Saturday, December 30, 2006

Reporting from Madrid...

Here I am at the home of Leticia and Eduardo and their precious son, Alvaro. I´ve held him and hugged him and fallen madly in love with him. I´ve walked around in the city I love more than any other in the world, visited an art exhibit of Sorolla and Sargent. I´ve done a little shopping. I am happy, very happy.

But I am also sad because directly across from where I stood three days ago waiting for the van to take me to my hotel in the parking lot of Terminal 4 of Madrid Barajas airport, there was a bomb this morning. It destroyed the entire four level parking garage. I stood right there, looking up at the building, watching people go to their cars with loved ones and their suitcases.

One man is missing and assumed to be dead, and a few others were injured. ETA, the terrorist group that has taken responsibility for the bombing, is in the habit of calling the authorities ahead of time to warn them about upcoming events. In this case, they called, but then the bomb exploded before the time they predicted. Incoming flights landed at the other terminals. Passengers already inside were sent out onto the runways to wait for further instructions. Flights are taking off now from that terminal, but it is very difficult for the passengers to get there as the parking deck has collapsed and the roadway in front of it is full of debris.

I stood right there.
Right there.
Admiring the new architecture - the terminal opened less one year ago, certainly less than two years.

I have been praying all day, reminding myself that ¨Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil - for Thou, O Lord my God, art with me.¨ I am not alone. He walks with me, in Charlotte, in Madrid, through airports and museums and shops and wherever else I go.

I pray for the families of the injured and for the family of the man who is presumed to have died there at the airport. I pray for all the passengers who arrived in Madrid and were greeted with this act of terrorism. Especially for those who were coming to Spain for the first time - I hate to think that they may never come to love this country as I have because of this terrible event.

But over and above all that, I continue to pray for peace.

With Saddam´s execution, I expect there will be increased acts of vengeful violence in Iraq - and perhaps even in the United States. I don´t even want to imagine what would happen in our country if our President were condemned to death and hanged within days of his trial.

Lord, have mercy on Iraq, on Spain, on the US, and on the whole world.
Lord, please let there be peace.
Let there be reconciliation and forgiveness.

It would appear that violence does not solve many problems.
I am beginning to believe that it causes more problems than it solves.

Kyrie Eleison.
Lord, have mercy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On the Road Again

In just a couple of hours, I'll say farewell to Steve and the children for ten days. For the first time in many years, I will be spend six nights in a hotel in Madrid before heading north to spend three days in a Jesuit residence.

Why is the hotel thing such a big deal? Because of the blessing of so many friends. For several years, whenever I have gone to Spain, I have stayed with friends. Or we rented an apartment. But things have changed - and it's all good. Leticia and Eduardo now have the baby that have longed for. Leti's mother is staying with them to help with newborn Alvaro. So there's no room in their Inn for moi. Not that I'm complaining. In fact, I am looking forward to lazy mornings, to not worrying about the mess I leave in the bathroom, and to staying up late reading and journaling.

First leg: Charlotte to Miami. Four hour layover. Have no fear: I LOVE AIRPORTS. Even with all the post-9/11 stuff. I am obsessive about arriving early and making sure layovers are long. Who wants to sprint through an airport with stuff in tow?

Second leg: Miami to Madrid. Window seat. Snacks. Protein bars. The only meal I've ever had on a plane that I enjoyed was a kosher meal a few years ago. Delicious, well-prepared food. New and real silverware. (The flight attendant was clearly confused by the black woman with dreadlocs who'd requested the kosher meal. I think I was wearing a cross around my neck at the time. She had reason to be suspicious, but it had my name and my seat number on it.) This time, I forgot to request the kosher meal, so I'll eat my nut mix and power bars, thank you very much.

Next Saturday, January 6th, the return journey will commence.
La Coruna to Madrid, Madrid to Miami, Miami to Charlotte.

I'm glad I love to fly. I have one friend who may never set foot on a plane again. How will you ever see my beloved Madrid, Karen???

I thank the Lord for frequent flier miles: the flights from Madrid to La Coruna and back cost more than the trip from here to Madrid.

If anybody's gonna be in Madrid in the next week, send me an email.

Grace, peace, and mercy be ours, now, in the new year, and always.
Kyrie Eleison.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

My Christmas Wish List

1. I pray for peace on earth, but especially in Darfur and Iraq.

2. I pray for joy to the world, but especially in homes where laughter hasn't been heard in a long time.

3. I hope to have time to sing Christmas carols with Steve and the kids at the piano.

4. I long to listen to the Sarah McLachlan Wintersong CD, the Rob Mathes Christmas CD, and the Newsong Christmas shoes CD with the family while eating cookies and sipping hot cocoa or tea.

5. I hope to receive more photos of friends around their Christmas trees, on vacation, wherever. Lots of friends in lots of photos.

6. I hope and pray that my three brothers, their wives and ex-wives, and my nieces and nephews are safe, healthy, and happy, wherever they may be. Yup, ours is as mixed-up a family as anyone else's.

7. I hope and pray that Jill's Christmas Eve party goes well, that all of her family is able to attend, that her mother won't drive her crazy, and that she gets to actually eat some of the food she prepares.

8. I hope and pray that Virginia receives many gifts that she loves from her husband, children, and children in law.

9. I pray that Alejandra, Karen, Amy, Jean, Katie, Michele, Raquel, Clare, Barbara, Jen, Susie, Pamela, Judy, Moneesha, Leonie, Maya, Nancy (both Nancys), Ana, Estela, Manolo, Itiel, Eduardo, Antonio, Matthew, Daniel, Kristiana, and every one else who has ever read and commented on this blog will feel the great love and gratitude that I have to each of you for your love and support this year. I would LOVE for all of us to get together someday so that you could meet each other.

10. That has been a wish/fantasy of mine for many years: that all the people I love most in the world would meet each other.

11. I hope that everyone everywhere will receive their gifts with joy and gratefulness for having been remembered and loved.

12. I wish for safe travel for everyone driving, flying, riding, and walking to the homes of friends and loved ones during this holiday season.

13. I pray for peace to reign in our hearts, in our homes, in our souls, and in our world.

14. I pray for all those who are not able to celebrate Christmas openly because of political or religious persecution. I pray that they will see The Star and rejoice with exceeding great joy.

15. Finally, I hope, pray, and plan to live under the conviction that nothing we eat in the next 36 to 48 hours will count against us in the great battle of the bulge.

Merry Christmas to all.
And to all a great night.

Hugs and kisses.
Abrazos y besos.
Mille abbraccione.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Scarred Hands

The other night, I approached the counter at a local department store to pay for three pairs of socks. The gentleman who stood behind the cash register was friendly, polite, and more than willing to help me with my questions and with my eventual purchase. The gentleman behind the cash register had severely scarred hands. I guessed that they'd been burned in a fire or explosion of some kind and that he had never undergone plastic surgery to correct the problem.

It was impossible to take my eyes off his hands.
I have since found it impossible to forget the sight of his hands.
For every person, a story.
I wanted and still want to hear his.

As I walked away from the counter, the thought occurred to me: "Go back there, Gail. Take his hands into yours. Touch them tenderly. Tell him that whatever it was, he survived. He is working with his hands, and you are glad to have met him." Even as I think back to that moment, my eyes fill with tears. What pain he must have endured. What shame must overtake him at times when he sees the way that people stare at him and his scarred hands. The very fact that he works almost exclusively with his hands means that he gets many stares. Every day. In every interaction. But there he was, with a smile on his face, scarred hands and all.

In a state of temporary television insanity, Steve and I watched two episodes of "Miami Ink" last night, a show dedicated to documenting the life and times of a group of Miami tattoo artists. Covered nearly from head to toe in tattoos themselves, each of the artists describes and then caters to the whims of clients who enter their establishment and request one tattoo or another. What lives they lead. What stories they tell.

In the two episodes we watched last night, Steve and I witnessed a young man who'd decided to give up high school football to follow his dream of owning his own business and his own home have a lion with eagle's wings and a snake for a tail etched into his massive right shoulder. A young woman whose mother was in alcohol rehab was having a robin tattooed on her side, a robin because that is her mother's name. Her hope was that when her mother saw the tattoo and recognized what her daughter had done on her behalf, she wouldn't choose alcohol over her children. Another young woman, whose face was pierced in various places, whose tongue had been surgically split, whose earlobes were stretched over nearly two-inch circles, who had steel jewelry inserted underneath her skin, was there to have tattoos of cake, cupcakes, candy, and a huge lollipop tattooed on her rib cage. She said that ever since the dark and painful days of her childhood she has wanted to surround herself with things that are bright and colorful and positive. Hence all the colored tattoos, jewelry, clothing, and colorfully tattooed boyfriend.

The most moving of all the stories, however, was told by Gabriel, the man from Mexico with the genetic disorder that causes hair to grow all over his body. All over his body. The only part of his face that was not COVERED with thick black hair was his mouth. His lips were visible, but nothing else was. Not even his eyes. At first, the tattoo artists were obviously repulsed; they could barely look at him. But as he told his story, as he explained why he wanted the symbol for women tattooed on his wrist, each of them, and Steve and I as well, were compelled to see beyond the hair to his heart.

He explained that the genetic disorder is passed from mothers to sons and then from fathers to daughters. Earlier in his life, Gabriel had been married and had had a son; he and his wife were relieved to know that their son would not be affected by the disorder, not would he pass it on to his children. Unfortunately, his wife was unable to accept that stigma and stares that came with being married to him, so he let her go. They were divorced, and he is now alone. Sad story, but what a sacrifice on his part: to let her be free so that she could be happier. In spite of his loneliness, Gabriel loves women, he said, and wants to be surrounded by them all the time.

