can it be that people who have never felt any fear for themselves or their loved ones are now looking around and wondering which of their neighbors wants others of their neighbors to be deported? And which of their neighbors might hate, resent, fear, or ridicule their LGBTQIA child, their other-abled child, or they themselves - simply for being who they are, who they have always been?

How can it be that inter-racial families, inter-national families, inter-religious families now have to make contingency plans in case some of their loved ones have to "be registered"?

How can it be that I feel like I don't want to make eye contact with some people out of concern that they may say something racist to me?

How can it be that nowadays I am surprised when white people treat me with respect? How can it be that I have come to expect to be mistreated, disrespected, or ignored simply because of the color of my skin? How can it be that I've been so sheltered for so long?

How can all of this be happening in the United States of America?

On the other hand...

How can it be that so many coalitions are forming between groups and individuals that have never worked together before - coming together for peace, unity, protection, and non-violent resistance?

How can it be that more churches are beginning to figure out ways to be sanctuaries for those who might be deported?

How can it be that plans are already being made, that plans are still being made, that plans cannot stop being made for long term subversive action, long term commitments to long term solutions to our nation's long term problems?

How can it be that in the midst of the angst, in the midst of the uncertainty, even on the days when my heart rate climbs precipitously at the mere thought of my beloved son being stopped, harassed, beaten, or even killed by someone bent on evil, someone in the small southern town where he attend college, when I shudder at the thought that someone might speak harshly and insultingly to my precious daughter - how can it be that even in those moments, a few deep breaths, a prayer, a long conversation in a parking lot with a prayerful friend, an exquisitely written poem by the daughter of a soul sister friend, two pieces of watercolor art made for me that now hang above my desk, and a timely text from a wise friend all arrive at just the right moments, and serve to guide me back onto the path of peace, of strength, and of hope for a brighter future?

How can it be that in two days I will have both my children at home with me again, two or three of my son's college friends, along with my mother and one of my brothers - all eating and drinking (I'm gonna need a couple of strong drinks, for sure), talking, watching television, laughing, sighing, and giving thanks?

How can it be that my mother and others in her generation can watch all that is transpiring in our country since the election, and while shaking their heads in dismay, still rest in the blessed assurance that they have seen this foolishness before and survived it? They saw worse. They went through worse. They sang and prayed and walked and boycotted and laughed and cried and mourned and resisted their way to victory once - and they believe that we will do it again. How can they be so hopeful, so joyful, so powerful? How can this be?

How can it be that simply repeating the name of Jesus - Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - is enough to reignite the embers that keeps my subversive hope simmering?

How can it be that in less than a week Advent begins? The days of preparation before the celebration of the birth of that same Jesus remind me that, even in the darkest days (the people group to whom Jesus was born lived in a land that was under occupation by violent, hateful people), in the most unlikely of circumstances (Jesus' mother was a young woman, unmarried, pregnant, in a community where such an occurrence could be resolved by execution), even when everything feels hopeless, frightening, and completely out of any single person's control, light shines. Faintly. Dimly. But it's there. Hope grows. A tiny seed. Barely visible. Hardly reasonable. But it's there. Love is born. Again. For the first time.

How can it be that I need Advent, I need hope, I need faith, I need love, I need Jesus more than ever this year?

Isaiah 43: 1b-3a - Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk though fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. 

I find myself wanting to remind God of this promise and all the others that I read in Scripture - promises that I will never be left or forsaken. Promises of peace that passes understanding. Promises of justice. Promises of a future with hope. The truth is that I don't need to remind God; I need to remind myself that those promises are real and true - and I have already experienced their fulfillment in my life. Many times. Many many times.

I look forward to remembering and celebrating those promises around our dinner table on the ultimate Thankful Thursday, two days from now.

How can this be?

PS. I know I've mentioned Kathy before on this blog. She's a strong sister in the faith who lives in Colorado and writes and lives and speaks and preaches and breathes her faith. Out loud. Even when it hurts, especially then. She inspires me in ways she can't even imagine. This is her latest blog post - about the length of the journey ahead of us, all of us. I found it on Facebook earlier today and this is the caption I added when I shared it on my timeline: "Thank you, Kathy Silveira Escobar, for yet another message of hope and determination and forward momentum. This is gonna be a long, hard journey. May we learn to walk together in ways we never have before. Together. In peace. Unstoppable."

That's exactly how we have to get through this, whatever "this" is and whatever "this" becomes -
together, in peace, unstoppable.

You in?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thankful Thursday: Kanswer still sucks

This morning, my husband and I were talking about the results of the election - as were most of the people in this country. I said, "This is the second consecutive presidential election in which we have been forced to rethink who we are and how we will live." He said, "What happened last time?" Four years ago on election day, I was diagnosed with breast kanswer (this is how i spell the name of the "c" word. Back then I wondered about the answer that that disease was going to bring into my life). We celebrated President Obama's second term on the same day that my life was turned upside down. The mammogram and biopsy I endured before getting the diagnosis were followed by tests. Scans. Appointments. Protocol decisions. More tests. More scans. More difficult decisions. And all that before a single step was taken to get the kanswer out of my body.

Mine was a fast growing kanswer, so the decision was made to do chemotherapy first, then surgery, a double mastectomy, and fortunately I didn't have to undergo radiation because of the surgical decision I made. During the arduous weeks of chemo and the difficult weeks following surgery, I remember thinking that the kanswer itself hadn't bothered me. I didn't know I had kanswer. I wasn't in any pain, nor did I feel any other discomfort. It was the treatment that nearly killed me. Things got progressively and profoundly worse before they got better. I cried and complained. I worried and prayed. And now, four years have passed and I feel healthier than I have ever felt in all my 50 years of life. But in order to get to this place, I had to be told what my problem was. I had to admit that, even though I thought I was eating well and exercising enough and taking decent supplements, something was dreadfully wrong in my body, something that could kill me. I had to get the diagnosis, accept it, and treat the problem. And that was gonna suck. Kanswer sucks, and so does the treatment. But if I wanted to get rid of the kanswer, I had to do something. Something drastic.

This past Tuesday, our nation revealed that it has a slow growing, long term, malignant kanswer. We've had it since the first days of this nation. Since before we became a nation. We have lived in fear, acted from a place of supremacy, and been harbingers of hatred since day one. I know that not everyone has felt that way. Not everyone has lived that way. But there has been a kanswerous undercurrent of hatred that has run through our nation's veins throughout its entire history.

This recent election has served as our national MRI, our bone scan, our EKG, and our blood test. Our heart is damaged. Our bones are brittle and porous. It's in our lymph nodes. It's in our gastro intestinal tract. It's in our lungs. It's in our brain. Our entire body, our entire nation is in need of major work. Healing work. Restorative work. Reconciliatory work. But first we've gotta name what's ailing us. We have to accept the diagnosis.

There have been many biopsies down through the years. Small samples taken out of larger contexts - samples of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and lots of other isms oozing out from under a very thin layer of gentleness and kindness that has covered them for decades. People have been pulled out of their cars and homes and places of work and schools - and insulted, assaulted, lynched, beaten, shot, dragged behind cars, and in many other ways humiliated, hurt, and murdered. That layer of goodness was pulled back this week. It's still there, for sure. More people voted for her than for him. Protests against the outcome of the election have already begun.

