Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

From Madrid, from the home of my friends.
It has been a fantastic visit so far.
Playing with little Alvaro.
Wandering through museums with Marta.
Walking and window shopping alone.
Writing in my journal.
Reading The English Patient. (I finished it. As always, the book is far better than the movie.)
Taking pictures.
Visiting with friends.
Getting ready to welcome the new year in just a few short hours.

I have spent some time during these past few days reflecting on the year that is ending today and the year that will begin tomorrow. Highlights and low lights. Travels. Books read. Classes taught. Meals cooked and consumed. Cups of tea and coffee drunk. School outfits ironed. Blogs written and read. Sunsets and sunrises seen. Tears shed. Stomach cramps suffered due to laughter. Text messages sent and received. Emails, text messages, letters, cards, and telephone calls ignored...

The death of the first friend I made in Charlotte.
The birth of new friendships.
Travel in the United States and in Europe.
Classes taught and lessons learned.
Friendships deepened and weakened.

Fires. Drought.
Earthquakes. Floods.
Marriage. Divorce.
Love. Apathy.

Another year come and gone.
Begun and ended right here in Madrid.
I wonder where I will be a year from now when I write my New Year´s Eve blog.

Also I have begun to work on my Mondo Beyondo List - the list of dreams that ¨my heart will keep track of¨ (thanks Jen Lemen for putting that beautiful phrase in your beautiful book, Beginnings) even though my mind will surely forget. My favorite writing teacher says: ¨Take your dreams seriously. Play with them.¨ I like that. I will be playing with a few dreams tonight and in the new year. And I wonder - What dreams may come? What dreams may come true?

Nothing to do now but wait and see.
And pray and laugh and eat and drink and live merry.
Travel and discover and reflect and give thanks.

Happy New Year to one and all.
May peace and joy reign in your lives tonight, tomorrow, in all of 2008 and forever.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I´m here...

At the home of my friends, Leticia and Eduardo, and their beautiful baby, Alvaro. I arrived here without any problems. Flew out of Miami a little late, but arrived here in Madrid without any problem. I came up out of the subway station near my friends´ house, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief, of comfort, and of gratitude.

I know I will never be able to explain it, but there is something about this city that feels more like home to me than Charlotte, than Brooklyn, than anyplace else I have ever been or lived. Inexplicable. Undeniable. At home. My dream would be to move here with Steve and the kids to live for a year or two. Perhaps someday...

Anyway, it´s just after 8 pm here, and I am feeling an extra two pounds on each eyelid. I´m exhausted. I will head to bed soon and hope to wake up fully refreshed in the morning. I´ve got all kinds of adventures planned... let´s see if I can get them all done in the few days I have here.

Thanks to all of you who have said you will keep me in your thoughts and prayers. I covet every one. I plan to take copious notes, hundreds of photos, and write lots of stories upon my return. Perhaps I can post a few tales while I am here.

In any case, I´m here in Madrid.
Feeling tired, but feeling very good.
Hasta maƱana. (See you tomorrow...)

Besos pa´todos. (Kisses for everyone.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hope you had a merry Christmas...

It was a good day for us yesterday, quiet.
Mom and Mom-in-law came for brunch at 9 am.
Both were on their way home by noon.
A quiet afternoon here.
Cleaning up. Putting dining room linens away.
Munching on cookies and other goodies.
Went to the movies with Kristiana to see "Juno."

(It's a movie about a teenager who gets pregnant. How the baby's father responds. How her family responds. How her friends and school respond. Abortion or adoption. Who decides? Based on what premise? If you know a teenage girl or have a teenage girl or are a teenage girl, it's worth a viewing and a frank discussion of "what would happen if that happened to me/you/us?" It is well worth seeing if you have a teenage boy as well; after all, she didn't get pregnant alone. Don't you just love how discussions/rants that focus on the topics of sex, pregnancy, birth control, and abortion are focussed almost exclusively on women? But that's a-whole-nother discussion.)

Back here for some list-checking, packing, journaling, and then I crawled into bed at 10 pm. Exhausted.

Up now. Final packing.
A little bit of panic and disbelief.
Am I really leaving here in less than four hours for Spain? Really?
I guess it's true; time flies whether or not you are having fun.

I will try to post a few blogs while I am away.
I will certainly be doing lots of thinking about future writing.
I will be wishing you all a Happy New Year when the clock strikes 12 in Madrid.

And I will be back in twelve days.

Off I go on another adventure.
Traveling mercies to one and all.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Tis the Day Before Christmas...

Where in the bowl is Gail??? (I wish I could say this was on our table. Alas, it is at the home of a woman I know who hires decorators to do this kind of thing...)


Tis the day before Christmas
And all through our house wafts the scent of a delectable meal in the making.
The sound of Christmas music - Mannheim Steamroller at the moment.
Visions of sugar cookies, birthday cake for Jesus,
and presents for one and all.

I hope and pray that you are enjoying the final preparations for Christmas.
This is indeed the most wonderful time of year -
so please take a moment to take a deep breath and rejoice with those you love.

And if you are in the mood for a giggle, check out this video.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Countdown is On

A photo taken on the morning of New Year's Eve, 2006. My breakfast of champions: Two coffees and a Luna bar at Rodilla, a popular restaurant chain in Madrid. It was going to be a long day - and night. I needed the extra caffeine.

24 hours from now: we will be enjoying the final hours of Christmas Eve. Sitting and staring at the tree. Eating our birthday cake for Jesus - an annual tradition for our family. Talking. Laughing. Listening to music. Commenting on what we thought of the Christmas Eve service at the church.

48 hours from now: we will be enjoying the last hours of Christmas day - and our final night together for a while. Talking about how fast the day and year have passed. About how amazing it is that a baby born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago grew up to be the man whose words and actions serve as our supreme example of love, sacrifice, grace, forgiveness, and life itself.

72 hours from now: I will be on an airplane somewhere out over the Atlantic Ocean on my way to Madrid.

Yup, Steve did it again. On his own.
Went online, compiled our frequent flier miles, and booked me a ticket:
Charlotte - Miami - Madrid - Rome - Chicago - Charlotte.
Departing on December 26th.
Returning on January 7th.
He found the hotel in Rome too.

Either he was a travel agent in a former life (not likely - for many reasons)
or he ought to consider being one later in this life.

Here's how this trip came about:

He came home from work one day a couple of weeks ago and said,
"It's done. You're going."

Submissive, compliant wife that I am (I just typed that with my fingers crossed, so it doesn't actually count as a lie!), I asked, "Going where?"

"Madrid and Rome."

"You're kidding."

"No, I'm not. You'll leave on the day after Christmas, go to Madrid for six nights, and then fly to Rome and spend five nights there."

A couple dozen questions and responses flew back and forth between us for about ten minutes. Then nothing. Silence. Heart racing. Smiling. Realizing. Accepting.

"Okay. I'll go."

So I'm going. To spend time with Leticia and Eduardo and their son, Alvaro - who is now one year old. I will walk and think and write in my journal. Read and prepare to teach my journaling class. Collect coffee shop receipts. Spend time alone.

The Prado. The Thyssen. El Museo Sorolla. Eat 12 grapes at midnight on New Year's Eve. A classical music concert on New Year's Day. Followed by a nap. Followed by packing my suitcase.

An early morning flight from Madrid to Rome on January 2nd. Santa Maria del Popolo. The Borghese Gallery. The Vatican. Santa Maria Maggiore. San Giovanni in Laterano. The Galleria Doria Pamphilj. Meeting up with old friends. Hopefully making new friends.

What will I do?
Who will I meet?
How much will I learn?
How many tears will I shed?

Yes, the countdown is on.

PS. Has anyone seen the amazing (near) full moon tonight?

This photo was taken as I walked from my hotel to Leticia and Eduardo's apartment building in January of this year. In Madrid.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Today is the shortest and darkest day of the year...

My daughter crept quietly into our bedroom just after 7 this morning.
I was already awake, sitting up at the side of the bed.

I asked: "It's already light outside. Do you still wanna go?"
She answered: "Yup."

So she put a sweatshirt on over her pajamas.
I put on my long red robe over mine.

We went out to the minivan, and I immediately started to cry. I'm emotional that way. Just the sight of a glorious morning sky makes me weep. (No, it's not my hormones this time.)

We drove up the street and around the corner.
We drove through a few parking lots and turned around in a few circles.
Then we discovered the perfect spot.
To watch the sun rise over the horizon.

You see, this morning was the winter solstice.
The beginning of the shortest day of the year.
The hours of daylight will lengthen from now on.

