Friday, September 28, 2007

"The Invitation"

This poem was sent to me today from a new and dear friend, Itiel McVay.
It was written by Oriah whose website is here.


It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.

© Mountaindreaming, from the book The Invitation published by HarperSanFrancisco, 1999

This photo was taken last Thursday afternoon.
Under the pier on Sunset Beach.
Drizzly. Chilly. Raw. Windy.
Not a pretty day, but beautiful nonetheless.
Kristiana and I were thrilled. Undaunted.
Awed by the roar and roll of the sea.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Eating, Praying, Loving, Crying, Learning...

This is a photo of my bed last Thursday - the bed at the Sunset Inn in Sunset Beach, North Carolina. Reading, journaling, filling in some of the blanks in my head, my heart, my stomach, and on the written page.

If it's a good book, if I can put myself in the place of the author or the protagonist, then coming to the end of the book is agony for me. I've taken a break from my fevered tear through Eat, Pray, Love to walk the dog, to cry, to come to terms with the fragility and solidity and joy and sorrow and loneliness and fullness that make up my life. This book is that good. This book is that piercing. This book is that challenging.

To fill these dreadful moments before I finish the book, I went to Elizabeth Gilbert's official website. I read nearly everything there. And I discovered this quote there.

The rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself….then truth will not be withheld from you.”

After making my way through most of this beautiful book, most of her beautiful website, after discovering, copying, and printing out that quote (which I will cut out and glue onto postcards to use as future bookmarks), a self-defeating thought crossed my mind: "I am not that brave. I have never traveled for a year alone to Italy, India, and Indonesia. I am not as brave as she is, and I never will be."

This is an after-dinner photo at the home of one of Antonio's friends -
taken this past January on my most recent truth-seeking journey to Spain.
During that entire meal (eat), I launched silent prayers of gratitude (pray), and marveled that I have known this man, this beautiful, intelligent, faithful, funny, adventurous man (love) for nearly twenty years. On the right is Antonio's hand.

After standing anxiously in that unmoving line of thinking for a minute or two, I realized that indeed I am that brave. I have left behind everything familiar - many times.
To travel in Europe.
To go on business trips (way back when I had "a real job")
To become a teacher and college counselor
To enter into marriage
To become a mother
To become a homeschooling mother
To become a translator at church
To travel alone many times to many places for many reasons -
all life long.
I have been brave all life long.

I have learned to seek clues every step of the way.
Often I have sought truth; always I have found it.
Lately I have tried to accept everyone along the way -
the person who cut me off in traffic,
the exterminator, the plumber,
the boy on the block who rubs me the wrong way,
the pastor whose absolute certainty about everything makes me downright bristly sometimes,
the woman whose criticism of everyone she knows makes me want to never speak to her again,
the friend whose smile lifts my spirits every time I see her,
the one writer friend whose prose seems more like poetry,
and the poet whose verse makes me sing and dance -
every one of them is a teacher sent from God
to home-school me in the subject of life.

But it's the last "if" in the quote that is the highest hurdle to get over:
"If you are prepared - most of all - to face (and forgive)
some very difficult realities about yourself..."

I've concluded that I'm okay with facing the difficulties born, bred, and ingrained in my often selfish, demanding, ungrateful spirit. But forgiving myself? I have forgiven people for lying, infidelity, stealing, abuse, neglect, even acts of violence. But when the time comes to forgive myself for the difficulties I have created in my own life, in my marriage, in my immediate and distant family, in other people's lives, in churches I have attended, in classes I have both taken and taught - not so much. I have created some serious problems for a lot of people, and I have been forgiven by people whose forgiveness I do not deserve. I just cannot extend that courtesy to myself. All this talk about forgiving myself makes me want to change the subject - fast.

Here's the thing: every time I have earnestly left behind what is familiar, and set out on a journey (whether truth seeking or grocery seeking), if I have done so with the mindset that there are lessons to be learned and teachers to be met and tutored by on the way, the truth has not been withheld from me. Not ever.

Eat, pray love.
Cry, learn, teach.
Travel, unravel, recreate.
Forgive, be forgiven.
Accept, embrace, cherish.

Well, the time has come to go finish the book.
I'd better grab some tissues; I think I'm gonna need them.

This is a photo I took in Sevilla last October.
A Bacardi ad that contained a life lesson for me.
I love it: "Don't walk; DANCE! You in?"
Eat, pray, love. You in?
Yes, I'm in. I'm definitely in.
You in?

