Thursday, May 27, 2021

Thankful Thursday

 Ten things I am thankful for this Thursday.   

1. Birdsong. Chirping and hooting. Twittering and calling. The sound of early morning chatter outside my window.

2. Squirrels. How they run and dance. Carrying things. Eating things. Seemingly fearless as they flit across the street and run across power lines, chasing each other. Are they playing or fighting? I can never tell, but their frenzy always makes me smile.

3. Real mail. Letters. Postcards. Envelopes with stickers inside the envelope and rubber stamped flowers outside the envelope. 

4. Yesterday's delicious lavender latte with oat milk. Served up by a kind Argentine barista who indulged my voracious appetite for speaking in Spanish. Gracias, Enzo.

5. Combining gift cards and the 10% "member" discount to get three of my favorite journals for 26 cents at Barnes and Noble. Twenty six cents for three journals! I cannot wait to fill those pages with my rambles.

6. Giving a glowing recommendation for a friend who is applying to be the senior pastor at a new church. I will miss her terribly if they offer her the job, but it was a joy to talk about how amazing she is and what a gift she will be to their congregation if they are wise enough to welcome her in.

7. The opportunity to feed an owl at a friend's house recently. I apologized to the live mouse that was sacrificed, but the wonder of having an owl swoop down from a distant tree and sweep it out of my outstretched, gloved hand - that blew my mind. 

8. The ceasefire between Palestinians and Israelis. What is needed is more than merely a "ceasefire." There must be peace, justice, restoration of land rights, safety for the oppressed, an end to imperialism and occupation, domination and extreme violence. There is enough land, but is there enough will to do what is right and just and fair for all the people, especially those who have been displaced, dispossessed, dismissed, and disregarded - repeatedly?

9. The decline in Covid rates in many places. The increase in vaccination rates. May we deepen our willingness to do what is right for all people who are threatened by this devastating illness - and every medical challenge. May we do what is necessary to provide healthcare for all people everywhere. 

10. Joy. Wonder. Hope. In the present. For the future. In spite of the violence, the fear-mongering, the hatred, and the despair, I refuse to give up hope in us. I am determined to spread smiles, to deliver delight, to wander around in wonder. There is always cause for awe. 

I am still here. You are still here. It is simple and profound. It is fantastic and outrageous. 

In her poem entitled, "Celebrate With Me," Lucille Clifton wrote:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me

and has failed.

For this I am thankful on this Thursday night. And everyday. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

No more waiting

We waited for election results - worried about the outcome.

We waited for winter - worried about another wave of Covid.

We waited for a vaccine - worried about the speed of its production and the slowness of its distribution.

Things came to pass. Things came. Things passed.

The election has been decided - in most people's minds anyway.

Winter has passed - for those of us in the northern hemisphere.

The vaccine has arrived - and is being distributed... but not to everyone, everywhere. 

No more waiting.

If Covid has taught me anything, it is that I cannot wait to tell loved ones that I love them.

I cannot wait to visit the sick friend, the lonely friend, the tired friend.

Sickness, loneliness, and tiredness can take a life. 

Far too quickly. 

No more waiting. 

Say the thing - the true thing, the scary thing, the life-affirming thing.

Katie Cannon said that "even when they call your truth a lie," even when your voice cracks, tell your story, tell the truth anyway. 

So here's the truth: when Covid started, I had one goal - to survive.

And I survived. 

It was not easy. I cried. I complained. I worried. I lapsed into periods of depression and despair.
But I made it.

We survived as a family of four.

It was not easy. We bickered and angered each other. We annoyed and disturbed each other.
But we made it.

My son got Covid, but he made it. 

I lost a beloved cousin to this wretched disease. I begged God to save his life, but death came anyway. Millions of people begged for mercy on behalf of their loved ones, but death came anyway. 
Many millions are still begging for mercy, but death still comes anyway. 

No more waiting. 

It's time to reclaim my hope, my faith, and my joy. Even now.

It's time to see the beautiful faces of my loved ones again. 

To hug them without fear. 

To laugh and cry together.

To eat, drink, and be merry together.

To hear their stories.

To tell them mine.

To dance, to step, to lean into all that is to come. 

There's no going back to the old way of doing anything. 

I must go forward. Into newness of life. 

No more waiting. 

What have you survived?

What are you no longer waiting for?

Monday, November 02, 2020

Now We Wait

My most recent sermon was entitled, "Now We Wait." I considered the story of King Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles chapter 20 and Jesus in the boat with his disciples in Mark 4. 

In the first story, the king and the people were facing a dangerous and large enemy, so they cried out to God in prayer, asking for help, for safety, for mercy, and verse 12 of that chapter ends with these two powerful and timely statements - "For we are powerless against this great multitude that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you." 

In the storm story told in Mark 4, the disciples assault their slumbering Savior and ask him this question: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 

I intentionally ended the Scripture readings in the middle of those stories. 
In the awkward and painful pause between the prayer and the answer.
Between the question and the response.

Cuz isn't that where we spend a lot of our time?
Facing great multitudes that we have no power to overcome.
Unsure of where to turn or what to do.
Wondering if Jesus is still asleep in our nearly-swamped boats. 
Asking - sometimes aloud, but mostly silently, urgently, painfully, between clenched jaws - 
"Don't you care that we are perishing???" 

Looking around, we wonder - Does anyone care? Anyone at all?

If you have the time or the inclination, the sermon is here. The Scripture is read by my friend, Diane, around minute 33:24, and my sermon begins at minute 37:29. 

Eight years ago today, on November 2, 2012, I underwent a biopsy of my left breast and one lymph node after a routine mammogram on Halloween was followed by a sonogram which prompted the technician to make an appointment for a biopsy two days later.  

Eight years ago right now, in the evening hours, I was in the awkward, dreadful, painful pause between the biopsy and the kanswer diagnosis

Right now, in the evening hours of November 2, 2020, we are all (perhaps even people who do not live in the United States) in the awkward, dreadful, painful pause between voting (for those of us who voted early or used mail in ballots) and the outcome of the election. 

Now we wait.

*******      Please pardon my public service announcement here    *******

Pack a snack. Take some music. A foldable chair. A mask. A good book to read.
Take advantage of the right that thousands of people fought for and died for.

Check in with family and friends, and make sure they have a safe voting plan.

If you can, provide rides to the polls.
Protect those who are voting. 
Stand nearby.

