Friday, October 30, 2009

She's Sixteen...

She's beautiful...

and she's mine.

I stand corrected: She's ours.

Happy Birthday, KB.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hearing voices again...

"Some years into our spiritual journey, after the waves of anticipation that mark the beginning of any pilgrimage have begun to ebb into life's middle years of service and busyness, a voice speaks to us in the midst of all we are doing. There is something missing in all of this, it suggests. There is something more.

The voice often comes in the middle of the night or the early hours of morning, when our hearts are most unedited and vulnerable. At first, we mistake the source of this voice and assume it is just our imagination. We fluff up our pillow, roll over, and go back to sleep. Days, weeks, even months go by and the voice speaks to us again: Aren't you thirsty? Listen to your heart. Something is missing.

We listen and we are aware of... a sigh. And under the sigh is something dangerous, something that feels adulterous and disloyal to the religion we are serving. We sense a passion deep within that threatens a total disregard for the program we are living; it feels reckless, wild.


Sometime later, the voice in our heart dares to speak to us again, more insistently this time. Listen to me - there is something missing in all this. You long to be in a love affair, an adventure. You were made for something more. You know it."

Taken from the opening page of The Sacred Romance by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge
Much of my morning time these days, much of my evening time these days, a whole lot of my thinking time these days is spent in conversation with this voice. This voice is telling me that longing for more, for adventure, for something deeper and more passionate than what I've been doing lately - that my heart is meant for more than "principles and programs and efficiency."

It's not about running away with the circus or hunting down another man or finding a new family. It's more than reading books about being a better wife and a stronger Christian and or a more inspired cook. It's far deeper, intrinsic, and transformational than that.

This voice is calling me to come away for a while, by myself, to rest. To listen. To be touched. To be held. To be made new. To rediscover passion for the world and its people, for my world and its people, and for myself. To reawaken my love for art and music and conversation and food and wine and laughter and sorrow too. It is not enough to simply live; I long to live abundantly again. I am determined to do just that.

Unfortunately, I know many people who say that my constant longing for more is selfish at its root. There are people who say that if I follow my feelings and emotions and longings, if I admit to hearing these voices and taking their utterings seriously, then I am going to plunge myself headlong into a life of debauchery and licentiousness. (I am not exactly sure what those words mean although they certainly sound mean - the words as well as the people who utter them. Therefore, I stay away from those people as much as I can.)

Thankfully, I am not the only one who wants all this passion and joy and fullness of life for me.

In John 10:10, He said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they might have life and have it to the full."

John 15:11 ~ (After talking to His good friends about love and abiding together in an ongoing vine-branch-sticking together relationship,) Jesus said, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

So, yes, I am hearing voices again. Well, One Voice actually. And that voice is inviting me to dance and sing and live fully this adventure called life.

Wait, I think I hear the coffee pot singing a welcoming song.
It's time for me to go dance my morning caffeine dance.

Later the same morning after the caffeine has taken effect...

I am on a journey. Sometimes I call it my life journey. Sometimes I call it a journey to the garbage dump of my life, the smelly dark place, the lonely and frightful place. Sometimes it feels like a journey to the highest heights, the brightest lights, the best of everything. It feels repetitive and cyclical much of the time. It feels like deja-vu over and over again. And that is the nature of this life, with its cycling and recycling.

When the walk thru the valley is longest and darkest, I yearn for the light, for music, for feasting, for love, for passion.

When the light is bright and the way is wide and welcoming, I forget how dark the darkness can be and feel.

Very soon after my return from Spain, while I was still unpacking the souvenirs along with the great memories and lessons learned, darkness fell once again, all too quickly. One friend reminded me a few days' walk into this current valley: "We fall down. We get up. We fall down. We get up."

This morning, I find myself once again in the getting up phase. And for that I am grateful: for the ability, the willingness, the deep desire to get up again. To find my way back onto the path towards peace and joy and rest and another phase of the incredible lightness and rightness of being. To grope my way out of this present darkness back into the kingdom of Her glorious light.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wanting it both ways... and getting it

Most of the time, I don't think of myself as a greedy person. I am (usually) willing to give up the last bagel or piece of pie if someone else wants it. I am (usually) willing to let someone skip me in the supermarket line if he or she has fewer items and seems to be in a rush. You want the parking space badly enough to glare at me across two car hoods and dashboards? By all means, take it. Even when I am the airport waiting to board a long-anticipated flight to the place where my soul finds rest, if someone seems adamant about getting onto the airplane before me, if someone's urge to use the cramped, smelly lavatory exceeds my own, I gladly and patiently step aside. "Go right ahead. I can wait."