But the results are in - we are sick. We are dreadfully sick.
The USA has stage 3B kanswer - not stage 4 just yet.
I don't think it's terminal. At least, I hope it's not.
But things look pretty bad right now.
Are we ready to start treatment?

Many people, many black and brown people, have been talking about this disease for decades. For centuries, really. Most of them have been told they were being alarmist, over sensitive, and exaggerating. We were essentially being told that we were and we are hypochondriacs. Looking for trouble where it didn't exist. After all, we elected a black man to be our president, twice. Well, look at us now. People are already being verbally attacked, threatened, made to feel unsafe in the country we were born in. Swastikas have already appeared. On college campuses, in high schools and middle schools and elementary schools, students of color, immigrant students are being bullied and harassed in public.

It's happening, people. The kanswer is growing. More rapidly now.

Beneath the facade of "political correctness," the demands for basic human kindness, decency, and respect that many have criticized for years now, there is a deep, gangrenous infection. Rottenness. Hatred. Fear and loathing. Mostly fear - being manifest as anger and hate. So much hate. So much fear. The illusion that many have lived under, the illusion that our nation is not so bad, that we are beyond racism, that we are beyond the ravages of Jim Crow laws and institutional bias and systemic oppression, that illusion has been shattered this week.

I know that many people who voted for the president-elect didn't do so with malice in their hearts. They genuinely want a change in the way things are done in Washington. They want to see new blood and new ideas and cling to new hope that someone with no connection to big government will somehow be different and do different things. I get that. I do. But along with voting and hoping for change (sounds oddly familiar...) they voted to open the door for all the -isms that so many had fought to extinguish to come back out into the open. Those who have worked and continue to work unrelentingly hard to bring justice and freedom to those who are oppressed and living in fear knew that the hatred was still there, that intolerance was still real, and that there was still far too much kanswerous bitterness in our midst. It was just slightly muted, buried in a very shallow grave. As a result of this election, that mutant and barely dormant virus has been reinvigorated in the bloodstream of our nation, and it is running down our streets and boulevards already.

So I sit here wondering: are we ready yet to name what ails us?
The many things that ail us? Are we? All of us?
Are we already too afraid to speak up and tell the truth?
I confess to being nervous about hitting "publish" on this blog post for fear of angry reprisal, hateful rhetoric, and threats of violence.

Are we ready to endure the painful work of healing that is necessary?
The chemotherapy that must hit every cell of our bodies,
every faith community, every town, every city, every village, and every suburb,
every club, every place of employment.
The chemotherapy of honesty about our complicity and our silence,
the chemotherapy of confessing our participation in systems of oppression,
the chemotherapy of being vulnerable enough to hear what others have to say about the disease that has racked our body politic, our churches, and our communities for ages,
the chemotherapy of listening to the stories and pain and fears of those whose opinions we don't agree with, even them. Especially them. Whoever that "them" might be,
This is gonna hurt. We are not going to want to finish the treatment.
We are going to writhe and we are going to suffer. All of us. Together. And alone.

There will need to be surgery too. Probably radical surgery.
Bilateral surgery - both sides, all sides - need to cut off some stuff that is rotten and toxic.
Our empty promises. Our no longer veiled threats of violence.
Our dismissal of and disdain for those we consider to be our enemies.
Gotta cut it off, cut it down, cut it out.
All of us. Each of us.

I remember when I was first diagnosed and made the decision to do chemotherapy, I read many articles and blog posts about not doing chemo. About eating really well for an intense period of time. About doing lots and lots of enemas. And drinking strange concoctions. I was told to go through the healing process naturally. I was told to go to health food stores and get information about the right supplements and potions. I was told to have more faith. To go to other countries for treatment. I was told to just do a lumpectomy. And all those people meant well. I know they did. But for me, I knew chemo was my choice. I knew that a double mastectomy was my choice. I knew that I didn't have enough faith or patience to eat five pounds of kale and drink two gallons of fresh pressed juice every day with the expectation that my kanswer would be beaten that way. I just didn't.

And today, I feel the same. Healing what ails this nation is going to take more than sitting together and drinking green juice. More than good, hearty heapings of hope and good will. It's gonna take a whole lot of people standing up and speaking up, speaking out against what they hear and what they see happening. It's gonna take the political will to defy any and all attempts to deport millions of people who live here peacefully while working hard to provide for themselves and their loved ones. Any and all attempts to intimidate anyone because of who they are and how they have been created. This kanswer isn't gonna go away if we ignore it or downplay its seriousness. It's just gonna keep on growing.

On November 6, 2012, my life changed completely. In every way. On every level.
And I live with that change, I see the results of that change every day.
No more dreadlocs. No more breasts. No more uterus.
Scars across my chest. Scars on my lower abdomen.
Regular check ups with an oncologist.
Regular visits with a holistic chiropractor.
And none of that is gonna go away any time soon.
These scars are here to stay.

On November 8, 2016, the life of this nation changed completely.
We will live with this change for the rest of our life as a nation.
We are already facing pain. We are already seeing the suffering of too many.
Today my brother had a longtime friend, a white friend, try to explain to him why
"Make Am*rica White Again" isn't racist.
There will be scars. Forever.
There will be painful reminders of this kanswer for the rest of the life of this nation.

Today is Thursday, so it's supposed to be Thankful Thursday on this blog.
I'm not feeling too thankful at the moment - at least not related to this election.
Except for this piece of good news - the disease in our system has been exposed.
Also many people I know and don't know are already at work.
Already making plans for the hard work that is going to have to be done for us to unite what has never been fully united before.
Already reaching across aisles and over walls and past boundaries.
I will walk with friends on November 15th, talking and planning and hoping and praying and commiserating too.
And I will keep loving my family, weeping with my friends, being humbled by the wisdom of younger travelers on the journey, and I will try, desperately try to learn to love my enemies too. How perfect is the timing that the Bible passage I have to translate from Greek into English this week for my New Testament class in seminary speaks to the need to love my enemies. Seriously, God?

Kanswer still sucks.
But we can't treat it if we don't acknowledge it.
This week, we are being forced to acknowledge it.
But are we yet ready to treat it?

Monday, November 07, 2016

What to do on Election Day

1. If you live in the United States of American and are registered to vote,
then please, please, please vote. 

2. Smile at the volunteers at the voting place.
They are going to be working a long and difficult day tomorrow.
Dealing with many hundreds, perhaps thousands of voters.
Some of whom will be angry and impatient.
Please don't be one of those angry, impatient, and mean voters.
My mother is a volunteer at a voting place here in Charlotte.
So before you think to say something rude or mean or impatient,
remember that the person you will be dealing with is someone's mother or father 
or sister or brother or friend. Someone's significant someone.
Please be respectful. 

3. Be kind to folks who express political opinions that are different from yours.
We are all concerned about this country. 
We may not agree on how to deal with our concerns, but we are one nation.
We are the United States of America.
In the words of Rodney King, "Why can't we all just get along?"

