Thursday, March 22, 2018

Seen and Unseen

I love going to the supermarket. All those apples and peppers and bananas and eggs. All that bread and cheese and tea and kombucha. So much to choose from. I am enormously grateful that I get to go to the supermarket and buy what my family needs - and more than that, to buy many of the things we want. What a gift. What a blessing.

My favorite local supermarket is the Trader Joe's that is just over a mile from our house. Over the past few years, we have thought about selling our home and downsizing, moving out of the suburbs, out of our rather insulated neighborhood, closer to where there is more activity here in Charlotte, closer to uptown, closer to we go to church. But one of the main things that holds us back is that we love how convenient it is for us to get to Trader Joe's.

There is a man who works at Trader Joe's, an African man, whose country of origin and name I cannot recall (my memory is fading day by day). He is one of the friendliest people I know. It seems like every time I am in the store, he will come over and say hello. He asks how my husband is doing and how our children are doing. And he readily shares that his children are growing up, eating more and more every day. I remind him that he's working in the right place to solve that problem! When I am shopping in the store and he is working in the store, I know that I am seen.

This morning, as I walked through the store, sure enough, he greeted me. Warmly. What a kind man.

This morning, as I walked through the store, sure enough, I was reminded that I am sometimes unseen. Or perhaps seen and unseen.

As I scanned the shelves with the baking items - sugar, vanilla, flour, but no sweetened condensed milk - I noticed that a woman a few feet away looked at me - and then she turned and grabbed her purse out of her carriage. Once she found what she was looking for, she put it and her purse back into the carriage, and then she walked away.

I would imagine that she wouldn't consider herself to be racist. Or ignorant. Or blind.
But she looked directly at me. She saw me. She saw brown skin. She saw short hair.
She decided that her purse and its contents were not safe in my proximity, and so she grabbed it.

She saw me. At the same time, she was blind to me.
She knew nothing about me, other than what her eyes saw.
And she reacted to that by protecting her stuff.

To be fair, I am making all kinds of assumptions about what she saw and thought.
But I know what I saw and what I thought.
I saw her act in an offensive, hurtful, insulting manner towards me.

I was soooooooo tempted to ask her why she did what she did: what prompted her to remove her purse from the carriage at exactly that moment? It had to be me, because as soon as she moved away from me, she put it back into her carriage - but again, that's my assumption.
I was soooooooo tempted to tell her that she didn't have anything I wanted or needed.
But I said nothing.
I walked away. Angry.
Seen and unseen.

Two aisles later, a man and two children approached me. The man and the older child with him were each pushing shopping carts. The child wasn't paying attention to where he was going and steered his cart in my direction. I stopped so that he would have room to redirect his cart and go past me. The boy looked up at me and apologized for almost hitting my cart. The man spoke to the child, "Watch where you're going, _______ (once again, I can't remember what name he spoke.) We need to let this gentleman pass."

What? Me? I am no gentleman. I literally laughed out loud.
Like the woman I had encountered only moments before, the man saw brown skin.
He saw short hair. But he did not see me.
I'm wearing five earrings. FIVE!
I know that men wear earrings, but they don't usually wear dangling earrings in both ears.
And even if I weren't wearing all these earrings, I want to believe that my face looks like the face of a woman. My body, flat chested though I am, is the body of a woman.
I am a woman - and those _____________ almost heard me roar at Trader Joe's today.
I give the children credit because both of them did something of a double take when the man, who I assume was their father, said what he said.
I am most definitely NOT a gentleman.
Once again, I said nothing.
Once again, I walked away. Angry.
Seen and unseen.

I came home and I knew that I had to write about those two incidents.
About being seen and unseen.
I was angry. I'm still angry.

But after a few deep breaths and a few choice words thrown around in my kitchen as I unpacked my groceries, it hit me.
How often do I do the same thing?
How often do I encounter people and not see them?
Or see them and make assumptions about them based on the most superficial criteria?

How often do I make assumptions about the relationships between people when I see them together? Parents and children? Spouses? Friends? Lovers? Co-workers? How can I possibly know?

How often do I misgender people?
How often do I make assumptions about people's sexual identity and expression?
Just a few moments ago, I wrote that I have the face and the body of a woman.
What does that even mean? What kinds of assumptions do I need to make in order to even write that?

How often do I assume that people who "look Latino" are in fact Latino and that they want to speak in Spanish? What does "Latino" even mean?
How often do I assume that people who "look Asian" were not born in the United States?
How many times have I asked people, "Where are you from?"

How often have I assumed that people in wheelchairs need my help?

How often do I assume that white people in pick up trucks are racist members of the NRA?

How often does my heartbeat rise when I see a police car approach?
How often do I check to see if the car that has been stopped by the police or highway patrol is driven by a person of color?

How often do I assume racist, sexist, classist motives for the things people say and do in my presence? 

And how many times have my assumptions about the people around me offended or angered them?

I got my ego handed to me once outside of that very same Trader Joe's a few months ago.
I approached a young woman who was bald and asked her if she was in treatment for kanswer.
Before she even answered, I told her that I had had kanswer too, and I wished her well in her treatment.
She thanked me for my concern, explained she had alopecia, but she said she was glad that I am on the other side of the kanswer journey. Ouch!

On a retreat in Kanuga last November, I insisted on helping a woman with her suitcase because I had made an assumption that she wasn't able to handle it herself. She had packed and transported that suitcase without my help. She had traveled there from thousands of miles away without my help.  But I assumed that, because her body didn't look like my body (as though my body is a standard!) she needed my help. I still cringe when I think about how proudly I displayed my ableist prejudice. I wrote her a note and apologized for my idiocy. I hope she has forgiven me.

I will leave my home in the not too distant future and head to a small town outside of Charlotte to watch my beloved son play tennis. He is one of the brightest lights in my life, and I thoroughly look forward to seeing him and hugging him and watching him on the tennis court. As I drive south and east, however, I will pay attention to the assumptions I make about the people I see in the cars and trucks around me. I will try to notice how quickly I decide about the origins of the people I see, the worth of the people I see, the intelligence of the people I see, the socio-economic status of the people I see.

I hope and pray that I will be just as angry at my own habit of "seeing and not seeing" the people around me as I was about being seen and unseen in Trader Joe's this morning.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Thankful Thursday - Ten Things

I think I've mentioned Alisha Sommer before. I hope so. She has inspired me in my journaling a lot lately. Keeping it simple - ten things. everyday. tell your story in lists of ten. groups of ten.

So here goes.

1. I have rediscovered the humor and wisdom, the moans and groans, the cynicism and the deep faith of Anne Lamott. I had the honor of hearing her speak in person last April (thank you, Gibbs) and I have started the book I received that night - Hallelujah Anyway - Rediscovering Mercy - twice before. I started it again yesterday and it feels like this time I might actually get through it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the book. It's me. I have been struggling of late to not do work for seminary. To put the books away and to put my computer away. To not read ancient texts and ponder Biblical Hebrew. My insistence on trying to be the perfect student has kept me from doing a lot of things. Reading for pleasure is one of the them. Exercising regularly is another. Blogging is another. Gotta get my act back together and remember that I am much more than only a seminary student. Anyway, is there such a thing as a perfect student? If there is, is "being a perfect student" my goal? or is my goal to prepare to serve and teach, to walk alongside and come up behind the people I am in community with? is my goal to listen and learn, to dream and pray, to grow and be transformed so that I can accompany others on their faith journeys, as they too listen and learn, dream and pray, grow and be transformed by the Spirit of the Living God?

2. Greeting cards for 99 cents at Trader Joe's. Please don't ever spend more than 99 cents on a greeting card for me. Better yet, just grab an index card or a plain sheet of paper, and handwrite the note. In your own words. It's is only greed that prompts card companies to charge $5.99, $6.99, or $7.99 or more for a single greeting card. Even the best card, the most poetic, the most perfectly worded card is not worth $8! So go to Trader Joe's and stock up on birthday cards, friendship cards, sympathy cards, wedding cards, new baby cards, all kinds of cards so that you don't have to rush out and overspend at the last minute. They have quite the colorful and creative collection.

3. Green grapes for 99 cents a pound this week at Harris Teeter. Yum yum.

4. Preparing to preach. Doing the reading. the thinking. the praying. the writing. listening for a word for the people from the Word of God. All I want to do is honor the One who is the source of my life and the center my joy. (For those in the Charlotte area, I'm gonna be preaching at noon at Wednesday Worship at First Presbyterian Church on April 4th, the Wednesday after Easter. We will have greeted each other with "He is Risen. He is Risen indeed." We will have celebrated the good news of new life, of resurrection, of life after death. We will have put the Easter dresses and Easter hats and Easter baskets away. What do you do after such a triumph, such a victory? That's what I'm planning to explore. Be there or be square.)

