Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Another indecipherable language

Daniel came into our bedroom this morning just after 4:30 and asked if he could use our bathroom. Odd request, I thought. After all, he has a bathroom attached to his bedroom.

Even as that thought made its way off stage left of my rather groggy mind, I heard it. That sound. You know the sound. The one that starts low in the abdomen, just above the bladder, and rushes past the diaphragm, up through the small intestine and the stomach, past the vocal chords, and hits the water in the toilet with a small splash. Yes, that sound. Steve jumped out of bed to help him. I felt awful for him, but I stayed in bed.

Apparently that wasn't the first time he'd been sick last night, and it certainly wasn't the last time. Right now, he's on the family room couch, watching some television, and "looking a little green around the gills," as my mother would say. I've prayed over him, rubbed his little back, kissed his forehead, and told him countless times how much I love him. The one thing I haven't been able to do for him is stand beside or behind him when he's on the floor of the bathroom with his face in the bowl, making that sound.

I've been to the births of all three of my best friend's children - I will protect her identity in this public setting. With her firstborn, I was present for the whole thing from the first doctor's check ("You're eight centimeters dilated," he told her - just after she insisted that if she were dilated less than 4 of the required 10 centimeters she wanted to go back home.) By the time it was over, there had been blood, poop, beauty, courage, and there lay a beautiful baby girl for all of us to love. I watched the cutting and the stitching. I watched every bit of it.

The only part I couldn't watch was the part where she vomited.
There's something about throwing up...
I apologized to her on the day that Alexa was born, and I apologized to Daniel today:
"I love you. But I just can't watch you puke."

A couple of years ago (on January 7, 2005, We were never meant to understand), I wrote a blog about the language of death, a language we as humans were never meant to learn or become fluent in. Watching my son suffer today, I realize that the language of illness is only slightly more understandable to us than the language of death.

Last Friday afternoon before I got dressed and ready for the Make a Wish Foundation dinner, I went to visit a friend who is undergoing chemotherapy for recently re-diagnosed cancer. With the chemicals surging through her body, with her family hovering and willing to do anything and everything she asked, with all the grace and gentleness for which she is known, my friend looked at me with fear, with sadness, with genuine sorrow in her eyes.

Illness and death are completely incomprehensible to all of us. We can name it, treat it, shove it back into remission, but we cannot free ourselves from the horrors of sickness and the unavoidable tragedy of death. Why my friend? Why young Hope Stout, the one whose life we celebrated later that night in tuxedos and long dresses? Why my father back in March of 2001? Why does cancer even exist? When will this madness, this despair, this horror called disease end?

Another friend's husband is battling prostate cancer and brain seizures. A first-grader is in her second month of headaches and low-grade fever for something that has yet to be diagnosed.
Bone cancer. Diabetes. Lyme disease. Paralysis. Cerebral palsy. Down Syndrome. Multiple sclerosis. Bladder cancer. Cleft palate.

Multiple sorrows. Multiple surgeries.
So much pain and anguish.
So little comfort and so few cures.

But still, I have hope. I have faith. My son has faith.
Just a few minutes ago, I was was writing this blog, he called weakly to me from the family room. I went to him.
His request, "Mom, will you pray again?" I prayed again.
He cried. Then he asked for something to eat.

2 Corinthians 1:3 - 5 says the following: 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. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

May the comfort of God our Creator, His healing hand, His provision of loved ones, caretakers, and friends, comfort and heal us all. May His peace rest upon us, abide in us, and radiate from us into the lives of the sick, the sorrowful, and the dying all around us.

Get well soon, my dear, sweet boy.
I miss your ravenous appetite, your laughter, and the sound of your basketball on the driveway.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

If you could have one wish...

what would you wish for?

Last night, Steve and I powdered and perfumed ourselves, brushed, combed, and made ourselves gorgeous, and then donned our very best attire in order to attend a dinner that celebrates, asks, and then answers that very simple question. We were invited to attend the Make a Wish Foundation black tie gala dinner. Steve actually went out and bought a tuxedo! He looked fantastic. I wore something little old thing I found in the back of my closet - and turned a few heads myself... but that's beside the point.

Four years ago, a 12-year-old girl named Hope Stout was asked that question here in Charlotte, North Carolina. She answered that question with a question of her own: "How many other children in Charlotte and western North Carolina are waiting to have a wish granted?"

The reply: 155.