Last night before bed, Kristiana explained to me that she'd been reading a book about a teenage homeschooler who invited her whole town to join her to watch the sunrise on the morning of the winter solstice. To welcome the beginning of a new cycle of life. She was obviously impressed and inspired by her heroine's adventure. Then, tentatively, she asked me if I'd be willing to go watch the sunrise with her. "Of course I will go with you."

We sat there in the car, watching colors burst across the sky. Clouds parted.
Traffic lights and power lines obstructed our view, but we watched anyway.

As we looked on, we talked about how real estate development and busyness and traffic hassles have distracted so many people from the glory of creation. We recalled driving along a local road one afternoon a couple of years ago when we saw a double rainbow in the sky - the entire length of both rainbows was visible. I opened my window and screamed out my delight. I pointed to the sky. I tried to get other drivers to look. A few seconds later, we stopped at a traffic light, and I looked around. All eyes in all the cars were glued on the red light, willing it to turn green. No one seemed to be paying attention to the double strand of red/orange/yellow/green/blue/indigo/violet splendor that hung just overhead. I wanted to scream, "What's wrong with you people?" but thought better of it. I probably would have been arrested for disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace at the next intersection. The magnificent double rainbow nobody sees. The ranting, raving, shouting, laughing, crying black woman with wild dreadlocs pointing towards the sky - everybody sees her.

Anyway, back to today's events... Recently Kristiana and I read that wonder is the purest form of worship. There we sat together. In wonder. In worship. Mother and daughter. In our pajamas. In the minivan. Together. Talking. Crying (I was crying. She was fine.) It was a perfect moment.

As we sat there, Kristiana read a familiar passage from Isaiah.
Familiar especially at this time of year.

"Arise, shine, for your Light has come.
The glory of the Lord is risen upon you."

On this morning of the shortest day of the year, we arose to see the light shine, to see the glory rise upon us from the Eastern sky. Good news: There is only more light to come in the coming days and weeks. More Light Indeed.

On the way home, I thanked her for inviting me to join her.
She flicked her elegant wrist and wryly said, "I needed a ride."

Merry winter solstice night!
Merry Christmas!

Addendum - It's 10:45 pm. Kristiana just informed me that today is NOT the winter solstice after all. I guess I'm not such a great homeschooling teacher - my daughter hasn't yet mastered the art of reading the calendar. But the rest of the story is true; it really is. We can try for another sunrise viewing on a later date. Oh well...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A few random thoughts...

On December 1st, I began the Christmas journal. I think I mentioned it here way back then. I admit that I've been pretty faithful to it since then. It has been a challenging, but also thought-provoking activity for me. Shimelle's questions about presents, wrapping paper, memories of Christmas past, favorite holiday traditions, and dreams about future celebrations have brought smiles to my lips and tears to my eyes. I love this time of year, and this journal has helped me to appreciate it even more.

Today I wandered around Charlotte with Kristiana and Daniel, running errands, going to the library (twice), CVS, the pediatrician, and a few other places. We walked and talked, laughed and told stories, cried (at the doctor's office), and marveled at the tacky things for sale in our city.

And all the while, all the while,
I prayed for more rain. (Some rain is in the forecast for the weekend!)
I gave thanks for my two children and their great health.
I tried to imagine when I would pick up one more gift for Daniel and wrap everything.
I made plans for an upcoming trip - details to follow.
I thought about friends whose words of encouragement and love have touched me in deep ways lately: Karen, Lisa, Jen G, Jen L, Amy, Kim, Val, Dinah, Laura, Laurie, Shelby, Mel, Giovanna, Maya, Virginia, Jill, Mary, Katie, to name a few.

We came home and enjoyed a yummy vegetarian dinner. Then Kristiana and I went next door to spend time with the neighbors who make and consume more Christmas cookies than any other family I have ever known. K and I went over to help Robin and her daughter pick out five or six kinds of cookies for them to make - before Christmas. After Christmas, they will make another set of five or six kinds. (FYI - they are an extremely active and fit family - and they happen to LOVE cookies. They invite Kristiana over at Christmas time to help them bake, and in exchange, we are blessed with many plates of cookies to enjoy. Truthfully, they invite Kristiana over regularly for hours at a time to cook, play games, and simply hang out. This is the same woman who invites all the neighborhood families to her house for potluck dinners whenever there is a snowday. Admittedly, it doesn't happen often here in Charlotte, but when it does, we all head over for a feast at their place. They are the kind of neighbors that make living on a dead end street feel quite lively.)

Even as I sat with them, I felt a stream of gratitude flowing through my mind. Words of thanks for my immeasurably generous neighbors. Warmth in our home while so many are in the cold and dark in the midwest. Food in the pantry. Warm clothes in the closet. Shoes. Socks. Light bulbs. Scented candles and soaps. An odd collection of books and videos. Boxes of incense. Piles of photographs. Sensitive toothpaste. This computer. The camera that took the photos I share here on the blog.

Since returning home from next door, my mind has wandered back to the Christmas journal. To my early hopes that this Christmas would be different, more reflective, less hectic, more enjoyable, less consumeristic (is that even a word?). So far, those hopes have become my reality. More tea parties for one or two. Fewer trips to the mall. More time reading and creating artwork with Kristiana. Less worry about what others think of how I look and what I'm wearing.

Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) said she used to dream of having "a bigger, smaller life." When I first heard her say that, it made no sense to me. Now it makes perfect sense. I want to love bigger. Smile bigger. Laugh bigger. Have bigger friendships. Bigger dreams. Take bigger risks. Drink bigger mugs of earl gray tea. Shop smaller. Consume smaller. Live smaller. Eat smaller. Endure smaller disagreements. Withstand smaller emotional and spiritual crises. A big, small life.

The Christmas journal journey began 18 days ago.
It will continue until January 6th - another 19 days.
Many dreams have already come true.
Many hopes are yet to come to life.
Big dreams, small dreams.

Today I have a wonderful life.
Today I am thankful.
Today I am happy.
All is well.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Many Thanks...

Another photo from my recent trip to NYC. This was my beautiful little cheesecake - dessert after lunch at The Met. Who wouldn't want to take a photo of this masterpiece before devouring it in three or four large gulps? Yum, yum! I celebrated life, liberty, and the pursuit of dessert that glorious afternoon. (I dab the tears from the corners of my weary eyes and groan a little inside when I see those glasses on the table. Boo-hoo... Turns out I'll be able to replace them after the New Year. I am enormously grateful for medical insurance.)


It never ceases to amaze me how the internet - the blogging world, in particular - brings complete strangers together in ways that "regular" life never would. People who live clear across the country feel and act closer to me than people I see on a regular basis.

Email, cards, e-cards, and thoughtfully chosen, carefully packaged gifts have arrived here from near and far wishing me a happy birthday. Thank you to all of you who have celebrated my life with me over these past few days. It means more to me than you will know. So very much more.

Curious factoid: On the one hand, I have received several celebratory birthday greetings from people who have never met me face to face. On the other end of the relational spectrum, my three brothers have (once again!) failed to acknowledge my birthday. I am the youngest of four children and the only female/sister. How can they forget about me so completely and so frequently? It saddens me to admit that this has happened so many times that it doesn't surprise me anymore. The truth is that I am surprised when they do remember.

With that factoid in mind, I send out an extra "Thank you" to all of you who have filled in and served as the sisters I've never had. (No worries about hurting my brothers' feelings as none of them read my blog - at least not that they have ever acknowledged. We'll see if this comment brings about a response of some kind...)

PS. It's raining here in Charlotte - a nice steady rain.
We need every drop of it.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

It's My Party...

As the winds of time continue to blow through my life, and I am reminded of how small I am in comparison to the world and the universe around me, I am more and more grateful for and awed by the magnitude and splendor of all the blessings I have known during my life. It hasn't always been easy, but all is well. All is well. All manner of things shall be well.

I took these photos on my recent trip to NYC. The first is in the foyer of a friend's house - nice front window. The second is at an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Awe-inspiring. Beautiful. Simple. Grand.

It's my party.
So celebrate with me.
Light a candle or two.
Say a prayer.
Smile at and say hello to a stranger.
Drink an extra hot peppermint mocha.
Eat Christmas cookies before dinner.
Hug someone you love and tell them how you really feel.


Tomorrow is my birthday!!!
I'll be 42 years old.
Yeah for me!

It's been a great life thus far.
Glory be!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sometimes you just have to say...

Backs straight.
Shoulders back and down.
One, two, three. Click.

Be silly.
Make faces.
Have fun.
What the heck?

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Christmas Mystery

I admit to being a geek. Anybody who knows anything about me knows that I always carry a notebook of some kind or size to take notes on my life. I don't do it because I intend to blog about everything that happens to me; I really don't. But I do it because I intend to do what Mary, the mother of Jesus, did when He was born and as He grew up. I intend to ponder these things in my heart.