Each of the people who told their stories and endured the pain that is intrinsic to receiving a tattoo was willingly taking on a permanent mark, a scar if you will, that will forever remind them of a moment, a person, and place, or a sorrow that all the world will see. Scarred backs, rib cages, faces, legs, arms, and scarred hands.

We all have scars. Some are on our hands, the results of burns. Or cutting. Or cigarettes. Or even torture. Some of us have scars on places that are covered with clothing, scars on our legs, backs, and rear ends left over from spankings or beatings. Perhaps our parents meant well - they meant to discipline us. But we are scarred nonetheless. Some of our scars are internal, old wounds that have left us bruised, battered, and always vulnerable to reinjury. The scars from broken hearts. From wounded pride. From words that cut us to the core.

I have several scars on the left side of my neck from a case of shingles that I had as a ninth grader. It was a painful three weeks that fall. The nerve damage from that bout still affects part of the skin on my neck, behind my ear, and up into the hairline on the left side of my head. Whenever possible, I cover my neck in turtlenecks or scarves. I wear my long dreadlocs down over my neck as much as possible. I've had many friends, even close ones, tell me that they never noticed the scars. I'm not sure I believe them. I will say this, whenever anyone has asked me what happened, I have gladly told them my story and have been grateful not only that they noticed the scars, but also that they cared enough to ask.

Here's what I ask myself: knowing how glad I am when others ask about my scars, why am I so reluctant to ask the same questions of the scarred people I meet on my daily rounds? Why am I reluctant to reach out and touch the scars on my fellow war-wounded life travelers? Why didn't I go back and hold that man's hands and tell him that I'm sorry for whatever caused his pain and that I am glad he survived? What am I doing to ensure that I inflict no scars, or at least, the bare minimum number of wounds on my husband and children?

The next time I'm at Macy's, I'm going to look for that man and ask him what happened. It's the least I can do for such a hard-working man with his hard-working, and severely scarred hands.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Gift List...

Don't panic. I'm not asking anyone to buy me anything, but I wouldn't be mad if someone felt an irresistible urge to send me something fabulous. Actually, this is going to be a list of some of the fantastic gifts that friends and family have sent to me for my birthday. More than a list, however, it is a record of the love that has been poured out on me and why each gift was perfect for me.

A white sweater: This is literally the only white thing in my wardrobe. I own no white shirts, socks, or even white undies. I am a woman of many colors, and now I have something white. It's about time that I step out of my comfort zone where clothing is concerned. And where a lot of other areas of life are concerned as well.

A small mirror: With a black leather case. To carry along in my purse. To look at myself, to ponder the image that I present to the world. To make the necessary corrections. And to serve as a reminder that I must always be aware of the effect my face, my spirit, and my physical presence has on other people. Even out in the world, I must be mindful of who I am, what I project, and what needs to be corrected.

Stationery and a journal: Anybody who knows me - and is reading this blog - knows that I love to write. A fine black journal and colorful notecards will be used thoughtfully and thankfully in the coming weeks and months. So many words, so little time.

Scented candles: To light the way. To lend fragrance to the air. To provide warmth and atmosphere. To warm my often chilled soul. To light my study in the morning when I pray and write and prepare for my day. And all day long, when I reenter that space, I am reminded that someone thought of me and bought me candles.

Music on CD: Instrumental, vocal, English, Spanish - it touches every part of me. I listen. I dance. I sing along. I close my eyes and dream of places far away and people nearby. It reminds me of trips I've taken and of trips yet to be taken. Someone burned CDs for me. Someone else bought one. People who love me listened to music that reminded them of me, and they sent it to me.

Brief aside here: The fact that anyone anywhere thinks of me, wonders how I'm doing, and then decides to send love, music, books, clothing, email, or anything at all to me - it's leaves me speechless. Every single time. "Thanks" just doesn't capture how deeply I am moved by the wonder of friendship and the thoughtfulness it elicits. But back to the list...

Several beautiful, warm, colorful scarves: I am a woman who builds outfits around accessories. I am a woman who spends most of the winter months (even the very mild ones here in Charlotte) with my neck wrapped in turtle neck sweaters and scarves. Just a few days before my birthday, I read a book about organization and was motivated to prune several things out of my wardrobe, to pass them along to others who might be blessed: included in that donation to Good Will were several scarves that hadn't been put to much use of late. I had no intention of buying more scarves, but those empty shelves and hangers in my closet were destined to be filled with the lovely choices made by loving friends. My neck thanks you all.

Two cross necklaces: My husband knows that the cross is the most important symbol in my life. He has made it his mission to add to my collection of cross necklaces every year. And just when I think that there aren't any more crosses in Charlotte, he finds two more. Still more accessories around which I will build several outfits in the days to come. They may not keep my neck warm, but my soul, well now that's another matter.

Chocolates: what do I need to say? It's chocolate!

Gift cards for Borders and Starbucks: Books and coffee? Is there a better combination for a perpetually curious and shivering geek like me?

A childcare coupon: My mother created a coupon that entitles me to childcare, is renewable upon request, and completely free. The perfect gift for any busybody like myself! I plan to take advantage of it pretty soon.

A mother-of-pearl photo frame: I'm not sure it is possible to capture an image that befits this beautiful frame. But the image that came to mind immediately when I opened it (at the surprise party on Saturday night) was one of the love of friends, the sound of laughter, and the wonder of long, rambling conversations. Like I said, it won't be easy to capture those joyous moments with a camera, but I'm sure going to try.

As I opened those gifts on my birthday, on Saturday evening at the surprise party, and even on Sunday when still more people inundated me with waves of love, my sense of unworthiness, of amazement, of sheer dumfoundedness was indescribable. It was too much to take in. I have struggled to put my feelings into words not only in my journal, but also in my heart.

Fast forward to this evening when my children brought in the mail. They carried a box sent from addressed to me. I thought, "I haven't ordered anything from Amazon." I opened it: a gift. I tore off the wrapping paper to discover a book entitled: second calling: finding passion and purpose for the rest of your life." Could there be a more perfect book for me???

I sent off an email of thanks to my dear friend, Virginia, a woman I met nearly a dozen years ago at a Bible study in Connecticut. She is one of my most faithful blog readers and supporters. Last Thursday, on my birthday, she ordered this book for me from What she didn't know at the time, what she couldn't have known, was that today I would spend quite a bit of time writing in my journal about this very topic: what next? I will be teaching the journaling class in January - and I'm looking forward to it tremendously. Today I wrote and prayed: "But what else, Lord, what else would you have me to do? What will be my next passion play? Please give me a sense of direction, of purpose, and a plan for the rest of my life."

Last Thursday, Virginia was the answer to a prayer that hadn't even been uttered yet. There are few gifts that can compare to answered prayers. Especially when the answer is sent out before the prayer goes up. Thank again, Virginia.

So that settles it: This has been the best birthday of my life.
Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

There are no words...

A surprise birthday party this afternoon.
For me. I am still in shock.

My husband told me two or three weeks ago that we were going to the home of one of his colleagues who makes wine. She and her husband were having a wine tasting, and we were invited. Fine. I like wine. I love food. Why not have wine and food with some new folks? Maybe I'd meet somebody interesting and have a good time.

We drove into a new neighborhood in Matthews, North Carolina.
Beautiful houses. Steve rang the doorbell.
A beautiful young woman answered.
She looked familiar, but I let the moment pass.
Truthfully, I didn't have time to register her face as I stepped inside.

Friends from the Spanish congregation of my church had put together the party for me.
They sang to me in Spanish. They laughed at my shock. They applauded my husband for his willingness to go along with their plan. I applaud them all for honoring me as they did.
The food was great. As was the wine.
Wilmania made a birthday cake that was more beautiful than my wedding cake. Exquisito.
Beautiful jewelry, scarves, gloves, and a jewelry box were my gifts.
(I had already received a CD and a scarf from two dear friends earlier.)
Each one thoughtfully and joyfully given.
Each one humbly and gratefully received.
I don't know which to wear to church tomorrow.
I hate the thought of offending anyone by not choosing their gift.

Then they went around the room and each spoke words of love,
of friendship, of gratitude, and of their most generous wishes for me and for my family.
I have no words to express my thanks to them.
My appreciation for their show of love for me.
I hope and pray that I can be the woman they think I am.

All I know how to do is live my life to the fullest. Out loud.
I tell stories. I listen to stories.
When my friends cry, I cry with them.
When they laugh and rejoice, I laugh and rejoice with them.
I cannot imagine living any other way.
And this afternoon, we ate, we drank, we laughed, we danced, and we celebrated not only my life, but all of our lives. The life that we share as the family of Christ. The joy we share as fellow travelers on this topsy-turvy road of life. May we share many, many more years. And have many, many more parties.

For every person present, a story.
For every song we danced to, a memory.
For every gift, a loving thought.
For every moment we have shared, a word of thanks.

No hay palabras.
Senza parole.
There are no words.

Just one - thanks.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

It's My Party...

But I'm not crying at all. I have received more phone calls, emails, e-cards, and loving support this week than in a very long time. Thanks to all of you! Every one of you who has thought of me, prayed for me, written to me - blessings on you and your loved one! It has been a joy to be remembered as I have.

It's been a great day.

First of all, let me explain a birthday tradition we have at our home. When our children go to bed on the night before their birthdays, Steve and I sneak into their rooms after we know they are asleep and put balloons up in their rooms. When they awake on the morning of their day of celebration, they are surrounded by helium balloons of various shapes and sizes, messages and sentiments, and those balloons last for days. They find them in their bathroom, in the kitchen, in the homeschool room. Everyplace. It's a fantastic tradition that they both still love.