5. Virginia - one of the most faithful readers of this blog. I met her at church when we were still living up in Connecticut, and she sends me email responses to things I write here. She sends links to articles and explains how something I wrote speaks to something she has been thinking about or dealing with. Thank you, Virginia, for your encouragement and support. Stay warm up there.

6. a good haircut. I've found a fantastic barber. He keeps me looking sharp and also gives me great ideas on how to eat well and exercise too. I love when people in my life encourage me and teach me on topics that don't directly relate to what they do, but they recognize that our lives are not divided into separate categories. I am one person, living one life.

7. finding Moleskine journals on sale at Target. Actually my husband found them.

8. Black Panther. I've seen it twice. I'm not normally a fan of super hero movies. I'm not normally someone who goes to see a movie in the theater twice. But I couldn't help myself with this one. And I will certainly buy it when it comes out on DVD. So good. Go see it. Go see it. Go see it. And ignore all the criticism and the haters. They are just jealous!

9. being seen. being heard. being made to feel welcome. while walking with a friend. while sipping tea. while talking about a job possibility. in the pulpit. in the classroom. at home. in church.

10, my son. my beloved son. check him out. doing his thing. making us proud.

11. drinking tea out of big mugs - even as I am weaning myself off of honey in my tea. I'm trying to cut out as much sugar from my diet as I can. But don't worry - I still have the occasional cookie and piece of chocolate. and when there is bourbon in the vicinity, I will like to pour some ginger ale in it and sip it slowly.

12. heat and hot water and electricity. too many people in Puerto Rico are still without power, months after Hurricane Maria. And with the heavy snow that has fallen on the east coast, hundreds of thousands are without power tonight. I am grateful. May I never take these things for granted. Never ever.

13. solitude and silence. when I don't take enough time to get away, to withdraw from my life, to breathe, to write, to think, I feel pain in my soul. heart ache. I'm going back to the Jesuit Center this July. to be with God. to walk. to journal. to pray. a lot. to breathe. to swim. to sleep.

14. Gus. an older man from Greece who lived in a house around the corner from us. A kind man. Thick accent. Big smile. He walked nearly every day - in rain, in sunshine, on cold days, on hot days, in long pants, in shorts, with a hat, with gloves, with a hood, in a baseball cap. He would stop and sit on people's rock walls to rest. He would watch traffic go by and wave at drivers.  he had a heart condition, but nothing stopped him from his morning exercise. he was attacked by a dog in a nearby neighborhood one day while out on his morning walk, so after that, he carried a stick with him for a brief while. He would talk to me when he saw me outside. A few years ago, he asked why I had cut off my hair. I told him about my kanswer journey. Since that conversation, whenever he saw me, he would ask me about my health and how I was doing. Truly he was the kind of man I wish my children could have had for a grandfather figure after my own father passed away. Several weeks ago, I noticed that I hadn't seen him out walking for a while. A neighbor told me that he died. He contracted pneumonia and passed away. I miss him. I miss his gentleness and his kindness. I am glad I took the time to stop and talk to him as often as I did. I am grateful that he cared about me enough to ask how I was doing.

15. I guess I had more than ten things to be thankful for.
Thanks be to God.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Reading the Bible - Reading the World

I am in the second half of the third year of a five year seminary program. My classes demand a lot of reading and writing and thinking and asking questions. All of which is right up my alley. My studies also involve rethinking some of the Bible's stories and figuring out how those stories relate to us today.

Several of the prophets wrote about the mistreatment of the poor, widows, orphans, and aliens and how their mistreatment led to some of the hard times that the people of God faced during the centuries leading up to the common era. Over and over, the people were told to "Do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)." "Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow (Isaiah 1:17)." Do what is right for the most vulnerable among you. Protect the land from overuse and misuse, and do not steal land from those around you. These were repeated themes. These demands of God were repeatedly disregarded and disobeyed. Those demands of God are still widely disregarded by many who claim to be God's people.

Another of the repeated themes in the books of the prophets was the disregard for the lives, the dignity, the health, and the safety of women. Books like Jeremiah and Hosea offer several accounts of women who were described as unfaithful wives and prostitutes, worthy of being cast aside, humiliated, treated violently. Some Bible scholars say that these accounts were metaphorical, that the images were intended to demonstrate that in comparison to the high standard that God had for the people in their lives and interactions, they were like unfaithful wives and prostitutes.

It's not pretty stuff. It's not easy to explain away. And we shouldn't explain it away. We need to be courageous enough to wrestle with the stories in Scripture. Some of them are indefensible. Some of them are inexplicable. My professor said that not every part of Scripture deserves to be fodder for our sermons. Some of this stuff is just plain dreadful.

Yet some of the most dreadful stuff can still be pulled apart and salvaged. It can serve as fodder for deeper thought and analysis of some of the dreadful stuff that is happening in our world today. Let's not kid ourselves; women are still the objects of scorn and humiliation, and we are still victims of violence, rape, and murder. That hasn't changed.

We still don't care for our planet as we should. We almost never let land lie fallow, to rest and recover from our industrial over-farming. We dig up hallowed ground in order to extract resources that we could certainly live without - if we learned to care for the planet and its resources more carefully and tenderly. We steal land from its rightful owners. (I like the quote I recently saw: "How can you talk about banning immigration while living on stolen land?")

Three weeks ago, the professor asked us to write a one page piece that tied together some form of suffering in our world with a stark image that is commonly known in our collective psyche. The prophet, Hosea, had written about his wayward wife and the waywardness of God's people. We were to come up with a similar type of comparison: a difficult image that points to the need for repentance and restoration. Does that make sense?

Anyway, here is what I wrote. I hope it makes my explanation more understandable.

Out in the fields of Iowa and Nebraska, here in the fields North Carolina and Georgia, farmers sow seeds of corn and soy, cotton and kale. Over those seeds, within those seeds, there are pesticides and poisons, and below ground the seeds murmur, “I can’t breathe.”

As those fields are watered during spring time and harvest, the water is laced with chemicals and herbicides. Therefore, both the water and the soil cry out, “I can’t breathe.”

Field workers bend low for strawberries and reach high for apples. They gently pull the grapes from the vine and vigorously shake almond trees so that they will release their fragrant and flavorful fruits. As they pick, as they work, as they bend, as they sweat, those underpaid, overworked migrants are exposed to the same chemicals that poison the water and deaden the soil. When they lie in their beds at night, when they cough their way through the day, when they arrive at emergency rooms and urgent care centers, coughing up blood, they whisper, “I can’t breathe.”

At processing plants and slaughter houses, tomatoes are steamed and canned. Beans are boiled and canned. Tuna is filleted and canned. Cows are shot, chickens are beheaded, sausage is ground. Bread and cookies are baked. Oranges and clementines are sealed into nets and plastic bags. Factory workers are diagnosed with emphysema, COPD, asthma, and the coal miners who produce the coal that powers those processing plants die with blackened lungs and mesothelioma. They gasp for air day and night, choking out the clipped words, “I can’t breathe.”

We buy those poisoned, breathless products at Food Lion, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, Harris Teeter, Publix, Earth Fare, Fresh Market,  and Whole Foods. How can we be surprised that we are dying of kanswer at unprecedented rates? Lord, forgive us and heal us, we pray. Because we can’t breathe.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Thankful Thursday - The Simple Things in Life

Some of my best times of prayer are when I look out my kitchen window while washing dishes.
Those are often the moments when I am most grateful.
After all, doing dishes means that my family and I have eaten.
And eating means that someone planted, tended, harvested, packaged, and transported the food to a market where my husband or I (or more recently my gainfully employed daughter) bought the food and brought it home.

I am thankful for food.

And if we've brought the food home, that means our cars are working well.
There is electricity to keep the traffic lights in order, so that we can travel safely,
so that we can keep our food cool or frozen, and later we can cook it.

Someone made made these pots and pans and dishes and silverware.
Someone made kitchen appliances.
Someone built this house we live in.
Someone made the bricks that keep our house upright and strong, warm and cool.
Someone laid out this street and this neighborhood.
Someone engineered the streets and turns, the tunnels and bridges, the overpasses and underpasses through which all these materials, these appliances, these pots and pans, these groceries traveled to reach our house, down at the end of our street, so that we could eat and be strong.

