Friday, April 28, 2006

Nothing like an uplifting movie...

to lift one's spirits before the weekend - or anytime for that matter.

The children and I have just returned from seeing "Akeelah and the Bee." It is a gratifying, entertaining, funny, delightful movie. It tells the story of what is possible when someone dares to rise above what is expected of her. It tells the story of someone who discovers who really loves her and wants the best for her. It's the story of new friends, old friends, making mistakes, correcting them, and making the most of every opportunity. The kids liked it very much. I liked it very much.

When I was in the fifth grade, I won my elementary school spelling bee and went on to the district bee where I lost in the early rounds. In the sixth grade, I was eliminated from my school bee with the word "committee." I left out one of the t's. I still shudder every time I have to spell that word.

A couple of years ago, the children and I went to the regional spelling bee which was held here in Charlotte. The winner that day was a homeschooler! We were all proud of him - and we didn't even know him. I told that story to a friend of mine; he wryly commented that we are the only people who would go to a spelling bee for fun. He posited that everyone else in the audience was a blood relative of someone on the stage. I shrugged and agreed with him on both counts. We had fun anyway.

Go see "Akeelah and the Bee." Take someone who needs a kick in the pants, someone who is afraid to pursue an impossible dream, and when you emerge from the darkened theater, ask them what they are going to do about that dream. Perhaps you need to duck into the restroom upon exiting the theater, stand in front of the mirror, and ask yourself that very question. "What are you gonna do now?"

I've gotta go. There's a mirror in my bedroom that has some explaining to do.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

One of those days...

When doing the laundry, washing the dishes, going to the eye doctor and having my pupils dilated, walking the dog, sweating through a Tae Bo workout, vacuuming, cleaning the shower, and teaching the kids how to conjugate verbs in the past tense in Spanish... when all those things feel like what I've been meant to do all life long. It all fits today. It all makes sense. When the receptionist at the eye doctor asked me how I was doing, I answered in truth: "I'm doing great. How about you?"

I awoke to my husband's warm embrace, sat down at my brand-spanking new laptop computer and finished a project I'd been working on for a few days. Within minutes I was greeted by the sleepy faces of my two children whose first stop in the morning is my bedroom for a round of hugs from Mom and Dad (in that order). I was determined to be a grateful, forgiving, loving human being this morning. Come what may, and it, whatever "it" is, always comes, I would choose to accept each moment's challenges graciously. To learn the necessary lesson. To greet everyone I encountered with a smile. Sounds a little like Pollyanna, I know, but today it's working.

At the doctor's office, the nurse who took my updated health form, used some fancy machine to calculate my initial vision prescription reading, and deposited those dastardly dilating drops into my eyes didn't seem to be in a great mood when she led me from the waiting room to the examination room. Undaunted by her sternness, I smiled and commented at how amazing the machines are that can read my eyes without any help from me. She agreed - and thawed. I asked lots of questions in my usual geeky fashion, thanked her profusely for her answers, and did all within my power to make the best of my eye exam. Then I donned those goofy dark inserts and made my way trippingly to the car. (Brief aside here: I think there ought to be taxi service provided to and from eye exams in which the pupils are dilated. It simply cannot be safe for people to drive through the cities and towns of our great nation without the ability to filter light through one's eyeballs. Makes me wonder if an eye doctor has ever been sued as a result of a car accident...)

Apparently, my eyes haven't changed much in the past two years, but in true vanity, I picked new frames anyway. I justify my decision to get new ones this way: last year, the doctor said I didn't need new glasses, so I didn't get new ones then. This year, I figured, "Why not?" I came really close to picking a pair with fake gemstones on the side (why not flash a little bling?) but the children and the kind woman helping me decide on new frames all nixed that choice.

The little papers that those fancy machines spit out informed both the doctor and the nurse that my vision hasn't changed much in the past year. But I know that it has. I know that I see my husband and children with new eyes. I see my home, my church, and my neighbors with new eyes. Perhaps all the tragedies around the world, around this nation, and around my neighborhood have caused the scales of discontentment to fall from my eyes and motivated me to give thanks for the great blessings I have. Perhaps the news of war, disease, and natural disasters has relieved the pressure building up behind the retinas of my ever-critical eyes, so that nowadays I can see the beauty of spring, the vulnerability of those I love, and even peer through the thin veil of invulnerability around the strangers I encounter. Everyone, I now realize, wants to be seen, to be noticed, to be honored, to be loved.

After reading books and watching television shows about poverty, family distress, and the struggles faced by those without health insurance, I am able to look at my immigrant friends, my unemployed friends, and my less privileged friends differently. I didn't realize just how out of touch I'd become with "the real world." Not being able to go to Spain for a month this year is NOT a problem. Not being able to find a pair of navy blue shoes in size 11 is NOT a problem. Not being able to put dinner on the table tonight - THAT is a problem. Not being able to take one's sick child to the doctor due to lack of funds and insurance - THAT is a serious problem.

I see all of that better now than I did a year or two ago. I can see much more clearly now than ever before. My eyes have changed. My heart has changed. I couldn't be happier about it.

My pupils are slowly returning to their normal size. I am far less sensitive to the light now than I was an hour or so ago. But I hope I won't soon forget how myopic my spiritual and emotional sight has been for most of my life. I hope I won't ever forget the lessons I've been taught of late, not just the lessons I've read, but also the lessons I've learned from experience.

