Monday, July 31, 2006

Vacation Response

For the next two weeks - starting today and ending on Saturday, August 12th - I will be out of town nearly every day. I'm not sure if I'll have internet access in the places where we will be staying, so I may not be able to blog. Please don't give up on me. I'll be back as soon as possible.

In the meantime, traveling mercies to all of you.
Keep the faith.
Deepen the faith.
Go on an adventure - even if it's just around the block.
Enjoy the journey.

If you are near the beach, dig your toes down in the sand. Bask in its warm weight. Close your eyes and listen to the waves. I do love the water.

If you are near the mountains, go for a hike. Breathe deeply of the cool air. Let your spirit soar.

If the moon is visible where you are, smile at it and think of someone you love.
I will do the same.

Raise a toast to friends and loved ones far and near.
Remember that you are being thought of.
Remember that you are loved.

Be good.
Or be good at it...

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Home Alone and Happy about it.

Kristiana is at a friend's house.
Daniel is at a friend's house.
Steve went to see about his mother.
Maya is taking a nap a few feet away.
I am home alone.

I had one of those unforgettable fabulous moments today: I had just had another invigorating, eye-opening session with Jim, the best therapist in the whole wide world! "What are you feeling right now, Gail? Are you angry at her? Are you angry at him? Yes, I'm sure you are a great wife and fabulous Mom, but what about you? What are you going to do today to take care of yourself?" After considering a few possibilities, I settled on a solo lunch.

I ordered a Thai crunch salad: lettuce, cabbage, peanuts, edamame, chicken, dressing, and other ingredients I'm certain I've forgotten.
I ordered a mango mango mojito. (I always enjoy the minty sweetness of regular
mojitos, so I decided to try a variation on an old favorite.)

I almost fell off my seat. I almost wet my pants.
I pulled out my wallet as fast as I could and watched her forehead wrinkle, crinkle, and furrow as she did the math... yes, the 40-year-old got carded!!!

To add compliment to compliment, the waitress told me that she too is 40.
One 40-year-old didn't recognize another one.
She has no idea how happy she made me!

My husband said perhaps she just wanted me to feel good about myself
so I'd want to come back there and eat again.
Men!!! What does he know?

Sure, I've gotta go do laundry and clean the house.
Sure, I've gotta pack Daniel's clothes for camp next week.
But I'm home alone for a few hours.
And to a very fine waitress at a local pizza place,
I look young enough to get carded.

What more could I ask for?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thursday Thirteen

1. I've won at the medium difficulty level of Spider Solitaire four times. Yeah for me!

2. I bought new underwear tonight: black, seamless, boyshort style. I like them a lot.

3. It took me seven months, but I finally found the replacement coffee filter for that fancy-dancy coffee machine Steve got me for Christmas. I can use it again!

4. I nursed a large turtle mocha for over two hours this morning. I sat at a table outside Caribou Coffee in the lobby of the Bank of America building and watched all the business people march to and fro in search of success.

5. I listened to two guys behind me talking about their cars for nearly 45 minutes. One actually said: "I'm taking the kids to Richmond for a long weekend, but my wife can't drive my new car. She'd better make sure she has everything she needs in the house." I can quote him because I wrote it down after he said it. Men and their stupid machines. Or is it stupid men and their machines? No, it's just some stupid men and their stupid machines.

6. It's hot.

7. The air conditioning at the mall was not functioning properly tonight. I got my panties and got out of there.

8. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read: "Give war a chance." Haven't we been doing that for the past 5000 years?

9. I'm going to Hilton Head, South Carolina on Monday with Kristiana. Daniel will be at camp with his Sunday School class. Steve and Maya will be alone at last. They are deeply in love with each other; I'm sure they will enjoy having the whole house to themselves.

10. Next Friday and Saturday, the 4th and 5th of August, Kristiana and I are going to a scrapbooking convention here in Charlotte. Taking two classes together. Roaming the huge sponsor/retail hall. We are taking "mother-daughter time" to the max.

11. After our Saturday morning class, we will meet up with Steve and Daniel and head down to Orlando together for Daniel's AAU basketball season finale. Yup, you read that right: basketball. It's been the never-ending season, but soon we'll be done. A week in Orlando in August. Our only vacation week as a family all summer, sweating our pistachios off in Florida --> our sole consolation is that he's gonna pay us back big time when he becomes a professional basketball or baseball player.

12. I wish I were floating belly up in the water in the Meditteranean Sea off the coast of Menorca, Spain. Gazing up at the sky. Watching clouds drift lazily by. Listening to the shutter of Steve's camera capture the kids as they splash past me on their way back to shore, seashells in hand.

