Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Away we went

On Sunday, Kristiana and I drove to one of my favorite haunts - Hilton Head Island, SC. We gladly accepted the invitation of dear friends to stay with them in their vacation home there. Free meals and lodging within biking distance of the beach? Heck, yes! 

Soon after arriving, we took to the streets on bikes and spent hours wandering around their community. Hours.

We stopped to pet horses,

marvel at the wonder of a tiny turtle friend,

(bye, little one - travel safely!)

stare down at the barnacles attached to a pier post while hoping to spot a manatee,

and imagine what it would be like to swim in the indoor pool behind that front door.

Maria pointed out a friend's home which was under renovation - a beautiful home that had been purchased for $1.6 million and was being gutted and rebuilt.

I stared at the many porches and decks on this home with untamed envy as I pictured myself sitting there with books, Bibles, and journals spread out every morning. Then I got my envy back under control and rode on.

In truth, my riding companions had left without me, and I had to catch up.

As I looked at the many photos I took while riding bikes over the past three days, 
a shocking event from this morning came back to mind.

As we walked back to our car after having breakfast at a local cafe today, we heard a car horn, the squeal of brakes, and a horrific thud behind us. We rushed across the parking lot and saw an older gentleman lying on the street with his bike a few feet away. The driver of the car leapt out and was repeatedly shouting, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I can't believe this. I'm so sorry." I wanted to scream, "Shut up, dude, and bend down to help the guy you just hit." 

Oh, My God! All I could do was immediately go into prayer for the safety of the victim and for a speedy recovery from what I was convinced were grave injuries. Within five minutes, an ambulance was on the scene; thank God for small communities with firefighters and rescue workers on duty twenty-four hours a day. 

Thankfully, the thud we heard was the car hitting a pole after swerving in an effort to miss the cyclist. The man's elbow showed signs of cuts and bruises, but there were no other apparent injuries, and his bike seemed to be fine. We suspected that the shock of hearing the horn and seeing the vehicle coming so close to him caused him such a fright that he jerked the handlebars and fell off his bike. In any case, I hope he isn't too sore tonight. And I hope the driver is able to recover from the shock of what he had done. 
Back to Sunday afternoon's bike ride - The man sitting on the boat told us that he had recently spotted a manatee, so we stood on the dock next to his boat and waited a while, hoping that giant of the sea would resurface. It didn't. 

But the name of the gentleman's boat caused my barely submerged longing for solitude to resurface. It's time for another solo (soul-oh!) getaway, a chance to be alone with The Alone. 

Solitude and silence are calling my name.
Bidding me to return, to sit, to bask,
to find rest for my weary soul.
To them both, I say, "I'll be back."
Very soon.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Could it be true?

I read and walked for miles at night along the beach,
writing bad blank verse and 
searching endlessly for someone wonderful
who would step out of the darkness 
and change my life.
It never crossed my mind that
that person could be me.

Anna Quindlen

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"When I count my blessings...

I count you twice."

How much more appropriate is that question when sighting a double rainbow?
Which I didn't realize was double until I downloaded and looked at the photos just now.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord, for this beautiful gift.

Thank you for trees and rainstorms, chainsaws and manual clippers, neighbors and their children.
Thank you for birds and dogs, basil and peaches, giveaways and consignment shops.
Thank you for water and soda, bread and wine, song and silence.
Thank you for teenagers who ask, "Can I talk to you about ________?" and quickly follow up with, "Is that what they called it back in the 70s? Please don't ever use that word again."

Thank you for neighbors with an open pool policy on hot days and ready shovels on snowy days.
Thank you for airplanes and strong legs, for computers and composition books, for electricity and flashlights.
Thank you for poetry, fiction, memoir, Dr. Seuss, Momma Zen, Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Jena Strong, Rob Bell, and books of prayer.
Thank you for Skype and postcards, for jury duty and vacation days, for newborn babies and empty nests.
Thank you for company and solitude, for movement and stillness, for warmth and for cold.

