Monday, October 20, 2014

More of my kanswer story

Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea; this is gonna take a few minutes.

Back in 2009, my daughter and I became members of the Y and started attending Cardio Funk classes under the direction of the energetic, happy, and extremely fit Andre Hairston. When he's not whipping his huge Cardio Craze classes into shape, Andre is an actor in movies and on television, writes and produces plays, and also makes videos.

Not long ago, he asked if I would be willing to tell some of my kanswer story for a video he was producing. Of course I said, "Yes." If my story can help or encourage anyone else, then I want to tell it. So here is the video that Andre produced. Please feel free to share it with anyone and everyone.

If you haven't gotten your tea ready, now's the time to do it.
And you may want to grab a tissue on your way back to the computer.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

At the last minute

Today was the Fall Festival at our church, the one I wrote about in my last blog post. Hundreds of people came. Children played in the playground. They had their faces painted. They chose pumpkins. There was live music. Food trucks served up bbq and other goodies. There was a local farmer's market there. (I bought spaghetti squash, honey, tomatoes, cucumbers and garlic. There will be a veggie feast for dinner at our house tomorrow night.) I talked to people about the Good Samaritan fresco and encouraged folks to decorate rocks, to write one word prayers, to write what they are grateful for, to name people who have been good Samaritans in their lives and those for whom they have been good Samaritans.

I smiled my way through the afternoon.

When it was time to clean up, I took down the signs, put away the markers, the rocks, the easels, and closed one of the two doors to the outside when they arrived. At the last minute.

The taller woman said she had been in the church before - for Room in the Inn, the church's ministry of opening its doors several nights per week during the winter months so that a few of our homeless neighbors don't have to sleep outside in the cold.
The shorter woman asked if it was too late to kneel.
It is never to late to kneel.

I asked them how I could pray for them.
One said that her car had been towed while she was in prison.
The other said that her life isn't going the way she had hoped, that it is going down the wrong path.
I could see physical scars on their faces and necks.
They carried their belongings on their backs.

I asked if I could pray for them right then and there.
They said, "That's why we are here."
I put my hands on their shoulders and began to cry.
I sometimes find it difficult to pray out loud without crying.
When I finished praying and opened my eyes, I saw that they had embraced each other.
Completing the circle.


During my two and a half hours in that room, they were the only ones who asked for prayer.
They came at the last minute.
They were right on time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

"Come on down!"

Unabashed advertising about to happen on this blog-o-mine.


If you live in the Charlotte area and are looking for something fun and free to do this Sunday afternoon, October 19th, from 3:30 until 5:30 pm, please come uptown to First Presbyterian Church for our Fall Festival. There will be food trucks, games, activities for kids, live music, a farmer's market stand, a reverse food truck (you get to bring food that will be given to and distributed by a local food pantry), a blessing of bike helmets (if you have a bike helmet, bring it so that one of the pastors can pray for safe bike travel), stickers to decorate those blessed helmets, and the church's fresco lobby will be open to the public.


What's a fresco lobby, you ask? Ben Long, an American fresco artist, painted a scene from the parable of The Good Samaritan in one of the church lobbies. That space will be open for people to view the fresco/mural. Yours truly will be hanging out in that area, holding space for people to ponder the painting and the story, to sit and pray, to read and write, and also to simply enjoy a quiet space on a busy afternoon.

The event is free and open to everyone. There will be food for purchase at the food trucks and farmer's market stand, but all the other activities are FREE.


So, come on down, y'all, and enjoy some good old fashioned Presbyterian hospitality. (I am new to being a Presbyterian and am not certain if "Presbyterian hospitality" is really "a thing." Perhaps we will make it "a thing" starting this Sunday.)


Full disclosure - I took these photos a couple of years ago during the spring. The church has a gorgeous front lawn, as you can see. Our hope is that it will be full of people having a great time together on Sunday. Will you join us?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Fill in the __________________.

I came across a quote on Pinterest this morning that got me thinking. I mean, I like the quote as it is written, but after I read it, I wondered what other words I might choose to replace the first one.

What do you think? What words would you choose to fill in the blank?

Fitness is not about being better than someone else.
It's about being better than you used to be.

______________ is not about being better than anyone else.
It's about me being better than I used to be.

My newfound focus on my health
How I eat and exercise
What I no longer eat and drink
My journaling habit
Blogging my life's journey
My commitment to living a messy, imperfect, "reformed and always reforming" life of faith


Here are a few other blanks I created and then filled.

___________________ is not about us being better or smarter or more clever than anyone else.
It's not about us comparing our story to anyone else's story.
It's about us trying to become a more loving, more forgiving, more accepting family than we used to be.
It's about us trying to become better people than we used to be.


The way we live out our marriage
Our pattern of parenting
Our decision to homeschool
Our decision to attend First Presbyterian Church
Our willingness to tell the difficult stories of our lives openly



The reason I ______________ is not because I think I have a better life than anyone else.
It's all about me living my life to the fullest every day.

laugh so loud
talk so much
smile so quickly
cry even more quickly
try not to complain
focus on what is good and beautiful and simple
keep coming back to the topics of gratitude, hope, love, joy and faith


I am committed to learning how to love __________________.

to cook
the neighbor who lets his dogs poop in my yard
homeless people who ask for money
grumpy people in line at the supermarket
family members and friends when they are grumpy and ask for money
my own sometimes difficult-to-love self
God even more


When I feel lonely, I reach for _____________________.
When I am bored, I _______________________.
When he makes me angry, I want to _______________________.
When she drones on and on with her stories, I fantasize about _________________________.
What was I thinking? I should never have ______________________.
Instead, I should have ____________.
This isn't the marriage/home life/church/friendship/life I thought it would be. I'm sick of this/bored with this/tired of doing all this hard work. So I'm gonna ______________________.
If only I had the courage to stand up and speak up, I would say, "_____________________."

leaving
chosen this
move on
Really? That's a lie and you know it
let you leave
a sweet, strong drink
scream
I'm done
done that
I am a better person because you are in my life
kissed him
candy
go shopping
kept my big mouth shut
I miss you
said that
do something risky and foolish
You are a wonder
walked away
I'm sorry
duct tape
held back
I really don't like you right now
eaten that
give up
tried again
Please forgive me and give me another chance
asked you to stay
complain to anyone who will listen
my passport
You are wrong
told you the truth
my debit card
followed you
fantasize about _______________ (yet another blank)


Perhaps I need to go get some Mad-Libs books and continue filling in the _______________.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Thankful Thursday

How can I say thanks for the friends, the relationships, the food, the safety, the house, the clothes, the abundance without also saying thanks for the tears, the losses, the pain, and the suffering? It's nearly impossible for me to maintain hope during the latter without remembering the joy in the former. It's nearly impossible for me to appreciate the former without remembering the challenges of the latter.

One year ago tonight, I was aboard a flight from Miami to Madrid, on my first trip to Spain after surviving my kanswer journey. I was grateful for the ability to carry my backpack, to traverse the long corridors and escalators at Miami International Airport. I was grateful for the friends who were ready to receive me and host me and celebrate the end of the hard-fought battle to regain my health. I was grateful for my husband and children who once again released me to go to the place where I experience deep joy and profound peace. I look forward to getting back there sometime soon. Judging by the many people who have recently asked me when I'm going back, I think it's time to plan another Iberian adventure. Last week someone asked me why I keep going back there and don't go to new places. Because for me, Spain is new every time. New people. New towns and cities. New foods and drinks. New discoveries. Why take a chance going someplace where I might be disappointed when I know that Spain is a sure thing?!?

Tonight I am grateful for the time I spent with a dear friend this afternoon. In my family room. Talking. Laughing. Telling stories. Crying. Shaking our heads. We sat together and marveled at the foolishness, the pride, the deceit, the beauty, the strength, and the courage of the people we know - and also the people we wish we didn't know. Life is hard. Marriage is hard. Having children is hard. Being single is hard. Not having children is hard. I will say it again - life is hard. But we have each other. We lean on each other. We listen to each other. We love each other.

I am grateful for the challenges of parenting an 18 year old and a 20 year old. Their questions. Their orneriness. Their closed doors. Their refusal to just do what I say just because I say it. Their insistence that I listen to their point of view and their willingness to listen to mine. Their unwillingness to be treated disrespectfully and their willingness to admit when they have treated me disrespectfully. Let me be clear - I am even more grateful when they do what I ask just because I say so. I am even more grateful when they hug me and kiss me and speak to me with respect. I am more grateful when they cook and feed themselves and then clean up after themselves. I am even more grateful when they do their laundry and put their dishes in the dishwasher without being asked. These two people I gave birth to push me to want to drink heavily and scream loudly, but they also give me reason to laugh until my stomach hurts.