She said: "My wish is to raise enough money so that all their wishes can be granted."

Thus began a ripple of compassion, generosity, and joy across the lives and cities and towns in this part of NC. In that first year, $1.16 million were raised and all the wishes of those 155 children were granted. Although Hope lost her battle to cancer less than a year later, the dream goes on. In her honor, there is a Celebration of Hope dinner every January.

Last night the hosts of the dinner auctioned off various lovely gifts: trips, vacations, sports paraphrenalia related to football and NASCAR, jewelry, a basket containing a book, a quilt, and other momentos of Hope's life, and a very special basketball signed by over a dozen of the 50 greatest basketball players in history.

The basketball used to be owned by a little boy whose Make a Dream wish had been to attend an NBA all-star game and meet Michael Jordan. So he went to All-Star weekend, bought a basketball, asked for several of the players to sign the ball, and cherished both the ball and the gift of meeting Jordan. Cherished it, that is, until the little boy's death soon thereafter. In an act of bravery and generosity, the parents of that deceased child made the decision to auction the ball last night along with all the paraphrenia their son had collected that all-star weekend.

When the bidding hit $17,000, the gentleman who made the offer raised the stakes quite high when he said he would pay the price - and then return the ball to the auctioneer so it could be auctioned again. Standing ovation. The auction began again. This time the price went up to $25,000 - and the next bidder offered to pay the money and return the ball to the family of the little boy who had passed away. We didn't stand on our chairs to applaud, but we probably should have.

When we first received the invitation to go to the dinner, I did everything within my power to not go. I think benefits are over-rated. Why should we have to be wined and dined to donate to a good cause? Why waste so much money on steak and fish and wine and a band when all that money could go to the kids in need? Why do we need to buy or rent tuxedos, new dresses, and get our nails done in order to write a check? I still don't have an answer to any of those questions - and that's beside the point.

After a few moments of self-righteous indignation (gotta work on overcoming that!), I remembered my new year's motto: "Live it. Breathe it." I got dressed up, went to the dinner at the elegant Westin Hotel, where we ate well, conversed and laughed with Steve's boss and his wife, danced with my charming and handsome husband, sat one table over from Steve Smith, one of the best football players in Carolina Panther history, and had a very good time. Steve wrote a generous check. We came home. And a great time was had by all.

At one point during the evening, someone on the podium said that the best wish of all would be to put Make a Wish out of business due to the lack of children with life-threatening diseases. Would that it could be so!

But until then, Hope's wish is our command. Let's make a few children's dreams come true.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What on earth?

What on earth would happen if everyone ate the way that I do, threw away the food I throw away, and consumed what I consume? Would more or fewer people be able to overcome starvation and hunger because of my lifestyle?

What if everyone drove their cars the way I drive, using as much gas and oil, and leaving as much pollution behind? What if people followed my patterns of recycling, conserving water, gas, and other natural resources - would the rate of consumption on our planet continue to increase at its current rate or slow down a little?

What if mothers loved their children the way I love mine? Or cared for their spouses with the respect and honor I hold for Steve? Would marriages and motherhood thrive or die of neglect?

What if other people had my prejudices, fears, and doubts? What if other people spoke to each other the way I speak to them? If adults and children emulated my word choices, my attitude, my tone of voice, would conversations pop up more often or tend to die out more quickly?

What if everyone was as charitable with their money, their time, their personal giftedness, either sharing or hoarding in the same way that I do? Would charitable organizations, blood banks, children's hospitals, Christmas boxes, Easter baskets, and the stomachs of hungry children around the world be more filled or more empty?

If others carried the debts I carry and paid them off at the rate I pay mine off, how many people would fall into bankruptcy? How many people would be debt-free or headed in that direction?

If others showed similar amounts of loyalty to and concern for their friends, family members, neighbors, political leaders, and fellow travelers on this life journey as I do, what on earth would this earth look like?

If others acted out road rage, intolerance, back-biting, criticism, gossip, and insulting behaviors as I do, if other people extended kindness, grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness as I do, what would be the atmosphere in my home, in my neighborhood, in my city, in my nation, and in my world?

And now, having thought about all these things, having asked myself all these questions, what am I going to do about the answers? What am I willing to change, what am I willing to sacrifice (one of the nastiest words in the English language) in order to make a change for the better?