I am thankful for engineers and manufacturers and construction workers.

I cannot forget about the folks at the water treatment facilities who keep clean water flowing in and out of our homes. I know that many would and do argue that the water we drink is laced with chemicals and medications, with chlorine and other things that aren't great for our bodies and our health. I don't argue with those people. I drink the water that is filtered through our refrigerator filter. But I wash our dishes with tap water, and I shower in it, and I use it to brush my teeth. It may not be the purest water, but it is pure enough to keep us alive and hydrated.

I am thankful for water.

In order for us to have water and food, a home and working automobiles, someone has to work. In our home, that someone is my faithful husband. For more than thirty years, he has worked consistently to provide for our family. And for the three months in 2002 when he was unemployed, he searched diligently until he found and was offered the job he has now. I was enormously blessed to be able to quit my job as a teacher, coach, and college counselor so I could raise our children, homeschool them, and usher them off to college. Now I'm a seminary student. All because my sweet husband works so hard and earns enough to support us and provide for us. It is my fervent hope and prayer that I will soon be employed as well, serving God and God's people with my whole heart... and also earning a paycheck that will contribute to the upkeep of our home, our son's college tuition, and a couple more trips to Madrid too.

I am grateful for a husband whose diligence has made my life and my children's lives much easier than many other people's lives. I am grateful for the possibility of work, for the hope of contributing to and participating in the work of God in the world.

I have often stood at our kitchen sink, hands submerged in warm, soapy water, and thought, "I am so thankful for this life I get to live. I am thankful for the simple things in life, the simple pleasures."

I am enormously grateful for simple things like
* salt grinders
* loose tea leaves
* local honey in my tea
* olive oil from Spain
* matcha green tea from Japan
* strawberries from California
* fragrant India temple massage oil from Yogaville
* flowers in bloom
* the sound of rain
* the scratch of the pen on the pages of my journal
* chopping up almonds and dried cherries, dried mango and crystallized ginger for homemade dark chocolate bark
* the steam from the iron as I iron my clothes
* clean sheets and warm towels
* laughter with a friend
* prayer with someone facing a challenge

But as I have gotten older, as I look back on the battles we have won around here, as I contemplate the many journeys we have taken and the fact that, almost without exception, we have arrived home unscathed, uninjured, minds and souls intact, I am reminded that very few things in life are truly simple. So much goes into the production of the things and moments and people that make up our lives and our days.

As I scroll back through the many blog posts I have written here, as I take journals off the shelves here in my study and flip through them - sometimes looking for specific information tucked away in them; sometimes just rereading accounts of moments long forgotten - I am reminded of the great blessings of my life. The love I have known. The fear I have felt. The hope I have clung to. The dread I have endured. I am reminded of the trips I have taken both out into the world, and deep inside my own heart and soul.

I am grateful for every moment of this life
the good, the bad, the ugly
the spectacular, the messy, the ordinary
the painful, the joyful, the hopeful
all that is, all that has been, and all that is yet to be

Francesca Johnson said it well at the end of the movie version of "The Bridges of Madison County:"
"There is so much beauty."
Indeed there is so much that is beautiful, even in the midst of pain and ugliness.
So much for which to give thanks.

As the days of my life have become the decades of my life, I am reminded more and more frequently of the final words of one of the best books I have ever read. It's called Interpreter of Maladies, and it was written by Jhumpa Lahiri. It was her first book, a book of short stories, and it earned her the Pulitzer Prize.

The final chapter of the book is called, "The Third and Final Continent." It is the tale of a man from India who is reflecting on the wonder of his life and how he ended up where he ends up. This is how his memoir ends: "While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world for nearly thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination."

Yes and amen.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Love and Ashes

Next Wednesday, a week from today, is both Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday. Leading up to that day and over the course of that day, exorbitant amounts of money will be wasted, I mean spent on cards and flowers and chocolate and jewelry. (Steve, if you are reading this, please don't buy me any of those things. Just invest the money in the "Gail goes back to Spain" fund. I am not joking.)

Over the course of that day, many foreheads will be darkened by ashes. The charred remains of incinerated palms from last year's Palm Sunday processions will be mixed with oil and applied to the foreheads of thousands, perhaps millions of Christian people, around the world as a reminder to us of our mortality.

We will be told some version of this statement by the person whose thumb will make the sign of the cross on our foreheads: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Not the happiest or merriest of salutations.
But one of the most important.

We are dust. Stardust. Dust of many shades and hues. Beautiful dust. Invaluable, priceless dust.
But dust nonetheless.

Life is short.
And getting shorter daily.
Although some people "reported" that last month, January, was 74 days long.
That it felt interminable.
It felt fast to me.
As does every week, month, and year since 2008 or so.
It feels to me like time is flying past.
Which means that I am getting closer and closer to my return trip to the dust.
So are you.

But here's the thing I love about Ash Wednesday this year.
It is also Valentine's Day.
Love day.
Whether we are hitched or not, in love or not, engaged or not,
we can celebrate love next Wednesday.
The love of family
The love of friends
The love of neighbors
The love of our faith communities
The love of work colleagues (I do not recommend that any of us express that love out loud)
The love of animals
The love of nature and the planet
The love of beauty and color and art
The love of simply being alive
There is so much love to celebrate and enjoy
- even in these times of discord and uncivil discourse.

And the love of God - which is the ultimate love in my life
Love that gives
Love that forgives
Love that allows the runaway to run away
Love that awaits the return of the runaway
Love that welcomes the runaway back home
Love that offers itself to the child that doesn't know his or her belovedness
Love that gives its life for the beloved
Love that never ends, never fades, never fails

Love and ashes
Love and loss
Love and fire
Love and messiness
Love and sorrow
Love and falling down
Love and fallenness
Love and dying
Love and death
Love and hope
Love and prayer
Love and longing
Love and passion
Love and peace
Love and grace
Love and joy
Love and mercy
Love and forgiveness

Love and ashes and all that other stuff too
Mixed and smeared on my forehead
Mixed and smeared and then brushed down onto my eyelashes and spread down onto my cheeks because I forget that anything is on my forehead and I absentmindedly rub my face
By the time I get home next Wednesday evening, my face will be a mess -
a sooty, oily, crumbly, beautiful, well-worn mess -
love and ashes and life visible for anyone and everyone to see.

May love and ashes and hope and healing and joy be smeared all over you too.
And not just next Wednesday, but everyday.
Because time is flying.
Our day of returning to the dust is coming on fast.
I don't know about you, but I've still got a whole lot of loving to do before I'm done here.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Let there be light

On Wednesday morning, I woke up to an odd sound coming from the street outside of our house. In truth, I didn't know where the sound was emanating from when I first heard it - is that inside the house or outside the house? I raised my head from my pillow and tilted it in several directions, like my dog does when she hears my husband call her name, trying to assess what I was hearing and why I was hearing it. It didn't sound like the heat blowing down over me. It didn't sound like the blender being fired up for morning smoothies. I got out of bed, looked out the window, and saw the truck.

Let me back up a month or so. Back in late December, I went out to walk the dog with my daughter. It was unusually dark on the street - darker than it should have been, even for an early winter night. My daughter responded to my observation with an observation of her own: "The street light is out." Well, duh. How did I not notice that? And how long had it been out? She parks her car on the driveway while my car is safely and warmly tucked away in the garage. Perhaps that's why she noticed the darkness before I did.

As we walked up the street, I made a soon forgotten "note to self" - call Duke Power to report the outage. I soon forgot. Days passed. Many days. Old lady that I am, I don't go out at night much, so I didn't notice for several more days.

Then one day I remembered. I pulled out my cell phone and called Duke Power.
I was put on hold.
For a long time.
As I waited, I thought back to the last time I had requested service on that very same light.
I didn't remember having waited so long to be helped.
Then I remembered something else: I had made the request via the internet.
I hung up and sat down in front of my computer.

I don't know about you, but I have no idea how the internet works.
I don't know how computers work.
I don't know how my cell phone works.
How is it possible that I can touch a screen on my phone and call someone thousands of miles away?
How can that someone hear their phone ring, touch their screen, and then we are looking at each other's faces? Even if they are across the ocean? How can this be?
How can I move my aging fingers across a keyboard, type a few letters, enter a few numbers and have a package arrive at my door within days, within hours? How can this be?

I remember when I was in college and MTV came into existence. You see - I'm old. Old as dirt. Anyway, I remember walking into my dorm and seeing people sitting on the couch in the living room watching MTV videos. I just shook my head and said to anyone who cared to listen, "This won't last. People are not going to want to waste their time watching music videos."