If you cannot be present, pray. burn candles. light incense.
do your part to add positive energy and hope to this moment in our nation and our world.

*******   Public service announcement concluded   *******

I was awake for quite a while in the middle of the night last night. That's not normal for me. As I lay there in the darkness, I felt a wave of sorrow and sadness - and said several prayers - for people who deal with insomnia on a regular basis. 

I pulled out my phone and recorded a voice memo at 3:18 am.
Here's what I said to myself - and also to you who have found your way here...

"Lying here in bed awake in the middle of the night, I can understand why people are anxious and worried. There's a lot going on in the world. There's a lot going on in our country, in our own communities, in our homes, in our hearts. And so we who are the followers of Christ, we who are people of faith, we who look beyond just what is immediate, we need to do what we can do - we need to pray. We need to be present where we can be present. We need to be active where we can be active. We need to be beacons of hope for those who are running out of it. We need to do what we can do at this time. We need to stand and sit and speak and cry and pray. And we need to look beyond November 3rd and beyond the end of these wildfires and we need to look beyond the end of hurricane season. And we need to figure out what we are going to do and who we are going to be going forward. No matter who wins the election. No matter what comes of this pandemic. We've got to look further down the road. We have to. And it starts with being together in ways we can be together right now. It starts with encouraging each other to hold onto hope for each other until we can hold onto it for ourselves. As I preached on Sunday, now we wait. now we wait."

Friends, the waiting is hard. Tenuous. Unsettling. Anxiety-producing. 
One truth I hold onto is that I do not wait alone. Neither do you.

You may be in your house alone, in your apartment alone, in your condo alone.
But in many of the most important ways, we wait together.
We join our prayers, our hopes, our longings for peace online, through texts, on Instagram, through Zoom
- we wait together. We hope together. 

And while we wait, we rest. breathe. eat nourishing food.
drink tea. or kombucha. or whatever will steel your jangly nerves.

We connect to one another.
We connect to our joy and laughter.
We connect with our own truest, most courageous, hopeful selves.

We refuse to allow fear and anxiety to rule us.
We resist all efforts to make us believe that things are hopeless.
We turn off the news - even public radio.
We allow our anxious hearts and restless minds to relax for a while.

We live and breathe and prepare ourselves
for the work of healing and wholeness,
protection and provision,
care and connection that is ahead of us -
no matter who is declared the winner of the presidential election in the coming days. 

The man who resides in the white house is not the one who will do that work.
We are the ones who will do this life affirming, nation building work in the days ahead.

So get your rest.
Get prayed up. 
Walk. Run. Sweat. Stretch.
Do yoga. Meditate. Sit.  
Get ready for the real work that is to come.

But now - now we wait. 

Friday, October 02, 2020

Would you do me a favor?


Please vote.

And don't just vote for yourself.

If you are white, have someplace to live, food in the fridge and pantry, a car, some money in the bank, a college education, and a job - then you are likely to be okay no matter who wins the election.  

But if you are Black, indigenous, or another person of color,
if you are gay, lesbian, queer, trans, bisexual, or non binary, 
if you are an immigrant,
if you are unemployed,
if you are female,
if you have any pre-existing medical condition,
if you have any chronic medical challenges,
if you are enrolled in the Affordable Care Act,
if you are poor,
if you do not have a college degree,
if you have significant medical, educational, or any other kind of debt,
if you love, know, or are related to anyone in any of these aforementioned groups,
then the person who occupies the White House as of next January matters.

Actually, no matter who you are, no matter how you identify, no matter what advantages or privileges you may or may not enjoy, the person who will live in the White House after January 2021 matters. 

So I ask you again - vote. Please.  

When you cast your vote, think about the millions of people in this country who will be affected by the outcome of the election. Vote for them. 

Actually, don't vote for "them."
Because the truth is that there is no "them."
There is only us. 

Only us, people. 
Only all of us.

Vote for "us."
The more than three hundred and twenty million people in this country - we will all be affected by the outcome of this election. 
Every single one of us.

Please vote for all of us because no one escapes the ramifications and repercussions of injustice, racism, xenophobia, fear mongering, inequity, hate, and state-sanctioned violence. No one. 

Vote. Vote for us. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Smash and Grab

The world is on fire, it seems.

The Covid 19 pandemic rages because of the selfishness and self-centeredness of leaders and followers who clearly care more about themselves and their reputations than about the people they know and love. 
Because, seriously, how much does it cost you to wear a mask? 
And how much has it cost us to not wear masks? 
Yes, jobs have been lost. The economy has been deeply damaged.
But also, thousands of people, more than one hundred thousand people have died in this country.

The number of new cases is rising daily because people had to go to restaurants and the mall and mingle elbow to elbow. It was their right to be free. 
Now they are free to get sick with the virus they have denied the seriousness of and share that sickness with others.
And it didn't have to be this way.
It didn't have to be this way.
And it doesn't have to be this way going forward.
What will we do? How will we go from here?

The pandemic of racism, of police brutality, of injustice, and of ignoring the truth of all of these things - that pandemic has been brought to our attention in ways that are opening the eyes and ears and hearts of a whole lot of folk who never had to care before. People who have benefited from blindness to and disinterest in the lives of those who have always been essential workers, but still cannot earn a living wage, get access to safe drinking water, affordable housing, a good education, or health care. 

I am tired of listening to the same old excuses about protecting the fragile egos of those who don't want to hear and face the truth of our nation's horrific history (and it's not just our history; it is our current and ongoing way of life) while the lives of those with fragile health, fragile economic situations, and fragile prospects for a better future don't get the same protection. 

I am tired of being expected to console white people when they tell me how sad they are to realize how hard life has been for Black people all these years. 

I am tired of working so hard to bite my tongue, hold back my rage, and protect those fragile egos. 

I am ready to smash some stuff. We have to get ready to smash some stuff.  

We've got to smash the old ways of doing this community thing, this nation thing, this life thing.
We've got to smash the old systems that have kept far too few people in power and far too many people in pain.
We've got to grab the mic and speak the truth to those who have not listened for far too long.
We've got to grab the hands of those willing to do the real work of justice, peace, and healing - and press forward.

We've got work to do, my friends. 
You've got work to do.
I have work to do.
So much work.