What on earth am I willing to do?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Quiet Week of Quiet Wonder

This one is really long - so you may want to take it in small doses.
One week ago right now, Kristiana and I were in uptown Charlotte (that's the city center) with a group of people from our church feeding breakfast to the homeless. Every Saturday morning, the large kitchen at our church presses itself into action and prepares food for over 250 people, and then volunteers haul it uptown and serve it to as many people as show up. I am sorry to say that last Saturday was the first time I'd gone. I am glad to say that it was not the last time.

As we waited for the leaders of our group to get all the food and drink tables set up, Kristiana and I decided to take a stack of cups and a gallon of orange juice and make our way up the line of people and serve OJ to our guests. Smiles, thanks, comments about the benefits of vitamin C, and several queries as to whether or not the beautiful young woman at my side was my daughter were the responses we received. We ended up serving five or six containers of OJ to dozens and dozens of people in line.

After they'd eaten, I moved along the street with a garbage bag asking if anyone needed to throw anything away. One homeless gentleman offered to find someone among his friends to collect the garbage, insisting that I shouldn't have to clean up after them. I thanked him for his offer but explained to him that the reason I had come was to serve them.

Few words passed between me and Kristiana during the course of the two hours we spent serving together, but when we did speak of it later, we agreed that we should participate in that program at least once per month. It's the least we can do.

Later that evening, Steve and I went out to dinner. Appetizers. Drinks. Salad. Entrees. We spent over $100. At no point during the meal were those homeless men and women far from my thoughts. What a day of extremes.

Last October soon after returning from my trip to Sevilla, Steve and I went to the office of a local attorney to sign papers to refinance our mortgage. Our ridiculously low interest rate was coming to the end of its five year term, so Steve fished around and found a rate that was not quite as low, but still a good deal. Upon entering the office, I had a strange feeling. Something didn't feel right. I couldn't put my finger on it at the time, and I still cannot explain the angst, the unease, the dis-ease that came over me. But there it was.

Our attorney sat with us at the huge conference table sliding paper after paper in front of us. Sign here. Sign here. This means this. That means that. Sign here. Sign there. All the while I had many questions like: how do we know this is all what it says it is? How do we know that this won't go wrong somewhere along the line? What if this? What if that? Steve laughed at my questions. Although he answered my questions, the lawyer seemed indifferent to both of us. Whatever, just sign here.

Two weeks later, he called Steve and confessed that he'd forfeited his license to practice law in the state of North Carolina. Why? Because he had gotten himself into financial difficulties and had not paid off our mortgage. He had kept our money and used it to pay off a debt he owed. I should have honored my intuition that morning, that still, small voice that told me something was wrong. My odd and inexplicable premonition that something was amiss was accurate.

Sound confusing? What happens is this: banks that are taking on a new mortgage forward the money to an escrow account in the name of the lawyer who then passes the money along to the bank that is selling the old one. In our case (and in the case of other clients of his), the attorney didn't forward the money as he was supposed to. He kept it for his personal use, hoping that another mortgage would come along. He would use that money to pay our mortgage and hopefully keep the whole scam rolling along. He ran out of luck. And we got stuck in the middle. The new bank wanted its mortgage payments, and so did the old one. Two mortgage payments!

God is good. Steve works hard and gets paid well. If worse came to absolute worse, we could have handled it. College funds for the children would have been left to languish. Not as many trips abroad for our family, but we wouldn't have gone bankrupt.

We prayed a lot. We spoke to three lawyers. Three different answers. We decided to go it alone this time - alone with The Alone that is. We never hired a lawyer. Steve called the mortgage broker (the ones who sent us to that lawyer) several times, the title insurance company (the ones who make sure that the banks' interests are served) several times, and we both called upon Our Advocate, The High Judge of All the Land in prayer many, many times. We made the decision to pay the new mortgage only once. We figured that if we paid them as they expected us to, they would have no reason to pressure the title insurance company or anyone else to settle this issue. We had done nothing wrong, so we shouldn't be the ones left in the lurch.

During this quiet week of quiet wonder, our many prayers - and the prayers of many people who knew of our ordeal and asked for mercy and justice to be done on our behalf - were answered. The title insurance company paid off the debt to our original mortgage bank, and we are back to paying only one mortgage. Tears of joy, relief, and gratitude flow even as I type this.