I am grateful for the difficult questions we ask and discuss at church. About poverty and peace. About wealth and suffering. About what it means to be a church in the heart of Charlotte, where there is so much homelessness, hunger, loneliness, sorrow, anger, fear, and also so much goodness, generosity, faith, hope, and the longing to touch one another's lives. I am grateful to be learning how to disagree and still be friends, still be a community of faith. I am grateful to be learning how to ask questions, how to not always offer answers, and how to work together to be people who are known for our love, our grace, our hospitality, our compassion, and our proclamation of the good news that Love wins.

I am grateful to be able to write and think and talk about the many ways that my heart has been broken in my lifetime by people who knew better but didn't do better. By people I trusted and loved and gave myself to. By pastors and teachers and family members and friends. By those I knew well and total strangers as well. Groped. Hit. Pushed. Laughed at. Embarrassed. Rejected. Beaten. Ignored. Taken advantage of. Ridiculed. Lied to. Lied about. I am grateful for the healing that comes when I write unsent letters to the perpetrators and talk about them out loud.

I am grateful for the many times that grace mercy, forgiveness, and compassion have been extended to me when I hit, pushed, embarrassed, rejected, took advantage of, ridiculed, ignored, lied and gossiped about, and wounded people I claimed to love. I am grateful to and for all the people who have accepted all of my apologies over the years.

I am grateful for the honor of listening to her story of the challenges of her marriage, the pain of watching his wife battle alcoholism, the challenges of her child's anxiety, wishing for children, longing to meet the love of her life, wishing he had never come along - I am grateful for the gift of their trust, for the gift of their friendship, for the gift of their time. Often I feel unworthy of all that I have been entrusted with so often by so many people. I am grateful that I can come alongside other hurting people and sit with them in their pain. I am grateful to be learning how to keep my mouth shut more, to just listen, to not jump in and tell my stories. As Kathy Escobar writes, that is very hard to do.

I am grateful for the book, Tattoos on the Heart. OMG - truly, Oh My God! It is a soul-stirring, mind-expanding, heart-rending account of one man's experiences working with gang members in Los Angeles. I read it in one day - and I need to read it again. I copied dozens of quotes from it into my journal.

Here are a few gems -

Where we stand, in all our mistakes and imperfections, is holy ground.

The no-matter-whatness of God dissolves the toxicity of shame and fills us with tender mercy.

Just assume the answer to every question is compassion.

Everyone is just looking to be told that who he or she is is right and true and wholly acceptable. No need to tinker and tweak. Exactly right. 

Everything on this side of death, however, is "requesting the honor of our presence" so we can delight in life's astonishing, joyful poetry. 

Robert Frost: How many things have to happen to you before something occurs to you?

Pema Chodron: You are the sky. Everything else, it's just weather.

Teilhard de Chardin: Trust in the slow work of God.

I am grateful tonight for the messiness, the mistakes, the imperfections that show us our need for compassion, tender mercy, and kindness. I am grateful for the increasing recognition that where we stand is holy ground - and all the ground between us is holy ground as well. I am grateful for how astonishingly beautifull and joyfull and hopefull life is - even in the face of illness, pain, loss, sorrow and death. I am grateful for the no-matter-whatness and slow work of God's love.

Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Angels Among Us

This past Thursday was my turn to go to Loaves and Fishes again. To distribute food to our clients. To walk with them through the pantry while they choose what to take home. Those three hours are among the most meaningful hours of the month. Because I don't want to forget my interactions with the people I serve, I jot down a few details about each one on the little post-it notes I am given with their names and the size of their families. When I get home, I staple them into my calendar-journal and pray for them every time I see them. 

My first client was a man who came in with the muscle shirt and the baseball cap on backwards. Family of one. He was slow, thoughtful, and careful about his food choices not only because he wanted to choose things that would last a while in his kitchen, but also because he was going home by bus. So he was mindful of carrying the fewest number of bags. He also said that one of his arms was weaker than the other and grimaced when he picked up one of the bags. Big man. Slightly intimidating looking. Gentle in spirit - he wished me well and said, "God bless you," as he left. I had to check and recheck my unwarranted fears and prejudices during my brief time with him. 

Then there was the slightly older gentleman with the long black denim shorts. Also a family of one. I often wonder what it is like to be hungry, to be in need of assistance in order to eat - and be alone. I wonder if their loneliness feels more desperate because they are by themselves or if there is a certain sense of relief that at least they are only looking after themselves. He too left with gratitude and shared a kind word of blessing for me. I shook my head and thought, "If only you knew how much a blessing you are to me."

After him, there was a woman who looked about my age, there with her teenaged son. Family of four. She said another of her sons was outside waiting in the car. The two of them expressed surprise and a certain sense of awe at how much food they were able to take home for their family. How many boxes of macaroni and cheese? How many cans of vegetables? All of this yogurt and cheese? Really? As I walked them outside to help them load it into their car, she said, "I wish I could hug everybody." I said, "I'll take a hug." After we embraced, she said, "I don't take this for granted. I'm about to cry; I'm so soft." I assured her that tears were perfectly fine, that I'm a bit of a softie too, and that as a mom myself, I know how much she wants to make sure her family eats well. All she could do at that point was nod as tears rimmed her eyes.

Between clients, the volunteers often share stories of the folks we meet. We also remind one another of how blessed we are to be able to go to the supermarket and purchase the groceries we want and need. We remind each other of the privilege it is to serve our Charlotte neighbors through Loaves and Fishes. We are grateful to the companies and the individuals that donate food and time and resources to purchase the food we distribute. We know that giving food away for free isn't going to solve the problem of hunger or poverty in our city, but we know that for some people, those cans and boxes and bags of food are what keep them, their parents, their children, their siblings, and their spouses from going to bed hungry. 

The next woman came in wearing a lovely floor-length green and white sundress. I'm a huge fan of maxi skirts and maxi dresses, so I commented on it. She proudly said, "I got it for $5." There's nothing wrong with that kind of careful spending. As she left with her provisions for her family of one, she looked deep into my eyes and said, "I really do appreciate this." I wanted to hug her, but I decided that since she didn't ask or offer, I should keep my embraces to myself that time. 

My last clients of the day were my favorites - two brothers, Wesley and Patrick. I had worked with Wesley a few months ago and at that time, he told me that although he was designated as a family of one, he lived with his brother. Because I am such a softie, I allowed him to pick a few extra items and made him promise not to tell anybody. Apparently, he told his brother because this week, when he showed up again with his brother, Patrick said, "He told me about you and that you are one of the good ones." I responded with a laugh and said, "I don't know about all that, but I'm glad to be here to help." When I greeted Wesley this past Thursday, I said, "It's good to see you again." He seemed surprised when he asked, "You remember me?" "Of course I remember you." Those two men walked through the pantry like they were choosing Christmas gifts - grateful for every can, every box, every bag, every morsel. They traded ideas about the various meals they would be able to prepare with the items they picked. It sounded like they are creative cooks in spite of the meager provisions they had at their disposal. At the end of our walk through the pantry, Patrick said, "You all work so hard here." I laughed and said, "We are here to serve you all. Why wouldn't we work hard?" Once again, I wanted to hug them, but did so only in my heart and mind. 


This morning, the pastor talked about angels. The verses he read were from the thirteenth chapter of the book of Hebrews - Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

His first question was this: do you believe in angels? He went on to explain that the word angel means messenger, so the question can also be asked like this: do you believe in messengers? Do you believe that God sends messengers to us nowadays? Do you believe that some people come into our lives to teach us lessons and bring us messages that are meant to challenge us and to change us? 

Yes, I do believe in angel messengers among us. I believe that every person we serve at Loaves and Fishes is an angel, a messenger meant to teach us to love all people as our brothers and sisters. They teach us to welcome in strangers and discover that they can become friends quickly. I believe that the people in my church are angel messengers who are teaching me to not judge others based on race or income or appearance or the fact that they are "Southerners." I believe that the people who live on my block are angel messengers as well, angels who brought us meals during my kanswer journey and my daughter's illness. I believe that the people I met online who have since become non-virtual, real life, "let's get together" friends are angel messengers who have taught me about trust and taking chances. I believe that the people who greet me happily and heartily at Trader Joe's are angel messengers teaching me that everyone deserves to be looked at and spoken to and asked how they are doing. I believe that my children are angel messengers who are teaching me patience and love and how to laugh at myself, at them, and at the crazy world we live in. I believe that the folks I met in Sevilla, Spain in 2006 and in Nicaragua in 2008 and in Haiti in 2012 and everywhere else I have ever been are all angel messengers teaching me about love, about gratitude, about hope, about courage, about hospitality, about vulnerability, about faith, about welcome, about sharing, about food and wine and water and gathering around table together as brothers, sisters, and friends. I believe that each of us and all of us have entertained, are entertaining, and are ourselves angel messengers in this wounded, weary, hungry, thirsty, broken, mysterious, miraculous, marvelous world. 

