Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Six Quirks about me... and gratitude

Itiel tagged me with a new meme. (Does anyone know what "meme" means?")

Here goes a lighthearted look at a few of my favorite oddities/absurdities:

1. I don't like seeing people's bare feet up close: not up on furniture or pointed in my direction if we are sitting on the floor. Wear socks, put shoes on, or sit on top of your feet.

2. I get annoyed with cell phone conversations in otherwise quiet places - like libraries or stores where people are browsing quietly. On my way back from CT on Sunday, there was a woman sitting in the bathroom stall talking, on and on, travel and clothing and friends. Even with the sound of toilets flushing and the like, she kept talking. What's up with that? 2b. I also get annoyed with people talking about their stuff in public settings: expensive bags and shoes and clothing and jewelry and describing it all. Talking about what one owns and how much it cost makes me wanna scream. Especially in situations where total strangers can hear the discussion.

3. I never lend pens that I really like, even if it's just to sign something. I carry extra pens that I am willing to lend to other people. On the rare occasion when I don't have a substitute, I watch the pen like a hawk watches a small mole emerge from a hole in the ground: I never let it out of my sight.

4. I will leave my house without makeup. I will leave my house without my cell phone or my journal - albeit rarely. I refuse to leave my house without making sure I smell good. Some fragrance oil or scented cream or something - smelling bad is not acceptable and inexcusable.

5. Every time I take a flight, just before I enter the airplane, I touch the outside of the plane just to the right of the exterior door of the aircraft. I don't know when I started that or why, but it is a quirky habit I have. And upon leaving, I ALWAYS thank the flight attendants and pilots (if they are visible) for a safe flight and good service.

6. Speaking of travel, another quirk of mine is to speak to the person sitting next to me, even if it a short comment as we both get settled. It seems abnormal to me to be sitting so close to someone that our bodies are touching and yet pretend that they are not there. I try to say something friendly or funny to break the ice. I've never felt like my comment was unappreciated.

What am I thankful for today?
1. The sound of my daughter practicing for her piano lesson.
2. Coffee and a good book.
3. Emails and phone calls from friends, especially those that I don't see very often.
4. Time alone with each of my children today: taking Daniel to school and a long walk with Kristiana.
5. The persistent words of encouragement and support from the women in the journaling class I teach.
6. Great books for free - at the library.
7. Fresh pineapple.
8. A sweaty and challenging workout followed by a hot shower.
9. Clean sheets on a freshly flipped mattress.
10. Bright sunshine on a warm afternoon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Moving Day

This photo was taken in La Coruna, Spain in January of 2007.
Notice the hole where the building used to be.


Tomorrow will be moving day for the thousands of Americans for whom the nation's mortgage crisis is more than simply headline news.
Tomorrow families and singles, couples and friends will pack as much as they can carry into cars, vans, and onto the backs of pick-up trucks and bid farewell to homes they love.
Homes they can no longer afford.
Homes they never could afford but dreamed themselves into.
Tomorrow will be moving day -
and the end of so many dreams for so many of my fellow Americans.

Tomorrow those people will go to work and school as usual.
They will talk to their workmates and classmates as usual.
They will eat lunch and drink coffee and make small talk as usual.
And they will sneak into bathroom stalls and supply closets to mourn.
Because there will be a hole in their hearts, in their lives,
in their minds, in their spirits
- and in the soul of this very nation -
where their homes used to be.

Homelessness. Poverty.
Sorrow. Fear.
Loneliness. Emptiness.
Devastation. Desperation.
Helplessness. Hopelessness.

On May 31st, the next group of foreclosed homeowners will join the ranks of the homeless. And more on June 30th, July 31st - and beyond.

May God have mercy on them.
And on us all - for "they" are us.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Twenty-four hours ago...

24 hours ago right now, I was in the minivan making my way home from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Having flown back from White Plains, New York. After having spent the weekend in Ashford, Connecticut leading a women's retreat for the church I attended when we lived in CT. It was a fantastic weekend.

Laughter. Games. Long talks late at night. Tears. Stories. Hugs. Encouragement. Eating M&Ms and those almond clusters I crave so often. Singing. Reading and discussing some passages in the Bible. Pondering together some of the questions Jesus asked his friends and followers while he walked on earth.

"What do you want me to do for you?
Do you want to be healed?
Why are you crying?
Who are you looking for?
What are you talking about as you walk along the way?"

