Monday, January 26, 2015

I love women.

There, I said it. It's true. I love women.

I love women who laugh and women who cry.
I love women who call me on the phone and pour out their hearts, their triumphs, their sorrows, and their tears.
I love women who are willing to do that in person.
I love women who welcome my phone calls, my complaints, and my boasting.
I love women who send me notes and cards and bookmarks via snail mail.
I love women who bake me cookies and make me granola and treat me to lunch.
I love women who allow me to back them cookies and invite them out for coffee and dinner and lunch and breakfast too.
I love women who wear white socks while sitting out on their front porches.
I love women who reach out to my children and pray for them.
I love women who are trying to raise their black sons to be strong and confident men in a country that greets them with fear and disrespect.
I love women who are raising strong daughters in a world that tries desperately to deprive them of their voices, their strength and their dignity.
I love women who are preachers and teachers and leaders in their communities.
I love women who face, fight, and overcome kanswer, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and arthritis.
I love women who don't have children and don't want children.
I love women who refuse to fit in, to conform, to be predictable.
I love women who speak the truth, even when it scares themselves and others.
I love women who are applying to grad school, to seminary, to college, to new jobs.
I love women who homeschool and women who have stopped homeschooling.
I love women who run, walk, swim, do yoga, and bike.
I love women who refuse to exercise at all.
I love women who live in houses, in apartments, in cities, and in small towns.
I love women who are transitioning from homelessness to homes of their own
I love women who decided that enough was enough and they said, "no more."
I love women who decided that enough was enough and they said, "yes."
I love women who love men.
I love women who love women.
Most of the women I love love both men and women - and I love that.
I love women in Spain, in India, in England, in Nicaragua, in Haiti, in Ecuador, in Australia, in South Africa, and all over these United States.
I love women.

Women are amazing, beautiful, strong, determined, creative, generous, loving, wise, resilient, long-suffering, kind, gracious, forgiving - except when we're not...


One of the women I have loved for a very long time died last Friday morning.
She had overcome kanswer. She had overcome pneumonia. She had overcome widowhood.
She was truly an overcomer.
But now she is gone from our sight, gone from our arms, gone on ahead to check out our next stop on the journey.
Until I see her and can love her in person again, I will love her daughter.
Te echaré mucho de menos, Marta.
Gracias por ser una mujer de mucho amor, de mucho gozo, y de mucha fé.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

We Will Be Landing Shortly #SpeakeasyBookReview

This is what Mike Hamel chose to put on the back cover of his book entitled, We Will Be Landing Shortly. The quote is superimposed over the photograph of an airplane window.

I've tried to learn from life events beyond my control, including cancer (his spelling, not mine) and the death of a spouse. I've thought deeply and written candidly about their physical, emotional and spiritual impact. While I'm unique, I'm not special. Our experiences may be different but we're on the same flight from the past to the future and we can encourage one another on the way. 

This book caught my eye in a Speakeasy email back in November or October because of his reference to his wife's death to kanswer. Kanswer sucks. When it claims a life, when it deprives a family of someone beloved, one of the ways in which that person can be honored is through the telling of her or his story. I thought the entire book would be the telling of her story, but I was mistaken in that assumption. I'm enormously grateful that this book is more than the story of her illness and her death.

This book is Mike Hamel's story - and not only the story of losing his wife, but also the story of finding himself adrift in a sea of questions and emotions, of doubts and ambiguities, and how he is making his way along the journey. Some people write reflective books like this with the tantalizing promise of explaining how they found their way back home to a strong and unshakeable faith. Some write about the Bible verses that inspired them along the way and the sermons that answered their questions. Some write only about the joy of the Lord being their strength, refusing to be truthful about their anger.

Mercifully, this book is not like that. This book speaks of the ravages of time on the body and the ravages of false assurances of easy answers on the mind and spirit. This book challenges the believer and the doubter. This book unearths gems like these -

Early in the book, Mike explains that he made the decision to no longer be a teaching pastor in a church and dedicated his life and time to writing. Once I no longer felt responsible for leading others, I delved more deeply into what I thought I knew about God. When I started pulling on some loose threads, parts of my theology began to unravel. Through the holes I saw some troubling discrepancies between the goodness of God and a suffering world. I prayed for help but the heavens went silent. My spiritual life cooled. My relationships with God and his people changed. (p. 6)

I believe theology reveals more about its authors than its subject. I believe asking questions is not a sin, even if we sometimes come up with the wrong answers. (p.18)

Just as there's something in us that recoils from suffering, there's also something that resonates with pleasure. I don't mean the excesses of hedonism, but the small sips of life's ambrosia: a child's laugh, beautiful music, the touch of warm skin, variegated sunsets, a good night's sleep, ocean waves, fresh fruits and the ten thousand taste buds to enjoy them. (p.36)

As my faith has wavered under close scrutiny I've come to lean more heavily on hope to keep doubt from debilitating me completely. I'm not alone in this regard. Many have questioned or abandoned the faith of their youth but are reluctant to lose hope. Faith is the light and hope is the heat in a relationship with God. I see the two intermingled as in a flame. Flames cast shadows, an apt metaphor for doubt. Not everyone is troubled by the shadows, but I am. (p. 179)

Rare is the pastor, rare is the follower of Christ willing to admit to a cooled spiritual life and changed relationships with God and God's people because of the silence of heaven. Rare is the book that lays out such confessions, questions, pondering, and wondering and leaves so many of them unresolved. Rare is the author who speaks angrily of death and dying and then tenderly about fresh fruit and life's pleasures. Rare are the books that speak so candidly about doubt, loss, death, fear, atheists, agnostics, evangelicals, Catholics, widows, pastors, heaven, hell, the Bible, prayer, homeopathy, and the placebo effect - and manage to hang together coherently. This book is rare and precious for all those reasons.

Warning: do not read this book if you want easy answers to your big questions about suffering and God and evil and kanswer. Do not read this book if you want to be told what to think and believe. Do not read this book if you are safe and comfortable and have no questions or doubts about what, why or in whom you believe.

Then again, you should read this book even if you want easy answers, want to be told what to think, and are completely secure and satisfied with your faith journey. This book will raise some questions that are worthy of consideration and will prompt you to think and rethink, consider and reconsider your positions and stances. You should read this book if you have lost a loved one to kanswer and think you would find solace in reading someone else's experience of that same painful outcome. Read this book if you find yourself wondering about the practice of parsing Scripture to suit our own needs and agendas, a practice we tend to criticize in others but defend in ourselves. He calls it "weighing Scripture" - and he dedicated a chapter of that same name to this prickly topic. Read this book if ambivalence and ambiguity about the things of God have found their way into your deepest and darkest moments.

I certainly don't agree with everything he says in this book. For example, he shares the story of obtaining medical insurance even after being diagnosed with kanswer. (Yes, he has had kanswer as well - more than once.) He wonders if being able to get insurance was a miracle or merely the result of having a fortuitous connection with someone who walked him through the application process. At the end of that chapter, the author writes this: "Daily miracles" is, after all, a contradiction in terms. Well, anybody who reads this blog or knows me personally knows that I completely disagree with that statement.