4. Pray. Pray. Pray.
Light candles.
Burn incense.
Be still and know.
Breathe deep.
Send up smoke signals.
Whatever you do to beckon peace and calm, please do it.
And you don't have to live in the US of A to do any of that.

5. Make plans to reach out in peace to people who know who are on the "other side of the aisle," extending a peaceful hug, handshake, or high five. Truthfully, we need to find ways to cross the aisles, boundaries, borders, and retaining walls that we have constructed during this election cycle - and during the past several presidencies. We need to find ways to cross the moats and gator infested waters that we have constructed around our tribes and clubs and social circles and faith-based enclaves.

Earlier today, I read this hopeful and challenging piece by a woman I met a few years ago,
a gifted writer, a passionate pastor, and an all around compassionate woman, named Kathy. 
Here is a taste of the wisdom she shares in her blog post about who we need to be and what we need to do after tomorrow, after election day: 

But here we are, flawed messy beautiful human beings, left with an important task as tomorrow comes and goes.
Who will we be?
What shall we do?
Whose image will we bear?
How can we participate in healing and hope and unity and kindness and compassion and generosity and reconciliation and justice and mercy and beauty and presence in this upcoming season?
Here is another gem that Kathy wrote - on the night of the first Presidential debate.

As I think about what our country might feel like and sound like at this time tomorrow night (11:45 pm), I am reminded of images we have all seen of the aftermath of tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and floods. Buildings demolished. Landmarks washed away. Whenever I see those images, I think about the tremendous amount of damage and the prospect of a tremendous amount of work that must be done to discard the debris and rebuild the affected cities and towns. 
I keep thinking that our nation has suffered a political tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake, and a flood. Where does all the debris from this storm get taken? Where do we dispose of the angry words and accusations that have been levied so freely and frequently of late? The dismissals and insults of entire groups of people, nations of people, and other political candidates? Where do the disgruntled and angry voters, the ones whose candidate doesn't win, where do they take their grievances and grudges? What happens to all the people who are convinced that the whole process is fixed and fake and there is no reason to have faith in the next President or in each other? What do we do with all of our conspiracy theories and blaming of "them" - whoever that "them" might be? Where does all that bitter bile go? I do not know.
But what I do know is that I promise to be part of the clean up crew.Part of the peacemaking team.Part of the rebuilding effort.Part of the joy brigade.Part of the "free listening" squad.Part of the crew that will never say "I told you so," no matter what happens.
A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling down my Instagram feed. I'm one of those people who joined Instagram to look at other people's stuff, but I have never posted anything myself. Is that the same as being a stalker??? Anyway, I started to scroll down the feed of one of my social and political heroines, Rebecca Walker. Several months ago, she posted this: 
How long is the fight? Forever.
How many conversations do we have to have to change the world? A million.
How will we accomplish it? One carefully chosen interaction at a time.
Healing is going to take a long time, a lot of conversations, and patience that we have clearly not had with each other over the past year or so. But it will happen one conversation, one encounter, one exchange, one hug, one smile, one walk, one meeting, one march, one changed law, one school integration plan, one new job, one storytelling session at a time. 

What am I going to do on election day? I plan to consciously and intentionally engage in conversations that I hope and pray will contribute to changing the world, the nation, this city, and my own home. And I plan to continue having those kinds of conversations the day after that and the day after that.

I'm not going to vote tomorrow - but only because I voted on the first day of early voting here in Charlotte. Instead of voting, I'm going to spend an hour with my spiritual director in the morning. Sharing my joys and sorrows with her. Listening to her wisdom. Filling several pages in my journal with her questions and comments and insights on how to be a woman of peace and grace and strength and courage, no matter what. Then I will have lunch with another wise and gentle, thoughtful and loving friend. We too will invoke words of peace, prayers for calm, and encourage one another to stand firm, with kindness and gentleness, always unwavering in our determination to live lives of love. And all the while, every step of the way, I will be in deep prayer for our nation and for our next President - either one. In fact, I will pray for all the candidates in all the elections, the ones who win and the ones who don't. 

More than that, I will be praying for each of us. For all of us.
For our future as people living together in the same land.
Working together.
Learning together.
Walking together.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I am going to vote again tomorrow.
Tomorrow I will be voting for peace.
Voting for reconciliation.
Voting for hope.
Voting for joy.
Voting with my mouth, my feet, my heart, and my life.
I suppose, on those terms, it is indeed perfectly legal,
and actually we should be encouraged to "vote early and vote often."

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Even in the midst of it alll

In the midst of this horrendous election cycle

in the midst of all the hateful trolling on the internet

in the midst of the barrages of insults that ensue during and after every political exchange

in the midst of the aftermath of an Alabama pipeline that has had two major explosions in the past three months

in the midst of the uproar over that oil pipeline being constructed out in North Dakota (how can not we understand why there is this ongoing protest when those two explosions and oil spills have happened so recently? do any of us what such a pipeline running through our property, through our family graveyards, or through our cities?)

in the midst of the clean after weeks of from major flooding here in the south,

in the midst of all that,

there was also a church that was burned down and the words "Vote Tr*mp" spray painted on the side of the damaged structure (I won't even spell his name completely for fear that an internet search might bring someone here looking for news about him)

there were also two police officers ambushed and killed in their police cars in Iowa

just after the story of their tragic deaths was made public, there were many reactionary, angry responses that involved blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for their deaths (turns out the murderer was an example of why the Black Lives Matter movement exists - it was a racist white guy who some suggest was still angry about being escorted out of a local high school football game because he waved a confederate battle flag in the faces of black fans at the game)

there is continued bombing of civilians in far too many Middle Eastern cities to list

in the midst of all of that, there are still reasons to be thankful.

More of the Chibok girls kidnapped from their school in Nigeria in 2014 have returned home.

Rice and beans are being loaded onto a school bus here in Charlotte, and that bus will soon be shipped to Haiti to help offset some of the devastating after effects of the hurricanes that have affected that embattled island nation.

Gatherings, conversations, and planning for a brighter and more united future are still happening here in Charlotte, in places of worship, in places of work, in private conversations in living and dining rooms, and in public gatherings across the city as well.

Every Wednesday night for the past nine weeks, I have been able to sit in a room with more than a dozen other people who love someone and, in most cases, live with someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness. The laughter, the tears, the stories, the empathy, the sympathy, the advice, and the strategies shared around that table has truly been life changing for me. The class is called "Family to Family" and it is put on by a local chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The two teachers of the class, like everyone who works for NAMI, are volunteers AND every employee has a loved one in their own family that has been diagnosed with a mental illness. In other words, everyone involved with NAMI "gets it." No judgment. No shocked looks on anyone's faces. No one who thinks we are exaggerating. No one who says we should have spanked them more or we shouldn't be so indulgent or that we are overreacting to bad behavior that we need to just fix. It is truly a safe place for each of us and for all of us. It's called "Family to Family" not only because each teacher has a family member affected, but also because the group begins to feel like family as the class progresses. I will miss these courageous, terrified, funny, heartbroken, hopeful, determined, exhausted people when this class is over two weeks from yesterday. I sure hope we keep in touch.