Monday, September 24, 2007

When I Consider the Heavens...

The Psalmist reflected on the beauty and wonder of the world around him
and then wrote Psalm 8:

When I consider Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?

We are back from our brief beach adventure, Kristiana and I. Rain was predicted for the entirety of our stay. On our way there, out on the open road listening to a CD by a group called Selah (if you like hymns, go buy their CD entitled Greatest Hymns today!), we talked about how much we wish the two inches of rain predicted for Sunset Beach would meander inland and douse our beloved Charlotte. We gave thanks for the rain that they were going to get.

Sure enough, we drove through some fairly heavy downpours, but by the time we reached the inn we planned to stay in, the rain had stopped, and it didn't rain anymore on Thursday or Friday. (Later we spoke about how we were both saddened by the fact that they weren't getting rain either; I read recently that nearly all the 100 counties in NC are suffering some kind of drought.) We walked on the beach under the heavy grey clouds for a while. We watched the birds scamper along looking for clams. We greeted the very few other beachcombers we encountered. But mostly we were silenced by the awesome height and breadth of the sky and the depth and noise of the sea.

After dinner, we emerged from the restaurant and were greeted by this magnificent sight. Who can look at a rainbow and not smile, not say a quick prayer of thanks for its beauty?

When I consider the sky, the ocean, the fish, the sea gulls,
the moon, the stars, the spiders, the ants, the frogs, the snakes,
the apple trees, the cranberry bogs, the corn stalks, the grave vines,
the almond trees, the cocoa buds, the soy beans, the romaine lettuce bushes,
the watermelon patches, the peach orchards, the climbing tomato plants,
the flowing waterfalls, the leaping salmon, the crabs, and the dolphins...

When I think of my son's strong legs and beautiful brown eyes
my daughter's beautiful toes and strong sense of self
my husband's strong hands and generous spirit
none of which I have created, but all of which
You have given to me to enjoy...

When I think of all these wonders,
and the countless millions and billions of other creatures You created,
creatures that most of us will never see,
O God, I wonder:
Who am I to you?
Why do you care about me?
Why have you blessed me in so many ways, every day of my life?
And why on earth do I always find so many things to complain about?
To be dissatisfied with?
To want to run away from?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thankful Thursday

Who doesn't love watching the sun rise over the water? What's not to love?
Taken from the deck of our hotel room on the Isle of Palms earlier this summer.

1. I'm glad it's Thursday; the weekend is approaching.

2. On Saturday, we celebrate Daniel's 11th birthday. My baby is turning into a little man.

3. In less than half an hour, Kristiana and I will head out for our first overnight field trip: Sunset Beach, North Carolina.

4. It's going to be raining the entire time we are there. On the agenda: reading, journaling, making collages and, when there's no thunder and lightning, walking on the beach in the rain.

5. Unfortunately, none of that rain is expected to make it here to Charlotte - where we need it desperately.

6. No ants have been spotted in the kitchen in days. Forget all the sprays and traps: cover every flat surface with bay leaves and douse the spots where they have been spotted with pure organic peppermint essential oil. They don't like either scent. It may look a little leafy for a while, but it smells fantastic. And best of all, the ants head for a new spot to forage.

7. I've begun to read Eat, Pray, Love. Why did I wait so long? Sheer pleasure to read. Right up my alley: travel for a year, reflect on life, and figure out what matters most. I ask you: what matters more than to eat, to pray, and to love? Don't most of the best things/relationships/situations in life involve these three acts in some way, to some degree? I look forward to making much progress in this book on our rainy adventure.

8. Speaking of travel, I must talk about travel a lot because everywhere I go, when I run into people I know, when I talk to friends on the phone, and often when I am exchanging emails, I am asked, "So when will you be off to Spain again? Do you have any trips planned?"

Nope, no trips to Spain planned yet. Hoping to put one together in the spring. A short adventure being planned for early November, hoping to hit some favorite spots in the northeast. And always, always, dreaming about finding a job that pays me to travel, journal, take photos, and report on my adventures.

9. I'm off to make a large travel mug of coffee to take on the road. Nothing like a hand-mixed, homemade batch of spiced coffee from Oaxaca, Mexico. Gracias, Abby, por el cafe de tu bendita madre.

10. Speaking of how much I love to travel, I'd better go get dressed, throw our stuff in the car, and hit the road. Yeah for us both!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What difference does it make?

