Friday, February 24, 2006

Friday Fifteen...

Not long ago, I saw a series of blogs at various sites called "Thursday Thirteen" in which the writers made a list of thirteen things going on in their lives that were significant to them that day. I missed yesterday, so I will make it a Friday 15.

1. I thank God that it's Friday. I get two days' break from homeschooling, and that is a blessing. I love being with the kids, teaching them, and learning with them. Not being superwoman, however, I also love taking a break.

2. This has been a good week because I have received notes, emails, and phone messages from friends and relatives I haven't been in contact with for a while. I recently sent out a snail mail letter to several people I've neglected for far too long and, lo and behold, several of them have responded. Who says snail mail is "so last week"?

3. This has been a tough week because no matter how much we may love our family members, sometimes they are tough to take. Tough to endure. Tough to love.

4. Kristiana has her first "junior high social" tonight. Fortunately, it's at the church. It's on an Olympic theme. But it's an official junior high event taking place in the evening under the supervision of other adults. I'm sure she'll have a blast. I can't believe I'm the mother of a child just eight months away from being a teenager!

5. A friend from Spain sent me a series of photos taken of this planet from space. Earth is wondrous. It is beautiful. It is luminous. It is vast. We really ought to do a better job taking care of it, cleaning it up, and enjoying it rather than simply finding more efficient ways to consume all that is has to offer us.

6. Cancer is on the prowl again in my family. Someone very close to me was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and must undergo a lumpectomy next week and radiation treatment after that. Life is short. Our bodies are on the decline. My hope and prayer is that our spirits are being infused with joy, peace, and the comfort of The Spirit that gives life.

7. I'm getting a new laptop computer next week. The one I'm using currently is a hand-me-down from a company that was going to throw it away. Every now and then, it sends me reminders of why it was on the junk heap. I am enormously thankful to my husband for offering to buy me a new one - and then for going ahead and ordering it. While I look forward to the ease of life with a new toy, I dread all the transfer of the old documents onto the new machine. I tend to lose patience with the process long before it's completed.

8. I recently found out that Anne Lamott is publishing another book soon. (Thanks, Virginia, for that information.) I am looking forward to getting it into my hands and into my mind. She's one of my favorite authors.

9. Getting back to the family thing: It's hard to forgive someone when they have wronged someone you love. It's not even me; I'm not in the direct line of fire on this one. I'm not the victim here. But two young women I love dearly are suffering because of the action and inaction of people who claim to love them. I am grateful that I am a proponent of non-violent confrontations and problem resolution. I'm sure there are many who would consider the use of weapons of concise destruction to end this debate once and for all. I ended my last communique with an old question: Why can't we all just get along?

10. I sometimes wonder if I'm too naive about this love, joy, and peace thing. In a world where being right matters more than being humble, where standing firm at all costs matters more than asking for another chance to be reconciled, where sarcasm outweighs words of gentleness and grace, I believe that we can choose to love, to forgive, to experience joy, and to live at peace with others. I believe that the source of all those emotions is God, but we must choose to accept His love and share it with others.

Whenever I hear someone say they feel no joy, that they know no peace, and that peace is not an option, I want to reach out to them, to hug them, and tell them to open their hearts, their minds, their souls, and their spirits to possibility that the choice is theirs to make. I want to tell them to surrender their inability to believe, and to trust, to have faith that there is a plan that is larger than their own, a plan to prosper them, to give them hope and a future. I want to tell them that I know from experience that in the midst of watching cancer claim a life, heartbreak, loneliness, and abandonment, joy is always an option. Unspeakable joy. Peace that passes all understanding. And love that casts out all fear.

11. I have to read #10 again and figure out how to put it into practice in my own life. Right now.

12. Today is my nephew Matthew's 22nd birthday. I remember the day I found out he was born; I was a sophomore at Williams College in Massachusetts. I remember sitting in one of the theaters on campus that night watching a show, wishing the whole time I could be in Brooklyn meeting my second nephew for the first time. As an adult, he is one of the wisest, kindest, most loving, generous, and noble people I have ever known. I am proud to have him in my family.

13. There's a lot of pain in the world. Hurricanes, mudslides, earthquakes, drought, and wildfires ravage not only the surface of our planet, but also the very foundation of our lives. I have spent time with several women this week whose lives are laced with sorrow, needs and expectations that have not been met, promises and hearts that have been broken, and dreams that will never become realities for them. I am always honored that people share their stories from the road of life with me. I am humbled that they count me worthy of telling and count my advice worthy of considering. My hope and prayer is that each of them, that each of us, will find true comfort, lasting security, and refuge in the shadow of The One who is the God of all Comfort.