13. Last night, I dreamt that I went to a college reunion and saw friends I haven't seen in over 20 years: guys I danced with at parties, women I sat with and talked to until the wee hours of morning, campus leaders and cut-ups alike. I woke up just before talking to and hugging someone I don't think even noticed me, the lowly freshman, when he was a much-admired senior. Whenever I have dreams like that, whenever I think of someone I haven't seen or heard from in a long time, I take a moment to pray for them, for their safety and well being. I don't believe in coincidence, so I take the incident to the One who knows and loves us all. I hope and pray that Seth, Mike, Carolyn, Helga, Chris, Julie, Bill, Jackie, John, Rita, Jacqui, Janice, Enith, Kenard, Steve, Rob, Harry Sheehy, and Coach Farley are all doing well. May God give rest to the souls of Leza Washington, Will Love, and Carlos Egan. I miss you all. I miss the hills of Billsville - otherwise known as Williamstown, Massachusetts.

I'm off to bed.
It's late.
It's hot.
It's almost Friday.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Museum Musing

I spent ninety minutes wandering around the Mint Museum of Art this morning. Art and artifacts from various epochs and areas all in one building for the perusal of wanderers like myself. So many thoughts, questions, insights came up for me.

* A dear friend of mine from Mexico gave me a videotape ten days ago and asked me to watch it. It depicts the life and ministry of her parents in a small city in Mexico called Atepec. They administer medicine to the sick, teach and preach the Bible to those who attend their church, and provide assistance to their family and friends in need. The final part of the video showed la Senora Bautista (What a great name for a preacher - Bautista means "baptist.") making tortillas in their kitchen. She used what is called a "metate y mano" which are basically a stone rolling pin and inclined surface on which the "masa" or dough is rolled. Then she placed the lump of masa into a wooden tortilla maker and flattened it. From the flattener into the pan over an open flame. Pure, unadulterated tortillas. Fresh. Hot. Perfect.

This morning I saw another metate y mano from either the 18th or 19th century at the museum. "Elaborately carved from a single piece of volcanic stone" is what was written on the descriptive card. "Probably not used for daily food preparation." I wonder what Mrs. Bautista would think of the one I saw.

* The main exhibit at the Mint right now is made up of Spanish Colonial Art. Fine wooden, silver, and stone statues. Historic images painted on canvas, wood, cloth, and stone. Saints. Angels. Demons. A priest's robe. Altar pieces. The remnants of the conquest of Central and South America by Spaniards.

Each of the pieces on display were skillfully, colorfully, expressively, beautifully rendered. I read dozens of wall plaques and cards explaining who the people were and what they are believed to represent. My mind whirled with dozens of questions about all of it. Where did it come from? Who created the art? Did the artists produce them under threat of death or for the love of God and church? How did it end up at the Mint Museum? I know the name of the patrons of the museum who purchased the pieces and donated them to the Mint. But how were they extracted from churches and private homes in those far off nations?

* Beside one statue, I read that reportedly Adam is buried on the very spot where Christ's cross was mounted. I'd never heard that before. What if that were true?

* There are patron saints of nuns, travelers (at least two patron saints of travelers; I like knowing that...), the West Indies, all South Americia, the Philippine Islands, lost items, bus drivers, unmarried women seeking husbands, the poor, and black missions.

That last patron saint is of personal interest to me for many reasons. St. Peter Claver was a Spanish Jesuit who dedicated his life to the care and ministry of African slaves brought to the new world. In the relief painting in the museum, he is feeding a slave, and pinned to his priestly robe is the shell that is associated with those who walk the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage of St. James in northern Spain where my dear friend Antonio, also a Spanish-born Jesuit priest, lives.

* I don't remember seeing paintings of Joseph holding the Christ Child in his arms before today. I've seen the Madonna and Child countless times, but Christ in the embrace of His earthly father, never. I cannot say that I have given much thought to how much Joseph must have loved, feared, respected, and wondered about the Son he called Jesus. I will think about it a lot more now that I've seen it in living color.

* The statue of Christ reclining in death in the tomb stunned me; I had no choice but to draw near, squat down, and stare at Him for a good long while. I tried to imagine that body resurrected, standing, discarding those linens, and exiting the tomb. As I took frantic notes on my contemplation, a favorite Easter hymn came to mind: "Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior, waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord." The chorus resounds with: "He arose. He arose. Hallelujah, Christ arose." The image there before me depicted the brief moment, that split second of breath between the verse and the refrain.