Start by educating yourself.
Go to Google. Do some research.
Go to Amazon. Or better yet - find a black owned bookstore or a local bookstore. Buy books. Read them.
Sign up for workshops. Take them. Take notes. Study.
Listen. Learn. Grow. 
Then put your learning into action. 
(No, I'm not providing links because we each have to do our own work!)

Speak up when Uncle Joe says something racist at the Fourth of July family gathering you SHOULDN'T be having.
Speak up when someone says something stupid and racist in your Zoom work meetings.
Speak up when people in your faith community say racist things. 
Speak up when your partner, your spouse, your child, your neighbor, your parent shows their racist underbelly.
Speak up when that foolishness appears in your social media feeds. 
And be willing to own and apologize when your racist underbelly gets revealed.

Don't be silent.
At the very least, ask questions for clarification.
"Do I hear you saying...?" 
"Perhaps I misunderstood, but it sounded like you said..."
"Help me understand what that meant. I didn't think it was funny. Maybe I missed the point..."

Do your work.
Do your work.
Do more work.
Keep working. 
Keep on working.
Sit in the discomfort of it. 
Feel it. 
Keep working. 
Keep going. 

I was going to write: "It's time to get started."
But that would be wrong. It's not time to get started.
This work for justice began a long time ago. 
Centuries ago. 
It's time to keep working.
Time to keep smashing and keep grabbing.

Two weeks ago, I preached a sermon called "Smash and Grab." 
In the middle of that sermon, I articulated a few of the things I think we need to smash and grab.
This is that list.

"We’ve got to smash the whitewashed version of our history and grab the whole, messy, ugly, true story.
Smash ignorance. Grab a broad and deep education.
Smash lies. Grab truth.
Smash fear. Grab courage.
Smash hate. Grab love.
Smash apathy. Grab intentional involvement.
Smash complicity. Grab resistance.
Smash comfort. Grab discomfort - and sit in it. 
Smash the addiction to easy and quick answers. Grab onto the truth that this is long term work.
Smash privilege and grab equity.
Smash greed. Grab generosity.
Smash poverty. Grab justice.
Smash worry. Grab faith.
Smash despair. Grab hope.
Smash isolation. Grab community.
We must also smash false martyrdom. Grab real self-care.
Smash frenetic action. Grab stillness."

If you want to hear the sermon, check out the video below.
The reading of the Scripture, done by a friend from Cameroon, begins at minute 34 and a half. 
My sermon begins right at minute 38. 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Thankful Thursday: Graduation Edition

So this is it, my friends. The five year seminary journey will come to its conclusion in less than 48 hours. On Saturday, April 18th, at 10 am, I will graduate from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte. Online. On Zoom. It feels anti-climactic in some ways. Almost fake. Because we won't be together in person. But it's real. This is real. It's really happening. I am about to graduate!!!

So here is where I confess to NOT being very social media savvy.
Nonetheless, I will place a link here that I hope will allow
you to see a video I created
(with the help of my husband and our daughter)
to reflect on my seminary journey.

I wish I could just upload the video straight from my computer, but it's too large to do that.
See? I wish I knew more about how to do this kind of thing.

If you have nothing to do and don't mind sitting through a long Zoom gathering, please join the festivities on Saturday morning by clicking here -

What am I thankful for this Thursday evening?

* five years of study, completed
* papers and sermons written, books read, and classes attended
* the trip I took with seminary professors and students to El Salvador and Guatemala back in April of 2018
* the courage to stand my ground against a racist bully who tried to silence my voice, my convictions, and my questions during my very first semester at Union
* having that happen only once in these five years
* the friends and mentors, companions and guides that have accompanied me on this journey
* the laughter shared and the tears shed
* a capella hymn singing in chapel
* the pianists and organists who joined us in chapel over this past year
* the opportunity to translate for a Cuban pastor in one of our Union chapel services
* the amazing patience of the librarians, with all my requests and questions
* the good food we ate together every Saturday at lunch time
* the professors, staff members, the janitor, the entire Union Charlotte crew
* my classmates, their questions, their challenges, our debates, and our conversations
* all of the folks from First Presbyterian Church here in Charlotte - for their emotional, financial, and spiritual support. Without you and your encouragement for the past ten years, I truly wouldn't be here. I would never have considered attending seminary if you all hadn't told me over and over again: "Gail, you should go to seminary. You belong in the pulpit."
* the joy that comes from knowing that the prayer I prayed as a child in Sunday school classes at the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, the prayer that I could go to church five days a week instead of school - that prayer is coming true, for real for real. I will be installed and ordained as Associate Minister at Caldwell Presbyterian Church on August 30, 2020 - provided that we have all been released from house arrest by then. Prayers sometimes do get answered with a resounding YES.
* I am grateful for the support of my family throughout these five years. It has been a difficult road with many challenges along the way. But we survived everything that has tried to take us down and take us out. We are still standing strong. Scarred. Wounded. Heartbroken in some ways and stronger than ever in other ways. I pray that I will make you proud and that you will never regret having taken this seminary journey with me.
* To God be the glory and the praise.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

And on this night...

An hour ago, a friend sent me this via text: "And on this night, Mary and the others were quietly talking about visiting the tomb tomorrow. About taking the sweet spices to see their Lord, who had been crucified just yesterday."

I responded: "What a long night that must have been. Do you think they slept at all?!?"

My friend: "Wept, slept a little, wept."

Me: "I suspect tonight might feel that way for me. And for a whole lot of people."


And on this night, tonight, there are a lot of people quietly talking about visiting their dearly departed. They want to take sweet spices and new clothes to cover the bodies of those who are now gone. They want to see their loved ones one last time, but they can't go because of this dreadful pandemic.

On that night long ago, on the night of Solemn Saturday, those women couldn't go to the tomb because it was the Sabbath. They honored their faith tradition and waited until early in the morning on the first day of the week before they ventured out, sweet burial spices in hand.

And on this night, across the ocean, my friend, Leticia, will join with her neighbors and with Spaniards all across the Iberian peninsula in song. They will stand at their windows and on their balconies, shine the lights of their flashlights, and sing, welcoming the day of Resurrection.

We need some Resurrection, don't we?

On that night long ago, on the night of Solemn Saturday, I bet those women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and also the other women with them (Luke 24, verse 10) huddled together telling stories. Laughing and crying as they remembered and recounted the teaching, the miracles, and most of all, the friendship of that rabble rousing Rabbi they had loved and served and followed for three years. And they waited for the rising of the sun so they could go and anoint his body in the way that befitted The Gentle One whom they adored.