Well, today I awoke to find birthday balloons in my study! For me!!! What a wonderful surprise.
Then there was a new leather journal, a new Cross pen, candles, chocolate, and two very generous gift cards for stores I frequent often. Yeah! My mother made me a lovely breakfast and gave me the CUTEST coupon/card for child care "redeemable and renewable upon request." Since then, I have literally been inundated with cards and calls from so many people who have told me how much they care and love me and wish me a fabulous day. In English. In Spanish. In song. In words. A gift card from Karen - thank you, dearly beloved one. And promises of more goodies to come.

Steve and the children are at basketball practice at the moment, so I'm home alone.
Listening to Sarah McLachlan's Wintersong CD (GO GET IT. IT IS FANTASTIC!!!)
Writing in my journal. Staring at our Christmas tree. Daydreaming.
Giving thanks for joy, happiness, peace, grace, mercy
and the love of friends and family.

I am very happy right now.

Thanks again for all your love.

PS. I understand that some of you are having trouble posting comments here on the blog. Quite honestly, I don't know what's going on. Please keep trying. If you can't get through, then email me at Again, I'm sorry for the difficulty.

Added on Friday, December 15 - One way you might be able to get through with your comments is to choose the Other button there in the Comments sign in box, instead of the Google/Blogger button. That might help. It's worth a try. Again, sorry.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Let the Festivities Begin

Yes, the day of celebration will soon be upon us. The day on which I will celebrate 41-derful years of life on this, the third rock from the sun.
I won't lie. I won't deny the truth.
Life is good.
Very good.

Right now, my son is singing at the top of his lungs as he heads outside to find friends to play with. My daughter is in her room making and addressing Christmas cards to friends. I'm at the computer planning yet another trip to Spain, yes Spain. Yes, again.

As I mentioned earlier, my dear friend, Leticia, has had a baby. The time has come for us to celebrate the start of another life. My excitement for her was at such a fever pitch on Sunday evening that I hardly noticed my husband's frenzied typing at the computer and very serious phone calls. He called me to his side, handed me the telephone and told me to confirm flight information for a trip to Spain. What? When? Who me?

Frequent flier miles will kick in.
Frequent friendship miles will be crossed.
Off I go - leaving on Wednesday, December 27th and returning on Saturday, January 6th.
Whirlwind plans.
But why live any other way?

So many thoughts flood my mind: this will be the first time I'm away from Steve on New Year's Eve since we met way back in 1987. This will be the first time I spend a major holiday in another country. Well, I guess Thanksgiving is a major holiday, and I spent that in Portugal in 1986. And the 4th of July... well, this is the first time I'll spend New Year's Eve away from my hubby and kids.

Plus - in my exchanges with Leticia and her husband, Eduardo, regarding my trip, we realized that he, Eduardo, has a sister, Lola, whose husband, Juan, is a good friend of my friend, Antonio, my dear Jesuit friend. Did you get that? In other words, Leticia, who I met in Madrid in 1992 is now distantly related by marriage and friendship to Antonio, who I met in New York in 1989, but we are only now figuring that out. Six degrees of separation turns out to be too many for this particular connection. How small is the world?

But I am way off topic - Thursday, December 14th, will be my 41st birthday.
Forty-one years filled with life.
Love, infatuation, passion, and hand-holding.
Travel by train, plane, automobile, bicycle, and size 11 feet.
Friends, husband, children, mother, father, brothers, cousins.
Food, water, wine, coffee, yerba mate tea, and sweet potato chili -
which will be our dinner tonight. Along with homemade choco-chip cookies.
Art, architecture, poetry, dance, and music.
Including cds recently burned for me,
purchased for me, and recommended to me.
Hotels and motels I've stayed in, homes I've lived in, and homes I'd love to see.
Cathedrals where I've marveled at architecture,
and churches where I've grown and made friends.
Poly Prep CDS, Williams College, Wesleyan University in CT for grad school,
reading, writing, learning every step of the way.
Schools where I've taught, spoken, and toured magnificent facilities.
Unlikely friendships with irresistibly loveable people.
Too many blessings to count.

Don't get me wrong; there are days when I have felt and
continue to feel miserably sorry for myself.
There are days when everything I do overwhelms me.
When the busyness of my life serves only as an escape
from what often feels like deep loneliness, sadness, and disappointment.
When nothing I do feels like it matters.
When no one I love seems to care.
See? It's pitiful, isn't it?
But it's also true. Every word of it.

Father Ralph Debrickasaw (I know that is horribly misspelled, but...)
from "The Thornbirds" said it best:
"I will never be what I want to be.
I will never do what I want to do.
But I don't know how to stop wanting."

Do any of us know how to stop wanting?
That's a question for a-whole-nother-blog.
(I say that a lot, don't I?)

Each year when my birthday comes along, just days before the end of the year, I take time to look back over the year in my mind as well as in my journal. I pull out random volumes, flip through, and read some of my earlier musings.
Questions asked and answered. Some remain unanswered.
Resolutions made and broken.
Promises made. Some are kept; many are broken.
Hopes fulfilled. Expectations dashed.
It's all in there, in my life and in my journal.

But before I get to any of my own writing, inside the front cover of each journal I paste a disclaimer. Like all journal keepers, I am somewhat unnerved by the prospect of someone else reading my private writing. So I wrote a disclaimer back in 2001 and have included it in every journal ever since. Although the main gist is, "Enter at your own risk," in part, it reads as follows:

"In the year 2000, I read a book by Thomas Merton called, Learning to Love. It is the sixth volume of his published journals. He lived as a Trappist monk, but in that volume of his journals, Merton fell in love with a nurse (referred to as "M"), later returned to the reality of his life in the monastery, and tried to come to terms with what had happened to him. One particular quote in the book spoke directly to this point of the privacy and the realness of the journal. It is found on page 234 of the book.

'My intention is that, though this may eventually be published, this journal should be kept under wraps for 25 years after my death... Meanwhile, I have no intention of keeping the M business entirely out of sight. I have always wanted to be completely open, both about my mistakes and about my effort to make sense out of my life. The affair with M is an important part of it - and shows my limitations as well as a side of me that is loneliness, my inner division, the struggle in which solitude is at once a problem and a solution. And perhaps not a perfect solution either.'

"I too have struggled with the loneliness, solitude, and division of spirit that Merton describes - even in the midst of a marriage, busy motherhood, and an active physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and social life. This journal describes the ups and downs of my life. Read it with an understanding that all of this is all of who I am: faith, joy, hope, love, peace, gratitude, lust, loneliness, confusion, intense desire for that which I cannot have, pain, anger, all of that and more. The overriding feeling of my heart and life, though, is one of enormous gratitude. Read for yourself, and then you decide."

Every time I begin a new volume, I reread that disclaimer, update the date at the top of the page, print it out, and glue it in again. Every year around my birthday, I review the year gone by, figure out what life statements and dreams need to be updated, and glue into my heart and mind the new dreams, hopes, and expectations. Disappointment will surely come. Tears will surely flow.

In the midst of it all, though, my heart is full.
My mind is full.
My life is full.
I am well.
I am at peace.
I will celebrate.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

On this Second Sunday in Advent...

Awaiting the arrival of the newborn babe, the promised one.
Awaiting with great hope and high expectations.

What will be born anew in me?
What will I hope for?
What will be the source of that hope?

Hope for the refrain of that great song: So this is Christmas - War is over.
Hope for Peace on Earth and good will to men, women, and children everywhere.
Hope for restored love and passion in loveless marriages.
Hope for restored relationships between parents and children.
Hope for food, for clothing, for shelter for that many billions
around the world who live without.

Hope for peace in my heart.
For laughter.
For good food and fun with loved ones.
For connection and reconnection with friends who live far away.

Hope for little Alvaro, born to my dear friend, Leticia, that his cleft palate will be healed.
Hope for Brett, who fell, broke a tooth, injured his neck, and must see a chiropractor.
For his mother who battles illness and pain.
Hope for Daniel who is serving over 20 years in prison.

Looking back on this year, I am joyful and thankful for the many blessings that have already come and for the hopes that been met and exceeded.
For deepening friendships here in my own home, at church, with neighbors, and with the many men and women I met and got to know a little through speaking engagements.
For the breakthroughs in therapy sessions with Jim.
For healing of my wounded spirit.
For the opportunity to spend time with Ale and Ana on Friday night over good food, warm spiced wine, and telling stories of life, love, and loss.
For music, art, books, and movies that have touched me and opened me to even greater growth and strength.

On this second Sunday of Advent, I am reminded of the beautiful songs of Christmas that we sing at church. The carols, the hymns, the choruses. I love to sing, especially at church. I love to listen to the choir, the soloists, and the instrumentalists as they raise both song and note in praise.

All around me in the sanctuary, there are voices raised in adoration and worship, but those are off key, out of synch, hands clap on the wrong beat, and never seem to catch up. I used to get really upset by those dissonant sounds. But lately, I have been moved to smile. There is no perfect choir. There are no perfect performers or performances. Mine included.

The television, magazines, movies, radio, videos, they all seem to advertise perfect bodies in perfect outfits at perfectly orchestrated ceremonies. But there really is no such thing.

