Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thankful, Thankful, Thankful Thursday

Eight days of silence provide a lot of time to ponder the many things I am grateful for. Plus that's a lot of time to take a lot of photos on 250 quiet acres of prime Pennsylvania real estate. I did a lot of both. (That's a lot of "a lot" - sorry!)

A woman on a mission in the minivan...
before the explosion - keep reading!

First and foremost, I am grateful that my eleven year old minivan wound its way north and south through five states - North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania - without so much as a rough start. No flat tires. No broken windshield wipers. No blown gaskets. Nothing but a smooth, cruise-controlled, air-conditioned, iPod entertained ride. Grand total: 1,112.8 miles from door to door.

Second, six hours and 17 minutes into my trip north (yes I know exactly when it happened!), I was merrily and happily eating a "Cherry Pie" Lara bar (ingredient list: dates, almonds, unsweetened cherries), when an explosion went off in my mouth. At least, that's what it felt like. I reached into my mouth and pulled out 25% of the porcelein cover of the only crown I have in my mouth - let me rephrase that, the only crown I had in my mouth. Clearly, something in that bar didn't make it onto the ingredient list.

I looked through my windshield, raised my eyes towards the heavens, and said, "Really, Lord? Is this how we are going to start this trip?"

Here's where the gratitude kicked in.

There was no pain. I expected to be blinded by pain. I figured that my week of silence and prayer had just been transformed into a week of fasting, silence, and prayer. But there was no pain whatsoever. Not for one moment in the car, not for one moment during the week I was away. The only time it bothered me was on the return trip yesterday afternoon; as I was making the steep descent from the mountains of Virginia into North Carolina, I felt pressure in that area. I was less than three hours from home, so I was willing to endure the pain for the remainder of the trip because of my next reason for gratitude.

We have both dental insurance and an excellent dentist. I called the dentist and made an appointment to get it fixed before I called my husband and told him what happened. Within five minutes of cracking the crown, I was on the calendar with Dr. Holt. Thanks be to God.

(A few brief asides here - Right after I assessed the damage to my mouth and realized that there wasn't any pain, I began to pray for people who don't have any dental insurance but have both dental problems and pain. Fortunately, as soon as I reached the bottom of the sharp decline yesterday, the pressure subsided, and there was no more pain. When the dental hygienist looked into my mouth this morning, she said, "Oh, wow! You cracked it alright." Not a good start. The dentist peered in and said, "Oooh." Then the two of them began the magical work of recreating dental harmony in my mouth.)

They are great at prayer, but not so good at editing.

Anyway, I arrived at the Jesuit Center without any other disturbances or problems, settled into my room - which was mercifully located next to the library. I do love a good library. I walked around. I sat around. I gave thanks for the miles I had traversed and for the days of quietness about to begin. And three and a half hours later, after a "talking dinner" and an orientation meeting, we settled into our eight days of silence.

Entering the gates of praying paradise 

The view from the doorway of my room to the library 

At ground level with the mushrooms 

I did a lot of this for eight days: perched myself on a bench, stared at the trees, and prayed
Yes, that's a truck on the pathway. It was loaded with recently chopped wood.

Senza parole - speechless 

Surrounded by silence, creation, and beauty 

Many more stories to come.
For now, all I can say is, "thank you, thank you, thank you."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I need to sit my body and soul down for a good long time

Start by reading this piece by one of my other favorite writers, then come back here
and see what is making my soul, heart, mind and body sit down these days.

1. Today I watched a friend preach a sermon in which he referred to the trip we took together to Haiti this past March. My body was already sitting as I watched this morning's sermon online, but my soul sat down and sighed over the newly reawakened memories of my time in that beautiful, sad, poor, welcoming place.

2. This afternoon, I spent time in silence, conversation and prayer with two of my closest confidants. It is always a pleasure to be in the company of people who think, read, pray, listen, teach, and love with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.

3. Last Wednesday morning, I drove to Lumberton, North Carolina, with my son to meet up with a tennis buddy of his. We drove past hundreds of acres of corn fields, miles of scorched stalks with dead cobs. Drought is ravaging this nation of ours while floods are washing away cities and towns elsewhere. Earthquakes leave bodies broken and families shattered. Cancer. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Hunger. Homelessness. Loneliness. Gotta take a good long sit and ponder those sorrows.

4. Movie theaters torn apart by gunfire.
Religious meeting places suffer the same horrors.
Unsuspecting shoppers killed by maniacs.
Officers of the law killed by colleagues.
Spouses, parents, and other "loved ones" carry out acts of unspeakable horror on one another.