Today is one of those days when every pore is open. Every nerve is jangling. I want to both scream at the top of my lungs and sit in prolonged silence. I want to call everyone I know, journal everything I'm feeling, and write a twenty-page essay about everything I'm learning, but there are no words for what I'm feeling.

In the words of the great philosopher, Billy Joel, "I've loved these days."

Monday, April 24, 2006

Gardening advice from a non-gardener...

This afternoon the children and I planted basil seeds in five pots out on our deck. The seeds are tiny, and there weren't many of them in the two envelopes we bought. But we have faith that within a few weeks, we will be plucking basil leaves to to make fresh pesto with and to add to our salads. Fortunately, we've never been disappointed when we've planted seeds in the past. Last year, we planted basil, peppermint, spearmint, and lemon balm. The only problem we had was one of neglect; we planted them and a couple of weeks later we left for Spain. For a month. When we returned, the seeds had sprouted into beautiful bunches of herbs, but because we hadn't picked any, they were a little overcrowded and a lot underused. It's strange; but when the plants are unpicked, they do less well than when they are picked.

Tiny little organic basil seeds packed lightly in organic potting soil. Now we wait.

Kinda reminds me of parenting and marriage and friendship and the journey of life in general. Tiny seeds of faith, hope, love, and joy are planted in the new soil of relationships. We talk. We tentatively rake the surface of our lives through shared conversation, emotion, and experience. We plant a few small seeds of yearning: do you want to be my friend? Do you want to try to grow something between us? Perhaps we can add the water of laughter at some point. A little fertilizer in the form of emails, phone calls, text messages, and the occasional piece of snail mail. The sunshine of shared cups of tea and fresh-baked cookies. One long-distance friend wrote of "internet expressos" that can be shared online and cherished. To sit and read a well-crafted email or blog, and digest words of tenderness and grace. To respond by the light of a candle with the smell of incense wafting past. Then we wait. We wait to see how our marriages, children, and friendships turn out. We wait for friends to respond. We wait.

Some people say that manure is a great fertilizer for plants, and I agree with that in theory. I simply cannot fathom willingly living with the smell of it around me all the time. Who wants to take on the horrible job of collecting it? Who wants to undertake the chore of spreading it? Yuck!

While none of us "want" to do either of those jobs, we all end up doing both of them. This morning I sat with some friends, and we talked openly and honestly about some of the challenges of marriage. Loneliness, fear, boredom, annoyance, disagreement, standing up for one's rights, giving in sometimes, giving up sometimes, reconciling, starting the whole roller-coaster ride again. The down times, the angry times, the disappointing times. These are the times that try our souls. The times when the manure is flying in every direction.

Miracle of miracles, when the manure settles and gets raked into the soil that was disturbed by the turmoil, often times something new, unexpected, and beautiful sprouts. From the depths of boredom, I emerge challenged to renew my desire to build passion back into the relationship. From days and nights of loneliness, I emerge with an internal fortitude forged in the solitude that emboldens me not only in my marriage and with my children, but also in my extended relationships with family and friends. Times of intense journaling about intense anger and disappointment serve to rid me of some of my malice so that in its place can bud a greater willingness to try again, to give over to the dailyness of life with a renewed sense of purpose and a less volatile and defensive spirit. But that good stuff usually comes only after there's been a storm of some kind, an episode of standing in front of the fan when the you-know-what is flying. I hate that part.

Saturday was Earth Day. I'm sure that all over the earth there were marches, parades, events, speeches, and demonstrations related to how much we are abusing our planet and how much we can do to ease the strain that we are willingly placing upon its resources. I have attended such events in the past and have always been challenged to work a little harder, to waste a little less, and to give thanks for this amazing planet that we get to enjoy.

On Saturday, I had occasion to go to Home Depot for a few things that Steve needed for the lawn, and later in the day I drove through the parking lot of Lowe's on my way someplace else. There were plants, trees, bags of fertilizer, grass seed, plant food, and seeds galore everywhere I looked. People who appeared much more knowledgeable than I about life in the great outdoors perused, selected, and purchased countless flats, bags, and crates of all sorts of garden and yard related goodies.

I marveled at the great faith they all have that something will grow, that their hard work will produce food, flowers, and vast lawns of great beauty. I'm sure many of them spent much of Saturday afternoon and evening and most of yesterday putting those plants and seeds into the ground. Bone meal, plant food, seed, lime, fertilizer, followed by hours of sprinklers and hoses spraying water, which I refer to as liquid gold, over the newly impregnated earth. Now they wait.

I wonder how many of the people planning and planting their gardens spend as much time fertilizing and watering their marriages with seeds of hope and grace. I wonder how many of them spend as much time sowing seeds of friendship and love in their children as they down on their lawns. For those without spouses or children, the time, energy, and dedication spent on growing themselves into mature men and women, on enriching their friendships, and on the causes and other commitments that they embrace - all of that will produce fruit that is both pleasing to the mind's eye and the soul's palate.