He also wrote: We have vast networks of highly specialized pain cells but no nerve cells dedicated to pleasure, which appears to be a product of neurochemical processes alone. (p. 36) What about the nerve cells of a woman's clitoris? Perhaps I misunderstood him here. Perhaps I don't know enough about neurochemical processes - but I questioned and commented on that statement in the margin of that page.

There are a few other places in the book where I underlined passages or drew boxes around them and wrote, "No!" "I disagree." "Not true." Even then, I was deeply and attentively engaged with the writing. This book encouraged me to stay strong and maintain hope on my faith journey. It offered me reasons to be more grateful in and for my life. It increased my desire to write more candidly about my own uncertainties and my yearnings, my pain and my losses. I highly recommend this book.

Indeed, we will be landing shortly - landing on the other end of the journey we call life. I thoroughly enjoyed the questions and challenges, the insights and exploration this book provided regarding the remainder of the flight. Traveling mercies to Mike Hamel and to all of us.

**********
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review, and the review and opinions offered here are my own. I do not receive any compensation for writing this review or posting a link to purchase the book. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

Monday, January 19, 2015

On this day...

My husband and I went to see the movie Selma today. We sat in a crowded theater surrounded by white people and black people and Indian people watching that movie about voting rights and freedom and racism and anger and fear and courage and justice and determination. When we left the theater we both used the restrooms then walked across the plaza to a pizza restaurant where we ate and drank and talked about the film we had just seen.

Together.
In a movie theater.
In a restaurant.
In Charlotte, North Carolina.
Fifty years after those brave people put their lives on the line that separated black people from white, angry people from peaceful people,
fearful people from other fearful people - because they all had to have been terrified.
But there they were.
And now here we are.

They were granted the right to sit anywhere they wanted on buses and trains.
They were granted the right to eat at public lunch counters and other eateries.
They were granted the right to stay in hotels and motels along our nation's roads.
They were granted the right to attend desegregated public schools.
They were granted the right to vote.

Sadly, the right to vote, the right to easy access to voting is being overturned in many southern states. Schools are increasingly separate and unequal yet again.
Our prisons are populated disproportionately by men and women of color even when their crimes are the same as their white counterparts.

Violence trumps peace on nearly every side.
Greed trumps generosity.
Fear trumps trust and courage.
Apathy trumps involvement.

And today I ask myself: what am I going to do?
What am I willing to do? To not do?
What am I wiling to say? To not say?
For whom will I speak? To whom?
What price am I willing to pay for my own freedom and for the freedom of others?

Today we saw a movie that I think everyone should see. Everyone. North and South, East and West.
Today we were reminded of why the third Monday in January is a national holiday.
We were reminded of why Dr King earned the Nobel Peace Prize and also the ear of so many people; some loved him and others loathed him, but they all heard him.
Today I was challenged to continue that march, because of Dr King's own words, written in a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama: "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Thank you, Dr King. Thank you, Coretta King.
Thank you to all the marchers and supporters and volunteers and prophets.
Thank you to the ministers, priests, nuns, rabbis, mothers, fathers, children who stood and fell, who lived and died for the sake of righteousness, justice, and peace.
Thank you to the brave women and men who continue to fight that good fight,
to speak for the oppressed, suppressed, depressed, and dispossessed.
Thank you to my parents for surviving the brutality so present in North Carolina and South Carolina where you grew up so that you could meet each other in Brooklyn, New York, get married and give me and my three brothers an easier life than the one you endured.
Thank you to The Lovings whose love for one another forced the Supreme Court to strike down the laws that prevented interracial marriage so that my husband and I could go to the movies today.
Together.
In Charlotte, North Carolina.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Daily Bread

I woke up this morning with an odd image on my mind; I assume it came to me in one of my dreams. It is the face of a child, a boy, holding and staring at a large lollipop. He is clearly pleased with his possession, but there is something else happening as well. His gaze is both on the lollipop and beyond it. He is deciding whether to eat the sweet treat now or save it for some other time. If he eats it now, then the next few minutes will be the happiest and sweetest of the day. If he saves it for later, then he will have something to look forward to. If he eats it now, then what will he eat later? If he saves it for later, then what will he eat now?

I think it odd that the face in my dream is that of a little boy because I often struggle with that lollipop dilemma. I will buy a dark chocolate bar with almonds (one of my favorite sweet treats) and save it for weeks before beginning to eat it, small square by small square. I will buy a box of mints at the cash register at Trader Joe's and not eat it for months. I will buy clothing and not wear it for unreasonably long stretches of time. Pens and journals are safely held in my study closet stash far too long.

If I eat it now, if I use it now, if I enjoy it now,
then will there be enough later?

For a brief stretch of time a few years ago, I read about and began to plan a way to purchase and store enough food in my house to last us a year - just in case we lost our income or there was a shortage of food or an earthquake or ... Kind of like a doomsday prepper, but without the guns, ammunition, gas masks, and bomb shelter. I looked at websites and scrolled through impossibly long lists of how much and how many of each item we would need. I looked around my house for places to store the items. I tried to decide which kinds of grains and beans and condiments and hygiene products could last a year. I even thought about starting a vegetable garden in our backyard.  Yes, me - the chick who would rather be in a doctor's office drinking a radioactive drink awaiting a bone scan than digging in the dirt where I might touch a WORM or encounter a SNAKE!!!

Then I remembered: Give us this day our daily bread.
Then I remembered: Do not worry about tomorrow, what you will eat or drink or what you will wear.
Then I remembered: I could never keep a year's worth of food in my house, providing only for my family, if my neighbors were hungry, if my friends were hungry.

We started eating through the stash of canned beans and bags of rice and boxes of Quaker Oatmeal Squares that no one in my family knew I was creating. I brought some of my hidden chocolate bars into the kitchen so that my family could enjoy my hidden treasures - some of them, not all of them. I tore the tags off the unworn clothing and started wearing it - joyfully and gratefully.

But more than that, I laid my fearful heart open in my journal and in prayer. I asked for the courage to enjoy this life in this moment and not worry about the future. I have always been provided for. I asked for the willingness to share with others from the abundance that we have received. Others have shared so much with me. And even more have far deeper and more chronic needs than I have ever experienced. I asked for the ability to recognize when the inclination towards saving and planning leans over into hoarding and worrying. I asked to be able to give more away as my worry increased. I asked to regularly be reminded that --> All has always been well. All is well. All shall be well.

There may yet come a time when our cupboards are bare, our refrigerator is empty, and perhaps even our electricity is off. God knows and I know that billions of people on our planet live on far too little far too long. That may be in our future as well.

But on this cool Sunday morning, in this house, on this quiet street, I have been provided with my daily bread - and my daily tea, my daily green juice, my daily eggs, my daily cereal, my daily salad, and my daily clementines. My cup and my cupboard and my closest and my chocolate stash runneth over.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Mad Ones

Jack Kerouac wrote:

The only people for me are the mad ones,
the ones who are mad to live,
mad to talk,
mad to be saved,
desirous of everything at the same time,
the ones who never yawn or say a commonplae thing,
but burn, burn, burn,
like fabulous yellow roman candles
exploding like spiders across the stars.

