Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Sugar and Ashes

Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday coincide today. 

For me that has meant sugar in my mouth from the frosting on the lemon pound cake made by a dear friend - thanks, Yolanda. Sugar to remind me that there is still sweetness in the world - even though there are ashes in the air, ashes in my eyes, ashes all around me. All around us.

For me that has meant ashes on my forehead. Ashes I applied myself because I didn't go to church today. I haven't gone to church in a couple of weeks. I no longer serve as a full-time pastor - at least not at the present. 

Sugar from 37 years of life and love with my dearly beloved husband, Steve.
Sugar from 6 years of memories for our eldest child, memories of loving and being loved so well, six months after the sudden death of her beloved partner, Chris.
Sugar from watching our youngest child make a life with his beloved partner, Tarryn. 

Ashes from bombs dropping.
Ashes from buildings burning.
Ashes from dreams and lives and entire cities gone up in smoke.

Sugar and ashes coincide today as Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday are one and the same today. But the truth is that sugar and ashes are our lot every day. Sugar and ashes are our food every day.

Because every single day, celebrations and parades are cut through with fist fights and gunfire.
Every single day, babies are born and grave diagnoses are given.
Every single day, new businesses open for the first time and old ones shutter their gates for the last time. 
Every single day, some partners get engaged while others separate and file for divorce.
Every single day, some words are spoken tenderly and others are spoken passive aggressively. 
Every single day, mean-spirited politicians spew rhetoric about the danger of immigrants at the same time that schools and libraries and playgrounds echo with the sounds of curious children speaking in many languages and their hard-working caregivers provide the aforementioned politicians with delicious food and clean homes and new roofs and manicured lawns and secret lovers. (Don't get me started on politicians and their smarmy, hate-filled, violence-inducing rhetoric. Deep sigh...)
Every single day, those "dangerous immigrants," serve as doctors and lawyers and bankers and teachers and interpreters and nurses and take care of their own children and their own neighbors - just like the rest of us. Because ultimately, there is no "them" and "us" - there is only us. We are all there is; all there is, is us.

Sugar and ashes.
The combination makes for a discerning palate.

The bitterness of unnecessarily sharp words spoken in a condescending tone of voice sounds nothing like the sweet sounds of laughter in the company of true friends.

The burning sting of tears in my eyes after seeing 36 Seconds: Portrait of a Hate Crime will soon be offset by the soothing tears of joy that flow after laying eyes on the faces of the members of my Hallmark Movie Club. 

The acrid taste of ashes in my mouth as I imagine the plight of grieving parents in the Gaza Strip is temporarily soothed by the sweet smell of the six month old grandson of the first woman who made me feel at home here in Charlotte more than twenty years ago. My friend transitioned to her next life more than ten years ago, but her daughter continues to shine the bright light of love and joy that my friend exuded so long ago. And that sweet, squirming little baby boy that I held in my arms a few days ago, he is the embodiment of joy.

Sugar and ashes.
Five years and seven months of service at a church I loved.
Sermons preached and lessons learned.
Sweet relationships and salty ones too.
Tenderness and tears.
Goodness and goodbyes.

I will take time now to rest, recover, heal, and be whole again.
I will take time now to sort through the ashes and savor the sugar.

Sugar and ashes.
Love and mortality.
These are two of the most abundant elements of life's volatile and beautiful, tear-soaked and love-fueled, bitter and sweet experiment. 

Dear reader, may your sugar outweigh your ashes today and every day.
May your ashes cause you to savor your sugar all the more, friends.
All the more. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

"Nevertheless, Hope."

So I did a thing at the end of April, friends. 

I gave a talk about hope. Turns out "hope is my thing." (More on that in a future blog post.)

I didn't talk about fluffy, lightweight, inconsequential, flaccid hope - that begins and ends at "wish-casting."

I talked about muscular, hard-won, long-standing hope. The kind that gets the wind knocked out of it, but gets up and keeps walking. The kind that looks and feels foolish, but proves itself sound and strong. 

I could write more about the talk. Or you can just watch the talk. 

I hope you'll watch the talk. I hope you'll let me know what you think. 

Grab some popcorn, something to sip, and perhaps a few tissues. 

Here you have it - "Nevertheless, HOPE."

I am profoundly grateful to Knox Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, for inviting me to give the talk. What a wonderfully generous and hospitable group of folks there. If you live in that area, I highly recommend that you go check them out. 

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

It's Never Too Late to Say "Thank You"

Last week, my mother underwent outpatient surgery related to her glaucoma. She needed to be there at 6:45 am, which meant I need to pick her up at 6:15 am and drive her to the hospital. When we arrived, we were informed that her procedure was scheduled for 9:45 am. 