Over that past few weeks, I have taken a lot of notes on my life and on life in this city I have grown to love. Here are some of the things I am pondering these days.


Why do people give presents to each other at Christmas time? If Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus, then what do presents have to do with that? If Christmas is not about celebrating Christmas, then what do presents have to do with it? (Yes, we give presents to our children. Every year, I raise this question with Steve and the children. Every year, the other three people in my house hope and pray that I won't force this issue. Every year so far, the majority has won out.)

Why don't we listen to Christmas music all year round? (I do, but why don't other people?)

What is the deal with the huge inflated snowmen and life-size snow globes outside of people's houses? Why don't people leave them inflated during the day? All those huge plastic/rubber cadavers on front lawns are pretty weird. And why on earth do people risk life and limb putting not only those strange figurines, but also electric lights and deer on their roofs and gutters? What does any of that have to do with Christmas?

Last night at our church's Christmas concert, I was struck by two simple sentences in a song that was sung. "It's still a mystery to me that the hands that made the world could be so small. It's still a mystery to me that those infant eyes saw the dawn of time."

If Jesus, God the Son, came to earth through Mary,
if the story of His birth as told in the book of Luke is true,
then there is no greater mystery.

What wondrous love is this.
Joy to the World.
O Holy Night.

Do we really do all of this because of that?

Friday, December 07, 2007

"Come to the table."

On Wednesday, Kristiana and I went to our favorite Wednesday noon church service. My awesome and beautiful friend, Katie, is a minister at a church in the center of Charlotte, and she offers a thoughtful and challenging message each week. On the first Wednesday of each month, Communion is served. "The table is set," she informs us. "These are the gifts of God for the people of God. Come, let us keep the feast." With those simple words, we are invited to "come to the table."

Because I want to be as close to Katie as possible, Kristiana and I always sit in the first row. We are the first people to rip off a hunk of fresh bread, dip it into the grape juice, and feast on the symbols of the broken body of our loving Lord. Then we slip back into our seats and wait, watching the other followers of The Way come and partake.

This week, something miraculous happened as I sat there. As I watched, I felt my awareness of each of the parishoners heightened and sensitized. A line of anonymous people suddenly became a processional of weary, hungry travelers. "They" became "we." I wondered how I had missed them for so long. No matter - I immediately began to pray for those who waited in line and those who were eating the bread. I prayed for their families, their job situations, their health, their fears, and all that could possibly be on their hearts and minds.

And for a brief moment, I felt it all. I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotions and tears filled my eyes.

For just an instant:
I saw the overweight woman - and felt the pain and shame and fear and invisibility and anguish of being overweight in our society with its obsession with thinness.

I saw the balding man with scars on his face - and felt that pain of his anxiety about how he looks in a world where every man is compared to Brad Pitt.

I saw the gentleman in his 50's - and felt the pain and fear of job loss in this nation with its weak economy. What if he loses his job and joins the millions who are facing mortgage crises?

I saw the young couple that comes each week - and felt the weight of their relationship. What do their families expect of them at this time of year? Whose family do we visit? Whose family do we see first?

I saw the young black woman - and felt her self-consciousness in a world where white and blonde and thin are the standards of beauty.

I saw the young black man in his suit and starched white shirt - and thought of all the black men who, no matter how they are dressed or what they do for a living, are seen as threatening, dangerous, and therefore, suspected of some unsolved crime.

I saw them all, pastors, business people, unemployed, full-time moms, full-time dads, people teetering on the edge of joblessness and homelessness - and I felt the deep agony of the human condition.

The fear and doubts.
The disappointments and despair.
The loneliness and angst.
The overwhelming busyness of this time of year.

I heard the questions that plague us all:
Who am I? Why am I here?
Who sees me? Who knows me?
Who loves me? Who hates me?
Why am I so afraid and lonely?
Who cares that I am alive?
Who would notice if I disappeared from my job and neighborhood?

Fortunately, the feeling passed quickly. I don't know how long I could have sat there without bursting into tears. Without crying aloud for the mercy of God to be felt by every person there. Outwardly, I dropped my head and took a deep breath. Inwardly, I pleaded for mercy for all of us. And I gave thanks that the One who bears our burdens, the One who cares for us, He is the One who invites us to partake and who gave His life that we might live, who emptied Himself that we might be filled. What wondrous love is this...

I thanked God that I don't have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.
I thanked God that He was there with me and with all of us at that moment. At this moment. And for all time.

And most of all, I thanked God that to all of us,

the weary and worn,
the tired and tempted,
the lonely and unloved,
the bereaved and beleaguered,
the unemployed and the unnoticed,
the insured and the ignored,
the frustrated and fat,
the rich and poor,
the healthy and the ill,
the glad and the sorrowful,

to each of us, the message, the invitation is the same:
"Come to the table."

There we were. Here we are. Standing in line.
Waiting for The Bread of Life.
The fruit of the vine - the life-giving blood of our Lord.
Hoping it doesn't run out.
Knowing somehow, in the deepest place, that it never will.
Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Falling in Love

I love love. I love falling in love. I love being in love.
I have fallen in love at first sight. At second sight.
In three days. In three hours. In three conversations.
I love reading about love. I love listening to music about love.
I love watching movies about love. I love writing about love.
Love is grand.

Right now, I'm reading a book about Advent. It's a book written by one Cistercian monk - Basil Pennington - about another Cisterian monk - Thomas Merton. Merton was a man who loved God, loved people and, for a few torrid months, loved a woman named Marge. In this Advent book I am reading, Pennington comments on celibate love, married love, and Merton's love for Marge in particular.

Here are a few excerpts about love that I love:

* Celibacy is first of all a giving as person. It doesn't preclude other deep loves, relationships, experiences of such love, even appropriate physical expressions. Fidelity to the Lord in this commitment of love does rule out allowing any other person or desire from getting such a hold on me that it gets in my way of being wholly to the Lord and of my placing those persons and desires within my relationship with Him.

* I am human. I fall in love. I have desires. In themselves, all these are OK; in fact, they are good. I cannot have too much love in my life. I cannot love too many people and be loved by them too much. Every love can be fostered by and enjoy appropriate physical expressions. But the celibate heart will not willingly allow these experiences or the desire for them to interfere with or distract from the complete "yes" to the Lord and the expressions of that "yes" that are due.

* When I am well centered in my love, then I can freely love others and enjoy that love and expressions of it. These all come out of that center and are beautiful expressions of and participation in it. I can be a real lover... All of this holds true for a married man when his life is well centered in his love for his wife in God. And the same is true for a married woman.

* If we are at all realistic, we know if we do open ourselves to loving others, there is always the probability that feelings and desires will soon arise. Should we then guard against falling in love? Such guardedness can be overdone and lead to truncation as a human person. Allowing the space for love insofar as our commitments allow and being ready - as ready as we can be - to struggle for a proper integration of the feelings and emotions that may well ensue, calls for a lot of courage and self-confidence in the right sense and confidence in God, the love of our life.

*** And here's the clincher for me***
* I think I would rather fall on the side of risking love and struggle, than risk being too guarded and miss the beauty and loveableness of my brother and sister made in Love. If Tom [Merton] deliberately chose to open himself to Marge's love and to loving her, it was a courageous thing.

Indeed, to choose to love someone is a courageous act.
To admit that love to its recipient is heart-stoppingly scary.
To know that someone else on the planet knows that they are loved is priceless.
But why not? Is there anything else in life that is worth fear, angst, hand-wringing, and panic, but love?

Who do you love?
Who do you want to love?
Who are you gonna love?
When are you gonna tell him or her how you feel?
What are you waiting for?

Who couldn't love these two faces - and the people that inhabit these faces?
I love loving them - and their father.

The quotations we copied from On Retreat with Thomas Merton. Author: M. Basil Pennington @1988
Based on accounts described in Learning to Love. Author: Thomas Merton @ 1968.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Stranger in Our House

This one was passed along to me this morning by a friend. I like it. I am challenged by it. I wish it weren't true of our home, but it is.


The Stranger

A few years after I was born, my Dad met a stranger who was new to our small Texas town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around from then on.

As I grew up, I never questioned his place in my family. In my young mind, he had a special niche. My parents were complementary instructors: Mom taught me good from evil, and Dad taught me to obey. But the stranger...he was our storyteller. He would keep us spellbound for hours on end with adventures, mysteries and comedies.

If I wanted to know anything about politics, history or science, he always knew the answers about the past, understood the present and even seemed able to predict the future! He took my family to the first major league ball game. He made me laugh, and he made me cry.

The stranger never stopped talking, but Dad didn't seem to mind.