Yes, that is me with my son when he was a little fellow.
Could he have been any cuter???

5. One of Daniel's former tennis coaches has throat cancer. Another former coach is facing charges of indecent behavior towards minors - his tennis players.

6. Eight days ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a Sikh man who had recently returned from visiting with the victims and families of victims of the shooting in Wisconsin. I know his daughter and granddaughter, Noor, because Noor is a tennis player here in North Carolina. Apparently, it was the first time that he had gone to a tennis tournament in which she was competing. I am glad I had the privilege to speak to him, not only about Noor's success on the court and her character and courage in the face of a poorly behaved opponent and an unruly crowd, but also to extend condolences and wishes for comfort and peace at such a difficult time for him and those who share his faith in this nation. I told him how sad I was that even places of worship are not always places of refuge and safety. Later, when I thought back on that conversation, I sat down and wept. Reportedly, he did as well.

7. My daughter has begun her second year of college.
My son is the number one sixteen year old male tennis player in the state.
My husband is gainfully employed.
We have health insurance, a home we love, and two reliable vehicles.
We travel freely. We eat healthy and tasty food.
We are loved. We are profoundly blessed.

8. I leave on Tuesday to spend eight days sitting, in silence, in prayer.
Remembering names, faces, stories, joys, tragedies.
Writing, reading, walking, sleeping, praying some more.
My body and soul will sit down and rest.
Eight days of silence with The One I Love Most Of All.

If there is anything you want me to pray for on your behalf or on behalf of someone you love, feel free to leave a comment here or send me an email at before Monday, August 20th at 11 pm. Actually, feel free to write anytime over the next eight days. I will lift prayers for everyone who thinks of me, who writes to me, who remembers me.

Names, faces, stories, places, memories, hopes, dreams, the present and the future.
Every single one that crosses my mind will be lifted up.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

137 Days until The End of The Year

Wanna go on an adventure for these next 137 days AND help someone who is a teacher but is without health insurance???

Please go here and check out what is happening in Patti's life and in the life of her husband.
Then click here and consider giving a few dollars to help these folks who are in desperate need.
Plus you will receive 137 days of questions, prompts, and company along the way.
Here is one more link to the passionate Patti and the community that is walking with her through this difficult time. Please, please, please consider joining this collaboration. I'm in.

What are you waiting for?
Go check it out.

What else do you have to do over the next 137 days???

Monday, August 13, 2012

Ten Books I Go Back to Over and Over

 Welcome to my study, my den, my own, personal sacred space.
Leave your shoes at the door and come on in.

1. Eat Pray Love -

The famous book and movie by and about Elizabeth Gilbert. Some people hated it, found it self-indulgent and trite. I loved it, found it challenging, funny, inspiring, self-indulgent, and trite - all of which are good things in moderation. I find that when I am overly-altruistic, I get angry, resentful, and complain too much about the people I think I'm sacrificing myself for. At those times, I need to eat, love, and pray myself back into a place of peace. This book helps me do just that.

2. When God is Silent -

Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite authors. My copies of the memoirs of her faith journey, Leaving Church and An Altar in the World, are scribbled in, underlined, dog-eared, and dearly beloved. When God is Silent consists of three talks she gave at Yale Divinity School during the fall of 1997 and focuses on the problem and challenge of preaching and teaching the Word of God.

The author summarizes the book this way: "The problem, for a preacher, is how to call people to the table with the language at hand, especially when so many of them have become suspicious if not downright disdainful of the spoken word. It is a problem that is compounded by God's own silence. If God spoke directly to people, then preachers could retire. As it is, God's reticence is the problem that clergy are hired to address." Deep book. Deep truths.

3. Spilling Open
4. Brave on the Rocks

Both of these books were written by Sabrina Ward Harrison. What is it like to be a young white American woman growing into adult womanhood as an artist, a student, a traveler, and an optimist? What happens when you write a book that becomes a bestseller? How do you recover? These books tell how one woman answered these questions - and many more.

5. The Decorated Page

I journal. I love to journal. I am learning to make journals. I love making journals. (I love using the word "love.") This book provides instructions and examples of how to make journals and also how to fill them.

The top shelf of both bookcases on the left are journals
I have filled between January 2009 and the present.
As of today, those shelves contain journal volumes 84 through 129,
plus a few separate travel journals.

6. Higher Ground

Sometimes when faith falters and questions arise, the only answer offered is "there must be something wrong with you if you have this many questions."The author of this book comes to a different conclusion after asking questions and pondering the answers she receives. Don't read this book if you are looking for answers to your questions or doubts. There aren't any easy answers here.