I wonder how many of us recognize that the manure of life, the pain, the job challenges, illness, and the fierce disagreements that are common in so many homes - I wonder how many of us think of that manure as fertilizer that can grow us deep and strong if we are willing to wait out the stench. Perhaps if we did, the divorce rate would drop a little. Teenagers would run away a little less often. Friends would bail out of relationships a little less frequently.

Remove the rocks from the soil. Stir it up and mix in new soil with fertilizer, bone meal, and even a handful of manure. Gently place a few tiny seeds in the soil. Cover them with another layer of soil, and water thoroughly. Then wait. . .

It's an easy and efficient system for planting and growing basil. It's also an efficient system for growing families, friendships, and lives that are characterized by growth, productivity, and beauty.

Notice, I didn't say it is an easy system,
but I know for sure that it works.
Manure and all.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

1. Every Thursday when I sit down to write this list, I am absolutely blown away by how quickly the weeks are flying by.

2. Maya is doing very well these days: a bare minimal number of accidents. She has found three spots in the house where she likes to lie down and take naps. We are still surprised to "catch" her just chilling out. We always expect to find her burrowed down into a hamper someplace, chewing on our dirty clothes, but more and more we are finding her in some cozy, sunny spot relaxing.

3. We have been blessed with some wonderful, soaking rains this week. Yesterday morning when I awoke, the sky was dark, and my spirits were light. After several hours of downpours, as the sun broke through the clouds, I looked up into the heavens and gave thanks for the sparkling puddles on the lawn, the driveway, and the street. Later in the afternoon as we drove through our neighborhood, I said to the children, "I bet the trees, the flowers, the grass, and the farmers are happy about the rain." I know that there aren't many people who rejoice in rainy days, but anyone who has seen the ravages of drought understands how precious water is and never takes rain for granted. More rain is expected tonight.

Today's shopping list for Target will make up the rest of my list:
4. Five reams of copy and printer paper
5. Paper towels
6. Toilet tissue
7. A large crockpot
8. A blender
9. Rubbermaid storage containers
10. Garbage bags
11. Ziploc bags of various sizes
12. Microwave popcorn, pretzels, and chewing gum
13. Hair clips and elastics
14. Sunscreen
15. Laundry detergent, bleach, and stain remover
16. Breakfast cereal

Okay, so I went beyond thirteen. That's appropriate because I went beyond what was on the list for Lois' Lodge. What is Lois' Lodge, you ask? It is a residence here in the Charlotte area for women who find themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy and need a place to be fed, nurtured, and supported while they make the decision about adopting out or keeping their children. The residents can range in age from 14 to 40 years of age, but they have all decided (before arrival) that they will go through with the pregnancy and give birth to their children.

The home itself is spectacular. Down a long driveway from a busy road, it is a large log home with high ceilings, fireplaces, charming and cozy corners for reading, writing, and getting to know one another. The Lodge can house up to six expectant mothers, but currently has only three residents. Some of the women are students; some of them are working. They come from many races, socio-economic backgrounds, and family backgrounds. They attend cooking, childcare, exercise, and birthing classes. They are taught to sew, clean house, and take care of themselves.

Anyway, today the children and I went to a local supermarket where we had all our coins counted - $66 worth! - and then we took the profits along with an unredeemed gift card to Target where we loaded two carts with things on the list and a few goodies that weren't on the list.

As we walked from the car to the supermarket with the weighty box of change in my hands, I told the children that the prospect of buying those things for those three girls was more fun for me than going Christmas or birthday shopping for the two of them. You see, we can buy whatever we want for ourselves whenever we want. Steve has a fantastic job (for which we are enormously grateful every day) that provides not only everything we need, but also everything we want. To enter a store with a list of things that we can buy for someone who otherwise wouldn't have a blender, a crockpot, or copy paper is truly a joy. To stroll through a store and pick out a few treats that weren't on the list of "needs," but would certainly appear on a list of "wants" made us all smile.

As we left Target with bags and boxes of stuff all around us in the minivan, I called Steve from my cell phone and left him the following message: "Once again, I've been reminded of what a great team we are. You have the gift of giving, and I have the gift of shopping. Who could ask for anything more?"

For a few moments this afternoon, Kristiana, Daniel, and I understood first-hand the truth of a statement we've all heard many times: "'Tis better to give than to receive." That feeling alone deserves thirteen adjectives, exclamations, and hurrahs all its own! Perhaps it will inspire thirteen encore shopping trips on their behalf.

Check them out at

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Today I am grateful for...

* the opportunity to have lunch with Sangita at a tasty seafood restaurant in uptown Charlotte: mountain trout crusted with almonds and topped with roasted garlic butter, wild rice, steamed asparagus and carrots, a mixed greens salad awash in balsamic viniagrette, and a dessert trio of creme brulee, triple-berry cobbler, and banana pudding - Yum! It's always good to break away from life on the homefront to be an adult eating and having a quiet conversation with another adult. I love my children, and I am grateful for the chance to homeschool them, but getting away is a blessing as well.

* having my mother living close by, so that when I make midday appointments, she can come hang out with the children and Maya.

* Yesterday we got some much-needed rain. Is the drought over? Not yet, but the sound of the rain pounding on the roof of the car, the sight of water streaming down the streets, and the sheets of rain casually tossed across the grassy medians by passing cars were cause for celebration in our dry city.

* Baseball season has begun. Last night, Steve and Daniel went to the Charlotte Knights baseball game. The Knights are a triple-A baseball team that plays just over the border in South Carolina (don't ask!), and the two main men in my life took off for the stadium just after Steve returned from work. When they left, they were quite happy. It's not the same as spending four days in Florida gorging on baseball and sunflower seeds, but it was very good nonetheless.

*In true geeky fashion, Kristiana and I took advantage of our "girls' night out" and left for the library as soon as possible. While there, I discovered a fascinating book called "Creative Correspondence." It is a how-to book on making our own envelopes and notecards out of junk mail, old envelopes, and decorative scrap paper. Kristiana made a personalized envelope/note for her buddy, Amber, today. I'm still deciding who to send my first creation to. Hmmmm...

* The opportunity to celebrate Easter with my mother, mother-in-law, and niece two days ago. I know that many people who read this blog do not share my faith, and therefore Easter is not an important time for them. I have read about many other ways of celebrating life, love, and friendship on other blogs and in books. Just today, I read about one friend's realization that Easter is a time to ponder, extend, and receive forgiveness for all wrongs committed. Exactly. Forgiveness was extended from Christ on the cross to the thief at His side who mocked Him. He granted forgiveness to the guards who tortured, crucified, and killed Him. I have learned about the power of dance, of speech, of listening, of music, of meditation, and of silence. For me, Easter is a time to combine all of those expressions of gratitude and love towards God, to accept His forgiveness for the many wrong things I have done (most of which, I must admit, has been intentional on my part) and to reconnect with the Source of joy, wisdom, peace, love, and forgiveness. For me, Easter is the highest of holidays, the most important day in the year for this follower of Christ. As a family, we sang, we prayed, we cried, we ate, we laughed, we remembered the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And we continue to rejoice as we continue on this journey called life.

* I am enormously grateful for the friends who write notes, cards, and email to me. Some of you are regular corresponders, and I am always glad to see your names in my inbox. Others of you are less frequent in your communication, and your words are appreciated more than you can ever imagine. All of you are missed, cherished, and, dare I say it, loved!

*An aside here - Why does it feel so strange to tell others how we feel? Especially when what we feel is gratitude, admiration, and love? We tend not to hold back on the criticism, the rudeness, or the belittling. But the love, the kindness, the tenderness, that stuff we withhold. What's up with that?

* Today I am grateful for the wondrous life I get to live: this house where I sit at the computer to surf the net and write my blog, my children who are busy making jewelry and sorting through hundreds of baseball trading cards, homeschooling, approaching 15 years of marriage to my dear Steve and our upcoming anniversary trip to Costa Rica, good health, dear friends, and a church I am always glad to attend.

* I hear the recycling truck making its way through the neighborhood; I'm grateful that somebody somewhere decided that we all need to reuse some of the stuff we so quickly and carelessly throw away. Maya just climbed up on the couch next to the window to lie down and soak in some sunshine. Her (mostly) calm spirit inspires us all. The ceiling fans are whirring and stirring a cool breeze around me - and, strangely enough, within me.

* Today I want to be conscious of every detail, of the stimulation of each of my six senses. Today I want to remember as much as possible and describe it here and in my journal as minutely as possible. Today is a beautiful day, a quietly glorious day, and I am grateful for every bit of it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A somewhat rude joke... enjoy!

Once again, I'm changing things up a bit and sharing a funny story my husband sent to me over the information superhighway. FYI - My husband is an internal consultant at Bank of America and very interested in how to improve process management and increase customer satisfaction. Thanks, Steve. What do you all think???

The Waiter & the Spoon

A timeless lesson on how consultants can make a difference for an organization…

Last week, we took some friends out to a new restaurant, and noticed that the waiter who took our order carried a spoon in his shirt pocket. It seemed a little strange. When the busboy brought our water and utensils, I noticed he also had a spoon in his shirt pocket. Then I looked around saw that all the staff had spoons in their pockets.

When the waiter came back to serve our soup I asked, “Why the spoon?”

“Well,” he explained, “the restaurants’ owners hired Andersen Consulting to revamp all our processes. After several months of analysis, they concluded that the spoon was the most frequently dropped utensil. It represents a drop frequency of approximately 3 spoons per table per hour. If our personnel are better prepared, we can reduce the number of trips back to the kitchen and save 15 man-hours per shift.”

As luck would have it, I dropped my spoon and he was able to replace it with his spare.

“I’ll get another spoon next time I go to the kitchen instead of making an extra trip to get it right now.”

I was impressed. I also noticed that there was a string hanging out of the waiter’s fly. Looking around, I noticed that all the waiters had the same string hanging from their flies. So before he walked off, I asked the waiter, “Excuse me, but can you tell me why you have that string right there?”

“Oh, certainly!” Then he lowered his voice. “Not everyone is so observant.”

That consulting firm I mentioned also found out that we can save time in the rest-room. By tying this string to the tip of ‘you know what’, we can pull it out without touching it and eliminate the need to wash our hands, shortening the time spent in the rest-room by 76.39 percent.”

“After you get it out, how do you put it back?”

“Well,” he whispered, “I don’t know about the others, but I use the spoon.”

Friday, April 14, 2006

Will you hear my confession and accept my apology?