But the main question we pondered this weekend was this: "Do you believe this?"
(Do you believe that I love you, that I am who I say I am, that I feel your pain and weep with you, that I am the resurrection and the life, that I am the living water, that I have a plan to prosper you and not to harm you? Do you believe this?)

If so, what difference does my belief make in my life?
Does what I believe affect the way that I deal with my family and friends?
Does it affect the way that I treat those I don't know?
The way that I treat those who don't believe as I do?

Does what I believe affect the way that I think, speak, and act?
Does it affect the way that I see the world around me and those that live in it?
Does it affect the way that I handle conflict, challenges, and insults?
Does it affect the way that I deal with traffic delays and unpaid bills?
Does it affect the way that I handle myself when I make mistakes and hurt others?
Does what I believe cause me to hasten to ask for forgiveness or make me more reluctant to do so? Does it increase the speed with which I forgive others or decrease it?

If what I believe doesn't affect those areas of my life -
in fact, every area of my life -
then how much do I believe it?
And is what I believe worthy of my faith, my hope, or my trust?

So much to ponder...
I am learning to live with the questions.
I am hoping to live my way into more of the answers.

I'm not sure when my trusty red suitcase and I will hit the road again, but when we do, there will be far more exciting photos to share, I promise!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A recurring thought...

Actually, it's a recurring quote, one that I see every time I go to Wing Haven, and one that reminds me of the person I want to be and the way I want to live. So simple. So profound.

A few points of clarification - I would love to have an eternal friendship with raindrops, flowers, and the occasional snowflake. But insects? Not so much - unless they remain outside of a ten foot perimeter of my house.

I want to remain interested in everything - including tales of Daniel's friends' antics at school, dramatic accounts of boy trouble that Kristiana's friends seem to perpetually be in, Steve's recent obsession with Stephen Curry (who we think looks like what Daniel will look like in 8 or 9 years), as well as my growing inventory of books on spiritual formation, prayer, meditation, eating well, and how to clean my house with earth-friendly products. Not to mention the wonderful blogs and books written by the amazingly intriguing people I have met online.

Because in the end, my muscles will stiffen and my joints will crack - actually, they already are. In the end, wrinkles will come - they are making their way around my mouth and eyes as I write. I will gasp and wheeze during my cardio workouts - as it turns out, the yoga I've been doing for that past month has increased my flexibility but decreased my stamina.

In the meantime, I vow to never yawn at life. To never allow myself to run out of books to read, prayers to raise, hugs and kisses to share, letters, emails, and blogs to write, or Trader Joe's milk chocolate almond clusters to devour. After all, who can yawn with chocolate in her mouth and her arms wrapped around someone dearly loved?

Disclaimer and explanation: If you click on the "eating well" link, you will be connected with a book called Eat to Live. The description is quite dramatic - something about losing 50 pounds or more. Or losing 20 pounds in 2 or 3 weeks. I am not reading the book with either of those intentions. However, I will say this: the way of eating (not a diet by any means but a new way of eating that is sustainable for your entire life) that the author suggests is radical. Simple and radical at the same time. If you are dissatisfied with the way you feel - not necessarily what you weigh, but the way that you feel with regard to your health, energy, nasal congestion, eating habits, and the like - borrow this book from the library and read it. His approach to food and eating has helped me tremendously with my allergies, sleep pattern, with digestion and elimination.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Between you and me...

Yesterday I had an opportunity to sit outside Starbucks with a friend, sipping iced coffee and swapping stories about marriage, our children, school issues, church, and all sorts of other life-defining stuff. Great conversation. Laughter. Sadness. Hope. Encouragement.

One topic that came up more than once was school grades. We talked about how well we think they should be doing in school. Like so many parents, we spoke of how disappointing it is when our children earn grades that we think are below their ability. We wondered aloud: Why don't they pay attention in class? If they understand what the teachers are saying, why don't they perform better? What do they think they will be when they grow up if they don't do well in school now? What's wrong with our kids? What did we do wrong if this is how they are doing in school?

This whole institutional school thing is new to me and our family on the student side of the equation. (And soon it will be over for us... Thanks be to God!) But I used to be a teacher. I used to be the one who scored the tests, quizzes, and homework and gave the dreaded grades to the students and their parents. I used to watch the disappointment rise into the eyes of young people and adults alike.