Here's the thing: the extremes of this week are wider, broader than the Grand Canyon in my mind and in my heart. We were being called upon to pay two mortgages. We could have done it if we'd been forced to. We wouldn't have had to sell anything or downsize or alter our lives in any significant way. But within a few miles from here, perhaps within our own prim and proper community, are hundreds, thousands of people who are living on the edge. Hanging on to the edge by their fingertips. Many are over the edge and living on the street.

So as we come to the end of this quiet week of quiet wonder, we give thanks. We give honor and glory to God for His provision for us. For His protection over us. And we commit ourselves to giving back. To giving from our excess so that others can eat, be clothed, receive medical attention, attend school, and hear the good news of new life that God offers. We are more convinced than ever that we have been blessed in order to bless others.

But that's not all that has happened this week. I will share one more story.

Last year, Daniel was blessed with a talented, patient, and insightful basketball coach named Glenn Dally. He taught the boys the fundamentals of the game, coached them on how to adjust their play based on the team they faced, and above all to play the game with integrity. Daniel's team won the league championship, and the league all-star team on which Daniel played under the leadership of Coach Dally beat all the all-star teams they faced. He is without a doubt the best basketball coach either of our children has ever had; he may be the best coach either of them has had in any sport.

Even though he isn't coaching Daniel this year, we have been glad to see him and his family whenever our paths cross here in Charlotte. Simply put, it is good to know that they are in the area. We found out a few weeks ago that he and his family are moving back to Texas. They will leave next week and head back to their hearts' true home. We are truly saddened to bid them farewell.

Earlier this week, Coach Dally sent Steve an email and asked if he could have a one-on-one coaching session with Daniel. Just the two of them. He wanted to teach Daniel a few more things, press a few goals and ideas into his head, and wish him well. I sat there on the floor of the Ardrey Kell High School auxiliary gymnasium this past Thursday evening and watched that man pour his heart into the life of my son. I will never forget that night. I will never forget that man. None of us will ever forget him. What a blessing, what a gift. Once again, I am moved to tears - but my kids say I cry over anything - because he sees something in our son, in my son that merited his personal attention and affection. He reached out to us - to our son in his final days here in Charlotte. He extended himself on Daniel's behalf and asked for nothing in return.

As this week comes to a close, I am left with a thousand questions.

Whose life am I pouring my heart into? If we were to leave Charlotte, who would I call and invite to a final time of fellowship so that I could tell them everything I think they need to know in order to live well? Why not start doing that right now? Why wait until I think the end is approaching? Who do I call or write to just because I want them to prosper, to know that they are loved, remembered, and cherished? Who will think of me and know that I gave of myself, that I listened, that I cared, that I loved them?

When I go uptown and see the men and women sitting on the benches, passing the hours until they can line up for a bed at one of the local shelters, will I look at them differently now because of last Saturday's experience? Will any of them recognize me as the woman who served them orange juice and cleaned up after them? Will I recognize any of them?

How can I say thanks to the many friends and loved ones who have loved me,
supported me, taught me, fed and clothed me during the course of my life?

A quiet week of quiet wonder.
A momentous week of momentous wonder.
Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Searching for the Light

When I was in Madrid two weeks ago (it's amazing at how quickly the time flies), I had the joy of holding little baby Alvaro several times. The best part of holding a tiny baby is how great they smell - well, until their last meal becomes fodder for the local dump.

Anyway, I love the way his little head smelled. Tucked under my chin. Cozy. Warm. His tiny chest rising and falling as his lungs filled and emptied themselves of life-sustaining breath. After a few moments of auntie-baby cuddling, he usually drifted off to sleep. And I drifted off into blissful auntie land. Who doesn't love to hold a baby, feeling the surge of life, dreaming of what he will become, praying for God's richest blessings to flow over, around, into, and through him?

On occasion, though, that little fellow would stay awake. Intrigued by the the feel of my sweater against his face, the unusual sound of my voice above his head, and the scratchiness of my dreadlocs in his fists, Alvaro would watch me with eyes of wonder.

Then the search would begin. His desperate search. He would raise his head on its wobbly swivel and peer around. He looked for the light. And once he found it, he would stare at it. Whether it was a light bulb several feet away, the light of the sun piercing the shadows of the room, or the small fixture suspended over the dining room table across the room, it was the light, the brightness, the glare and the glow of it that most drew Alvaro's waking attention.