What difference does it make to thirsty and unbathed men, women, and children if our well-watered lawns are thick and green during a severe drought?

What difference does it make if socks cost $2 for a package of six pairs at one store and $8 for the same package in another, when we don't need new socks anyway?

What difference does it make to our children if we tell them not to drink and drive, but we drink beer, wine, and mixed drinks, and then drive ourselves home from restaurants and dinner parties all the time - sometimes with our children in the car with us?

What difference does it make to our daughters to tell them not to worry about their body size and weight when we spend hours obsessing about our own bodies and our weight in their presence?

What difference does it make to our sons (and their future life partners) when we criticize and belittle them for crying, telling them to "take it (whatever it is) like a man"?

What difference does it make to our children when we give our daughters "purity rings" and urge to "save themselves for marriage" but elbow our sons and snicker when Victoria's Secret commercials come on the television - and when we see scantily clad cheerleaders at sporting events, we evaluate which are prettiest "girls" - and when we disparage certain sporting events simply because they are being played by women athletes?

What difference does it make to our own psyches, to our children, to our loved ones, and to complete strangers, when we say that we aren't racist, but we lock our car doors, listen to, laugh at, and later recount "off-color" jokes, grab our purses off the floor, out of the shopping cart, or off the seat next to us when we see "those" people?

(I cannot tell you how many times I have wanted to grab women by the throat at the supermarket and scream into their terrified faces that they have NOTHING I want in their purses. It SUCKS to know that the ONLY reason they grabbed their bags is because they saw me, a black woman, approaching them in the cereal aisle!!! Someday I am going to get mad enough to confront one such person and tell her: "You have absolutely nothing that I want in your imitation Kate Spade bag, so you don't have to grab it, you racist pig." Truthfully, I probably will never actually go through with it, but I definitely have thought about it often. Can you tell that this one bothers me A LOT???)

What difference does it make that we are supposed to show that we are Christians by our love for each other when we spend so much time figuring out ways to make everyone who doesn't agree with our precise doctrinal, denominational, economic, social, or political viewpoints feel completely wrong and un-godly?

What difference does it make that so many of us who call ourselves Christians are vehemently vocal about defending ourselves and our nation against our enemies, and speak out against conservation of water and other natural resources, and any suggestion that we need to curb our rampant consumerism is considered an endorsement of marxism or communism, but so rarely talk about seeking peace and pursuing it, loving and blessing our enemies, and being careful stewards of our finances, our material possessions, and the planet God created for us to live on and enjoy?

"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?"- Gandhi

What difference indeed?

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lush - This blog is an act of flagrant plagiarism

This is a photo of my travel shrine - momentos of journeys I have taken in the past ten years or so. Candles from cathedrals, corks from memorable wine bottles, seashells from American and European coastlines, small pieces of pottery from Italy and Spain, gelato spoons, match books, and countless memories of indescribably beautiful, small, ordinary times on the road.

There is a woman I met online named Maya, and she is an exceedingly talented writer - poet - thinker - and as-yet-unmet friend. Check out her fabulous post about life; it's right up my alley. It's right here. After I read it, I sent her a comment and told her not to be surprised to find an imitation of it on my blog. I didn't even wait for her approval. Here goes...


It is lush, this life, lush with snippets of poetry and song, bay leaves scattered over countertops in order to repel ants, trips to Starbucks and Trader Joe's and the post office, arroz con pollo and salad with Spanish-speaking friends, grass that stays green despite the drought, late night snuggles with my snoring, adoring hubby, the noisy confusion of the house stereo system that comes on unexpectedly at 6:18 am.

It is lush with hour-long conversations with my daughter outside on the back deck today because the power was out and neither of us could get onto the computer, tortellini and salad for dinner, conversations with Steve about the various trips and activities planned for this week, piles of unmatched socks and well-worn underpants that need to be tossed, haircuttings from my dog and my son, finger and toenail clippings, iPod music that makes me laugh and cry, the smell of incense that reminds me of cathedrals in the north of Spain, anonymous comments on my blog, and postcard swaps.

This life is lush with postcards that arrive weeks late, letters that never arrive because they were never sent, elaborate plans to travel the world and the seven seas, looking around every corner for the face of a loved one, listening for familiar voices everywhere, airplanes and taxi cabs and minivans and sports cars, flip flops, knee high boots, thigh high socks, turtleneck sweaters, denim skirts, fleece slippers, dangling earrings, cross pendants, prayer beads, light bulbs, ceiling fans and air vents on the floor.