And on this night, I wish I could huddle with women I know and love. To talk. Laugh. Cry. Tell stories. Remember and recount the good times and the hard times we've shared. The meals we've eaten together. The chemo sessions we sat through together. The head shaking, hand wringing talks about marriage and parenting. The long walks. The secrets we shared in hotel rooms. The journals we've exchanged. The doubts we have had. The wrestling we have done with God, with people who have claimed to love us, and most of all with ourselves.

I desperately need time with the sisters of my soul.
My seminary classmates.
My pastoral colleagues.
My prayer partners.
My storytelling companions.
My anam cara.
My trench.

This is going to be a long night.
Evening shadows are growing.
Despondent tears are flowing.
Hope is fading.
Anxiety is invading.

I will do what my friend wrote -
I will weep, sleep a little, weep some more.
And on this night, I will keep vigil.

When I see the first sliver of light above my window in the morning,
even before I get out of bed,
I will speak aloud the truth that is the bedrock of my faith:
He is Risen. He is Risen indeed.

But not yet.
Not yet.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Let It Be

Well, friends. I'm back. It looks like I'm going to be back at home for a while.

This wash your hands, don't touch your face, keep your distance,
stay at home pandemic has pushed me back into the nest.
I would imagine that's true for most of us. Or it should be.


Even as I write that, however, I am mindful of the many, many people for whom home is not a place of safety, security, and rest. I think about the children for whom school was a place to be away from danger and to eat two meals that aren't available at home. I think about the people who have been told to go home and stay home - and therefore have no income. This "stay home" thing is complex, scary, confusing, and unsettling for all of us.

I wish I knew what to do or say or how to pray to make it all feel better and be better.
I wish I knew a way to escape all this, to evade it, to avoid it.
But as far as I can tell, the whole world is dealing with this thing.
And I haven't come across any secret prayer phrases or practices.
I haven't discovered a mantra powerful enough to stop this pandemic.
If you come across any secret rituals or herbs to burn, please let me know!

I'm just here at home. Journaling. Drinking kombucha. Reading. Attending way too many Zoom meetings with way too many people for way too many hours each day. Trying not to eat all of our pandemic rations in one sitting. Cancelling getaways I had planned and meals out that I was looking forward to. Doing some online shopping. Cursing and stomping my feet every now and then. Crying every now and then. Wondering and worrying about our future as a family, as a community, as a city, as a nation, and as a world. And I'm also watching a lot of Law and Order, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and movies.

The other day, my oldest child and I began to watch the movie "Yesterday" together.
Good music. Some funny scenes.
Then about half way through, the movie stopped. Wouldn't go on.
HBO seized up and wouldn't go on.
I found an upcoming rebroadcast of the movie and set the DVR to record it.
I hope the recorded version is complete. I want to know what happens.

In case you haven't heard about that movie, it tells the story of a young man in England, a not-terribly- successful musician, whose life is turned upside after a harrowing accident. When he recovers from the accident, he discovers that he is the only person who knows the Beatles music. No one around him recognizes their lyrics when he quotes them or their songs when he plays them on his guitar or on the piano. What happens next? I'm not sure. The movie stopped.

I'm not a big music person. I like old Baptist hymns and contemporary versions of old Baptist hymns. I could name a few musicians I like, but that would only serve to prove that I'm not a big music person.

But having said that, I will also say this - I recognized the tune and the words to "Let it be" when he sang it in the movie. I won't try to recite them here, but I recognized them when I heard them.

At this time in our global, national, and collective history, at this time in my personal life story, I am trying to let it be.

I am trying to not drown myself in guilt over the fact that we have a home where we all feel safe and where there is enough food for us to eat.
I am trying to let it be.

I am learning to accept the deep humanity in myself, my husband, and our children, the vastly different ways in which we deal with frightful and difficult situations, and the shortness of patience that is occasionally on display during these days of social distancing - from everyone except the people we live with. There's no chance for me to get away from these people - and there's no chance for them to get away from me -  for the foreseeable future.
I am trying to let it be.

There is a long box in my Passion Planner (love my Passion Planner!) that has April 18th at the top, and that box that is filled with scribbles and exclamation points because that is the day I am supposed to graduate from seminary after five long years of study. Looking at that box now brings up a whole lot of sadness and a fair number of sighs.
I am trying to let it be.

My "let it be" list could go on for pages. I'm sure you have your own extensive list of places, times, situations, and circumstances in which you need to "let it be."

This is so much. It's too much. This is all too much.
And there is too little that I can do to change any of it.
And I am trying to let it be.
To breathe. To believe.
To trust that there is hope and a future.
That we will get through this.

But for now, for today, I am trying to let it be.

My amazing life coach, Kelley Palmer, recently invited me to make a list of things that nourish me.
What calms me, centers me, makes me relax, feel a sense of peace?
It doesn't have to be "green juice, kombucha, prayer, and cleaning my house."
It can be hot, sweet coffee and Australian licorice - even though I am trying to avoid too much sugar.
It can be bourbon and ginger ale or rum and coke - even though I am trying to drink more water.
It can be binge watching Law and Order - even though I have dozens of books to read.
It can be spending extra time in bed - even though I would normally hop out of bed to get ready for heading off to work.

I am in the process of adding to my list of what nourishes me - and I am doing those things. I feel better for having begun the list. Seeing all the things that make me feel calm and peaceful, happy and contented all on the same page, on the same list, just doing that has brought a smile to face. And doing the things, it feels fantastic.

So let me ask you to do the same - make a list of what nourishes you, calms you, settles you.
Make a list of the people you can call or text or video chat with.
Do some internet research on how to use the ingredients you already have to make new dishes.
Go to Pinterest and find recipes for how to make toilet paper (only kidding!)

Make a list of the things. And then do the things.

And let it be.

One thing that is on my list of nourishing activities is reading the Bible.
Here's a familiar verse that is keeping me upright and strong these days.
Psalm 23:4 - Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil for you 
(Holy God of Life, Healing, and Hope - this insertion is mine)
are with me.

Not alone. Not even in the valley.
Never alone.
Even now, as I am learning to let it be.
Perhaps especially now.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

A sermon - Are you talking to me?