Mind you, it had not been "rescheduled" for that later time - that was the medical team's planned time for the surgery from the beginning. 

I wanted to scream -    WHY ON EARTH DID YOU TELL HER SHE HAD TO BE HERE TWO AND A HALF HOURS EARLY??? But I didn't. Because I'm a Black woman in the United States of America. I have no doubt that I would have been arrested and held without bail for asking a perfectly reasonable question in a perfectly understandable state of sheer exhaustion after waking up far too early!

Anyway, after waiting an inordinately extensive period of time in the regulay waiting area - cuz, you know, we were there WAY too early - I was informed that I could join my mother in the surgical pre-op waiting area. When I arrived at her little curtained space, the waiting continued. 

Tick, tock. Tick, tock. There we sat.

Actually, I was sitting up. She was reclining comfortably on the gurney in her fancy surgical attire under what appeared to be a piece of aluminum foil that had fleece on the underside. Surgical garb, rather pre-surgical garb, at Novant Presbyterian Hospital's outpatient surgery center has changed a lot in the past 10 years. 

I know that because my mother took me to the same outpatient surgery center in November of 2012. I waited in that same building, in that same pre-op waiting area, perhaps even in that same little cubicle, for a chemo port to be inserted in the upper right quadrant of my chest. The curtains that separate the cubicles are the same - and I have the photos to prove it - but the patient attire has been upgraded significantly.

Yes, it has been ten years, four months and two days since I received my breast kanswer diagnosis. For those who aren't in a counting mood, that was November 6th, 2012. And thirteen days after that, on November 19th, that chemo port was placed under the skin just under my right collar bone there at Novant. 

The same surgeon who installed that port, Dr. Peter Turk, also performed a double mastectomy on me four months later, on April 19, 2013. And then in December of 2013, at the conclusion of my kanswer healing journey, he removed the port

Those were some of the most demanding, painful, unsettling, soulful, courageous, curious, empowering months of my life. 

Everything in my life changed. 
The way I ate and drank.
The way I dressed.
The way I wore my hair.
The way I prayed.
The way I journaled.
The way I traveled.
The way I prioritized and cared for myself.
The way I connected - or didn't connect - with people in my blood family and my chosen family. 
The way I appreciated the gift, the brevity, the joy, the pleasure, and the fragility of life itself. 
Everything changed. 

Even my gratitude practice changed. And I've always been a grateful person. 
In my estimation, life is a miracle, a series of miracles every day.
Driving back and forth to work, to the supermarket, to my mother's house, to the airport, to the bookstore - every single trip is a miracle. 
The way my car functions. 
The fact that there is gas at gas stations. 
That I leave here and return home without incident or accident. 
That I am able to buy the things we need and many of the things we want. 
That there is air to breathe and water to drink and bathe in and cook with and wash our clothes in. 
That there are friends to talk to and complain to and laugh with. 
That there is a church to attend and work at and serve and pray for and pray with. 
It's all miraculous to me. 
And I am grateful for the wonder of life every day. 

But kanswer increased my gratitude. 

I even managed to be grateful that I got my period on the morning that I received that dreadful diagnosis. (Please forgive the limited terminology for the people who get their period in that piece. At the time, my understanding was limited to the notion that only "ladies/women" got their periods...) 

I have been so staunchly committed to the attitude of gratitude that I taught my children the American sign language sign for "thank you" so that I could signal them to thank people. I didn't want to have to speak aloud the prompt, "Say thank you, Kristiana" or "Say thank you, Daniel." So I learned the sign and taught it to them so that I could prompt them silently. It worked! They practice gratitude regularly now - without me having to remind them with my words or with my hand. 

Anyway, there I was with my mother in the pre-op waiting area, the same one that I had occupied more than ten years earlier - only I had been in the bed that day so long ago and she had been the one sitting in the chair next to the bed. 

While I was waiting there last week, I confess that I was losing patience. I confess that I was not grateful for what felt like a whole lot of wasted time in a windowless medical facility while Covid is still very much a thing. 

Truth be told, I was grateful that I was wearing a mask that day - for many reasons - but mostly because I didn't want the scowl on my face to be visible to all the medical staff and personnel scurrying back and forth in scrubs and surgical slippers and masks. 

I was thinking, "Come ON!!! When is somebody gonna come for my mother and get this thing underway?"

Then I heard someone say, "Dr. Turk? Dr. Turk, can I ask you something?"

He paused his lengthy strides, rotated in the direction of the person who had called his name, and engaged in a brief exchange with her. 

By the time he turned to walk away, I was already out of my seat and standing within arm's distance of him.

