Monday, June 30, 2008

Celebrate Life!

What an emotional weekend this past one turned out to be.
And in the midst of it all, I celebrated my life!

A heartbreaking loss for Daniel's baseball team yesterday.
Parents who loved and encouraged their children no matter what the outcome.
Coaches who cursed at their charges!
Sitting in the hot sun, talking to and laughing with other baseball parents.
Hearing of a dear friend's daughter not being allowed to play in her softball game.
Having Itiel and her two daughters over for lunch on Friday.
Joyful long-distance celebration of Lisa's birthday; thought about and prayed for her all day long.
Our 17 year wedding anniversary!

Sipping mugs of my favorite tea: earl gray and lapsang souchang.
Eating well: taking huge, crunchy salads to the baseball games.
Drinking lots of ice water and the occasional glass of wine.
Journaling and collage making all weekend long - even while away from home.
Writing love notes to myself. Telling myself all the sweet nothings I long to hear.
Happy anniversary to me!

I am learning the following profound lesson in unexpected ways of late:
Drinking deeply of life's bountiful blessings has a way of
being reflected in my emotional, relational, physical,
and spiritual health. Life isn't easy these days, but I am so well.
So very well. I am grateful. Deeply grateful.

Painting my toenails.
Burning a Jen Lemen candle and Itiel's incense.
Using fragrant oils, soaps, and creams daily.
A brand new t-shirt, a fabulous denim skirt, and my favorite jewelry...
even my son commented on my ensemble.
Snuggling with my dog.
Creating art with my daughter.
Missing church and watching my son play baseball instead.

It's all small stuff that adds up to an enormously happy day and fulfilling weekend - and life.
If not me, who?
If not now, when?

Anybody wanna dance?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Not Much to Say...

After reading this and this earlier this week, I retreated to my dining room where I cleaned up our arts and crafts table a little first. Then I organized a little. Then I sorted through magazines. Then I started cutting and pasting and writing responses to what I had cut and pasted.

After far too long a lay-off, I returned to the joyful practice of making collages. I love gluing words and images into my journal. I love the bulk and heft of the journal pages after they have been covered with the goodies I discover in the magazines I subscribe to: Oprah, National Geographic Traveler, and The Week. Plus Skirt, the local freebie, always has fabulous articles and artwork, ads and poems that bring a smile to my face and beauty to my dream-keeping, life-containing, soul-nourishing daybook.

So, nope, I don't have much to say this week.
I've been too busy getting glue on my fingers.

I wish us all a happy weekend and leave you with
a nugget that Oprah wrote that resonated with me.

"These days I am often surrounded by other people.
I have to interact constantly, so when I get to spend
time with just me, I delight in every moment.
Alone time is when I recharge and go back to my
center, distancing myself from the voices of the
world so I can hear my own with clarity.
It's when I consciously count my blessings, take a deep breath,
and try to absorb the wonder and glory of all my experiences...
Now I know for sure that if you don't replenish your well,
it runs dry."

This week, I have set apart some alone time to replenish my well of creativity; thank you Jen and Andrea for reminding me to give myself permission and space to let the paint and glue and markers and ink fly.

The following is a photo of a collage I made last year. I think I posted this photo once before, but here it appears again. I still smile everytime I look at this image.

Notice all the goodies behind my journal: many of my blogging and writing buddies will notice their logos and banners and words there. Thanks for your constant inspiration.

One more thing: I want to express my profound thanks to you for reading my blog. I know that many of you do not comment on what you read here and, although I would love to hear from each of you, I prefer your silence to your absence. To those of you who do write to me, I appreciate your feedback and commentary more than you can imagine. To those of you who have had difficulty posting comments for one reason or another, I humbly apologize. As convenient and helpful as internet technology can be, it can also be finicky and unreliable. I am far more impressed with the fact that the internet has allowed me to find, initiate, and maintain meaningful relationships online than I am disheartened by the fact that occasionally our words get off on the wrong exit of the information superhighway.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hungry for More

Lunch with Katie, April 2008.