14. When the darkness is deepest, when the thunder is loudest, when the pain is most severe, may we all find comfort with each other. One friend writes about the strong arms and sky blue eyes of her one true love. Another talks about the company of women friends whose support has been unwavering through years of togetherness. I love that moment of snuggling up next to Steve in bed and having him wrap his strong arms around me and pull me close. Music helps. Email, letters, and phone calls help. Every word of encouragement, every act of kindness, every smile to friend and stranger alike - they all add up to grace given and grace received. Galatians 6:9 gives timely advice on this topic: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

15. I will end with one of my favorite verses of Scripture. It's not a common one, but I think if we lived it out, if we obeyed it, our entire world would feel the difference. It's 2 Corinthians 13:12 - "Greet one another with a holy kiss." Go ahead and do it; I dare you. Log off the computer, get up from your seat, stretch your back, neck, and butt muscles... then go kiss somebody. I guarantee you that you'll feel better when you do.

Have an awesome Friday!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

An extraordinary ordinary day

I woke up at 5:59 a few seconds before my alarm clock sounded. I can always tell that I'm sleeping well and feeling well when I wake up just before the alarm. I got up, went into my study room to read, journal, pray, and prepare for my day. I walked Maya at 6:30, read some more, and woke Kristiana at 7:20. A half an hour of exercise was followed by a reminder to the kids to get their chores done before school started. Oatmeal for breakfast. A thorough shampoo and conditioning. I met Steve at one of the malls in the center of town because he'd left an important file at home and didn't have time to come all the way home to get it. While I was at the mall, I bought a pair of running shoes; daffodils are in bloom here so I figured I'd try to start running again and enjoy the beautiful and quiet South Charlotte mornings. Back home, I sat out on the deck with the kids and read to them: some poetry (we are learning about rhyme schemes and different types of poems) and a fictional account of a family taking part in the early western expansion in this country. The sun shone down. Their interest flared up so much that when my eyes began to close in sun-baked exhaustion they pleaded for me to keep reading. We trimmed the bushes around the deck. We swept up leaves and branches. We walked Maya - and I jogged in my new sneakers; they are great. It was a glorious, ordinary afternoon in the Belsito family.

It didn't occur to me just how extraordinary a day it was until I sat down to watch the Oprah Show. Anderson Cooper and Lisa Ling recounted horrific tales of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina as it plays out today, on February 21, 2006 nearly six months after she came ashore. Thousands of people are still homeless. Some live in tent cities very akin to refugee camps in foreign nations. They have no bathroom facilities in their tents; they walk to public showers and porta-johns for relief. One young girl said she is not allowed to go to the bathroom alone. One woman lives in a mostly-abandoned apartment complex in an apartment with no roof. She uses a bucket for her toilet. Displaced families fortunate enough to spend the last several months in local hotels are being displaced again; some have no place that they know where they can live and be safe.

Within miles of the tent-city, there are hundreds of empty trailers owned by FEMA but so far the trailers are unassigned and unused because the registration and set-up process takes so long. Phone calls bring about no change in their situation. Pleading on television seems to change nothing. When word got around that the Oprah crew was filming, an official of one kind or another showed up to answer questions and field complaints.

This blog is not about finger-pointing. This blog is about how extraordinary it is that in the United States of America there is so much suffering so long after the hurricane. It is heart-breaking to think that so many mothers cannot sit and read poetry to their children on their back decks because the books and the deck are gone. Many mothers cannot buy new sneakers because the stores are gone, and their jobs no longer exist - because WalMart and Target and schools and factories and car dealerships and shoe stores and fast food shops and shopping plazas, they are all gone. Piles of garbage, refrigerators with rotting food, acres of ground contaminated with e-coli, hulls of cars, buildings, and boats litter the land as far as the eye can see in some places. Computer games like Oregon Trail and Tiger Woods and Mavis Beacon typing are floating out at sea or crushed under broken tree limbs, door frames, and disease-infested mattresses.

A dear friend of mine was in Mississippi two weeks ago and she asked the same questions Oprah, Anderson, and Lisa asked: how is it possible that so many people are still living in such terrible conditions so long after the hurricane passed through? How is that possible? How is it possible that I forget that there are people living like that all over the world everyday, with no rich nation to help, with no trailers nearby to be put to good use, with no news reports to reawaken my slumbering consciousness? Lord, have mercy on us. Lord, help us to have mercy on our fellow travelers on this tumultuous life journey.