As I sat there transfixed before that icon, I was reminded of the woman at the little church in Bologna, Italy. The crying woman. Weeping. Convulsed with tears of deep sorrow. She was on her knees with her arms extended in a pleading and desperate embrace around an eerily similar image of Christ's broken, bleeding body. I longed to approach that woman on that sunny October day in 2003, wrap my arms around her, and pray with her. I prayed silently for her that day and many times since. For her peace. For grace and mercy to help her in her time of need - whatever that need may have been and may still be. I prayed for her again today.

Those ninety minutes went by far too quickly. If I didn't need to leave and pick up my children from camp, I would have stayed for hours. There is never sufficient time to wander and ponder the marvels that surround me on this, my life's journey.

Buon viaggio, amico mio.
Traveling mercies to you, my friend.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Dog's Life

Wake up.
Be taken for a walk.
Pee. Poop.
Wait while the poop gets cleaned up.
Return home.
Eat breakfast.
Run around the house.
Lick Dad's legs.
Run around some more.
Go for another walk.
Eat some more.
Chew up an unattended Polly Pocket doll.
Pee. Poop. Wait.
Lick Dad's face.
Bite Dad's fingers.
Run from Mom when she tries to stop all the licking and biting.
Wake up.
Start all over.

Sometimes I wish I could be Maya for a day or two.
Because no one ever cleans up after me.
No one ever picks me up and carries me to bed.
No one ever lets me bite their fingers.
Only rarely does anyone else prepare my food.
Very rarely am I allowed to bark for what I want.
It is even more rare that someone responds to my barks.
One thing we have in common: the man who likes when I lick his legs...

Sometimes I'm glad I'm not Maya.
On car rides, she still gets carsick.
A lot less than she used it, but she still pukes.
Yesterday she was vaccinated.
She had a fecal sample extracted.
Four weeks from now, she will have a baby tooth extracted
and get her teeth cleaned. Under general anesthesia.
Six weeks from now, she will get her rabies shot.
When she has indoor accidents, she gets put back into her crate.
And left alone for a while to think it over.

But she's learning.
She's getting cuter by the day.
And she's ours.
Until the day when our precious dog becomes a dog-gone.

A dog's life.
It's a good gig if you can get it.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Best Yard on the Block - Part Two

The wild pecan shoot is gone. So is that nameless, faceless, merciless weed among the crepe myrtles. Years of pine needles have been hauled off the the dump. New flowers stand in clusters and in rows giving me reasons to smile every time I walk Maya. With a budget of $15,000 and unlimited advice from the finest nursery employee in South Charlotte, I couldn't have done what Marlon and Alexandra have done with less than 20% of that hypothetical budget.

But all this beauty has a cost, and it is not merely financial. We must be sure that the flowers are watered regularly. We must trim the holly and nandina bushes regularly. Every three or four months, fertilizer must be spread. In the fall, some of the flowering plants must be replaced with pansies which are hardy enough to survive our brutal Charlotte winters...brutally mild, that is. Anyway, there is much maintenance work to be done if we are to keep this yard as beautiful as it is today. After listening to the call for vigilance that our gardeners issued, Steve and I smiled at one another and looked back at them with one simple question: "Can we keep you on retainer?" I suggested that they drop by whenever they are in the neighborhood and do whatever it takes to keep us on the straight and narrow path towards gardening nirvana. We cannot do this alone. They need only recall the state of our yard on the day they came in order to know that.

I recently taught two Bible study lessons to a group of women from our church. I challenged them with the idea that there is spiritual truth in every situation of our lives. I asked each of two tables to come up with a list of ways to lose weight. What should you do and not do in order to lose weight? The two tables came up with two very different lists: one focused on specific steps like drinking lots of water and green tea, exercising, reducing or eliminating carb intake, sleeping well, and other suggestions along those lines. The other table was more intellectual in their list: first, we must weigh ourselves and see where we are right now. Then we must admit that we have weight to lose. Then we must make a conscious decision to make changes in our lives.

I suggested to them that all those truths are relevant to our spiritual lives. We must admit that we have a problem, that we are separate from God and from one another. We must admit that we want to be reconciled with Him and with each other. We must make decisions about who we are, what we long for, and accept that there are drastic changes that are necessary. On the more practical side, we must decide what habits or activities in our lives must be dropped and which must be taken on. We must stop eating the junk food of most of what's on television, in the media in general, and begin to ingest spiritual food that builds us up and grows us into maturity. Eat the Bread of Life. Drink the Living Water. Run the race set before us.

As it turns out, gardening isn't so different. The soil needs to be fed, watered, and prepared to bring forth flowers, fruits, and trees. Inexpensive, hybrid grass seed yields a hybrid weedy lawn. Gotta get the best seed in order to get the best yard. Sure, we can keep adding pine needles on top of pine needles, but eventually the damage that grubs and insects and other critters living underneath will be evident to all passersby. Removing it all is sweaty, itchy, tedious work, but there is no option of the goal is a yard worthy of admiration.