We all sing off key. We all dance a little clumsily through this life. In fact, we trip over our own feet and often land with a thud on our ample bottoms. Our outfits don't fit perfectly nor do they meet the high standards of Fashion we are being taught to revere. Unfortunately, many of us get so caught up in trying to hide our missteps that we fail to notice how many others are out of step right along with us. We are so busy trying to camouflage our flabby places and cover our scarred places that we miss countless opportunities to reach up and touch the faces, the hands, and the hearts of our scarred and flabby friends. In fact, if we looked up, if we listened, if we paid close attention, we would see and hear and realize that we are surrounded by beautiful people, loving people, and people who want nothing more than to be noticed, to be loved, to be touched.

Are they needy? Might they ask us for help, for money, or for assistance?
Are they lonely? Do they have sad, desperately painful stories to tell?
You bet they do.
But so do we all.

On this second Sunday of Advent, as we prepare for the celebration of the coming of the baby that changed all of human history, let us lay down our masks for a moment or two. Let us lay aside our weapons for a day or two. Let us cease from our infernal and internal conflict for a week or two. Let us leave the unanswerable questions unanswered for a while, and rest our weary minds.

Instead let's dance together.
Let's laugh together.
Let's tell stories of love and life and laughter.
Let's go on adventures with friends.
Let's write to one another, encouraging one another.
Let's forgive one another as we so desperately long to be forgiven.
Let's break bread together.
Let's drink tea together.
Let's hold hands.
Let's celebrate this day, this moment, this life.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Quiet Week

Actually, my mind has been quite noisy and active this week, but I haven't shared much here.

Many thoughts of war and peace - when the one will end and the other will reign.

Much moon gazing - the full moon has been ridiculously gorgeous all week.

Reading to and with the children.

Many hours of reading, writing, meditating, praying, reflecting. I wake up early and sit in the dark in my study thinking about the days that have passed and those that are yet to come. The busyness of the holiday season must be offset by silence and solitude before the sun rises.

Lately I have felt almost overwhelmed with sorrow because of all the violence in the world, the senseless murder of peacemakers, lawyers, human rights advocates - those whose aim is to stand up for the oppressed. Innocent market-goers, parents with children, hard-working men and women gunned down, or assaulted by bomb shrapnel. Domestic violence. Emotional, physical, sexual abuse hidden behind solid front doors, dark sunglasses, and meticulously made-up faces. Typhoons. Fires. Families split up and lost in snowstorms. The tears flow.

But then I pick up my daughter upon her return from inspecting, sealing, and boxing up hundreds of Samaritan's Purse shoeboxes filled with goodies for children all around the world. Boxes filled by generous hands and generous souls. She is overflowing with stories of her time there and asks when she can do something like that again.

But then we go to the Scholastic Warehouse Book Sale. Daniel was thrilled at the many books, posters, and other doo-dads he was able to choose from. He's a happy fellow right now, and when Daniel is happy, we are all happy.

But then I read about people who are building homes, schools, and hospitals for those who have no place to live, study, or receive medical treatment. Wells are dug. Barns are raised. Children are first vaccinated and then educated. Sex workers are set free to care for themselves and their children.

But then I receive a telephone call from a friend who must stand for justice and dignity on behalf of homeless people she has been called upon to minister to. She asks me to pray that her heart and her lips will overflow with love, with grace, with patience, and with courage to speak boldly against injustice and invoke peace.

And tears flow again - but tears of joy this time, of pride, tears of gratitude that so many of us have what Barack Obama perfectly calls, "The Audacity of Hope."

Yes, that's right. The audacity to hope that peace is possible.
That hungry stomachs can be filled.
That wounded bodies and souls can be soothed.
That broken homes and hearts can be healed.
That money, when generously shared and thoughtfully invested,
can make a difference.
That these tears, these prayers,
these dreams, these few and humble gifts
are not offered into a void and formless universe.

The audacity to believe that there is a God
that He hears our prayers and answers them.
That He extends His healing hand of mercy and
heals us, restores us, transforms us,
and makes all things new.

A quiet week.
A hopeful week.
A joyful week.
A blessed week.
An abundant week.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

She's Simply Irresistible

- my 13 year old daughter, Kristiana, that is...

Here are a few of my favorite things to do with her as well as
a few things we do to and for each other:

- walk the dog up and down our street

- stroll through art galleries and ogle the art

- eat Thai food: pad thai and pineapple fried rice

- make cards and scrapbook pages

- pray

- read

- journal

- not only talk, but also listen to one another

- teach each other things we are learning along life' road

- sit out on the back deck and read

- watch the Eukanuba Dog show on television --> she went to her room to get her dog book so she could explain a few things to me about breeds and dog groups

- tell each other our dreams, nighttime dreams and daydreams

- do each other's hair

- explore the city of Charlotte, getting lost and eventually finding our way home in the dark

I can always count on her for a smile, a word of encouragement, laughter at my silly jokes, fashion advice, and beautiful artistic creations. She often helps me out by cooking meals, making muffins, or cleaning parts of the house without being asked. She's quick to offer assistance if she sees me in the midst of a demanding task. She's easy to travel with, live with, and exquisitely easy to love.

My hope and prayer for her is that she never loses her gentle, loving, compassionate spirit, that she finds the man of her dreams who shares her deep passion for living life to the fullest and who appreciates the magnificent woman that she is turning into, and that she will live out all of her dreams, whatever they may be and wherever they may lead her. I hope she is the mother of at least two wonder-filled children; I already have a crib picked out, and that she will have a daughter who is as special to her as she is to me.

I've been warned by friends and total strangers to be wary of the teenage years; children become monsters, tormentors, and ruthlessly rude. At this point on her very early teenage journey (emphsis is intentional), Kristiana is one of the kindest, gentlest, truly beautiful people I know - both inside and out. And if she turns on me someday, I will force myself to come back to this blog and to every journal entry that describes her earliest years, and then pray without ceasing for the restoration of this simply irresistible daughter that I love so dearly.

Thanks for the fantastic weekend, KNB.
And it's not over yet.
I love you, sweet girl.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thankful Thursday

I woke up half an hour before the alarm clock this morning.
Leaped out of bed. Mind in high gear.
Heart overflowing with gratitude.
Came to the computer.

This Thursday, I am grateful for -

my health - lots of people I know have colds, and many are seriously ill.

this home I love

the three people who live in this house with me

my happy, healthy, laughing, dancing children

the husband who loves when we laugh and dance

my wrist brace - it's aching these days because I've been doing A LOT of writing

all the amazing lessons I'm learning these days, hence all the writing

unexpected emails and messages

snail mail letters

Christmas cards from friends near and far

my little rag-tag group of Awana kids - for some strange reason they seem to like me

learning more about my digital camera - it's amazing what happens when you read the instruction booklet. My goal for December and January is to set aside time to learn how to put a picture or two here on the blog. (Can anyone give me a quick lesson? Send along any ideas to defragment my feeble understanding of how to do it?)

taking self-timed photos of myself and the kids in the waiting room at the dentist's office. That silly little son of mine likes to make "rabbit ears" behind my head.

that neither of the children had any cavities. I haven't yet told them that most kids resist daily flossing. It'll be my little secret...

the big dinner we will have tonight before Steve and Daniel go away together for a father-son retreat tomorrow

all the plans Kristiana and I have for our ladies only weekend here in the house we love. How will we ever get it all done? Perhaps we'll pull an all-nighter tomorrow night... What do you think, KNB?

synchronicity - On Tuesday, Daniel said he wanted to go to school "because they have book sales." Yesterday I received an email with an ad and coupon for a 50% off Scholastic Warehouse sale open to teachers, administrators, and HOMESCHOOLERS. We are going next week. Yeah for Daniel! I will buy him as many books as he wants; when he wants to read, we all say silent prayers of praise.

the library: I simply do not understand why that place isn't filled to overflowing every day. All those books and videos for free? Where is everybody? I picked up three books and a movie yesterday, and there's another book waiting for me now. I am as happy as a pig in slop. I confess that I sniff old books. I stand in the library and apologize silently to the stacks of books because I won't be able to read them all. I've actually thought about trying. Yes, Jill, I'm saying it in public: I am a serious geek.

the contradictions in my life - I know these previous two things are contradictory - buying books when the library is walking distance away. Honestly, one of the things I love most about myself and the way I live my life is how I am learning to embrace the contradictions. I can sing the old hymns of the church at 10:30 am and dance to Ricky Martin at noon. I can buy clothes at both Good Will and Nordstroms. I can love and adore my children and husband one minute and be ready to pack my stuff and move to Madrid ALONE an hour later. It's who I am. I am grateful that I see those contradictions and accept them. I know way too many people who either deny them or in vain seek to justify them.

I know it's still early, but I'm gonna sign off here and go finish one of the library books I picked up earlier this week: a Dietrich Bonhoeffer book on life in community. Too many books. Not enough time.

What a blessed life I lead.
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Defragmenting the Hard Drive

Two nights ago I remembered.

I remembered that when the computer gets really sluggish, takes forever to open files, or refuses to cooperate with some requests, it's time to defragment the hard drive. We've had this computer for four years, so first of all, I'm thankful that it still functions as well as it does. Even though it hasn't been defragmented in these four years, we've never had a crash or major problem with it - thank God.

But on Monday night I remembered. First I asked the hard drive to analyze itself, and after a very few seconds, up popped a multi-colored rectangle. Red for fragmented files. Blue for contiguous files. Green for unmoveable files. White for free space. Turns out the computer is 70% full - which concerns me anyway. But the good news is that there is still 30% of free space.

The computer recommended that I defragment it. I clicked the button, and the process began. Slowly. Imperceptibly. I sat and watched those little lines shift and reshift for nearly half an hour - only 3% complete. Forget it, I told myself, this is going to take all night. So I went to bed. In the morning, all I saw were big chunks of blue and white, as well as two very small green pieces. Unmoved.