Thank you for acupuncture, chiropractors, midwives, internists, pharmacists, and surgeons.
Thank you for peace, for laughter, for friendship, and the blessing of a full stomach.
Thank you for the ways in which I can work to make all those things possible for more people than myself, those I know and love, those with enough money to afford them, and those who live in my country.

Thank you for all the anam cara-soul friends, warm beds, comfortable pillows, ceiling fans, safe travels, belly laughs, cups of strong coffee, carafes of sangria, glasses of beer, long phone calls over many miles - thank you for the many blessings that I count twice, thrice, and sometimes lose count of altogether.

Thank you that you love us even we don't love you or love each other most of the time.
Thank you for forgiving us when we hold grudges against you and each other.
Thank you for helping me to seek and find something to give thanks for,
even on the steamiest, stormiest, loneliest, least rainbow-laden days.

Thank you that I don't have to understand, explain, or defend any of this.
Thank you that saying thank you really is enough.

Thanks be to God.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Love Letter and An Apology to My Body

Dear Body, 
Even writing those two words feels both powerful and unnerving. To speak directly to my body, my bones, my muscles, my fat, my hair, my skin, my feet, all of me. I’ve never done that before, and it is long overdue. I owe you an apology, my dear body. I owe you many apologies. And I owe you a whole lot of love. 
When I was a teenager, people whose opinions I wanted to respect told me that you were ugly and skinny. They teased me and pinched me and succeeded in making me dislike what you looked like. It took many years to gain a sense of peace about what you looked like and how I felt about you. I dated in high school and college. I got married and had two big, juicy, gorgeous babies. You carried me through it all. You excelled in baby-making and milk production. You labored marvelously and didn’t require any pain medication at all during either delivery. I was amazed by you. I still am amazed by you. 
One day about 13 years ago, my love for you shifted and became disdain, shame, anger, even disgust. I remember it clearly. I got up, got dressed, and went to my OB-Gyn for my annual check-up. I stepped on the scale and saw 169 pounds. I was completely comfortable with that number because it is only four pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight and at the time I had two young children in my full time care. I was in a great place with you and what you looked like. 
After my check-up and the usual chatter, the doctor told me that I needed to lose 20 pounds - and soon - because “as you get older, it will be harder for you to lose weight. And as you get older, the tendency is to gain more weight.” She went on with something about African-American women and obesity, but I wasn't listening anymore. Twenty pounds? Get down to 149 pounds? That’s what I weighed at the end of my college career, after eight years of being on the middle school, high school, and college track teams. I drove home from that doctor’s appointment in a state of shock. I called my best friend and told her. She agreed: twenty pounds sounded like a lot to her as well.
But that was the day that the battle began, the constant criticism, the vigilance about what I ate, drank, and even thought about food. I worried about what you looked like, dear, faithful body of mine. I worried about what you would look like if I didn’t change things radically. I got angry at you for not being thinner and fitter and smaller. 
I began to look at other people’s bodies and thinking that I liked those bodies better. I wanted her arms and her waistline and her hair and her feet and her eyes and her hair. I wanted everybody else’s everything, but very little of what you are and have and have been for me for my entire life.
I looked down at the feet you have given me and told you they were too big. I criticized you because you don’t keep them from getting dry and cracked around the heels. What I neglected to acknowledge is that these feet you have given me have taken me all over these United States and to many countries in Europe, Central and South America. These feet don’t stop functioning even when I slam my toes into bed posts, chairs, and table legs. These feet carried my pregnant body through two hot summers. These feet ran countless laps around indoor and outdoor tracks and up and down many basketball courts. These feet have driven me thousands of miles and slammed on the brake hard enough to keep my single car accident from being more than a fender bender. These feet, these big feet of mine, have taken me to hospitals, churches, cathedrals, museums, airports, homes, tennis courts, horseback riding farms, college and high school campuses without ever letting me down. Ever. 