Last Sunday, I had the honor of preaching from John 4, the story of the woman at the well.

The first four minutes of the video are the reading of the scripture by three folks from the church. Then I get started.

It's mind-boggling that I get to study the Bible, this book I have loved for as long as I can remember, and share what I learn with others. I pray for many more chances to do so.

Thank you, Caldwell.
Thanks be to God.

Monday, November 25, 2019

It's not that I'm not writing at all...

It's not that.

I write in my journal every day.
Actually I'm keeping four journals these days - so I'm journaling a whole lot.

I write papers for school.

I write old fashioned snail mail notes and put them in the mailbox outside the church, with my fingers crossed, hoping they will reach their intended destination.

I write sermons for church.
I write prayers and liturgy for church as well.
I even write posts for the church blog.
I write there about life and death, about community and parades, and about gratitude and hope.
Hope is an unrelenting theme for me, especially in these past few weeks and months. There are too many stories of despair, loss, suicide, sorrow, and suffering to bear. My mind and my heart cling to hope. Let there be hope; no matter what, let there be hope.

So it's not that I'm not writing.
It's just that I haven't been writing here.

I confess that most evenings, I am exhausted.
My brain is tired, and so are my fingers.
The story of my life journey, adventures I've taken of late, inner and outer adventures remain on the pages of my journals, and never migrate here to the blog.

Some of you have reached out to ask if I'm okay,
if my family is okay,
if all is well.

I am doing better than okay.
I am less than six months away from graduating from seminary.
It's hard to believe that I've been in seminary for almost five years.
I have passed the five ordination exams that are required by the denomination.
So the hardest part of this process is behind me.
Thanks be to God.

I have fallen deeper in love with my life than I had been for a long time.
Friendships are more precious - to sit and talk over a cup of tea, to talk on the phone with a beloved one who lives half a country away, to message through WhatsApp with friends who live oceans and continents away, to do a journal exchange with another creative soul sister - truly priceless.

Steve and I went away for a few days to Hilton Head in early October.
Just the two of us.
Bike rides. Staring at the water.
Reading. Conversation. Sunshine.

Getting caught in the rain - having to ride our bikes back to our condo in a downpour.
On two consecutive days.
It was glorious.

I've been up in the mountains as well. Three times this past summer.
I met Valarie Kaur in August. She is beyond inspirational. Beyond!
And I'll head back up there three times in the new year - to speak, lead, teach, and participate at various conferences and seminars.

Life is pretty good.
And it also sucks sometimes.
Illness struck our family again.
Hospitalization. Twice.
Finding new doctors and specialists.
We are on the way to recovery and stability, but it's hard.
So very hard.
Our hearts break over and over.
Our stamina is tested.
Our hope is strained.
I cry myself to sleep.
I cry out and plead for mercy.
This life thing... it is no joke.

But still. But still.
There is so much to be grateful for.

I have learned and grown.
I have yearned and groaned.
I have laughed out loud and cursed under my breath.
All the feels.
All the things.

And as Dr Angelou write years ago - and still I rise.
With hope and strength.
Never giving up or giving in.
Nevertheless we persist.
I persist.
Hope persists.
I simply don't have a choice.
And if there is a choice other than holding on to hope for dear life, I don't even want to know what it is.

Tell me - what do you cling to these days?
What are you holding on to for dear life?
What joyful, life-affirming choices are you making over and over?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Thankful Thursday

It has been far, far, far too long since I've come to this page. Honestly, when I decided to blog tonight, even my computer had forgotten how to navigate to this page. When your browser forgets your blog address, it has been far too long.

These past three months have been ridiculous.
Ridiculously busy.
Ridiculously full.
Ridiculously demanding.

Seminary study.
An internship at a senior living community.
Work at church.
I preached at a "city wide" sunrise Easter service.

I took three ordination exams - each of which took nine hours to complete.
I was the speaker at a women's retreat.
Papers to write.
Sermons to preach.
Meetings to attend.
Class discussions to lead.

A member of my family spent two weeks in the hospital.
Our dog almost died - we still don't know what was making her so sick.
A former neighbor was involved in an extremely serious car accident. He is only 23 years old, but as a result of the accident, he suffered a stroke.
One of my dearest friends lost her son in a tragic drowning incident. He was 13 years old.

Did I mention that these past few months have been ridiculous?
These past four months have been the most challenging four months I have faced since I dealt with kanswer back in 2012 and 2013.

And I haven't even touched on all the mass shootings, flooding, tornadoes, the ongoing immigration crisis in this country, and unprecedented debacles related to international un-diplomacy.

But still.
But still.

There have been hawks and owls and hummingbirds and cardinals hovering near.
Irises bloomed in purple splendor on our front lawn.

I passed all three ordination exams. Four down - one to go!
The busiest term of my seminary career will be over in six days.

Our son graduated from college and was named an All-American tennis player in Division 2.
He is now in Europe on his post-graduation grand tour - having the time of his life.

My friendship with the friend whose son died has deepened even as our tears have flowed.
Three friends and I celebrated the twenty year anniversary of our writing group - four women who met at a continuing education course at a community college in Norwalk, Connecticut.

The sweet little dog is fine.
My loved one is doing much better.
Wholeness and healing actually are possible -
even in the face of what seemed like insurmountable odds a few short weeks ago.

My journal pages overflow with gratitude lists, prayers offered and answered, along with sermon ideas, question-provoking quotes, and email excerpts that remind me that there is reason for hope, joy, and gratitude - even in the face of what has sometimes seemed like insurmountable odds.

Earlier today, I heard someone ask if talking about oneself and focusing on gratitude isn't somewhat self-indulgent, selfish even. I suppose there may be some truth to that - especially if "talking about myself" becomes the center of all my conversations and "focusing on gratitude" becomes an opportunity for me to list all the great new stuff I have acquired. 

But if focusing on gratitude opens space for us to notice the small things - the wagging tail of the dog, the smile on the neighbor's face as he watches his toddler attempt those first steps, and the glow of fireflies in the last spring darkness - then what we may find, what I have found is that none of "the small things" is small. 

The boundless love of a dog is not a small thing. 
The freedom and joy experienced by a child learning to walk is not a small thing. 
The bounty in the supermarket produce department. 
The flow of water from the bathroom faucet. 
The buzzing sound of the hard drive as it backs up my computer. 
The beep of my cell phone when my good friend texts me every night before we both go to sleep.
These are not small things. 
This is the stuff of wonder, of love, of joy, and of hope. 
And I am enormously grateful.