Eight or nine months of itchy, sweaty, teary work with my therapist have yielded an emotional strength and stability that I didn't think possible when I started. Years of codependent, enabling behavior coupled with long-term guilt over things that weren't my fault and covered with a thick layer of superficial answers to profound questions about who I am and what I long for in life all needed to be excavated and hauled to the curb. I've learned how to recognize the squirrels in my life, the people who plant seeds and nuts of self-centeredness, neediness, and narcissism in my mind, then they scamper away feeling relieved, with plans to return and dig up their little treasures at some future time. I've put down rodent repellent. I've also learned that I can be a bit squirrelly in the lives of some people I know and love: sowing my own particular brand of nuttiness in their souls' gardens. Gotta nip those tendencies in the bud. Long after my sessions with Jim come to an end, I will have to continue to keep a close watch over the creeping ivy of self-importance, the choking weed of self-criticism, and the fast-growing vines of nagging neediness and envy. It's a dastardly combination that overruns Gail's Garden with dizzying speed and disastrous consequences.

I will never have the best heart on the block.
My soul will never be the most cultivated or colorful.
I expect that I will always need outside help to keep the weeds under control.
My thumbs are a milk chocolate shade of brown - no green in sight.

But right now, today, after the much-needed rain of email,
telephone calls, invitations to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and tea,
after reading several blogs and consulting other uplifting resources,
after a time of prayer, reading, and journaling,
after walking, talking, eating, and laughing with Steve and the kids,
after some iced coffee and a stroll through the front yard with Maya,
My front yard is looking and feeling fine.
Mighty fine.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Best Yard on the Block - Part One

About six weeks ago, we hired a couple from the Spanish congregation of our church to come to our home and help us with our yard. These are not the usual landscapers, the ones who show up with a lawnmower and a blower and start to make hay of the front yard. The husband has a degree in agriculture. They take their time, get down on their knees, and weed with great care not to remove anything other than weeds. They spread mulch by hand rather than simply dumping the wheelbarrow and spreading with a rake. But I'm getting ahead of my story.

On the same day that I asked them if they could drop by sometime and tell us what was ailing our yard, Marlon and his wife, Alexandra, came to our home, walked around the front and back yard for nearly an hour, and then asked us to sit down at the backyard table while they gave us their diagnosis. Their assessment was extensive, and the list of what needed to be done was long.

First of all, there were many weeds that needed to be pulled. There was poison ivy and several other poisonous plants that needed to be removed. The shoot of a pecan tree was growing between some low flowering bushes. When I asked where it could have come from, they explained that a squirrel had probably buried the nut there and then forgotten to retrieve it. In the midst of one cluster of crepe myrtle trees, another tough-skinned weed had grown up to nearly ten feet in height. Wisteria is beautiful, but deadly for a garden, so it had to go. The list went on and on and on.

I cannot even say that I was ashamed of the condition of our yard; I wasn't. Steve and I admitted to them that we know next to nothing about horticulture, agriculture, or any kind of culture. We like low grass and colorful flowers. We don't like weeds or poison ivy. Could they help us? Yes, indeed, they could.

They started the same day. They started working on the tiny tract of land around our mailbox and extracted dead or dying bushes, plants, and weeds. They removed all the pine needles (which serve as mulch in this area of the country) and made a hasty acquaintance with a snake that had considered that pine bed its home until that moment. They staked up the rose bush that was adjacent to the box and trimmed back other flowering plants - all this on a patch of land about four feet by five feet. I was most surprised by the sudden appearance of the rose bush - it had been so overrun with all the other overgrown foliage that I didn't even know it was there.

Marlon and Alexandra worked for hours that first day.
Mostly at the foot of that mailbox. After they left,
the four of us stood around that mailbox garden in silent awe.
This was going to be good. And we all knew it.

At the curb beside us were bags of pine needles.
Bags of weeds. Bags of dead leaves and vines.
Piles of dying bushes that had finally been put out of their misery.
Piles of overgrown bushes that had been trimmed aggressively.
Mounds of debris that had somehow been deposited beneath the overgrown bushes.
All hauled to the curb for the yard waste removal truck to remove.

Standing there with the mailbox miracle at our feet, we were confronted with how much of a mess our front yard was. Until we saw what was possible, we had no idea how bad it had gotten.

Marlon and Alexandra saw the same mess that we saw, but they saw how good it could be. They knew what was possible so the mess that lay before them was far less daunting for them that it was for us.

