Friday, August 28, 2009

Guerrilla Goodness

I'm one week into the Mondo Beyondo class. So far, so most excellent. Loving every assignment; but I am a geek at heart.

Today's assignment was to take some of the notes of love and kindness and encouragement we received on the first day of the class and share them. Leave them in places we frequent so that other people can be reminded that their dreams matter. That they are not alone.

I ducked into a favorite restaurant for a solo dinner tonight with my journal and a book I'm thoroughly enjoying. I left a note on the table and tucked another one into the credit card receipt thingee - what is the proper name for that folder thing?

Included in the assignment was the promise that we would receive extra credit if we took photos of our acts of guerrilla kindness. What kind of geek would I be if I didn't go for the extra credit???

Here are my photos!

PS. The super crunch roll, spring rolls, and glass of plum wine made for quite the yummy dinner.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Odds and Ends...

Life has been busy around here lately. Here are the highlights, in no particular order.

Two weekends ago, Kristiana and I accompanied my mother on a roadtrip to the Philly area for her family reunion. I have recently discovered that I rather like intersections with lots of road signs. Which way do I go? How do I decide? By the way, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania is a picturesque, sleepy, tree-laden little town. It hosts a charming little farmers' market in the library parking lot every Saturday. Two hours of parking on the street there costs 10 cents. Yes, one thin dime!

Being the lover of cottages and bungalows that I am, I couldn't resist capturing this image of the house across from the aforementioned library. I stood and tried to imagine sipping cups of early morning coffee on that front porch. Waking up in the bedroom above and to the right of the front door, looking out into the branches of that tree, greeting the squirrels every morning. Strolling across the road to the library for movies and books and a magazine or two. Teaching introductory Spanish to new students at the college. What a life!

I would hazard a guess that the folks who gather regularly at the community center where I discovered this gem of a sign have yet to fully comprehend the meaning of the word "community."

I liked this sign. A lot. I wanna live in a home like that. In actuality, I do live in a home like that. The paints and paintbrushes and scissors and magazines and stickers and ink pads and rubber stamps on my dining room table attest to that.

I am deeply engaged with these two books these days. Reading the one on the left in bits and pieces. Writing about what I am learning in the one on the right. Yes, I have my journals numbered; this is the 94th journal I have written since the start of the year 2000. That's a lot of scribbles and collages and stickers, I suppose.

We started homeschooling again on Monday. We are surrounded by binders and dividers and loose leaf paper. Spirals and composition books and mechanical pencils. Textbooks and computer programs and videos. The children are now engaged in reading, writing, and listening to me pontificate about all the great things we will do this year. For the next nine months, we will work our way into the answers to some of the questions that hang over and within us.

I finally wrote a school-year summary for last year, Kristiana's sophomore year. I thought I would have to write one up for the year before as well (yes, I am a ridiculously efficient procrastinator about such tedious chores), but, much to my delight, I discovered that in a fit of earlier efficiency, I had already written that one.

My son made chicken pot-pie for dinner yesterday. From scratch. He printed the recipe from the internet, determined what we needed to purchase at the supermarket, got it all organized on the kitchen counter, and made dinner for his astonished and grateful family. I watched the process in awe, assisting only in the tiniest of ways, only when asked, which was not often. I didn't ask any questions. I didn't tell him how awed I was that he was peeling carrots and potatoes, dicing onions and garlic, sauteing things, mixing things, boiling things, stirring things, ignoring phone calls and texts from his friends because he wanted to wait until after the pot pie was in the oven to take any phone calls. Did I mention that he is 12???

Dinner was absolutely fantastically delightfully delectable.

Unfortunately, I have no photos to commemorate the blessed event. I was nervous that, by pulling out the camera, I would disturb his concentration, make him nervous and self-conscious, and otherwise stop the process by which he was providing me with another opportunity to not cook. Undeterred by all the work, he has already declared that he wants to make another meal sometime soon.

That boy is gonna make somebody very, very happy someday.
The truth is that he is making somebody very happy already: me.

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

Life is good.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Woman after my own heart...

Ages and ages ago, I taught at a boarding school in Connecticut. I met a woman there, a very smart, beautiful, eloquent, funny, young woman named Launa who had just graduated from college and was beginning her teaching career at the same time that I was beginning my marriage. I taught there for two years and bid her, lots of other teachers, the students, and my tiny one-bedroom apartment behind. I was pregnant with Kristiana and on my way to suburban motherhood in Fairfield County, CT. Launa kept teaching at Taft.

Fast forward several years... I heard that Launa was teaching English at my high school alma mater in Brooklyn. What??? Small world getting smaller.

Fast forward a dozen more years... I heard that Launa and her husband and their two daughters were heading over to France to live for a year. Just because. Because why wouldn't you want to quit your job, pack a few bags, and fly your family across the ocean to live in another country for a year?

Why the heck not? If not now, when? If not you, then who?

So nowadays I find myself checking her blog for updates on how they are doing, where they are doing it, and dreaming about doing such an amazing thing with my husband and two children. Just because. Someday...