So here I sit at my computer, wearing one of my new denim skirts, some cute striped socks I picked up in Asheville when I went there for my weekend getaway, and a prayer bracelet. Tonight I strolled through the supermarket with Kristiana, waited at the deli counter for turkey, ham, and cheese, and compared the ingredients in two soy milk products. Maya is barking at Steve because she wants to eat what's on his plate. American Idol is on. (For those of you checking my facts: The time indicated at the end of the blog is when I started to write it; I finished well after 8 PM.)It's an ordinary evening in the Belsito house. I hope I will always realize just how extraordinary my ordinary days and evenings truly are.

PS. Tomorrow's Oprah show will be "Move-In Day on Angel Lane." Through the contributions of Oprah's viewers, companies, designers, the rich, the poor, the famous, and the anonymous, Oprah's Angel Network has built, furnished, decorated, and outfitted dozens of homes for families affected by Katrina, and tomorrow those families will see and enter their new homes for the first time. For them, tomorrow will be an extraordinary day unlike any they've known in more than six months.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

I am not ashamed of "The Gospel"

It's the story of rebellion.
Of redemption.
Of reconciliation.
Of restoration.

It's the story of a son who left home after his mother died and returned many years later when another crisis erupts. There is a bad son. There is good son. There is a beloved older woman who looks after them both. There are disagreements, misunderstandings, shadowy figures lurking in the background, and the relentless pursuit of the one who has left home.

It's a movie that is well-worth seeing; it's called "The Gospel."
If nothing else, the music will make you get off your seat and move your feet.

But the gospel music is not the point. The story that the music tells is.
The point is that no matter how far we wander from The Way,
no matter how vehemently we reject The Father,
no matter how repulsive the attitudes and behaviors I exhibit towards myself, others, as well as The Father,
He has already forgiven me.
He longs to see me return, to welcome me home, and to offer me his unmerited grace and favor.

The question I answered many years ago was this: will I cling to my pride and remain in the pigpen in which I find myself or will I humble myself and receive the pardon I so desperately need and that He so freely offers?

It's a simple yet profound story, but it's the most important story I've ever heard.
It's the profoundly simple story that began to transform my life long before I saw this movie.
It's "The Gospel"

See it.
Then read The Book, the greatest love story ever told.
After all, the book is always better than the movie.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

At the End of My Leash

Every time I take Maya out for a walk, she does her best imitation of a sled dog. She heads out the door, sprints out onto the front lawn, and runs as far from me as quickly as she can, lunging into the distance at the far end of her leash with all her might. This dog weighs in at a hefty five pounds these days, but she seems to think that she can pull her 150+ pound alpha dog across the lawn, the street, and eventually across town if I let her. What she is hoping to get at is a mystery to me, but she does the same thing every time we go out.

Occasionally, a bird or a squirrel will rustle in the bushes at the other side of the yard and cause Maya to give chase. She watches the birds fly up into the trees and rears herself up on her hind legs hoping that she can bridge the enormous gap between her and a live dinner with her six inch lower limbs. She plants herself at the foot of the tree her squirelly prey disappeared into and settles in for what she hopes will be a soon and inevitable descent. Most of the time, however, she is pursuing nothing other than the hope that just beyond the reach of her leash is the consummation of all her little dog dreams: an open bin of Greenies she can dive into and devour, a dish of carrots for her to snack on, or perhaps an unfinished bowl of microwave popcorn that no one will snatch out of her grasp. I call her back to me, bend down, look her in the eyes and say, "Do your business, Maya; do your business. Mind your business, girl, and get it done."

This morning, I happened to have a book and pen in the pocket of my robe when I went out, so as I watched Maya pursue the impossible dream of catching a bird, I jotted down a few thoughts related to being at the end of my own leash. I listed a few things that I gaze into the distance and hope to spot: a house that has no leaks, cracks, or blown light bulbs; a career in writing that requires no letters of inquiry or rejections on my part, only the unrelenting pursuit of publishers aching for a few of my pithy essays; a married and family life that has no ebbs, only flows, no down times, only up times; and no nights where we fall asleep with the TV on. I much rather have us fall asleep with books in hand, or with each other in hand.