Last Friday, I got to hold an eight week old little girl in my arms for over an hour. She is the fourth child of a 32 year old woman who was diagnosed with breast kanswer when she was 30. That precious little child was a surprise gift to and for a young couple that was still reeling from the trauma of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, and several complications from both the chemo and the surgery. That tiny little body felt even more miraculous than usual - because isn't every newborn baby a miracle to behold and to be held?

I got to spend three hours with a four year old last week. I pushed him in the swing for a while. We played soccer for a while. Every time we heard an airplane, we would stop and stare up at the sky until we saw it fly over us. At one point, he asked me why the clouds were moving. What a great question! I said something about the wind moving the clouds, but he wanted to get back to running and falling and kicking that soccer ball. When he got tired of all of that, we went inside where he watched a couple of television shows and I recovered from chasing him and the soccer ball.

My daughter is less than six weeks away from completing her undergraduate senior thesis - and she will graduate from college!

Halloween happened. Small clusters of children and parents strolled down our street, the former running across meticulously manicured lawns to the doors of frustrated homeowners who gave them candy anyway while the latter watched, often while holding a beer in hand. Between their visits, some of us, the residents of my block, chatted with each other, laughing at the antics of the costumed candy-grubbers, bemoaning the invasions of ants and moles that we all seem to be suffering through, and wondering aloud about how we will resist the urge to eat all the leftover candy. I love my neighborhood and my neighbors.

This past Sunday, nearly two dozen people wearing the distinct green We Walk Together tee shirts gathered at The Harvest Center here in Charlotte to pack hundreds of ziploc bags with socks, gloves, snacks, cosmetic supplies, candy, and handwritten notes of encouragement for homeless folks who will sleep there three nights every week this winter. We converged in that sacred space to do something small, something that some might even criticize as insignificant and counterproductive in the fight to provide permanent housing for those who don't have a permanent home. In the midst of that criticism, we did the work anyway. We lovingly packed those bags, praying that they will bless those who receive them.

One of the things I am always a little uncomfortable about when I write these Thankful Thursday posts is the sense that I am minimizing, trivializing, or ignoring the many terrible things happening in the world. How can I write about giving out Halloween candy when there are millions of starving and displaced and rejected refugees pleading for assistance all around the world? How can I rejoice over packing a few ziploc bags in the midst of a world where plastic is clogging landfills and floating out on the ocean? How can I be so selfishly focused on my daughter's imminent completion of her university studies when there are millions of young women her age who have been forced into marriages against their will or sold into sexual slavery?

Ultimately, my goal here - on Thankful Thursdays or any other day that I write a blog post - isn't to answer every question that plagues us or to offer resolutions to every crisis that grips us. It isn't to uncover every political misdeed, criticize every wrong perpetrated by every public figure, or expound on every passage of Scripture that has been misappropriated in ongoing efforts to exploit the planet's natural resources or oppress other people. There's plenty of all of that out on the internet and right at our own kitchen tables. There's plenty of anger and outrage and righteous indignation out there. There's plenty of thoughtful and meaningful work being done in the world and reported on the internet. But none of that is why I do this.

My goal here is practice gratitude
to spread a little joy
to plant a seed of hope
to bring a smile to my own face
and hopefully to yours
as I recount the often overlooked goodness of God
and the vastly underreported goodness and good news in our world
and on my own life's journey -
even in the midst of it all.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Macular Regeneration

I had a conversation with a dear friend today. I love her. A lot.
But she's a bit of a conspiracy theorist. More than a bit, actually...
"They" are drugging our water, so that men will be more effeminate and they won't want to have children.
"They" are teaching our children how to masturbate and are making our children touch each other's genitals in school.
"They" are experimenting on pregnant mothers to see if "they" can create mutated children.
She also said that she lives in terror of all that "they" are doing and all that is yet to come.
When I said that I didn't believe what she was saying, she said that she understood that there were people who didn't want to see the truth, people who want to remain blind to what's really happening out there. But she knew what she knew, and nothing I could say would change her mind.

Funny that she should mention blindness and not wanting to see.
I've been thinking a lot about eyesight lately. About blindness.
And macular regeneration.

I have blind spots. I have had them all life long.
My children are brilliant. They are excellent athletes.
My house is fantastic. Spacious and well built.
My church is made up of loving, kind, welcoming, generous people who love God and all God's people.
Except... my kids are also deeply flawed and would rather not have to work too hard if at all possible.
Except... my house has chipped paint and stained carpets and leaks and cracks and occasionally critters come in through those cracks. Yuck!
Except... my church and my seminary and my neighborhood and my family and my country are all made up of self-centered, self-involved, selfish people. By no means do I believe that I an free from any of those characteristics.

Macular degeneration is a disease where the macula, the middle section of the retina, the part that allows us to see what is right in front of us, is damaged. I've heard it said often - "She can't see what's right in front of her." I've experienced it often - I will be looking for my purse or my glasses or the thing I want to wear. I look high and low, between things, behind things. Then I stop and say a quick prayer - "Lord, please open my eyes so I can find it." When I open my eyes, there it is. Right in front of my face. How did I miss it? It was right there.

Macular degeneration - it's in front of me, but I can't see it.
I can't see the intentional experiments on unborn babies.
Nor can I see the classrooms where children are told to take off their clothes and touch each other.
Honestly, if that is happening, I don't want to see it. So she was right about that.

But here's what I do see.
I see brave people who are fighting with all their energy to create equitable educational opportunities for all children.
I see others who are quietly fighting to help the poor and disenfranchised to understand their rights and the power they have to control their own lives, through voting, through community organization, through entrepreneurship.
I see a friend walking with her wife through illness while together they raise several beautiful children.
I see one friend working to regain her self-confidence and her courage after the pain of divorce, while another one is trying to establish her self-confidence and courage while in the midst of a difficult marriage.
I see someone who works for the UN, helping desperate people find safety and security and hope.
I see school buses being filled with rice and beans and being shipped to Haiti to feed hungry people.
I see housing complexes being planned and built to provide places for the homeless to come in off the street.
I see a new facility here in Charlotte for people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses to find help, support, and residential care if it is needed.
I see lawyers advocating for indigent clients, for those imprisoned unjustly, and for the abandoned.
I see friends recovering from harsh kanswer treatments.
I see parents who long to be both supportive and effective advocates for their suffering children.
I see black churches and white churches seeking ways to be one church, one united, beautiful, colorful, culture-full church.
It's right here in front of my face, and I see it.

Until recently, my macula had become cloudy with doubt about what is possible between people who say they love one another but cannot get along with each other.
My macula had become cloudy with despair about the growing distance between so many needy people and those who can offer assistance and support.
My macula had become cloudy with the fear that I would not see measurable change for the better in our city, in our churches, or in our home in my lifetime.

But thanks be to God - I am experiencing what I have termed "macular regeneration."
The clouds are lifting.
Connections are being made between individuals and groups that have struggled to find their way together in the past.
Healing is happening in broken relationships.
Barriers and walls are falling - barriers that divide people of different socio-economic groups, between different neighborhoods, between different congregations, between people of different languages and cultures.