On this last Thursday of spring, I am grateful for ceiling fans, air conditioning in my car, and sunglasses.

I am grateful for ice cubes, lemon slices, and bubbly water.
I am grateful for clementines, watermelon, and Trader Joe's sea salt and black pepper potato chips.
I am grateful for morning walks with my husband, followed by a cup of coffee with him.

I am grateful to be six years kanswer-free.
I am grateful for friendships that cross miles and time zones.
I am grateful for "the wonder of life and the mystery of love."

And tonight, right now, I am grateful that I figured out how to remind my computer that I used to keep a blog. I hope it won't be so hard to find my way back here next time. More than that, I hope my life will never again be so ridiculous - so ridiculously busy, ridiculously full, and ridiculously demanding - that I am compelled to wait four months between blog posts.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Thankful Thursday - Time to Make the Donuts

I am taking a course in seminary this semester called, "Ecology and Worship." We are considering questions related to creation care and the church. Does the church have anything to say about the planet on which we live and the earth that we have done so much damage to? What can we do as the church to acknowledge, own our responsibility, and heal the wounds we have inflicted on our earthly home, this third rock from the sun? What is mine to do?

One of the requirements of the class is to undertake a creation care project. Something tangible that we do every week. We are to document our project with photographs, describe our weekly work, and write a prayer each week - all of which is shared with the class. 

I have chosen picking up garbage in the area surrounding Caldwell as my creation care project. Each time that I head bout to pick up trash, I start on the campus of the church itself. Food wrappers, bottle caps, and cigarette boxes are the things I find most frequently. But last week, I found a pair of sneakers tossed onto the side lawn of the church. I gathered them up and put them next to the curb in case someone came back for them. 

One week I found 75 pennies under some leaves and a candy wrapper. I know there were 75 because I picked them up, cleaned them off, counted them, and put them into the church offering plate that week. 

I have found items of clothing, a broken doll, a small pink lock in the shape of a heart, a magnifying glass, and lots of other interesting and unexpected things. 

There have also been broken things. Empty things. Abandoned things. Like beer bottles and soda cans. Straws - so many straws. Cigarette butts. 

We leave a lot of garbage behind, people. Tons of it. 

During the first weeks of this practice, I spent a lot of my time out there angry. I was angry about how much trash there is on the streets of this city I live in. Angry about the wasted opportunities to recycle bottles and cans a paper. Angry that people didn't have enough mental and intellectual bandwidth to take their trash home with them and dispose of it properly. 

But then as a class we began to think and talk about people who are homeless. Living in public parks. In parking lots. Under trees. In places where there are no garbage containers. At moments in their lives when they are hoping to make it through the night alive, they are not likely to be worried about the trash they leave behind when they wake up and have to move along in the morning. As a class, we are increasingly aware of the fact that there aren't enough garbage containers or recycling bins in public places. We talk about single use plastics. We talk about plastic bags - they are everywhere. Blown up into trees high above our homes and our streets. They are in gutters. In bushes. In sewer grates. My professor commented that we are choking ourselves and our planet with plastic bags.

My anger morphed into sadness. I simply cannot unsee all the trash that is all around me. When I drive back and forth to work, there is one stretch of Providence Road that is so littered that I have begun to look around for a place where I can park my car one day and try to pick up a bag or two of garbage. It's awful. Yesterday, my husband and I drove just to a college two hours away to watch our son play tennis. As we sped down the highways and wound down the two lane roads, I was dumbstruck by the enormity of our litter problem. The grassy median was horrendous. The roadside shoulders were horrific. I had to force myself to look away or I would have wept. I am brokenhearted about the ways in which we are killing our planet and ourselves with all our stuff and our unwillingness to take proper care of this world in which we live. 

Along with the anger and the sadness, I have felt a certain amount of hopelessness too. How on earth can we pick it all up? There are only eight of us in the class. And only half of us are picking up garbage as our creation care project. Three students are creating or revitalizing gardens. Our professor is clearing an overgrown area where he lives. "But if there is no way that we can fix it all or clean it all or clear it all or grow enough food for everyone," I have wondered in my journal, "what's the use? Woe is me. Woe is us." As it turns out, my journal pages are covered with thoughts and questions, commentary and complaints right alongside the reports of answered prayer and joyful praise. 

In response to one of the rants I shared in our online classroom space, my professor wrote this: "Lots of people (perhaps most) labor in menial, repetitive jobs day after day.  A baker wakes up at 2 every morning to go make the dough and bake the bread for the store - day after day after day.  There is no expectation that this task will end.  One of the things that I have been considering when I get discouraged by picking up other people's trash is why I think that my life should be different.  Why am I driven by accomplishment or completion?  Why do I think that I should have an ending for my work?"

That comment hit me right between the eyes. 
Who am I to think that I can solve the trash problem in the neighborhood around my church?
How much power do I think I have? Me? Alone? All by my lonesome?
Why is it not enough for me to put on my rubber gloves, grab my garbage bags, and head out - joining the many thousands, perhaps millions, who have been involved in the work of creation care for decades, for centuries?
I'm one of the new members of this earth care team. How can I possibly think I am or I have the answer everyone has been waiting for?

My professor's comment about the baker took me back to that old Dunkin Donuts television commercial - "time to make the donuts." Day in and day out. Day and night. Making donuts. People buy them and eat them. People come back and buy more and eat more. He may have been tired, hot, cold, or wet, but he kept making the donuts. No end in sight.

For some, baking is their calling.
For others, it is teaching.
For still others, the call is nursing.
Day after day. Day and night. Doing the work. No end in sing.

It feels strange to put this in writing, but I think I have experienced something of a call to pick up garbage. I go out two or three times each week and fill bags with things that others have thrown away. I have discovered that my anger, sadness, and hopelessness related to the enormity of the task are being combined with gratitude these days.

I am grateful for this class and the fantastic professor who teaches it.
I am thankful for my classmates and their ability to listen to me complain about the sense of futility I have sometimes felt.
I am thankful for the chance to do something meaningful every week, even a small thing.
I am thankful for the garbage trucks that pick up the bags I have filled during these past seven weeks - not only for this class project, but also from my home.
I am thankful for the therapeutic work of what I now refer to as "street therapy."
And I am grateful for all the stories that have arisen in my mind and soul since beginning this class, some of which I hope and plan to share here.