7. The Way of the Traveler

I discovered this book in March of 2001, seven months before my first trip to Italy and six months before the tragedy of September 11th. My experience of travel, especially overseas travel, has been forever changed because of this book. There are suggestions made in this book that I follow with every trip I take, even if I am only going to tennis tournaments with my son. I underlined and wrote so much in that first copy, that I had to buy another one.

8. One Question that Can Save Your Marriage

I found this book in that amazing bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, during the summer of 1991, the summer Steve and I were married. Anyone who has ever been to Manchester knows which bookstore I'm talking about.

Like every marriage, ours has had rough spots. It continues to pass through valleys more frequently than either of us would like. This book is the thorn in my flesh that reminds me that I can't blame our marital problems exclusively on Steve. I may want to do that, but I cannot. It takes two people to be married, and the question that this book poses is a stinging reminder that I am a big part of whatever is ailing us as a couple.

9. Show Me The Way

Every spring since 2002, I have pulled out this book in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. There is a reading and prayer for every day of Lent, and even though I have read through it many, many times, I still laugh and cry at its stories, its wisdom, and its prayers. I take it with me whenever I travel during the 40 days leading up to Easter. I cherish the Lenten wisdom of Henri Nouwen.

10. On Retreat with Thomas Merton

In preparation for the closing weeks of the year, I dust off this book just after Thanksgiving and get it ready for a week of meditation based on the writings and prayers of Thomas Merton. The book was compiled by one of his biographers, Basil Pennington, and was penned while Pennington spent time in Merton's hermitage during the writing of the biography.

The back cover of the book includes the following description: "Father Basil provides us with a day to day living with Merton, and opens us to Merton's unique experience of God. He reveals the intimate details of Merton's last days and offers spiritual guidance to knowing him. This is a book for each of us to have a retreat with Thomas Merton as our companion, and to share something of his spirit as we, too, seek the kingdom of God within."

My eclectic collection of bookshelves reflects my eclectic collection of books.
Atop the bookshelves and in front of the books, you will discover
the photographs, matchbooks, prayer beads, candles (paid for and) taken from cathedrals,
coins from various countries, elephant statues, seashells, Haitian artwork,
and other mementos that make up my travel altar.
If my travel altar could speak... actually, my travel altar does speak.
It tells many stories of this wayfaring stranger.

Several caveats -

1. These books are not "my ten favorite books." They are simply ten books that I find myself pulling off the shelves in my study at certain times of the year and during certain moments of specific need.

2. I could easily have made this a blog entitled, "20 books I go back to over and over."Or 50 books... I have many books. I review them often. Ten books seemed like a reasonable number to highlight tonight.

3. I spent more time than I am willing to admit thinking about specific people and coming up with conclusions like: "I bet he would expect to see different books on this list." "Oh, man. I should include her book. I mean, I know her. And she will be sad that her book isn't on this list." "This book is too religious. This book isn't religious enough." "Whose standards am I trying to satisfy with this list? Who is most likely to respond if I add this book to the list?" "Why am I thinking about any of this crap? Just make the list, Gail. Choose the books, write about them, and find a link on Amazon. Get it done already." Most of all was this this recurring thought: "If I were a real Christian/homeschooler/writer/traveler/mother/friend/daughter/lover/fighter_________, I would have _______________ on my list. This is really a bad and unrepresentative list." Crazy thinking, I know.

4. I have no affiliate status with and will earn no money if you buy any of the books listed here. Nor will I lose any money if you don't buy them. I will, of course, be deeply hurt if you don't buy all ten of these books. I love them and you should want them. I'm only kidding, of course! I just wanted to see if you are paying attention all the way to the end.

The top two shelves in both bookcases are filled with books I have written. 
Those are the journals I wrote between January 2000 and the end of 2008.
Eighty-three volumes of various sizes, plus separate travel journals.

5. Thank you for reading all the way to the end.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A week and a day ago

A week and a day ago, Kristiana and I joined Cathy, Clare, Darryl, Noemi, Otis, Joy, and about 200 other people at Matthew and Monisha's wedding held at Bridgewaters, atop the Fulton Market in New York City.

To say that our family loves Matthew is to put it mildly. That generous, kind-hearted, loving young man flew to Charlotte within 48 hours of hearing that Kristiana was in the hospital back in 2008. Both times she went into the hospital, he flew down here from New York to stand with us, to pray with us, to cry with us during the darkest hours of our entire lives. His heart is as big as the city in which he lives and was married.