I had dinner tonight with one of the wisest women I have ever known.
Funny. Beautiful. Insightful. Full of questions. Seeking answers.
Encouraged me enormously on this faith/life/unexpected/disturbing journey I am on.

I barraged her with questions. Why am I so disillusioned with my church, all the rules they seem to be adding on to what I understand the Bible to say, and why does it hurt so much to face the mounting contradictions? What am I to do with all this confusion, all these questions I have, and all the tears I seem to be shedding these days?

She listened, smiled, nodded, asked a few questions of her own. She pondered, looked me in the eye and said (among other things), "You are in a great place, Gail. This is a great journey you are on. You are being transformed. The word 'rest' is in the word 'wrestling." So wrestle and rest. You are being liberated, set free from the box you were in... Be careful when ideologies get confused with theology; people begin to worship their ideas - and that is idolatry. Be careful when nationalism and politics get confused with theology; people begin to worship their country and their flag. Remember that you are have not committed your life to rules or ideologies or a nation or a church, but rather to a Person. Be true to the person of Jesus, to the teachings of Jesus, and not to people who have tried to trap Him and His teachings in a box that reflects them and their own ideals rather than Him and His Character. Learn to ask yourself, 'Does what I am hearing and learning reflect who I know Christ to be?' As you answer that question, you will see your life, your family, your church, the whole world differently."

The beginning of wisdom, she said, is when we realize how big God is
and how little we know.

I listened. Nodded. Took notes. Asked more questions. Cried. And I left that restaurant with a lighter heart along with confirmation of something I had already suspected: I am crazy. But the kind of crazy that is causing me to ask a lot of questions of the things I used to assume were true. The things I have been brought up believing. The things that are in need of being questioned and reevaluated. The beliefs that have been perpetrated as truth but have begun to ring quite hollow with and for me. And I left there with a lot more questions.

I came home and shared some of her comments with Kristiana - who is on her own journey to and through her understanding of faith and who she is in the context of what she believes and how she is experiencing this topsy-turvy, sorrow- and wonder-filled world.

A view from the terminal here in Charlotte, April 2008.

Then I turned on the television to "Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations." The introduction to his show summed it all up perfectly:
"I write. I travel. I eat. And I'm hungry for more."

I write. I read. I ponder.
I travel. I wander. I pray.
I eat. I drink. I ponder some more.
And I'm hungry for more.
A whole lot more.
Of all of the above.

Coffee, journal, and a wild mind in Roma, January 2008.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

How I'm Feeling This Afternoon

Photo by Kristiana,

A little shaky.
A little blurred.
A little lonely.
Missing friends.
Not looking forward to Daniel going away to camp tomorrow.

Happy that Kristiana returned safely from camp yesterday.
Full of chocolate, pizza, ice water, and raspberry squares.
Looking forward to Blogher in a few weeks!

All at the same time.

Did anybody see the full moon this week?
Che bella la luna.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"This is My Body"

I have a body.
Sometimes I love my body. Sometimes I don't.
Sometimes I am critical and judgmental of my body.
Sometimes I want to nip it and tuck it and suck it in.
Sometimes I pamper it and treat it well.
Sometimes I am grateful for it and other times I wish it were altogether different.

It was only recently that I came to understand how often and how truthfully my body speaks to me. Interestingly enough, I find that my body doesn't ever lie to me. My wandering heart will lie to me. As will my restless mind. My body, on the other hand, tells me exactly what I ate, what I drank, and how long it has been since I exercised and slept well. It doesn't ask for stuff it doesn't need. It doesn't ask me to do dangerous things. It serves me and carries me and accepts all the abuse I can heap on it.

This is my body. Today, I am grateful for it.

The Vessel
By Anthony DeMello

I ask God for a special kind of body
And get the one I have right now.
What thoughts and feelings do I have about this body?

We hear of saints who hated or were neutral to their bodies.
What attitude is mine?
Where did I get it?

In the blueprint I have drawn up for my life, how does my body help or hinder?

If it could speak, what would my body say about the blueprint?