This life is lush with laughter, tears, dancing, books, paintings, concerts, dance recitals, encyclopedias, dictionaries, paper clips, colored pencils, archival ink markers, scrapbooks, scissors, photos of the children, the dog, and the beach, post-it notes, scotch tape, glue sticks, birthday cards, Christmas presents, New Year's Eve parties, sunrise service on Easter morning, passports, visa stamps, security checks, and beeping wands.

Lush with band-aids, albuterol inhalers, epipens, concerns about allergic reactions, dental visits, cancelled beauty shop appointments, shampoo, conditioner, coconut oil, boiled eggs, roasted peanuts, carmelized onion pizza, crunchy salads, ice-cold smoothies late at night, piping-hot strong coffee early in the morning, steel cut Irish oatmeal with bananas and slivered almonds, Kashi Heart-to-Heart cereal, roast beef sandwiches, pebble salad, warm peach scones, roibos tea, yerba mate, raw sugar, white sugar, Splenda, chocolate-peanut butter ice cream, and fat free vanilla soy milk.

Here are two of the elephants in my elephant statue collection. I found the first one in a small, dark shop just off the Via Tomacelli in Rome. The other found me in an equally small, but not quite as dark shop just around the corner from the piazza Santo Spirito in Florence.

Life is lush with lies, secrets, silence, untold stories, solitary adventures, missed trains, travel journals, photo albums, momentos of the journey, international postage, calling cards, hotel lobby couches, elephant statues, stolen chopsticks, sake glasses, olive oil from Siena, saffron from Madrid, and mints from London.

Lush with the deep colors of the sunrise behind the trees as I drive Daniel to school, wispy clouds overhead on the way home, stories of classroom antics, laments about homework assignments, Friday night football games, Sunday afternoon baseball practice, collared shirts, khaki shorts, clean sheets of graph paper, non-existent erasers on pencils, archaic textbooks, book covers, lunch menus to peruse, and science facts to memorize before tomorrow's test.

My daily routine begins in the early morning darkness. I sit up in bed, stretch out kinks and tight muscles, and then listen mournfully to the sound of my aging, cracking joints as I shuffle to my study. There I peer out my window at the tiniest sliver of the moon as it grins down on me, then fall into silent prayer, sacred reading, and profane journaling. I say prayers for protection, strength, wisdom, joy, and peace for everyone everywhere. But most especially for the people I love.

And always, always I give thanks for this lush life.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

If You Really Want To Know Me...

Two years ago, I took my children to Madrid and spent a month with them there. The closest metro/subway station to our apartment was called "Iglesia," which means "church" in Spanish. This is the church that the station was named for. I wandered through our old neighborhood when I was in Spain this past January and took this photo. I miss our tiny little place. What memories we made!

I was looking at jen gray's blog earlier this week (on September 10th, to be exact) and copied a game of tag from her site and brought it here.

*a special talent :
I can find a spiritual lesson in nearly every situation: ants, drought, swimming pool problems, cleaning up after the dog, there's a lesson in everything.

*a secret nobody knows:
there is one room in my house that I really dislike. I won't say which room it is, but I never like spending time there.

*a personality trait you find attractive:
thoughtfulness, as in aptness to think about issues and situations seriously and deeply

*a personality trait you find unattractive:
a complaining spirit

*a song that melts you :
What the Lord Has Done In Me, by Hillsong

*the biggest truth you have learned this year:
When in doubt, stop and breathe. I often tell myself,
"Stop, Gail. Live this moment fully. Breathe this, right here and now."

an item you are currently coveting :
a three-bedroom apartment in the center of Madrid.

The photo below is of a building there that I would LOVE to live in.
Too bad it's a school... but a girl can dream, can't she?

*what gives you peace :
prayer and solitude - with my journal, a good book, and a cup of sweet coffee.

*what perfume are you currently wearing:
Moor, from

*do you dream much? :
Yes, often. My dreams are vivid, too. Most frequently, I dream that I am having animated conversations with friends. I also dream a lot about swimming: instead of walking or driving in my dreams, I swim everywhere I need to go. In my dreams, I am a very good swimmer.

*what word(s) do you tend to say too much :
"exactly, exactly" - and - "right, right."

*in high school, what kind of teen were you? :
I was one of those kids who floated from group to group with no solid allegiances. I loved being alone even then.