I often rush to the end of my imagination and dream up other life scenarios f9or myself. I imagine myself living Oprah's life: never having to scrub a toilet, wash a dish, or load a washing machine with doggie-urine soaked floor mats. I dream up hunky men in aprons, cooking and serving dinner for their wives and children, insisting that their work day wasn't so demanding that they cannot also fold and put away the laundry. I sit on the couch with my feet up, sipping endless pots of tea, reading, journaling, and eating gourmet meals that I didn't have to shop for, prepare, serve, or clean up the remains of. I dream of children who make their beds, do their chores, and walk the dog with joy and gratitude for having been asked to give of themselves in the maintenance of our happy home.

Landing with a thud back into the reality of my front yard, I tell Maya sternly that she'd better do her business because I'm not standing outside all morning waiting for her. I also tell her that the sooner she gets it done, the sooner we can go inside where breakfast awaits her. There's no need for her to eat the dirt clods, pine cones, or old piles of her own excrement. There is much better fare to be had in the house.

No sooner are those words out of my mouth than I hear them resound in my heart. Gail, why do you eat the dirt dug up by your imagination? Why settle for the false claims of endless fun, frolicking, and fantasy vacations that are depicted on television and in magazines? Those are the prickly pine cones that make me choke and long for the real food that awaits me in my own real life. Why harken back to the "good old days" when I was young, my marriage was new, and we were free of debt, extended family chaos, and stretch marks? Those thoughts are piles of my own excrement that are the stuff of pure fantasy. Except for the first two years of our marriage, we have always had a mortgage payment. We have always had a crazy family. I haven't always had stretch marks, but I have them now, so I need to get over my whining!

Mine is a blessed life, even when the graceful, high-flying birds soaring overhead look far better than the turkeys gobbling and stumbling by my side. (I couldn't resist that analogy; no offense intended, dear.) Their poop still stinks and is devastating to the car's paint job. When the roof leaks, the toilets clog, and the car makes a funny noise, I have to draw back from the end of my leash and be grateful that we have a beautiful home to live in, and that whatever problem the car may have can be fixed, and we can afford to fix it. There are countless people for whom a roof overhead and a car in the garage are unimaginable blessings.

When I remember that the care and raising of these children, the love and companionship of this husband, and the feeding and bathing of this dog are all my freely chosen responsibilities in the life that I have freely chosen to live, when I remember the great contentment and joy I have experienced in this life, then I can draw back from the end of my leash. When I remember that I can choose to walk at the heels of My Father in Heaven who has given me so much for which to give thanks and waits patiently for me to mind my business, do my business, and head back home to be fed and loved by Steve, Kristiana, and Daniel, then I realize that living at the end of my leash is no longer necessary. When I head out into the world to meet up with friends for lunch or a cup of coffee, when I go to church and spend time with other followers of Christ, when I check in on the Internet with my unseen, but deeply loved friends and fellow travelers on this road called life, then I realize that living at the far end of my leash, always seeking what is beyond my grasp, straining for what is clearly not mine to have is no longer necessary.

Why not just hang out right here at home where I can get my belly rubbed, get scratched behind my ears, and every once in a while have somebody clean up after me when I make a mess in my crate?

Life is good.
God is good.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Not that there's anything wrong with that...

I've thought more about yesterday's blog on getting fit fast. I know I came down a little hard on Denise Austin's idea that one can get fit by doing ten and fifteen minute workouts. The truth is that you can get fit by doing lots of short workouts. Every choice to move, stretch, and strengthen the body is a good choice, no matter how long the activity lasts. Walking up the stairs is better than taking the elevator, even if it is just one flight. Doing one set of ten bicep curls is better than doing none at all. Lately when I find myself wasting time in front of the television, I pull out those resistance bands and tighten my triceps. If I'm gonna sit and watch, I may as well sit on the balance ball and challenge my core muscles to keep me upright.

The same is true of spiritual things. I cannot and will not dictate for anyone else the schedule or routine of spiritual exercises that automatically lead to fitness. I am all too familiar with the ebbs and flows of life, the demands of family and friends, and the frequent interruptions in all that I plan and hope for. Parents fall ill and pass away. Friends grow fickle and fade away. The incessant ring of the telephone prevents me from settling into a quiet place of worship, and I must cut my time short in order to meet the demands of the day. Some mornings, I wake up too late, too distracted, or too irritated to concentrate on anything more than making a cup of coffee and reading a single chapter of a book I've been enjoying. On those days, ten minutes of reading, sipping tea, journaling, or even just standing at the kitchen sink, up to my elbows in soapy water, staring out the window into the backyard provide more guidance and focus than all the self-flagellation I engage in over not "having my quiet time." What I must remind myself of is that ten minutes with my head in one hand and a pen in the other racing across the lines of my journal is far better doing nothing at all. On those days, ten minutes are all it takes to get fit.