"Dr. Turk, I know you've performed thousands of surgeries and you probably don't remember me, but you performed a double mastectomy without reconstruction on me ten years ago. I've been breast-free and kanswer-free ever since. And I just wanted to thank you for that."

I couldn't see his mouth because he was wearing a mask, but I could tell he was smiling. 
I couldn't see the mouths of anyone else in the vicinity, but I heard a lot of people saying, "Awwww."

He responded, "Tell me your name."
I told him. 
He said, "I do remember you. That's such good news. Thank you for stopping me. Thank you."
And then he extended his arms and enveloped me in a warm hug. 
The chorus of "Awwwwww" around us swelled.

I have no idea if he actually remembered me or if he was just being his usual kind and polite self.

Back in November of 2012, before my first consultation with him, I waited calmly and anxiously (yes, I felt both of those things that eerie day) in an exam room at his surgical practice, and when he entered the room, his first words to me were, "I'm sorry you're here." 
In the presence of his kindness and his politeness, my shoulders fell and I exhaled. 
I responded, "That makes two of us." 

But even if he was just being kind and polite out of habit last week, why question or quibble with such an endearing habit - when, as a surgeon, he could simply be cocky and ego-driven? Why question his kindness and his politeness? Why not receive that as the gift it was?

Besides perhaps he did remember me. After all, I cannot imagine that he has had too many Black breast kanswer patients who, when offered the opportunity to have a lumpectomy on one breast, declare in their initial consultation that, if insurance would cover a double mastectomy without reconstruction, that's what they would prefer. 

It doesn't matter if he remembered me. I remember him. He was part of the team of people that got that kanswer out of my body and made it possible for me to be who I am and where I am right here, right now.  

In hindsight, I am grateful for all that "wasted time" before my mother's surgery last week. Turns out that time wasn't wasted at all. I needed to be right there when Dr. Turk walked past. I needed to hear someone call out his name just as he passed where I was waiting with my mother. I needed to, once again, come face-to-face, mask-to-mask really, with the kindness, gentleness, and politeness of the man whose surgical skill preserved my life.

I am endlessly grateful to Dr. Turk.
I am eternally grateful for Dr. Turk.

I am grateful that he was there in that same building in that same space ten years and three months and some days ago, being called into the operating room to take care of me. 

It's never too late to say thank you.
Make the phone call. 
Send the card or the text or the email.
Say it face-to-face or mask-to-mask.
It's never too late.
Thank you. 

PS. My mother is recovering well from her surgery. I am grateful.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

So there I was, adding dirt to a potted plant in our bathroom...

Let me set the scene. 

Earlier this evening, I was minding my business, adding potting soil to two potted plants in our bathroom. It's a slow night around here, so Steve was watching. 

Neither of us has any business taking care of potted plants, but last year, we had two major water related disasters in our home - fodder for future blog posts, I think. 

The first major disaster forced us to have the hardwood floors on the whole first floor of our house refinished. 

(Lesson learned: It's a good idea to check the hose that connects your refrigerator to the water supply spigot every once in a while. Those hoses can wear down and water leaks can happen. And if you don't move your refrigerator often, those leaks can go undetected for extended periods of time...)

Thanks be to God for homeowners insurance. We paid our $1,000 deductible and had $16,000 worth of repair work done. That work included packing up everything on the first floor - the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the family room, the laundry room, the pantry, two closets, the furniture, the lamps, every appliance that wasn't "built in" - and moving it all. Everything ended up either up on the second floor of our house or in a pod out on our driveway. And then we had to move out of our house for twelve days so that the floors could be repaired, sanded, stained, and then the furniture could be brought back into the house. 

(Confession: there are some things that have not yet made their way back down to the first floor. I've gotten really good at picking Zoom and Google Meets backgrounds to hide the still-displaced boxes and baskets. Go ahead and judge me if you wish. I can take it.)

The floors look magnificent now. 
But it was a lot of work. 

One of the things that was brought upstairs was Kristiana's indoor plant collection. We put two small tables with six plants on them into our bathtub. Cuz who takes baths anymore? I haven't taken a bath in more than fifteen years.

Let me clarify that - I take showers (fairly) regularly, but baths are not on my dance card. I actually find the entire "bath" thing a little repulsive. 

Again, fodder for another blog...

Anyway, back to tonight's episode of adventures in our neck of the woods. 

We put the plants in our bathroom roughly a year ago - and they are among the things that haven't made it back downstairs yet. As it turns out, the bathroom isn't a bad place for them. It would appear that daily sunlight and water are good for plants. Who knew? 