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

I want to add to that list of the mad ones:

the ones who are mad to seek the truth
mad to speak the truth
mad to hear the truth

mad to tell their stories
mad to listen to the others' stories
mad to write their stories
mad to read their stories out loud

mad to ask questions
mad to live into the answers
mad to keep learning
mad to share wisdom

mad to see, notice, list and marvel at the ordinary
mad to see, notice, acknowledge and name the miraculous
mad enough to give thanks for both

mad to serve others
mad to pursue justice
mad to feed the hungry
mad to sit with the lonely
mad to weep with the sorrowful
mad to laugh with the joyful

mad to admit faults and failures
mad to not hide wounds and scars
mad to ask for help when help is needed

mad to stand up for those who have fallen
mad to help the fallen back to our feet
mad to offer help when help is requested

mad to seek deeper meaning in their lives
mad to journey with other seekers and pilgrims
mad enough to keep walking the path even when the destination is unknown

mad to share the road with others
mad to share the lessons learned along the way

mad to spend time with others
mad to enjoy separation and solitude


mad to wonder
mad to wander
mad to walk the camino, the journey with eyes, mind, and heart wide open
mad enough to believe that we will all find our way home


mad to sit for hours over coffee and talk
mad to nurse a mug of tea and talk on the telephone if face-to-face meetings aren't possible
mad to nurse themselves and others back to health and strength

mad to hope
mad to dream
mad to hope in, dream about, believe, and do what others think is impossible

mad to remember the past and all the dreams that have come true
mad to live in the present moment while nursing dreams for the future
mad enough to believe that all shall be well, present tragedies and sorrows notwithstanding

mad to move
mad to be moved
mad to rest
mad to be still

mad to pray
mad to meditate
mad to talk about, talk to, listen for, and live for God
mad to listen to, live alongside and love those who don't believe in God
mad enough to believe that Love will win in and over every heart

mad for peace
mad for joy
mad for contentment
mad for fullness of joy
mad for fullness of life
mad enough to live fully to the very last moment of the last day

Friday, January 09, 2015

Untitled

Why do we do this over and over?

Insult one another.
Belittle one another.
Humiliate one another.
Taunt one another.

Incite fear and loathing.
Incite anger.
Incite attacks.

Arm ourselves.
Justify ourselves.
Excuse ourselves.

Threaten one another.
Goad one another.
Torture one another.

Bomb one another's places of worship.
Shoot one another without provocation.
Blame one another for our own terrible and tragic choices.

Kill one another.
Kill one another's children.


Call me simple-hearted and heavy-hearted -
but these days of tragedy, of horror, of brutality still shock me.

I don't believe that violence ends violence.
I don't believe that guns make us safer.
I don't believe that anybody should insult anyone else's religion -
not even in the name of journalism or satire or sarcasm.
I don't believe that "freedom of speech" justifies racist or sexist or homophobic or any other kind of fear-inducing, hate-mongering speech.

I do believe in the power of Love to heal and restore brokenness.
I believe that listening to each other's stories and fears and hopes can also bring about healing.
I believe that walking alongside one another on our life journeys, talking, sharing, asking questions summons the Prince of Peace to walk with us and open our eyes and hearts to the message of Love that has been the common thread being woven through all of time.

I believe that saying, "All these things are signs that we are in the last days," is an excuse for not being angry and not doing something, anything, to foster peace and wholeness and healing and the building of the peaceable, beautiful community Jesus came to earth to establish.

I believe that all things will be made new as God promised in the Bible.
I believe that Aslan is on the move. In us and through us.
I believe that, in spite of all that is being blasted on the news today, change is coming.
Revolution, a revolution of love and hope, is already underway.
Perhaps in small ways, in tiny increments, behind closed doors.
I believe that there is much to be done, much that I can do to help bring about that newness God promised.
I believe and I will keep on believing.

What choice do I have?

***********

Lord, I am part of the tension and injustice in the world.
     Forgive our human selfishness, to which I contribute;
     heal the resentment between people, of which I am a part;
     and come into the world's conflicts, in which I share by being human.
Take my unworthiness and sorrow,
and use them in your great work
of healing and redeeming humanity.
(The Book of a Thousand Prayers, compiled by Angela Ashwin, page 199.)

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
(And may we learn to have mercy on one another.)

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Especially Thankful Thursday

I am thankful every Thursday whether or not I write a post here. In fact, I am thankful every day. I am thankful for every day, every hour, every moment that I am alive and active in the world.
But I am especially thankful on Thursdays.

I am thankful for the rising of the sun.
I am thankful for sunsets.
I am thankful for the beauty that begins and ends each day
- even when sunrise and sunset are hidden behind clouds and buildings.
I am thankful for every new day, for the mercies and compasion that accompany each one.
I am thankful for the ways in which days flow into weeks, then into months, and then years.
I am thankful for the decades that my life has included.
Today I am especially thankful for the gift of the days, weeks, and months that will comprise this new year - 2015.

I am thankful for the countless miracles and blessings that I experience every day.
I am thankful for a warm house, robes, and slippers on this frigid day.
I am thankful for food and water, for electricity and natural gas.
I am thankful for the safety and protection of my family.
I am thankful not only for our good health, but also for access to excellent medical care when we need it.
I am especially thankful for our warm house on this frigid day.

I am thankful for the gift of good friends.
I am thankful for their invitations to coffee, conversation, movies, and meals.
I am thankful for their emails, cards, texts, and gifts.
I am thankful for their challenges, wisdom, advice, and guidance.
I am especially thankful for how well they love me and support me even when I am not as attentive to them as they are to me.

I am thankful for the library. 
I am thankful for books and magazines and blogs. 
I am thankful for the ways in which men and women far wiser and more eloquent than I find ways to combine the 26 letters of the English language into words, phrases, poems, articles, and volumes that inspire, challenge, and entertain me. 
I am especially thankful today for Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Dark Nights of the Soul by Thomas Moore

I am thankful for humor and laughter.
I am thankful for curiosity and questions.
I am thankful for anger and cuss words.
I am thankful for forgiveness and grace.
I am thankful for sadness and sorrow and tears.
I am especially thankful for the ways in which my tears have sculpted and shaped me just as steady and slow-moving waters sculpt and shape caverns below the earth's surface and mountains above it.
(Speaking of humor, if you have two minutes to spare, click on this link and enjoy a good laugh. Make sure you watch all the way to the end.)

I am thankful for the body of Christ, broken for us more than 2,000 years ago.
I am thankful for the body of Christ, broken on a daily basis in churches and homes and other places on a daily basis.
I am thankful for the body of Christ, people who welcome other broken people into community.
I am thankful for the way that this thoughtful, prayerful woman describes her ordination and installation into a leadership role in her church.
I am especially thankful for the body of believers in and followers of Christ into which I have been invited to serve the body of Christ as an elder, the role into which I will be ordained this weekend, broken, wounded, scarred, afraid, awake, alert, hopefull, joyfull, and tearfull though I most certainly am.