I remember when Tiger Woods first burst onto the scene as a golfer. Winning tournaments by huge margins. Blowing away the competition without as much as a strained look on his face. I also remember saying to my husband, "He's a flash in the pan. This kind of dominance won't last. It can't."

When the internet became accessible and popular for regular people like us, once again I made a meaningless and completely erroneous prediction: "This won't last. People won't want to sit in front of their computers all the time, reading things. And who will trust that they can send their personal information out into the ... I don't even know what the 'internet' is, so why would I send my personal information out into the great whatever-it-is?"

(Please don't ever buy or sell stock based on my intuition.)

Anyway, after all that wasted time on the phone, I hung up and went onto the Duke Power website and reported that there was a light out on my block. There was actually a map on the page that showed an outline of all the houses on our street and indicated where each streetlight was located. I filled out their little form, and within minutes, I received an email saying that my request had been received.

I shook my head in wonder. I've come a long way from being skeptical about the endurance of the internet, that's for sure. Certainly there are problems with web security. I still have no idea how or why it works, except that I know it does. I toss my questions and requests out into The Great Interweb and answers come back. Books appear on my doorstep. Repair people show up at my door. It's amazing. Truly a wonder.

Actually, I know that there are people out there someone who do know exactly how and why the internet works the way that it does. I am not one of those people. I live by faith. I shop by faith. I make streetlight repair requests by faith.

Here's what happened - a few days later, actually a few nights later, I looked out my window and the light was back on. I asked and it was done. Someone read my request and sent out a work order to someone else and that someone else came to my street and fixed the light. "Let there be light."

Then something odd happened. I got an email from Duke Power. I expected it to say that the repair had been completed. But it said that the repair was going to be completed within the following week. What? Literally, as I read that email, literally in the middle of reading the email, I pulled back the curtain next to my desk and peered out at the street light. On. Lit. Burning bright in the darkness of the night. Hmmm... Is someone at Duke Power confused? I could see the light myself. Once again I shook my head in wonder. I laughed at the mistimed email and went on with my evening.

Light is a strange and wondrous thing.
The sun rises every morning and sheds light over all of us and over everything.
On the stormiest days of life, the sun is hidden behind the clouds, but it is still there.
On the stormiest days of life, hope gets hidden behind the clouds, but it is still there.
The clouds clear. Eventually they clear. No matter how deep the darkness, light reappears.
The folks in Houston found that when those clouds cleared, destruction was revealed.
In Santa Barbara, California, when whose clouds cleared, there was mud everywhere. Rocks.
Homes were destroyed. Lives were lost. Roads and highways were impassable.

In our own lives, homes are lost. Lives are destroyed. Relationships become impassable.
And still I believe that there is always light on the other side of our clouds.
I know that there is pain and suffering. Death is real.
Still I believe that there is light. There is love. There is hope.
Hiding behind clouds. Hiding behind debris. Hiding behind despair.

Have you seen the light of hope shine through your computer screen lately?
When funds are raised to rebuild homes lost.
When families are reconnected. When children are adopted.
When people who don't have money to contribute to the cause get out into their communities
and find animals that have been left behind when natural disasters happen.
When meal plans are set up to support families in the midst of medical crises.
When messages of encouragement are sent to those who are grieving.
Let there be light.

Back in 2001, just a few weeks after the tragedy of September 11th, I took my first solo trip to Italy. Rome. Florence. Siena. Orvieto. Mind blown. Heart wide open. Tears shed. I will be eternally grateful for the encouragement I received to go see The Eternal City for myself. To experience the art and architecture firsthand. I cried a lot on that trip. For a lot of reasons.

One moment stands out for me now as I ponder the wonder of light.
I was sitting on a stone staircase across from the duomo in Orvieto.
Alone. Me and the cathedral. Face to face.
It was the second or third day from the end of my trip.
Evening was falling. The sun was beginning to go down.
As I sat there looking at the facade of the duomo, it glowed.
Truly it was aglow.
The sun's light was shining on it from behind where I was seated.
And the gold and glass and stone in the building reflected that light magnificently.
I stared at that church for as long as it reflected that light.
I took a mental photograph that I can see clearly in my mind as I type these words.
And I wondered - do I reflect Light that way?
Does my facade, my face, my life reflect The One who Is the Light of the World in a similar way?
The broken chards of my life, the gold purified by the fire of pain and suffering -
does the Light of Life reflect off all that remains and shine through my eyes, reflect on my face?
What am I reflecting?

At a time in our nation and in our world when it feels like darkness is falling,
when it feels like war is looming closer than the horizon,
when despair and fear threaten to consume us all,
am I reflecting light? Am I bearing light into the darkness?
Sometimes the temptation is to stare helplessly into the darkness.
To wonder if our, if your, if my tiny beacon of light makes a difference.
The Book that guides my life more than any other says this in the first verses of John chapter 1:
In [Christ] was life, and that life was the light of all humankind.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Darkness has not overcome light.
Darkness cannot overcome light.
I believe that The Light is already in the world.
I believe that we are called to reflect that Light, just like the cathedral in Orvieto.
We aren't called to be the Light, but rather to reflect it.
We aren't called to produce the energy that powers the light,
but we are called to be lamps in the darkness.
I am not the source, I am merely a light post, a lamp post, shedding light.

Sometimes the light goes dim. Exhaustion sets in.
Dirt and dust get into the light fixture and dims the light.
Sometimes the light goes out. Power gets cut off somehow.
So I pray. I send out requests in the Interweb of Prayer.
I ask others to pray with me and for me.
I am asked to pray with and for others.
I have no idea how it works or why.
But something happens. The light is restored. Hope is rekindled.
Let there be light.
Let there be light.

So back to that early morning whirring sound.
I looked out the window, and there was the truck.
The man was up in the little bucket thing, looking down into the top of the light post.
I have no idea what he did because the light had already been turned back on.
Some additional tweaking and changing of internal parts must have been necessary.
I have no idea and there is no reason for me to know.
I watched as he did whatever it was he needed to do.
Then he lowered himself down in that bucket thing.
Picked up the orange cones. Removed the blocks that were stationed around his tires.
(It would suck to be up in that bucket thing and have the truck start rolling down the street, right?)
He got into the truck and sat there for a while.
I imagine that he was checking his schedule and the route to his next stop.
What a job he has - everywhere he goes, shedding light.
Making skeptics and non-tech savvy people like me,
people who don't even understand how the internet works,
look out of our windows and think,
"I asked and I received. Let there be light."

Sunday, December 31, 2017

It does matter. It does make a difference.

If you've followed this blog for a while, you know that I am involved with a group called "We Walk Together Charlotte." It started just a few weeks after the terrible shooting at Mother Emmanuel church in Charleston, SC. We have walked well over one hundred miles here in Charlotte, getting to know the city and each other. During 2016 and 2017, we incorporated a volunteer component. We walk on the 15th of every month and we volunteer on the 30th. All over Charlotte.

Most of the time when we walk, we are just walking and talking to each other. Getting to know the city a little bit, and getting to know each other fairly well as we walk and talk. Many times when we volunteer, we spend an hour or two, perhaps three hours, serving food to the hungry, hammering nails at a Habitat for Humanity build project, hanging out with young people in crisis, among other things. One time, we baked cookies for the residents of the local Ronald McDonald house. Another time, we painted fingernails at a home for young women who are pregnant and cannot live at home for one reason or another.

I confess that there are times when I wonder if what we are doing makes a difference. I mean, we are just walking the streets of the city. Sometimes we pick up garbage as we walk. Often times we greet the people we meet as we walk. Always, we get lost in conversation with each other. And when we volunteer, I have often thought, "Does it matter that we are here only once a year, serving lunch or serving dinner? Are we making a difference for these families by baking cookies in the kitchen of the house where they stay while watching over a sick child in a nearby hospital?

Yesterday, on the occasion of our final volunteer project for 2017, we delivered furniture to two people who have just recently transitioned from homelessness into permanent housing. We delivered couches, end tables, chairs, a coffee pot, a small television, and even an ironing board to two different homes. We wished them well in their new homes. We prayed with them. We hugged them. And we left. The whole thing was finished in less than two hours.

As we drove away from the second home, it hit me. Hard.
It does matter.
It does make a difference.
Because if we hadn't started walking together in the summer of 2015,
if we hadn't continued to walk,
if we hadn't begun to volunteer once a month,
then some cookies might not have been made.
some meals might not have been served.
and those two people might not have gotten their furniture yesterday.