But when it comes to matters of the heart, when it comes to relationships, to love and friendship, to peace at home and abroad, when it comes to health and safety, I want it all. I want it now. I don't want to wait my turn. I don't want to allow anyone to get at "it," whatever "it" is, before me.

I want it both ways.

I want to share love and give love freely to others.
And I want a whole lot for myself.

I want plenty of time to spend with my family and friends.
And I want plenty of time for myself by myself.

I want to reach out to others, with email, text messages, snail mail, phone calls. And I want them to reach out to me likewise.

I want empty times, empty spaces, empty days.
And I want days and places and moments that are filled to overflowing.

As a (relatively) rational, clear-headed, spiritually-minded adult, I understand that fullness and emptiness, that bounty and want, that sunshine and rain, that calm seas and stormy ones, that joy and sorrow are cycles through which I will pass throughout the course of my life. Sickness comes, and sickness goes. Strength abounds and then it abandons me. Loneliness ebbs and flows as well - even in the midst of a busy household and surrounded by loving, caring, attentive friends. I get that. But still...

But still, there are many times over the course of the average year/month/day/hour, when I find that my soul is hungry, my bones are tired, and every part of me is profoundly lonely. As a woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, I often feel unappreciated and disrespected and forgotten. At those moments, I begin to wish for things and people and situations and relationships that are not mine to have. I lust. I long for. I crave. I covet. I fantasize. I plan my next escape. And next time, I promise myself, I will buy a one-way ticket. No more round trip passage for me.

I promise myself that things are gonna change.
Enough is enough.
I'm out of here.
For real.
Cause this sucks.
I've had it.
I've been so good for so long.
It's time to be real, to be true, to live out my dreams.
On my own terms.
I want it all.
And I want it now.

Deep breath. Deep sigh.
Deep sorrow. Deep cry.
Deep remembrance.
I already have it all.
I have absolutely everything I have ever needed and most of what I want.

Food, shelter, clothing.
Health, strength, safety.
Love, friendship, connection.
Laughter, music, dancing.
Peace, hope, a future.

My appreciation for the beauty of a calm ocean is deepened after passing through a stormy night. My appreciation for good health is heightened after passing through a season of illness. Solitude means much more to me after days and weeks of ceaseless activity and tending to the needs of others above and before myself.

When I step back from the striving, the pushing, the determined efforts,
when I look back at all the people I have met and known and loved,
at all the journeys and resting places that have defined my life,
when I take a few moments to prayerfully consider the wonder of life
and the beauty of this world,
when I still myself enough to hear and see and truly notice my life as it is
right here, right now, at this moment,
it is then that I realize that empty or full, lonely or surrounded,
ravenous or satiated, angry or at peace, exhausted or well-rested,
remembered or abandoned, welcomed or rejected,
at all times, in all places,
I have all that I need.

I am blessed in heavenly places - and earthly ones too.
And I am grateful.
Thanks be to God.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My New Theme Song

It's called "Through the Fire." It is performed by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and the Crabb Family. I've listened and cried to it several times today.

So many times I've questioned certain circumstances
Things I could not understand
Many times in trials, weakness blurs my vision
Then my frustration gets so out of hand
It's then I am reminded I've never been forsaken
I've never had to stand the test alone
As I look at all the victories, the spirit rises up in me
And it's through the fire my weakness is made strong

Chorus - He never promised that the cross would not get heavy
And the hill would not be hard to climb
He never offered our victories without fighting
But He said help would always come in time
Just remember when you're standing in the valley of decision
And the adversary says, "Give in,"
Just hold on, our Lord will show up
And He will take you through the fire again

I know within myself that I would surely perish;
But if I trust the hand of God, He'll shield the flames again.

He never promised that the cross would not get heavy
And the hill would not be hard to climb
He never offered our victories without fighting
But He said help would always come in time
Just remember when you're standing in the valley of decision
And the adversary says, "Give in,"
Just hold on, our Lord will show up
And He will take you through the fire again.