We may not agree with one another's politics or faith claims or lifestyle choices.
Agreement in every area is not necessary.
What is necessary is the ability to see one another. To listen to one another.
To welcome one another. To walk one another home.
Even if home feels like it is one thousand miles in the other direction from the one we think we should be going in. Through valleys and shadows, through sickness and health, through protests and peace talks, through it all, we walk together. (please forgive the shameless plug for a group of awesome people I have the honor to call my friends) We have to walk together. If we don't walk together, all of us, there truly is no hope for any of us.

I don't like to think of myself as a conspiracy theorist.
Some of the connections I have heard people make are bizarre, truly bizarre.
I admit that I don't watch the news enough to say for sure whether some of the connections my friend tried to make earlier today are true.
I admit that there are some truths about our world that I don't want to see.
I am guilty of wanting to keep my head firmly buried in the sand on a lot of issues, some of them serious.
But one thing I refuse to believe or accept is the notion that our problems are too big to solve, that our divisions are too broad to bridge, and that our fears are too deep-seated to be uprooted. I have seen too much healing, too much forgiveness, too much hard work by too many people to give up or give in.

I don't know about you, but I'm gonna keep looking for and working towards macular regeneration.
In my immediate family, my extended family, my church family, my city, and beyond.
Quite frankly, I don't think I have any choice.
Because the alternative is despair.
The alternative is fear.
The alternative is blindness.
None of which are alternatives that I am willing to live with or in.

Macular regeneration.
Do you see what I mean?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Do you see what I see?

I got a new pair of glasses a couple of weeks ago. Progressives. Two eye appointments ago, back in 2014, I chose to get progressives. But since I'm near-sighted, I found myself taking my glasses off when I would read or work on my computer - both of which I do a lot. That year, I spent most of my time without my glasses on. The last time I got my eyes examined and got a new pair of glasses, I decided to get mono-vision glasses in my prescription for distance. I used them when I watched television and drove and went to the movies, you know, distance stuff. I had no choice but to take them off to read - but that was a challenge when I was at church or in seminary, places where I would have to look at people and screens a fair distance away, but also look down and take notes. On and off. On and off. Now I'm back to progressives - which are just a euphemistic name for bifocals, old people glasses. I'm getting old. Well, maybe I'm not getting old, but my eyes certainly are.

I like these new glasses, but it took me a few days to get used to them. The first full day that I wore them, I felt slightly nauseous all day. It was late in the afternoon before I figured out that my eyes and brain were struggling with this new way of seeing the world. It felt like I was on a boat out at sea. All day long. I'm more accustomed to them - but I must confess that I have started to take them off again when I'm reading or on the computer. Like right now, as I type, I don't have my glasses on.

Anyway, I've got these new glasses. I see my world, my house, my neighborhood, and I even see myself in the mirror more clearly with these new glasses. I am enormously grateful for the clearer vision they have provided. I am grateful for the doctors and nurses and technicians and engineers who understand the angles and curves and functions of the nerves and cells and components of the human eye and who have created glasses and contacts and anti-glare coatings and all the other gadgets and gizmos that make it possible for those of us with aging eyes and imperfect eyes to see better.

Someone I love had surgery a few years ago to remove cataracts. It was like a curtain had been removed from in front of her. Her blurry vision cleared completely. That same person has glaucoma and has to put drops into her eyes every day. We both hope and pray that the drops continue to keep the pressure in her eyes low enough so that she does not deal with any of the irreversible loss of sight that glaucoma can cause.

Two people I love are dealing with macular degeneration - the blurring of the macula, the central part of the retina at the back of the eyeball, which causes the loss of sight in the center of their field of vision. I know someone who can't look straight at you - she has to turn her head to the side in order to see straight ahead. I think she is dealing with macular degeneration or something very similar to that.

When I was in elementary school, there were two or three children there who were blind. I volunteered to help them get around the classroom and the school, and in exchange, I got to hang out with the most interesting kids in school. They taught me how to read and write in braille. They let me eat with them and hang out with them in the school yard and marvel at the development of their other senses. Around that same time, my father used to drive blind people back and forth from Brooklyn to the New York School for the Blind in Manhattan. During the summer months, I would ride along with him. The men and women he drove were fascinating to me. I wondered how they got dressed without seeing their clothes. I wondered how they kept their homes clean, how they organized their wallets, how they knew where anything was. I didn't know enough not to ask dozens of questions. When we arrived at the homes of the passengers, I would hop out of the van, go greet them outside their homes, offer them my arm, and walk them to the van. When we arrived at their school, I would open the van door and escort them one by one from the van to the door of the building. From there, they could figure out where they needed to go. I watched their every move with unabashed awe. I'm glad they couldn't see how much I stared at them, but I would imagine they sensed it in some other way.

One day when I was ten or eleven years old, one of the women took hold of my elbow and as we walked towards the entrance to the school, she said, "You are going to grow up to be very tall." I asked her how she could tell, and she said, "I can tell by how the bones in your arm feel." Amazing.

The human eye, the gift of sight, the ability to compensate for the loss of one's sight through other brain patterns - it's amazing.

All of which has gotten me thinking...

What are a few of the things right in front of me that I do not see?
The beauty of fallen leaves - even when they clog our gutters
the resilience of my aging and scarred body
the courage of my young adult children
the loyalty of my hard-working husband.

Where is pressure building up within and behind my eyeballs?
The pressure to get good grades in seminary
to not offend people when they said offensive things
to be kind and nice and happy all the time
to have a solution whenever someone shares a problem with me.

Where is my vision getting blurry?
And what is it going to take to clear up the blurriness?
Am I willing to get my emotional, spiritual, relational eyes checked?
Whose opinion about the state of my mental health do I trust?
Whose diagnosis and prognosis would I accept as reasonable and valid?
What steps am I willing to take to improve my vision?
Am I willing to wear progressives, to take gradual steps towards clarity?
What if I feel dizzy, uncertain, unsteady on this new path, this new life journey?
Am I willing to be vulnerable enough to truth the guidance of others,
people I can't even see?

Whose unexplained but undeniable insight do I trust?
Who are the marginalized, the overlooked, the outcasts in my world -
and how much time do I spend at their feet, learning from them?
Who has invited me into their world, into their situation, and shown me how much I am missing, even though I think I am the "fortunate" one?

I am reminded of the stories in the gospels of Jesus healing people who were blind.
More than once, Jesus asked this question: "What do you want me to do for you?"
I want to see.
I want to see again.
I want to be whole.

Holy One, I want to see.
Please open my eyes.
Open the eyes of my heart.
To see love, beauty, power, and hope in everyone I meet.
To see your image in everyone I meet.
I want to see you.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found,
was blind, but now I see."

So be it, Lord. So be it.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Hard Discussions

Too many people that I know and love are dealing with kanswer. We have had hard discussions about kanswer treatment and the future.

Parents I know are dealing with struggles with their children. College issues. Drug and alcohol issues. Relationship issues with the other parent or with siblings or significant others. Every day, we parents are having hard discussions about hard issues.

After a Bible study this morning, I stood with a pastor friend, and we had a hard discussion about race and complicity and silence in the church and why we need to have more hard discussions.

At the home of friends from church, my husband and I joined a group of other friends from church, and we had a hard discussion tonight about protests and justice and church and challenging sermons and what we can do to make a difference in our city and in our nation.