Ten minutes is a very long time when:
* I am waiting at the security gate and my flight is boarding
* I have something in my eye and can't get it out
* I am standing in the rain waiting for Maya to "do her business"
* The dental hygienist is scraping plaque off my teeth
* The doctor is checking over the newborn baby whisked away from his mother

Ten minutes is a very short time when:
* I am lying in bed at 5:50 AM knowing that the alarm is going to sound at 6
* Steve and the kids are waiting in the car, and I'm in a store trying to choose a gift for someone
* The water around me in the tub smells like eucalyptus, the candles are burning, the music is low, and one of the children insists that I join in a game of Clue
* I settle in at a table at Caribou Coffee with my Turtle Mocha, pull out a good book, my cell phone rings, and I am informed that out-of-town guests are en route to our house. When will I return home and what will we serve them when they arrive? (This happened to me last fall on a Saturday morning.)
* I am trying to finish a blog before taking Kristiana to her final regular season basketball game (Please let her team win this one, Lord!)

Ten minutes of bicep curls. Ten minutes of jumping rope. Ten minutes of singing hymns of the faith. Ten minutes of a walking meditation. Ten minutes of conversation with a distant friend. Ten minutes of love, laughter, and intimacy.

There's nothing wrong with any of that.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Get Fit Fast!

That is the title of a new series of workout videos put out by Denise Austin. She has to be one of the most fit 48 year olds in the nation, so when I saw that series at the library I grabbed the Get Fit Fast Abs tape. It contains three short workouts; two are ten minutes in duration, and a third that is fifteen minutes long. All three of them were deceptively short, seriously demanding workouts that left me flat on my back and nursing my abdominal muscles for days. Last night, I went back to the library for more pain; I picked up the Get Fit Fast Arms workout tape. Among the drills were push-ups, bicep curls, and a strange move that involved lying on my side and lifting a three-pound weight in a side angle pose I'd never known or thought of before today. I am learning not to be surprised at how much difference a new exercise can make when it comes to waking this body up and sculpting it into decent shape. Combined with Denise's televised half-hour show at 7:30 this morning, that ten-minute arm workout were enough to make me wish I still had the metabolism of my 23 year-old self.

Before Denise Austin and Tae Bo, I used to swear by a series of workouts produced by a company called The Firm. Two or three times each week, I'd haul out my dumbbells, my aerobic step, a broomstick, ankle weights, and a seventeen inch step stool, and I followed the instructors on those tapes religiously. The tape boxes promised visible results in less than ten workouts or I'd get my money back. By the time I transitioned from The Firm to Tae Bo, I'd bought over 15 tapes, and I never sent one back. The Firm transformed my post-pregnant figure into pre-pregnant proportions. When I was ready to go beyond firm to fantastic, I bonded with Billy Blanks and kicked, punched, and chopped my way to further fitness. Late last year, as I approached my 40th birthday, I was ready to enter yet another physical fitness phase. I discovered the challenge of both the balance ball and resistance bands. I am loving the results that both of them are bringing to my body.

After five solid years of working out, moving from two days per week up to five days per week, trying to control my ravenous sweet tooth, regulate by eating habits, drink more water, and take vitamins daily, I have come to the following conclusion: there is no way to "get fit fast." Getting fit means I must commit myself to making good choices every time I eat. Getting fit means I must get up early every morning to have my quiet time and exercise before I start homeschooling; once the school day starts, it's nearly impossible for me to shoehorn a workout into my schedule. Staying fit means that if I eat four or five cookies today, I have to restrict my sugar intake for the next two days. And none of that happens fast.

Funny how life imitates exercise! Being fit spiritually, emotionally, relationally takes time. Being comfortable in my own skin, with my own decisions, in a world and society that insists on apathy, conformity and mediocrity, requires a determination of will and a strength of character that happens neither accidentally nor instantaneously. I must commit to times of prayer, solitude, reflection, journaling, Bible reading, and life application of the principles I learn on a daily basis if I am to get fit spiritually. If my marriage is going to be fit and strong, I must spend time with my husband, talking to him, carrying the heavy stuff of life together, and stopping every now and then to rest between sets, and be refreshed as a couple and as individuals. If I am to have strong friendships and relationships with distant family members, I must be willing to resist the lethargy that comes so easily, constantly readjust my mental and emotional posture, and stretch myself in order to meet the needs of others. And I must be ever-vigilant about what I consume through television watching, reading, and in conversation with others, or I will fill myself up on empty calories that provide no mental or spiritual nutrition.

Denise Austin has written many books and produced hundreds of workouts over the past fifteen or twenty years. In every book and at somepoint in nearly every workout she says something like this: "Just stick with me, and you will see results. It just takes half an hour a day. That's all I do; half an hour five days a week and a long walk or two on the weekend. Half an hour, ladies; you can do it." As proof of her statement, she includes amazing before and after photographs of people who have followed her plan, cooked up her nifty recipes and lost 30, 40, or even 100 pounds. Well, yahoo for them. For the record: I don't believe her when she says she works out for only half an hour a day, unless she doesn't count the workouts that she records. But that's just my humble opinion.

Quite frankly, I like Oprah's explanation a little better. A couple of weeks ago, I rented her "Make the Connection" video at the library in which she tells the story, the ongoing saga, of her struggle with weight. I like that about Oprah; she's up front with the fact that it's an ongoing struggle. She's always battled the bulge, and she knows that she always will. When she talked about what it takes to "make the connection and drop the weight," she says that if you work out for half an hour, you get a certain result. If you work out for 45 minutes, you get another result; and if you work out for an hour, you get another result still. You decide what results you want, and then you exercise, eat, and live accordingly. It's easy. It's not even fun most of the time.

On this point, Oprah is absolutely right. If I take no time to develop my character, my marriage, or my body, I will get a certain result: no character, a very weak marriage, if any marriage at all, and an increasingly out-of shape physique. If, on the other hand, I subject myself to a regular schedule of exercise, prayer, reading, and reflection, then my body, mind, and spirit will be made new.

Now that I've made the connection and begun to act accordingly, I am seeing results. My arms and mid-section are trimmer. My heart and lungs can withstand greater exertion. My patience is more flexible than it used to be. My spiritual eyes see myself, my life, and my world more clearly. Life itself feels better, fits better, and is better. Fast? No. Fit? No doubt about it.

I'll probably always enjoy the gooey, nutty goodness of Snickers bars.
I'll probably watch What Not to Wear every Friday night.
I'll probably continue to borrow John Grisham's latest novels from the library as soon as they are available.
I know I will never give up junk food.
But I'll make up for it tomorrow.
Fast or not, I am determined to get fit - and stay fit.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

I've been tagged...

Thanks, Leonie, I love this kind of thing. So here's my list -

Four jobs I've had:
- Spanish teacher
- college admissions counselor - on both the high school side and the college side
- camp counselor: not a great job for someone who loves the great INdoors.
- camp laundress: I love doing laundry! (Seriously, I do...)

Four movies I watch over and over:
- The Apostle
- The English Patient
- Out of Africa
- When a Man Loves a Woman

Four places I've lived:
- Charlotte, North Carolina
- Williamstown, Massachusetts
- Brooklyn, New York
- Madrid, Spain

Four television shows I love to watch:
- What Not to Wear
- ER
- The West Wing
- The Office

Four places I've been on vacation:
- Puerto Rico
- Hawaii
- Menorca, Spain
- San Francisco, CA

Four websites I visit daily:
- The Breast Cancer Site
- Christian Journaling (a Yahoo group)
- The Turquoise Journey (Yeah for Leonie!)

Four favorite foods:
- arroz con leche (Spain's incomparable version of rice pudding)
- red seedless grapes
- sweet potato and bean chili (I've got a great vegetarian recipe!)
- bran muffins, toasted with butter

Four places I'd rather be right now:
- on an airplane heading for...
- Madrid
- London
- Rome, la Citta Eterna

Unfortunately, I don't know enough bloggers to come up with four that haven't already done this, but I do know one! I'd love to see ***Joanne*** do this on her blog!!! She's at

I will add a few categories of my own...