This morning, I read a challenging chapter about "confession of sin" in a challenging book called Blue Like Jazz. The author of the book took part in a most unusual form of confession on his college campus in which the Christians on campus confessed their sins and the sins of the millions before them who have sinned against others in thought, word, and deed to those who were not followers of Christ. They confessed and apologized for the Crusades, the Inquisition, missionary journeys that included the murder of those who refused to convert, and every other time that the name of Jesus has been used as justification for slaughter. They confessed and apologized for how "Christians" have neglected the poor, the hungry, the needy, and the downcast. They apologized for television evangelists who sell Jesus but don't seem to be living as He would live. They apologized for not visiting the imprisoned, standing up for those who are abused, and not loving the unloved as Christ did and as Christ would have us do. Those brief hours of confession changed that campus' perception of those who follow Christ.

I want to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for how little I have cared for those who are truly in need. Sure, I rail against one cause or another every now and then. I'll march against a few things here and there, but I haven't made it my life's mission to live out my relationship with Christ in a missional and intentional way that will make a lasting change in anyone's life. Especially the poor and those on minimum wage. I really want to change in that area; I want to make my life more about serving than being served, more about speaking up, writing about, and living in such a way as to affect the lives of those in need, those whom Christ called "the least of these."

Many months ago, I read and blogged about a book called Nickel and Dimed which was written by Barbara Ehrenreich who tried to live on minimum wage for a three or four month period in various cities across our country. Intense book. Not long after I read it, I suggested it as a book for the book club I was a part of at the time. We read it. We discussed it. Intense discussion.

The topic of living on minimum wage, of living below the poverty line brings up a lot of emotion for those of us who don't have to live solely on minimum wage. We blather on about the laziness of people who refuse to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. We wag our fingers at those who drop out of high school or get pregnant during their teenage years or otherwise doom themselves to fates that are less than the best that they could have imagined. We pontificate about how hard we worked to get where we are and preach against giving a free ride to anyone else when we never got one. Perhaps some of that is true and ought to be taken seriously. But, for God's sake, what are we doing about it?

We walk around with WWJD on bracelets, bumper stickers, and keychains. I'm sorry to say that I don't think many of us actually do what Jesus would do. After all, He fed thousands. He hung out with prostitutes, liars, adulterers, lepers, and cheats. He touched them, talked to them, ate with them, and never, ever turned one away. I'm not aware of any passage in the Gospels where Jesus, during His ministry on earth, ever condemned a lost soul, turned His back on someone in need, or advocated any public, private, or personal policy that rejected the downtrodden, the sick, or the imprisoned. I have read lots of passages about His compassion, His desire to gather the lost ones under His wings, and His urgency in getting from one place to another so that He could preach, heal, and feed the sick, the hungry, and the outcast. I know that I haven't walked the talk, or lived what I say I believe. Not nearly enough, anyway.

What would it mean to the poor, the homeless, the hungry in this nation and all around our world, if we who claim to be followers of Christ cared for the poor as much as we care for our pets? Is there a way to make sure on a daily basis that they are fed, have a safe place to sleep, and aren't abused but rather are loved and affirmed by someone? What if we cared as much about the safety and welfare of the children attending this nation's dismal, run-down, unsafe schools as we do about the dogs and cats that live in dismal, run-down, and unsafe homes? What would that look like? What would that involve? Do we dare imagine what that would be like? Do I?

I could/should sponsor more than the two children I sponsor now.
I could/should volunteer at a homeless shelter.
I could/should buy groceries for people I know who are in need and deliver them.
I could/should take the list I recently recieved, buy the needed items, and deliver them to the home that is seeking to meet the needs of unwed, pregnant women.
I should go through my closet, my dresser, and those of my children in order to give of our excess to those who have nothing.
My mother recently returned from a week in Mississippi where she ministered to those who remain homeless after the ravages of Katrina. What should I do in response to that ongoing tragedy?

I must admit that sometimes I feel overwhelmed by it all. There are so many tragedies, so many needs, so much disease, despair, and destruction. I feel so small, so inadequate, and so desperate to protect myself and my children from all harm and danger. I can't fix it all. I can't change it all. However, the question remains: What am I going to do? I can certainly do something.

For starters, I'm going to watch today's Oprah show about the plight of people who live on minimum wage and carefully consider the reality of those who cook and serve the french fries at McDonald's but cannot afford to eat there, those who display and sell the low cost t-shirts at WalMart but cannot afford to shop there, and those who clean our homes, wash the dishes we use at restaurants, and mow our lawns, but can never imagine living the lives we lead.

I almost NEVER advise or suggest that people watch television, but today I am. Because this episode is so relevant to what I've been reading, thinking about, and being disturbed about over the past year or so, I know that I will tune in, and I suggest that those who can, do the same.

After the show, I will decide when to go to the supermarket to buy toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, and trash bags for the young women awaiting their newborn babies. Such a simple act with such a profound impact. After that, I don't know what I will do, but I've gotta do something.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

1. Today is a sunny, warm spring day in Charlotte, but
2. We are now in a "moderate drought" because we have had only six inches of rain thus far in 2006 whereas the normal is over thirteen inches. I'm gonna do a rain dance as soon as the sun goes down; I don't want the neighbors to think I'm totally nuts. Well, they probably think that already, but a dance would be a little over the top, I suspect.

