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.