I logged onto the internet. Fast. Found my email. Fast. Read a few blogs I like. Fast. Played a game or two. Fast. Efficient. Computing was enjoyable again. And fast.

I must admit that I'm feeling a little sluggish these days. Taking longer than necessary to find things I need. Not answering emails, letters, phone messages, or even my children's questions as quickly as I used to. Not following up when requests are made -and sometime freezing mid-task. Crashing while folding clothes, cooking dinner, and training the dog - all at the same time.

It's time to defragment my own hard drive. To take a good long look at the fragmented files - the date nights with Steve that have been hijacked by sporting events, meetings, and parental obligations. I need to consider the contiguous files - the things that are holding together, but only barely. Things like keeping the house in order, getting prepared for the holidays, and church obligations. And then there are the unmoveable files - the stuff that has to happen no matter how I'm feeling: homeschooling, feeding the family, making sure Maya gets fed and that the cars have gas are just a few of those.

Like the computer, I need a good overnight (or weekend session) to begin to put the pieces back together, to reinforce the foundation under this life which sometimes seems to shift unexpectedly, to reevaluate the unmoveable stuff, to remind myself of what matters most, and put as many files as possible back together and back where they belong.

When I told Kristiana about defragmenting the computer, I explained to her how files tend to get split up and the computer takes longer to do ... blah, blah, blah. Her eyes glazed over. Always seeking to keep my explanations relevant to their lives, I gave her this example: Imagine trying to get dressed in the morning, but your shirts are in the laundry room, your pants are in the family room, your socks are in the kitchen, your belt is in the living room, and your undergarments are in the dining room. (One thing to consider is that the house is too big, but that's a whole nother blog.) That's not a very efficient way to get yourself dressed, is it? Being the fashionista that she is, she understood that.

And that's a lot like how I feel these days. The garments that cover my life, my soul's wardrobe are tossed here, there and beyond. Not enough organization sometimes. Too much at other times. Not enough down time some days. And wasted time on other days. So I've decided to do some defragmenting of my own hard drive.

Yesterday, I "sternly" told the kids to follow me into the family room. Daniel was in the middle of making lunch, and Kristiana was reading. (Yes, they make their own lunch, well-trained children that they are!) I've very rarely stern with them, so I got their attention quickly. Confused and a little distressed, they obeyed. (Yes, they obeyed.) Once we got in there, I smiled and said, "Let's dance." Daniel had put on a really fun Ricky Martin song before lunch, so we danced. Formed a conga line. Sang. Laughed. Got a little sweaty.

Then, she went back to reading. He went back making his sandwich. I went back to whatever I'd been doing. And I felt like one fragmented file was on its way to being contiguous again: three small pieces of the "laugh and dance with the kids" file had been restored.

There are a few unmoveable files that, in fact, cannot neither be removed nor moved. But there's a lot fewer of those than I'd like to believe. Plus, if I surround those ominous green slivers of my life with lots of blue chunks, with things that are going as well as they can, then those slivers will feel a lot smaller than they do at the moment, when so much of my life feels like fragments of fragile glass patched together with rubber cement.

So off I go. Time for bed. Time to put my heart and mind into defragmenting mode during the night watch. Hopefully when I awake, a few more red files will be blue.

The objective, however, isn't to speed through life the way my computer seems to be speeding through its paces these days. I will settle for more enjoyment of my life. More peace. More patience. And more time to dance with the kids in the family room before lunch.

Here's to defragmenting.
Declaring a truce within ourselves.
And all the other great words we can think of that start with

Monday, November 27, 2006

These Little Lights of Mine

I love Christmas. I love the decorations and the trees and the Nativity scenes and the reindeer on people's lawns. I love the cookies and the Christmas morning casserole and monkey bread and hot apple cider. I love singing Christmas carols at church and around the piano with the children.

Most of all, I love hearing the story of how Jesus Christ came to earth as a tiny baby. I used to think that it was one of most unlikely stories of all time. Last week, however, I heard a sermon by Rob Bell, and he pointed out that for nearly 500 years before Christ's birth, there were several stories of Roman gods that "lived" very similar lives, died similar deaths, and rose from the dead. I'm sure I will spell some of the names wrong, but here goes: Mithra, Addis, Adonis, Horis, and even Julius Caesar himself are among several who are said to have been either born of virgins, crucified, and/or resurrected. The thing that sets Jesus apart is the fact that He is the only one who not only existed in real life, but also has an empty tomb with his name plate above it. But that's not the point of this blog.

Tonight the focus is on Christmas.
Another thing I love about Christmas is the lights.
Sure, there are the lights that are meticulously placed along the rooflines of most of the stores and other businesses here in Charlotte. There are the lights that people string over their trees and bushes. Our neighbors across the street always write a word with the lights on their bushes; sometimes they say "joy" and sometimes "noel." Cleverly done.

But for me, the best lights are the candle lights that are placed singly in the windows of houses. One small white light standing alone in the face of deep, cold darkness. Last night, Kristiana and I placed our lights in the windows of the second floor of our home.

For us, those lights serve as a signal to those outside that we who live here celebrate the light that has come into the world. From the window sills, these lights are visible down on the street below and from quite a few yards up the street. The simplicity of it. The elegance of it. The power of it. Turn them on and our house appears out of the darkness.

Not only do these little lights shine for the people outside, they shine pretty brightly inside our house as well. Late at night when we are all in bed, those little 4 watt bulbs are almost enough to keep us awake. Last night, I had to get up and draw the curtains so that Steve and I could sleep deeply. It felt as though the full moon were sitting on our window sills.

Dark outside. Dark inside.
Light a few small candle lights.
Bright outside. Bright inside.

Yet another metaphor for my life.
Sometimes the dark clouds roll in, and I start feeling sorry for myself.
Why are we the only ones responsible for _________________?
Why won't anyone relieve us of these burdens?
Why did we have to get cheated by an unscrupulous lawyer?
Why don't we get a break on our taxes?
Why can't I figure this problem out?
Why doesn't anyone care about me?
Poor me. Woe is me.
Boo-hoo. Waaah!

Then I read a letter from a friend in prison who is serving a 27 year sentence, far beyond what was just and fair for the crime he committed. I read of his joy in the midst of prison, his faith, his best wishes for me as I traveled to Spain. I laugh at his reference to his "mansion and the security guards who make sure nothing is stolen."

Then I open a gift from friends from the Spanish congregation at our church: a beautiful blanket with our names inscribed and the Bible verse that says, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Their card said, "You and your family have been a ray of light in the darkness for many people." Deep. Humbling. Wow.

Then I read a blog about someone who heard a total stranger speak words of despair about the state of the world, and stop that man, take his hands in her own, and give him a blessing, offering up a prayer on his behalf. Not willing to be left out, that man's friend asked for a blessing of his own. (Check out

Then I hear a song, read a book, go for a walk in our neighborhood with the children, listen to a message online (Rob Bell at is awesome), sit out on the deck and fall asleep in the late autumn sunshine only to awaken to the sound of birds in chorus. These are the things that rekindle the flame of hope in my soul that self-pity and depression so easily snuff out.
And this little light of mine is relit. Shining again.

Often it is easier to be a light for those outside of my family, outside of my home. It's easy to give a word of encouragement to someone who has been abandoned by her husband, someone who is raising children alone, someone who is facing financial difficulties. It's far more difficult to give those smiles and hugs and uplifting comments to the woman in the mirror.

So this Christmas, in the midst of all the baking and shopping and cooking and reading stories to the children and blogging and the like, I promise to set aside time to consider the light.
To sit in the darkness when it descends and allow light to pierce it, to shatter the shadows, and shed light into the darkest places within me.
To consider the light of life, the light of the world, the light of all men and women.

I will sing about the light, write about it, ponder what it is to walk in the light, and sit in the quiet glow of the light in the window, the lights on our tree, and the light in my soul.

My wish for all of us this Christmas
is that we will all know what it is to be
called out of darkness
into His Glorious Light.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

How can I say thanks?

For the Carolina blue sky that hung placidly overhead this morning as Kristiana and I went for a long walk? For bright sunshine today after several days of drenching rains? For the strength of our legs and lungs as we plowed up and down the hills of our neighborhood?

For the love of family and friends - some of whom will gather in a couple of hours to eat, drink, be merry, talk, laugh, tell stories, and then undoubtedly take a nap?

For the turkey, beef (made by my mother for those of us who don't like turkey), salad, vegetables, stuffing (my own recipe), homemade cranberry sauce, and all the other goodies we will gorge ourselves on?

For the books I've read, the music I've listened to, the lessons I've learned, the journal and scrapbooking pages I've filled in these past few weeks?

For the traveling mercies that surround me on every trip, whether to Spain or to the supermarket, whether to church or Starbucks? For the friendly faces and warm greetings of both familiar and unfamiliar ones I meet along the way?

For the countless stories and anecdotes I hear and read that give evidence of the love, the grace, the forgiveness, the restoration of families, and the reconciliation taking place between former enemies?

For the countless people whose life mission is to bring about peace, reunion, and reconnection between the lost, the broken, the weary, and the heavy laden?

For the realization that His will can be done and is being done on earth as it is in heaven - and for the ways in which I see that will being done in my heart, in my home, in my community, and around the world?

I am thankful that there are many who seek to spread words of love in a desperate and lonely world.

I am thankful that there are many who refuse to spread words of poison, accusation, and derision.

I am thankful that there are those who stand against violence and war - whether they are wars of words or weapons of mass destruction.

I am thankful that I can make a difference in this war-torn world by being an ambassador for peace, for laughter, for forgiveness, and for beauty.