3. Today we woke up with only half of our children on the premises because
4. Kristiana had spent the night at her best friend's house. Yeah for her! Daniel is off to a friend's house tomorrow for a sleepover. Oh, to be able to just run away for a night or two to eat ice cream, watch movies, and giggle all night long. Hey, wait! I can do that with my hubby any time - Yeah for us!

5. I was in the supermarket for the second time this week because
6. Sunday is Easter and I've gotta do a lot of cooking. A ham (this is the first time I have ever purchased and made one), sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce (from scratch), salad, and biscuits. Dessert will be key lime pie and butterscotch squares. And no southern meal is complete without sweet tea to drink. Should be yummy. Plus there will be jelly beans, lots of jelly beans.

7. Tomorrow night I'll have to go to bed early because
8. Early on Saturday morning, I will have to translate everything I know about the Dead Sea Scrolls into Spanish for the women to whom I teach a biweekly Bible study. We are planning to go see the Scrolls next Saturday, but the audio tour is not narrated in Spanish. In May, we are heading to one of my new favorite places: the Biltmore House. Most of them have never seen it, so I'll be the guide again, explaining what I know in what we laughingly term "the language of heaven." I laugh, but I think they are serious. By the way, what I don't know, I mostly make up.

9. Next week, we will have a very low key week of homeschooling because
10. The children have to take their California Achievement tests. For some bizarre reason, North Carolina homeschoolers cannot take the North Carolina achievement tests. So California, here we come!

11. Last night, the group in which I met Laurie had a discussion about how we can be a loving, supportive family for Laurie in the coming days and weeks. She's gonna need all the help, hugs, and hot meals she can get. It's the very least we can do. Recently I read or heard the story of a man who moved into the house of someone who'd lost a loved one. Let me explain: when all the dust settled, the relatives went home, and the meals stopped coming as regularly, this friend of the family packed a suitcase, a stack of books, and just went over to stay. For about a month, he sat in the living room reading, doing the crossword puzzle, napping in the afternoon, and sleeping there through the night. He helped out around the house with cleaning, cooking, whatever was needed. But his main contribution was simply his presence; the bereaved family was never alone. Someone called it "the ministry of being there."

12. Laurie shocked everyone in attendance at the funeral yesterday as she stood at the pulpit and told nearly a dozen stories of Christopher's young wisdom, gentleness of spirit, and undaunting courage in the midst of his crisis of health. After one particularly tough episode of trying to catch his breath, he called her to his side and with the oxygen mask over his little face, he rubbed her arm and told her, "Calm down, Mommy, calm down. Everything's going to be okay." Her strength as she told those tales was unimaginable to me. But when it was time for the burial, her heart broke, and we all reached out with the hands of compassion and support to try to catch the shattered pieces. I will never forget her howls of sorrow that erupted from the deepest chasm of grief as she approached the gravesite where the smallest casket I have ever seen was being laid to rest. Not a dry eye on the premises. No one should have to go through what that woman has suffered.

13. One of my favorite Bible stories is found in Luke chapter 24 where two disciples are walking from Jerusalem to their hometown of Emmaus. As they walked along, they talked about all that had happened just days before: Jesus had been taken prisoner, tried, executed, and buried. Rumor had it that the tomb where he'd been laid was empty and that He'd risen from the dead, but they hadn't seen Him. Somehow, Jesus joined them as they walked, and He asked them one of the most important questions anyone has ever asked: "What are you talking about as you walk along together?"

It seems like a simple question. It is a simple question. But it is also profound. When was the last time that someone asked you what you were talking about, what you were thinking about - and then they took the time to listen to your answer? When has someone genuinely showed interest in what was on your heart, especially when you were in a time of pain, fear, or distress? Without advice or suggestion or correction? Just asked???

As we talked about the best ways to walk through this valley of the shadow of death with our friend, I was reminded of this story. There is something powerful about sharing our life journey with those we love, with those who suffer, with those who have lost their way. There is something powerful about listening to the stories, the anecdotes, and the wails. With our hands and fingers intertwined, with our heads huddled close enough to hear even the whispers, and our hearts burning within us, we are determined to get through this. Together.

The story of the road to Emmaus doesn't end at that point.
But my blog will.
For me, right now, this is all I need to ponder.
Someone cares what I'm talking about,
what I'm thinking about,
what's troubling me.
He has asked me to cast all my cares upon Him.
More than that, He has given me a loving husband,
two wonderful children, and many caring, involved,
attentive friends to walk with me on my life road.
And for me right now, for today, that is enough.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Today's schedule...

Wake up and stumble into my study room. Read a book about finding heaven on earth; being surprised in every chapter that in fact, it is possible to experience heaven right here on earth. The book of Ecclesiastes is packed with wisdom I never knew of.

Write. Pray. Prepare for tonight's class at church.

Exercise. Sweat. Stretch. Pull. Push. Lift. Sigh. Groan. Cheer when it's over.

Have breakfast: bran flakes with a banana. Yum! I could eat cereal for every meal, but variety is the spice of life.

Oversee and do chores with the kids. Vacuum, dust, sweep, brush Maya's fur, clean out the minivan. Sweep the garage and arrange all the shoes in order. Fold and put laundry away. Wash the dishes. Organize the homeschooling materials and art supplies.