I have before me now the little plant identification sticks that came with the flowers Marlon and Alexandra deposited in our newly fertilized, cultivated, and pine-mulched yard: celosia (of various colors), daylilies, gomphrena, spreading petunias, and verbena. Plus there at least three other types of bushes that adorn our newly festooned field of dreams; without the little white stick-thing, there is absolutely no way this Brooklyn-girl can name them properly. In any case, the yard looks spectacular. We've been complimented by our neighbors and by visitors to our neighborhood as well: We've got the best yard on the block.

If you've ever read my blog before, you know that I don't share this story simply because I'm proud of our yard - although I certainly am enjoying how beautiful it is. I am writing all this because all the yard work got me to thinking about how I let my personal life, my spiritual life, my emotional life get overgrown. The soil of my heart, of your heart, of all our hearts is fertile. Our hearts long to have certain seeds sown, cultivated, watered, and tended: love, forgiveness, acceptance, affirmation, restoration, reconciliation. More often than not, weeds are sown: anger, bitterness, isolation, pain, fear, loneliness. Weeds become stalks; stalks become trees that send roots of sorrow deep under the surface of our lives. Long-forgotten nuts like betrayal, disappointment, and abandonment grow up and are nearly immovable.

Every now and then, though, we manage to clear a patch of thorns. We dig deeply enough to release a few hidden serpents and remove enough ground cover so that fresh air, water, and fertilizer can have an effect. We read, journal, travel, talk to a therapist, confide in a friend or spouse. We pray. We read Scripture. We meditate. We allow healing waters to flow in and through us. Then we stand back and marvel at the radiance of the newly tilled soil of our souls. We had no idea how bad it was until we saw how good it could get.

Marlon and Alexandra returned to our house this past Saturday afternoon to give us the estimate for the work that must be done in our backyard. They began working on Monday evening, but there's a lot left to do.

Likewise, I began working on this blog earlier today but had to stop because of dinner and our usual evening activities. Please forgive me, but I have to get some sleep. To be continued...

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Wanna get high? Read this...

I don't make a regular habit of quoting other people on this blog.
I don't make a regular habit of forwarding email chain-letters.
But this is a good one. This one touched me in a place very dear to my heart: gratitude.

Our world is being torn apart by war, aggression, violence, fear, abuse, abandonment, and all sorts of other tragedies. Friendships, marriages, families, and entire nations are being destroyed from within and without. I just had lunch with a dear friend during which we shared tales of sorrow that NO ONE ought to have to endure.

In the midst of all the misery, there are reasons to rejoice.
In the midst of a world and a nation becoming increasingly addicted to all kinds of substances and behaviors, there are ways to "get high" that are natural, painless, and worthy of repetition. With that in mind, I share this list that a neighbor sent to me earlier today.

My hope is that we will each read it, contemplate it, and then add to it. Not just add to the written list, but also to the living list of activities that makes up our lives. May we each add these and other delights to our daily lives.

I, for one, suggest that we add "cheesecake lunches" to the list.
And "inviting ourselves to the homes of our dearest friends for lunch on Sunday afternoons."
What about "warm apple pie and ice cream"?
And "scratching the back of someone we love."

Note: the comments in the parenthesis are mine.