From infancy, we seek light.
In todderhood, we want night lights so we aren't left in total darkness when it's time to go to sleep.
Even my older children have lights and glowing things in their rooms.
I too have points of reference, points of light, really, that guide me when I get up in the middle of the night after having one glass of water too many before bedtime.

People speak of near-death experiences where they "see a light at the end of the tunnel and are irresistibly drawn to it." Family members who are loathe to release their loved ones to the Great Beyond scream out, "Don't go towards the light. Come back. Turn away from the light."

From our earliest days to our last hours, we are Seekers of The Light.
We do nearly all within our power to avoid the dark.
We light matches and candles on nightstands and coffeetables.
We keep flashlights filled with fresh batteries in predictable places.
My children leave lights on in nearly every room of the house.
And so does my husband.
So do I, sometimes.

I am glad to say that I am learning to enjoy the dark.
On these winter mornings, I creep carefully into my study,
lower myself onto the floor, wrap myself up in my very long, very warm robe,
and sit.
Alone. In the dark. Allowing my eyes to adjust.
But always, always my eyes roam my room and out the window.
Always searching for the light.

And in the darkness, my heart, my mind, my soul are also searching.
For truth. For peace. For joy. For grace.
For the ability to forgive and be forgiven.
I search for Light to shine through the darkness of my fears and worries,
through the valley of the shadow of illness and of death,
through the dark miles that separate me from friends I dearly love and desperately miss.
I raise my wobbly head and my shaky heart and search for light.

What comfort there is in His Words:
"I am the Light of the World.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life."

In the darkness, I follow.
The light appears at a distance first.
The dawn awakes.
The sun lifts its head above the horizon.
Like little Alvaro, I stare.
Grateful that I've survived another dark night.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Thursday Thirteen

Gratitude is the theme of the day. Today I am thankful for -

1. My two healthy, strong, smart, fun, and funny children outside playing. They make up games. They laugh. They run and jump and play basketball. They play with their tennis rackets and footballs and whatever else they dig out of the garage storage bins. They are a joy to know, to love, to teach, and the spend time with.

2. The many friends who have written and called to welcome me back from my time in Spain. It always amazes and alarms me that so many people notice when I am absent from the routines of my life. As Antonio said, my solitude is not solitary; people notice. People care. People want to know where I am and how I am doing. Thanks to all of you who love me so much. I feel profoundly unworthy.

3. The opportunity to speak to Leticia today. She said that her husband, Eduardo, isn't feeling well again. (Get well soon, EE; your family needs you to be strong and healthy.) She said that little Alvarito is doing well, that they will be going to a doctor next week to get information and advice as the course of surgery he should undertake. I also spoke to Leti's Mom who is also a dear friend and generous stepmother to me when I am in Spain. I will pray for them all as they seek guidance on Alvaro's future procedures.

4. The chance to speak to Antonio as well. He was preparing to teach a class on prayer this evening. I pray that their class on prayer goes well and that they will find themselve closer to The Heavenly Father this night than ever before.

5. The routines of life. I love to travel. I love to explore new places. But sometimes home, sweet home, with its stained carpets and fallen cabinet doors (that's a mystery we have yet to solve) are more than enough for any given day.

6. The fact that no one got hurt when the cabinet door fell last week. That same heavy, solid wooden door has fallen four times. Without warning, down it comes. It is above the kitchen counter adjacent to the sink, and the first time it fell, it actually cracked the counter. I must make a very regular habit of checking the hinges. I'm not exactly sure what to do to solve the problem; we've had one hinge replaced, and that is the one that failed this time. Yikes! In any case, I am glad to no one has been hurt in any of the four collapses.

7. The chance to teach a class on spiritual journaling; it began last night. Six women were in attendance. And I know of two more who are hoping to attend next week. I suspect that I talked a little too much, but it was the first session and I had a lot of groundwork to lay. I plan for us to do a lot more writing and sharing, and for me to keep my mouth shut a lot more in the upcoming class sessions. Energetic, outspoken, beautiful women - all. One down, eleven sessions to go.

8. My down comforter on these frigid nights.

9. Peppermint tea before bedtime.

10. Coffee in my new coffee cup. Memories of La Coruna and the little shop where I bought it.

11. The book Second Calling, the one that Virginia sent to me for my birthday. I finished it today. Much food for thought. Many challenges for how to find true purpose and passion in life. I read several chapters in Spain, and had one of those God-moments in the early morning hours of January 1st. I'd returned from Leticia's house where I'd toasted in the New Year and decided to read a few pages before going to sleep. The chapter I read that night related an incident that had happened in the author's life on New Year's Eve. Gotta love those moments of divine timing.