I hated every minute of it.
I hated knowing that a poor grade meant grounding.
I hated knowing that the student "got it," but had made a few careless mistakes.
I hated it because I knew that those numbers I gave them had nothing to do with who those funny, terrified, earnest, hard-working, over-burdened kids were but everything to do with the system that they had been thrust into, mostly against their will.
Unfortunately, I had no choice but to give them the number they earned.

Earlier this spring, I had a moment of brain-freeze with my dear Daniel and his pre-algebra grade. I hate to brag - but I will anyway - my son is a gifted math student. He has always loved numbers; before he was five years old, he was multiplying double digit numbers in his head. Amazing.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I checked his math grade online: C+. What??? Daniel? My fingers tripped over each other as I fired off an email to his teacher all but insisting on a meeting. Soon. With Daniel. To Light His Lazy Butt On Fire. Then I called Steve and gave him an earful about Daniel watching too much television in the evening and not focusing enough on his studies. Then I drove to the school to pick Daniel up with a volcano of fury in my belly and a lecture on my tongue. He appeared genuinely incredulous and adamantly denied any wrongdoing. He promised that he had done all of his homework and passed all his tests and quizzes with flying colors. I didn't believe him; I had seen the grade myself.

The ride home was quiet. So was the rest of the evening. So was the ride to school the following morning. Later that day, the teacher responded to my email, inviting me to meet with him anytime, but he expressed some confusion about my concern because, according to his grade book, Daniel had a solid 94 average.

Oops. Sorry. Turns out the website grade was incorrect. So was I.

How could I allow a number on a computer screen to come between me and my son? A number given by a person who simply responded to marks Daniel left on a paper under pressure in a classroom? Why would I allow those numbers to ever come between me and him?

I drove to school early that afternoon. Tracked Daniel down in the library (doing his homework!). Called him over. I apologized profusely. Humbly. With tears in my eyes. Then like any good mother, I took him to Smoothie King after school.

The ride home was quiet that day too. As was the rest of the evening. I was deep in thought. I was trying to figure out what number on a report card, what comment by a teacher or a coach or doctor or Sunday School teacher, what outcome of a sporting event ~ was worthy of coming between me and my son.

Yesterday I told my friend that story. I listened to it again as I told it. I thought about Daniel and Kristiana and Steve and my mother, my mother-in-law, my brothers and sisters-in-law, and a host of other people in my life that I have been disappointed with, angry at, and who have been equally disappointed with and angry at me. I realize that few are the legitimate reasons for me to allow anything to come between us.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the holy ground between me and my friends. Lisa posted a fantastic photo of the two of us taken outside the airport before they left. I like the quote she added. It goes something like this: "Friendship is like having one soul in two bodies." I have also read that being a mother is like having your heart (or is it your soul?) traveling outside of your body.

If that is true, then why would I allow anything damaging or demeaning to come between me and the many bodies carrying my soul around in this world? Why would I allow incomplete chores, teenage sarcasm, pre-teen emotional outbursts, marital spats, and other such foibles come between me and those I love? Why should a few unanswered phone calls or emails, a forgotten birthday, a missed appointment, or an undeserved insult cause the ground between us to feel more like a fire pit than holy ground?

Sure, there is room for improved study skills, but the thought of allowing my son to spend an entire day at school confused about his grade and frightened of his angry mother is beyond what he needs to bear. Sure, Kristiana and I snap at each other every now and then, but the thought that she would doubt whether or not she can come to me and talk about what's on her heart and mind is inconceivable to me. Sure, we need to spend more time as a couple working through the issues that continue to bring discord into our marriage, but the thought of allowing my husband to think that I no longer love him or that I am ready to find a "new and improved" model is beyond what he needs to bear.

Between you and me, Daniel, Kristiana, and Steve, I want there to be nothing at all.
Between you and me, dearly loved friends and distant family members, nothing at all.
Except peace, forgiveness, love, and grace.
A whole lot of second and third chances.
And an open tab at Planet Smoothie; nothing says "sorry" like a Caribbean Breeze!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Holy Ground

This is the plaque on the ground outside the gate of entry for Wing Haven.

Book Title and Photo Caption: Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Lisa and Doug gaze up at something beautiful in a tree overhead.

In the rooftop parking lot, there were suitcases, carry-on bags, hugs, kisses, and photos.

Moses was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy ground.
I read many years ago that all the ground, all the miles, between friends is holy ground.