Set the kids up with a mosaic project they have begged to do. Enjoy the silence as they work. Hope they don't get too high on the glue fumes.

Iron clothes for a noon-time Holy Week Service at church.
On Monday, the Pastor spoke about Peter, the disciple who followed Christ at what she termed "a comfortable distance." When confronted about his association with Christ, Peter vehemently denied even knowing Him. The challenge was for all of us: how often do we follow Christ at a distance, not taking a stand for what we believe in for one reason or another? How often do I deny my relationship with Christ because of what others have done in His name? Or because of what others who claim to follow Christ have not done? The Good News is that He loves me despite all my lies, secrets, silence, and many other methods of denying Him, and wants nothing for me or any of us except reconciliation with Himself.

Yesterday, the Pastor spoke about forgiveness. While hanging on the cross, Christ said, "Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." On the cross, in agony, being mocked, spit at, and shamed, He forgave all who did Him wrong. Why can't I forgive people for rubbing me the wrong way? Why can't I forgive people for cutting me off in traffic or in conversation? Today, the Pastor is supposed to explain what Christ meant when He told the thief that he would join Him in paradise.

Following the service, I'll come back home for tea and a brief rest time.
Then return to the church for Christopher's funeral at 2:30 this afternoon.

I'll come back home and ponder the depth of Laurie's pain.
There was a private memorial service for him early Sunday afternoon because Laurie's brother-in-law who'd come over from England on Thursday had to return home Sunday evening. I waited outside the chapel until the service was concluded, and then I went in just to give her a hug. Her fragile frame was racked with sobs. Inexpressible sorrow. Undiminished pain. The Bible says that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. I know that Laurie loves God; I guess the most important thing for us to do now is wait to see how this works together for good, and we are determined to wait together.

Sit on the deck for more tea and journaling.
Burn a stick of incense. Relax.

Email and call a few friends; make sure they know how much they mean to me. It's been a busy week of birthdays (with Jill's coming up tomorrow. Happy Birthday, sis!), and I have enjoyed the celebration of life. May each day be cause for thankfulness and celebration. We never know which will be our last.

Laugh and play with the kids a little more.
Figure out what we'll eat for dinner.

Give thanks for all of it, even the painful, doubtful, tearful stuff.
Learn my lessons well.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Now may the Lord of Peace Himself give you peace always in every way. (I Thessalonians 5:23)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Oh no, Lord, not again!

It happened again: the death of a child. The death of a son. Little Christopher, the boy I've written about this past week, was removed from life support this afternoon and passed away. Tears flow. Sorrow overflows. Words seem trite, contrived, false. Silent anguish, moans of agony, shouts of horror are the only appropriate responses - if that.

Fortunately, Laurie was accompanied by her sister, her closest friends who happen to be the godparents of her two children, her late husband's brother who'd flown in from England last night, doctors, nurses, and the angelic spirit of her dearly beloved husband himself as little Christopher made the transition from this life to the next. I imagine that Laurie is back at home right now, having returned there for the first time in nine days. The last time she was there, she stood outside on the driveway waiting for the ambulance with the body of her gasping son in her arms. I imagine she is lying down in her bed weeping. Or perhaps she's lying in his bed. Maybe she's outside in her backyard shouting up to the clouds, asking "Why me, Lord? Why me again?" While I don't know what she's doing, this one thing I do know, whatever she is doing, thinking, or saying right now, she is being prayed for, watched over, and loved beyond all she can ever imagine.

Last Tuesday, when I heard the tragic news about Christopher being in a coma, my first thought was this: He is in heaven playing catch with his dad. At peace. At home. Father and son together at last. That was my hope then; that is my certainty now. Christopher is walking, laughing, and holding hands with his father. They are swimming, climbing trees, and singing songs. The father he never knew, the father he heard a lot about, saw pictures of, and asked copious questions about. The father he resembled here on earth is the father he gets to embrace and enjoy in heaven. Forever.

My prayers for Laurie continue. In fact, they are more fervent than before. Right now she has to plan his homegoing celebration service: pick out a funeral home, a suit for him to wear, music to play, a place to lay his body to rest. In a couple of weeks, though, most if not all of the visitors from out-of-town will head back home and move on in their own lives. It is then that she will need the loving tender care of those who live alongside her. My hope and prayer is that we will all stand close beside her when the meals aren't coming as frequently, the flowers have faded, and the fruitbaskets have begun to lose their luster.

Death sucks. The death of a child goes beyond what we are able to comprehend or explain. But back in January of 2005, I wrote a blog for my friend, Suzanne, who'd lost her son, John, to death when he was only nineteen years of age. I wrote about life, about death, and about a mother's sorrow in particular - and after rereading that blog a few minutes ago, I have decided to post it again. If you've read it before, forgive me for plagiarizing myself. If you haven't, here it is. And when you are done reading, please join me in praying for Laurie and Charlotte as they join hands and march on into a life that is now void of their beloved brother and son. And while you are at it, lift a quick prayer for Suzanne also.

Kyrie Eleison.
Lord, have mercy.


Last night I was reminded that there is another language that I am not fluent in, that none of us are fluent in: the language of grief, of death, of sorrow. Words like “bury her son,” “courageous teenager who battled disease all his life,” and “leaves behind his parents and teenage sister” – those kinds of phrases ought to be used only in the movies. But this is no fictional account.