12. Yesterday, after reflecting in my journal that I want this to be a year in which I try to live fully, consciously, passionately, and joyfully, I pulled the book out again. Here's what I read on page 166:

"During this time, I learned a profound lesson about living fully in the present. If I do not invest in it fully, live mindfully, and look carefully for that day's manna, I will miss it. Living in the present requires more discipline than the to-do lists and five-year plans for the future and more awareness than making photo albums and replaying tapes of the past...

"In his book Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr makes the spiritual case for living fully and completely in the present, in what he calls 'the sacrament of the present moment.' He says, 'We cannot attain the presence of God because we're already totally in the presence of God. What's absent is awareness... There is no random act or accidental circumstance. Everything is there to teach us, to provide an opportunity or to simply witness to God's presence. In short, everything belongs.'"

What a relief it is to be reminded that everything belongs. That there is a lesson to be learned in every situation. I needn't worry about what each thing means. I do not know. I may not figure it all out. But I can and I do trust that nothing is without meaning, purpose, or intentional value in my life. The question is: Am I living it? Am I breathing it? Am I learning the lesson? Am I willing to remain open to learn the lesson at some future time if I cannot figure it out right now?

Okay, so that was more than one question. But once I start thinking out loud, the questions tend to come pretty easily.

13. Finally I am grateful for life itself.
For the ability to read, write, think, and speak.
For the wherewithal to eat well and live well.
For the means to see a doctor when I am sick - which, gratefully, is very rare.
For friends who love me and encourage me along my life's journey.
For family members who love me and then are forced to put up with me when the love runs out.
For the opportunities I have had to travel, to meet people along the way, people I have come to know, to love, and to miss when we are apart.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Home again, home again

I am back at home in Charlotte. But, then again, not quite.
Not quite back in the right time zone.
Not quite back emotionally yet either.

On line at the airport in Madrid to check my suitcase, I stood behind two women who were trying to change their seating assignments. The process was taking a while as questions and answers were volleyed back and forth over the countertop. I stood waiting my turn, looking around at the terminal, reminding myself of my resolution to live fully in each moment.

Terminal 4 of Madrid Barajas Airport is huge. Colorful. Architecturally interesting. Across from the front of the terminal is the remains of the parking deck that was destroyed by the previous week's bomb. The entire front of the terminal itself is now under repair as most of the huge glass panels were broken as a result of the bomb.

There I stood. Looking around. Giving thanks for the absolutely fantastic time I'd had in Spain. Missing my Spanish friends even though I hadn't left the country yet.
Giving thanks that so many lives were spared when the bombing happened.
Praying for the families of those whose lives were lost.
Wondering how many of the people checking into the flight were coming to the US for the first time.
Wondering how many were coming for business and how many for pleasure.
Thinking about the phone calls I needed to make once I'd passed through security.
Not looking forward to having to take off my belt and my jewelry, take my computer out of my backpack, and hoping I hadn't left any spray perfume bottles or lotion bottles in my carry-ons.
In other words, I was doing my usual mental gymnastics whenever I stand in line at an airport.

At that point, my thoughts were interrupted by the words of one of the women in front of me. She turned around and looked at me with a certain amount of frustration on her face, shrugged her shoulders, and said, "We'll be home soon." I assumed that she was referring to the process of seat assignments being more efficient here in the States. I smiled.

I didn't know what to say to her. I didn't think it would be appropriate to point out to her that Spain is the place where I feel most at home. I didn't want to go into the discussion of how much freer we can feel in our lives if we accept the fact that wherever we are at any given moment is home. Plus I couldn't imagine what made her assume that Miami and the USA was indeed my home. But whatever...

My body is back at home in Charlotte. But my mind and my thoughts are scattered, still wandering up and down the streets of La Coruna, the passageways of museums in Madrid, and the hallways of the Hotel Osuna. I am still wandering the illuminated streets awaiting the arrival of the Three Kings with their gifts. I am seeking to follow the star that led them to the King of Kings. I am walking and laughing with Antonio as we bought presents for 16 people in two days - one of the occupational hazards of being the head priest in his Jesuit community. I am sitting in the church listening to his homily on following the example of those wise kings as they sought and followed the star that led them to the Savior. I am holding baby Alvaro in my arms and rocking him to sleep. I am sitting on top of my suitcase as I tug at the zipper pull, hoping the zipper won't break in the cargo hold of the plane.