There is a lot of trash out there, my friends.
But there are also a lot of treasures too.
The most priceless of which is Planet Earth itself.
Thanks be to God for this marvelous, mysterious, and messy earth, the sacred and beautiful mother of us all.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A letter to an old friend on the occasion of his birthday

In my lifetime, I have written at least two letters to Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
The first was when I was in high school.
The second when I returned to the same school as a teacher.
I believe I wrote a third one when I was invited to return to my high school alma mater to give a speech for alumni, but I can't prove that. I know I was invited to speak to alumni, but I can't remember if I wrote a third letter to Dr King or only referred to the first two.
In any case, I wrote another letter to the good doctor today. From my office at church.

Dear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
My name is Gail. You probably don’t recall, but I wrote to you many years ago when I was a high school student in Brooklyn, NY.
I told you some of my story, about how I ended up graduating from that predominantly white private school. I shared with you the ways in which your dream, the dream that “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers,” had come true in my own life and in the life of that school. After being there for six years, from seventh grade until twelfth grade, I was the first black girl to graduate from that school.
A few years have passed since then, Dr. King. Today I write to you from the offices of Caldwell Presbyterian Church, a congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina, that sits just outside of center city. As you recall, back in 1960, black college students, joined by others in the community, staged sit-ins at various stores and restaurants here to protest against racial segregation. Stores were soon integrated, as were schools and other establishments. In fact, it was a member of this church, a restaurateur, who proposed how Charlotte would integrate its restaurants, though, admittedly, his interests were as much commercial as they were civic.
I wish I could tell you that Charlotte has only progressed from there. But the truth is that there is deep division in our city and our nation. Our school system is in need of restructuring. The fault lines around race, socio-economic status, and immigration are deep here. There are acts of injustice and violence almost daily here and across this country.
But, as I said, I write to you today from Caldwell, a community of faith that works every day to bring life to your dream. We walk together, work together, and worship together as people of many colors, many nations, many languages, many gender expressions and many religious backgrounds. We long to open our doors even wider to welcome all of the people of God – because all people are God’s people.
We laugh together. We cry together. We sing together. We fight for others, together, too. We walk in unity most of the time, and we have had times of strong disagreement. But we keep coming back. We come back together to forgive one another and start again. We come back together to pray and worship, to serve and love one another. I thank God for these folks and for bringing us together here.
Back when I was in high school, Dr. King, your dream of true community opened my eyes and my heart to the work of faith, love, racial justice, and equality. That dream is alive and well here at Caldwell. Let me rephrase that – the dream that our Triune God laid on your heart back in the 1950s and 1960s is alive and well here at Caldwell. In fact, God’s dream of freedom, peace, love, and community for all people everywhere existed before the foundation of the world. It is my honor, my privilege, and my joy to be here with these beautiful children of God, working, praying, marching, serving, and dreaming our own dreams of beloved community.
Thank you for the life you lived, the work you did, the example you set, and the hope you planted when you were here among us. Thank you for the words that you left us to read and ponder. Thank you for the work you left us to do. May we continue to honor your legacy here and live into your dream at Caldwell. More than that, may we continue to honor and serve the One in whose name you lived and for whose sake you died, Jesus, our Crucified and Risen Lord.
Your sister in Christ, Gail Henderson-Belsito

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My Christmas Angel

Last Friday was my birthday. December 14th - all day long. I actually try to celebrate all month-long, but on the day, on my special day, I give thanks for this life I get to live. I look back at the year gone by and look ahead to the year yet to come.

This has been a momentous year for me - especially these past six months.
Why? So glad you asked.
Because I have a job, my friends. A real job. A full time job. And I love my job.
As I drive to work every morning, at some point along the way, I say some version of this statement, "Thank you, Jesus."
I cannot believe that I get paid to visit people who are sick and grieving and in need.
I cannot believe that I paid to sit with them and talk to them and pray with them.
I cannot believe that I get paid to write people notes and cards.
I cannot believe that I get paid to preach the Word of God and encourage the people of this community of faith to hang onto hope, to hang onto each other, and to hang onto the One whose birth we will celebrate in just a few days.
My husband tells me that I shouldn't say that out loud too often,
so I will keep it to myself - and share it with you all.
I love my job.
A couple of months ago, a dear friend of mine said, "I can't believe you tricked them into paying you to just be yourself." She's right. What an amazing gig. I'm so glad I get to live it. I love my Caldwell peeps. Big time.

Anyway, last Friday, my daughter and I went to the mall on my birthday. I had a gift card burning a hole in my wallet and since it was my birthday, why not go spend it? I ended up buying a lot of pairs of socks. I needed socks. I have a lot of athletic socks for walking. I have a lot of those very small socks that I wear with my Converses. I have three pairs of super thick socks for the few days a year when it's cold enough for thick socks here in Charlotte. But I could find only one pair of knee high socks that would work with a skirt and boots for work. Only one. How can this be? So I used my gift card to stock up on socks for work - because I have a job, a job I absolutely love.

After I paid for my socks, I reached out to my son and invited him to join us at the mall so we could get a cup of Starbucks together, all three of us - me and my two beloved children, in whom I am well pleased. So Kristiana and I found seats near the fountain in the center of the mall and did one of our favorite things - we people watched. Oh, the outfits. The gaggles of kids. The women with several large bags from several stores. The man with the enormous Louis Vuitton shopping bag - almost the size of a garment bag. What on earth had he just spent a fortune on??? She and I sat there waiting and watching. Watching and waiting. Finally, my sweet boy arrived. Together we walked to Starbucks, just a few storefronts from where we had been sitting.

Apparently, we weren't the only people with the idea of giving our money to Starbucks; the line was long. The young woman in line ahead of us gave up hope and left the line a couple of moments after we arrived. I turned to my kids and said, "That's the kind of attrition I like. I think we should start coughing on the other people in line." We didn't do that, of course. The good news is that the line moved faster than we expected, and within ten minutes we were seated on stools, staring out at the people walking past and talking about this year and years gone by.