Last night my dear friend, Suzanne, lost her son to complications from devastating, inexplicable, unnecessary, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. He was only nineteen years old, but he had fought a long, brave, and painful fight for ten years. Suzanne had taken him to countless doctors’ appointments, kept him home from school for countless days to give him priceless and boundless love over these long years. I cannot imagine how difficult it was for her to watch her son suffer for so long. I cannot imagine how much she prayed for his pain to be taken away and for him to be able to get up and walk, run, play, even slam the door and drive away to nurse his teenage angst and wounds in the arms of gentle and caring friends. But far more than that, I cannot imagine how horrific, deep, and inexpressibly acute her pain was last night when she felt his spirit get up, walk away, run, play with the angels, and close the door quietly, but firmly behind him, leaving the angst, wounds, pain, and crippling effects of disease forever.

When I read the email last night announcing his passing, I wanted to believe it was written in Swahili, and my brain’s translation into my native English was amiss. But no one could possibly be that bad at translating; not even my tired, weak, tear-filled eyes could misread such bad news. I immediately cried out: "Lord, have mercy on Suzanne, on Carolyn and David, John’s sister and father as well. Give them the courage and the room and the support they need to grieve openly, fully, and unapologetically. Give them comfort, peace, and the presence of dear friends bearing gifts of food, tea, and quietness of spirit so that they will not be hungry, thirsty, or alone at this unspeakably difficult time. Kyrie Eleison."

When the first wave of sorrow receded and I was able to dry that first outpouring of tears, I remembered something I’d read last month on the perpetual calendar above my kitchen sink. “The twists and turns of life have a way of reminding us – we aren’t home here. This is not our homeland. We aren’t fluent in the languages of death and disease. The culture confuses the heart, the noise disrupts our sleep, and we feel far from home. And you know what? That’s okay.” The word that best describes my darkest, saddest, most disquieting moments is “homesickness.” I find myself longing for a home I’ve not yet been to, but I feel certain that it’s gotta be better than this one where I must watch a dear friend mourn the loss of her son.

It’s gotta be better than this one where I must watch, love, and support two families that are in a pitched battle against the very aggressive enemy known as childhood cancer. It's gotta be better than this one where I am watching helplessly as a local homeschooling family of five nurse their mother back to health after she underwent surgery to remove stomach cancer earlier this week. There’s gotta be something better than watching crowds of tsunami victims wrestling for food and water that is tossed from helicopters. There must be a place where there are no words for “tidal wave, famine, earthquake, transplant surgery, suicide, and alcoholism.” There must be a country where translators shrug their shoulders and shake their heads in obvious confusion when words like “abuse, suicide, cancer, and roadside bomb” come up in conversation. There must be a country where flags will never fly at half mast and mothers do nothing but dance with their children. That’s the homeland I want to call my own and long to inhabit.

During the Christmas holidays, Steve and I attended a rather large and festive benefit dinner at a local hotel. There were several bands performing that night, none of which I was familiar with before that night. One group called NewSong performed a song entitled, “Arise, My Love” that had the following words as its chorus: “Arise, my love. Arise my love. The grave no longer has a hold on you. No more death’s sting, no more suffering. Arise, arise, my love.” As the lyrics of the song drew the word picture of God the Father looking down at His son who had died and was in the tomb for three days after the crucifixion, I recalled the scene from “The Passion of the Christ” when the enormous tear fell from heaven and the earth split open because of God’s sorrow.

Although that song was conceived as an Easter hymn, it seems equally fitting now as I think of the death of Suzanne's son. As I allowed my mind to wander heavenward and waxed poetic in my thinking, I saw God looking down into a quiet and darkened room as John lay in bed last night at the Westchester Medical Center in New York State. As he struggled to breathe and Suzanne listened alertly for each rattly inhale, I heard God speak out of the silence into the ears of that long-suffering, lion-hearted, exhausted, hungry, and homesick teenager, “Arise, my love. Arise, my love. Disease no longer has a hold on you. No more pain’s sting. No more suffering. Arise, arise, my love.” Those are words we can all understand.

Bye for now, John. Save a dance for me.
Suzanne, I love you.

Monday, April 03, 2006

It was an honor to be nominated...

I received an email today from the man who invited me to speak at the social workers' event last Friday. Although he was quite complimentary about the talk, he informed me that, regrettably, someone else has been confirmed as the speaker at the May conference.

I admit that I'm disappointed at not being able to give the talk again. I had already done some mental gymnastics related to the changes I'd have to make in order for it to be relevant to the larger group. I had new jokes lined up. I had new stories to add and old ones to delete. I had my list of thank you's ready to read. I had my outfit all picked out. Well, I hadn't settled on the accessories yet, but my stylist and I were close to finalizing it all.

In any case, it turns out that the Academy chose to award the prize to another nominee. Like I said, it was an honor to be nominated. I hope to be in contention at some future time.

Thank you to my publicist, my agent, my make-up artists, my costume designers, my chef, my chauffer, my assistants, and my personal trainer. It takes a village, you know...

But most of all, thanks to you, my faithful public, my most loyal supporters and friends. Without you, I don't know where or what I'd be.

Thank you, good night, and good luck to you all.