Sometimes, Mom would get up quietly while the rest of us were shushing each other to listen to what he had to say, and she would go to the kitchen for peace and quiet. (I wonder now if she ever prayed for the stranger to leave.)

Dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions, but the stranger never felt obligated to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our home... Not from us, our friends or any visitors. Our long-time visitor, however, got away with four-letter words that burned my ears and made my dad squirm and my mother blush.

My Dad didn't permit the liberal use of alcohol. But the stranger encouraged us to try it on a regular basis. He made cigarettes look cool, cigars manly and pipes distinguished. He talked freely (much too freely!) about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I now know that my early concepts about relationships were influenced strongly by the stranger. Time after time, he opposed the values of my parents, yet he was seldom rebuked.. And NEVER asked to leave.

More than fifty years have passed since the stranger moved in with our family. He has blended right in and is not nearly as fascinating as he was at first. Still, if you could walk into my parents' den today, you would still find him sitting over in his corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures.

His name?...............

See below:







We just call him, "TV."

P. S.
He has a wife now....We call her "Computer."

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Good News and Bad News

The good news first: Steve and I went away for the weekend. To Charleston, South Carolina. Stayed at the Charleston Marriott. Great view of the river (not sure which river) from our top floor room. Oohed and aahed at the colorful sunset on Friday night. Ate a pile of deep-fried hush puppies at Hyman's last night. Excellent marriage conference. Time alone. Together. Talking. Laughing. Eating. Drinking. Listening to funny and inspirational speakers. Saw a couple from our church, from the marriage class we are taking on Wednesday nights. Met an engaged couple and committing to pray for them as they enter the challenging and exciting part of their life journey called marriage. Met another couple that I wish lived closer - Angel and Annette seemed like a fun-loving pair.

Took this photo in a bathroom mirror at Williams College this past summer. We were in Billsville (otherwise known as Williamstown, Massachusetts) for our 20 year college reunion. Took this photo on our final night there. I was finally ready to go join my classmates outside on Baxter Lawn to reminisce, eat, dance, and try to relive our glory days. I was happy. As you can tell. And I could see - thanks to my very cool glasses.
Read on...

The bad news from this weekend: I LOST MY PRESCRIPTION EYEGLASSES. I still cannot believe they are gone. I have absolutely no reasonable explanation for their disappearance.

But these are the facts as I recall: I don't need them to read. So I took them off at the hotel restaurant on Friday night before I read the menu. That is the last time I used them. Less than an hour after we finished dinner, I noticed that they were missing. Since then... nothing. We asked at the restaurant hostess stand, the bar, the front desk, housekeeping, the hotel lost and found, the conference directors' table. Nothing. We asked each of the above two or three more times - each. The speaker at the conference made an announcement from the platform. Nothing.

Steve, being the generous soul that he is, told me that they were cool glasses, but not as cool as the ones I'm going to get this week. Not to brag or anything, but they were very cool glasses. They had polarized transitions lenses that turned the perfect shade of gray in the sunlight. They were exactly the right size and shape for my face. The reddish brown frames matched the red highlights in my hair and the chocolate brown undertones in my skin. They had colorful stripes on the inside of the frames, not because anyone could see them. Not because they helped resolve my vision problems. Nope, those stripes were there simply to make the glasses look cool. Perfect strangers have complimented me on them.

I miss them terribly, and not only because they looked so cool. But also because I need them to drive, to watch movies, to read the screens at church, all that sort of thing. Thanks be to God I don't need them to read or write. Or I would truly be sunk!

I know, I know.

There is a war raging in Iraq. There is war simmering in Afghanistan.
Genocide is still taking place in various countries in our world.
There are millions who are homeless after earthquakes, typhoons, and cyclones.
There is a record-setting drought gripping the southern region - and elsewhere.
There are billions of people on the planet living on less than $3 per day.
I know I should stop my whining.

But still...
I miss my glasses.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Am I the only one...

This photo was taken at the airport here in Charlotte while I waited for my flight to White Plains for the writing group gathering. Traveling light. Traveling well. Traveling. I love to travel. I miss being on the road. Am I the only one?


Am I the only one who manages to follow up one fantastic day of basking in joy and grace and peace with three days of tears and frustration and feeling sorry for myself?

No, nothing in particular.
Just feeling a little down.
A little lonely.
A little hormonal.

Am I the only one?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Simply Beautiful

Today has been one of those days, ones of those simply beautiful days.
One of those ordinary days that is easy to overlook.
I haven't overlooked this one.
Waking up after an invigorating, most enjoyable dream

A few silent moments in front of the Christmas tree before every else woke up

The beginnings of preparation for a retreat I will lead in April


Two cups of tea: lapsang souchang and mango green

Breakfast with Kristiana: an egg sandwich she made for me

Reading to and with her: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Blue Like Jazz

Walking Maya in the rain (yes, rain. Thanks be to God!)

Washing my hair

Cream, scented oil, knee high socks, a denim skirt, black shirt, and chenille scarf

Homeschooling with my 9th grade daughter

Ice water to drink

Sitting in the minivan with K outside of her horseback riding barn, chatting

Watching her walk into the barn in her riding pants, boots, chaps, and helmet. That daughter of mine is growing up. Tall, elegant, beautiful. Smart, gentle, kind. Where on earth did she come from?!?!?!

Sitting in the van alone, listening to Christmas music, journaling, nibbling on mint M&Ms, reading a book on how to maintain hope in the face of a difficult relationship, dreaming of travel, wishing I had brought tea in my thermos.

Listening to the rain land on the van

Coming home to a warm, cozy house

Cuddling with Daniel, putting him to bed at 8:30, praying with him, and kissing him good-night... being glad that my 11-year-old still likes to be "put to bed"

Doing some preparation work for a holiday journaling project: Journaling Your Christmas with Shimelle. I am very excited about getting started. I hope to be able to adapt it to ongoing journaling projects I'd like to do. Apparently, Shimelle leads online journaling and scrapbooking classes often. If this one goes well, I may take another one.

Sitting here at my computer in my red robe, blue slippers, alone in my study.

As I sit here, writing, thinking, reflecting, I am reminded of so many quotes from so many books. I look over at my shelf and see Kathleen Norris's ode to daily life: The Quotidian Mysteries. I see Denise Roy's ode to motherhood: My Monastery is a Minivan. I see Becca Stevens' Sanctuary, a book about the unexpected places where she met up with God's grace. And John Eldredge's book title, The Journey of Desire, always sends me into spasms of fantasy. Which journey? Which desires will finally be met? When and where?

At the end of it all, after finishing each book and sighing that last sigh, underlining the pithy statement that I hope will end all the aforementioned sighing, after cutting out and gluing the ideal image into my journal, the book that lays so many of my ideals to (what often feels like eternal) rest,
in the end, I usually feel both grateful and discontented.
I am drawn in to the mystery of this life and dulled by the dailyness of it.
I seek sanctuary and am deeply enamored with the idea of escape.
So many desires, so few journeys.
All those feelings. Ebbing and flowing. All at the same time.

Today, however, I lay those contradictory feelings and thoughts aside.
Right now, this moment is simply beautiful.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

The local shops and streets are lit up with Christmas lights.
Electric-powered deer and sleighs dot lawns all over Charlotte.
Santa has set up his perch at the South Park Mall.
Starbucks and Caribou Coffee have the requisite peppermint drinks available. (I like Caribou's drink names: Falalala Latte and Ho ho ho mint mocha.)

There was an organ concert at church tonight.
Choirs, dancers, and actors are preparing for the Christmas concert.
Poinsettias line the edge of the podium at church.

Our tree is up and decorated.
Christmas cookie ingredients are piled high on the pantry shelves.
Christmas music is playing in the living room.
I've pulled my Advent books off the shelves.
I've begun to eye the red and green earrings that I wear only during the month of December.
Steve and I have already promised each other that we won't be excessive with the children's gifts this year.

And deep down inside, in that private cave where my heart hides during most of the year, there is a candle flickering. There is a light breaking through the shadows. I find that I am smiling more. I laugh more easily at my husband's ridiculously goofy jokes. I want to sing Christmas carols day and night.

During my time in New York a couple of weeks ago, one of my friends asked me if I really believed in the Virgin Birth. Isn't it possible, she asked, that it is a story made up by Christ's followers to enhance the story of how good a teacher He was? I told her that I most definitely do believe in the Virgin Birth. If the story of Christ's birth is a lie and He never corrected it, then He isn't a good teacher. He's a liar, and He isn't worthy of any of my praise or worship.