They knelt. They stood. They laughed. They cried.
They exchanged vows. They took communion. 
They entered a new life together. 
They looked amazing. 
They were both aglow from the inside.
(How awesome are their dreadlocs?!?)

And then the partying began!! Drinks and appetizers outside - 
with sailboats behind us and the Brooklyn Bridge beside us.

The sun set. The good times moved inside.

It was the first time that this many members of my family of origin -
my mother, two of my brothers, three sisters-in-law,
four nieces and nephews (two with spouses), my daughter and I - 
 have been in the same place since 2005. 

Who doesn't love a tiny little linzer torte cookie as the party ends?

How happy do they look???

We got a ride from the reception back to Brooklyn in the limo!!! 
How happy do we look???

For four adventurous, shopping-filled, celebratory days, 
we were hosted in a gorgeous Park Slope brownstone by our dear friends, 
Launa, Bill, Grace, Abigail, and Samson.

On the way to the airport the following morning, we were reminded of the priceless gift of safety that we were granted over the nine days that we had spent in Connecticut and New York. I prayed for the safety of those involved in the accident and gave thanks for how well our journey had gone. 

Four hours later, touchdown in Charlotte. 
I love sitting above the wing and seeing those flaps come up when we land. 

A week and a day ago, we put on our best dresses, our most water-resistant make-up, 
and less than comfortable shoes - 
then we celebrated life, love, hope and a future. 
Fun was most certainly had by all. 

Matthew and Monisha, may you know God's richest blessings
throughout your life together. 
After you get settled in and are looking for a weekend escape, 
come see us in Charlotte.

Monday, August 06, 2012

There's nothing else to say...

Buckled into our seats for our flight from Charlotte to NYC.
Have journal, have backpack, will travel anyplace.

Coffee at Kim's. She did an Ironman Triathlon! She did the whole thing! That woman is my hero!

Riddle me this - who needs two Great Danes? Jill and Bill do, that's who. Fantastic dogs, even better people.

Fourteen years after taking a memoir writing class together at Norwalk Community College, 
we are still friends.

We walked, talked, shopped, ate, meandered through museums, and 
deepened already profound connections.

Judy, my soul leaps and dances like this whenever we are together.

Val knew me long before I got pregnant with Kristiana. Who wouldn't want to remain friends with someone who smiles that broadly when she sees your daughter???

On Times Square with Elmo, followed by discovering the place where Project Runway is filmed 
and Team Mondo was born. My sweet girl's Big City dreams came true.

Samson just might be our second favorite dog. His family ranks mighty high in our lives as well.

I took more than 100 photos at Matthew and Monisha's wedding.
They sure know how to throw a party.

And then, in a flash, we were back on the ground in Charlotte.

It's official - there's nothing else to say but, "Thank you."

Thank you to the Powells for being our first place to land and a great place to start our adventure.

Thank you to the Hookers for making us feel so at home in your home. You touched our hearts in ways you cannot imagine.

Thank you, Tanja, Esra, Adara, and your adorable French guests, for a delicious lunch and a delightful conversation. It was an honor, a joy, and an encouragement to meet you all in person, finally.

Thank you, Jill, Bill, Gemma, Solomon, and Gideon, for making room for us in your home for a few hours. And don't get me started on that pizza... Jill, you should go into business.

Thank you to Susie, Pamela, and Judy, members of The Suburban Women's Writing Group, for reuniting again and for the anticipation of celebrating 15 years by the lake.

Thank you to Dinah for finding and meeting us at the Europa Cafe.

Thank you to the Heins' for all the points on living within the points.

Thank you, Val, for your smile, your laughter, your stories, and your joyous spirit.

Thank you to the Schweizer-Lienhards for the apartment, the time at your table, the dog, and your reckless hospitality.

Thank you, USAirways, the TSA, and everybody else who had anything to do with our two flawless flights, for doing all that you do to make travel safe for us all.

Thank you to the fine folks from Citibank Visa for not rejecting my card at any point during this trip. I did a lot of shopping, and it would have been embarrassing for you to tell me, "enough is enough." I promise to let the card take a vacation for a while.

Thank you, Steve and Daniel, for taking care of the dog and the house while we gallivanted up and down the East Coast. Thanks for insisting that we fly; driving would have been a drag. Plus I probably would have shopped even more if we had had the entire minivan at our disposal.

Thank you to everyone I forgot to thank. I haven't forgotten. I just didn't remember.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thanks be to God!