Dear Body, thank you for these size 11, strong, sometimes crusty, always reliable feet of mine. I now recognize that they match your 5' 10" frame perfectly. Anything smaller, and I'd fall over, unable to keep my balance.
After that fateful doctor’s appointment, I looked down at the belly you gave me and scolded it for not being flatter and more muscular. I scolded it for not giving me a belly button that can support a belly ring, not that I’d ever get one, but I wanted to know that I could. Even though I know that this abdomen of mine brought two amazing people into the world, even though I’ve never had “six-pack abs,” even though I never paid any attention to the state of my tummy until that fateful day, even though it has never mattered to me or to anyone who has ever seen my stomach that I don’t look like a body-builder, suddenly I thought I had the right to expect to look like a fitness instructor. Whenever I stand in front of a mirror, oh strong body of mine, the tummy you have given me is the first place I look - and I always look at it wishing it could look different than the way that it looks. Why do I do that to you? 
This belly of mine has received and digested all the food I have subjected it to all my life. This belly of mine has held down all kinds of horrible, unsavory, junk food all my life. This belly of mine managed to keep providing nutrition for me even when I have eaten food that is less than healthy. This belly of mine provided nutrition that flowed across the placenta into the bodies of my babies. This belly of mine has heaved and shifted with my laughter and my sobs. This belly of mine is striped with stretch marks, more mementos of the two most important years of my life, the years that you, my dear body, served as a vessel for the journey of two new souls into the world. 
I look at my two deflated breasts, one of which has an inverted nipple, and apologize to my husband for not having more for him to see and enjoy. Even though he has always said that you, my wonder-filled body, are beautiful to him, even though I know that these two breasts nourished my children for 18 months and 13 months, respectively, I still criticize you for not giving me bigger breasts once nursing was behind me. What I have neglected to acknowledge is that I still have my breasts. They are healthy. They don’t require special bras or heavy support. In fact, they don’t require a bra at all, which is another kind of gift. 
Dear Body, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for your beauty, your strength, your stamina, your steadiness, your good health, your cooperation, your reliability, your forgiveness of all my bad choices. Thank you for never condemning me the way that I condemn you and for never beating me up the way that I beat you up. Thank you for not keeping score the way that I keep score on you. Thank you for not weighing me the way that I weigh you. Thank you for loving me, for bearing with me, for bearing up under me even though I have not loved you or been patient, gracious, and tender with you. 
Thank you for doing what you do, most of which I can neither understand nor explain. You really are quite amazing. Forgive me for being such a bad student for so long; I have much to learn from you. 
Dear Body, I look forward to the rest of our journey together, mind, soul, spirit, and you - my body. Please keep teaching me and transforming me and showing me all that I need to see and be and do. I promise to do better going forward. I promise to love you more and take better care of you. You deserve it. 
Thank you for being my body. I love you; I really do.

Forever yours, Gail

PS. Dear Body, you should know that I am no longer trying to get you to weigh 149 pounds. What was that doctor thinking? What was I thinking when I thought she was right? After all, you still fit into clothes I bought on my honeymoon 21 years ago. You rock, body of mine. You totally rock!!! 


The idea for this letter began here - http://shelovesmagazine.com/2012/a-love-letter-to-my-body/

But this is the letter that led me to the link listed above - http://sarahbessey.com/in-which-i-write-a-love-letter-to-my-own-body/

Sunday, July 15, 2012

As evening fades...

I am drawn once again to quietness. To stillness.
To prayer. Of course, to prayer.
And to this prayer in particular.

We your servants give you humble thanks, Almighty God,
for all your gifts and graces to us this day.

For the splendor of the whole creation and the beauty of this world,
for the wonder of life and the mystery of love, 
for the blessings of family and friends, 
and the loving care that surround us on every side.