I hope and pray that Wesley and Patrick and Tony Lee and Gerald and Adrienne and Patricia all find meaningful and fulfilling work that pays them enough to provide food, shelter, utilities and a few extras for themselves and their families - and they don't ever need the assistance of Loaves and Fishes again. But if they aren't able to do so, I hope I'm around and can spend time with those angels again at some point in the future. 

Someone once said that we need to be the change we want to see in the world.
I say that we need to be the angels we all want and need to see in the world.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Memorable Sunday

Twelve years ago this week, I drove to Charlotte for the first time with my mother and my two young children. Steve had already started working here, and we came down to find a house and make arrangements for our imminent move. I found this house on the morning of my only day of looking at houses with our real estate agent. Steve met us for lunch and we came back here that afternoon. He loved it as much as I do. We put in a bid only to find out ten minutes later that someone else had also bid on it. What??? In the end, we bought this house, and the other couple that bid on the house that day bought the house across the street from us two years later.

On the Sunday of the first weekend in October of 2002, we visited a church, a big pink church, that Steve had visited before we came down - and we all loved it. It was big and pink - and welcoming and warm. I met other homeschooling moms. My kids met other homeschooled kids and athletic kids and kids who rode horses. There were white pastors and black pastors for the congregation of nearly 2,000 English speaking people. And there was a Brazilian pastor who preached in Spanish to a congregation of 300+ Spanish speakers every Sunday morning. I sat in the back row of the huge sanctuary that Sunday and wept - we had found a church that we all loved from the first time we attended.

The children, my mother and I returned to Connecticut where I packed boxes, gave things away, got together with friends for final dinners and gatherings, and we left our house in Norwalk, Connecticut, on the morning of Friday, November 1st for our drive to our new house. We arrived in Charlotte the next night, after a stop in Hickory, North Carolina, where we ordered new furniture and rugs for our new home. On Sunday morning, we got up, went back to the big pink church and started membership classes. That same week, that Brazilian pastor asked me to translate from Spanish to English during the Wednesday night Bible study. Nervously, I obliged. Less than a month later, I was asked to translate for him for three weeks during the Sunday morning service. Once again, I nervously obliged. At the end of those three weeks, I told him that if he ever needed help again, he should feel free to ask. He said, "What about doing it every week?"

Thus began seven and a half years of being the pastor's regular translator. I even went with him to other churches a couple of times to translate. I translated at funerals. I wrote letters and went to meetings with lawyers and translated documents for my dearly beloved Latino brothers and sisters from the end of 2002 until the middle of 2010. I loved it. I loved them, the men and women of so many central and south american nations, brave, strong, beautiful, loving, kind, generous, fearful, messy, needy, desperate people. They were just like me. I was just like them. Together we laughed and cried and drank coffee and ate delicious food and told our stories and read the Bible and prayed and grew to know and love one another. I learned more Spanish in those seven and a half years than I could ever have dreamed or hoped.

Early in 2010, my husband and I made the decision to leave that church. We didn't have another church in mind to attend, but we knew that we were done there. Our family had been deeply wounded by a lack of care and concern, especially on the part of the leadership of the church, at a time when we were in need of their care and support and presence. We were angry. I was tired. It was time to move on.

A year later, we began to attend another church. A quieter church. A smaller church. A loving church. A welcoming church. So welcoming, in fact, that even though I wasn't a member of the church, I was invited to teach there. Often. On Sundays mornings and Wednesdays evening. And when I taught there, they paid me. When I taught there, I taught men and women - which for many people is not a big deal. For that congregation it was not a big deal.

However for many of the people at the big pink church and all of the leadership there, that would have been a very big deal. Women are not allowed to teach men there, or any male over the age of 13 or so. Women teach women. Women teach children. Women don't preach or teach there, nor can they be elders or deacons. Women's wisdom is only for women.

Once when I was teaching a class on spiritual journaling there, a man came into the class. He was an avid journaler and shared many wonderful insights on writing with the rest of us. Unfortunately, he never came back. And soon thereafter, I was reminded that my classes were for women, not men. Not long after that, I was informed that my classes on spiritual journaling did not fit in with the vision and plan of the church and I could no longer teach them.

For years, I submitted to the tradition of women not teaching men. It always hurt my heart and wounded my soul because I knew so many wise, insightful, powerful, strong women who had so much to teach and share. I knew far too many unwise, power-hungry, angry, women-bashing men who had regular opportunities to speak their mean words from the pulpit and in front of groups of men and women.

Anyway, in this new church, women occupy every level of church leadership - pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, directors, music. I confess to being floored by the ease of it all. I confess that there were times when I would be teaching or listening to a woman preach or watching women distribute communion when I would brace myself for someone to stand up and say, "This is unbiblical. These women should not be speaking or leading or teaching. They need to sit down and be quiet." But it never happened. In fact, the opposite happened. Men and women embraced their female leaders and teachers in love and with gratitude, thanking them, thanking me for sharing our gifts with the congregation. They still do.

Many years ago, when I first attended this church's Wednesday noon service, I went out to lunch with one of the associate ministers at the time, a woman, and asked her how she would respond to people who said that women should be silent in church, that women shouldn't teach or preach or have authority in the church. She said many powerful and beautiful and grace-filled and Bible-based things in response, but the one thing that stood out most for me was this - "I would rather stand before God and have to answer for being a minister and preaching in church when God told me to be silent, than to answer for being silent when God told me to speak and preach. And I believe that God has called me to preach. Lives are being changed. People are being drawn into the kingdom. That's what matters most. Jesus said that if we don't praise and honor him, the rocks would cry out. No rock is gonna cry out in my place." I have thought about her words many times since that day.

This past January, we made the decision as a family to join this new church, this women-embracing, love-spreading, imperfect, messy church. As a member, I no longer get paid to teach, but I do get to teach more often. I am overwhelmed on a regular basis by the gratitude and support and encouragement I receive from not only from the women, but also the men in the church. The men who thank me for teaching and who share their stories with me, eyes brimming with tears, far outnumber the women. I believe God is using them and using this new church to heal my wounded heart, the places that were bruised and battered by the constant silencing of women in most of the churches I have attended in my lifetime. I believe that God has brought us to this place, to this congregation, to this community so that we can serve them and they can heal us as a family and as individuals. I believe that because we went through the pain, the sorrow, the loneliness, and the anger of the final years at the other church, we are now able to more fully appreciate the rich blessing of this new place of fellowship.

This morning was the last service for the Spanish speaking congregation at our former church. Someone decided that the church should be "united, one body, worshipping God in one language." Of course, if anybody needed to hear the English speaking service translated into Spanish, they would be provided with headphones in the balcony.

I am broken hearted for the hundreds of people who now have to find new places to worship. I am broken hearted for the people who may decide to not go to church anymore at all because of the pain inflicted on them today. I am sad because I will likely never see some of those people again. I pray that they will all find places of peace, of love, of comfort, of community, of grace, and of genuine caring. We certainly have.

This morning was also an important day at our new church. A new slate of elders and deacons was voted on by the congregation to begin a three year term of serving the body of Christ as leaders. As dreamers. Implementers. Planners. Guides. Teachers. Caregivers. Encouragers. Pray-ers. Overseers. Most of all, as servants. Together. Before God. Alongside one another.

I was voted in as an Elder.

I wept.

One door categorically and completely shut.
Another one broadly and warmly opened.
At exactly the same hour.

Today has been a memorable Sunday indeed.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thankful Thursday - Henri Nouwen's thoughts on gratitude

Currently, I am rereading Henri Nouwen's book, The Return of the Prodigal Son - A Story of Homecoming. Today, while waiting to have a filling replaced (I'm grateful for a fantastic dentist!), I read the following.

Gratitude, however, goes beyond the "mine" and "thine" and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. 

Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.

There is always the choice between resentment and gratitude because God has appeared in my darkness, urged me to come home, and declared in a voice filled with affection: "You are with me always, and all I have is yours." Indeed, I can choose to dwell in the darkness in which I stand, point to those who are seemingly better off that I, lament about the many misfortunes that have plagued me in the past, and thereby wrap myself up in my resentment. But I don't have to do this. There is the option to look into the eyes of the One who came out to search for me and see therein that all I am and all I have is pure gift calling for gratitude. 

The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Because every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until, finally, even the most normal, obvious and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace. There is an Estonian proverb that says: "Who does not thank for little will not thank for much." Acts of gratitude make one grateful because, step by step, they reveal that all is grace. 

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

I am addicted to gratitude. To seeking the miraculous in the mundane. To discovering reasons for joy in the midst of the messiness of life. Certainly we could all choose to complain about something, about someone, about the government, the church, about marriage and about our children. There is always someone to gossip about - or "share prayer requests" about. There are always disappointments and conflicts. Always.