Natural Highs

1. Falling in love. (Falling in "like" is great too.)

2. Laughing so hard your face hurts.

3. A hot shower.

4. No lines at the supermarket (or at airport security).

5. A special glance.

6. Getting mail, (Not only email, but also snail mail. Handwritten.)

7. Taking a drive on a pretty road.

8. Hearing your favorite song on the radio. (Singing and dancing along.)

9. Lying in bed listening to the rain outside. (Lord, we could use some rain!)

10. Hot towels fresh out of the dryer. (Especially if the laundry is done by someone other than me.)

11. Chocolate milkshake or vanilla or strawberry!

12. A bubble bath!

13. Giggling.

14. A good conversation.

15. The beach.

16. Finding a 20 dollar bill in your coat from last winter.

17. Laughing at yourself.

19. Midnight phone calls that last for hours.

20. Running through sprinklers.

21. Laughing for absolutely no reason at all.

22. Having someone tell you that you're beautiful.

23. Laughing at an inside joke.

24. Friends.

25. Accidentally overhearing someone say something nice about you (especially your kids).

26. Waking up and realizing you still have a few hours left to sleep.

27. Your first kiss - either the very first one or the first with a new partner.

28. Making new friends or spending time with old ones.

29. Playing with a new puppy.

30. Having someone play with your hair.

31. Sweet dreams. (Have you ever woken up laughing? I have.)

32. Hot chocolate. (I prefer tea or coffee, but whatever...)

33. Road trips with friends. (Solo trips are a real pleasure also.)

34. Swinging on swings.

35. Making eye contact with a cute stranger.

36. Making chocolate chip cookies. (Or brownies with chocolate chips and M&Ms.)

37. Having your friends send you homemade cookies.

38. Holding hands with someone you care about.

39. Running into an old friend and realizing
that some things - good or bad - never change.

40. Watching the expression on someone's face
as they open a much desired present from you.

41. Watching the sunrise.

42. Getting out of bed every morning and
being grateful for another beautiful day.

43. Knowing that somebody misses you.

44. Getting a hug from someone you care about deeply.

45. Knowing you've done the right thing,
no matter what other people think.
PS. More good news: Yesterday afternoon, Kristiana saw Maya playing with something on the floor of the family room. Kristiana told her to drop it, and being the good dog that she is, Maya dropped it. It was THE PLUM PIT. Turns out she had never eaten it. What a relief! Last Saturday when she snatched it out of Kristiana's hand, I told her to drop it, but she didn't. So we all assumed she'd swallowed it. Apparently, she did drop it, but none of us saw it fall.

What an emotionally turbulent week we've had! In the end, however, it was a week of many miracles, many blessings, many things for which we give infinite thanks to God for his goodness, mercy, love and protection.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What do you want first: the good news or the bad news?

So I drove to the medical tower, arriving at 12:05 PM, 25 minutes early for my sonogram. I sat in the car and ate a bento box: brown rice, carrots, black beans, tofu, corn, and all kinds of other yummy goodies and wash it all down with ice cold water. In the car next to me, I saw a woman's feet perched on the dashboard, her well-manicured right hand floating back and forth to her painted lips, daintily delivering the death stick's poison to what I imagine are deeply -seared lungs: why on earth do people still smoke??? Anyway, I enjoyed my lunch and wound my way into the office where I was the sole patient awaiting medical attention. Ten minutes after my arrival and check-in, the receptionist informed me that she had me down for a 1:30 appointment. What??? On the telephone, on a walkie-talkie, in English or in Spanish, 12:30 doesn't sound like 1:30; I know they've messed up. She told me that the diagnostic staff goes on lunch break until 1:30, so I must be mistaken.

Inhale. Exhale. Be at peace, Gail. My mind rewinded the tape to Monday when I read that whenever there is a missed appointment, a delayed flight, or a traffic jam, I should consider it an unexpected opportunity to seek out something to give thanks for, to pray for, and to accept as a chance to relax. When she told me I'd have to wait another hour to be seen, I decided to put my latest life lesson to the test.

I walked casually back to my seat, pulled out a book on spiritual journaling, and began to work through some of the writing exercises. Within fifteen minutes, one of my dear friends, Adelle, walked in with her mother who had a doctor's appointment. We hadn't seen each other in nearly three weeks, so we took advantage of "the mistake" and caught up on the latest work and family news. (She and her husband are both physicians.) She recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica with her husband's family - it turns out her father-in-law was raised there, but she had never been. Loved it! Guanacaste, San Jose, Limon, and many other stops in between. And she brought me back coffee! That's what friends are for, right?

Finally, it was my turn. To their credit, they managed to get me in at 1 PM. Southern hospitality and politeness are the rule even with appointment mix-ups and while reclining topless in an examination chair. Chit-chat and small talk with the technician was interrupted by an ominous silence. She said, "Hmmm, I can't seem to find the fibrous sarcoma that was visible on the earlier films. Let me try again." A couple of attempts later she said, "I'm going to go get the doctor and let her take a look." The doctor came in and performed a second sonogram. She shook her head; "Some women come in with full blown breast cancer and say all they need to do is pray. I tell them that they need surgery AND prayer. In your case, it looks like you got yourself a real miracle. I don't see the fibrous sarcoma at all. Maybe it was just a cyst that we thought was something else." I smiled. "Either way is fine with me; I'll take a miracle anytime I can get it." Yeah for me!!!

I practically sprinted out to the waiting room and told Adelle my good news. We continued our earlier conversation: disciplining children, cheesecake lunches, travel, housework, renovations, landscaping - the usual stuff. All the while I was thinking: "It's gone. It's gone. Thanks be to God; it's gone."

Half an hour later, I set up my portable office (journal, pens, and cell phone with headset) on a bench outside of the Bank of America building where Steve works. He called and congratulated me on my excellent outcome. Two minutes after hanging up with him, Kristiana and Daniel and the rest of their day camp group walked past the bench where I was sitting. They were chatting happily with newfound friends and teachers alike. Five minutes after that, Steve came down to where I was and we celebrated my good news with an "Arnold Palmer" - a truly Southern combination of sweet tea and lemonade. Here's to health, love, and happiness!

It was a glorious day.
Perfectly timed.
Mere coincidences???
I don't think so.