Maybe I'm overstating that. Maybe those things would have been done anyway.
But they wouldn't have been done by us.
We wouldn't have had the privilege of looking people in the eye and giving them food.
We wouldn't have had the opportunity to provide homemade cookies for people who cannot be at home because someone they love is sick.
We wouldn't have stood in those two recently furnished living rooms yesterday and had the high honor of wishing those two individuals a happy new year in their happy new homes. 

After being homeless for a while, the man we met yesterday expressed his happiness at not being outside on that cold morning - it was in the 20s in Charlotte yesterday morning. He had obviously been sleeping on the floor there, but last night he slept on a mattress and box spring. (For some reason, he didn't choose to have a bed frame.) That matters. That makes a difference. 

No matter how small it may feel to you, say hello to the security guard at the door.
Acknowledge the presence of the person asking for money, even if you don't give them anything.
Greet the person behind the cash register or the receptionist desk with a smile.
Thank the person cleaning the rest room.
And if you are the security guard, 
the person behind the cash register or the receptionist desk,
if you are the person who cleans the rest room or has asked for money,
I see you. I thank you for your service. I honor you for your courage to ask for help.

It does matter, friends.
It does make a difference.
Can I plagiarize that decades' old Nike motto for a moment?
Here goes - Just do it.

Happy new year to you. 
Happy new year to all of us.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Thankful Thursday - the last one of the year

How can this be? How can this be the last Thursday of 2017?
The last hour of the last Thursday of the year?
I do not know, but here we are.

There is so much to be thankful for.

1. I am grateful for hope, for the hope that keeps me moving forward,
the hope that keeps me studying in seminary,
the hope that keeps me teaching at church and other places,
the hope that has thrust me into conversation about the possibility of a job.
Hope that will not back down when injustice rolls into town.
Hope that will not back down when fear returns.
Hope that refuses to surrender, no matter what.
I am grateful for hope.

2. I am grateful for Christmas cookies, especially the ones that are
brought over by neighbors or baked by friends or given as gifts.

3. I am grateful for laughter. I am grateful that my two adult children still
like to play games with me and my husband - and they love to laugh with us.

4. I am thankful for friends - for long walks with friends, for museum crawls with friends,
for sitting with friends before surgery, for laughing with friends over the
head-shaking, heart-breaking, laughable realities of marriage and parenting.
(What on earth were we thinking???)

5. I am grateful for journals and paper, for pens and colored pencils.
I am grateful for the fact that I have journals that cover more than thirty years
of my life, love, heartbreak, travel, loss, joy, and the extraordinary wonder
of ordinary days.

6. I am thankful for the soul-healing gift of prayer.
I am grateful that I can pray in my journal,
that I can pray out loud with others,
that I can pray as I do dishes and fold clothes,
and grateful that I can pray all by myself all the time.

7. I am grateful for firefighters, for ambulance attendants, for doctors,
for nurses, for the folks who care for nursing home residents,
and for chiropractors too. I am grateful for office managers and receptionists,
for record keepers and for janitors. I am grateful for the hard work of the
countless people whose faces and names I will never know, but without whose
diligence and discipline I could not live the life I enjoy.

8. I am thankful for my spiritual director, my pastors, my mentors,
my seminary professors, and so many others who know me well,
who see into my soul - and that love me anyway.
I am grateful for your questions, your challenges, your strength,
and your willingness to take risks with me and on me. I am grateful
for your generosity and your wisdom. I am grateful for your love for me
and your loyalty to me. I am grateful for your invitations to come to your
homes and your offices, your cities and your churches. I am grateful for
your text messages, your Whats App messages, your emails, and your
snail mail. I am grateful for your podcast suggestions and your website links.
I am grateful for your live videos and your face to face presence most of all.
I am grateful for your prayers on my behalf and your requests that I pray on yours.

9. I am grateful for loose leaf tea sweetened with local honey.
For fresh pita bread and homemade hummus.
For green smoothies and green juice.
For cashews, almonds, pistachios, and prunes.
I am grateful for key lime pie, chocolate chip cookies, and ice cream.
I am grateful for pizza and fried chicken, for bagels and for bacon.
I am grateful for the ridiculous bounty I encounter at the supermarket.
I am grateful that we can partake in that bounty so fully and so often.

10. I am thankful for the miracle that is this life. I am grateful for breath,
for strength, for balance, and for good health. I am grateful for sight,
for hearing, for a sense of touch, for fingers to type, and for the ability
to read what I have typed. I am grateful for every opportunity I have
to give thanks. There is so much beauty in this world, even in the face of
all the destruction and devastation. There is hope in this world, even in
the face of fear and hatred and violence. And I am enormously thankful.

Thanks be to God for the indescribable gift of Love.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Now what?

The presents have been opened.
The wrapping paper has been recycled.
The food, so much food, has been cooked and eaten.
I have eaten more sugar in the past 48 hours than I wish to honestly assess.
Now what?

I am half way through seminary.
Two and half years down.
Two and a half years to go.
I've forgotten more Biblical Greek and Hebrew than I wish to confess.
Now what?

It has been five years since I was in kanswer treatment and the mourning began in Sandy Hook, CT.
It has been nine years since her diagnosis.
It has been fifteen years since we moved to Charlotte.
It has been twenty five years since I have had a full time job - outside of our home, that is.
Now what?

The truth is that I have no idea what's next. 
I don't know who is next.
I don't know what the future holds. 
But I enter it, whatever "it" is, with wonder.
I enter Christmastide with joy.
I enter with hope.

I enter with questions, too.
I enter with concern, too.
I enter with doubts, too.

And I enter the future with today on my mind.
With the story of Christmas on my mind and in my heart.
With the story of an old woman who became a first time mother late in life.
Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, had to have entered her future with practical questions, reasonable doubts, and great concern.
Her young cousin, Mary, the mother of Jesus the Christ, had a remarkable story of her own.
Unwed. Teenager. Pregnant. Ready to deliver her first child. No room in the inn.
Her concerns, doubts, and questions should have been countless.
But somehow, when asked to enter into her unimaginable future with an unbelievable story, she was able and willing to say, "May it be unto me as you have said."

In other words, what you are asking me to do is crazy, but let it be. 
This is an outrageous thing to ask of me, but let it be.
I have no idea how all of this is going to play out, but let it be.
I'm willing to take the chance that this unexpected adventure 
will bring joy and hope to my people and many more, so let it be.
I'm nervous and unsure. 
I have more than ten thousand questions.
I have absolutely no idea how I can do what you are asking of me.
But God...

But God has mercy on those who fear, honor, respect, and obey Him.
But God lifts the lowly and fills the hungry with good things.
But God has already done great things for me, and I have no reason to doubt that God will remain faithful.
But God promises the strength needed for the journey.
But God assures me that I will never be alone.
But God says that my prayers are heard and will be answered.
But God...

So, Mary said, let it be unto me as you have said.
Let it be, dear Lord, dear God, dear Spirit of the Living God.
Let it be.
Here I am; use me. fill me. empty me out for my people, for our nation, for the world.

Christmas Day is nearly over.
2017 is nearly over.
2018 is less than a week away.
Now what?

What now? 
Let there be hope.
Let there be indestructible hope.
Let there be subversive hope.
Let there be persistent hope.
Hope against all the odds.
Hope against all reason.
Hope that faces unbeaten foes and refuses to surrender.
Hope that knows that darkness has not overcome the Light.
Hope that believes that darkness cannot overcome the Light.
Let there be hope.
And let it be unto me, let it be in me, let it begin with me.

Merry Christmas.
Happy New Year.

I wish you irrepressible joy.
I wish you unflinching hope.
I wish you deep peace.
Joy, hope, and peace that surpass all your understanding,
and exceed your every expectation.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thoughtful Thursday: A time to mourn and a time to rejoice

Five years ago today, I was sitting in Starbucks with my kids, sipping sweet drinks.
It was my birthday.
I had completed two out of six chemotherapy treatments. (Kanswer sucks!)
We were rejoicing and celebrating a glorious mid-December day.

As we sat talking there in Starbucks, my phone rang.
It was my best buddy calling.
She lives in Sandy Hook, CT.
I figured it was a birthday greeting.
I was wrong. Dead wrong.
She asked me to be praying because there had been a school shooting in her town.

So now, every year, on my birthday, I celebrate.
I am grateful to be alive, especially after going through kanswer.
But I also remember - there are many hundreds, thousands, of people
for whom today, December 14th, will always be a day of remembrance,
of mourning, of missing their beloved ones.