But there is also so much beauty. And so much for which to give thanks.

As I mentioned earlier, I am grateful for our wonderful dentist. Gentle. Thorough. Kind. A few days after my first chemo treatment, at the end of November 2012, I cracked a tooth. My teeth are ridiculously fragile - I am grateful to still have them, but they break easily. My dentist made room for me in her schedule, filled the tooth, and then didn't charge me for it. I had no problem and no shame with "swiping the kanswer card" that day.

I am grateful for dental and medical insurance.

I am grateful for eyeglasses, sunglasses, and those cloths that clean my glasses.

I am grateful for rainy days and sunny ones too.

I am grateful for Panera, their delicious sandwiches, roomy dining areas, and for the company of a dear friend for lunch today.

I am grateful for hot tea and slow-cooked oatmeal in the morning.

I am grateful for Trader Joe's organic corn chips, blue chips, and sea salt and black pepper potato chips.

I am grateful for phone calls, texting, and What's App.

I am greteful for Moleskine sketchbooks, Miquelrius notebooks. and Ecojot journals.

I am grateful for bilingual dictionaries, bilingual Bibles, and bilingual people. 

I am grateful that my car runs so well, so consistently, and without any hesitation.

I am grateful for laughter, for tears, for silence and for solitude.

I am grateful for Alice Walker, Frida Kahlo, Toni Morrison, and Jhumpa Lahiri.

I am grateful for movie theaters, NPR, and the fact that I can connect my iPod to the sound system in my car.

I am grateful that my son celebrated his 18th birthday this past Monday and that he gave himself the gift of accepting an offer to play tennis at Presbyterian College down in Clinton, SC. I love that boy of mine and am proud of and grateful for the young man he is becoming.

I am grateful for the love and support he has received through this process: from his coach, Ben Swain, from other players, from other coaches who have followed his progress and expressed interest in him, from the many people at our church, First Presbyterian Church here in Charlotte who have reached out, written, asked questions, and cheered him on. Love is a beautiful, life-affirming, heart-growing thing.

I am grateful for the many people in my life who do appear to be better off than I am, but who also are willing to share their empty places, their wounded places, and their lonely places.

I am grateful for the people in my life who think I am better off than they are, but who are also willing to allow me to show them my empty, lonely, fearful, wounded, despairing places.

I am grateful that the frequency of my comparisons is diminishing - after all, how is it possible to know, to really know, who is better off than anyone else? What measures and standards am I using to make that judgment? How is my standard any better than anyone else's?

I am grateful for the many times that I have been reminded to look for the beauty, to ponder the grace, and to stand in awe of the miracles that make up my daily life. Water from the faucet. Light from the bulbs. Food in the fridge, the freezer, and the pantry. Clothing in my closet. Paper for me to write on. Pens for me to write with. Sponges and dish detergent, and plates in my sink. Washing machine and dryer and drying racks in the laundry room. A family that eats, sleeps, bathes, and gets its clothing dirty. Eyeglasses. Shoes. Boots. Jackets. Toothbrushes. Toothpaste. Floss. Soap. Towels. Wash cloths. Coconut oil. Shea butter. Hair. Hairbrushes. Razor blades. Socks. Pajamas. Jeans. Skirts. Shirts. Dresses. My laptop computer. My printer. Ink cartridges. My desk. If I started listing the people I'm grateful for, this would turn into the neverending gratitude list - which might not be a terrible thing.

Every single thing, every single person, for me, is a miracle. A gift. Something worth being grateful for. Something worth celebrating. Something we too often overlook, take for granted, or complain about - until fire ravages, turnadoes destroy, floods contaminate, or bankruptcy reclaims it all. May I never take this life of mine for granted, not one day, not one hour of it. May I never presume that I can abandon this discipline of gratitude.

Thanks be to God.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Another Everyday Miracle

On the way home from a matinee movie an hour or so ago, I was forced to stop behind and to the left of a school bus. The lights were flashing and the little stop sign was engaged, so I eased to a halt and watched the proceedings as best I could considering the fact that I was on the outside and backside of the bus.

Parents and siblings waited patiently as the small feet of their elementary loved ones descended from the bottom step of the bus onto the curb. Asian people. Latino people. White people. African American people. Standing several yards away was a Muslim woman, identifiable by her hijab. As the children began to disperse towards their family members, she began to slowly approach first the rear and gradually the front of the bus. She disappeared from my sight for a few seconds, but I saw a pair of pants and sneakers approach her covered feet. Then she came back into my line of sight, her face lit from within by the love she felt for her beautiful, young daughter. She took and put on her daughter's backpack, wrapped her arms around her precious offspring, kissed her thick brown hair, and they began to walk towards home (I presume) with their arms wrapped around one another.

I imagined that woman at home all day, cleaning and cooking, thinking of her daughter, saying her daily prayers. I imagined her making her way from her home to the bus stop, standing off on her own every afternoon, waiting for her child to be returned to her. I imagined her preparing her beloved's favorite snack and putting out two small dishes, two glasses, and silverware in anticipation of their time together at the table. I imagined her excitement over the fact that for the next two mornings, she will not have to rouse her sleepy child, get her dressed, and walk her to the bus stop - she has two whole days with her child by her side.

The truth is that the little girl might be a beast, yelling and screaming and throwing tantrums whenever she doesn't have her chocolate chip cookies baked just right. Or perhaps she has nightmares and her mother and father spend hours awake every night, dreading the terrors yet to come. I have no idea - but I want to believe the former rather than the latter. I know it's just my imagination, but there it is.

In any case, as I sat there watching the several reunions of parents, grandparents, and other caregivers with their children, I witnessed another everyday miracle. The miracle of school and school buses. The miracle of trust in the school system, the teachers, the administrators, and bus drivers. The miracle that another day and another week ended without an accident en route or a madman entering the school with high powered weapons or a fire or a tornado or any other of countless tragedies that are possible. Those parents sent their most prized possessions on a bus driven by a stranger to a place staffed by strangers with the hope and prayer that all would go well and that their little ones would emerge from that bus in good health and with some new idea or discovery implanted in their young minds.


When I think back to my school days, I remember my ecstatic joy at getting onto and off the school bus every morning. I loved going to school - not as much as going to church, but school was a close second. I enjoyed talking to the bus driver. My father was a public bus driver when I was child, so I couldn't ignore the driver the way most of the other kids did. I knew that bus drivers were fathers and husbands and brothers and sons (I never had a female bus driver), and they had stories to tell just like my father did. I was intrigued by the process of driving, especially how they used the stick shift, and I loved being able to open the door at the bus stops for my friends to get on. I loved school - but who can be surprised by that? I'm still as big a geek as I ever was back then. And my fascination with riding the bus didn't end until I graduated from high school. Whether I rode the bus provided by the private school I attended or the public bus, the drivers always caught my attention. And the people watching was spectacular, whether I knew them or not.

When I was in second or third grade, my mother served as the bus monitor on our school bus. I don't remember if she rode the bus with us to school every morning, but I do remember her being on the bus on our way back home. Every Friday, she would give a prize - a candy bar or bag of jelly beans or something else small like that - to the child she deemed had been the best behaved that week. I remember that I finally won that little prize on the last or second to last week of school that year. I'm sure she didn't want anyone to think she favored me because I was her daughter. All I remember thinking was, "I have to be good on the bus every single day of the entire year - and I get nothing to show for it for the first eight months of this nine month school year. It's not fair."

Even though I couldn't have articulated it very well back then, somehow I knew it was all a miracle - that not everyone got to attend a magnet school in Brooklyn, New York, be taught to read and write and appreciate music by passionate, hard-working young teachers, play the violin in the school orchestra, be chosen to attend a biweekly music program in Manhattan, go to hear the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, learn braille while volunteering with several blind students at school, participate in school and district-wide spelling bees, and ride the school bus to and from the Daniel Hale Williams school from kindergarten until the end of sixth grade - except on the days that I chose to ride the public bus with my free bus pass. And don't get me started with describing the process by which I was chosen to attend, then welcomed into, then emerged from Poly Prep, a private school that went co-ed the year I entered as a seventh grader. I wrote about some of  my school bus adventures not long ago.

Somehow I knew it was all a miracle. Every single day at school, sometimes bullied, sometimes insulted, sometimes threatened, sometimes embarrassed, always seen, always heard, always engaged, always astonished, I knew I was living a miracle, blessed indeed. I knew it even as a child.

Now, as an adult, I am still struck by the miracle of school buses. A couple of years ago, when I used to take my son to his tennis lessons, I would often park the car in the parking lot there and go for walks while he played. I would emerge from the neighborhood where the courts were located and walk alongside a rather busy street for a mile or so before turning around and heading back. On that route, I would pass the public high school that my children would have attended if they hadn't been homeschooled. Often I would arrive at that intersection as the school day ended. Hundreds of teenagers would approach me, walking home. In groups. Alone. Chatting. Listening to music. Backpacks hanging low. Glad to be set free, I'm sure.