*describe yourself in 5 words:
outgoing, curious, talkative, easily amazed.

*a weird quirk:
I play with my hair a lot.

*have you ever been in love? :
I am always in love - with my husband, my children, my closest friends, the full moon, my journal, and long distance travel. I fall in love often.

*has your heart ever been broken?:
I am always heart-broken too. By many of the people I know and love, and also by politicians, thieves, liars, greedy people, ostentatious people, and hypocrites.

*favorite thing(s) to wear?:
knee-length, a-line skirts, v-neck t-shirts, and multi-colored flats - all with matching accessories, of course.

This is a photo of the Thyssen Museum in Madrid, one of my favorite places to spend three or four hours. To wander, sit, think, journal, and take a photo of my foot as proof that I am here... See my blog from earlier this year: How do I know I'm actually here?

I love to travel, in body, mind, and soul - but especially in body.
USAir, American, Continental, anybody with a pilot's license,
take me away.

Thoughts this Thursday...

This is yours truly taking on caffeine, sugar, and whipped cream, as well as spiritual nourishment before Tuesday's dentist appointment. Yes, whipped cream; I knew that I wasn't going to be able to eat or drink anything for quite a while, so why not splurge? As it turned out, the novacaine didn't wear off completely until nearly 12 hours later...

Have you ever gone into a card shop or health food store and seen those awesome quote cards on the spinning apparatus? I always enjoy reading the quotes, but rarely do I buy the $4.95 cards because I never know who I'd send them to. A couple of weeks ago, I went to the quotable cards website and wrote down a few of my favorite quotes. Here are a smattering of the ones I copied into my journal.

• Roald Dahl: Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in the magic will never find it.

• Harriet Tubman – You have within you all the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars and change the world.

• H Jackson Brown Jr. – Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do.

• Leo Buscaglia – Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring – all of which have the potential turn a life around.

• Camus: Live to the point of tears.

• DaVinci – Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.

• Dawn Dais – When there are no words, know that the silences are carrying the thoughts and prayers of all who love you.

• Heinlein – To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites.

• Jung – The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.

• Helen Keller – The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.

• Jack Kerouac – The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything tat the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the sky.

• St. Ignatius of Loyola – Go forth and set the world on fire.

• Cadet Maxim – Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.

• Henry Miller – The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.

• Minor Myers Jr. – Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

• Gilda Radner – Some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.

• Eleanor Roosevelt – Do one thing every day that scares you.

• George Santayana – The world is not respectable. It is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever. But it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter, and in these, the spirit blooms.

• Carol Shields – Go for long walks. Indulge in hot baths. Question your assumptions. Be kind to yourself. Live for the moment. Loosen up. Scream. Curse the world. Count your blessings. Just let go. Just be.

• Solbeam – Fall in love – or fall in hate. Get inspired – or get depressed. Ace a test or flunk a class. Make babies or make art. Speak the truth or lie and cheat. Dance on tables or sit in the corner. Life is divine chaos. Embrace it. Forgive yourself. Breathe. Enjoy the ride.

• Souza – Happiness is a journey, not a destination. Happiness is the way. So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one.

• Unknown – Beautiful young people are accidents of nature. Beautiful old people are works of art.

• What would you attempt to do if you know you could not fail?

• Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

• Marcel Proust- Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls bloom.


I expect that someday I will write blogs with some or most of those quotes as my theme. They are all so thick and juicy and beg to be torn apart, explored, and feasted upon. There is so much beauty: so many beautiful quotes, beautiful friends, beautiful days, beautiful moonlit nights, so much to gaze upon and give thanks for that I feel overwhelmed much of the time.

The newest photojournalist in our family (see top photo) sat in on the crowning ceremony of her mother (see bottom photo). Isn't the pink plastic impression-making tray gorgeous? I may suggest that the dentist replace the protective eyewear in the near future... Perhaps something by Ray Ban? Coach? Armani?

As I sat in the dentist's chair on Tuesday undergoing the trauma of being crowned (not crowned queen or princess, mind you) as I continue to battle the invasion of the tiny six legged critters (at long last, we, the humans, seem to be gaining ground against them, the aliens), as I read the news about more earthquakes in Indonesia, flooding in central and south America, in Texas and other southern states, as friends tell me of lost jobs and broken relationships, as my tears flow over personal, relational, and universal sorrows, I confess that I am still able to find reasons to be thankful. I continue to learn lessons about marriage, motherhood, friendship, and poetry nearly everyday. I am still able to find cause for joy and reasons for laughter in the midst of the pain and fear. My children still delight me. My husband still makes me laugh. Friends still call and write and share their lives with me.