At seminary, we are reading about black theology and white theology and liberation theology and flawed theology and who gets to decide what is and what isn't flawed theology. These are hard discussions.

Cops and Barbers is a group that brings together community members here in Charlotte and police officers. To talk. To get to know one another. To hash out challenging topics. Their hard discussions began long before the recent events here in Charlotte and are still going on.

It's hard to talk about hard things.
But as so many people say these days, "We can do hard things."
We have to do hard things.
If we are going to survive as a family,
as a church,
as a city,
as a nation,
as a world,
then we have to be willing to have hard conversations.
And we have to be willing to do hard work.
We have to talk. We have to listen to one another.
We have to walk together. We have to work together.
We have to be willing to be wrong and to be called out for our wrongheadedness.
We have to confess where and when we have been wrong in the past, whether it is our own actions or the actions of our forebears and ancestors.
We have to be willing to change our minds and our vocabulary and our relationships.

I am grateful for these hard conversations.
I am grateful for the ways that our confusion is forcing us into more frequent interaction with one another.
I am grateful for the uncomfortable moments that are arising, the questions, and the uncertainty.
I am grateful because people who have never talked about race and racism before are having hard conversations now.
I am grateful because people who have called for justice and fairness are finally being heard.

I hate the stories that have brought us here.
The legacy of slavery, segregation, and hatred.
Segregation. Lynching. A profoundly biased criminal justice system.
Poverty. Injustice. Hopelessness. Fear. Anger. Despair.
Homophobia. Xenophobia.
Lack of adequate education. Willful ignorance. Unconscious bias.
Intentional oppression. Unintentional microaggressions.

But I am grateful for the legacies of hope and strength that sustain those who continue to fight the good fight for peace and righteousness and healing.
I am grateful for the newfound courage and renewed determination to do the hard things, to have the hard conversations, to ask the hard questions, and live into the hard truths that we are being forced to face.

The way forward will be with a broken heart - as Alice Walker wrote.
The way forward will certainly be with heavy hearts.
But I hope, I pray, that the way forward will also be with hopeful hearts.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Thankful Thursday

Where do I begin? At the beginning. At the source.
Thanks be to God.
Thanks to my friends and family and classmates and professors.

I am one month away from the four year anniversary of my kanswer diagnosis.
Which is (almost) mind-blowing to me - how can four years have passed already?
I am grateful for how well I feel and how strong I feel every day.
Kanswer sucks and so does kanswer treatment. I am grateful for every chance I get to share hope and encouragement with others who are on their own kanswer journeys.

I am three days away from visiting a young 30-something year old who was diagnosed with kanswer almost two years ago. She had three small children at the time - and was diagnosed with breast and ovarian kanswer. Miraculously, truly miraculously, she came through the treatment extremely well and strong... so strong that she and her husband now have a fourth child. In three days, I will go spend some time with them and meet that brand new baby girl. When my friend discovered she was pregnant, she was advised to terminate the pregnancy because the hormonal changes could bring on a recurrence of the aggressive kanswer she had just gotten through. A few times when she has posted photos of her gorgeous baby on Facebook, she refers to the day and the moment when she chose the life of that precious little girl over her own. There are many, many hundreds of people (if not thousands!) who are glad that they are both alive and well, thriving and bursting with joy. I can't wait to hold that chubby little one in my arms. She's quite chunky and juicy - and her mother appropriately calls her "Squish."
I am grateful for the miracle that is every newborn baby.

I am grateful for apple orchards, fresh pressed apple cider, and hot apple donuts.
I am grateful for olive oil, coconut oil, and canola oil - and all the delicious foods made with them.
I am grateful for gas stations with gas. We have had gas shortages here in Charlotte more than once in the past few years - and it is a disconcerting thing to not know when gas will be available again.

I am grateful for excellent customer service. Last week, I had to call Directv because we were having trouble with our service after a strong storm had passed through the area. The woman I spoke to walked me through resetting our system and together we resolved the issue. As she diagnosed the problem, we shared stories about our kanswer journeys (she had a brain tumor a few years ago) and laughed and groaned and wished each other well. And then she offered us an update to our system at no cost; as it turns out, being a long term customer of an overpriced entertainment system sometimes has its benefits.

I am grateful for the opportunity to volunteer at the Loaves and Fishes food pantry again today.
I am grateful for the other volunteers, for our camaraderie, for the laughter we share, and for the compassion we feel for those who come and request assistance.
I am grateful for the chance to talk briefly with the four year old twins who came in with their mom. With matching outfits and braids. Energy and smiles.
I am grateful for the woman who promised that the next time she came, she would be bringing food to donate.
I am grateful for the supermarkets, the private donors, and the individuals that donate food to the pantry.
I am grateful to my church for providing the space for the largest Loaves and Fishes distribution site in our city.
I am grateful that I was able to use my Spanish to assist two beautiful, pregnant Guatemalan women who came. One said she was shocked that I could speak Spanish so well. It still shocks me.

Speaking of Spanish and Spain... I am grateful for the memories of my first visit to Spain thirty years ago right now. It was the first semester of my senior year in college and I studied in Madrid for four months. Those four months transformed the way I think about travel, about language, about being alone, about exploring cities, about courage, about the Catholic faith, and about being grateful for the ordinary things I too frequently took for granted. Like food and shelter, like public transportation and snail mail. I am sooooooooo grateful for Spain, for the many times I have been able to return since 1986, and for my Spanish friends, who are much more like family.

A couple of weeks ago, I was an angry black woman.
I'm still pretty angry about all those same things.
But tonight I am also a grateful black woman.
I am grateful that my city is calm again.
I am grateful that the intersections where fires were started and windows were broken have been cleaned up.
I am grateful for the members of the clergy and other concerned citizens returned to the place where the young man was shot during the protests to pray and reconsecrate the ground where his blood was shed.
I am grateful for the fiercely courageous people who put themselves between protestors and the police, who begged for calm, who sang, who linked arms with strangers in walls of protection, who took photos and made videos of what was really happening on the streets, and who continue to do so.
I am grateful for the prayer vigils, church services, peaceful marches, and other gatherings that have happened and are still being planned here in Charlotte.
I am grateful for how the hard work of healing is pulling so many people together. This is the work that doesn't get televised. This is the work that ignorant people say must be done before they will concede that black lives matter. This is the work that fear-mongerers and hate-mongerers deny in order to keep fear and hate alive. This is the very work that the "friend" of a Facebook friend said isn't happening, even though I posted links and photos proving that it is happening. And this is the work that has been happening in this city for a long time. It didn't start after Mr. Scott was murdered.
I am grateful that the anger that drove the protestors to the streets two weeks ago is being channeled into deeper conversations about race and segregation, about justice and peace, about how to not just go back to the ways things used to be.
I am grateful for the conversations I have had with people in their 80s, 60s, 40s, 20s and everywhere in between about how to make friends across racial lines, how to respond (and not respond) to racist comments, and how to not lose their composure when conversations go poorly.
I am grateful for hope.
I am grateful that love is already winning.

I am four weeks, almost five weeks, into my second year of seminary.
I know beyond a shadow of doubt that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
Asking questions. Not finding too many answers.
Being pushed to rethink everything I thought I knew about the Bible,
about theology, about the church, about this country.
Being pushed to push back against the things my professors say and the things that other students say.
Being pushed to examine my places of privilege - marital privilege, heterosexual privilege, socio-economic privilege, educational privilege.
Being pushed to recognize that I hide in my comfortable life a lot. I talk a big game about equality and justice and racism and prejudice, but what am I doing to change the system within which I live quite comfortably?
I am grateful for the discomfort I feel and for the knowledge that it's never going away completely.
I am grateful that the seminary has not shied away from talking about what has been happening here in Charlotte. I am grateful for the obvious discomfort that some of my classmates have experienced, because we can't fix what we don't admit is wrong. We can't serve our city and our churches with any efficacy if we cannot talk about race and racism. We are in the south. We are in North Carolina. We have race problems here. If we, as ministers and church leaders, aren't willing to wade into these deep socially and politically dangerous waters, then I'm not sure we should be ministers. Not in the 21st century. Not in a country that is threatening to elect a man who is openly sexist, racist, xenophobic, and not ashamed of any of those things as our president.

I could go on and on and on.
In my heart, my mind, and my journal, I will go on.
But I will stop here.

One more thing - thanks be to God.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Three-Church Sunday

Yesterday morning, my daughter and I attended three different churches. We started at our home church, First Presbyterian Church, a predominantly white church here in Charlotte, at the 9 am service where my heart was deeply touched and my spirit fed by the senior pastor's powerful sermon about prayer and suffering, about our responsibility as people of God and his responsibility as a white person, in particular, to be people of peace, love, faith, and reconciliation. 

After his sermon, we left for Sunday school at First United Presbyterian Church, a predominantly African American church, where they are in the middle of a series of classes related to the Belhar Confession and the Confession of 1967. The Belhar Confession was written in response to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in Germany in the early 1930s. The writers of that confession intended it to confirm their faith in God, the authority of God's law, and the need for Christians to obey the law of God rather than the laws and teachings of the German state, especially where those laws contradicted the teachings of Scripture and sought to dictate the life and actions of the church. The Confession of 1967 was written in response to the injustices prevalent in this nation during the time of Jim Crow and segregation and all other racially motivated wrongdoing. The continued relevance of those confessions more than 50 years later reminds us that there is much work to be done, much healing to be experienced, and many barriers to be taken down so that we can be reconciled with one another. 

After the SS class, we went back to FPC for the baptism of the grand-daughter of one of my church friends - how timely it was, after the week we've had here in Charlotte, a week in which division and fear have driven people apart yet again, that the baby baptized and welcomed into the family of God and the faith family of our church today was a beautiful little African American girl. 

On our way home, my daughter and I decided to visit Caldwell Presbyterian Church - where the Pastor used the time of his sermon to open the mike, as it were, for the people of the congregation to speak words of grief and hope, sorrow and truth after the events of this week. Then the mayor of Charlotte added her voice to calls for reconciliation and unity in the city. Following the service, Kristiana and I joined that welcoming, loving congregation for a potluck lunch.

Do you hear a theme running through all of this? The work of reconciliation in the family of God, in the church of Jesus Christ in this broken, beautiful, hurting and hopeful city. At three different Presbyterian churches, we saw gay and straight, black and white, rich and poor, republican and democrat, and many who don’t fit neatly into any of those categories - together, singing, praying, and being baptized into the family of our great and merciful God.

It would be easy for us to think that we as individuals have done nothing wrong, nothing to cause the division that became painfully and angrily evident in our city this week or in our nation over these past few years. It would be easy for each of us to think, "I’m not part of the problem, I’m not part of the group of agitators that has sown seeds of fear and hatred in the aftermath of Tuesday’s tragic shooting." And that may be true, but I don't think we can let ourselves off the hook that easily. 

One of the mainstays in our Presbyterian liturgy is our time of confession. We read responsively and as one voice words of confession of sin, sins of thought, word, and deed. I must say that there are times when I read those words of confession aloud with the congregation, but inwardly I recoil and think - “I didn’t do that. I didn’t act that way.” Whether or not we have committed the specific sin being confessed, we pray those words on behalf of ourselves and others. We pray those words as a part of the ongoing work of being reconciled with God and one another after we wander away from the work God has called us to do. 

In his book, Fear of the Other, William Willimon, former bishop in the United Methodist Church, says this, “Christians, on the basis of the great grace we have received from Christ, are always apologizing, confessing, repenting.” 

There is a lot of apologizing, confessing, and repenting that is needed.
I almost ended that sentence with, "in our city and our nation."
But it's broader than that, and it is also narrower than that.
We need to apologize, confess, and repent before God, before ourselves, before those we don't know, and before those yet to be born.

Do we not need to apologize, confess, and repent for:
* the damage we do to our planet, to our future, and to the future of our children with the chemicals and poisons we spray so freely and frequently on our lawns, trees, fruit, vegetables, and soil?
* our unwillingness to take seriously the repercussions of our way of life? the size of our houses and the number of our cars, the overabundance of clothing and shoes we own, the staggering percentage of our food that we discard, the number of paper towels and paper napkins, disposable cups and plates we have donated to landfill, most of which will never decompose?
* the ease with which we shrug our shoulders and just head back to the mall for more stuff we don't need given to us in plastic bags we don't reuse while sipping excessively sweet drinks from plastic cups that will be in plastic bags in landfills for many, many, many years?
* the ways in which we perpetuate fear and anger and hatred against others, against anybody and everybody we don't understand? people of other religions, other language groups, other nations, other customs? people who don't look like us or think the way we think? 
* our willful silence when we hear and see people we know and love do and say things that we know are wrong or racist or sexist or homophobic or xenophobic?
* our indifference towards the suffering of the homeless and poor, the weak and infirm, the imprisoned, as well as refugees who are victims of undeserved violent acts at the hand of the state? 
* our willful blindness when we are confronted with evidence that contradicts our strongly held beliefs about other people - and about ourselves?

Last night, I went back to my church for a meeting of the elders. I participated in that meeting by reading something I wrote about reconciliation and building the beloved community here in Charlotte and included a description of my three-church-morning. As some of us made our way out of the church at the end of the evening, one of my friends said something like, "I'm worried about you, Gail. Three churches in one day? We've gotta keep an eye on you..." I responded, "It's an addiction, brother. It's an addiction." We all laughed as we made our way out into the darkness of the downtown area of this city we all love - just one block from where so many of last week's protests were concentrated. I know the hundreds of National Guard soldiers and police officers patrolling the streets had a lot to do with that. I also know that the thousands of people praying and preaching and talking about and taking the leadership related to peace, real peace, the peace that we have to work relentlessly to create and maintain had a lot to do with that as well. I know that discussions like the one we had just concluded, hard discussions, uncomfortable discussions, at seminaries like the one I attend, at white churches, at black churches, at other churches that more accurately reflect the diversity of the city and the church of Jesus Christ are having an impact as well. I know that the work of people of every faith and people who claim no religious affiliation or interest at all - all the work that is being done towards peace, wholeness, reconciliation, and connection, it is all making a difference. I felt it all day yesterday. I felt it last night. 