Truthfully, what Launa is doing is right now with her family, has always been, and always will be my MONDO BEYONDO dream. For the past ten years, perhaps more than that, if anyone ever asked me what my biggest dream is in life, it is to live overseas with my family. I write that very thing in my journal at least five dozen times per year. In progressive bigger and bolder letters.

Question: Why do I keep declaring that while doing precious little to make it happen??????

Please go check out her ponderings and wanderings. She's a great writer and has recently begun to add photos to her blog. Gorgeous countryside. Wonder-filled stories.

That Launa... I always knew there was something spectacular about her.
And now I know why: she is a woman after my own heart.
Bon voyage, mon ami. (Is that right?)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Who would Jesus bomb?

I have spent the last two weeks in awe. In awe of the beauty of the people around me.

The cashiers and baggers at the supermarkets. Those men and women who pass our food, drinks, and laundry detergents over scanners all day and all night. Those men and women whose hands are sometimes covered with paper cuts from magazines and paper bags. Whose wrists and ankles are bound with bandages and braces because of the repetitive movements while standing on their feet all day.

The waitstaff at restaurants and coffee shops. Those men and women who take our orders, literally and figuratively, and then have to contend with the myriad reasons why people who ate and enjoyed their meals think they shouldn't have to pay for those same meals.

The construction workers building houses that few people will buy. Those men and women who are hoping to get paid a fair wage, even though they know that the housing market is painfully slow.

I have smiled and greeted the talented growers and harvesters and bakers and vendors at farmers' markets. I watch them interact with each other across aisles and from one tent and stall to another. All hoping that this will be the day that they break even, at least.

I am stirred to whoop and holler and also well up with tears when I watch my fellow classmates in exercise classes at the gym. Both genders, all ages, heights, widths, hairstyles, fashion sensibilities (yes, personal style is evident even in the gym), and religious persuasions are represented. I am most impressed by the Muslim women who work out while fully covered from head to toe. There we all are, hopping, skipping, jumping, pumping, and sweating together. Trying to stay heart healthy, keep these bodies in motion, and make room for the glass of wine or slice of pie that is yet to come.

I look around the sanctuary of the church my family has begun to attend on Sunday mornings and am overwhelmed by the beauty of all the shades of brown in that room and up on the pulpit. Men and women, united by the need to come together, our hope for a better life, present and future, and the desire to have others know the same hope and future. The sounds that rise from the singers, the congregation, the ministers, in unison and harmony, melody and rhythm - they are truly magnificent.

Plumbers and electricians and carpenters.

Gardeners and yard maintenance workers.

Gas station attendants and car wash workers.

Housekeepers and nannies and babysitters and dogwalkers.

Lawyers and politicians and town hall meeting attendees.

For the past two weeks, as I have walked and jogged and driven through my daily rounds, I have been overwhelmed with the radiance, the tremendous splendor of the eyes and mouths and hands and hair and bodies of the people around me. They are breath-taking. Beautiful beyond words.

Confession time - the bad news first: There are a few groups of people that I have been prejudiced against for a long time. Years ago, I decided that I had the right to negatively judge certain groups of people simply based on their appearance. I have looked askance at "them" and allowed my mind to fill with sarcastic, critical comments whenever I see "them." I felt no guilt about it; it was what it was. I didn't like "them," and that was that. I will not go so far as to say who makes up those groups; I think it is enough to admit in this public forum that I have prejudices.

Now for the good news: As my mind and spirit and heart have been opened in a new way over the past few weeks, I am noticing that I notice "those people" a lot less. Who are "those people" anyway? They are me. They are us. And, God, are they beautiful. Strong. Resilient. Smiling. Intent on living full and productive and meaningful lives, just like us, just like me. They are afraid and lonely and angry and frustrated and adamantly concerned about their hometowns, their countries and cultures of origin, the economy, energy costs, and the environment. They want their children to live long and healthy and good lives. They hope that their loved ones are doing well, whether nearby or far away. Just like us, just like me.

As I have thought more deeply about my judgmental spirit lately, I have found myself repeatedly wrestling with several questions. How dare I choose one or two or five groups of people to compare myself to, with the inevitable outcome being that I end up on top???!!! How could I so quickly and easily forget that I am part of several groups that other people have decided are the "them" to them? (Does that make sense?) After all, I am a woman. I am an American. I am an African-American. I am a follower of Christ. I have Hindi friends (I stand corrected on this one: I have friends who practice Hinduism. Always so much to learn. Thanks, Monee). I have Buddhist friends. I have friends who have chosen to have faith in no one and nothing but themselves. I am a homeschooling mother. I am one half of an "interracial" marriage. I am a northerner living in the south. I have gay friends. I have straight friends. I have many, many friends who are illegal immigrants. I am against war. I voted for Barack Obama. The list goes on and on. And for every thing that I claim to be, there are those who are against what I have chosen.

Ultimately, these past two weeks of newly discovered compassion have pushed me to wonder: what does it mean to live within and outside of so many categories and boxes? Who decided - and who continues to decide - that such boxes are necessary? What would it mean to live without these categories? When will I stop defining myself and others by them? Who will I be as these boundaries recede in importance?