What caught my eye even more than the students whose lack of attention forced me to almost have to step down into the street to avoid bumping into them was the long line of school buses that emerged from the school parking lot. Police officers would stop traffic, both automobile and pedestrian, so that the buses could begin their appointed rounds through our South Charlotte neighborhood. I would stand and look up into the windows of the buses, catching brief glimpses of the students as they sat or kneeled on the seats. Some of them stared out the windows, but most seemed to be engaged with other kids on the bus.

I tried not to imagine the horrors and the hunger, the anger and the abuse that some of them faced when they got home. I tried not to imagine the addictions and violence, the desperation and despair that plagued so many of them. I hated to imagine how some of them suffered at the hands of their classmates, of bullies in the hallways, the cafeteria and the locker room, as well as the mean kids who sometimes rode the bus with them. So I would pray for them instead, for their education, for their protection, for their families, for their relationships, for their tender hearts and their growing minds - and I would give thanks on their behalf for those buses and for the drivers that had so courageously taken on the responsibility of driving them from place to place. Every time I watched those buses roll away into the afternoon, I prayed that the ordinary miracle of school and school buses would provide some safe haven for them, even if only for a little while.


For those folks who stood waiting for the appearance of those flashing lights at the corner of Ballantyne Commons Parkway and Ballantyne Trace Court today, another everyday, every week, ordinary miracle occured. I am enormously grateful I had the chance to witness it again this afternoon. I am grateful for the memories it brought to mind. I hope I never grow cold and dull to the wonder of it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thankful Thursday

I hear lots of stories every week. On the telephone. In person. Via the internet. Sent in texts and What's App messages. Tearful stories. Joyful stories. Parenting stories. Faith stories. Broken relationships. Financial hardships. Pregnant. Trying to get pregnant. Preparing for the birth of their first child. Decorating the nursery. Married. Getting married. Wishing to be married. Widowhood. Divorced. Getting divorced, Wishing to be divorced. Recovering from abuse. Their dog died. A new puppy has joined the family. New jobs. Lost jobs. Seeking a job. Wild fires burning near your home. Kids heading off to school. Kids coming home from school. Kids deciding not to go to school at all. Anxiety. Loneliness. Abandonment. Homelessness. Times of transition. Addiction. Over-spending. Arthritis. Kanswer surgery and chemotherapy. Chronic illness endured and overcome on a daily basis. Doctor's appointments. Dentist appointments. Teeth pulled. Dentures made. The college search process. Car accidents and near misses. Encounters with mailboxes. Church crises. The end of a congregation I attended for nearly eight years. Figuring out ways to get our houses and our lives in order. Accepting the messiness of our lives and learning to love ourselves anyway.

I love listening to stories, the happy ones and the sad ones.
I laugh. I cry. I write some of the details in my journal.
I write down names and places and circumstances.
I write down hopes and prayers and dreams.
When I reread them, I laugh again and cry again and pray again.

Tonight I am grateful for all of the stories.
I am grateful for you, the storytellers.
I am grateful for your courage.
I am grateful for your beauty.
I am grateful for your trust in me.
I am grateful that I can trust you.
I am grateful for your ongoing presence in my life.
I am grateful to be an ongoing presence in your life.
I am grateful for your friendship.
I am grateful for you.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Holding Onto Hope

Tonight I met a group of awesome women.
Brave women.
Strong women.
Determined women.
Beautiful - every single one.
Overcomers - every single one.
Victorious - every single one.
Even if they don't know it or believe it yet.

We talked and laughed and cried and wrote in our journals.
They told their stories.
I told mine.

Please, please, please, when somebody wants to tell you their story,
stop what you are doing and listen.
Let the goose bumps rise. Let the tears fall.
Hug them - if they will let you.
Honor them.
Love them.
Bless them.


Everybody wants to be heard, listened to, understood.
Everybody wants to be seen, to be looked at lovingly.
Everybody wants to be held, touched, embraced.
Everybody feels lonely and afraid.
Everybody wants to be loved.
Everybody's got something.
Joy comes and smiles erupt when we realize that we also have each other. 


A kind and gentle man said something powerful and life-affirming to my daughter a few years ago when she was fighting for her health and her life. It is something I should have said to those powerful, funny, courageous, and insightful women tonight. It is something I will definitely say the next time I see them -
"You may not be able to hold onto hope for yourself right now.
But I will hold onto it for you until you can."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Two Fridays in a Row

Last Friday as I drove home after taking my son to a college visit, I drove the way I usually drive: three or four miles over the speed limit in the slow lane. Every car passed me like I was standing still. Even the eighteen wheelers went around me. Here's the thing: I'm not a NASCAR driver. I'm not in a race to get home. I just want to get home safely.

Then it happened. Just ahead of me. In the fast lane.

Boom. Tires squeal. Rubber flies. Smoke billows. A car careened from the fast lane all the way across the highway and into the grassy shoulder. Did a truck blow a tire? Did cars hit each other. I saw it unfold but it happened so fast that I couldn't decipher what I had seen before I drove past the scene. I'm so glad I was in the slow lane, far out of the way.

My heart raced. I immediately began to pray: Lord, I hope no one got hurt. I hope those people, whoever they are, get home safely tonight. I hope there are no more accidents as other speeding vehicles approach the debris on the highway. Thank you for keeping me out of the way of that accident.

Yesterday as I drove home from a day of silence at Starrette Farm, I was driving the way I usually drive. Only this time, a light was blinking on my dashboard - the low tire pressure warning light. Shoot, shoot, shoot. I remembered that the warning light comes on every 5,000 miles to remind me to get the tire pressure checked, but I had recently taken the car to get the oil changed and knew they had checked the tire pressure. I hoped this warning light was on because they had neglected to reset it. But still... I was concerned. I didn't want to be in the fast lane or the middle lane if I did have a problem, so I moved over to the slow lane, driving warily while watching that light, hoping it would go off on its own.

That's when it happened again. Just ahead of me. In the fast lane.

A Walmart truck blew a tire. Rubber flew. Tires squealed. Cars swerved to avoid each other, some did so unsuccessfully. I pulled off onto the shoulder to avoid the cars that were trying to avoid the vehicles involved in the accident. A pick up truck careened from the fast lane all the way across the highway to the shoulder. It stopped right in front of me. Plumes of white smoke bloomed from the front right corner of the engine block. It reeked of burning rubber. I slowly pulled around the pick up truck and looked over to make sure the driver was okay. He was. The driver of the Walmart truck climbed out of the cab and walked back to the pick up truck. I moved along.

My heart raced again. Again, I began to pray for safety, for peace, for calm, and for a joyful reunion with their loved ones later in the evening.

I looked down at my dashboard - the warning light was off.

What if that warning light was meant to warn me to get into the slow lane and avoid that accident? What if that warning light was meant to put me in a position to make sure the driver was okay after that accident?
What if I'm not so fortunate next time and the blown tire hits my car and I'm the one who careens from the fast lane onto the shoulder?

Two Fridays in a row, I have seen accidents from the slow lane.
Two Fridays in a row, I prayed for safety for all those involved.
Two Fridays in a row, I gave thanks for my own safety.

All the way home after seeing yesterday's wreck (down here in NASCAR country, car accidents are referred to as "wrecks."), I sang this verse from an old Amy Grant song to myself -

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.
A wreckless car ran out of gas before it came my way.
Near misses all around me, accidents unknown -
Though I never see with human eyes that hands that lead me home,
I know they're all around me all day and through the night.
When the enemy is closing in, I know sometimes they fight.
To keep my feet from falling, I'll never turn away.
If you're asking what's protecting me, then you're gonna hear me say:
"He's got his angels watching over, every move I make.
Angels watching over me.
He's got his angels watching over me, every step I take.
Angels watching over me."

When I think about the many times my life has been saved - not just these two Fridays in a row, but every day of my life - I have to wonder, "Did God have his angels watching over the people who got into the accident? What about the ones whose kanswer treatment doesn't halt its spread? What about the young woman who is hospitalized for 31 days due to a bad drug side effect? What about the victims of domestic violence and the subsequent public humiliation? What about the woman who loses her husband and a couple of years later loses her only son? What about the 30 year old mother of three little beauties who will undergo a kanswer-induced double mastectomy and reconstruction on Monday morning? What about the child who drowned, the one who is kidnapped, and the parents whose anguish is indescribable? Are there angels watching over them too?"

I believe the angels are even closer to them. Holding them. Offering comfort and peace and courage and strength. Granting them space to grieve, to weep, to scream, to accuse, to ask why. I believe the angels stand guard over and around them while they mourn, while they writhe, while they clench angry fists and wail. I believe the angels hover ever nearer to those whose hearts and lives are shattered by sorrow and loss.