My relationship with my body powerfully affects my life for good or evil.
The finest way to heal, or deepen, the relationship is dialogue.

My body must be frank in expressing its resentments and its fears – of me.

I must be just as frank.

We keep at it until we are reconciled and understand and love each other better.

We must then state explicitly our expectations of each other.

Before we end the dialogue, I ask my body for a word of wisdom.

Scripture reveals my body’s spirituality.
It says my body is God’s temple, the spirit’s dwelling place.
What does that mean?

It further says our bodies are not ours but Christ’s, so he can say of me,
”This is my body.”
Again I wonder at the meaning of those words.

I see myself go through the actions of the day
(eating, washing, playing, sleeping)
with my consciousness
that my body is the home of the divine.

Or caring for it as for the body of my beloved.

Finally I speak to God about my body.
And listen as He speaks to me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My life journey

I love to travel. Be on the road. New places. New people. New foods. New memories. New stuff to stick into my journal. I often dream of spending weeks, months, even years overseas.

In one of the many books I have read in the past few weeks, I read about a woman who feels like Hawaii is the place where her soul feels most at home. The beautiful landscape, the flora, and fauna. Someone said to her, "But Hawaii is right here." No, not the volcanoes or the pineapple trees. But her soul, your soul, my soul is right here, right now.

Timely reminder for me: Madrid and Rome are right here. London and Lisbon are right here. I am here: the same desire to explore, to grow, to be challenged and changed - it's all right here in Charlotte. And when I need a visual reminder, I can drive to and down International Drive.

The cross-street at the intersection with International Drive
is Providence Road.

On the road. On my life journey. Daily. Hourly.
So many other pilgrims, potholes, potential detours.
Power cables, power surges, power outages.
It's all there, in front of me, within me, and all around me.

Another quote: Even when I feel unnerved, (I add: when I feel lost, afraid, abandoned, misunderstood, confused, and reluctant to try again)
I am on the journey.
On the way to wisdom, peace.
I incline my mind and heart in the direction of insight.
(Again, I add: I incline my mind and heart
in the direction of transformation, growth, and Love.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Security Alert

I have thought about the heaviness of heart I have carried of late.
The sorrow for those who suffer. The tears for those who weep.
The fear and uncertainty, the panic and insecurity.

I have thought about the things in which I have sought security.

The security of a brick house at the end of a quiet and secluded cul-de-sac.
The security of a monitored alarm system in our house.
The security of a steady and generous salary for my husband's hard work.
The security of good health and strength.
The security of a sound mind.
The security of having obtained a good education on the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The security of friends, family, and neighbors that care and look out for us.
The security of a strong economy in a strong nation.
The security of believing that our elected leaders have the best interest of our nation and our world at heart.
The security of believing that if we, the people, express our opinions and desires to those in authority over us that they would give serious consideration to our requests and suggestions.
The security of believing that most people are most likely going to be good and kind and just and fair to and respectful of each other.

In the past few years, every one of those security systems has been tested.
Every one of those security systems has failed the test.

Curiously, I have not been as shaken up by that realization as I would have been ten years ago. I have not been as surprised as I thought I would be.

Certainly, my heart has staggered through heavy days and heavy weeks. My heart and spirit have been heavy with the sorrowful realization that there is so much suffering. So much fear. So much insecurity. In me. Around me. Around the world.

And then I remember - again - that none of those things,
neither my body, nor my house,
my money, the government, our nation's military complex,
my intellect, my friends, my family -
not one of those things is capable of providing me with security.

My faith, my hope, my trust,
my security are not found in things or people.

My hope is in the Lord God of the Universe.
In His love, in His grace, in His mercy.

I ask the same questions that so many others ask: If He is God, if He is in control, why is there evil and poverty and war and so much suffering in the world? Why doesn't He stop the tornadoes and fires and floods?

I hear and ponder so many answers:

* Most of the suffering in the world comes at the hands of those of us who walk the planet. Our greed, our callous indifference to the needs of others, our intentional and repeated decisions to pollute, destroy, abuse, and neglect each other and the earth have led to much of our suffering.