And just in case I am able to come up with reasons for hanging on to my categories and keeping the boundaries and barriers between "us" and "them" high and strong, I am compelled to consider the words and ideals of The One I claim to follow. The One who came to bring good news to the poor, the blind, and the imprisoned. The One who spoke to and touched lepers and women and homeless people and foreigners and tax collectors and the sick and political opponents and children at a time and in a place when doing such things resulted in Him being called "unclean" - among other things. The One who crossed social, economic, cultural and religious boundaries to invite others to be part of his homeless band of misfit revolutionaries - what would He say about my barriers and walls and prejudices?

The question that remains, after I look around me at all the people in the gym, the market, the pharmacy, the hospital waiting room, the playground, the sanctuary, the library, the arts and crafts stores I frequent, the bookstores, on street corners, in office buildings, in line at drive-thru windows, after I flip through photo albums and newspapers and magazines, and scroll through websites looking at people waving flags and banners and pumping their fists in anger about one issue or another, the one question that keeps coming to my mind is this -

Who would Jesus bomb?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In the in-between time

Somewhere on a highway between two tiny North Carolina towns.

I heard a great sermon this past Sunday entitled, "In Between."

The pastor spoke about God's promises to Abraham: "I will make of you a great nation. You will have more descendants than there is sand on the sea shore. You will have a promised land and ongoing generations of sons and daughters." To a man who had no children, I am sure those promises sounded like a pretty good deal. Lots of children and grandchildren in land all their own. Who wouldn't want all that good stuff? All those blessings?

What God didn't tell Abraham was about all the difficulties, all the trials, all the losses and pain and lies and near fatalities that would happen in between the giving of the promise and the fulfillment of it. Abraham didn't know that he'd have to wait decades for the birth of his son, Isaac. Or that his sons, Ishmael and Isaac, would engage one another in disputes and disagreements and battles that would continue for centuries. There was a whole lot in the "in between" that Abraham didn't know.

The minister's question to the congregation was this: if Abraham had known all that was going to come in between receiving that promise and seeing that promise come to life, would he have embarked on the journey? Would he have signed up for all those children and all that land if he knew it would involve so much pain?

Looking down on a street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina - which way do I go? Which way do I go?

What about me? If I had known that being a wife and mother, a sister-in-law, and a daughter-in-law would have all the challenges they have, would I have signed up? If I had known that there would be financial and medical and relational and familial and personal struggles and battles, would I have said, "I do" on that hot day in June of 1991?

I knew that marriage was going to be tough.
I knew that being a mother would be the most demanding job I would ever have.
But I had no idea all the tears I would shed.
All the fears I would endure.
All the doubts and worries and "what ifs."
All the times I would wonder aloud and in my journal: "What the heck was I thinking? Where am I going? How will I get there? Where is the 'better' in the 'for better or worse'?"

I can barely see two feet in front of me; how will I ever know when to turn right or left? When to around and go the other way???

I had no idea that the "in between time" would feel so unsettled.
With all its ups and downs, noises and silence, emptiness and fullness,
barrenness and fertility, joy and sorrow.
It's all part of the deal.
Complicated. Confusing. Combustible.
Unfulfilling. Unnoticed. Unimportant.

At the other end of the spectrum, I had absolutely no idea that there would be countless hugs and cuddles that would lift my spirits and bolster my wounded soul.
That my children would surprise me with meals in bed and unexpected cards and artwork.
That my husband would save all our frequent flier miles and send me off on solo European jaunts every 12 to 18 months.
I had no idea that my husband and children would develop a sixth sense, an innate ability to know when I need some solitude and leave me to simmer and sulk and ultimately regain and rediscover peace and joy and comfort in between the sheets on my bed and the sheets in my journal.

Sometimes the "in between time" feels interminable and impressive and unfair - until I realize that the "in between time" is my life.
This is not the time between the promise and the fulfillment.
This is the fulfillment. This is my life.
Right here. Right now.
This is the day that the Lord has made.
I will rejoice and be glad in it.
Right here. Right now.

Monday, August 03, 2009

It doesn't seem possible...

that a year ago right now, I was in Nicaragua, probably on a bus heading to or from a tiny town called Xiloa,

where I would spend two and a half days holding and feeding beautiful babies,

singing and playing with children and teenagers, talking and praying with their beautiful parents,

preparing to celebrate the birthday of this gorgeous child,

listening to stories and taking photographs,

and otherwise getting my heart and my soul and my world completely turned upside down. Who knew?
My daughter and I sooooooo want to get back there, to see how our friends are doing, to make new friends, to just breathe that hot, humid, fragrant, smoky, animal-scented air. To have our souls stirred to action yet again. To have our hands held. Our spirits filled. Our hearts cracked wide open for light and life and laughter and sorrow and tears and poverty to seep in and fill us anew.

Then the fear and turmoil and anguish and waiting and watching and praying and pleading for mercy and healing and celebration that have come in the aftermath of that trip... words and photos do not and cannot fully tell the tale. But my soul knows it so very well.
And the story is not yet over... not even close.