It is my hope and prayer that, in the midst of their tears, they are able to rejoice.
To give thanks for the time they did have with their loved ones.
And it is my hope and prayer that, because of their tears,
they and we will work harder to bring an end to the senseless gun violence
in this gun-crazed nation.

There is so much to mourn these days.
Sexual misconduct on all sides.
Coming within a hairs-breadth of electing an alleged (known) pedophile to the US Senate.
The loss of net neutrality.
A tax plan that will truly make the richest among us even richer
and provide precious little relief for anyone else.
People, far too many people, still sleep on the street or in abandoned buildings or cars.
Jobs are still being lost.
Food is still a necessity that many do not have adequate access to.

But there is also reason to rejoice.
Black people showed up and stood up and voted to keep that pedophile out of the Senate.
Food pantries are open - and there is work to fight the injustice that keeps people poor.
There is indeed Room in the Inn - and there are people fighting to provide Housing First.
People are providing funds and presence in and on behalf of the lives of others whose voices are not often heard.
Others are using yoga and meditation, peace and joy as their methods of transforming the world around them and us.

Like everyone, I have moments of deep sadness, despair even.
I weep. Often.
I wonder, as my daughter mused aloud earlier today, "Do they even have hearts?"
I know they do have hearts.
I wonder what broke their hearts, what made their hearts so hard that they are unmoved by the suffering that new laws and policies, as well as the abolishment of old policies, inflict on so many.

But I know that a change is gonna come.
Change is coming.
Transformation is happening right now.
Even as I write.

I am a woman of subversive hope.
Unshakeable hope.
Undeniable hope.
And faith.
Faith in God.
Faith in so many that i know are doing the work.
Not just staying in their bubbles and safe places.
People who are quitting high paying, insulated, isolated jobs in order to work with and for folks whose lives will never be insulated or protected.
People who are working so that all children can receive an education that is worthy of the paper on which their diplomas will be printed.
People who insist that our criminal justice system can actually bring about justice, rather than injustice.

Tonight, my husband and I will eat, drink, and be merry with some good friends.
We will rejoice and celebrate.
But inside, I will raise a toast to and say a prayer for the families of Sandy Hook and Houston and Puerto Rico. I will remember the folks living around the leaking oil pipeline in the Dakotas, the slaves still being sold in Africa, and the hundreds of thousands of young American residents whose very presence in this nation may soon be deemed illegal.

Today - like every day - is a day to rejoice and a day to mourn.
May our tears and laughter mix and mingle on our cheeks and in our hearts.
May we rest and recover for a few hours, perhaps even a few days.
But then, it will be time to get back to work.
To feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned.
Proclaim freedom for captives and restore sight to the blind.

Ready? Get set...

Monday, December 11, 2017

Prompt #1: "Tell me about a beginning"

So my seminary semester ended last Saturday. I am officially half way through my seminary journey. Thanks be to God. 

And because I'm constantly seeking ways to know myself better, 
ways to write better, ways to be a better version of myself,
perhaps the best version, I sign up for online classes. 
I'm taking three right now - all related to self-study, writing, gratitude, 
and learning how to pay close attention to my life and to the world around me.
So good. So much beauty. 
One of those classes started today.
And the first prompt was: "Tell me about a beginning."
This is how I responded.
(Check out my latest teacher here - Jena Schwartz. The current class is called: What if you knew?)
(Another of the classes I'm taking at the moment is called "Advent of Light - Journaling Course" -  it is being offered by Karen Walrond. She is a gift of light and love and journaling prowess. She and her family recently lost their home to flooding in Houston - she lost all of her journals, except for the one she had with her when they evacuated. Nonetheless, she is teaching and writing and shining a light on how to stay hopeful, how to seek and find light, in the face of tragedy and loss. I've followed her blog and writing since 2007 - at least.)
(The other class is being led by Patti Digh. Another gift in my life. Wise. Sharp. Fearless. Fierce. Honest. Challenging. Inspiring. Real. Generous. Hospitable. Funny. A prolific writer. And one of the hardest working people I have ever known. She exudes strength and determination.)

So this is my response, mostly unedited, to Jena's first prompt of the course. 

It began when I was a freshman in college. I went to a professor’s house for tutoring in poetry. I didn’t "get" poetry. I couldn’t understand it. When I arrived at his house, he waved me in from the living room where he was watching television. America had invaded Granada. There were soldiers on the ground on an island I didn’t know anything about, protecting American medical students from a threat they didn’t know anything about. My professor was livid - he cursed at the television and at our president. I think it was Reagan.
A few months later, it began again when I was in a political science class and my Argentine professor started talking about American involvement in Latin America, in his home country, and elsewhere. He talked about “banana republics,” but he wasn’t laughing. He talked about dictators and fascists, about take overs, and people who had "been disappeared." I had no idea what he was talking about, but it didn’t sound like the United States I had grown up in.
The beginning continued as I read more and watched more documentaries and listened to my fellow black students talk about their experiences of racism and discrimination in the classroom and in their dorms. I began to see that the bubble I had grown up, the bubble I lived in, the bubble I maintained around my life, my heart, and my body was soon to be burst.
The beginning continued when I met the coach from the Nicaraguan national basketball team. Their national team came to my college to play against our team. The national team! I was thrilled and excited and imagined that they would crush our little division three squad. What I didn’t realize was that the average Nicaraguan man isn’t very tall, nor does he have access to large quantities of food. Anyway, I was introduced to the coach of the team in the fall of my sophomore year (or was it my junior year?) in college, just before thanksgiving. I took him home for Thanksgiving that year. He didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak much Spanish. He came to our humble home in Brooklyn, New York, and I managed to communicate to him that he was free to eat and drink whatever he wanted from our refrigerator. He opened the fridge and peered in at our leftovers and overripe cheese. He asked if that was our Thanksgiving meal.
The beginning continued when I realized that our leftovers were a feast for him.
The beginning of seeing my life and the world around me through compassionate eyes,
through eyes of deep gratitude and through eyes seeking signs of justice and fairness,
the beginning of the weeping, the deep sorrow at the suffering of so many people,
the beginning of the desire to save other people,
the beginning of the realization that I cannot save anyone,
the beginning of the journey that would bring me to this moment,
to the beginning of a new life of work and service through the church,
it all began when I was a freshman in college, when I arrived at that professor’s house,
when I watched him and listened to him and
learned more that afternoon about life in these United States and
the lives that we took in other nations
than I learned about poetry.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thankful Thursday - Ten Things

How can I not give thanks today? What am I grateful for today?

1. The gift of texting. To connect with people who live far away. To encourage friends going through tough times. To send texts with silly photos and cartoons.

2. Going to my Mom's house for big meals. She always invites "strays," folks who don't have family to spend time with during the holidays. They bring food and themselves. We bring food and ourselves. Fun and conversation always ensue.

3. My daughter is absolutely fantastic at engaging people in conversation. Today she brought energy and interaction from both a shy seven year old girl and a reclusive 14 year old boy. His mother said she hadn't seen him talk that much in months.

4. Leaving her house and coming home. Putting on my pajamas, robe, and slippers and crawling into bed.

5. Finding several pieces made by my favorite designer at a discount of 65% yesterday.
I am almost obsessed with the modest, comfortable, roomy, linen garments made by Bryn Walker.

6. Linen? Yes. Because I love to iron.

7. As much as I thoroughly enjoy spending time with friends and family today, eating delicious food, I am also mindful of those whose land was taken from them, whose lives were taken from them, whose land is still being denied to them in the name of greed. Indigenous people continue to be mistreated. I am grateful for those who stand with them and stand for them in the ongoing search for justice, reparations, and fair treatment.

8. Questions that challenge my faith and my way of life. Especially when I don't have a quick and easy answer. Questions that make me think and pray and journal and look for answers.

9. Being asked to help someone come up with a sermon topic. Give me a Scripture passage and I will help you come up with a topic. Give me a topic and I will help you find a passage to wrestle with. I love the Bible, even the parts that I hate. Yes, there are parts of the Bible that I hate. All the violence. The stories of women being raped - and then expected to marry their rapists. Stories of war. But also stories of love and redemption, hope and joy, community and reconciliation. The main question of my life these days is this: How can I take this ancient book with its many miracle stories, so much poetry, so many parables, so much history, this book that serves as the foundation of my faith - and find ways to apply it to this present moment in time?