I am enormously grateful for the traveling mercies that were poured over me on my journey.

I am grateful for the prayers, the email, and the phone messages from friends who wished me well on my journey.

I am grateful for Steve's excitement for me as I went on the trip and his support for me through the entire ordeal. Rare is the man who encourages his wife to travel, to get away alone, and to spend several days with a male friend she has known for nearly 18 years.

I am grateful that we have the financial, relational, and emotional resources to make these trips possible for me. I truly don't know how I would survive and thrive in my life without frequent solo getaways. Many people I know would never dream of taking such a trip alone, especially as women. I am exactly the opposite; without regular stints of solitude, I am unable to live my life with any joy or true enjoyment.

Antonio and I talked about our mutual love for solitary times. To sneak away. To be disconnected from everyone and everything that is familiar. He made an excellent point: our solitude is possible only because we are never truly alone. I know that I have a husband, children, and friends awaiting my prompt return. He has his Jesuit community, his family, and the people of his church who love him and long for his return. He said that the saddest people he knows and deals with are those who have no one who looks forward to seeing them, no one with whom they can share their troubles, and no one who wonders where they are and how they are doing when they are gone. That is a solitude, a loneliness that is unfathomable to those of us who are loved.

I smiled to myself sometimes as I thought that no one who knows me knew where I was: on a Madrid subway, in a shop, at a restaurant, on a walk, in a museum. I was alone. Anonymous. Unrecognized. But then again, I knew that I was surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, seen and unseen, that I was loved and thought of, being prayed for and missed.

I am back in Charlotte.
But if home is where the heart is,
if home is where the heart is most comfortable and most at rest,
then I am back in Charlotte, but I miss home.

(Live the contradictions, Gail. Live the questions. Live it. Breathe it.)

So much still to ponder.
To process.
To write about.

Friday, January 05, 2007

My Last Day in Spain

Time flies whether or not you are having fun.
In my case, I am having a blast.

I haven´t walked this much in months.
Or eaten this much. Or laughed this much.
I have loved every minute of this trip.
Even when I almost missed my flight from Madrid to La Coruña. It was not my fault, but I´ll tell that story another day.

During this entire trip, I have been careful to stop myself often, whether I am walking down the wide boulevards of Madrid or the narrow pedestrian ways here in La Coruña, strolling through a museum, or holding that precious baby, Alvaro, and I have told myself: "Live it, G. Breathe it." Or I make it into a question: "Are you living this, Gail? Are you?" At one point, I wrote in my journal: "I know I won´t remember every thought or sensation, but I will live each one fully."

Last night as I sat in the Jesuit church of Santa Maria del Mar here in La Coruña, Spain, listening to five cellists and a pianist play Christmas music, I wrote all kinds of odd comments on the concert program. I reflected on the color and size of the cellos - each one was so much like the other in some ways, but then again quite different one from another. Kind of like us, people. I wrote about how each instrument, although they were essentially the same, each played a different line of the melody or harmony. Beautiful music, beautiful combinations of sounds. Kind of like us, people.

And then after one particularly moving piece, I wrote: "I won´t remember every detail. No one does. But at least I write down what I remember. I keep a record." I will have something to return to 24 hours from now when I am at the airport in Madrid awaiting my connection to Miami. Forty-eight hours from now, when my family will be asleep, but I will undoubtedly be awake because of the time difference. And weeks from now, when I am forgetting to stop myself and live each moment, I will pull out my journal and remember the places I stopped to have coffee. And breathe. I will put on one of the crosses I have added to my collection on this journey and remember the store where I purchased it, the detailed wrapping technique undertaken by the cashier, and warm salutation she gave as I left her delicate and elegant shop.

It´s my last full day here in Spain. I know I will cry when I leave tomorrow morning because I love this country so. I love Madrid. I love this coastal city in the northwest corner of the country I love. I love being with my friend, Antonio. I´ve known him for nearly 18 years, and every time I see him and spend time with him, I love him more. He´s one of the best people I have ever known. I am blessed to know him and count him as a friend.

So many stories to tell. To write. To share.
So many lessons learned. Sights seen.
Conversations begun and ended.
So much food, wine, and laughter shared.

Life is good.
God is good.