Four favorite drinks:
- yerba mate tea
- Southern sweet tea
- water with LOTS of ice
- super-sweet flavored coffee

Four books that have blown me away in the past year:
- Codependent No More by Melody Beattie
- The Zahir by Paulo Coelho
- The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
- Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

Four dreams of mine:
- To live abroad with my family for a year or two
- To publish a book of my blogs and other writings
- To have a week-long vacation with all the women in my life who I count as near and dear friends and have them meet each other
- The fourth dream/wish/hope of mine is the one I make very year on my birthday as I blow out my candles. So I can't say it out loud or it will never come true.

Four things I am especially grateful for today:
- The new pastor that will come to our church next week
- This amazing thing called the Internet
- The love of family and friends
- My house and the great life that I get to live here in it

Four of my favorite things to do:
- traveling alone in foreign cities
- using my balance ball and resistance bands while watching television (Who says you can't exercise while sitting down?)
- washing dishes (but don't tell my kids or my husband)
- dreaming up things to write about here on the blog.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Speaking of poetry...

This morning I began reading a tiny book of prose poetry called The Prophet which was written in the early twentieth century by Kahlil Gibran. In it, Gibran shares the thoughts, the wonderings, and the advice of The Prophet, a fictional character with real-world wisdom. Here are a few treasures I have already unearthed.

On children:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which you children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and he bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

[How often have I tried to bend my children to do my will? To think my thoughts, to see life the way that I see it? How often do I want to keep their hearts and souls safe within my hands when The Archer, the One who has all eternity in His hands, clearly has a plan for their lives that is different than the plan He has for mine? I pray to be open to the bending of the Archer so that these two magnificent arrows we have been entrusted with will reach the target for which they were created.]

On Joy and Sorrow:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftetimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

[I have heard so many stories about friendships lost, marriages abandoned, business partnerships dissolved, neighbors at odds, parents battling with their children, and deep disappointment with church members and leaders lately. In each case, the words of The Prophet ring true. Those relationships that have brought us greatest joy, heartiest laughter, and deepest satisfaction, when they are lost or damaged are the same relationships that sear our souls. Who loves more deeply than a parent loves a child? Yet no wounds hurt more deeply than those inflicted from child to parent and vice versa. No one knows a husband better than his wife, or a wife better than her husband; yet it is the intimate knowledge between lovers that forms the most excruciatingly accurate weapons when battles ensue. It is in the hospital of the soul, the church, where we must put into practice the lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation. If we cannot do so within the walls of our sacred assemblies, then what is the use of our faith or our gospel? How can I be a genuine follower and lover of the God I cannot see if I cannot love and forgive the people I can see? If only we were each brave enough to lay down the weapons of war, vulnerable enough to put up the white flag of surrender, and humble enough to say and do whatever it takes to rediscover the traits, charms, and delights that once brought us joy. "What a wonderful world this would be!"]

On Friendship:
And when he {your friend} is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.
When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain...
And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

On Talking:
When you meet your friend on the roadside or in the marketplace, let the spirit in you move your lips and direct your tongue.
Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear;
For his soul will keep the truth of your heart as the taste of the wine is remembered
When the color is forgotten and the vessel is no more.

[There is little that compares to the joy of real friendship. The laughter, the sharing of pleasures, the telling of tales of the journey, the revelation of simple pleasures and profound insights. I have a friend in Spain who reminds me each time he drops me off at the airport and I am awash in tears, that in every good-bye there is a small death. Saying good-bye to him, to Karen when she left after her surprise birthday visit, to Kim after her long weekend with us in Madrid, to Jill after her recent delivery of secret recipe pickles and pepper jelly, to all the well-wishers when we left Connecticut three years ago, even the far less dramatic farewells when saying good-bye to Moneesha or Katie after lunch together, after talking to someone on the telephone, after waxing poetic or prolific through email - they are all times of mourning for me. Who knows when the last email will indeed be the last one? Who knows when the last telephone call or blog or visit will be the last? I never regret telling my loved ones how I feel; I always regret not telling them.

Gratefully, long after the final words are spoken, after the last hug is released, after the pressure of the hand print fades from the shoulder, even then, the color of friendship never fades, the value of friendship never decreases, and the spirit of friendship never dies.]

I haven't yet finished The Prophet. The Prophet is not yet finished with me; I'm not sure it ever will be.

I'm off to hug my daughter (who lost yet another basketball game today!) and tell her that I love her. When Daniel gets home from basketball practice, I'll hug him and tell him the same thing. Steve will have to wait until the children are in bed and sound asleep to get his special hug...

Who are you gonna call, hug, or write to?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Has it been a week already?