10. I am grateful for life itself. For breath. For strength. For health.
Five years ago, on Thanksgiving, I was four days away from my first chemotherapy treatment.
I've come a very long way since then. I am enormously thankful.
To be alive is a gift, perhaps one of the greatest gifts of all.
Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Ten Things

Alisha Sommer is one of my new favorite internet personality crushes.
She drinks a lot of wine and coffee. She's a creative cook. She's a gifted writer.
She travels. She is and African American woman married to a European American man.
She is raising their children to eat good food and appreciate beauty.
And she takes amazing photographs to document her life and her adventures.
Please go check out her work - you will find your mouth watering.
I'm not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination, but this woman keeps my mouth watering.

One of the things that she does that has caught my attention is her practice of "Ten Things."
Simply a list of ten things, ten thoughts, ten ideas, ten moments from her day -
and any combination of the above, any combination of any ten things - she posts a list.
Daily. I look forward to reading her lists every day.

Since imitation is the best form of flattery, I'm gonna imitate her right here.

My ten things for today:

1. I love chewing gum. I crack my gum noisily and incessantly. My family doesn't complain, for which I am enormously grateful. If I get to meet Oprah again (someday I will share the story of meeting Oprah and getting my photo taken with her), I won't be able to chew gum in her presence. Apparently, she thinks gum chewing is a vile habit. Other than that, she and I will undoubtedly be great friends who agree on everything. In case Ms Winfrey is reading this, let me be crystal clear: I am more than willing to give up gum chewing if I get to hang out with you, Oprah.

2. I have recently been reminded about how much I love a well crafted sermon. And as much as I am grateful that when I preach at my own church, I am limited to about seventeen minutes, I enjoy a nice, long, intricately woven, story driven, Scripture dense sermon. This guy, Anthony Smith, is one of my favorite preachers. He lives, ministers, and serves the community up through a church called Mission House in Salisbury, NC. Here is a link to Mission House sermons. At a time in our nation, in our world, in our history, when so many of us struggle with fear, I would recommend scrolling down the sermon list to 2/12/17 and listening to the sermon entitled, "Take Courage." Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, grab a notebook and pen, because you are gonna wanna take a lot of notes - and be prepared to have your mind blown. So good!

3. One of the goals of Mission House is "to mobilize an army of love" in their city. They have tee shirts. I have one of those tee shirts. I am not an advocate of violence OF ANY KIND - but I am willing to enlist in an army of love. They are doing some fantastic work there in their home city. Advocating for peace. Walking the streets of their city every Friday night, praying with people, praying for the healing and wholeness of their city - they call themselves "Nightcrawlers." Getting involved in holding politicians accountable for what they do and say. Encouraging people to do their research and to vote. Imagine if those of us who call ourselves followers of the Prince of Peace actually worked for peace, walked for peace, advocated for an end to violence, and were willing to stand up and speak up and act up for peace. What would our cities, our nation, and our world look like if we actually lived out the command listed in both Psalm 34:14 and 1 Peter 3:11? Imagine if we actively and intentionally did simply this -  "Seek peace and pursue it."

4. Teavana tea - if you like loose leaf tea, now is the time to go stock up on their tea. All of the Teavana stores are closing early in the new year. They are beginning to reduce prices by 30%, 50%, and 75%.

5. Starbucks owns Teavana. Why are they not willing to invest some of the billions of dollars they take in every year to preserving and protecting an offshoot that sells healthier product than the coffee and sugary syrups they sell at Starbucks?

6. I love when a plan to "catch up and have lunch" turns into a four and a half hour story-fest, complete with laughter and tears, wisdom and encouragement, tea and salad, and prayer and a few choice four letter words. Only a small number of people in my life can stand hanging out with me for a marathon conversation like the one I had yesterday with my girl, Krystal.

7. Pioneer Woman macaroni and cheese will be on the Thanksgiving table in two day. Even if you don't make this recipe, it's worth the read. She's a chef and writer with an engaging sense of humor.

(If you have any recipes that you love, please send links to them in the comments. I would love to hear what some of you are eating... whether or not you celebrate Thanksgiving this week. I'm always open for new ideas. The simpler the better.)

8. Homemade fresh cranberry sauce too.

9. And cornbread and sausage stuffing.

(To try to offset some of the preplanned indulgence in deliciousness, I will keep up my habit of drinking a green smoothie a day at least through the rest of the week. I'm gonna need to get more spinach, I am certain.)

10. People still send snail mail - and I count myself among the endangered species of folks who still write letters and mail then the old fashioned way. Thoughtful cards from Kentucky and New Jersey and California, and right here in Charlotte. Missives from a friend who is in prison. Birthday cards. Christmas cards. Holiday cards of all kinds. Journals purchased and sent to me just because... There are colorful and beautiful stamps available at the post office. And washi tape, pens, and markers (all of which are a slowly advancing obsession of mine) for decorating envelopes and enclosures. Snail mail is the gift that keeps on giving.

The good thing about the Ten Things habit, which I have been practicing in my journal lately, is that I almost always want to write fifteen or twenty things. But limiting myself to only ten takes some of the pressure off... I can write my ten and then take a break. For anyone who doesn't particularly like to write, for anyone who feels intimidated by the blank page, for anyone who doesn't think they have anything important to write or to say, beginning with a list of ten things can make the process of writing, of keeping a journal, of blogging, easier.

Ten Things can be as simple as this -

1. Flowering pineapple tea from Teavana.

2. Daily green smoothies

3. I love the library. Free books for everyone!

4. Peppermint chewing gum

5. Peppermint anything

6. I love rainy days

7. the smell of clean laundry

8. the beauty of deer in the backyard in the morning

9. I am a pen hoarder, and I love every single one of my pens

10. homemade cranberry sauce is one of my favorite things to make and eat

For me, this list on a journal page would bring up a host of wonderful memories, but I haven't had to spend too much time on it. If I want to elaborate, I certainly can, but it is not required.

Sometimes my list of ten things is a list of ten people I love,
or ten things I wish I could eat,
or ten places I want to return to before I die,
or ten movies I would like to watch again,
or ten songs I listen to more than any others,
or ten invitations I wish I had accepted,
or ten invitations I am glad I did accept,
or ten authors whose writings I return to over and over,
or ten favorite Bible verses,
or ten lost loves.
See? Simple.
And also meaningful. Thought-provoking. Tear producing.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Happy Anniversary to Me!!!

Five years ago today, November 6, 2012, Barack Obama was voted into his second term as President of these (questionably, ostensibly, gun-loving, very violent) United States of America. I miss him and his dignity, his grace, his intellect, his class, his demeanor a whole heckuva lot these days. But that's a whole different topic for a whole different day...

Five years ago today, I received the terrible news that I had cancer, kanswer.
Five years ago today, I came home from that doctor's appointment with both hands full of books, pamphlets, a pillow, and a sheaf of papers I needed to read and fill out and cry over. I had appointments scheduled for tests and scans and blood work. And I had a lot of appointments to make for other tests and scans and conversations and chemotherapy choices.
Five years ago today, my life changed. Drastically. Unexpectedly. Uncontrollably.

This is what I looked like on the day I was diagnosed.
Smiling between bouts of tears.
Getting ready for the toughest journey of my life.

Today, I am arguably healthier than I was before that diagnosis.
I eat better. I sleep better. I breathe better. I pray better too.
I live more joyfully and hopefully.
I am grateful to still be here, in good health, and in great spirits.

I relish the beauty of the seasons more.
I am grateful for both the arrival and the passing of each day.

I stop and watch squirrels chase each other.
I laugh at their antics.
I am grateful for the wonder of nature, both theirs and my own.

I no longer pluck or color my gray hairs.
I am grateful that I have hair.

I clean my house less often and with less obsession about doing it perfectly.
I flip through magazines more.
I watch more Law and Order Criminal Intent marathons.
I watch Project Runway with my daughter every week.
I play with pens and markers and watercolor paper more.
Because life is too short and too precious to spend it sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting ceiling fans all the time.

When someone invites me to do something new, something adventurous, something out of my normal routine, I am more likely to say "yes" now than I was five years ago.
I am grateful for so many invitations and opportunities.
I am grateful for new friends and deepening connections.

Five years ago today, I wrote a blog post about how my life journey had been shifted on its axis.
I had no idea all that was ahead, but I knew I wasn't going to face it alone, nor was I going to face it with a spirit of defeat or despair.

Five years ago today, I didn't know if I would be here today.
Would I survive the kanswer treatment?
Would I be alive five years hence?

A few days after diagnosis day, I curled my locs one last time.
And my daughter followed me around the house with her camera.
I don't miss my dreadlocs at all.
Not one minute of one day.
I loved them when I had them, but now they are no more.
Truth be told, I still have them. In a bag.
But I have no interest in having long hair again.

