Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Remembering those who have helped me along the way...

My dear sister-friend, Mair, has done it again.
Read this when you get the chance.
In the meantime, enjoy this small piece of her powerful post.

Who are the people who spread their cloak around you and covered you when you were most vulnerable? Who were the souls on your personal underground railroad who made haste to steal you away to freedom in the night? Maybe some are long gone from your life, or even from this world. Pour their names out of your mouth like a libation. Give thanks for them, and after you've done that, take a moment to remember those who are still bound, even if that person is you. And pray once again.

When I think of the phone calls from Jen G when my daughter was in the hospital,
and the conversations with Lisa about shared marital and maternal concerns,
and the cups of coffee and gales of laughter and paint spills with Heather,

when I recall Karen's visit last November and how she forced me to eat and sleep when I didn't want to do either, and look at photos of Eduardo and Leticia and Marta and Manolo and Ester and Antonio and recall how they have welcomed me and fed me and taken me to so many beautiful, quiet, prayerful, lovely places in Spain,

whenever I use Itiel's sweet smelling goodies to nourish my skin and my spirit and look at the peace flags from Ohio on my study wall and burn incense from India, when I look at the jewelry and journals and candles and pens given to me by people who thought about me when they were someplace else and decided to bring me home a gift,

when I reread text messages from dear and distant friends, and print Jena's emails and blog posts so I can reread them in the thick, dark nights of parenting, read Karen Maezen's wise words on gentle, mindful parenting,

when I recall professors and doctors and nurses and midwives and dining hall workers and librarians and bus drivers and coaches and pilots and the countless souls whose names I never knew, but who have taught me and cared for me and fed me and been patient with my questions and transported me during this journey that is my life...

and tonight as I ponder the Greensboro Four - the four freshmen from North Carolina A&T State University, who 50 years ago right now were involved in the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-in in Greensboro, North Carolina (the sit-ins in Greensboro began on Feb 1, 1960 and ended late in July of the same year) - the four men whose history Kristiana and I learned about today at a newly inaugurated museum in that city - I remember the thousands of African-Americans and their allies who risked their lives and the dozens who lost their lives, so that I can live the amazing life I live here in Charlotte, North Carolina. Humbling. Sobering. Saddening. Challenging. Empowering.

Thank you, all of you. Thank you, each of you. Thank you, all of you whose names are not listed here, but who have loved me* and supported me* and cooked for me* and written to me* and called me* and thought of me* and prayed for me* and wept with me* and for me,* all of you who have invited me to share your lives with you. Your love for me* does not go unnoticed, nor is it taken for granted. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

(* and by "me," I  mean me and my family...)

With so much floating through my heart and mind tonight, I am deeply and profoundly grateful. Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

Thank you yet again, Mair, for reminding me to think about the goodness of the Lord and give Him thanks.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I have been moved to tears yet again this morning...

Check out this link for an awesome version of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the song that is often referred to as "The Negro National Anthem." I love this song so much, and I have since I learned it in elementary school dozens of years ago.

The words are powerful. The images in this video are stirring. The story is far from finished.

The history of African Americans in this nation is powerful and stirring - and whether you agree with his politics or not, President Barack Obama is a huge part of what that song is about, what our history as people of African descent has pointed to, and I must admit that I am enormously proud to be a black woman in this country. Enormously proud.

The great news is that the story, our story, our history is far from over.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Forty Days Journey into ...

The Convent of Santa Clara, Tordesillas, Spain

Back in November was the beginning of Advent, the forty days of prayer and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ. The babe born in the manger. The wise men from the East. The shepherds. The quietness of His mother, Mary, who listened and watched and pondered all those things in her heart.

Today begins Lent, the forty days of prayer and preparation for the most important event of my faith. Some would argue that it was the most important event in all of human history: the resurrection of that same Christ from the dead after His crucifixion. New life. Life after death. The offering of new life to us.

At least, that is what I'm supposed to say and write today. I'm supposed to be certain about everything and doubtless and fearless. I'm supposed to have many more answers than I actually have. I'm supposed to be flashing my fist and pointing to passages and demanding a verdict. But, truthfully, this faith thing is not always so easy and clear and certain for me. I continue to wonder and ponder and "what if?" and "why not?" most days.