Today, Doug, Lisa, Kristiana, Daniel, and I stood together, walked together, ate together, and said good-bye to one another on holy ground: here at home, at Wing Haven, at First Presbyterian Church uptown, in Noda - Charlotte's few blocks of art galleries and groovy shops, eating at Cabo Fish Taco, sipping shakes and coffee from The Smelly Cat Coffeehouse, and at the airport. Every step we took, every place we put our feet, and rested our bodies was holy ground. (Steve was at work; somebody's gotta keep this friendship-homeschooling-travel-journaling boat afloat!)

As they zoom towards Baltimore and then on to Dayton,
Doug and Lisa expand the miles between us -
and all the ground between them and us is holy ground.
As I write this blog, my shoes sit nearby, empty.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Time to say good-bye

Tomorrow we will bid farewell to the newest members of our family: Doug and Lisa. Four days of books, art, movies, sports, horses, Smoothie King, Thai food, baseball practice, church services, a jazz show, Guitar Hero, Teavana, chocolate almond clusters, sweet potato chili, salad, taking and looking at photographs, coffee, toast, laughter, hugs, basketball, tea, Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, Trader Joe's, Earth Fare, sitting on the deck, baseball, discussions about vitamins and supplements, lobotomies, and chewing gum in the operating room, and so much more - they are all coming to an end.

Did I mention that they wash the dishes, dry them, and put them away??!! Did I mention that they make their own coffee in the morning and then clean up after themselves? They talk to, listen to, and honor my children. They watch Masters Golf on television with Steve and go to the local art museum with Kristiana and me. Who would not want people like this around for a long time? All the time??!!

I know tomorrow will not be the end of our new blended family. Their visit this week signals the beginning of something brand new. Something unique and unexpected and yet familiar and ancient - all at the same time. Something beautiful, loving, gentle, and eternal. We just have to figure out how to make more of this - whatever this is - possible.

Traveling mercies to you, Lisa and Doug.
Our home truly is your home. Anytime.
We will miss you. A lot.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Quiet and Eventful Week

These photos were taken in December of 2005 when Karen came to visit me on the occasion of my 40th birthday. Her visit was a surprise to me; hence the look of total shock on my face in the top photo. Plus that fact that she HATES to fly - and yet she was willing to overcome her reluctance for me - I was overwhelmed. It was the single greatest birthday gift and surprise of my life. Notice also the funky hairdo I was sporting when she arrived... In the end, as shown in the bottom photo, those funny little balls (I call them my meatballs) turn into a great hair do.

Quiet and eventful - yes, you read it right.

Several noteworthy events this week: Today is Karen's 40th birthday! No, she probably wouldn't give me permission to make that information public, but I want the whole world to know that my dearly beloved long-distance friend is celebrating her life today. She is celebrating the goodness and grace and mercy of God to her over all the years of her life. Unfortunately, I will not be able to surprise her today... but I will see her in two weeks. In fact, two weeks from right now, I will be with her in Connecticut. Happy B-Day, my darling!!!

Andrew and Laura's baby arrived: Sweet Caroline. Yeah for them both! (Check out their blog --> over on the right!)

Alex and Kate's baby, Gwyneth Valiant, was able to go home last Sunday after spending two extra days in the hospital because of jaundice. We give thanks for that progress.

Check out Jen Lemen's blog also - she is planning a trip to Rwanda and has found in this online community a group of supporters that she didn't entirely expect. Her trip is paid for and more money is still coming in. Blessings on her as she plans this upcoming journey.

My daughter and I have committed ourselves to going on a trip to Nicaragua in August. To work at an orphanage, to feed hungry people, to give lots of people lots of love, hugs, and attention - and to share our lives and our faith with them. It's quite simple really: They are loved. There is hope.

Last night, I watched a movie called "The Darjeeling Limited." Unexpectedly delightful film. The adventures of three previously estranged brothers on a train trip through India. Who trusts whom? What secrets are they hiding? What is inside of all those suitcases? What happened to their parents? Why are they behaving this way? What really happened to the oldest brother's face? Where will they end up? How will they get there? In this film, I saw over and over again the truth that when something goes wrong, when something doesn't work out as we expect it will, most often something unanticipated and fantastic awaits around the next corner. Funny. Heart-wrenching. Insightful. A little strange at times, I won't deny it, but this is a movie I will think about for a long time to come. Be forewarned: this is not a film for children.