And for this day's work, for the things that demanded our best,
for the things that delighted us,
and for the disappointments and failures that 
lead us to depend on You truly,
we thank you, O Lord.

Stay with us, we pray, for evening is at hand and the day is done.
Be our light in the darkness, and in your great mercy,
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.
Hear us, O Lord. 

We offer prayers for the welfare of the whole world, 
for all people in their daily life and work,
for all who hold authority and all who work for freedom, justice, and peace;

for all who suffer and all who remember and care for them;
and for all those in whom we have seen the Christ this day,

in joy and in sorrow, 
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

You know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking:
have compassion on our weakness, we pray,

and mercifully give us those things which, for our unworthiness we dare not,
and for our blindness we cannot ask. 

As evening fades, I find myself once again filled with gratitude, with peace, with hope, with love, and with boundless prayers for all of the above to flow abundantly through your life and through the lives of all people everywhere.

PS. Thank you, Robert Benson, for sending me the book that contains this and several other beautiful, powerful, soul-stirring prayers.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Memories of my days in the sun...

Thinking of the place my soul came to life back in the fall of 1986.

The place where I met my Spanish sister in 1990, and her mamá, her brother, her cousins, her aunts and uncles, her husband, and her two sons as the years have passed.

The place where my soul finds nourishment, joy, and rest.

The place where every meal is a celebration, every walk an adventure, every conversation an epiphany.

The place where I have met friends who became spiritual companions and then lovers of my soul.

The place that fills me to overflowing when I am there and sustains me via memories, photos, and prayers when I am here.

Alice Walker described it perfectly in The Temple of My Familiar when she wrote - 

It's like how you love a certain place.
You just do, that's all.
And, if you're lucky, while you're on this earth,
you get to visit it.
And the place knows about your love, you feel.

I have been enormously blessed to visit this place.
This sacred place.
More times than I can count.
And my place knows of my love.
I am certain of it.

I dream of going back to Spain, of going home.
I remember. I rejoice. I give thanks.


De lo poco de vida que me resta
diera con gusto los mejores años
por saber lo que a otros
de mí has hablado. 

Y esta vida mortal y de la eterna
lo que me toque, si me toca algo,
por saber lo que a solas 
de mí has pensado.

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Thankful Thursday...

Tonight I'm thankful for -

- Lara Bars, especially Cherry Pie

- frozen York Peppermint Patties

- ice cubes floating in water

- friends who do research to find me relief from a pulled back muscle (it worked; I'm 80% better, Lisa!)

- the sounds of owls, squirrels, and other Carolina critters on hot summer nights

- white wine sangria with paella, followed by crema catalina

- Snicker bars tied with ribbons

- sitting in Barnes and Noble, talking, laughing, and reading with my daughter

- watching "Eat, Pray, Love" again

- Javier Bardem

- zucchini and tomatoes - picked from the neighbor's garden - sauteed with garlic and olive oil

- the wonder of turtles 

- an unexpected phone call today from my favorite pastor/preacher of all time - I miss you, Katie!

- Andrea Bocelli's Il Mistero Dell'Amore - The Mystery of Love

- stretching out on the floor of my study and remembering

- sending love and light across the miles and then letting go - again and again

- downloading photos from my phone and my camera, seeing evidence of a life well lived, a life well loved

- rediscovering photos taken in Spain in May of 2005, photos of my children and my favorite Jesuit priest

- how ridiculously happy I was to find gas at $2.92 per gallon a couple of weeks ago. South Carolina does have its benefits after all...

- making journals by hand

- filling journals by hand

- Prismacolor markers leaving their mark on thick watercolor journal pages

- the miracle of how regularly the sunset follows the sunrise

- shelves full of journals

- journals full of stories

- stories that remind me of the places I have lived, the people I have met, the love I have known

- how doggone nostalgic I get at this time of year 

- the tears that flow as I read, write, watch, listen, remember, and offer up gratitude
for all that has been,
all that is,
and all that is yet to come