Time flies whether or not you are having fun, and I was having fun last week right about this time. I was only a few hours into my weekend away, my solo sojourn up at the Inn on Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

On Friday morning, I dropped the children off at my mother's house, and then I hit the road. Floating down the highway on the clouds of my imagination, listening to pop music, then National Public Radio, then the book of Romans on CD, and finally silence. Interesting mix of entertainment, if I do say so myself. I arrived in the town of Asheville a little after midday, did some walking on its hilly streets, some window shopping, then some actual shopping, then sat down for lunch at The Laughing Seed, a famously colorful and wonderfully creative vegetarian restaurant. I ordered Indian pakoras with a cool yogurt sauce and a spicy red sauce. That was followed by what they call "The Fireside Foccacia Melt." Or something along those lines. Roasted root vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots, spinach pesto, some kind of divine melted cheese, all served on warm bread, drizzled with a balsamic dressing: absolutely tongue-twisting. The two women at the table next to mine asked me what I'd ordered and promised to order it the next time they were there. It was my second time having that meal, and I loved it more this second time than the first. Yerba Mate Royale tea boosted my energy levels and warmed me to the core.

Just before 3 PM, I checked into the Inn and made my way to room 483, that last room at the end of the last corridor. Quiet. Solitary. Warm. Cozy. Mine. I unpacked my clothes and cosmetics. I set up my computer and my cooler of goodies. I pulled back the cover on the bed, laid down on the crisp white sheets and looked out the window at the misty mountaintops in the distance. This was to be my home away from home for the weekend. Perfect.

Lest I get too comfortable and immovable, I grabbed the indispensible journal, markers, camera, tossed them into my backpack, donned my boots, and took off for a walk along a short trail down to the Biltmore Winery and Bistro. On the way, I met a kind Southern gentleman with two rather large horses that he invited me to pet and have my picture taken with them. "No, thank you, sir; I'm terrified of horses," is what I wanted to say. Instead, I stuck out one hand to touch one of those massive animals, and sensing my fear, he pulled his huge head back and snorted at me. Enough said. I backed away, snuck a peek at the chickens and mohair goats across the farmyard, and quickened my pace toward the bistro. I simply cannot imagine what motivated that first human being to get on top of a horse and have the audacity to think it wouldn't kill him instantly. Horses really frighten me.

I soothed my fear with a small pot of African Amber tea in the rather lush library up at the inn. I journaled. I read. I listened to a group of New Yorkers who'd come South for the weekend. They talked about their au-pairs, the architects remodeling their homes, clothes they'd bought at auction, and whose children were better behaved. They told stories of movie and rock stars they'd met in casual settings and regaled one another with stories of relational and financial triumphs. They really frightened me also.

I soothed that fear with a long soak in my room's Jacuzzi tub. A bath bomb purchased months ago in London at Lush (Kim, I can never thank you enough for introducing me to that fabulous store!) left me smelling lemony and feeling fine. I crawled into bed with my milk chocolate pecan clusters, a novel by Chris Bohjalian, and a cup of ice water. Strange mix, I know, but drinking ice water in bed is a recently developed habit that I’m finding hard to break. Anyway, I fell asleep with the book in the bed next to me and awoke to the sound of silence. No dog barking to be taken out. No alarm clock to swat. No homeschool lessons to plan or laundry to do or meals to prepare. Perfect.

Saturday was spent reading, journaling, walking, attending a cooking demonstration down at the winery, reading some more, writing on my computer, and soaking in another Lush bath. Reeking of orange oil, I sat at a window table in the Inn’s dining room, watching the sun set, eating sashimi with warm pineapple, duck prepared four ways, and crème brulee, all washed down with a gin and tonic. What can I say? I’m an eclectic eater. But since I was alone, I didn’t have to explain my choices to anyone. It was my meal, my weekend, my way. Perfect.

It’s hard to believe that one week ago right now, I was sitting at the desk of room 483 working on a list of 100 things that I love about myself, making a collage in my journal, and gazing at my image in the mirror on the wall opposite my chair. Alone with The Alone. Being renewed. Rejuvenated. Reconnecting with myself. Reminding myself of the relationships, the people, and the places in my life that matter most. I ate well. I slept well. I traveled well. I returned well. And here I sit at my desk in the homeschooling room, getting ready to take Kristiana to basketball practice, looking back on a weekend well spent, rereading my journal entries from last week, and looking forward to making new journal entries in the hours, days, and weeks to come. Perfect.

Life is good.
God is good.