One thing I do know for sure: I am not ever going to stop seeking more of Christ and His truth in my life. I am not ever going to stop praying through and reading about and journaling around and living out this faith I profess. I do not have all the answers. I don't even want all the answers. What I want is more time and more space and a deeper relationship with Christ.

Because it has been my experience that, even when the days and nights are unfathomably dark, when my countless questions go unanswered, when I am all alone with my anger and sorrow and fear and loathing, the peace of Christ does still rule in my heart. An inexplicable, unexpected, unsurpassable peace descends over my soul, and I remember yet again that all shall be well. I remember that the answers are not nearly as important as the peace that reigns in spite of the remaining queries.

Another thing I know for sure is this: I will mess up. I will fall down. I will walk angrily, resentfully, petulantly through many valleys and many shadows. At those times in the future, as I have in the past, I will cry out for mercy. I will plead for wisdom and discernment. I will beg for patience and grace. I will ask for more strength and more faith. And at those times in the future, as in the past, I will recognize that I already have everything I need for life and godliness. It's already here. I already have it. I already have Him.

As I sat for prayer on this Ash Wednesday morning, I mumbled out a few words of gratitude and more than a few words of supplication. I sat in silence for a while. I wondered what to say next, what to ask for, what to confess. Then I opened my favorite book of Lenten readings and was stunned yet again by Henri Nouwen's Ash Wednesday prayer in Show Me the Way - and I have read through this book every year since 2002. Here is an excerpt:

I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, human respect, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.

I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are no times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.

Above my bed in Valladolid, Spain.

Yes, Henri. I too remain divided. So much of the time, I resist choosing anyone or anything other than myself. The amazing thing is that, if what the Bible says is true, then Christ chose to come to earth as a baby, to be born in an animal stall, and to live among the poor and diseased and dispossessed of his day. He chose to be condemned by those who feared and hated him, to die a cruel death, to be buried, and to rise again three days later. He chose to do all that even though He knew that most of the people who He would meet during His 33 years on earth, and most of the people who would hear about Him and read His Word in the 2000+ years after His life would choose to reject Him and to doubt that He even existed. He chose to do all that even though people like me, people who claim to believe His Word, continue to wonder and doubt. Apparently, although I am divided, He was not. That is, indeed, both amazing grace and amazing love.

A plaque in a friend's office: "All sinners welcome."

For the next forty days, I will spend a great deal of time pondering these questions as I walk yet another Lenten journey. I am certain that there will be many more questions at the end than at the beginning. But that is fine. The best news is that the work has already been done. The love has already been lavishly shared. All I have to do is keep on walking.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Good Pain

This morning at Breugger's Bagels, I ordered my favorite breakfast: a rosemary olive oil bagel. Toasted. With butter and an egg. And a small coffee. The best part was that I was blissfully alone!!! Yum, yum. A couple of minutes later, after discreetly pouring nearly half of the contents of the sugar jar into my coffee cup, I was ready to indulge. I perched myself over the chair, coffee in hand. Bent my knees. Began the familiar descent. About half way down, I nearly yelped. My left hip nearly gave out on me. Ouch! I felt a hitch in my giddyup - literally. What the heck was that? I wondered to myself - grateful that I hadn't fallen and spilled the coffee all over myself and the floor.

After regrouping and restoring my dignity, I thought about my dearly beloved father, may God cause his gorgeous soul to dance. My day had a funny limp for the last 15 years of his life. Every time he got up from a chair, sat down in a chair, shifted from one position to another, he hobbled. He stumbled. He winced. In a flash there at Breugger's, I had a vision of myself, hobbling and stumbling and wincing and groaning for the rest of my days. Not a surprise for a 65 year old with a history of arthritis - who ended up living happily and peacefully to the ripe age of 78. Not a pretty sight for a 44 year old with a history of nothing but a serious sweet tooth - which I inherited from my dear old dad. I hope arthritis does not soon follow.

I recalled having gone to a new exercise class at the Y last night - zumba! Taught by a former college buddy of mine. (Which makes me wonder - How do two, count 'em 2, New York City-born black alumnae of Williams College in miniscule Williamstown, Massachusetts, end up in the same area of south Charlotte, North Carolina? In any case, I am glad we reconnected. That girl, Jatrine, is one of the most energetic, encouraging fitness instructors I have ever met! I cannot wait to get back to another of her classes.)

Anyway, back to my story.

Oh, yeah - last night's gym class. But that wasn't the problem. I've done zumba before. And soreness that comes from exercise doesn't usually hit me for a couple of days. Besides, I had felt pain in my hips while I was in the class. This morning's discomfort predated last night's dancing/sweating/singing/shaking-my-groove-thing class.

Nope, there were no recent wild antics anyplace else in my life either of late... hear my deep sigh on that account.

So what could have caused this sharp ache in my hips? I wondered.
Then I remembered. It had happened yesterday morning.
I had engaged in some wild antics of a different kind.

Wild in the "sitting cross-legged and still, closed eyes, deep breathing for twenty minutes" sense of the word.
Wild in the "be still my soul, quiet my thoughts, choose a prayer word and repeat it over and over" sense of the word.
Wild in the "why have I taken so much time away from starting my day this way?" sense of the word.
It was wild indeed.

There I sat. Breathing. Thinking. Praying. Watching untoward, unsettled, unrelenting thoughts of fear and doubt and sadness and sorrow and self-pity flit across the warbly screen on the inside of my eyelids. Watching emotional, spiritual, maternal, marital, fraternal commentary flutter past like the subtitles of the Hindi films I have indulged in of late... the words go by too fast because I am focused on the beautiful, tormented faces of the actors on screen. I want to see it all and read it all and ponder it all. Slowly. But sometimes it is just moving too fast.

But there I sat. Still. Letting the words and images do whatever they did. I breathed deep breaths. I released my grip on the reins of whatever I thought I was in control of. I let them go. Once again, I was reminded that they have never been attached to anything anyway.

I sat. I breathed. I released. I dropped.
Sit. Breathe. Release. Drop.

And as I sat, my crossed legs also dropped. Lower and lower. Ouch.
I switched the position of my feet. Shifted my weight. Ouch.
I kept sitting. Breathing. Dropping. Releasing. Ouch.
That's when the pain in my hips started.

This morning at the bagel place, the pain flared as I sat down.
When I returned home after breakfast, I went back to the scene of the incident.
Slipped out of my slippers. Sat down again.
Same place. Same pillow. Same pose. Same pain.
Actually, it hurt a little bit less as I sat this morning.
In any case, it's a good pain.

As my hips open wider, so does my heart.
As my thighs slowly fall, so do many of my defenses.
As my joints loosen, so does my grasp on so many of my preconceived notions.
Ouch - yet again.

As the day has progressed today, I notice that as I sit down to eat or drink or read or write, as I climb in and out of the minivan, as I get into and out of my exercise clothes, I am being more careful to move slowly. To maneuver myself gingerly. I try to imagine ways to get from point A to point B without having to bend or reach or twist excessively. These hips are talking to me, loud and clear.

But it's not only my body that is talking to me. I am hearing my spirit and soul reminding me to seek peace and pursue it - starting here at home and extending outward to those with whom I vehemently disagree on so many topics. To love others as they want and need to be loved - with patience and words of encouragement, with quality time and easy conversation. I've got to stop insisting that "they" seek peace with me and that "they" love me and give more time and energy to me. (Whoever "they" are. ) I am newly committed to doing my part. To seeking peace. To being peace.

I am listening to the advice of two dearly beloved friends who, on Sunday, reminded me that "if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" - so I'd better take better care to keep myself happy and rested. (Hence the trip to the bagel place this morning!) I've got to stop expecting that "they" will figure out what I need and give it to me. Either I have to ask for what I want or go get it for myself. Enough pity partying.

I am listening to my bookcases and file folders breathe sighs of relief as I continue the divine duty of decluttering this house of mine. Because, as the FlyLady reminded me earlier this week, who is going to want to deal with my old workbooks and greeting cards and wrinkled magazines and grad school handouts when I am dead and gone? I've got quite a few recently unemployed paper clips and an overflowing recycling bin to show for my efforts. My hips were not happy when I carried the last batch of stuff down to the garage and tossed it into the aforementioned bin a couple of hours ago. Once again, ouch!

I expect I will be back on my pillow tomorrow morning. On the floor in my study. Sitting. Breathing. Praying. Thinking. Watching the internal movie screen. Repeating my lines. Shifting my body weight. Shifting as my soul waits.

I expect that it will hurt, hopefully a lot less than yesterday morning and a little less than this morning, but it will hurt.This is a new kind of pain. But it's a good pain.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Thankful Thursday...

What a week this has been!

* Ice and snow and slush last weekend. More is expected tomorrow and Saturday. What!!! Snow and ice in Charlotte two weekends in a row. Part of what I love about living in the South is NOT having to deal with winter weather. I am grateful that Laurie has faithfully encouraged me to stock up on food so that on snowy days, on icy days, we will have plenty of yummy things to eat.

* I have had coffee/tea/talking dates with friends three times this week. There is nothing as wonderful and relaxing and engaging and life-affirming as talking and laughing and crying with friends. Telling stories. Finding out how much I have in common with so many strong and amazing and smart and wise and divinely human women. Thank you, Mary Anna and Krystal and Benita.

* I was challenged by the aforementioned sister-friends (as well as Karen and Lisa and Judy and Heather and Gibbs and Katie) to ask myself some tough questions about how I value myself: as a woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, as a friend. Why do I not stand up for what I want and need and wish for in my home, in my marriage, in my church, in my other relationships? Why do I put up with mediocrity so often? Why do I not initiate the courageous conversations more often? When will I stop taking "no" and shrugged shoulders as answers to my very legitimate questions and requests? Why do I not treat myself as well as I have often advised others to treat themselves? Why do I not pay myself a salary for the work I do? After all, I don't get to drive to and from work every day. I don't get weekends off. This is a 24 hour job, seven days per week - and I deserve to get paid. When will I take myself more seriously more regularly??? I am grateful for the kick in the pants, ladies.

* Kristiana and I have been faithful in our working out at the Y. Zumba class. Cardio funk class. Treadmill time. Lifting weights. Being stopped by one of the gym regulars in the middle of doing something wrong and being told how to do it right. He said, "I don't want to hurt your feelings, but ..." And then he very gently explained what I was doing wrong. I assured him that he didn't hurt my feelings. I was and am glad to be set straight where setting straight is necessary. I am grateful that he noticed and was willing to take the time to offer his advice.

* We have begun a new way of homeschooling this week. My children are 13 and 16. If they attended "traditional school," they would be fiercely independent in their studies and homework and writing and research. So I have released the reins. I have given them the freedom to pursue interests and topics of their own design and choosing. It is interesting and scary and enlightening and liberating to watch them figure out what they want to know and figure out how and where to find the information they need. I am grateful that they are such curious and courageous kids. I am glad to have this opportunity to watch them find their way.

* I am grateful that in releasing the reins of their lives, I am able to take up the reins of my own life. I have been able to do some overdue reading and journaling and collage-making. I have spent hours decluttering and cleaning and redecorating some spaces in our home. We have taken several bags and boxes of things to Good Will. I have spent time in prayer and preparation for a series of Bible studies I will teach at a nearby senior living community in April. This is the third time they have invited me to teach a month-long series.

* I am thrilled that we have done all this great stuff in the first week of our new way of doing our weekly school/life thing. What on earth will we accomplish by the end of the month? By the end of the school year? What school year??? Why does the learning and growth have to stop at the end of June? Let the learning and growing and living continue!

* And once again, I am aware these days of the extraordinary blessing of ordinary days and ordinary moments. To be able to sleep all the way through the night. To wake up to oatmeal (I have been adding cinnamon and chopped apples lately) and hot tea and a great book at the kitchen table. Hot water and Dr Bronner's soap in the shower. The smell of sandalwood incense brought back from India by a dear friend. A vacuum cleaner that works well - especially after cutting my son's hair. The fact that my son, at 13 years of age, still prefers my haircuts over any salon or barber shop he has ever gone to. Ice cold water during and after a workout. Being able to have text exchanges with a dear friend who is spending this year in Spain - technology blows my mind every single day. Moleskine sketchbook notebooks and the lovely sound of my pens scratching my thoughts into its pages. And this moment, this quiet, solitary moment of looking back on my week with gratitude - I am enormously grateful for this moment. I am alive and well, at peace, joy-and wonder-filled.

All is well.