For this and for so much more...
for oatmeal with bananas cut up in it
for yerba mate tea
for snuggles with my hubby and children
for Maya's tiny little tail at the end of her tiny little body
for online sermons by Rob Bell
for the power of prayer
for the strength that comes from silence
for telephone calls with distant friends
for collages in my journals
for cross necklaces
for Ali Edwards, Leonie Allan, Jen Lemen, Kristin Noelle, Jen Gray, Andrea Scher and Joanne Rah - women I have never met in person but whose internet creativity, vulnerability, and heart-filled encouragement have touched and changed my life in ways they may never know

for this and for so much more...
I give thanks.

O give thanks to the Lord
for He is good
His love endures forever.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Why do I love Italy so much?

Until yesterday I couldn't answer that question coherently. I would have said things like, "It's so beautiful. The art is amazing. The architecture is breathtaking. The men and women are gorgeous. The shopping..." Silly stuff like that. But today I understand and can articulate it better.

Why do I understand today what I did not understand yesterday? Not because I'm in Italy, although I would certainly love to be.
Not because I've done a thorough study of the art and history of Italy, although I would love to do that as well.

Today I understand my passion for that country better because I have just finished reading one of the BEST BOOKS I've ever read. Ever. It is entitled Chasing Francis, and it was written by a friend, Ian Cron. Bravo, Ian!

Why this book?
It presents a man's crisis of faith. A valley of doubt. A trail of tears. A break from the church. A rebirth into something entirely new.

It tells the tale of one man's journey, a pilgrimage from despair to hope, from emptiness to fulness, from sorrow to joy. But when the book ends, the journey is only just getting fully underway.

I love that this book doesn't give easy and pat answers to the deepest questions of the soul. I love that there aren't three easy explanations for the trials we face in life and two simple ways to overcome doubt and be as solid as a rock in our faith. I love the fact that the book includes a list of other books to consult and consider. I love the questions at the end of the book that provoke thought and discussion and more serious pondering.

And most of all, I love the fact that this book takes place - in part - in Italy. In Rome, in Florence, in Assisi, and beyond. The churches, the cathedrals, the museums, the back streets, the fancy hotels, the orchestra halls, and the hilltops of Tuscany serve as the backdrop for the story of Chase Falson's faith and my faith. The walks he takes, the questions he asks, the journal entry he pens resonate so deeply with me.

I am reminded of conversations I have had with others who have tasted the beauty of Italy and felt its depth to the core. I am reminded of my own solo journeys there, of tears I left to bathe its streets, its church pews, and its museum halls. I am reminded of the many pages of my travel journals that are peppered with questions and pocked with still more salty tears. I think of the postcards and letters I sent from there and how the words I wrote revealed the depth of my emotion in such small and shallow ways.

Back in October of 2001, just a few weeks after the tragedy of September 11th, I set out on my first trip to Italy. Concerned about the decision to leave my family in order to travel alone in a country I'd never visited at a time of national and international fear, a few days before my scheduled departure I went to see Ian to ask his advice and to speak to him about a personal crisis that I was experiencing at the time. He listened quietly and then asked to pray for me. In his prayer, he spoke words that touched my soul more deeply than nearly anything I'd heard before or have heard every since. He prayed that I would know peace and safety and experience what it was to be "alone with The Alone." I wrote those words in my journal that day. When I packed my things for the trip, I took my Walkman and a copy of Ian's first CD entitled, Sacred Hunger.

While on the train from Rome to Orvieto on my last full day of that trip, I listened to the CD and one of the songs pulled out the plug that had been holding the waters of my own internal Niagara Falls inside. I wept openly; so numerous were my tears and so obvious my sorrow, that a woman got up from her and came to ask if I was okay. I smiled and nodded through my tears and assured her that all was well.

After pulling myself together, and only marginally, I spent most of that day wandering through the winding streets of that small hilltown, into and out of the Etruscan Museum, marveling at the ceramics for sale, and ate a magnificently delicious bowl of gelato from the gelateria next to the duomo. Then I entered Orvieto's grand cathedral and made my way into the side chapel with the frescoes of the dead coming to life, of flesh being put onto the bones of lives gone by. At the moment, I cannot recall the name of the artist. Anyway, I walked around in that chapel. I stood still. I gazed. I marveled. I oohed and aahed. And again, I cried as I felt new energy, new blood surge my own dried and carefully preserved heart. I felt myself coming back to life on that day in that church in that enthralling little town.

The words to Ian's song, I Want To Go Home, came back to me then and again today.

This Irish coast is breaking my heart tonight
A mystical yearning, an ache in my soul
Each crashing wave reminds me - I am living in exile.

Chorus: I want to go home
I want to be with My Father
Run right by his side through all his fields of grace
Yes, I love my life, but isn't it right to want to go home?

Is it so wrong to want the invisible?
A time and a place where you finally belong
I could go on in this world with just one glimpse of eternity.

This 'now but not yet' leaves me divided
Walking on earth when my soul wants to fly
But I know this journey I'm on is built on this sacred hunger.

I want to go home...

Italy is the place where I have felt most like my soul, my heart, my spirit was flying. Most like my soul had found a place of rest, of repose, of being at home. Where the sacred hunger in my heart has been temporarily sated. And oddly enough, that's exactly why I don't go there as often as I go to Spain. It's almost too much. The feeling of connection with beauty, with history, with silent awe, with art, with food, with nature, with other people, with ancient love and grace and soulfulness. During each of my three trips there, I have had moments of such depth, richness, and fullness that I have not wanted to come back home. In fact, I have never felt more at home than when I have sat on quiet pews in quiet churches in Italy. Or on benches in its museums. At the huge square table in the front room of LPQ on the Via Tomacelli in Roma. In the cloister at the church of Santa Croce (the Holy Cross) in Firenze. Standing in front of Bernini's statues of Jonah and Daniel, and Caravaggio's paintings from the life of Paul in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Roma. Eating pizza and writing a letter at a tiny plaza in Orvieto. Crying. Laughing. Journaling. Alone with The Alone.

Words don't do it justice.
In Italian it is, "Senza parole."

But Ian's book, Ian's words come mighty close.
Buy the book and CD at

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Spider is Gone

Several weeks ago, back before I left for Spain, while out for an early morning walk, I saw a big black and yellow spider suspended in a magnificently detailed web a couple of blocks from our house. It had hitched one end of its lacy home to a light post and the other to a mailbox nearly four feet away. The web was wide and tall and meticulously groomed.

I could see places where the spider had obviously had to repair the web; it looked like someone had taken a needle and thread and used a carefully measured zig-zag stitch to reattach several web strands that had unraveled. I was so impressed with that spider and its home that soon after I returned home that morning, Kristiana, Maya and I walked back up the street. Maya wasn't terribly interested in the web, but Kristiana and I stood and stared at it for several moments, few words passing between us. A staggering work of spidery genius.

Days passed. Weeks passed. But the spider did not; it was firmly anchored in that web. On the way home from the supermarket one rainy and windy night, I looked at the web as I drove by, and there was the spider, blown back and forth, but essentially unmoved. A follow-up visit to my leggy friend confirmed that his home had sustained storm damage, but repairs were well underway.

This past week, however, the spider was gone. The web hung limp. Tenantless. Abandoned. I don't know what happened to the spider, but I do know that something happened to me. That spider prompted me to think about my own life, my own web, my home, and my response to life's billowing storms.

For one thing, I was challenged to reconsider how often I think about abandoning my web, how often I think about my shoes, pocketbooks, cars, and sometimes even relationships with a callousness that causes me to shudder. I ask myself questions like: Why put so much time and effort into repairing something that can so easily be replaced? Why bother? I know lots of people with many more pairs of shoes than I've got. I only paid ??? for them anyway. This old bucket of bolts; as soon as a better model comes out, I want it. I'd bet better off alone that going through this again.

Fortunately, these days I am getting more adept at answering those kinds of questions with another question: is this thing, this person, this relationship truly replaceable? Even if it is, what is that replacement going to cost? Where did my obsession with perfection come from anyway? Much of the time damaged goods are still good.

That scar on my shin comes with a story: a tale about summer camp in Napanoch, New York, running down some stairs during a rainstorm, and falling. The resulting gauge of flesh was too deep to even warrant stitches; the gap was too wide. A good bandage, lots of antibiotics, and waiting for enough skin to grow to cover it. Touching that spot today is akin to touching the bone itself. Thank God for long skirts, over-the-knee socks, and knee-high boots. There are several scars on the left side of my neck that are the result of shingles. I have a pile of sleeveless, short-sleeved, and long-sleeved turtlenecks (one of which I am wearing right now) that are chosen because they cover up those scars. The scar on my soul has several stories as well: broken love relationships, churches that have imploded, family members whose neglect, abuse, and criticism - so many stories, so little time.

What is wrong with having visible scars and stitches anyway? We spend so much of life trying to keep our wounds hidden, trying to convince others and ourselves that all is well, that we have no real problems, and that we haven't cried ourselves to sleep many nights, that we actually begin to believe the ultimate lie. We think we are the only ones trying to lose five or ten pounds, the only ones with children who disrespect and willfully disobey their parents, the only ones whose husbands or lovers seem distant most of the time, and the only ones with doubts, questions, and concerns about nearly every area in our lives, including our faith, perhaps especially our faith.