PS. There is no bad news.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Today is much better, thank you very much.

For many reasons, none of which are to be taken personally. Here goes:

* I have spent most of the day alone. Nothing recharges my batteries like some good old-fashioned solitude. Some people need noise, company, and conversation in order to feel energized. Not me; I need quiet, aloneness, and time to listen to the Spirit within. The sound of silence is glorious.

* I went on a very long walk/jog this morning. I have recently reconnected with interval training as a workout technique: walk for a while, jog for a while, sprint, jog, walk, in random order. On the last leg of my journey, there is a fairly steep incline just before I turn onto our road. Thanks to the torture imposed on me during several seasons of winter and spring track in college, I have been brainwashed into believing that I need to sprint up every hill I encounter. Heart racing, throat parched, appetite in overdrive, I jogged that last hundred yards home in triumph. Coach Farley would have been proud. An egg white omelet, a fresh peach, and a large glass of ice water was the perfect breakfast.

* Quick shower. Off to get the oil changed in the car. Across from me in the waiting room was the tallest man I've ever seen in person. I couldn't resist, so I asked; he is seven feet tall. I wish I'd stood up next to him to compare our heights. I asked if he plays for the Charlotte Bobcats; nope, he recently graduated from high school and is off to play hoops at the University of Florida, Miami-Dade. I wished him luck. Very polite young man.

* With the newly oiled and lubed car finely tuned, I drove to The Cheesecake Factory where I proceeded to have a glass of ice water, a cup of coffee, and a chucnk of Adam's Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake for lunch! That's right --> I had cheesecake as my noontime meal. When the waiter approached and began his rehearsed speech, I interrupted his description of the day's specials to inform him that all I needed was a cheesecake recommendation: Chocolate peanut butter cookie dough cheesecake, Snicker Bar chunk cheesecake or Adam's Peanut Butter Cup. With whipped cream, peanut butter cream frosting, and a chocolate cookie crust, that cake was the perfect antidote for what's been ailing me these past few days!

* I am proud to say that I turned a few heads in that restaurant when the only dish brought to my table was piled high with chocolate, peanut butter cups, sugar, whipped cream, and refined carbs of every sort! I smiled and nodded delightedly. I think I may do this once a month, or whenever life's trying to get the best of me. How many times have I read the email chain letter that says I should dance like nobody's watching, work like I don't need the money, and order dessert first because I never know which meal will be my last??? Well, today I did it; I ordered dessert first. I left that restaurant more satisfied than I ever imagined; I whispered to myself, "I did it. I did it." Three and a half hours later, I am still satiated. Yeah for me! Thank you ever so much, Leonie, for your "deep chocolate cake" wishes. You were the inspiration I needed.

If you think that having dessert instead of a meal isn't a big deal, I challenge you to do it sometime and then take your emotional temperature. Mine had dropped three or four degrees, easily.

* Steve is well on his way to full recovery after a difficult, time-consumptive weekend of taking care of his mother and admitting her to the hospital. I pray that she will be well enough to return to her home soon. I pray that he will have the patience and grace he needs to continue to be her guardian angel. I pray that his sisters will soon wake up to their responsibility to help care for their mother. Yup, he's doing all this alone - even though he has twin sisters who are five years older than he is! Boggles the mind, it truly does. There ought to be special honors paid to sons like Steve. I have attempted to thank him and praise his hard work as often as I think of it.

* Kristiana and Daniel are off to day camp at Discovery Place this week; it's the local children's science museum. From 9 am until 5 pm, they are participating in the Urban Explorers class in which they will explore museums, office buildings, a restaurant, Carolina Panther Stadium, and even a cemetery in the uptown Charlotte area. They are learning to use handheld GPS devices with compass coordinates, take digital photos of their discoveries, upload the images onto their Yahoo accounts, and they will put together a Power Point presentation for Friday. I love my children. I miss them when they are away. But I am THRILLED to have the break.

* Yes, today is much better, thank you very much. What on earth will I do with the rest of my week? Oh yeah - tomorrow I have a follow-up breast sonogram to keep an eye on a few cysts I can't seem to shake. Fun, fun, fun. Perhaps I should have saved my cheesecake treat until then. On Thursday however, I'll spend most of the day on a one-day reading/writing/study retreat with my dear friend Katie - which will more than make up for tomorrow's icky procedure. If I can't be alone, then hanging out with Katie is a fantastic alternative.

* Well, off I go to walk Maya - who seems to have recovered from the plum pit incident without incident. Then I'll bask in solitude for another hour and a half before Steve and the children get home.

Thanks to all of you who wrote to me, called me, and otherwise extended grace, love, and encouragement my way as I've gone through something of a rough patch this past week. Your presence in my life is invaluable.