That is certainly what I have prayed for those I know in those situations.
I have prayed those requests for two Fridays in a row.
I will continue to do pray that way for as many Fridays as remain for me -
and every day in between.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thankful Thursday - 9/11

I settled in at the barber shop this morning, waiting for my barber, Rodney, to be done with the client in his chair. I pulled out my cell phone and started to play Spider Solitaire, listening only intermittently to their conversation.

The five barbers were taking turns saying where they had been on September 11th. No one has to add the year when that date is mentioned. One young man said he was in elementary school, and he remembers being able to go home early that day. The rest of them laughed at his youth and innocence. Then the laughing stopped and silence descended for a few seconds. Clumsily, the chatter started up again. Tears began to well up in my eyes as I thought about where I was on that fateful day thirteen years ago today.

September 11th, 2001, was a beautiful Tuesday in Norwalk, Connecticut. The sun sparkled in the cloudless sky. I was in the basement of our raised ranch at the corner of North Seir Hill and Grey Hollow Roads - and I wasn't alone. My two children were with me in our homeschool room. Kristiana was 7 and Daniel was 4. We had begun our daily lessons and were happily buzzing through math problems or spelling or science when the phone rang.

I thought, "Everybody who knows me knows that I'm homeschooling right now. So I will let the call go to the answering machine. Wait - everybody who knows me knows that I'm homeschooling right now, so I probably should answer because this must be something I need to handle now."

It was a friend from church, Dianne. She said, "I know you're homeschooling, but you need to turn on the television. There's been an accident at the World Trade Center."

I walked out of the homeschool room into the family room and turned on the television. My children followed me - I'm sure they were wondering why Mom was turning on the television during homeschool time. Just as the picture came into the focus, the second plane hit the second tower. I told Dianne what I had seen, and she said, "No, you're probably watching a replay of the first one." I said, "No, Dianne, both towers have been hit."

I don't remember hanging up the phone, but I do remember falling onto my knees and weeping loud anguished, deeply guttural wails. My children wrapped themselves around me and asked what was wrong.

Oh, crap. My kids. I have to pull it together for my kids.

I told them that there had been a plane accident and we needed to pray for the people involved. I didn't tell them that it was intentional. I didn't tell them that it was less than two hours from where we lived. I didn't tell them that I was terrified. I didn't tell them that I was worried about where their father was. I mean, I knew that he worked in Stamford, only 25 minutes from our home. I knew that there was no reason for him to have been in NYC, but I still needed to hear his voice. I needed to know he was okay. I called his cell phone. He was right where he was supposed to be - at the office in Stamford. He and his office mates were watching the horror unfold on a television in one of the conference rooms there.

I hung up from talking to him. I wiped my eyes. I blew my nose. And I got back to homeschooling the kids - with sorrow welling up, with tears brimming over, with a heart shattered with grief and fear and worry, and with my soul still on its knees, pleading for mercy and strength and restraint and rescue.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

A couple hours later, I took the kids for a walk in our quiet neighborhood. For most of our walk, I didn't see anyone. When I did see someone standing outside of the clubhouse of a nearby golf course, I commented on the beauty of the day. And then I said, "It's hard to believe what's happening in NY and Washington on this gorgeous day." We both nodded somberly. The kids and I walked on.

It was six months later, in March of 2002, when I took Kristiana down to Brooklyn to see my Mom. As we drove along the East River towards the Brooklyn Bridge, I pointed out the gaping hole in the skyline and asked her, "Do you remember that day when I told you there had been an airplane accident in New York?" Of course she remembered. I told her that the buildings that had been destroyed had been right there. And it wasn't an accident. That people crashed those planes on purpose. She stared silently at the sky. We both did.

It's hard to come up with a list of things to be thankful for from that day. Anything I write will seem trite, trivial, dismissive, insulting in the face of all the people that were lost, the buildings that collapsed, the sorrow that befell this nation that day. Not to mention all the war and death and torture and mistrust and hatred that have followed from that day's events.

But if we give up on hope, joy, love, and gratitude, then fear wins. And we know that fear can't win. We know that love wins. Hope wins. Laughter wins. Joy wins. Gratitude wins.

I am grateful that I was homeschooling that day and that I didn't have to go get my children from school. I am grateful that homeschooling allowed me to delay talking to my children about terrorism and what 9/11 meant for months.

I am grateful that my brother, the one closest to me in age, who was on his way to work in lower Manhattan that day, missed his New Jersey Transit train. His designated train station was below the World Trade Center.

I am grateful that my oldest brother no longer worked at the World Trade Center. Several years before, he worked on one of the highest levels in one of the towers. Above the 90th floor.

I am grateful for every person who missed a train or bus, who couldn't catch a taxi, who somehow didn't make it to work in the two towers that morning.

I am grateful for all the people who were able to get down and out of the buildings before the collapse.

I am grateful for the bravery of those who rushed in to help others, for the fireman and policemen and civilians who were on their way up the stairs while so many others ran down.

I am grateful for the courage of the passengers and crew on Flight 93 who took their hijacked plane down into the fields of Pennsylvania, preventing a different, more destructive crash.

I am grateful for the ways in which people who were not directly affected by those events stepped into the lives of those who were and provided love and support and a safe place to grieve.

I'm grateful for the people whose lives were directly affected and how they reached out to others even in their own grief.

I am grateful that the names of those killed that day are still read aloud every year.

I am grateful that there are people who will not let us forget.

I am grateful for the open eyes and hearts that those tragic moments have created - open to the world, open to the way this nation is seen by the world, open to learn about the ways that our way of life affect people in other places, open to the idea of reaching across cultural, national, religious, and person lines in order to understand where and how such anger and hatred can fester internally and then explode - and open to the need for peace, for trust, for forgiveness, and for asking to be forgiven.

I pray that the names of the many thousands, some estimate that there are hundreds of thousands, of people who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since that day will be read aloud as well. And those who have died in Ukraine, in Israel, in Gaza, in Syria, in Liberia, in Congo, in Spain, in Italy, in India, in Pakistan, in Libya, in France, on the streets of this nation - and all over the world. We can all name people lost to car or airplane or bus or train crashes, to addiction, to illness, to violence, to starvation, to suicide, to old age, to dementia, to racism, to anti-Semitism, to more causes than I can name here. Death happens. Death is coming for all of us.

May we all be remembered with love. With prayers. With smiles. With tears.

Thirteen years ago today, life in these United States of America and in much of the world, changed suddenly and permanently. The cause for that change was tragic. The way forward doesn't have to be. As Alice Walker wrote, "The way forward is with a broken heart." Brokenhearted though we may be, let us move forward.

The question I keep asking is - how now shall we live? How will we live out the days that remain? I don't know about you, but I plan to live a life marked by faith, by hope, by joy, by love, and by gratitude.


PS. What she said... Patti Digh, you inspire me, challenge me, and make me think hard. Big time.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Coming up on ten years of blogging about my life's journey

Yup, you read that right. I've been doing this for nearly ten years. Telling stories. Sharing photos. Asking questions. Trying to live into the answers.

I just spent a little over an hour looking at the archives of the ten Octobers (I began this blog on October 1, 2004) in which I've been blogging and chose a post from each of those months to link to here. A "favorites list" of sorts. A list of pieces that were relevant at the time but also that were pointing the way to this moment, this hour, this life I live in September of 2014.

October 2013 - Coming to the finish line - does "the finish line" even exist? Will I know when I've crossed it? Do I want to know? Do I even want a finish line to exist? I may be done with breast kanswer treatment, but breast kanswer is not done with teaching me lessons and giving me answers to some of my deepest questions. Hence my decision to spell it this way - kanswer.

October 2012 - Everybody's got something -  I had no idea of the HUGE something I was going to encounter less than three weeks after writing that piece and how my life would be altered in theretofore unimaginable ways. I was about to embark on my own "worst of times." And now, looking back, I recognize that it was also one of my "best of times."

October 2011 - Looking back ten years - I am continually humbled and awed and overwhelmed with gratitude for this wonder-filled life I've lived. Ten years before I wrote that piece, I had taken my first trip to Italy. I have been enormously blessed with a lifetime of adventures, flights, bus rides, train trips, road trips to beauty-filled, mysterious, faith-expanding places. My gratitude for these many journeys and the ways in which each one has shaped me into the woman I am now is boundless.

October 2010 - What I need, what I feel, what I want - most of the questions and longings and hunger and thirst that I describe in that piece still exist within me. This past Saturday, I sat with some friends from church and as Pen prayed, he used the phrase, "a hunger we cannot name." I pulled out my notebook and wrote that down - during prayer. That unnamed and unnameable hunger gnaws at my soul every day.

October 2009 - Wanting it both ways and getting it - I want to give and receive. I want to love and be loved. I want to leave and I want to stay. Sometimes I can have both, and sometimes I cannot. The goal is to practice gratitude no matter what.

October 2008 - I wish you... I love the photos in that piece, images of us celebrating our life together... not knowing about the huge challenge just ahead. Each of us has gone through moments in life that have served as markers on our life calendars - before and after this moment. Our own BC (before crisis) and AD (after deliverance). I would like to add a new dating category, IC - In Crisis. On November 15, 2008, we had one of those moments in our family, one of those IC moments that defined who we are as a foursome. This piece reminds me to celebrate life right now, this moment, no matter what category I find myself in. Isn't there always a challenge ahead - and many reasons to be thankful right now???

October 2007 - The now and the not yet... As I reread that post, I realize now that it was a piece of prophetic writing. Storms were raging in the world then. Storms continue to rage. Fears rise and fall. As do illness, the economy, flood waters in India, deaths by gunshot, acts of war, and incidents of domestic abuse. Just to name a few. I continue to turn to God in prayer and ask, "Don't you care that we are drowning? That the world is falling apart?" The answer I hear most often is this: "Do you care, Gail, that so many people in the world are drowning and hurting and hungry and lonely and afraid? If you care, what are you gonna do about it?"

October 2006 - She fell off her high horse - and into my heart. My sweet daughter fell off her horse at her horseback riding lesson. Broke my heart. And that minor crisis deepened my preparation for the major fall that she would take two years and one month later.

October 2005 - But will it make a difference? Absolutely. It will and it does. Every hug, every note, every kind word, every home-cooked meal, every moment of full attention given to another person, every shared sorrow, every smile, every tender and loving gesture makes a difference. Always has and always will.

October 2004 - The day it all began - I had no idea this blogging adventure would last this long. I have no idea how much longer it will last, but I will keep on writing and sharing my stories for as long as I am able.


One thing I know for sure is that I am enormously glad that I have kept this online record of my life. I am grateful for the ways in which this blog has caused me to live my life more attentively and intentionally.

I am grateful for the many truly wonderful people I have met through blogging and for the ways in which my rantings and raving here continue to connect me with remarkable men and women. I found out this morning that a woman who googled the name of a deceased mutual friend found my blog, reached out to me, and became a sweet email-virtual-kindred spirit died in February. Even though she and I never met in person, our relationship with our mutual friend bonded us in unexpected ways. I will miss that woman that I never met, and I will be ever grateful that she found me and that we shared a few months of funny, insightful, gossipy reminiscences of our scoundrel of a mutual friend. May God give rest to both of their souls.

I am also grateful that I have kept a journal since 1985 or so. Hundreds of volumes of my life story. Thousands of pages of stories of my foolishness, God's goodness, the love of friends, adventures overseas, road trips, love, loss, death, birth, weddings, funerals, hopes, dreams, sorrow, joy, peace, faith, friends, books I've read, movies I've seen, food I've eaten, mistakes I've made, questions I've asked, advice I given and received, and every other doggone thing that has crossed my mind, shaped my soul, and infiltrated my heart.

I have wept abundantly.
I have laughed abundantly.
I have loved abundantly.
I have lived abundantly.
Here at home. At church.
With friends and family and strangers and The One Who Loves Me Most.
In the hospital. In doctor's offices. In chemo treatment rooms. In "behavioral health" units.
In New York City. San Francisco. Wernersville. Amherst. Atlanta. Greenville.
In Charlotte. Durham. New Canaan. Newtown. Norwalk. Watertown. Stamford.
In Rome. Firenze. Orvieto. Siena. Milan.
In Madrid. Sevilla. San Sebastian. Valladolid. Barcelona.
Is there any appropriate response to all of this other than gratefulness?
I think not.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Why I haven't blogged in a week

I think about blogging every day. Every day. Here's a small taste of what goes through my mind when I'm thinking about blogging - "What should I write? Will I sound crazy? Am I too happy and too thankful? With all the terrible things happening in the world - in Ferguson, MO, in the Middle East, the earthquake in CA, sexual trafficking, abuse, more and more and more people being diagnosed with kanswer - how can I write happy, thankful, simplistic, God-focused pieces on this silly little blog? Who cares? I care. Some people care. There are people who read it. But they must be getting bored with my ramblings..." You know, stupid things.

But then Thursday rolls around and I feel compelled to write what I'm thankful for again. This is the easiest blog for me to write. I spend much of my life with my mouth hanging open - physically and mentally. I am amazed by the wonder and beauty of the world we live in. I am awed by the generosity and kindness of people. I am silenced by trees and dogs and babies and rainclouds. I get goosebumps when I hear people's stories and ponder all the miracles and co-incidents that bring people together at just the right time for a conversation, a hug, a connection, deep laughter, and soul-cleansing tears. Sometimes the miracles of life, the joys of life, the experiences of my life are so moving, so deep, so intense that I have to take a few days, a few weeks to process them before I can write or talk about them in a public setting.

Today's post on thankfulness will consist of a list of things that happened to me, things I saw, and things I felt this past week.

* Today, I had to drive my son to community college because his car was in the repair shop. I sat in the dining area in the building and wrote this blog while listening to and watching the students mill about, hugging one another and eating and surfing the internet and studying. Young women in hijabs. Young men with ear gauges - stretching out their earlobes. Study flashcards. Backpacks. Highlighters. No 2 pencils. Oh, the energy of college campuses. Oh, the power of being educated. Oh, the beauty of young people socializing across racial, gender, and ethnic lines.

Then I dropped him off so he could pick up his car and I headed off to my favorite volunteer activity, giving food away to people who need it - Loaves and Fishes. An elderly gentleman, family of one. Another family of one, but he came with a female companion. A woman who represented a family of six - she chose a lot of cans of veggies, fruit, and a lot of macaroni and cheese. Her sweet baby boy pulled at the hem of my skirt every time I got close enough for him to reach it. A family of five. Yogurt, rice, chicken, turkey, cheese, pork, dry milk, cereal - food to feed the hungry. I want to hug them all. I want to hear their stories. I confess that I often let them take a few more items than they are eligible for - may I be forgiven for my excessive generosity. Once I was done with serving the clients, I spent half an hour breaking down five pound bags of rice into one and two pound bags. Scooping it into small zip loc bags. I smiled often as I thought about the many meals that will be made from those bags of rice. I am grateful to the many supermarkets and businesses that donate food for our friends.

* Yesterday, I went to Wednesday Worship at our church, a noon time service of quiet worship, prayer, singing, and a devotional, given by a new pastor who is becoming a dear friend. After church, I went to lunch with another woman from the church - where we talked about art and Charlotte and where my parents grew up, my interracial mariage, racism and prejudice and why I think white people need to talk to other white people about racism and not ask black people to explain it all to them.

When she returned to work at one of the big banks here in town, I went to the library where I watched a documentary called "Food Matters - You are what you eat," on my ipad and had my mind and heart challenged about the food I eat and the effect it has on my body. I spent much of the afternoon and evening pondering what I learned. Is it possible to eat my way to excellent health? What would I feel like if I ate a diet that was 80% raw, vegan and organic? At 4:30, I returned to the church to discuss an upcoming event with my pastor friend, Erika, and then drove her to get her new car. The salesman who worked with her told us some amazing stories about what he does when he's not selling cars. What a guy. What a story. What a day.

I am grateful to have the free time and the resources to go to church in the middle of the day in the middle of the week, to eat a beautiful salad at an outdoor table in the center of our fair city, to sit for hours at the public library - that amazing place where they give out books and videos and resources FOR FREE, and that I get to be closely involved with both members and pastors of our church. I am grateful for the technology of ipads and WiFi connections and headphones.

* On Tuesday, yet another friend and I drove up to Asheville to see my daughter, to take her a few goodies and also to take her out to lunch. Fortunately, Kristiana is thriving at school and making friends and doing her school work and going on adventurous walks and spending time in tea shops doing observations (two or three hours of people watching while sipping tea sounds like quite the awesome homework assignment) for her sociology classes. After meandering conversations in the car, excellent food at my new favorite restaurant, many hugs and much laughter later, we found our way back to Charlotte where she went to comfort a bereaved friend during which time I bought new undies at Marshalls, and then we reconnected for a delicious dinner at one of her favorite restaurants. I came home from dinner and watched some US Open tennis with my husband and then stumbled upstairs to bed. The last thing I wrote in my journal that night was, "What should I write about, Lord?" See? I'm always thinking about this blog, even when I'm not actually writing anything.

Have you ever seriously pondered the wonder of highway travel? The mountains, hills, and valleys flattened, the trees cut down, the property acquired so that roads can be laid. The ramps and exits and bridges and drainage, the lanes, the lane markings, the shoulders, the guard rails, the reflectors, the overpasses - the thousands of people who create all those things, manufacturing beams and paint and tar and asphalt, those who operate the machinery, and those who inspect it all to make sure it won't collapse unexpectedly. The measuring and remeasuring - because if the beams don't meet properly and the curves are not at the right angles and grades, then disaster is imminent. The upkeep and repairs are endless, it seems. Then there are the cars and trucks, the drivers and GPS systems, the CB radios, the state troopers, the tacit agreement that (for the most part) we will follow some agreed-upon rules of the road in order to not kill ourselves or others. Fortunately we have access to the tow truck drivers, the ambulance drivers and helicopters that are available when traffic rules aren't followed. Who designs and creates and manufactures and purchases and maintains and drives and improves all those rescue vehicles and the tools they employ? Who cleans up the deer and raccoons and squirrels and other critters that are killed on our roads every day? What happens to the people whose homes and property are bought and sold in order for the roads to be made? Who decides what roads need to be created and where they should begin and end? Why have I been so enormously blessed as to never run out of gas or have an accident or a flat tire while on the highway? How can I NOT be grateful for the blessing of safety on all of my journeys?

* On Monday, I made a huge green juice and ate a large salad and cleaned a little and listened to music a little and otherwise enjoyed my final day alone - Steve and Daniel were making their way home from Alabama where Daniel had participated in a tennis tournament. I read and journaled and walked my dog and watched a marathon of silly shows on television. I began this year's "Learn Something New Every Day" class with Shimelle Laine. She is a gifted teacher and guide in the world of journaling and creativity. And she is extremely generous - you sign up once and every year you get to participate in the same class again. I take this September class with her - this is probably the fifth or sixth year I've done it - and I also take her Journal Your Christmas class and have done that one for seven or eight years.

Here are a few quotes/notes I wrote in my journal that day from my current read, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen by Mark Nepo. (They are not necessarily direct quotes, but they are my response to what I read.)

- The soul's calling helps us discover our life's work. The calling of the soul is a continual call to aliveness.

- The aim of spiritual practice, whatever its form, is to untangle the nets that life snares us in.

- Life is a never-ending weave of becoming tangled and working to get untangled. I must accept the weave of tangle.

- We need to put what we've been through into the small fires between us to keep us warm for yours. (I love this image so much - that what we have endured, what has scarred us and scared us, can serve as kindling for the fires between us and keep us warm and connected and on the road to healing and wholness.)

- When someone we know and love has "fallen through the ice" in their lives and are in the frigid waters of life's challenges, we can listen to them and stay close to them. We can offer ourselves, our presence as blankets to keep them warm. We do not need to offer a rescue but we can stay close until the way out presents itself to them.

- If we want to be held, we have to behold. When present enough to behold the Universe, we will be held by the mystery.

- Direct quote - "I know I'm being held by the nature of things when I feel this ache way inside. After kanswer, I began to realize that this deep ache is the tuning fork of my soul. It is how I know I'm close to what matters. This deep and nameless ache in the presence of beauty and suffering has been a steadfast teacher and friend... The breakings of heart are awe-filled events from which I don't recover but through which I am uncovered. When I am present to the breaking process, I am broken open. When I withhold my presence, I am just broken."

* On Sunday, I went to church for an old-fashioned hymn sing which was followed by the morning service. On the way home, I stopped and wandered through the mall, where I didn't buy anything, but I thoroughly enjoyed my stroll and the people watching. From there, I went to the shop where my favorite brand of clothing is sold... Eileen Fisher. I went straight to the sale rack - and found two pieces that I invited to join the other items in my closet. Both pieces graciously accepted my invitation. The thoughtful woman behind the counter added a $25 online coupon to the 25% discount that was added to the previously marked sale price. They were practically giving those things away - not really, but it's what I told myself in order to justify buying clothes I didn't need but wanted nonetheless. All the more...

* Here's what I tell myself in those moments - "You are 48 years old, Gail. Almost 49. You have always been a bargain shopper. You still buy clothes at Good Will and the Salvation Army store. Heck, you even sew some of your own clothes. You deserve new clothes every now and then, so it is okay to buy new garments that are appropriate for your age and station in life. Go for it." Not bad as far as justification goes, right?

* Last Saturday morning, I got up early to head off to volunteer at the Sandwich Kitchen where I worked with a team of ten or twelve people making hundreds of sandwiches for our homeless neighbors in town. Then I met up with a friend and her daughter - who is planning her wedding. Can somebody say "Cake Tasting"? On display in the shop were novelty cakes in all shapes and sizes, cake pops, and cupcakes of all types and colors. Good thing I've cut back on my sugar intake or I might have taken several of those treats home. Lunch with them overlooking a golf course. Laughter and stories and job descriptions and childhood perceptions. A delightful time was had by all - especially by me.

I came home and sewed an infinity scarf from a rich purple knit fabric. I had cut a skirt from the same fabric on Friday night and with the leftover fabric, I made the scarf. I had an unusually difficult time getting the fabric to lie flat on the cutting board and the results of my imprecision and impatience were evident when I attempted to sew the skirt together. Disastrously uneven edges on the sides and the bottom. I'm hoping I can convert the maxi skirt to a knee-length skirt and salvage the project. Considering the fact that I have made several skirts and scarves and dresses without any similar difficulties, I am not as upset as I could be.

Every time I make a garment while sitting comfortably at my dining/craft table, cooled with air conditioned, satiated with ice water, able to get up and stretch and take breaks and postpone completion for hours or days at a time, I am mindful of the thousands, the millions of people who create clothing in sweatshop conditions. I am mindful of how little they get paid and how much they are taken for granted or not even thought about when we wander through stores and malls and even tag sales. I am grateful for their hard work and sacrifice. I am grateful for the ability to buy clothing and fabric and thread and grateful for electricity and the internet and curiosity and everything else that has made my sewing hobby possible.

* Last Friday morning, I met my mother for breakfast at Panera - her treat, thanks, Mom. We talked and laughed and she flirted with the toddler at the next table. When I left, she was sitting at the table with a fresh cup of coffee creating a grocery list and planning out the rest of her day. I went and meandered around in a Good Will store, where I didn't buy anything but thoroughly enjoyed the few moments I spent there. Of course my mind wandered while I wandered - who brought these things to the store? Why did they let these things go? Are they downsizing and no longer want these items? Did they upsizing and can no longer fit into these items? Who has bought the things I've taken to Good Will? Who thought of this idea - selling used clothes and household goods on such a large scale? Who decided that this business would be focused on providing work for people who sometimes cannot find work in more "traditional" businesses? What am I doing here? I don't need anything - that's when I left. But notice - that line of thinking did not stop me from buying garments at the Eileen Fisher store two days later.

When I got home from that visit to Good Will, I spent an hour or so organizing and decluttering the garage. I filled the back seat of the car with things that we needed to pass along. It feels so good to reduce and recycle those things that are no longer useful to us. May those who find them be as blessed to have them as we were.

And that takes me back to last Thursday, when I wrote the last Thankful Thursday post.

Why didn't I blog all week? I was busy living. I was busy being awed by the gift of life, of friendship, of love. I was reading and journaling and talking on the phone and exercising and laughing and telling stories and scrolling through Pinterest photos and cooking and cleaning and driving and eating and praying and spending time with friends. I was obsessing about my hairline and my waistline and how much money I spend and how much our hardwood floors need to be refinished and our need for new gutters on the house and whether or not I would forget an appointment and hurt a friend's feelings or be charged a no-show fee by some money hungry doctor or dentist. I was texting with my daughter and talking to my son, laughing at my husband's antics and trying to figure out why our dog threw up in three different places in the house on the same day.

I was shaking my head and feeling outrage at the racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and gun violence that are wounding and dividing our country. Does a child really need to learn how to shoot an Uzi? How can we be shocked or surprised that the powerful recoil of such a weapon caused her to lose control of it? What were they all thinking? I pray for that young girl and her family and the family of the man who died - and I pray that they will never, ever, ever feel the need to pick up a gun again. Ever. I was praying for peace, for forgiveness, for provision, for safety for people I knew and for their children who were traveling, for discernment on various decisions I need to make, for those who are sick, for people in search of gainful employment, adding "and please bless all people everywhere" frequently.

I have lived a beauty-filled, wonder-filled, joy-filled, tear-filled week. I am grateful for this Thankful Thursday habit I have created and for the opportunity I give myself each week to look back and recall the many miracles and gifts that come my way.

Thank you for inspiring me to be aware of the majesty, the devastation, the joy, the despair, the need, the bounty, and the pageantry of life and for encouraging me to keep on sharing what I see and feel. Thanks be to God.


FYI - I am not involved in any affiliate programs for any of the courses or books or other items I post on my blog. I connect you to them because they matter to me.