Thankful, thankful, thankful, thankful.
Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

What are you especally thankful for today?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Twelve Grapes

There is a tradition in Spain on New Year's Eve that involves twelve grapes. At the stroke of midnight on one of their televised end of year celebration shows, there is a clock that strikes twelve times. When the chimes begin, the viewers begin to eat twelve grapes, one at a time. If you can eat all twelve grapes before the end of the 12 chimes, then you will have a great new year. Or good luck. Or something along those lines. All over Spain today, people are setting up little bowls with twelve grapes in each one, hoping to be able to eat the grapes and not choke on them. To eat the grapes and usher in a blessed new year. Or perhaps just to eat and enjoy the grapes while making plans for a fantastic new year.

For me tonight, the twelve grapes will represent twelve blessings from this year.
Twelve gifts that 2014 brought to me.
Twelve reasons to be grateful - one from each month.


January. We started the year with two big family changes. Kristiana went off to sleep away college up in the mountains of North Carolina. And we joined our church. Kristiana said that when she was away at college, she wanted to have a church home to come back to, a place where she knew she belonged and was welcome whenever she returned. There are many other reasons why we joined our church, but that was a huge one.

February. A month of adjustment to having one child at home. A month of getting together with strong women friends to talk and laugh and cry and tell stories. A month when I sat under the teaching of Roberta Bondi. A month of questions and answers and more questions. A month of growth and strength and health and peace.

March. As I looked back over my calendar for the month of March, I saw many medical appointments - the eye doctor with Kristiana, my chiropractor, an MRI for my son's wrist, a sports medicine specialist, a follow up with my oncologist, and the dentist. We are enormously blessed to have excellent medical insurance and coverage. We are blessed to have access to excellent doctors and nurses and various kinds of therapists. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to not have insurance or to not have adequate insurance. Every time I hand my medical card to someone, every time I am able to leave an appointment without a prescription or a date for a follow up appointment, every time my children receive excellent medical care and support, I am grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

April. The month of Easter. Blooming evidence of new life emerging from the soil and the trees and the bushes. Death and new life. Barrenness and fertility. Loneliness and fear. Darkness and tenebrae. Silence and sadness. Then resurrection. The most important day and moment in my faith, in the faith of millions, billions of people.

May. Kristiana came home from college for the summer. I felt like I started a new semester of schooling in how to love and honor people. In a powerful and challenging Sunday school class, we talked about dignity, grace, hospitality and our homeless neighbors in Charlotte. Our church collaborated with a predominantly African-American Presbyterian Church for a series of classes, meals, and conversations on community and power sharing and love in the family of faith and beyond. I hope we are able to deepen and continue those conversations between churches and between people. I am grateful to have begun a friendship with one of the women I met there. None of our conversations or beliefs or creeds matter if we don't engage in relationship, in transformative, honest, tear-soaked relationships.

June. Kristiana and I hit the road in June - for Massachusetts, where we met Jena and Mani. To Connecticut, where we reconnected with friends we have known for fifteen to twenty years. To New York, where we attended the wedding of one of my nieces. To New Jersey, where we spent the night with my sister-in-soul, a woman who used to be married to one of my brothers. And I still feel guilty for not going to see a friend I had arranged to visit. When I think of how she must have prepared to welcome us, to feed us, and for us to spend the night at her home, I shudder to think of my rudeness and thoughtlessness in not going and not calling. I can't even explain what happened, what I was thinking or not thinking at the time - I'm so sorry, Kathleen. More than you can possibly imagine.

July. The heat of July. A week on the beach. A visit to a museum where a photograph etched itself onto my brain and into my psyche. It was the photo of two reindeer skulls, discovered by a reindeer farmer up somewhere in the north tundra lands. The horns of these two female reindeer became entangled during a fierce battle. The reindeer died as a result of not being able to disengage. If they had offspring, those baby reindeer probably died as well for lack of milk. I have thought a lot about those reindeer and talked about them as well. What battles entangle me? What rights or territory or opinions or stances am I willing to die for? Which battles will I no longer enter because, in fact, they are not worth dying for?

August. This was the month that we began our final year of homeschooling. I'm not exactly sure how to measure the time we've been a homeschooling family. Does it count from the day Kristiana was born or the day we started "doing school" - if that's what you call our easy, simple, not-terribly-organized way of reading and writing and doing math and going to the zoo and counting that as science and going to Spain and counting that as geography and language and social studies? I have been homeschooling either twenty-one years and two months (the length of Kristiana's life) or eighteen years and four months (the length of time since I started trying to teach her to read). Either way, it's been a long, long, long time.

Anyway, this September was the start of our final year as The Silvermine Academy: Student to teacher ratio: 1:1. Enrollment: 1. As it turns out, it was the start of our final semester - my son is going to begin college in less than one week. He signed a letter of commitment to play tennis at Presbyterian College in November. Soon thereafter, the tennis coach asked him to consider joining the program a semester early. He considered it - and he said YES. So we will take him there this weekend. His classes, his official college career, will begin on MONDAY!!! That means I am finished with homeschooling. The Silvermine Academy will close its doors officially tonight at midnight when the ball drops and I start eating my twelve grapes.

I'm not sure the reality of that fact has sunk in yet. I'm not sure it will for a few weeks.
Steve and I will be empty nesters very, very soon.

September. I have always loved the church - going to church, singing at church, Sunday School, teaching, spending time with other people who are searching after God, being found by God, and finding each other on this journey of faith. This year more than any other I can recall, I felt welcome in the church, loved by pastors and members and visitors of members. I have received notes and cards and letters and phone calls, invitations to meals and coffee and people's homes and into people's lives as never before. I have been invited to participate, to speak my mind, to share who I am, what I believe, and what I am learning over and over. Better late than never. Thanks be to God.

October. My exercise and faith mentor, Andre Hairston, came to my house and filmed this video. Yet another chance to tell my story, to share with others the challenges of kanswer and the power of hope and joy even in the midst of life's greatest challenges. Kanswer sucks - always has and always will. But there's hope! Always hope.

November. This month I was reminded to be thankful for thankfulness, for the habit and attitude of gratitude that has sustained my joy for so many years. I am grateful for story and questions and anointing with oil and men and women who weep. I am grateful for the powerful voices speaking loudly against injustice, violence, fear, racism, and are working to challenge the systems of power, privilege and prejudice that this nation was founded on and continues to rely on. Much has been done and much is still necessary.

December. Another year. Another birthday. Another Christmas. Another celebration. Time in prayer, planning, and preparation for 2015. Packing. Donating. Writing. Reading. Wishing. Looking back. Giving thanks. Looking ahead. Getting ready. Putting grapes into a small bowl and eating them while tears and laughter and gratitude flow freely.

To God be the Glory!


There were so many other blessings this year -

The Miro exhibit I saw at the Nasher Museum in Durham, North Carolina.
The baby shower for a dear friend, and later the birth of her sweet baby boy, Dillon.
The book writing retreat at Sunset Beach.
The visit of Ben and Clare. And Joy. And Natalia. And Moneesha.
And Darryl and Noemi. And Glen and Paula.
Hearing Anthony preach.
Seeing a film about La Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona - and being able to say: I've been there, more than once.
Tea with Evette and Sangita and Cathy and Erika and Katherine and Katelyn and Gibbs and Selina and  Pam and Michelle and Krystal and Sheila and Heather and my mother and so many other truly joy-inspiring and love-sharing women.
Meeting women at a journaling workshop at the YWCA. Writing with them. Listening to their stories.


Okay - so I totally cheated. There are dozens of grapes here. Dozens of things and people and situations and lessons to be grateful for this year. When I eat my grapes at midnight tonight, I will remember dozens more.

In this case, however, I believe that cheating is just fine. Appropriate, even. If I could come up with only twelve reasons to be grateful on the final day of an entire year, then that is cheating. Cheating myself of the joy of looking at life through lenses of gratitude. It would be time to get my perspectacles cleaned, examined, or replaced. (Thanks, Glennon, for that wonderful perspective...) Cheating myself of the opportunity to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another.

May your mouth overflow with goodness, with sweetness, and with memories of good, sweet, tart, strong, sour, and juicy moments this night - and every night and every day as well.

Happy grape eating to you.
Happy new year too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Tis the season for Christmas carols, and one of my favorites is this one -
Come, thou Long-Expected Jesus. 

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art,
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit, rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

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

Dear Lord Jesus, please come to us on Christmas. Come to us on Christmas Eve. Come to us this very day. Perhaps I should ask you to help me come to you. You are always here, always present, it is I who turn away.

Bring peace to us. Bring healing to us. Bring reconciliation to us and through us into this sad and broken, pained and warring, beautiful and glorious people of yours.

From our fears and sins, our prejudices and anger, our violence and addictions,
our sadness and sorrows, our divisions and doubts, our brokenness and selfishness,
our depression and obsessions, our weakness and excuses, please release us.
Please help us to be willing to let them go.

You know me, Lord. You know that sometimes I would rather hold on to my attitudes and opinions, my convictions and predispositions than release them and allow for truth to prevail, for grace to abound, and for peace to reign.

Let us find our rest, our help, our joy, our peace, our strength, ourselves in thee.
Please help us want to find you and find ourselves and find forgiveness and
find grace to help us in our times of need.

You know me, Sweet Jesus. You know that I don't want to forgive those that I think have done wrong, but I want to be forgiven. You know that I don't want to extend grace to others, even though I want to receive grace. You know that I want to be right far more than I want to be loving. Please forgive me, help me, and transform me.

You are my strength and consolation.
You are my healer, my redeemer.
You are the hope of my life, my heart, my future.

You know me, Healing Savior. You know that without your strength, your presence, your comfort, I wouldn't be here. Kanswer and kanswer treatment would have consumed me. You know the attachments I form so easily, the ones that distract me and draw me away from you and those I live with and love. Please, Lord, be my hope, my love, my joy, and my heart.

You are the answer to my deepest desires and my deepest questions.
You are the center of my deepest joy, the reason for my highest praise,
and the source of all that is good and perfect in my life.

You know me so well, Gracious and Generous One. You provide me with everything I need and long for, often even before I realize I am in need. You give me reason to smile, to laugh, to write, to pray, to sing, to dance, and to encourage others. Your grace is all-sufficient. Your mercies are new every morning, every hour, every moment. Great, so very great is your faithfulness.

Lord, I need, I yearn, I long for you to deliver me from my worries,
to deliver me from my jealousy and pettiness,
to deliver me, deliver all of us from our habit of vengeance and violence,
to deliver us from our hopeless cycles of consumerism and guilt,
activism and apathy, criticism and shame.

You know me better than I know myself, Savior, Deliverer and Soon-Coming King. You know that, given enough idle time and aimless thinking, I heap impossible rules and expectations on myself, berate myself for not living the way he or she or they live (whoever he or she or they may be), convince myself that my dearest friends and beloved family members no longer love me, and then cry myself to sleep over my lack of worth.

I am tired of living this way. I am tired of suffering this way.
Reign in my heart, I beg. In my life. In my thoughts.
Because my thoughts sometimes trick me and my fears often tyrannize me.

Lord, I need your gracious kingdom,
your peaceable kingdom,
your reconciled kingdom,
your glorious kingdom,
your joyful, hopeful, love-filled kingdom.

Come, thou long expected Jesus. Not only on Christmas. Not only for a short while.
Oh come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.

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


I like this version of the song -  especially the bridge they added.
"You have come to us, O God; 
You have come to us to save;
You have come to us, Emmanuel;
You are worthy, worthy of praise."





And if you aren't sick of this song yet or tired of singing Joy to the World, 
this is a slow, thoughtful, soothing rendition of the two songs combined.



And this last one is short and so very sweet.
Jesus, oh what a wonderful child, indeed.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Alone with The Alone

I love my church, my brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian Church here in Charlotte. We are a flawed, broken, leaky, sad, funny, generous, loving group of folks trying to figure out who we are, what we believe, and how we can share the Good News of Jesus, of Love, life, redemption, joy, salvation, and peace in a world that desperately needs good news and people of good cheer to live faithfully and tell our stories honestly. This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to tell my story at our midday Wednesday Worship service. I spent several weeks thinking about which of my life stories I would tell. In the end, I decided to tell two stories and tie them together. I told the story from memory, but today I am writing it down.

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

I love to travel. I love to travel alone. Soon after I met the man who is now my husband, I told him exactly that - "I love to travel, and I love to travel alone. If that is going to be a problem, then this relationship is not going to work." We've been together almost 28 years, so I guess it's working well for us.

Back in 2001, I made plans to take my first solo trip to Italy. I was scheduled to leave during the first week of October that year. Then September 11th happened. Many of my family members and friends told me that I shouldn't go, that it was selfish of me to leave my family behind. That the world was dangerous. That terrorists were everywhere.

In a moment of deep wisdom, my husband said, "You should still go, Gail. If God is in control of your life here, if God's hand of protection is over your life here, then God will be in control of your life there and God will protect you there. When it's your time to go, it's your time to go. It won't matter where you are." Which was exactly what I wanted to hear.

But in order to get a second word of confirmation, I went to see a pastor friend of mine. I told him my dilemma, and he agreed with my husband. Yay! Then he asked to pray with me before I left. In his prayer, my friend asked God that I would "have an experience of being alone with The Alone." I had never heard that phrase before, but it stuck. I thought about it often over the days as I prepared for my journey.

On the day of my departure, as I made my way from our house in Connecticut down to JFK Airport in NYC, I saw the lower Manhattan skyline without the Twin Towers for the first time. The reality of that tragedy appeared before me in a deeper way, on a deeper level. I made it to the airport safely, got through security, and made my way to the gate where I made myself comfortable in the waiting area. There weren't many of us waiting to board that flight to Rome as many people had cancelled their travel plans, but those of us who were there eyed each other suspiciously, wondering who might be dangerous, and who could safely be ignored. We were collectively relieved when a group of twenty or twenty-five nuns joined us in the waiting area. Our tense shoulders relaxed. We breathed a collective sigh of relief because we knew that our flight had been "prayed up" and all would be well. All was well. We arrived in Rome without incident.

I spent a week wandering around on my own in Rome, then boarded a train to Florence, where I was planning to visit with a college classmate of mine who was (and still is) an art history professor there. Outside the train station in that spectacular city, I waited my turn for a taxi, then checked into my hotel, unpacked a little, and went back out to the front desk to ask for a recommendation for lunch. The concierge recommended a place called Mario's, pulled out a map, circled where we were and where the restaurant was located, and wished me buon appetito. I set off on yet another journey, alone with the Alone. I found the restaurant, elbowed my way through the crowd and gave my name to the host. A few minutes later, I was ushered into the crowded little place and seated at a table with three other people.

Oh no, I thought. I don't speak much Italian but now I'm sitting with three people I won't be able to communicate with. I began to look around at what the diners at other tables were eating. My plan was to point at someone else's plate and have whatever they were having. Just then, I heard someone say, "I don't read Italian so I'm not sure what I'm going to order." As it turned out, the host, in a moment of wisdom, had sat four English speakers together at the same table. One of the three of them was an Anglican priest on vacation from England. The other two were a married couple from California. Not only did they know a college professor of mine who had moved from Massachusetts to Santa Cruz, California, but also the wife had had lunch with my college friend just a couple of days before my arrival.

I sat there at the table at Mario's in Florence, Italy, tears in my eyes and a laugh in my throat. I was indeed experiencing time alone with the Alone, yes, but also connected to community. How many stories and journeys and connections all converged at that moment at that table?

Fast forward eleven years, and I embarked on another solo journey, but this one was not of my choosing. On Halloween of 2012, I went in for my annual mammogram. After the technician finished the scan and consulted with the radiologist, she walked me around the corner to the ultrasound room. After that technician finished her scan, she went to see the radiologist who then came into the room and asked, "Are you experiencing any symptoms?" I asked, "Symptoms of what?" He said, "Oh, okay. Nevermind." He did another ultrasound but before I sat up, the ultrasound technician came back into the room with a fist full of papers and told me she had arranged for me to have a biopsy two days later. She also gave me her cell phone number and told me I could call her anytime. Two days later, when the biopsy was finished, the nurse who had assisted the doctor walked me to the exit door, hugged me, and wished me good luck. Somehow, even after being given so many clues from those earnest and caring medical personnel, I still managed to spend the following four days convincing myself that I didn't have kanswer.

On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, I was told what I should have figured out already:
I had kanswer in my left breast and in one lymph node.

If you've ever had kanswer or know anyone who has, then you know that kanswer quickly becomes a full time job - scans and tests and blood tests and decisions and appointments and more scans and more tests. The best part of that difficult time for me was how immediately and completely I was enveloped by friends from church, my neighbors, my family members, folks on Facebook (and readers of this blog) and how thoroughly and profoundly I was loved. There was no doubt in my mind that I was connected to a community of faith and love and grace and support.

One of my dear friends sat with me for four of my six chemotherapy treatments. The other two treatments were attended by a pastor friend who lives three hours away and a fellow lover of travel who flew down here from Connecticut. Friends sent letters, cards, flowers, Edible Arrangements, and care packages. Meals were arranged, as was a trip to the beach early in the week of my surgery. The love that flowed my way sustained me.

At the same time, I knew that when decisions about treatment and surgery had to be made, I had to make them alone. When the chemotherapy infusion, that dreadful poison was administered, it flowed into my port, mine alone. When it was time to undergo heart scans and crawl into the bone scan machine, I was there alone.

The moment that stands out most is when I crawled into the MRI machine, that noisy, clanging, brightly lit tube where my body was scanned in search of kanswer clusters that had escaped my breast and lymph node. I lay there facedown with my arms stretched out above my head, praying, thinking, humming hymns to myself. I prayed that the machine wouldn't find more kanswer. I thanked God for medical insurance and doctors and nurses and technicians. I thought about the effect kanswer was having on my husband and children and how hard I was going to work to get that kanswer out of my body so that I could get back to being the wife and mother, friend and teacher, sister and daughter I had always been. Then I began to hum quietly to myself. Within a few minutes, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I hoped and prayed I hadn't been startled. I tried not to move or cough or cry; the last thing I wanted was to have to repeat that lengthy, loud scan. I also tried not to smile as I recognized that I had in fact fallen asleep in an MRI machine. I was reminded of the verse in Psalm 3 that says, "I lay down and sleep. I awake for the Lord sustains me." I lay there, once again experiencing what it is to be alone with The Alone. And I realized at that moment, as I realize at this moment, that there is no place I would rather be.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mother Mary

It's a crazy story. Another teenaged girl gets pregnant.
She gives an explanation that nobody believes.
She says she's still a virgin. It is a "God-thing, a Holy Spirit thing."

Her parents must have shaken their heads in sorrow, suspicion, despair, and doubt, whispering about her in the darkness after she fell asleep.
"How can she be so calm? How can she not be ashamed of her situation?"
"She said something about going to visit Elizabeth who is also pregnant. What is going on in the world? First it's Elizabeth who has been unable to conceive all these years. She gets pregnant. Now our daughter, who is so young, who is in the middle of preparing for her wedding, gets pregnant. If Mary wants to go spend time with Elizabeth, we should let her go. The gossip might die down a little while she's gone. Maybe Elizabeth will be able to talk some sense into her."
"She said it has something to do with the Holy Spirit. What does that even mean? Should we be worried?"
"Yes, we should be worried. Let's send her to see Elizabeth and while she's gone, we can come up with a plan on how to deal with whatever it is that she's going through."

I cannot imagine what I would do if my daughter told such a story. Actually, I know exactly what I would do - I would put her in the car and take her to the adolescent behavioral health ward at the local hospital. And I would pray for her healing and for a speedy restoration of her sanity.

Mary had to know that the entire situation was wacky, that her story sounded odd, even unbelieveable. She knew what it took to get pregnant and she knew she hadn't done the deed. When she received the message from the angel, when she got the news that she was going to have a baby, she asked, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

The angel explained it - "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God."

Who me? What? When? Why me? How will this be? How will I be?
What if this is all a hoax and none of it is true?
What if it's not a hoax and all of it is true?

Then she said some of the most daring, dangerous, inspiring words recorded in Scripture:
"Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
I am putting my life on the line here, in the Lord's hands. I'm not sure how this is going to turn out. I'm not sure what is going to happen to me or this baby - but here goes. Here I am, Lord, use me. Use my body as a vessel. Bring it on. Let's do this.

Nazareth. Bethlehem. No room in the Inn. A baby born in a stable. Laid in a manger. The smelly animals. The excited shepherds. Angels. Joseph. Mary watched and listened and held her baby close and pondered the magnitude and meaning of what had happened to her, through her, and to the world.



This week, I've been thinking a lot about what her final week of pregnancy must have been like. She must have been exhausted and excited, reluctant and ready, fearful and fearsome. As she felt that little one moving around inside her, what questions did she have? What did she think he would look like? Who would he resemble? What would this child be like? What would be it like to hold this miraculous child in her arms? Would anyone ever believe her story? I've got dozens of questions to ask dear, courageous, strong, trusting, thoughtful, faithful Mother Mary when I finally meet her. 

I've been thinking about the messy, dangerous, angry, broken world Jesus was born into. Occupied by the Romans. Ruled by a jealous king who ordered that all the boy babies under the age of two be slaughtered - he didn't want the Newborn King to grow up and claim his throne. The slaughter of the innocents continues in our world - in Cleveland, in Sandy Hook, in Pakistan, in Charlotte, in hospitals, in schools, in movie theaters, on airplanes, in shopping malls, in homes, on the street, all over this world and this nation. Murder. Abuse. Genocide. Disease. Violence.

We need a Peacemaker. We need a Miracle Worker. We need a Redeemer. We need a Savior. 
O come, o come, Emmanuel. Be God-with-us, I pray. Touch us. Heal us. Teach us. Guide us.

I am thankful that Mary said, "yes" to that angel all those years ago. I am banking my life, my present and my eternal future, on the life, death and resurrection of the Christ Child she bore. 


What a mess. What a mystery. But if this story is true, then it is also one of the greatest miracles in all of history.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Tonight I am thankful for -

* the fact that my daughter is home from college for a month
* her immediate leap into cooking
* the hour I spent laughing and talking about college and tennis and siblings and practical jokes and coaches and friendship with my two children and a friend of theirs this evening. That young man's mother and I share the same birthday, same day, same year.

* continued discussions about Ferguson and Staten Island and racism and privilege and fear and hope and forgiveness and prejudice and how to change the ways we interact with each other
* the ways in which we are being called to work for reconciliation, justice and peace
* the example being set by so many on what we can do to make a difference: march, protest, reach out and ask for conversation, raise money for those whose businesses have been destroyed by looting and fire, writing responses, creating videos, honestly and intelligently challenging each other to think more deeply about these difficult topics, refusing to turn away and pretend that injustice is non-existent, refusing to engage in meaningless, spiteful, inflammatory arguments

* the courage of Sadia and Justin who came to church yesterday and talked about moving from homelessness to housing and the ways in which their faith sustained them during the time they didn't have anyplace to call their own
* the list of things she said that we take for granted when we "have a key," when we have a place to live: being able to buy and cook food, a place to wash one's clothes, a place to invite friends and family, a place to shower and bathe
* the welcome they received, the warmth extended to them by the people in attendance
* the opportunity I had to talk to a group at church about reading Scripture more actively and writing our responses to it

* a new batch of journal refils that I ordered yesterday - more pages to fill with my rants and raves
* the chance to tutor a high school junior in Spanish. I didn't realize how much I missed teaching Spanish until this new gig began.

* seven hours of silence tomorrow to ponder the year that is coming to a close, to plan for the year that is soon to begin, and to pay close attention to all that is happening right now
* the completion of another year of life - between now and next Thursday, I will celebrate my 49th birthday
* the miracles and blessings, the challenges and disappointments that I have experienced in my life - every single one of them has molded me and prepared me for this place, this moment, this phase of my life journey
* this great quote I read recently: "Good thing I'm aging; otherwise I would be dead."

* an excellent appointment with my chiropractor today - he is such a beacon of hope and a font of encouragement in my pursuit of excellent health and balance
* that I could laugh when I said to him, "That kanswer was the best and worst way for me to learn how to take better care of myself, but I wish I could have learned all this another way."
* my recent bloodwork results were the best he's ever seen for me

* breakfast with my dear friend this morning - making the time to eat and tell stories and laugh and shake our heads at the outrageous behavior of people we know
* these quotes I received as a gift from that same dear friend:
- When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, 
my soul expands in worship of the Creator. (Mahatma Gandhi)
- Some gifts you hold in your hand... Some you hold in your heart. (Unknown)
- There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from. 
(Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)
- If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change. (Buddha)
- There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)
- I find that the more willing I am to be grateful for the small things in life, the bigger stuff just seems to show up... I am constantly looking forward to each day with all the surprises that keep coming my way. (Louise L. Hay)

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

My Christmas Wish List

Dear God,

I don't believe in Santa Claus, even though I sometimes treat you like you are Santa Claus. I come to you with long lists of people with needs and problems, tragedies around the world, and all my fears and failures - and I bring lists of and plans for solutions to all those problems. And I expect you to do as I ask in a timely and efficent manner. I expect you to take my list and check it twice, and then be super nice, saying "yes" to everything right away.

I am reminded of that scene in Bruce Almighty where Jim Carrey plays You. In one scene, he's reading through all the prayers that people are sending your way. Tens, hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of prayer requests flow past him on the cosmic computer monitor. In frustration, he says, "Yes," to all of them. And the entire world is plunged into chaos. Is that what would really happen if we all got our way and you agreed to and with everything we asked for? I bet it would.

So even though I know that I won't get the nod for all of these things, I'm gonna write and launch my list anyway. I have come to believe that even if prayer doesn't change any of the situations I pray for, it will definitely change me. Prayer reminds me that I am not in control of much. Prayer pushes me to think about people other than myself and situations other than my own. Prayer deepens my trust in Someone or Something far beyond myself - in You. Prayer changes the way I see the world, my world, my life and my story.

Lord, please help me to be and think and act more like you. Help me to love and forgive and laugh and trust. Help me to enjoy this life you've given me and not worry so much about what I mistakenly think I lack. Help me to notice and honor the people I live with, live near, and even those that I see only in passing. Help me to want to be more involved in the lives of others, especially those who suffer and ache and desperately need love and a listening ear and a shoulder on which to rest. Help me to be willing to risk my security and safety and comfort for the sake of those who have none. Please, please, please.

Look at me; I haven't even gotten to my official Christmas wish list and I'm already asking you to do so much for me.

So what do I wish for? Just a few simple things.
* I wish for an end to starvation, terrorism, poverty, homelessness, and war.
* I wish for an end to ebola, AIDS, kanswer, diabetes, and bipolar disorder.
* I wish for all children's hospitals to have to close down because there are no longer any sick children to care for.
* I wish for an end to violence, abuse, and the fears that often trigger them.
* I wish for an end to jealousy, comparisons, and greed.
* I wish for freedom, justice, and peace for all people everywhere.
* I wish for a deeper understanding and experience of the love that prompted your precious son to come to earth as a baby to live among oppressed, abused, mistreated people.
* I wish for a nation and a world in which oppressed, abused, mistreated people find rest and safety, healing and wholeness in you.
* I wish for all eyes and ears and hearts to be open to the hope that you offer to the world.
* I wish for a week when chocolate, coffee, soda, and licorice will neither do harm to my internal organs nor leave pimples on my face. I need just one week of a full-fledged sugar binge, Lord. I know that while you can certainly handle all the other wishes on this list, my final request might be asking a little too much. Please forgive me for my selfishness.

Thank you, Lord, for considering my humble and modest wishes.
Your adoring daughter, Gail

PS. Okay, okay, okay. I hear you. That last one, about the sugar binge, nevermind.
But all the other stuff, please, please, please! I'm begging you.
I need you. We need you. The whole world needs you.