The work that is ahead of us is staggeringly challenging.
The work that must be done within each of us is too.
But if what I saw at the three churches my daughter and I visited yesterday is any indication,
if the videos I have seen posted on Facebook by my friends, videos of peaceful people talking to and hugging police officers and National Guards, videos of choirs singing in the streets of Charlotte, are any indication, if the work being done to challenge the imbalances and injustice embedded within our city's public school system is any indication, then we have reason for hope.
It won't be easy. It won't be quick. It certainly won't make the news.
But every act of mercy, every act of kindness,
every act of forgiveness and reconciliation,
every apology offered, every pardon granted,
every friendship that develops across boundary lines that have been established to keep people apart,
each one will be a brick, not thrown through at a person or through a window,
but rather a brick that forms part of the foundation, the piles, the decking, 
every part of the bridge we so desperately need to connect us one to another. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tonight I am an angry black woman

I am so sick and so tired of seeing black men gunned down in the streets of our nation.
I am so sick and tired of seeing men who look like my brothers, my nephews, my son,
and the sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers of people I know and love
shot and killed by people who have sworn to protect them, to protect all of us.

I am so sick and tired of all the killing.
The excuses.
The explanations.
The rationalizing.
"If only he had/hadn't ________________, he wouldn't have been shot."
Haven't we seen every permutation?
Armed. Unarmed. Compliant. Non-compliant. Standing. Laying on the ground.
In their cars. Outside of their cars. Walking. Running. Silent. Belligerent.
Reaching for their license. Reaching for registration.
Asking for help. Pleading for breath.
Selling CDs. Selling cigarettes. Teenagers. Pre-teens. Adults.
Dead. Dead. Dead.
With the notable exception of the teacher who was intervening for a student with autism.

Just stop shooting black people.
Stop killing black people.

Cuz even if he does have a gun, a real gun and not a toy gun,
even if there are weapons or drugs in the car,
even if he doesn't comply with the command to prostrate himself on the street,
even if he is drunk or high,
even if he is a thief,
even if all those things are true,
(by the way, in most of these public cases, none of those things turn out to be true)
no one deserves to be shot and killed the way these men are being shot and killed.
Left to bleed out on the street or in their vehicles.
Without medical aid or CPR or assistance of any kind.
Why not start with the taser?
Why not shoot in the legs?

Oh wait, they did shoot the teacher in the leg. The teacher who was on the ground with his hands up in the air, pleading for his life and the life of his student. That guy still got shot.

Just stop shooting people.
Stop killing people.

I know I've posted this link before. But the song means more and more as the years pass.

We who believe in freedom cannot rest. 
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes -
until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons, 
is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers' sons.

People, go stand in front of a mirror or pull out a journal and talk to yourself about how you feel about black people and black men in particular. What comes to mind when you think about your personal interactions with black people? If you don't have any interactions with black people or anyone who doesn't look like you on a daily basis, then that's part of the problem - ignorance.
Not knowing. Not being exposed to people who aren't like you.
That needs to change. Period.

Then talk to your neighbors about your fear and their fear and your racism and their racism.
Talk to your families. Talk to your spouses and your children.
Be honest about your prejudices, your privileges, and your pride.
Tell the truth about the ways in which you have diminished the value of the lives of other people.
People who don't look like you. People who don't live the way you live.
People whose sexuality, country of origin, first language, manner of dress, or religion don't match yours.
People you dismiss, disregard, disdain.
People whose public executions no longer move you or make you angry.

Think about it. Talk about it. Journal about it.
And then do something.
Stand up. Speak up. Stand out. Speak out.
Let your voice be heard - this shit is just not right. Not right.
Enough is enough.
If any of this is going to change, it has to start with me. It has to start with you.
Right now. Tonight. Think. Ask yourself hard questions. Seek difficult answers.
Make a plan. No excuses.
Enough is enough.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Water water everywhere

About an hour ago, I was seated at our dining room table working on a project. My daughter came in from babysitting and informed me that a fire hydrant just up the street from us was on. Gushing water. There was a truck there with workers doing something or other, and water was running down the street. She declared that she was going to walk up and wet her feet in the water.

Immediately, I closed my computer, abandoned my project, and joined her and our teeny tiny dog on a wet adventure. I was the first one out of my flip flops, and I plunged my feet into the narrow stream. Perfection. I dropped my head back and laughed out loud.

How many times have I read and heard about the importance of allowing my feet to touch the earth, the grass, and the dirt? To be fully grounded on this planet of ours? Well, I'm not doing that. Not with all the ants making anthills in the grass and all the chemicals that are spread all over our lawns. (Please forgive us, Lord, for the myriad ways in which we poison the very earth beneath our feet.)

This afternoon, I put my feet in that water and I kicked it up on the lawn of the house we were standing in front of. I splashed it onto my dog - who was obviously as happy to be wet as my daughter and I were. All the people who drove past us smiled broadly at us. I bet they were jealous of how much fun we were having. A couple walked past with their dog and told us that it looked like we were having fun. But they didn't take off their shoes. They didn't step into the magnificence of that abundant flow. Too bad for them.

I worry about water. Drought. Flooding. Melting glaciers. Rising sea levels. Busted pipes. Aging water heaters.
And what about the residents of Flint, Michigan? Subjected to some politician's bad idea about how to save money by getting water from a different river. Complaints were lodged for months. None were taken seriously. Bottled water. Filtered water. What about people who can light their water on fire because of fracking and other industrial experiments that use unwitting citizens as their canaries, their guinea pigs?
What does it feel like to be afraid of your tap water?
Water water everywhere. Except when there isn't any water anywhere.
Or the water you have access to is too dangerous to drink.

Earlier this summer, I went on a silent retreat. My third visit to The Jesuit Center.
I should write about those eight blissful, tearful, beautiful, wonder-filled days of prayer and journaling.
Anyway, there were two women on the retreat who, when they brushed their teeth,

The first time, I chalked it up as a fluke, convinced that she was the only person in the nation who practiced such a wantonly wasteful habit.
The second time, I nearly screamed.
Different woman. Different age bracket. Different race. Same horrendous act of excess.
I was grateful that we were in silence, or I might have said something mean and insulting.
I was incredulous that there are still people who let the water run,
waste that precious life-sustaining resource while they brush their teeth.

After the second sighting, I took a few deep breaths and asked myself, "Why do you think you saw this twice, Gail? What are you supposed to learn from this double take?"
Almost immediately it came to me: Abundance. Provision. I have been blessed with so much in my life. Beyond all my imagining and dreams. Even though I can be so frugal, with money, with water, with food, with my love - there is abundance all around me. Be grateful, Gail. Give thanks.

Thankfully, I didn't see either of those two women or any one else repeat their water wasting offense.

Today, standing in that water, I thought about the drought we have been experiencing here in the South. I thought about wildfires out west. I thought about people all over the world who would have been incredulous at the intentional, unrestrained release of that liquid gold, from the fire hydrant directly to the gutter. For a split second, I asked God to forgive us for airing out the water line or rebuilding the pressure or whatever else the workers were doing. And then I went back to splashing water and waving at my jealous neighbors.