On same day as my dental trauma, the sun set in its usual majestic way over the fields where Daniel played baseball. In the greater scheme of things, I wondered, what is one cracked molar?

Once again, I thank you all for all the ways that you cause my soul to bloom.
Once again, I thank God.
All is well.

Monday, September 10, 2007

First, the Suffering...

Imagine yourself lying on the floor in the center aisle in a large church. Imagine that you are lying face up, looking at the ceiling above the main section of the sanctuary. This is a photograph I recently took of the cross on the ceiling of the sanctuary at the church I attend. Yes, I laid myself down on the floor, looked up at it, and snapped a few shots. No, there was no worship service happening at the time.

Our Pastor preached a thought-provoking sermon last night about how we sometimes suffer unjustly in life. Acts of peace avenged with acts of violence. Standing up for the downtrodden and in turn being attacked and trodden down, physically and emotionally. Random acts of kindness turned into cause for ridicule and humiliation. Being laid off from a job after years of faithful service - just before retirement benefits kick in.

The local newspaper here in Charlotte is running a series looking back on the desegregation of Charlotte schools fifty years ago. Who were those first black students? Who were the ones that hurled saliva, stones, and bottles at them? Where are they all now? What injustices and horrible treatment did they suffer and/or inflict at the time and as a result of those events - and what has been the outcome? Some of the photos are gruesome: angry white people ridiculing and spitting on black students who wanted to attend schools they had every right to attend. One young woman, in particular, matriculated at a local high school, but the abuse she suffered was so horrific that she withdrew after only four days.

Integrating hotels, interstate buses, restaurants, colleges and universities, beaches, social clubs, neighborhoods, and even certain industries and business sectors... those moments in America's not-so-distant past served not only to define the courage of some and the malice of others, but they also stand today as prime examples of when the righteous suffered at the hands of those intent on doing harm. In the end, though, justice, fairness, and righteousness prevailed. (Some would say - and are saying - that in these last 15 years, there have been great advances in turning back the tide of desegregation, that some of our schools and cities are as segregated now as ever in our nation's checkered history. That could be the theme of dozens of blogs, but I can't take on that topic now.)

Back to the events of yesterday - the pastor read various places in Scripture that point out that these present sufferings do not compare to the glory that will come to those willing to endure them and stand strong, holding on to their faith and to the Author and Finisher of Our Faith. The heart of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, not because He sinned, but for the sins of all humanity in order that we can be restored to a relationship with God the Father. Hence, Christ is the supreme example of the righteous suffering and dying for the unrighteous. (For anyone interested, he referred to Romans 8:18; Luke 24:25-26, and I Peter 2:21-24. ) He suffered and died, but then He rose again --> that's the glory of Easter.

But enough preaching...

Two phrases that the pastor used over and over last night were these:
"First the suffering, then the glory.
First the cross, then the crown."

I trust he won't mind if I splice those two for my own purposes.
I will "cut and paste" those two phrases and say this:
"First the suffering, then the crown."

Yesterday while eating lunch at the home of someone I love, someone who shall remain nameless, I bit down into something very hard and cracked off a piece of a molar. Yes, the inside part of a lower right side molar broke off.

Ouch - as though I needed yet another reason to cry!
Again I will say, "ouch!"

After I dried my tears, Steve and I went to CVS for Anbesol and what my brother described as "temporary filling." Yes, CVS sells a product that can be molded into a little ball and squeezed into a broken tooth to protect it until a dentist can be seen.

Upon our return, I called my dentist's emergency number and left a message. Thanks be to God - he called me back in less than an hour. Said that those temporary fillings don't often hold, but if it works, great. Told me to make an appointment to see him as soon as possible.

Dropped Daniel off at school this morning just before 7:30 - which is the exact time that the dentist office opens. I am glad to report that his school is less than five minutes away from aforementioned dentist office. Thanks be to God - they lined me up for an 8:30 appointment.

In order to fill the next hour, Kristiana and I went to a nearby coffee place to talk about the possibilities for growth and "a real education" if she continues homeschooling as opposed to going to traditional school. It was a fabulous conversation; we are both excited about some of the plans we laid out. Drank my soy white mocha - yum - then brushed my teeth - who can go see the dentist with coffee breath? Yuck!