I have come to realize that we all have our woundedness. We all have family members with cancer, addictions, disabilities, and loved ones who have died suddenly. I met a woman today whose husband was killed seven years ago in a car accident when their children were toddlers. Someone else there is struggling terribly with trying to lose weight, but having no visible success. Another is launching herself in a new job because ends aren't meeting as well as they used to. Together we shared stories, helpful hints, words of encouragement, and wished each other traveling mercies as we continue this walk of faith called life. I look forward to hearing how far they've come when we meet again.

There's a spot on the ceiling in our family room that needs to be scraped and painted. What we really need to do is find out where the slow drip of water is coming from that is causing the spot to form. The exhaust fan in our master bathroom isn't working at the moment. The carpeting upstairs in our house looks like it needs to be cleaned again. The lawn is covered with leaves, and the flowers that were planted during the summer have died and need to be pulled up and replaced with pansies - which bloom all winter here in Charlotte.

There's a spot on my heart that, when I touch it or pay any attention to it at all, causes tears to erupt whenever I think of how much I miss certain friends. There is a slow drip of anxiety when I think of the possibility that I may never see them again. The exhaust fan in the ceiling of my spirit works rather slowly when I think of certain sibling issues, in-law issues, and extended family concerns; steam builds up, but it is slow to disperse. Earlier blooms of patience, grace, and joyful laughter need the fertilizer of solitude, meditation, and prolonged time spent with dear friends pretty soon, or impatience and the thorny weeds of bitterness are likely to choke them out.

My tattered and sometimes poorly maintained marriage is worthy of prayer, care, and repair; it cannot be replaced or recreated. I like the way Jen Lemen's husband said it: What if we toss perfection overboard? What if we decide that a less scripted, less surly, more unpredictable, but wholly honest relationship is better than abandoning this one and trying to find someone or something better? What if we are better off together and this is as good as it gets? It's not about conceding defeat; it's not about giving up hope for improvement. It's about claiming victory in the areas where we have success and basking in those. It's about deciding on a new model of marriage because the old one isn't working for us. Or for anyone else I know... but that's a-whole-nother blog.

The spider is gone. His web is empty, lifeless, and useless.

May my web, my home, my heart, my spirit never be so.
May I be ever willing to pull out the needle and thread
of prayer, of thoughtful reflection, of truthful conversation,
and of regular introspection so that this house will always be a home,
so that this soul will always be full of life, and
so that peace that passes all understanding and
unspeakable joy will be evident to everyone I meet.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

There is so much beauty...

Today has been a glorious day.

I fell asleep last night and awoke this morning to the sound of much-needed rain. Unfortunately dozens of people here in North Carolina fell asleep to the sound of the rain and were awakened by tornadoes ripping their houses to pieces. Sometimes I feel like one of the piggies living in the brick house that the wolf wasn't able to blow down. Every time I hear of such violent storms and the havoc they wreak, I thank God for keeping us safe.

The children and I had a good morning of homeschooling: reading about the Civil War - or the War of Northern Aggression - depending on who you ask, and working together on how to write "a five paragraph essay." Our first venture is a piece on the pros and cons of homeschooling. Even though they are unlikely to use this format in any writing project other than those required in school, they have to learn how to write them. I'm determined to make the process as enjoyable as possible - so we are working on each essay together and will be careful to choose topics of interest to us.

I met a friend, Sangita, for lunch. Although I was saddened to hear of the passing of her dear father, I was glad to hear that her mother will come from India at the end of December and spend several months here in Charlotte with her family.

It is always a blessing to catch up with friends, eat good food, and have some time alone - even if it is only the time I spend in the car getting from here to there and back.

The children and I enjoyed a dinner of homemade pizza and salad together, and each of us is now spending some time alone doing things we each enjoy.

I have read several beautiful, colorful, wonder-filled blogs today. Feel free to check a couple of them out: and and There are a lot of smart, thoughtful, caring, wise women out there. I wish I knew them in person, but I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to know them online. Plus there is the quietly faith-affirming which is a website that offers readers a place for prayer and contemplation.

From here, I will head back downstairs to the kitchen for dessert - chocolate chip and toffee bars that Kristiana and I made earlier this week. Then I will put on my jammies and robe and spend a couple of hours reading and journaling and playing with colorful and creative goodies of all kinds.

Steve is away on business until Saturday afternoon, so I get to leave my sweet nothings spread out all over the bed and the floor and the chair in the corner without worrying about him tripping and falling over it.

Today has been a glorious, beautiful, most enjoyable day.
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Ani Ma' Amin"

Wednesday Worship was more beautiful today than usual. Every Wednesday at noon, my dear friend Katie Crowe leads a group of fellow travelers on the walk of faith through a 30 minute service of worship, song, prayer, and teaching at First Presbyterian Church here in Charlotte. The services are entitled "Faith@Work."

Today we were blessed by the children's choir from the Trinity Episcopal School with three songs. The title of the first song was the same as that of this blog. After they sang two stanzas of this song, one of the singers stepped forward and read a thoughtful translation of the words and the sentiment of the piece.

Ani Ma' Amin, she explained, is an ancient Hebrew song of hope that is roughly translated like this: No matter how long the Messiah tarries in His coming, I will believe in Him. No matter how long He tarries, when He arrives, He will find me waiting for Him.

Even as they entered the gas chambers during World War II's atrocities, thousands of Jews sang this song, ceasing their worship only when the gas filled their lungs and silenced them forever. No matter what we face, no matter how dreadful our circumstances, we will believe. We will have faith.

This morning in her strong voice, that young African-American girl spoke eloquently of the value of every face, every race, every person, and every soul. It is only when we honor every person created in the image of the Creator as a soul in need of love, acceptance, and forgiveness, it is only then that we will turn away from prejudice, from rejection, and even from violence. She concluded with these two statements: "This is what we sing. This is what we believe."

Many years ago when I was still in college,
I sat in tear-soaked silence as Sweet Honey in the Rock sang these words:
"We who believe in freedom cannot rest;
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.
Until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons,
is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers' sons."

At the time they first sang their melodic homage to freedom in the 1960s, Sweet Honey in the Rock was embroiled in the civil rights movement in our nation's southern states. When I heard them lift their voices in the early 1980's, they were urging us to take a stand against apartheid in South Africa.

Today those words apply yet again - or perhaps "still" - to Darfur, the Sudan, and many war-torn, poverty-stricken areas not only in Africa, but also in New Orleans and its environs. The tens of thousands of brown-skinned Iraqis and Afghans who have lost their lives in the past four years have been counted far less rigorously than the American, English, and Italian soldiers who have died there.

We who say we believe in freedom, in democracy, in human rights,
We who say we ought to stand up against injustice, terrorism,
and evil
no matter where we find it -
We cannot rest
We ought not rest
Until the killing of anyone's sons matters to all of us.
Until the death of children due to hunger and malnutrition makes us push our obese bodies away from the buffet table in disgust.
Until the constant acquisition of more stuff for ourselves and for our children bothers us more than only when the bills arrive at the end of the month.

I have begun to pray new prayers of late.
I have begun to pray and ask for deliverance from the spirit of consumerism.
I have begun to pray that my family will find television repulsive, the commercials infuriating, and going shopping (except for food shopping) excessive.
I have begun to pray that we who have been so richly blessed will understand our responsibility to bless others who have less than we have. And not only will we understand and appreciate our responsibility, but also that we will joyfully fulfill it.

I have begun to ask myself to make clear and uncompromising distinctions between what I need and what I want. As clothing and shoes wear down and wear out, I want to carefully consider whether or not I need to them. When the lease on our very luxurious car ends next summer, I want to be ready and willing to let it go and not replace it. I want to become a person who is willing to forego personal pleasure in order to provide for someone else's needs. In the words of Ronald Sider: I want to learn to "live simply so that others can simply live."

I used to live this way. I used to think this way. Back when my children were young and money was tight, I went through an entire year without buying any clothing for myself. After the first couple of months, it wasn't even hard to bypass the mall and Good Will stores. I had more than enough. I have even more now. So very much more.

Perhaps it is time to get back to that simpler way of life.
Certinly it is time to get back to that place of the simple faith those children sang about this morning: faith in the beauty and worth of all the people around me. Faith that people of all colors, shapes, and sizes, all economic and social backgrounds, all political and religious persuasions can sing together, work together, and live together in such a way that we bring an end to as many of the atrocities that daily victimize thousands of people as possible.

And when He returns, may the Messiah find me waiting.
Not sitting passively, mind you, but actively waiting.
Working for peace, liberty, and justice for all.
So help me God.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Change is Coming...

Many changes, I hope.

Blogspot has been taken over by Google, and we are being required to switch over or be banned from our blogs. I'm pondering a break from blogging for a while. Perhaps a switch to some other form of communication.

I will be teaching a course on spiritual journaling at my church in January. There is much preparation to be done for that class.

I am planning another month-long trip to Spain with the children in the late spring. So much to do: We must find an apartment, make the necessary arrangements to rent it, and plan adventures during our sojourn in the country that has captured my heart.

I am in the middle of reading through a pile of books that has been calling my name for a good long time. Many thoughts of simplicity, solitude, silence, reflection, and rejuvenation.

Tears flow as I pray for a friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer on the membrane around his eyeball. I still pray regularly for Laurie, the widow who lost her young son back in April. The wife of a former pastor was paralyzed in a biking accident a few weeks ago. There is much to mourn.

But there are also many reasons to rejoice: Thanksgiving is just a few days away. I have so much for which to give thanks. My own good health and a clean bill of health written up for the kids this past week - their radiant, glowingly beautiful, and very pregnant pediatrician complimented them both on how much and how well they have grown in the past year. The very fact that, for most of their lives, they have visited the doctor only once per year - for their well visits - is reason enough to rejoice. They have both been chosen as members of the local rec program's basketball teams. Daniel's baseball team won the league championship for his age group last Thursday night. And then he was invited to the homes of three children from teams he'd beaten. Talk about popular! Just today, two women asked me to teach a class on journaling; I had the pleasure of telling them that just such a class is in the works.