My daughter discovered this song on my ipod (yup, my ipod) the other day. I had never heard it before. Twice we started listening to it in the car, but for one reason or another, we never heard it in its entirety. Earlier today, on my way home from dropping Daniel off to play tennis, I tried yet again. I am glad I was in the car alone because I was crying before the first verse was finished. By the time the chorus ended, I declared, "This is my new theme song." I proceeded to listen to it three more times before pulling into the garage.

This gem is a perfectly timed discovery, I realize,
as we are walking through a fire of our own,
carrying a particularly heavy cross,
climbing a high hill,
and fighting a serious battle - all at the same time.
But on some level, isn't everyone???

Here's to getting thru to the other side.
All shall be well.
All shall be well.

PS. This is the second time in the past year that "one of my theme songs" has been discovered on my own ipod. How is it possible that I have songs on MY ipod that I have never heard before? Truthfully, the answer to that question does not matter. What does matter is that these songs have discovered me at just the right time. The right song at the right time.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Where I'm hanging out these days...

I'm spending most of my time seeing after these two beautiful people I live with and who are doing a great job raising me.

I'm trying to give up this title. I took the photo of the mugs at a bookstore in order to avoid adding more stuff to the surface of my already messy desk and life.

Robert Benson wrote that Ed Farrell said that sometimes we go away on retreat to "walk the shoreline of our own being and see what has washed up in the night."

That's exactly what I am hoping to do next week. I'm heading out for a few days of quietness, prayer, walking by the sea, listening, learning, preparing myself to hunker down and press through the remainder of the fall, winter, the holidays. I'm heading off for some spiritual exercises, to strengthen these weary shoulders.

(Addendum: Trip was cancelled. Will be walking the shoreline of my life this week, but right here at home...)

Sometimes life happens so fast, so furiously, and then so slowly, so grudgingly that I find it difficult to put much into words. Those are the times when I marinate in other people's musings. Here are a few I have been pondering recently...

First of all, the dazzling Jen Gray.
Then there is the ever-thoughtful Launa, telling the truth as she is finding it playing out in her life.
Lisa often finds a way to capture the struggles that capture my attention so often.
Before the last several big events, trips, and otherwise important moments of my life, I have turned to this beautiful piece by Jen Lee to help settle my jitters and go in peace.
One of my favorite pastors, Jonathan Scott, must have been reading my journals before he wrote this piece on prayer and doubt and weakness and wondering when it will be my turn to get God to do what I want Him to do.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

That's my boy!

He's just as happy spinning and swinging a tennis racket

as he is preparing to dive into a dish of strawberry shortcake and ice cream on a date with his mom.

Yup, that's him making it into the local newspaper too. Click on the link, then scroll down to page 6.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A day of extremes...

On Sunday morning, my husband and I played hooky from the Spanish congregation at church and went out for breakfast, just the two of us. At the table next to us were a father and son duo. The son was wearing a Charlotte Latin jacket - the most expensive and most highly regarded private school in Charlotte. They were eating. Drinking. Talking. Flipping through a catalog and deciding which handgun the son wanted. Stainless steel or black? With a pearl handle or without? With or without a laser? ("No," the dad said, "you shouldn't get a laser. That gives someone else something to shoot at.")

On Sunday evening, my daughter and I went to hear Shane Claiborne speak. He talked about how the Amish community, just days after that deranged gunman entered their school and killed several of their children, gathered around and prayed for and supported the family of the man who murdered their loved ones. Money that the Amish received from concerned outsiders was used to establish college scholarships for that man's children.

He talked about approaching gun store owners in the Philadelphia area (where he lives) and asking them to consider signing a pact that they would not sell more than 100 guns to any single buyer. He and his friends have yet to get the store owners to make such a commitment.

Shane challenged us to reimagine how we live and move in the world, how we face down our enemies with love, with grace, with mercy, with forgiveness - even while facing the barrel of a gun. He challenged us to stop thinking that violence and killing will ever stop violence and killing. He was never more convinced of the need to stand against violence than when he was in Iraq in 2003. He met many fellow followers of Christ there - who told him that they are praying for Christians here in the US. They expressed their disbelief that there are those in our country who name the name of Christ as their Lord and Savior and also think that bombing and invading Iraq and killing its citizens can be done with Christ's blessing. Some questioned Shane about whether there is any difference between killing in the name of Allah and killing in the name of God.

Shane said he was surprised at how many Christ-followers he met there and expressed his surprise to them. The pastor of the church responded, "Why are you so surprised? This is where Christianity was founded. You didn't invent Christianity in the US; you only domesticated it."

Here are a few suggestions I gleaned from a booklet I received that night:
Dismantle a bomb. (Can't do that.)
Dismantle a theological argument that justifies bombs. (The dismantling must start within me.)
Dismantle an ideology of security that requires bombs. (This one, too.)
Love according to a greater standard than the world's. (I'm gonna need a lot of help on this one. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.)

Breaking the stunned silence we shared as we listened to that father-son duo casually discuss what sounded like an imminent handgun purchase, Steve said, "What a legacy to leave to his son." Indeed.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Blessing of a Filthy Carpet

The carpet was a mess. Pet stains. Food stains. Life stains. Along came a great deal: the Happy Feet carpet cleaning company offered to clean four rooms for $100. Staircases, extra. So I picked the four worst rooms. Both staircases were a nightmare.

In preparation, I had to pick up everything that could be moved and put it someplace else. I had to vacuum thoroughly, especially around the edges of the rooms.

On Wednesday night, I began to move things. One huge box of my journals. Another box of photographs. File baskets. Piles of books, mail, and bags of bags. Dumbbells. A cricket bat. Perfect push-up gadgets. An exercise ball. A medicine ball. Packs of stickers. Dozens of computer cables and several power strips. I had clearly lost track of how much stuff we have.

On Thursday morning, I told the children to grab everything they would need for the entire day and bring it downstairs. Homeschool materials. Clothing. Cell phones. Headphones for ipods. Books to read. Journals. Cameras. Textbooks. Bibles. Pens and pencils. The computer they use for homeschooling. My computer.

Do you need all this stuff, Gail? Really? Really?

I decided that I would not replace any boxes or piles of anything until I had gone through it all. No matter how long it takes, I told myself, I'm gonna go through the files and boxes and get rid of the junk.

Several discarded armloads of graduate school readings, old magazines, indecipherable ramblings, dusty exercise equipment later, the second floor of my house is far less cluttered. There are fewer piles. There is less to stumble over in the middle of the night. A few pieces of furniture have been rearranged. A rug has found a home in another room. I rediscovered a few goodies that I had forgetten about, and I am going to repurpose a few goodies that I no longer need.

I pulled out one of the journals I kept during my first trip to Spain back in 1986. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have loved that country since the first time I set foot on its soil - even though the conductor on the overnight train that transported me from Spain's border with Andorra to the city of Madrid groped me in the middle of the night. I didn't sleep much after that frightful encounter.

I pulled out the journal I kept during the summer before Kristiana was born. Until I began to reread those cracked and yellowing pages, I admit that I had forgotten what my life was life before I had children. Since the noisy arrival of my darling daughter in the wee hours of the morning of October 30th nearly sixteen years ago, my sleep pattern has never been the same.

Looking back, I don't think I would trade those sleepless nights for nights of uninterrupted, adventure-less, childless sleep. I wouldn't trade the filthiness of our carpet for a pristinely kept home. I would trade the piles of dirty dishes, the hampers full of dirty laundry, or the bathtubs with their dirty rings for an unused, empty, untouched home. My home buzzes and beeps and spills over with messiness because this is where we have grown up together, grown closer together, and are growing towards each other every day. This is where we laugh and cry and learn and teach one another all kinds of things. This is where we play catch and tennis and Last Word and bingo and poker and canasta and chinese checkers. This is where we sit at the table to eat and sit in front of the television to eat. This is where we make up stories and read stories and write stories. This is where we sing and dance and trip and fall and create art. This is where we make promises and then break them. Whenever we return home from our various adventures, the first thing we do is take off our shoes because this blessed home of ours is holy ground. Apparently, we bring messes in on our socks and our bare feet because, after all, we still need to get our carpets cleaned.

No, it isn't always easy or smooth or perfectly choreographed, but this is our stained, dusty, topsy-turvy, disorderly, unplanned, unpredictable, delightful, spirited, active, funny, exhilarating, bountiful, beautiful life.

At first it seemed like a good idea to get the carpets cleaned. Then the hassle of cleaning up the place before the cleaners threatened to dampen my spirits. Being reminded by the rediscovery of dozens of journals and hundreds of photos of the amazing life I have lived makes all that inconvenience more of a blessing than a hassle.

This is my life.
And I am enormously grateful.