I like birthdays and anniversaries of special days. I remember days and dates of memorable life events pretty well. This year on Tuesday, November 6th, I recognized the six year anniversary of my kanswer diagnosis. It was Tuesday, November 6th, 2012, the day of the second election of President Barack Obama, when I got the worst news of my life: breast kanswer. It was Monday, November 26, 2012, the Monday after Thanksgiving, when I had my first chemotherapy treatment.

On Friday, December 14, 2012, nearly three weeks after my first chemo treatment, my children and I were sitting in a Starbucks having a drink, celebrating my birthday when my dear friend, Karen, called me from Sandy Hook, CT, and asked me to pray because she had heard that there was a school shooting there in her hometown. Little did any of us know the scope of the tragedy that was taking place less than a mile and a half from her house. 

Last Friday, I reminded my children of the sorrow of that day. My prayers continue for those affected by that terrible act of cowardice and violence. I continue to be disgusted that our national leaders still haven't made significant changes to our gun laws. Shame on them. Truly.

Anyway, last Friday, we sat there and talked. We laughed. We shook our heads at some of the outfits and hairdos that we spied from our high stools at Starbucks.

Then I thought, "Let me pull out my phone and see if I've gotten any emails or texts that I need to respond to.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I carry a big bag. All the time.
I like big bags and I cannot lie.

So I dug through my big bag and couldn't find my phone.
I dug through the bag of socks I had just just bought and couldn't find my phone.
Uh oh.
I dug through both bags again.
I asked Daniel to call my cell phone.
He did.


Daniel said, "Who is this?... What?...That's my mom's phone... Where are you?... What?... Okay, thanks."

Someone had found my phone and was sitting where we had been sitting before we walked to Starbucks.

I jumped off my stool and sprinted back to our previous resting place.
My phone was on the arm of the chair where a man who appeared to be Middle Eastern sat.

I grabbed my phone, hugged it to my chest, and thanked him profusely for holding onto it.
He said, "No problem."
His accent confirmed my suspicion that he was from somewhere far from North Carolina.
He went on, "I was ready to leave the mall, but I didn't want to leave your phone here."

Counting back to when I had gotten up from my seat,
I realized that we had been in Starbucks for at least 40 minutes,
and the entire time I was oblivious to the fact that someone who wanted to be on his way,
someone who had his own life to live and his own stories to tell, was sitting there,
patiently and protectively guarding my phone.
I wanted to hug him, but I also know that in many cultures,
it is not proper for men and women who are not related to touch one another.
So I refrained from touching him, but I thanked him verbally several times.
Each time I thanked him, he said, "No problem."

As I walked back to Starbucks, all I could think was, "He was my Christmas Angel."

Thank you, my angel. And thanks be to God.

Friday, November 02, 2018

"They have welcomed me into their story"

My family and I moved to Charlotte more than fifteen years ago.  The city has changed a lot since then. New houses and condos and shopping plazas have sprung up all over town. There is great wealth here and opportunity for young professionals and trees, so many trees.

It wasn't too long ago when that depiction of Charlotte, the one that included opportunity and wealth and growth, was how I would describe this city to those who didn't know it. It wasn't too long ago when I began to realize just how wrong my perception was. I realized that I didn't know my own city. Charlotte is a busted city. Split. Segregated in profound and long-standing ways. The lines that divide us are deep and difficult to transverse. The mistrust and fear, the exclusion and division are real.

There have been a lot of conversations, forums, investigations, studies, and reports about the problems in Charlotte. Many of those exchanges end with photo ops and hearty handshakes, but we all drive back to our own neighborhoods, and not much really changes.

The good news is that there is movement. There are many who are working hard to shift the balance of power here. There are thought leaders and community leaders who are working to change the narrative.

And there are also people who, although they want to see wholesale change in the systems and institutions that govern our city, aren't waiting for those wholesale changes to happen before they invest themselves in the lives and communities of the people who haven't benefited from the growth and opportunity that some of us take for granted.

Greg and Helms Jarrell are two of those people. They live in an area of Charlotte called Enderly Park, which is just a few blocks from "uptown," the part of Center City with all the bank headquarters, upscale hotels, and Charlotte's theater scene. For too many of the people who live in Enderly Park, the wealth that is concentrated in Charlotte's handful of skyscrapers is completely inaccessible.

Greg has written a book about their life in Enderly Park. It is called A Riff of Love.

Greg is a professional saxophone player - gifted in jazz and gospel, among other styles of music. In his book, Greg uses the language of music, of jazz, of improvisation, of church hymns, and of the blues to tell the story of his family's life in Enderly Park.

It would be easy to assume that their story is one of "white family moves into black neighborhood and saves the poor people in need." But that is not what this is. That's not who they are. That's not how they see themselves, and that is certainly not how they see their neighbors.

There is genuine love in their community - and in this book. There is laughter. There is loss. There is mourning. There are relationships that build up over time and relationships that end with death. There are parties and funerals. There are trips and so many meals around so many tables. There are problems, and there are searches for solutions.

Greg is a not only a gifted musician, but he is also a gifted writer. He gathers lyrics from old church hymns, stories of John Coltrane and Count Basie, theology, Bible verses written by the Apostle Paul, and an analogy about broken windows and unstable building foundations - and weaves it all together into a hope-building, heart-breaking, courage-inducing book.

He knows who he is. He knows what he believes. He realizes that he can't learn enough history or visit enough museums or be able to quote "enough pages in Dr. King's books to make me any less white." In one chapter, Greg relates the tragic death of one of the young men he and his family had gotten to know and had come to love. The way that Greg connected the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, the Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights movement, a John Coltrane song called, "Alabama," and Enderly Park's public expression of grief after Khalil's death is poignant, but not morbid. His eye for detail, his ear for harmony, his willingness to linger on both the sharp notes and the flat notes all give this book the heft and forcefulness that his stories and his neighbors deserve.

Greg riffs on his love for his community on every page of this memoir.
It's lyrical and it's blue. It's sorrowful and it's hopeful.

Here is one of my favorite paragraphs in the book:

"The ground on which we stood the night of that vigil is holy ground. The blood of a beloved and the tears of many loved ones sanctified it. That holy ground holds stories that have as their primary characters creative people who have built a place of thriving in the midst of struggle and heartbreak. They have welcomed me into their story. The meaning and the best use of that ground began to come into question in the days that followed. In the midst of that struggle, and every other one, there stands an old willow oak tree, rooted in earth, reaching towards heaven."

Get it. Read it.

And check out what Greg and Helms are doing here.