PSS. Okay, okay, okay. I hear you. All that other stuff? We need to do some of the work to fix that stuff ourselves, don't we? You've already given us more than we need to solve most of the world's problems. Please help me to be willing to be the answer to some of these prayers. To give. To love. To listen. To serve. The befriend. To encourage. To act. To be still. To offer hope. To work for freedom, justice and peace. To be a beacon of hope. To be peace. To be light. To be full of grace and truth.

PSSS. If I do some stuff to help other people, could you help me out with the sugar thing?

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Silenced, Saddened

I want to write another gratitude list.
I want to post photos of our cute new Christmas tree.
I want to share stories of time spent with family and friends over the past few weeks.
And I'm sure that I will. At some point.

For now, I am silenced and saddened by the violence and injustice that is rampant in our country.
I am saddened and silenced by the anger and fear that have caused the violence and injustice.

I am saddened when people ask questions like,
"What about black on black crime?" when they simply want to avoid the conversation about race and racial prejudice and racial profiling and blatant racism in this country.
"Where is the leadership?" when they don't want to take a stand and become a leader themselves and then when they hear about community leaders and organizers taking action, they act like it's an anamoly and seem surprised that leaders are acting and changes are happening.
"What can I do?" when they don't want do anything and they don't have to do anything because they have the luxury to care or not care when they choose. They can go days and days, weeks and weeks, months and months without thinking about whether or not they appear threatening to someone, whether or not they will wear the hood on their sweatshirt while out walking or running in their own neighborhood, or whether or not their sons or daughters will be stopped by a police officer, frisked, searched, handcuffed, misidentified, misunderstood, mishandled, or killed simply because they are brown-skinned.

I am silenced when people say,
"You are making yourselves into victims when you prepare yourself and your children for how to respond when they are stopped by the police."
"But he wasn't innocent; he stole cigars that store."
"My friend/brother/father/cousin is a cop. Not all cops are bad."

What I'm thinking in my moment of stunned silence is:
Even though I prepare my children, that preparation may not save them at the moment of confrontation. Just ask all those parents whose children have died unjustly.
He may have stolen something from that store and pushed the attendant, but he did not deserve to die in the street and lie there for hours.
An officer was indicted and convicted for killing an elk in Colorado and sentenced to four years probation and 200 hours of community service. Seriously? An elk?
What about the men and women killed for knocking on someone's door at night after a car accident, while walking home with candy and a drink, for playing with a toy gun in a park, for carrying a toy gun in the toy section of a store?
My brother was a cop in NYC for fifteen years. It's true; not all cops are bad. That's true. But some cops kill unarmed people for inexplicable reasons and don't get indicted or convicted.
Even when the murder is videotaped.
And the chokehold is illegal.
And the man says he can't breathe
over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over again.
Eleven times.
On tape.
Not even a trial.


A few minutes ago, I helped my son find his jersey for his favorite British soccer team so he can wear it while he watches them play. My son who will be heading off to college soon. My son who still comes to hug me when he wakes up in the morning and laughs at the hues of my green juices and even got a tattoo recently that, in part, is a tribute to my victory over kanswer.

I am silenced and saddened by the sorrow of the mothers and fathers who loved their sons and daughters as much as I love mine - who will never find their child's favorite jerseys again or watch games with them again or buy them Christmas presents or hug them in the morning, or even argue with them, get angry at them, warn them about not doing drugs, not stealing, not walking down the middle of the street, and not being beligerent against police officers.

Their children are dead. Gone. Buried.
And no one is being held accountable for their deaths.

Silenced.
Saddened.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

What do you smell like?

There's a story in the Bible, in John chapter 11, about Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus. He was sick, and they sent word to Jesus informing him, "the one that you love is sick." They knew that Jesus loved them all; he had been to their house before, eaten with them, and spent time with them. They hoped Jesus would come and heal him.

Sadly, Jesus did not come when they expected him to, and Lazarus died. Four days later, Jesus arrived at their home, and both Mary and Martha told him, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." The great news for them was that Jesus raised their beloved brother from the dead.

The next chapter, John 12 describes a scene in which Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, dried his feet with her hair, and then anointed them with very expensive oil.

I have read that story dozens of times in my life, but lately I've been reading the stories in Scripture while attempting to put myself right there in the scene.

I try to imagine how I would respond if that happened in my family room - Jesus came to my house. He had raised my father from the dead and all of us, Dad included, are sitting their spending the evening together. We are in the family room, talking, watching a football game (because of course Jesus loves NFL football), and in walks my sister (I don't have a sister, but for the sake of the story...).

She gets down on the floor at the feet of Jesus and begins to cry, buckets of tears. Then she lets down her long hair and begins to dry his feet with her hair, while still weeping. Then she pulls out a bottle of essential oils and pours them onto his feet. It drips onto my carpet, splashes onto the couch and family room table.

How much attention would we be paying to the Carolina Panthers game at that point?
(We probably would have turned away from the Panther's game because they would be down by 17 points early in the third quarter.)
How much would we be talking about what we had eaten?
How much would we even be talking about the wonder of my father being alive again?
We would be stunned into silence by her outpouring of tears and oil and love and gratitude.

The story says that after she was done, "the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."

When she looked up at the group around her, when she got up from the floor, when she wiped her tears, when she gathered herself and left the room, Mary undoubtedly reeked of gratitude. Her hair, her clothes, her spirit, she reeked of gratitude.

When Jesus got up and left that room, left that house, and began his walk towards the cross of Calvary, he too reeked of her gratitude and her love.

Because the floors of houses back there were dirt or stone or wood, that fragrant oil would have soaked in deep, between the stones, the wood slats, or down into the dirt. For days, perhaps weeks, that scent would have wafted through that room and throughout the house. Their home reeked of her gratitude.

The Bible also says that our prayers waft up before God's throne like fragrant incense.

All of which got me thinking - when I enter or leave a room, a house, a church service, when I interact with someone at Trader Joe's or Starbucks or Loaves and Fishes, what fragrance am I leaving behind? What do I smell like? Do I too reek of thankfulness, of love, of joy, forgiveness, and peace? Or do I smell like fear and anger and hatred and worry?

When people come into my home, get into my car, and spend time with and around me, do my house, my attitude, and my presence reek of gratitude and tenderness, acceptance and welcome?

On this day when we gather with family and friends, when we eat and tell stories, and watch football, will we each pour out our love on one another? Will we grant forgiveness to those who have hurt us and the ones we love, so that the stink of anger and hatred will dissipate? Will we be intentional in our desire to douse ourselves with gratitude and grace, kindness and gentleness before we enter into fellowship with our loved ones? Will I?

On this day when we are mindful that many have lost loved ones, many are alone, many are afraid, many are angry, many are mourning and sad, will we reach out to those that we know are hurting and share our love, our affection and our food with them? Will we allow our love and our gratitude to fill the space between us with the fragrance of community and encouragement, support and sharing?

What do you smell like today?
What do I smell like?

Happy thanksgiving!