Hurry up and wait.

At 9 am, the nurse took an x-ray. Don't you HATE those bitewing things they put in your mouth? I always think: "This time it really is going to rip my tongue out at the root." Anyway, I had a friendly chat with the nurse while waiting for the dentist.

At 9:30, he came to the room where I sat petrified in my seat - but I uttered not a word of complaint because his office had been kind enough to fit me in on very short notice. He looked at the x-ray, filed down the sharp edge of my tooth, and said quite matter-of-factly, "You need a crown."

First the suffering.
Then the crown.

All afternoon yesterday as I cried off and on with the discomfort, I thought about the issue of pain and suffering. It was another example of Perfect Divine Timing - I had no idea that's what the pastor's evening sermon would be about.

I thought about how blessed I was to have Steve right there with me when it happened and how quickly we were able to get to CVS.

I thought about how sad my children were as they watched me writhing in pain. Later on and with tears in her eyes, my daughter told me that it would be very difficult for her to watch me suffer with an ongoing illness or some constant source of pain. Indeed. Immediately, we thought of other children (some that we know and the countless millions that we don't know) who are daily in that very predicament, children and young adults that are now added to our prayer lists with a new determination to not forget them or their needs.

I thought about the millions of people who do not have access to a dentist, nevermind one who will call them on a Sunday afternoon and assure them that help is 24 to 36 hours away, that all they have to do is come in the next day and make an emergency appointment.

Not to mention all the people who aren't able to afford the cost of going to the dentist, even just for a check-up, nevermind the cost of building a crown.

I thought about all of that and cried even more.
As though I needed another reason to cry.

Tomorrow at 8:30 am EST, I will be back at the dentist's office waiting for him to begin the construction of a temporary crown.
Silently thanking God that I didn't crack a front tooth, vain woman that I am.
Thanking God for a competent and attentive dentist.
Thanking God for dental insurance.
Thanking God that the suffering is expected to last for such a short time.
And looking forward to the crown.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

In Honor of Real Friends

At baseball games this summer, Daniel (19) and his buddy, Grant (8), spent hours together. Talking. Laughing. Sharing sunflower seeds. Planning sleepovers and playdates. I envied their easy and full acceptance of each other.

First of all, take a peek to the right of the screen and check out the quote I found embedded in the musings of a writer in an online journaling group I am part of. I've never read The Count of Monte Cristo, but perhaps I ought to. That quote is a gem.

Secondly, I think I have found one of the best descriptions of friendship ever. You can find it here. It is well worth the five minutes it will take you to read it. It prompted me to think about the people in my life that I love this way. To think about the people in my life that I want to love this way. To make plans to reach out to them and tell them that I love them.

I am enormously grateful that I have known that kind of friendship, that kind of deep soulful love in my life. I have known love/deep connection at first sight more than once. I have wallowed in the gloriously mysterious kind of love that is inexplicable, irrational, and irresistible. The depth of insight, generosity, and genuineness that defies logic but is undeniable. The retelling of tales, sharing of laughter and tears, the exchange of photographs and letters, artwork and music, the film and book recommendations, and all the other innumerable ways in which our souls, minds, and lives are irretrievably intertwined. The telephone calls, the emails, the silences. Always present in mind and heart, in bookstores and airports, at home and abroad.

I have known that kind of love.
You know who you are.
Thank you.

Long Overdue Photographs

After a lifetime of homeschooling, drinking tea and eating homemade cookies, mornings of snuggling on my lap, countless wrestling matches with the dog, and not a single homework assignment ever, Daniel decided it was time to liberate himself from the laid-back, love-fest that was our home-based Silvermine Academy and enslave himself to the rigors and requirements of Charlotte Christian School. So, on the morning of August 20th, he donned his collared shirt, denim shorts, pristine white sneakers, and newly minted LLBean backpack complete with his last name embroidered on it (not by his mother, mind you, but by the factory!), and set out on the long, hard road of "traditional school." As the photo clearly depicts, he was broken hearted by the prospect. As was his older sister - the one who made the decision to stay home with her mother and continue down the road towards a homegrown education alongside her adoring dog and loving mother.

For some reason, I felt compelled to make him turn and face the garage door so that I could get a shot of his backpack rather than his face. Being the obedient son that he (sometimes) is, he obliged my request. Cute bag, isn't it? Cute kids, too.