It has been a quiet and eventful week. I have read a lot. I have journaled a lot. I have created some colorful art and some tasty food. I have prayed. I have exercised. I have spent excellent time with my family. I have cleaned the house - Lisa and Doug are coming to visit us tomorrow and will be with us until Wednesday. I am meeting Katie for lunch today. We are getting a tax refund. We are all healthy and strong.

Life is good.
God is good.
All is well.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tears of Joy and Sorrow

One friend gave birth to a little girl yesterday morning. Precious little baby of only six pounds and a few ounces. Her parents are in love with her already, as they should be. I look forward to meeting the itty bitty one.

Another friend, someone I knew way back in Connecticut, will soon be burying her 20+ year old son who was struck down and killed by a drunk driver on Tuesday night.

As one friend went into labor to deliver a child, another went into labor to mourn one. Tears of joy and sorrow. New life and tragic death.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

Grant your peace, I pray, to K and A as they begin to walk the path of parenthood, of love and sorrow, of challenge and rejoicing, of sleeplessness and joyfulness. May they learn to love one another and this child in ways they have never imagined. And on the difficult days, may they fall into each other's arms and into Yours and find rest.

Grant an extra measure of Your comforting presence to R and T on the death of their son. Theirs is an anguish that is unimaginable - except for those who have gone through it. O God of all comfort, You know what it is to give up your Only Son; please show Yourself to them in unprecedented ways during these, the darkest days of their lives. Please carry them through these weeks and months and years of grief in your everlasting and omnipotent arms. They need you now more than ever.

Again, I beseech you, Merciful Savior, have mercy on them.
Indeed, have mercy on us all.
For the sake and the glory of Your Most Holy Name ~
Amen and amen.

Thankful Thursday

On this drizzly Thursday morning, I am grateful for the drizzle.

I am grateful for the sound of the birds singing and chatting with one another, even in the rain.

I am grateful for lemony ice water, my addiction of late. Lots of ice. Cold water. A squeeze of fresh lemon.

I am grateful for the gift of a carefully and beautifully written, thoughtful, encouraging, and inspirational letter I received from an author I have come to admire. Along with a small volume he recently produced with a few friends, he also sent me a bookmark, a CD, and an invitation to attend a retreat he will be leading next year.

A comment on this blog from another author whose writing and thinking I respect and value immensely.

The upcoming visit of Lisa and her husband, Doug. What fun we shall have!

Continued lessons taught and learned in the journaling class I am teaching. Last night, I learned another lesson about how not to let the words and actions of others to distract me from the goal: to encourage spiritual growth through journaling.

The strength and flexibility I am developing in my recent foray into yoga. To sit, to stretch, to breathe deeply, to feel the power of my own arms and legs - without the use of weights, without having to punch or kick, without equipment of any kind - and to end each session by lying on the floor in my bedroom covered in a blanket, praying for continued peace during the rest of my day... It is not a bad way to begin the day and get in shape at the same time: physical and spiritual exercise.

The marriage of April and Greg in the Bahamas tomorrow. No, I don't get to go and celebrate with them. But I do get to pray that all will go well and fantasize about how glorious it will be for them to stand on the beach at sunset, surrounded by family and close friends, and welcome in to this weary and skeptical world another couple bound together in love and loyalty.

Stories of growth and struggle, of health and dis-ease, and how often we reach out to one another in mercy and compassion.

This is a photo of that little box between the front seats of the minivan. There is a rubber band. A small stack of index cards with Bible verses (created and given to me a dear man at our church) that we sometimes discuss as we drive back and forth on our jaunts. And there is a small stack of the love notes we made and leave anonymously in places all over town. On top of all of it are the Sweet Mint Lifesavers we are all addicted to; hey, if we're gonna spread the love, we may as well do it with sweet minty breath, right?

I am thankful that I can return to this blogging community, the community of my church, the fellowship of my friends, the loving closeness of my family and know that I am surrounded by travelers on this life journey that don't have it all together but are willing to travel together in spite of our individual and collective messiness. We don't have all the answers, but we are seeking for them. We are not all happy and healthy and excited about what we do every minute of every day, but we are seeking after joy and peace and growing in our ability to ask for help when we need it.

And we all have the opportunity to heed the call of the writer to the Hebrews when he wrote: Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

We do need mercy and grace.
We are always in a time of need.