* We want to live our lives on our own. We want to have our own way. We want to be free to reject God altogether. Many don't believe God exists. We have been granted the freedom to believe whatever we want about God. So then why do we blame someone that we repeatedly reject and don't believe in for not making our lives easier?

* On the other hand, if God exists and He has the ability to control everything that happens to us, perhaps it is a sign of His great love and mercy that we haven't destroyed one another and this earth completely. We have certainly tried to. Perhaps it is His almighty hand that holds back even greater sorrow and suffering.

* If the story of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection is true, if it is true that God somehow became a man and walked this earth and died at the hands of the very people He created, then perhaps His love for us is far greater than we can imagine.

Perhaps when Jesus said things like -

"You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.

Come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in, naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you visited me. I was in prison and you came to me... Truly, I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.

Do not worry then, saying, "What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear for clothing?" For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek His kingdom first and all His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow.

I tell you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart - I have overcome the world.

Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest

Perhaps when He said that stuff, He was talking to and about me. He meant for me not to be surprised at what I see happening in the world these days. He meant for me not to worry. He meant for me to take leave of my fear and worry and to feed the hungry and give water, clothing, and comfort to those who suffer. He meant for me, for us to answer the pleading of people around the world who wonder what they will eat and drink and wear.

And He meant for me to find rest and peace and security in Him.

Because there is no security in stuff or in people.
Ask anybody in China whose stuff and loved ones are under the rubble.
Ask anybody in Rwanda and Darfur who left their stuff and run for safety.
Ask anybody in Kansas whose stuff was sucked out of their homes by a raging river.
Ask anybody in California whose stuff has been consumed by a wild fire.
Ask anybody who has lost a loved one to misunderstanding, unwillingness to forgive and be reconciled, divorce, illness, addiction, or death.
Ask anybody who thought they could change or fix themselves; ask me!
I can only rarely control my own tongue, thoughts or emotions.
Try as I might to alter my circumstances and my reactions to them
- and I do try - much of my life is outside of my control.

There is no security in stuff.
There is no security in people.
There is no security in me.

What else or Who else is left?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A heavy week...

Here are a few highlights...

Oppressive heat: a week of 90+ degree temperatures, including a few record-breaking days..
Powerful thunderstorms last night that knocked out our power for 12 hours.
Lying in bed wondering about the food that was surely melting in the fridges and freezers.
Counting up how much all that food cost.
Lamenting the fact that I'd have to throw a lot of it away and replace it.
Complaining to myself about how inconvenient that would be.
Hoping Daniel was doing well; he was with a teammate for a sleepover.
Wishing I could watch the finale of Top Chef.

Then I remembered.
I have prayed for rain for weeks.
I was lying in my comfy bed in my comfy house with my comfy husband.
Whose hard work and more-than-abundant salary would make replacing our food (which was completely unaffected by the outage) a breeze.
My son was fine; the neighborhood he was sleeping in never lost power.
There are countless millions of people who have never had power and who would love to help us eat any food we have, including the leftovers we often want to throw away.
Jen Lemen's recent journey to Rwanda.
My upcoming journey to Nicaragua - to feed, teach, and hug orphans.
My life is so good and so easy.

I awoke this morning to lights on in various rooms in the house - yeah!
I wondered how many people were awakened by the sound of radios and televisions blaring...
We had only three medium sized branches laying in the backyard; nothing serious.

Just after 6:45 this morning, Steve and I went for a walk in our neighborhood. We took a self-guided tour through a development under construction a few blocks away: $750,000+ houses will be built on third-of-an-acre lots where there will be no trees or privacy. The watering system of that unbuilt community was on - with countless gallons of water running along the curb and down into the storm drain. Less than six hours after a drenching storm had passed through.

That kind of thing raises my blood pressure. What the heck?
Why is watering necessary today?
Why is the watering of grass necessary at all?