Last night, we were invited to dinner in celebration of the birthday of one of Daniel's teammates. The homeowners had the forethought and the money (!) to purchase the empty lot behind their home and had a swimming pool and outdoor kitchen built. Beautiful. Tasteful. Luxurious.

Twelve or fifteen of us stood poolside on an unseasonably warm November evening, eating, drinking, laughing, telling stories, watching our children run and play carelessly. I was overwhelmed with awe at the beauty of the setting, honored to have been invited to participate in the festivities, and silenced by the realization that ours, that mine, is truly a blessed life. We see and live among such wealth, such privilege, and such responsibility.

Food, clothing, cars, houses, rolling lawns, bubbling hot tubs, outdoor fireplaces, plasma televisions, computers, shopping plazas, Starbucks, California Pizza Kitchen, Barnes and Noble, Neiman Marcus, Nordstroms, full bellies, and empty complaint boxes. Life is grand. Couldn't be finer.

But what will it profit us if we gain the whole world - and that's how it felt last night, as if every one of us has the whole world by the tail - and lose our souls? What have we gained? I wondered what all this wealth and comfort cost us. How much time we ought to spend with our children is spent working endless hours in order to afford all the stuff we give to them instead of giving ourselves? How much of the mental and emotional energy that we spend on mowing lawns, washing expensive cars, buying more stuff to fill our increasingly large homes, and then paying the bills for all of it could be better spent reading, creating art, and laughing together with those we love?

But enough of the third person theatrics.
Enough of the first person plural flourishes.
I've got to make it personal.
What will I do with the many gifts I've been given?
What difference will my life make in the lives of others?
How will I bless someone else with my life?
How does simplicity fit into the context of my complex life?
Is there room for solitude and silence in my noisy and busy world?
Can I afford to shut those things out for much longer?
What matters more than peace that passes understanding,
than unspeakable joy,
than contentment and gratitude in all circumstances?

Yes, a change is coming.
Hopefully, many changes.
I'm not sure what. I'm not sure when. I'm not sure how.
But something's gotta give.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's a New Day...

A new day for our nation's government.
To move in a new direction, with new men and women in leadership positions.
To change our course, to shift the balance of power.
To make a new plan for a new future.

It is time to admit mistakes and wrong decisions.
It is time to consider new possibilities and changes in direction.

It is time to graciously step down and accept defeat.
It is time to graciously accept the mantle of responsibility and accept victory.

It is time for each of us, for all of us to reach out to one another, asking for forgiveness for words spoken in anger, in conceit, in self-pity, and in vain attempts to cover our own wrongdoing.

It's a new day, yes, but some things will remain the same, at least they ought to.

In my own life, I will continue to still seek to do right because it's the right thing to do. I will continue to examine my own behavior, to acknowledge my failings, and pray for the humility to admit wrong and make amends. I will encourage my husband, my children, and my friends to do the same. I will continue to pray for our national leaders, governors, senators, and congressional representatives - for their integrity, for their pursuit of righteousness, and for their resolve to stand firm for justice, peace, and mercy.

If there is going to be peace in the world, I must begin to pursue it in my own life. I will be peaceful with my words, by not using foul language, mean words, not engaging in gossip, and not bad-mouthing those with whom I disagree.

I will be peaceful in my actions, not only in how I treat my husband and children, the people I love, but also in how I treat those who bad-mouth and criticize me and the ideas I embrace. As much as it depends on me, I will live at peace with all those with whom I come in contact.

Jesus said that the world will know we are Christians, not by our political capital, not by our wealth, not because we pick and choose which social or political or religious battles we will fight, or which laws we establish or take off the books. We will be known as children of God not because we agree on every point or because we are all healthy, wealthy, and strong. No, He didn't refer to any of those things as the standards by which the world would know who we are and Whose we are.

He said that the world, our neighbors, our friends,
and our family members will know we are Christians
by our love one for another.

Love that is patient, kind, rejoices with the truth
(even if the truth hurts me or my feelings).
Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes,
and always perseveres.

Love does not envy, doesn't boast, is not proud, rude,
self-seeking, or easily angered.

Love keeps no record of wrong.
(That's the toughest one for me. I SOOOOO want to point out
all the wrong I see in others.
A little "I told you so" every now and then
makes me feel so good.
But love, true love, relinquishes all hope for
retaliation and self-promotion.)

That's the kind of love I want to know.
That's the kind of love for which I want to be known.
Whether Democrat or Republican, wealthy or poor, black or white,
citizen or immigrant, married or single, parent or childless,
may it be love that both sets us apart and draws us together.

It's a new day for our country.
It's a new day for our entire world.
I hope and pray that it is a new day for me too.

Where we go from here, how the forward journey will progress, I do not yet know.
But I will not fear. I will not worry. Like my friend, Leonie, in a land far away, I will find my way into a church, sit quietly, and gaze up at the cross, alternating between whispering my prayers, my hopes, my dreams, my doubts, my fears,
and holding my breath as I wait to hear the answers.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Every Connection Matters

This morning, I read on the superhero journal ( about the way Andrea Scher interacts with people at the post office. She acknowledges rightly that every connection we make, every interaction we have with other people matters. If we miss a meeting or party, people do notice. When we speak to someone with respect and honor - or with anger and disdain - we leave a mark. We leave a footprint on their lives.

Yesterday at church, my daughter and I had a chance to speak to the new worship leader. He moved to Charlotte with his wife and three daughters this past summer from Michigan. Tim and Vicki are both enormously talented singers and musicians, and they bring a joy and energy to the worship ministry that is refreshing, joyful to watch, and pleasing to the Lord. I have had a couple of chances to speak with them both, but more frequently with him, and have been careful to offer words of encouragement and gratitude for his hard work and willingness to lead us in music and singing each Sunday. I thanked him for the ways in which his presence at our church blessed and benefitted my spiritual life.

But Tim and Vicki are also human beings. They have daughters who are transitioning - sometimes smoothly and sometimes not-so-smoothly - to their new life here in Charlotte. They are trying to find their way around this new place with its odd street configurations and sometimes confusing southern ways. They are facing new concerns and issues at a new church. They are criticized and judged for their words and actions. In our conversation, I honored all of those factors, told him we are praying for him and his family, and promised to continue to do so. Not surprisingly, I could tell as I spoke to him that he was uncomfortable with receiving compliments. He was much more comfortable in thanking me for my prayers for their family than receiving my accolades.

Why is it so difficult for us to simply say thanks for the kind words that are offered to us? Why is it so hard to believe that our lives matter to others? I think the only way we will ever change our tendency to disbelieve our value is by looking people in the eye and telling them exactly why they matter to us - over and over. Life is too short to hold back on loving others; by the time we get around to telling them how we feel, it may be too late. They - or we - could be dead, have moved away, or be so overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness that either they cannot hear our words or we cannot speak them. I am determined to not wait that long.

Last week, a friend of mine sent me an email in which she described some challenges she is currently facing. I wrote her one of my typical long, descriptive, overly emotional missives, and then I called her and left her a message telling her that she is in my thoughts and prayers. When she called me back, she expressed sincere gratitude for my gestures of kindness towards her, and we talked for quite a while. Yes, every connection, every contact makes a difference.

When I read the blogs other people write and send comments
When I read the emails that friends send and write back to them
When I listen to phone messages and respond with a card sent "snail mail"
When I smile at the person checking me out at the supermarket
When I return to that cashier and remind him or her of a previous exchange
When I sincerely thank the store employee who loads my groceries into the car
or recommends a bottle of wine
or weighs and wraps my fish selection
or asks me if I've found everything I needed at the market
When I visit a neighbor and comment on the kitchen renovations she is doing
When I thank the doctor or dentist for helping me stay healthy
When I hug the folks at church and listen to their stories
I am fully aware that every one of those interactions leaves a mark.
Every smile, snarl, compliment, and curse matters.

I have a friend in Spain who told me a long time ago that every night when he goes to bed, he takes a few moments to consider if he has made someone smile at some point during that day. Was it a child in a stroller, a co-worker, a client, a friend, or his wife? Whose day was improved, even if only for a moment, because of something he said or did? Good question, Jorge, very good question.

To that list, I will add the name of the One whose approval of my life matters than all others. On a daily basis I wonder, "Have I done anything today that made God smile? That was pleasing to Him? Did I love with a whole heart? Did I forgive someone for a wrong done to me? Did I refrain from gossip or slander? Did I reach out to someone in need and lend a hand? Did I write an email or a blog or a card that would lift someone's spirits? Did I give thanks for the many blessings I received today?"

Psalm 19:14 says, Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Ephesians 4:29 follows that: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Certainly every day I blow it. I say mean things. I certainly think mean things. A lot of the time, I want to walk - no, run - away from my life and start all over as a single, childless, and carefree woman in a breezy apartment overlooking el Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid. I am selfish and thoughtless; as proof of that, I confess that I like to shop more than I like to clean the house.

But the deepest desire of my heart is to honor God with every decision I make.
Beyond that, I long to become the strongest, most joyful, gracious, and creative woman I can be, and in turn love, honor, respect, and build others up.

Every night I want my last thought to be a question:
Have I made at least one connection, had at least one interaction,
or made at least one decision today that honored God and encouraged someone else?

Every time I can honestly answer "Yes" will have been a good day.

Thanks, Andrea, for your blog and the challenge to make every connection count.