I am proud to report that three of the six plants have survived an entire year in our care, although one of those three is struggling more than the other two. But I count the presence of any green leaves as a win - and there are at least five green leaves hanging on for dear life. 

While some of you plant lovers are shaking your heads at the dismal failure rate, we are congratulating ourselves on the awesome survival rate. 

The two plants that are clearly still with us have begun to lean precariously in opposite directions due to the weight of the leaves and new growth. So I asked Steve if he could bring some potting soil upstairs for me to add to the pots - with the hope that the additional soil would brace the stalks and keep the plants upright. 

Again, if you are a plant lover and are shaking your head in dismay at my terrible logic, please feel free to share your counsel. We are all ears and brown thumbs. Well, that's not a fair assessment. Nor should I be using that terminology as a criticism. After all, I have brown thumbs even when I'm not killing houseplants. 

So there I was, adding dirt to a potted plant in our bathroom, when I saw something move outside the bathroom window. 


It was watching me put dirt in the plant. Following my every move with its beady eyes.
Like he was watching television - and we were the show.
Curious. Attentive. Unconcerned. Unbothered. Unafraid. 

Steve pulled out his camera and captured a video of the shenanigans. 

Please pardon my colorful language. I was caught off guard BY THE RACCOON ON OUR SECOND FLOOR BATHROOM WINDOW SILL STARING IN AT US!!! 

If you watch closely, you can see it walking back and forth across the window sill just before I open the blinds. It was truly freaky to see. I kept thinking, "What am I seeing right now? Is that really a raccoon outside of our window? Watching US?" The answer was clear: "Yes, Gail, a raccoon is staring into your bathroom window right now!" 

The world is on fire. Life is being pummeled out of innocent young Black men for no good reason. War rages in Ukraine. Immigrants are on the move. Kanswer still sucks. Both my mother and my mother-in-law are recovering from Covid. Because all of that is true, I was planning to write something more serious as a blog post tonight, but that raccoon appeared and blew our minds. So I figured that maybe we all needed a laugh.  

I hope and pray that the only place I see that raccoon is out there on the window sill. Because I sure as hell will NOT be laughing if I see it anywhere inside our house. 

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. 
On the world, on us, and on that raccoon. 

Check out this view of his little furry face. Right there! HE WAS RIGHT THERE!!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

I'm Still Here

 I am still here. I am still alive and well. I have not forgotten about this blog. 

The truth is that I fell into the deep well of perfectionism. I have spent too much time in the past several years thinking some version of: "if I don't have something clear and precise to write, something clever and timely, something that EVERYONE will love, then I shouldn't write anything." So I haven't written anything. 

And also, I've been busy with work and life.
With trips and sermons.
With family and friends.
With caring for my community and self-love.
With one of the best things that has ever happened to me - the Montreat Youth Conference - last summer. 

Yes, I flipped a table during one of my keynote talks at the conference. It felt amazing. And anybody who had nodded off for a moment was suddenly wide awake again.

Life has been good and life has been hard.
It always is. It always has been. 

Covid happened.
Massive social and political unrest in our country happened.

My oldest child works in the Charlotte public library system and is healthy and stable and happy and in love. 

My youngest child graduated from college and earned a Master's degree and is healthy and stable and happy and in love.

I was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church USA.  

At some point, I will stop procrastinating - stop worrying about perfection! - and create a photo album from that amazing day - July 11, 2021.

I fell while running up the stairs in my church in November. Got my foot caught in my clergy robe. I've been doing physical therapy for almost two months. I may never be the same, but I'm still here. 

My husband had a massive heart attack. He's doing well now - but we had a few scary days back in December. He may never be the same, but he's still here.

And ten days after his heart attack, I left for my first trip to Spain in more than four years. 

Below was the view from the balcony of my AirBnB.

I love, love, love the way they decorate the streets of Madrid during the Christmas and Epiphany holiday seasons. 

I am never happier than when I am in Madrid. And that was true again this time. 

I've been busy and cautious and joyful and anxious and happy and the world is on fire - and did I mention that I've been busy? What I now confess is that not one of those things is a valid excuse for paying so little attention to my writing and to this blog. 

As my life coach said to me, "Life is lifing."

I press on. I trust you will too.

I pray for peace, for health, for stamina, and for hope. Always hope. 

A dear friend, a sister to my soul, sent me this quote while I was in Spain - "And all shall be well. All manner of shit shall be well." 

It made me laugh. It made me nod my head. It made me want to come back here - back to the States, back to my home, back to my life, and back to this blog - and live out the truth of that - all of this shit shall be well. Some day. Some way. Somehow. 

I'm still here. Thank you for being here with me. 

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?