Kanswer came. Now it's gone.
Although I was warned, although I was given an explanation of my dire situation,

Five years ago today, I was facing a serious uphill battle,
and I made it. I made it! I MADE IT!!!
I am here. I am ecstatically here.
I am gratefully here. I am peace-fully here.

Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to the doctors, nurses, receptionists, technicians,
the chiropractor and the physical therapist who walked that journey with me then.
And who continue to walk with me on this ongoing healthful pilgrimage.
Thanks to all the family and friends who supported me,
prayed for me,
took me to chemo,
brought meals,
came to visit,
and loved me and my family through that journey.
Many of you continue to love on us and take care of us - even now.
There is so much love, so much beauty, so much to celebrate in this life.

Happy anniversary to me!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

A homework assignment: Write your spiritual autobiography

I go to too many meetings. Day and night. Here in Charlotte and in other places in North Carolina. Today I went to another meeting. Actually, a gathering of like-minded spiritual seekers. All of us, each of us, are hearing voices. Or a voice. A voice that is calling us closer, deeper, further in. We want more silence, more prayer, more contemplation, more community, more God. This is the second time we have gathered. From several faith communities. From several faith practices. Drawn together by one man's dream of a community that lives and breathes prayer and hope, faith and connection. We have no idea where it will go or what it will look like. It's not going to be another church. We don't need any more churches. But what we need... well, that's what we are trying to dream up together. What do we need? What would quench our thirst and assuage our hunger for more?

Anyway, we were each asked to write our spiritual autobiography. No more than three pages. We were given some questions to consider as we wrote. Here are a few of the questions we could respond to:

How has God been present in your life? 
How do you experience God’s presence?  
Where have you felt God’s absence?
How has your experience of God shaped your life and the choices you have made? 
Where is God at work in your life now?

Which ones would you answer?

The questions that I sought to answer in my autobiography were: What role did the church play in your life? How did it shape you?

Here is my answer -

I love the church. I love going to church. That has been true of me for most of my life. 

I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and spent most of the first twelve years of my life attending Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. I distinctly remember sitting in church one Sunday, wishing that I could attend church five days a week and school only two. It’s not that I didn’t like going to school; I loved my elementary school, but being in the house of the Lord with the people of God, singing the old hymns of the church, listening to my Sunday school teachers tell impossible stories that they claimed had come from the Bible, watching people get dunked in the baptismal pool below the organ loft, and even attending Wednesday night prayer meetings - all of that is what I wanted to experience five days a week. When I was 12 years old, that church split over a question of Biblical interpretation that I didn’t fully understand. All  I knew for sure was that my family could no longer attend the church I loved. My twelve year old heart is still broken.

The church I spent my teenaged years attending with my family was another Baptist church, but Calvary Baptist Church was on 57th Street in Manhattan, a solid 45 - 60 minute drive from our home in Brooklyn. It was during those years that I was first exposed to the truth that it doesn’t matter how much I do or don’t like the music; it doesn’t matter how much I do or don’t like the youth leaders. Being in the community of faith is far broader and deeper than my personal taste or preferences. The preaching was okay. The choir was okay. The high school Sunday school class was less than okay. But somehow, together, in our okay ways, we worshiped the God who made it all make sense, who made something majestic out of our mediocrity. In the company of those faithful people, my faith grew. Somehow, God drew me closer. Perhaps it was the less than charismatic leadership and the less than inspiring preaching that taught me that it was all about God anyway. It wasn’t about me. It wasn't about catchy tunes or exceptional showmanship. I was in the presence of Almighty God - and that is what mattered most. 

After high school, I attended a small college in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts and attended the local Baptist church in that tiny town. For the first time in my life, church was my choice. I picked the church and I got myself there nearly every week for all four years of college - well, except for the semester I spent in Madrid, and I found a Baptist church there to attend as well. It didn’t matter to me if I had been out dancing until midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning. I got up, got showered, got dressed, and walked to church. Once again, it wasn’t a flashy preacher or professional musicians that drew me in. It was simply the opportunity to be with the people of God in the house of God. 

The thing is, I did not have the vocabulary for what I was feeling at the time. I couldn’t have articulated any real evaluation of the preaching, the music, or the theology of that small town church church I attended. Or any of the churches I had ever attended, actually. I couldn’t even tell you what branch of the Baptist church our church was associated with. None of that mattered to me. I just couldn’t imagine NOT going to church. 

Don’t get me wrong; during my early church experience back in Brooklyn, there was a whole lot of fear mongering going on. “Accept Jesus into your heart or be left behind when the rapture happens.” “Are you sure you are saved?” “If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would be in heaven?” Nothing made me more fearful than the thought that I could be “left behind.” But by the time I got to college, those fears were less central to my experience of the church. Thanks be to God! 

At some point during my college career, I had the opportunity to give the children’s sermon at church - a brief Bible lesson for the kids before they left the main worship service for junior church. Not long after that first children’s lesson, I was asked to do it every week. Who me? I did as I was asked - and I loved it. As a result, I had even more reason to love going to church. Suddenly, finally, I had something to contribute. 

Six years after graduating from college, I found myself married, pregnant, and living in southern Connecticut. My husband and I began to attend Hope Church, a congregation whose pastor I had met with I was a teenager at Calvary Baptist in Manhattan. This one was an Evangelical Free church - once again, a denomination I knew nothing about. All I knew was that they welcomed me and my husband without any apparent prejudice against the fact that ours is an interracial marriage. Our daughter was born four months after we arrived at the church. Just under three years later, our son was born. Both of our children were so well loved and their births were so perfectly timed that they were both cast as baby Jesus in the Christmas play. Both son and daughter were held aloft by Simeon’s strong hands and prayed over as their lives began.

On a more personal note, Hope Church ushered me into a phase of spiritual growth that completely altered my perspective on Scripture and prayer and faith. Through the Women of Hope Wednesday morning Bible studies, I learned how to read and study the Bible for myself in previously unimagined depth. I would get up an hour or two before anyone else in the house and pour over and through the Word of God, with curiosity and questions, with hope and joy. Frankly, I miss those early morning quiet times - and I’m not exactly sure why I let them go. 

In a similar way to what happened when I was invited to do the children’s sermons during college, one of the leaders of the Women of Hope asked me to speak at the Christmas luncheon one year. Our usual Wednesday morning gathering of 40 women more than doubled for the Christmas luncheon - one hundred women came together to eat a hearty meal and hear a good word. For some reason, the director of Women of Hope thought I could bring a good word that December. Within months, I was the weekly teacher for Women of Hope. What I didn’t see was that God had begun to do a work in my life, a preparatory work that was beyond anything I could have imagined when we moved to Charlotte in 2002. 

Before having our two children, I had spent four years as a middle school and high school Spanish teacher. Although I was no longer teaching, I certainly hadn’t forgotten my Spanish, so it was with great joy that I began to attend the Spanish speaking congregation at Calvary Church here in Charlotte. Within weeks, I had fallen in love with the energy and exuberance, the joy and the vulnerability of those beautiful, hopeful people who hailed from more than ten Latin American countries. I taught Bible classes, led women’s gatherings, and introduced them to journaling as a spiritual discipline - all in Spanish. I am certain that I learned more from those generous, kind, loving women than they learned from me. I also learned that I had to stay in my place as a woman - that there was no place for me in church leadership there, unless there were only women in the room. 

At the end of one of the spiritual journaling classes I taught, this one in English, a woman approached me and said, “You belong in the pulpit. You’re not teaching in here; you are preaching.” At the time, her statement sounded like heresy to me. Less than five years later, we left Calvary, began attending First Presbyterian Church here in Charlotte, and I had heard that same message several more times at our new church. 

I believe that when I hear the same message several different times from several different people, I need to pay attention. So I did. Currently, I’m in my third year of a five year seminary program here in Charlotte that I hope and pray will lead to my ordination in the Presbyterian Church USA. It looks like my early childhood wish of attending church five days a week might finally come true. 

Thanks be to God. Thanks be to God indeed. 


The most eye-opening part to me of writing this spiritual autobiography is that I hadn't made the connection between my childhood dream of being at church five days a week and my current seminary journey until I completed this homework assignment. I know that almost everyone who is a "full time pastor" spends more than five days in the church, so I may end up getting more than I hoped for, than I wished for, than I bargained for. But still, dreams sometimes do come true. 

As I wrote that final sentence, I burst into tears.
Tears of gratitude. Tears of joy. Tears of hope. 
Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.