Lately, I have found myself shaking my head at the sheer, unadulterated greed and waste that are prevalent all around me. On a daily basis, I am disheartened by the apparent lack of concern about water usage and waste, the excessive amount of food we alternately consume and throw away, how quickly we throw away things that are still perfectly useful, and how unrelenting we are in our pursuit of more stuff to replace the perfectly good stuff we've just disposed of.

I am reminded of something a former pastor used to say a lot:
"We get all we can, can all we get,
sit on the lid, and poison the rest."

I find myself shaking my head in the mirror as I ponder all the ways that I contribute to the excess. When will the madness stop? When will I become the change I want to see?

Like I said, it's been a heavy week.

And I didn't even mention the one friend undergoing surgery to remove large tumors from her abdomen.
Another friend whose sister is being threatened emotionally and verbally by a neighbor.
The neighbor of mine who is under attack for an unintentional offense to another neighbor.
The couple whose son has battled ear and nasal infections for most of his three-year-life. And they don't have medical insurance.
Ongoing job loss and job search struggles for far too many people I know.

In the midst of all this, I have had moments of sheer bliss.
Great food. Coffee with Steve in the morning. My favorite wine.
Solitude. Prayer. Journaling. Reading. "Aha" moments on a daily basis.
Ping-pong, reading, card games, and movie watching with the kids.
A prayer retreat last Saturday. Meeting unexpectedly inspiring people there.
Conversations with loved ones on the phone. Time with others in person.
Vicarious travel with dear ones who have gone overseas.
(Happy trails to you all! Traveling mercies.)
There has been great joy and deep laughter.

Even though it has been a heavy week, I have remembered to make time to dance.
Take the lead and make a line of dancers in the darkness and in the rain.
During the midst of the heaviest storms of life, I hope I'll dance.
Care to join me?

All of the photos in tonight's blog were taken at the Welcoming Prayer Retreat
I attended this past Saturday. I need to go pray that prayer right now.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Quote and A Question

First the quote.

From The Reluctant Fundamentalist. I read it in less than 24 hours. Couldn't put it down. Friends who read and recommend good books are a gift from on high. (Truthfully, friends are a gift. That they read is a bonus!)

"Such journeys have convinced me
that it is not always possible
to restore one's boundaries
after they have been
blurred and made permeable by a relationship;
try as we might,
we cannot reconstitute ourselves
as the autonomous beings
we previously imagined ourselves to be."

Then the question.

From the cover of a book simply titled, The Dance.
Written by someone simply named Oriah Mountain Dreamer.
(I love her name!)

"What if the question is not
'Why am i so infrequently the person i really want to be?'
'why do i so infrequently want to be the person i really am?'"

Here's to blurred and permeable boundaries,
reading friends - and friends who read me,
releasing the autonomous beings we imagined ourselves to be,
and embracing the beings that we are!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Doing Things Badly

Just got my monthly e-letter from SARK. She's a creative, colorful, funny, insightful writer who produces books that make me smile, create, and live more intentionally. This month's letter is called, "Doing More Things Badly."

I like that. I intend to follow this example as well.

Why not do a few things badly ever now and tehn?
Why not mispel a few wrods?
Why not leave the vacuum cleaner in the middle of the floor?
Why not overcook the veggies and undercook the rice?
Why not publish bad photos as well as good ones?

What harm can really be done with doing a few things badly every now and then -
and simply accepting, no, embracing how imperfect i am???!!!

Besides, as SARK points out, doing some things badly is better than not doing them at all.

For example, loving Steve and the kids badly is better than not loving them. Journaling badly or inconsistently is better than not at all.
Reading and not remembering what I read is better than not reading at all.
Same thing with cooking, cleaning, laundry, and writing letters.
Same thing with leaving messages, sending emails, and writing postcards.
What does a bad postcard look like?

Please don't write to me and try to set me straight about this.
Don't write to me with proof that this is a dangerous way to live.
Don't write to me and tell me that doing certain things badly IS bad.

Rather, write to me and tell me what things can be done badly and have no harm result. Write with an example of how someone did something badly, but you still loved it. Write about when you did something poorly and good results came anyway.

Let's celebrate our imperfection together.

Monday, June 02, 2008

My Comfort Zone...