Minutes later, we piled into Steve's car, drove my dearly beloved son to school, took one last look at his locker (I actually took photos of the inside of his locker! I'm such a newbie at this school thing... everything is still worthy of digital documentation), and turned to walk away, leaving him behind in that dungeon of danger and despair. As I dragged myself away, one question wound its way through the endless folds of my seething brain: "What kind of heartless and thoughtless mother am I after all?"

Unable to bear the very likely possibility that I would never see him whole, unscarred, and joyful again, I turned back and snapped one more shot of my recently abandoned offspring. This next photo was taken less than one minute after I bid him farewell.

Okay - I guess I overreacted a little bit. This is one social kid! Just after taking the photo, I was silently reprimanded by him - with that "You'd better not come back over here and hug me again" look. It was my turn to oblige his request. Inwardly, I wept. A few minutes later, I wept outwardly as well.

Private school is no joke. On his very first day of school, Daniel came home with several homework assigments to complete. Eager to please, eager to get it over with, eager to get outside and play with his friends, Daniel dove in immediately. Nice!

Moments later, I asked him what he thought of his first day of school and the homework assignments. I couldn't have expressed it any better.

I still miss having him here at home with me during the day. But if the frequency of phone calls and text messages is any indication, if the number of invitations to sporting events and playdates is any indication, if the number of times that he asks to be allowed to stay after school and hang out with other students mean anything at all, he is adjusting just fine. So much for the criticism that homeschoolers are not able to interact comfortably with their peers. This boy busts all those stereotypes.

How is he adjusting academically? That part doesn't matter to him nearly as much as not being known as a geek because he's in pre-Alegebra or because he actually obeys the teachers when they ask the students not to talk in class. However, the academic part matters to me and to his father a great deal - and I am happy to report that his lowest reported grade on tests and quizzes so far is an 85. His highest is a 100. Yeah, Daniel! (I include the word "reported" because I imagine that I will find a crumbled paper in the bottom of that fancy backpack someday with a lower grade, an unreported lower grade... Rumor has it that sometimes students don't tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.)

Tomorrow will be the last day of his third week of school.
All is well. All is well.
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

I am Nobody's Poet

This photo was taken by Kristiana on a visit to some fellow Williams grads who live 90 minutes away from us in South Carolina. The sound of water cascading over rocks mixed with the sound of children laughing - a glorious symphony. A glorious day.

But Mary Oliver is.
An awesome poet, in fact.
Here are two of my favorite Oliver poems.


Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Both poems are taken from Mary Oliver's book entitled Thirst.

I couldn't have said it better myself.
I'm oh so glad she said it oh so well.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Taking it to the streets

This photo was taken at a recent one-day retreat with my dear friend Katie. We went to the lake house of a friend of hers to write, eat, talk, and enjoy the beauty of Lake Norman. Glorious day. Great snacks. Lots of writing and talking and silence and contemplation in one of the most peaceful homes I have ever entered.


Tonight I went to Sonic alone for dinner. I had just dropped Kristiana off for a church event and drove over to my favorite fast food place for dinner for one. While I waited for my burger, tater tots, and strawberry limeade to be prepared, I pulled out my journal to write down a few thoughts. When my server arrived at the car (Sonic is a drive-in place where the food is delivered to your car. Fun!) and saw my journal laid out in my lap, she asked what I was doing. I told her I was writing in my journal. She asked a few questions about the journal and about me, and then she shared with me that she takes photos and writes song lyrics as her creative outlet. She said that she had never seen anyone journal there at the restaurant. She also said that I was "a big inspiration" to her.

As she walked away from the car, I offered up a quick prayer of thanks to God for that opportunity to meet and befriend that young woman. Those brief words we shared made that 1,000 calorie meal worth the extra sit-ups, push-ups, and bicep curls I will have to do this week.

Before I left, I got out of the car to throw away my garbage. I gave her my card (with my phone number, email address, and blog address) and told her that if she ever wanted to talk or wanted anyone to pray with her, she should call me. I also told her that I will pray for her this year with her school (she's in the tenth grade at a local high school), her job, and her song writing. The look on her face was one of genuine surprise that I would speak to her so openly.

I encourage all of us to journal in public. To take our words to the streets. You never know when it will give you the opportunity to share something with someone, to be an encouragement to someone, or to jot down some info about someone so that you can pray for them in the future.

I plan to keep young Ashley in my prayers for a long time to come.