Thinking back on that conversation earlier today, I found myself wanting to sit with my children and reread the story of Christ's birth to them, explaining to them the wonder of carrying a child within one's body, and trying to imagine with them what Mary felt, knowing the true miracle of The Child she bore. This is a magical, mysterious, mind-boggling time of year for me. Every year it seems to be more awe-inspiring.

It is beginning to look and feel a lot like Christmas.
And I am happy.
Not only because my birthday is coming up: nineteen days and counting...
It's not only because I may be heading overseas again in December...
It's not only because several old friendships are being renewed and deepened
and some new ones are getting better day by day...

My spirit is light and joyful because once again
I am waiting here for Love again to be born.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

This has been a long day. I woke up at 5 to pull a few things out of the fridge in preparation for the big meal.

Three of us went to the church at 6 to help pack meals for needy families (Daniel didn't even open his eyes when I asked if he wanted to go - he shook his weary head)... wrong time! My fault - oops. So Steve, Kristiana, and I came home for two hours and returned to the church at 8...right time - yeah!

Although there are lots of organizations and churches that pack more than 100 family meals (a whole turkey, stuffing, green beans, gravy, cranberry sauce, rolls, and a pie), it is quite moving to see dozens of people scooping all of the above into containers, wrapping turkeys, going up and down the church elevator with pies and turkeys that parishoners are dropping off... As I taped cardboard boxes together, I prayed for each family that would receive a meal, and I gave thanks for the tremendous gift it is to be able to provide for our children as we do when there are so many who cannot. It was truly an assembly line of blessings.

Back home to cook, bake, do some last minute cleaning, shower, get dressed, set the kitchen and dining room tables, and prepare for a group of 11 - which included the widower and two of the children of my dear friend, Karen, who passed away back in April. We enjoyed lots of food, laughter, pie, sparkling cider, and more food. Several guests fell asleep during the Detroit-Green Bay football game. Nice.

The last guest is gone. We are quieting down for a cozy night of snuggling and recovering. I plan to sleep in late tomorrow morning.

But I'll be up for the tea party at 10! I'm going to throw my warm purple robe over the post at the end of the bed before I go to sleep and keep my book and journal nearby for the morning's planned rest and relaxation.

Please join me - wherever you are, whoever you're with. Tea and pie at 10.
I'll be right here.
Happy Thanksgiving night to all of you.
Especially you...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Count me out!

Who are the people who line up outside of stores at 5 in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving?

Are the prices really that good that they need to deprive themselves of sleep in order to be first in line?

Do their children really need another plastic toy, another video game, another electronic device, doll, or doo-dad that badly?

Is there anything for sale anywhere in this country that I would consider lining up to purchase at 5 am? At the moment, nothing comes to mind. Nothing at all.

Why do we allow ourselves to be so duped by the sellers of unnecessary stuff that we humiliate ourselves this way? No wonder there is a record number of foreclosures in this country, family-busting debt, and despair about the state of our personal economic situations; we refuse to stop spending. We refuse to "just say no" to all the fear about not having the latest and greatest of whatever is out there to be had. We want the most stuff for the least bucks - and end up with poisonous, faulty, cheap junk that our children want to throw away within days and that our importers and manufacturers want to recall within months.

Count me out.

Truthfully, I have never joined in that early morning frenzy on "Black Friday." And this year will be no exception to that tradition. (Oh yeah - Why does it have that name?)

Would anyone care to join me for an internet/long-distance tea party on Friday morning at 10 am, EST? Tea and some leftover pie from Thanksgiving. We can sit in our favorite place in our houses, sip, snack, and smile about the joy of being at home while so many others go crazy out in the stores. Together we can celebrate Buy Nothing Day.

Anybody at all?

Happy Thanksgiving to all.
There is so very much to be grateful for.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Groups of Eight - More about me

Lisa, I know you didn't ask directly, but I felt the pressure. Okay, I'll do it.
Seriously, I really like taking on these "meme" challenges and coming up with a few more details about the person I am - and the one I hope to be someday...

8 Things I'm Passionate About =

1. Deepening my friendships
2. Growing in my faith
3. Travel
4. Downsizing in many areas of my life
5. Spending time with my children
6. Strengthening my marriage
7. Learning
8. Journaling

8 Things I Want to Do Before I Die =

1. Publish a book of my musings
2. Live in Europe with my husband and children
3. Live in a cottage-style house
4. Learn to speak Italian fluently
5. Take a class on art history and appreciation
6. Teach a college or graduate level course
7. Become a better photographer
8. Get paid to do any of the above

8 Things I Say Often =

1. Indeed
2. Exactly, exactly
3. It ain't perfect, but it's definitely better
4. Lord, have mercy.
5. Thanks be to God.
6. Did you brush, floss, peep, and Act? (That's how I ask my children if they took care of their teeth and bodily needs before bed. Act is a mouthwash they use.)
7. No one asked me for my opinion.
8. And they're off like a herd of turtles. (I say this when we finally get out of the house and head out to do whatever we have to do.)

8 Books I've Read Recently =

1. Speaking of Faith
2. The Myth of a Christian Nation (not finished it yet)
3. Searching for God Knows What
4. Thirst
5. Forty Days to a Closer Walk with God
6. Eat, Pray, Love
7. Through Painted Deserts
8. Sanctuary

8 Songs I Could Sing or Listen to Over and Over =

1. Your Smiling Face - James Taylor
2. Vamos Pa'lante - Contagious
3. Waiting for you to Turn me On (Norah Jones' version)
4. Smooth - Santana
5. Great is Thy Faithfulness - Selah
6. Waiting for Love to be Born - Rob Mathes
7. Moonlight Sonata
8. Pachelbel's Canon

8 Things that Attract Me to My Best Friends =

1. Intelligent humor
2. Love of life
3. Vulnerability
4. Honesty
5. Lack of a complaining spirit
6. They like to eat
7. Willing to listen to my tales
8. Adventurous

A few categories of my own:

Eight people I wish I could meet and have dinner with

1. Andy Garcia
2. Oprah Winfrey
3. Beth Moore
4. Anne Lamott
5. Elizabeth Gilbert
6. Andrea Lee
7. Barack Obama
8. Leonie Allan

Eight places I want to go back to sometime soon
1. Puerto Rico
2. Costa Rica
3. London
4. Rome
5. Boston
6. Madrid
7. Florence
8. Gibbs' lake house

Eight foods I liked as a child - but not anymore
1. Liver and onions
2. liverwurst
3. Funyun's onion rings
4. cotton candy
5. graham crackers
6. Ritz crackers
7. taffy
8. strawberry ice cream

Eight things or people I think about every day
1. the drought
2. my children's health and well-being
3. all the books I am in the middle of reading
4. my friend, Antonio
5. the classes I am teaching, have taught, and am preparing to teach
6. when I will get to see my dear friend/friends again
7. what would happen to Steve and the kids if something happened to me
8. what would happen to me and the kids if something happened to Steve

Eight things/people I am grateful for tonight
1. Steve and the kids
2. my niece, Lizzie, who is here visiting us this week
3. my new friend, Lisa
4. the many friends that I have known for years and continue to cherish (too many to name - and that's a great problem to have)
5. this awesome house we live in
6. our health
7. laughter
8. the Great Harvest Bread Company: their turtle bars, cinnamon rolls, honey whole wheat bread, savannah bars, and all the other goodies
8b. lots of exercise videos and tapes that I can use to combat the side (and back and butt) effects of #8.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A recurring theme...

A recurring theme in my life, in my thoughts, and during last week's trip to NYC/CT to hang out with a few writing friends is this: contradictions.

The contradictions between what I think and what I do.
Between what believe and how I live.
Between what I feel and how I act.

Here's an example: I say that I believe that I ought to give more things away, support worthy causes, and that I care about the plight of the poor, but I end up spending much more money on myself than on anyone else.

I say that I think there should be an end to war, easy gun ownership, and abuse. But I do very little to bring those ideals to life. Sure, I write letters to some people and make phone calls to others, but what have I done that has cost me more than a few moments of my time and a few strokes on a keyboard?

One of the highlights of my time in NYC and CT was a visit to the Whitney Museum in Manhattan. We walked through the exhibit of the work of Kara Walker. Racially and sexually charged silhouette pieces focused on the era of the Civil War. Difficult to look at in some cases. Certainly unnerving. Shocking. Intentionally so.

The title of the exhibit, "My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love," summed up, not only the images she created, but also the emotions I carry. The ones who are supposed to complement us often entrench themselves in war-like stances opposite us on certain issues. The ones we love most and claim to love us are often the same ones who oppress us most. But we love them and live with them anyway. Contradictions abound.

Unable to pass through any museum without a notebook in hand, I copied down a few quotes, a few phrases from her posted explanations and introductions.

* "All I want is to be loved by you and to share all that deep contradictory love I possess."

* "...the impossibility of communicating to you these contradictions..."

* "Funny how we pick and choose what can and can't be said. Which stereotypes to be applied. Which ones are in or out."

* "I can be as self-righteous and upstanding as the rest of y'all. But I figure why bother?"

Here are a few of my responses to those quotes and a few goals I have set as a result of pondering them for a few days -

To give and receive love, no matter how contradictory it is. To love the gay and the straight, the sober and the drunk, the married and the single, the religious and the atheistic, and to do so without hesitation or explanation. To speak the truth to and about the ones I love and the ones who love me. To embrace those who are different, whose opinions are different, whose desires are different - and also to embrace the contradictions inherent in all of it.

To acknowledge and surrender to the impossibility of communication. Words come out too fast sometimes and are unretractable. Meanings change over time, across telephone lines, and even in face-to-face encounters. Intentions are misunderstood. But still I try anyway, I will reach out again, I will take adventurous journeys of the heart - risking dignity and danger. What else am I going to do with this one wild and precious life of mine?

To recognize that stereotypes and prejudice play a role in every interaction I have with everyone I meet. To attempt as often as possible to admit my own. To fight against my tendency to be afraid and distrustful of people who are not like me. To stop excluding others based on superficial characteristics. And be willing to revisit this issue often. As often as necessary.

To ask that last question over and over: why bother being self-righteous, judgmental, intolerant of difference? Why bother to seek reasons to be separate and not equal? Why bother to lift myself up onto a pedestal that causes more division in an already-divided, unequal, intolerant world? Why bother to argue about political differences when the goals, ideals, and dreams that bind us together far outweigh and outnumber those that set us apart?

So many contradictions.
So many questions.

Here's to doing what Rilke wrote so many years ago to that young poet:

“I want to beg you as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Glimpses of Soul

There are times in life when we catch glimpses of glory.

When the sun rises over the water, we catch the eyes of someone sharing the glorious, golden view,
and we acknowledge that we have seen true beauty.

When a stranger becomes a friend, and both parties know it in the instant that it happens.

When a sorrow or a loss or even a death become the conduits for grace, for an embrace,
and for the deepening of love for those who survive.

When the words in a book, a poem, a song, a magazine, an email, a text message,
or a hand-written note speak to and for the truest, deepest, most treasured desires of our hearts.

Glory. Beauty. Grace.
Words do not capture it well.
But our hearts know.
Our souls know.
We are changed forever.

In her book, Speaking of Faith, Krista Tippett describes those glimpses this way: Because however fleeting, these "glimpses" are transformative. They stay with you, long after you can still remember clearly what you saw and even begin to doubt that you saw it, and they work on you from the inside. The shared glimpses of others stay with me, changing the way I move through the world. But my work of questioning and seeing and knowing and unknowing and living remains mine to do.

My prayer this chilly Saturday afternoon in Charlotte is that
we will each and all
embrace the wonder, the joy, the messiness, and the mystery
that are inherent in this life.

May we receive good tidings of great joy,
of ancient and soulful love,
of sacred and profane friendship,
and in the midst of our contradictory and confusing lives,
may we catch glimpses of each other's souls and smile.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It defies all logic...

Last night, we walked through a local shopping mall - heading back to a tea shop that Lisa thoroughly enjoyed earlier in the week. To our horror, Santa is already set up and taking photos with children. What about Thanksgiving? Why do we celebrate shopping but spend precious little time publicly or collectively giving thanks for the thousands of things we already have? Anyway, we stood beside the tree and took photos. Lisa, the same woman who taught me (in a single email) how to upload photos and add links to my blog, taught me how to take good self-portraits. I did this one myself!!! She has taught me more than she will ever know.
I won't try to explain it, because I cannot.

But there are moments in life when people appear and relationships are born.
There are connections that are instant

I've had a few in my life, precious few.
This is one of them.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My Messy, Thrilling Life

One day a few weeks ago, I lit a candle on my desk. The scent was lovely. After a while I got up to do something else someplace else, and when I came back, the candle had melted in the saucer. The hot wax overflowed onto everything in the small plate: the button I bought at a concert I attended last spring, a pin my son earned from something he did at church, confetti from the restaurant where we celebrated our wedding anniversary, rosemary I picked from the herb garden of a friend, and a few other objects that happened to be in the vicinity. What a metaphor for the messiness and thrill of my life: it smells great sometimes. It glows sometimes. It oozes all over everything sometimes. And it's all mine. That melted candle collage still sits on my desk as a reminder of that day and of all the things and people that make up my life. Read on...

This is the day of the week, Thursday, on which I often write a blog related to gratitude. Today is no exception to that. Today I am feeling enormously grateful for the messy, thrilling life I live.

More specifically, I am grateful for -

* the rain that fell last night and this morning
* Maya, the smelly, frisky dog that Kristiana and I bathed this morning
* the Great Harvest Bread Company, with its chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, honey whole wheat bread, and turtle bars
* Teavana's flavorful, energizing, relaxing teas
* British digestive cookies dipped in lapsang souchang tea
* Archipelago candles in the Luna scent
* Lisa, the most gracious, thoughtful, gentle, peaceful, caring person I've had in my home in a very long time

* the frantic hour we spent searching for my son at his school yesterday
* finding him
* the ability to acknowledge the fear that drove him to run away from me
* the ability to explain to him the fear that I felt at the prospect of not being able to find him
* hugging him and crying with him and explaining to him why he didn't need to do what he had done

* the fact that Lisa was with me the whole time, this new and true friend. She searched with us, cried with me at the end, and never once judged me or my husband or Daniel or criticized us or how we handled the crisis
* the fact that Lisa said she wants to tell him how much she loves him and us and was worried about him yesterday and is glad that he is okay...
* mojitos with Lisa at Miro (my favorite South Charlotte restaurant) last night celebrating Daniel's safe return and the beginning of our friendship

(To all of the skeptics and fear-mongers out there: welcoming this beautiful, wise, comfortable, comforting, open-minded, kind-hearted, spirited woman into my home and introducing her to my family is one of the most sane, peace-making, God-honoring things I have done in the past five or ten years!)

* idea books for scrapbooking and journal-making scattered in our dining room and living room
* stickers, patterned paper, glue sticks, glue dots, rubber stamps and ink pads - all of which serve to help me document my life journey
* museum tickets, airplane stubs, and postcards that grace the pages of my journal
* memories of good and bad times gone by - it's all there
* watching Lisa fill her journal with stickers and papers and cut-outs - little things that will always remind her of this visit
* blank pages yet to be filled with the stories of my messy, thrilling life

* the fact that the messes and thrills of my life,
the questions and contradictions,
the tears and tales, the missed appointments, the broken promises,
the demanding relatives, the inattentive friends,
everything and everyone that has intersected with and in my life
have made me a stronger, more joyful, more thankful woman,
not only appreciative of the many blessings I have,
but also excited about all the messiness and wonder
that lie ahead for me.

Thanks be to God.
All is well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Lisa is here!

Kristiana and I met her at the airport. We waited at the bottom of the stairs of Terminal A, and down she came, smiling, warm hugs at the ready. All I kept thinking was: "She is a brave woman. And I can't wait to get to know her better."

She brought us gifts of food from Ohio. The yummiest salad dressing we've had in years. Pasta sauce, apricot pumpkin spread (which we will spread on Charlotte's best bread - to be purchased tomorrow), and chocolates.

From the airport to Trader Joe's and Starbucks.
From there to the house for talk, tea and cookies.
We picked Daniel up from school, took her for a tour of the church.
Dinner here at home, a trip to the mall to check out a fantastic tea store.
Blah, blah, blah.

Yes, blah, blah, blah. It feels like I am telling the simple story of our simple life with someone who is simply a friend. It feels like nothing remarkable. The truly remarkable thing is that someone who others spoke of as a "total stranger that you have invited to meet your husband and sleep in the house with your children" already feels like someone I have known for years. She probably knows more about my family and my in-laws than she needs to know... but once I get on a roll, the truth comes out.

Yes, Lisa is here. Sleeping soundly in the guest room.
Tomorrow we are off to a noontime church service, a visit to a local museum, lunch at a favorite Indian restaurant, tea and cookies here in the afternoon...
Fun will be had by all.
Fun is being had by all.

Soon there will be photos to post.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Home again, home again

The view from the window this morning when I awoke in the guest room in my friend's house. Words failed me then; they fail me now.

Just back from a long weekend getaway. I spent the past four days hanging out with the writing group I'd been part of while I was still living in Connecticut.

Heated discussions. Chilled wine.
Hot tea in Susie's kitchen.
Cold walks in New York City.
A shocking art exhibit by Kara Walker at The Whitney Museum.
A disturbing movie about the war in Iraq called "No End In Sight."
Cozy warm nights in bed.
A spectacular sunrise over the ocean this morning.
A bad fall on the rocky shoreline a few hours later and a deep cut in my right palm. (Steve said I should have gone to the hospital for what he thinks would have been between two and four stitches. If I had done that, I would have missed my return flight to Charlotte.)

Memories to document in my journal.
Stories to write here on the blog.
Photographs to organize on the computer.

But first, I need to unpack my suitcase.
I need to fold a load of laundry.
I need to make sure the house in clean and in order.
I need to get as many hours of sleep as possible.
Lisa is coming tomorrow.

It is good to be home again.
Good to get away.
Good to be back at home.

Less than an hour before leaving for the airport, I ventured down the steps from Susie's patio to the tiny patch of rocky shore seen here. Less than ten seconds after reaching the bottom of the steps, I slipped and fell. I scrambled to my feet quickly, brushed myself off, and hoped no one had seen my moss-induced collapse. Even before I looked at my hand, I knew the wound was deep.

"But what the heck? I'm down here," I thought. "I may as well look around at the rocks and the stones." So I lingered a while. Gazed out at the water. Closed my eyes and listened to sound of the waves lapping close by. As I made my way back to the staircase and up to the house, I slipped again. Ouch. Double ouch.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


This is what my typical pile of books looks like as I exit the library. Who do I think I'm kidding? How did I think I could read that many books of poetry and poetry analysis in three weeks? I did enjoy the poetry of Mary Oliver. The love letters were a little more raunchy than I was prepared for...


I was talking to a good friend last week about three or four books that I am reading. Yes, three or four books at the same time. After I rambled on a bit about the book on muddled American politics, the book on how to find a middle ground in all our religious arguments, and a book on how to strengthen our marriage - I didn't even mention the two books that I am going to be teaching in the coming months - she asked, "Gail, do you ever think about reading something light?" I laughed and explained to her that since I so rarely have inspiring, challenging, or interesting conversations live and in person, I try to use my reading time to keep my brain active and stimulated.

Later I thought more about what she asked, and decided it was time to give my over-stimulated brain a break. Not long after, I picked up a novel by A. S. Byatt at the library. It is too dense for me at the moment. I need something lighter. A novel. A page-turner.

Can anybody out there recommend a few good books?

Forgive me, Father...

Funny video on YouTube. Check it out.
Word of warning: it is in Spanish and has subtitles.
Second warning: it is very funny.

Here it is.

Monday, November 05, 2007

How smart are you really?

Wanna take a test? A vocab test? Go to the website link below. Pick the right definition for each word and donate rice to hungry people around the world.

Take the test here.

How smart are you really?
How easy is it to feed somebody?
How dumb would it be to not give it a try?

PS. Thanks, Kristiana, for sending me this link.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Through a Glass Darkly

I've decided that I like to take photographs. We have two excellent digital cameras in our house. I don't know much about using either of them, but I do know that I like taking pictures. I want to learn what terms like f-stop and aperture and shutter speed and pixels mean. I am going to go to the Nikon website sometime soon because, as fluent as I am in Spanish, flipping through a camera guide that is written in "the language of the angels" isn't helpful to me; I am NOT an angel. At least, not yet.

I've decided that I want to learn how to take good self-portraits. Because I have a lot to learn about how to handle the cameras, it follows that I have a lot to learn about composing photographs, especially those that I take of myself. I've taken a lot of really bad self-portraits, and I've taken a few good ones. I'm learning - slowly, but surely. Someday, I will take one that I love. Until then, I will take a lot of duds.

In any case, in the meantime, I keep trying. Here are three recent attempts at self-portraits.

I wonder: Which image is the most accurate depiction of the woman that I am?
The smiling one in the distorted, screened mirror?
The fuzzy, shaky one in the Sunset Beach hotel room?
Or the long-distance, barely visible one at Gibbs' house by the lake?

The one whose smile is perhaps a little too ready and eager?
The one trying to look like she knows what she's doing with the big fancy piece of machinery?
Or the one whose desire is to hide as far away from being known and seen as she can?

The one who pretends to be happy all the time?
The one who pretends to be in control?
Or the one who pretends that she doesn't matter to anyone?

Perhaps I am all of those women, at one moment or another.
Perhaps I truly am every woman...

This much I know for sure: right now, I see through a glass darkly.
Through a distorted mirror, a lens that bends the truth
in my favor, I hope.

I've decided that I want to capture my life, as it is,
with all of its distortions, twists, turns,
shadows, shakiness, and distant viewpoints.
I want to learn to take better photographs.
I want to learn to write better stories.
I want to learn to live better.
Laugh hard.
Love well.

Friday, November 02, 2007

For the Coffee Lovers Out There...

And I count myself among you, for sure. I received this today from a friend via email. I like it.

A group of alumni, all highly established in their respective careers, got together for a visit with their old university professor. The conversation soon turned to complaints about the endless stress of work and life in general.

Offering his guests coffee, the professor went into the kitchen and soon returned with a large pot of coffee and an eclectic assortment of cups: porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal - some plain, some expensive, some quite exquisite. Quietly he told them to help themselves to some fresh coffee..

When each of his former students had a cup of coffee in hand, the old professor quietly cleared his throat and began to patiently address the small gathering. "You may have noticed that all of the nicer looking cups were taken up first, leaving behind the plainer and cheaper ones. While it is only natural for you to want only the best for yourselves, that is actually the source of many of your stress-related problems."

He continued. "Be assured that the cup itself adds no quality to the coffee. In fact, the cup merely disguises or dresses up what we drink. What each of you really wanted was coffee, not a cup, but you instinctively went for the best cups. Then you began eyeing each other's cups."

"Now consider this: Life is coffee.
Jobs, money, and position in society are merely cups.
They are just tools to shape and contain life,
and the type of cup we have does not
truly define nor change the quality of the life we live.
Often, by concentrating only on the cup,
we fail to enjoy the coffee that God has provided us...
God brews the coffee, but he does not supply the cups.
Enjoy your coffee!"

And then a few quotes were tacked on at the end.

*The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything they have. So please remember: Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.

And remember - the richest person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least.

It doesn't matter to me what kind of cup I drink from as long as some good conversation comes with it.

I admit that I spend far too much time thinking and worrying about the cup that holds my life and not nearly enough time sipping it, savoring what is in the cup. Tomorrow morning when I make that first cup, I plan to stop, take in a deep breath, give thanks, and then take that first savory sip.

Here's to coffee, tea, ice water, love, laughter, peace, friends,
and all the other goodies that fill the cups of our lives.
Here's to gratitude.

Happy sipping!

These two coffee shop photos were taken on the morning of the first half of "the coronation." I tell you what: that morning I appreciated the ability to eat, to drink, to enjoy food and drink. The days leading up to that appointment were painful ones. I was hesitant and anxious with every morsel I put into my mouth.

While I don't think I could sell many books based on this formula, I will say this: between the cracked tooth and the invasion of ants, I lost eight pounds that week. I have managed to keep five of those pounds off. I guess there really is a blessing in everything.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Breaking the Sound Barrier

Tonight, we did it, Lisa and I. We broke the sound barrier.

We met online a few months ago and quickly discovered that we have many things, ideas, dreams, and even eating habits in common. We began to check out and comment on each other's blogs regularly.

A few months back, she suggested that we speak on the telephone, nothing urgent or specific; she wanted to talk. I hesitated. What does one say to someone one doesn't know and has never met? So I did the most cowardly thing I think of at the time: I didn't reply to her suggestion.

She waited patiently. Kept reading and commenting here. Kept sharing and deepening our virtual friendship. Then about two weeks ago, she suggested that we meet in person. She offered to come here to Charlotte.

What? You'd come all the way here? To meet me?
So she's coming. In just under two weeks. To plunge herself into the only marginally controlled chaos that is my life.

Tonight, we broke the sound barrier.
We spoke on the telephone for just over half an hour.
She sounds as cheerful, as joyful, as peaceful,
and as funny on the phone as she comes across on the internet.
I can't wait to meet her in person.

I recommend it, this friendship thing. It's good for the heart, the mind, the spirit, and the soul. And soon enough, it will benefit the body as well - I am saving a long, warm hug for her. And there will be much feasting on the goodies from Trader Joe's, Teavana, World Market, and an extra special favorite Charlotte eatery as well.

Two weeks from now, when she's here, we will take photos that we can both post on our blogs. In the meantime, we will talk on the telephone, send emails, and count down the days.

Anybody else wanna talk? Meet? Have a mojito or a martini?
Drop me a line... We can start by breaking the sound barrier.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

She is the reason...

for my quietness these past few days. Today is my daughter's 14th birthday. Lots of gift buying and wrapping. Lots of reminiscing about those last days of my pregnancy, those thirteen hours of labor, and the arrival of our first-born, much-anticipated, and dearly beloved, Kristiana Nicole. Bursting onto the scene at a healthy 9 pounds and 1 ounce, 22 inches, she filled our arms and our hearts with joy and laughter from the first day.

Ain't she gorgeous??? Whether opening gifts on our bed early in the morning or looking dazzling late in the evening, this girl radiates light and peace and grace. Okay, I'm more than a tiny bit biased, I know - but if you ask anybody who knows her, they will say the same.

Yes, we wrapped up a few trinkets and doo-dads and gave them to her
on this, her special day.
But for Steve, Daniel, and me, she is the gift.

Every year around this time, I am reminded of a great story that a friend of mine tells each of her four daughters - and not only on their birthdays. She gathers each one into her arms, pulls her in close, and says, "Way back before you were born, way up in heaven, God looked around at all the beautiful babies, and He chose you to be born into our family. Of all those babies, you were the one He gave to us. And we are so thrilled that He did." I like that.

You, Kristiana, are the one chosen for us. We couldn't be happier.

Happy birthday, pretty girl.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Thankful Thursday

This photo was taken at Wing Haven in 2006.
That is Daniel's well-clad foot.
That is a much loved prayer of mine.
1. It's raining here in Charlotte. It has been raining since yesterday afternoon.
A slow, steady soaking rain. Thanks be to God.

2. I have felt surrounded by love and challenged by love in these past few days. Your words and prayers are appreciated and evident in my heart and soul.

3. A week or so ago, I browsed the shelves of my personal library and made two piles of books I have bought over the years but have never read. In doing so, I rediscovered one volume I'd bought ages ago. It was on the shelf closest to my desk, but my eyes had stopped seeing it. (Does that happen to anyone else?)

The book in question was written/compiled by Sabrina Ward Harrison, and is titled, The True and The Questions. Essentially it is a journal with various questions, quotes, and writing prompts. Thick paper to write on with fat markers. Lots of room for stickers and ephemera, stories and prayers.

I pulled it out last weekend and started filling its pages with random thoughts, lists, hopes, dreams, disappointments, and the like. I already keep a journal that has lined pages, and I love it. I continue to fill those pages. But this book is different. It's colorful. It's messy and sticky and I don't have to fill the pages in order. It's a place where the mystery and the mess of my life can spill without fear of messing anything up or crossing any pre-determined and well-established lines. What a timely re-discovery for me - perfect for my current state of mind and spirit.

4. The title itself is perfect for me right now too:
The True and The Questions.

I know what is true: God has not given me a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind. I know that I am not alone. I know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I know that all my needs have always been provided; I have never missed a meal or lacked anything I have needed. I know that I am surrounded by and filled with love. I know the truth.

But still... there are the questions. Some of them, many of them, are answered with all that I know is True. It's just that sometimes I forget the truth. It's just that sometimes my questions do not have simple answers. Sometimes the answers I receive do not seem adequate. Sometimes there do not appear to be any answers at all. And all of that is okay. I must remember and cling to the truth.

I know the verse: "You shall know The Truth, and The Truth shall set you free."

I guess I have to ask myself how well I know the truth.
Why I so often forget it.

Why I so often listen to, believe, and live as though
all the lies
about fear, weakness, and hopelessness
anger, violence, and war,
emptiness, insufficiency, and inadequacy,
are true.

5. When I focus on that which is true, the questions subside - temporarily.
When I lose perspective on what is true again (I repeat this cycle often), I can come always back to it. I don't have to remain adrift on the sea of questions and fear and doubt indefinitely. Sometimes I need to relax and let the rip tides of life pull me away from the beach - and rest in the knowledge that when my flailing finally ceases, I will be carried back to shore. On the life-saving truth of The Word, on the backs of other travelers who willingly bear me up, and escort me back to where I can stand on my own again. (See #2.)

6. I have some awesome friends. Some of my dearest friends live hours and hours away. Some of these fabulous friends I have never met face-to-face, but the depth of their love and concern for me, the strength of their commitment to me is greater than many people I see regularly.

7. I am loved.

8. My daughter makes an awesome trail mix: nuts, raisins, M&Ms, sesame sticks, and other goodies.

9. Yerba mate tea, hot and sweet, is a great way to start the day.

10. It's okay to drink more than one cup of yerba mate.

11. Although my bones are stiffening with age and my skin is wrinkling,
I do not yawn at my life.
My life, with all its twists, turns,
unexpected riptides, and strong undercurrents
is not boring. It never has been.
Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Now and The Not Yet

The pier at Sunset Beach. As I stood beneath it and took this photo, I marveled at how those sturdy beams withstood the pounding of the waves. But I also remembered all the times I have seen weathermen and women stand beside the remainder of such structures after the passage of a hurricane. The power of the wind and waves can overwhelm even the strongest buildings... and people.

There is a curious, confounding, and reassuring story in the New Testament book of Mark, chapter 4, that I have been thinking about this afternoon. It is the story of Jesus and His disciples crossing the lake. Here is the story - with my commentary:

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side of the lake." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.

Whose idea was it to cross the lake? It was Jesus' idea. I wonder if the disciples wondered why they were crossing. Did they even want to cross? Was there something on the other side that they had decided they wanted to see or explore? Or was the decision exclusively his? No answer is provided in the text, but we read that they got into the boat.

Makes me wonder: how many of the paths in my life were taken without much forethought on my part? Was there something on the other side of grad school, marriage, parenthood, homeschooling that I decided I wanted to see? How did I decide to take these pathways, to travel this particular route through life? Looking back, the answers to those questions aren't entirely clear, but nevertheless here I am in the boat. I am not alone in this boat. There are lots of boats floating around on the vast ocean that is this life, and there are lots of people in all those boats.

All kinds of furious squalls have come upon us, and many of our boats are being swamped. There are the Southern Californians in all kinds of boats, trying to escape the squalls of fire. The water-weary residents of New Orleans are watching their city flood again - in different kinds of boats. The afraid, the alone, the abandoned - are in the boat. There are the abused, the confused, the misused, the misunderstood, and the downright downtrodden - all in their own boats, watching the waves overtake them one by one.

Where are we going, Lord? What's on the other side of this choppy, turbulent, life-threatening water? When will we reach the other side? Will we reach the other side?

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"

I don't know about anybody else out there, but I've spent an inordinate amount of time asking this question lately. I sometimes couch it in kinder, gentler, more sanctified terms than the disciples did, but the question is essentially the same.












This part is the now.
The tears, the troubles, the loss, the anguish.
This is the now.

Next comes the "not yet."

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Peace. Be still." Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

"Lord, I beg you, please wake up. Stand up. Rebuke the waves, the flames, the fists being cocked back in anger, the pink slips being pushed across desks in apathy, the disease that claims entire families and villages, the violence, the bullets, the racism, and the all-consuming greed. Lord, please calm the stormy marriages and parent-child relationships, the fears of all people the world over. Lord, I pray for a calming of the wind and the seas that threaten to overwhelm all of us. Please cause the roaring of our anxious hearts to quiet down and the shaking of our shrill voices to be still. Please bring us peace."

Here is a lone surfer, against all odds, facing the ocean waves alone.
How often I have felt like him. And you?

He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"

My answer to his questions: "I'm afraid because I don't have the power to bring peace, not to my children, not to my friends, not even to myself. I'm afraid because I cannot see the horizon, but I believe that you can. I'm afraid because I'm human, and humans are fearful creatures. I'm afraid because my faith wavers. Or does my faith waver because I'm afraid? I don't know the answer to that question either, Lord, but I do know this: I am afraid. I do have faith - most of the time. No, I have faith all of the time; it's just that doubts come right along with my faith. Questions too. Wondering.

"If you don't mind, by way of answering your second question, I'm gonna quote back to you something someone said to you in Mark 9, 'I do believe; help my unbelief.' You promised In Joshua 1 that you would be with us. You promised in Philippians 4 that your peace would pass our understanding. You promised in Isaiah 43 that the fire and the floods wouldn't burn us or sweep over us. Lord, please help us to stand strong and watch with rapt attention as you keep your promises."

They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him."

Here is another part of the not yet.
The wind and waves haven't obeyed yet.
At least not as far as I can see now.

The now and the not yet.
Right now, the earth is parched and the trees are dying here in Charlotte.
Right now, the sky is dark and cloudy.
Right now, however, it's not raining.
Not yet.