Last Friday, we all were invited to a surprise birthday party for my dear friend, Katie. The host and hostess have a house on beautiful Lake Norman. These are two photos taken on their boat. A truly glorious sunset. My comfort zone? The water... as long as I'm in a boat and not in the water.

I've been doing a lot of reading lately. Books. Books online. Blogs. Letters. Emails. Text messages. Lots of reading. And I've been inspired to do lots of writing. Other people's words inspire me to fire off a few of my own.

Jen, at The Word Cellar, wrote a piece that is linked to the title of this post. I hope she doesn't mind if I use her writing as an inspiration for my own.

She wrote: "I do these things because I know I'd regret not doing them."

Here's a partial list of the things I do for the same reason:

* Blog, telling my story and sharing my thoughts with others
* Journal a lot; there is no topic too small or insignificant
* Take photographs whenever the mood hits me
* Read books that challenge my entrenched ways of thinking

* Eat dessert - especially chocolate with nuts in it.
Haagen Dazs Chocolate peanut butter ice cream is one of my favorites.
* Exercise
* Drink water
* Eat as well as I can - when I'm not eating dessert, that is

* Travel alone
* Travel with Steve and the kids
* Leave my mind and heart open to new people and experiences

* Stand up for what and who I believe in
* Listen to and consider the ideas and opinions of others
* Bow out of relationships and situations that repeatedly injure me
* Withdraw from the fray when conflicts escalate - give peace a chance
* Give forgiveness and reconciliation a chance too

* Push myself to stop what I am doing and listen when my children speak to me
* Apologize to them when I don't
* Watch movies and play games with them

* Figure out ways to get over feeling hurt and offended as quickly as possible
* Ask myself why I respond as I do to the situations in my life
* Seek out and ponder the answers to my questions
* Pray, asking for grace, mercy, patience, love, and peace

* Tell people that are scared and hurting that they don't have to live in fear and pain all the time
* Weep with those who weep
* Laugh with those who laugh
* Maintain long-distance friendships;
loving, caring, loyal friends are hard to come by

* Allow myself to be nostalgic, to remember moments of sheer brilliance gone by
* Allow myself to dream big, to imagine how far I will go and all I will learn on this life journey
* But above all, rejoice in this moment, right here, right now, giving thanks for each breath, each sip of hot, sweet coffee, each click of the computer keyboard
* Seek out times of solitude and silence to reflect on the wonder that is this one, wild, crazy life I have been given to live.

This was the dessert plate at last Friday's party.
I ate the one near the middle with the raspberries on top
and the boat shaped one in the bottom row, the one with raspberry jam on top.
Yum, yum on both counts!
No regrets on either count!

Life is sweet.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Going on Vacation

Still working my way through the Anthony DeMello book, entitled Wellsprings.
So many wonder-filled pieces to ponder.
To journal through.

Pondering and dissecting this one will be high on my writing agenda this week,
one day at a time.

The Vacation
By Anthony DeMello

I imagine I retire to a lonely place
to give myself the gift of solitude,
for solitude is a time when I see things as they are.

What are the little things in life
that lack of solitude has magnified unduly?

What are the really big things
that I find too little time for?

Solitude is the time to make decisions.
What decisions do I need to make
or reconsider
at this juncture of my life?

I now make a decision
about the kind of day today shall be.

Will it be a day of doing?
I list the things I really want to do today.

Will it also be a day of being
- no effort to achieve,
to get things done,
to gather or possess,
but just to be?
My life will not bear fruit
unless I learn the art of lying fallow,
the art of “wasting” time creatively.

Maya is very good at lying fallow;
wasting time is the central activity of her life.

So I decide what time to give to play,
to purposeless and unproductive interests,
to silence, intimacy, rest.
And I ask myself what I shall taste today,
and touch
and smell
and listen to
and see.

My prayer this week is to discover the pleasure of obscure unhurried growing things. I hope and pray to find them within my own expanding soul.

PS. No, I'm not actually away going on vacation.
I'll be lying fallow here at home.
Y'all come by, ya hear?