PS. Congrats to Roger Federer for winning Wimbledon four times in a row!
Viva Italia!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A mixed day, a good day.

My mother had an early flight to Philadelphia; her sister, my aunt Betty died. I was up early to go get my mother and take her to the airport.

I couldn't go with her because my mother-in-law isn't doing well in her ongoing battle against manic-depression these days. I don't want to leave Steve alone with the children when I know he is so preoccupied with his mother's health.

Another reason I stayed behind was the wedding of two new friends that I hope will become good friends. It was a beautiful ceremony. It was a delightful reception - small, intimate, no assigned seats, a buffet of tasty morsels, and gorgeous children toddling all around the reception room. The only people I knew were the Pastor who performed the ceremony and the newlyweds. I am glad to say that I met a kind, warm, and most friendly couple and spent over an hour talking and laughing with them.

This afternoon, Maya, our Yorkie, swallowed a plum pit. The vet says it's the same size as her digestive tract, so now we wait. If it doesn't pass through her by this time tomorrow, we'll be off for x-rays and possibly surgery.

After the wedding and reception, I came home, changed my clothes, and returned to the church for a family day event hosted by the Latino congregation of our church. I ran around the field chasing the soccer ball with a few children, talked and laughed with several of the folks there, and came home to wash dishes, play games, and tuck the children into bed.

A new marriage.
Poop watch.
Rummikub with Kristiana.
Washed two cars with the kids.
Time with family and friends in the great outdoors.
Good food, great conversation, and silly jokes.
Soccer, volleyball, catch, and walking the dog.
Reading and writing over an early morning jolt of java alone at Starbucks.

A mixed day.
A good day.
Like so many other days.
I am thankful for it.
And I look forward to many more like it.

Go Federer!!! Go Italy!!!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Thursday Thirteen...

Okay, this one isn't gonna be so pretty. But here goes -

Thirteen things that suck:
1. Divorce
2. Cancer
3. Lying
4. Betrayal
5. Infertility
6. Meanspiritedness
7. Mental illness
8. Verbal, emotional, and mental abuse
9. War
10. Violence in all its forms
11. Friends who disappear and disappoint so very often
12. Materialism
13. The fact that I could so easily come up with 100 more things that suck
and that are bothering me tonight.

I've heard about, read about, and experienced first-hand
some of life's difficulties this week.
I'm not happy about it. At all. Not even a little bit.

This "good girl" (See by way of explanation)
is not feeling so good right now.
My thoughts are not all pure and kind and loving.

Then again they never are... but that's a-whole-nother blog.
For now, though, I'm off to stew in my own juices.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Do you wanna dance?

I checked in with a favorite blog yesterday and was linked to another blog/website put up by Matt. Matt is a regular guy who had a regular job. One day Matt decided he didn't want to lead a regular life anymore. So he left his job, packed his bags, and set out to see the world. To dance his way around the world; he decided to live out that old saying: "Dance like no one's watching." A simple concept. A life-affirming concept. A very funny concept. Please check out Matt's website and watch him dance. Then go out and dance. Dance with a loved one, a stranger, or alone. Just dance.

Or if you don't want to dance, then sashay. Sing. Hum. Smile and wave at strangers. Take pictures. Notice nature. Lie down in the sand. Walk in the rain. Gaze up at the stars. Watch the fireworks. Eat ice cream. Drink in the noise, the laughter, the shrieks of children, and the wondrous energy of dogs.

I went out for a long walk this morning. Not many people out. A few cars. A few walkers. A few intrepid bikers... isn't it funny how many people don skin-tight elastic clothes and take to the streets on thousand dollar bikes as soon as the Tour de France begins? Anyway, there I was. Pumping arms. Pumping thighs. Sucking wind. Talking to myself. Talking to The Great Creator. Trees and flowers in bloom. Grass growing. Sprinkler systems watering driveways, sidewalks, and the occasional patch of lawn. (Lord, please forgive us for our insanely excessive use of water.) I smiled and greeted everyone I met. I was stopped by neighbors twice; one was on her way to the gym while the others were on their way up to their lake property for the day. Life is good.

At one point, I passed two gentlemen who were walking in the other direction. One of them was wearing a tee shirt that said, "When did my WILD OATS turn into SHREDDED WHEAT?" I laughed and told him I liked it. Then I told myself to never let my wild oats turn into shredded wheat. Not as long as I can still dance.

Lee Ann Womack said/sang it so well in her ballad,
"I Hope You Dance."

"I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances, but they're worth taking
Lovin' might be a mistake, but it's worth making

Don't let some hell-bent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance

I hope you still feel small when you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance."