Saturday, March 31, 2007

"It's Just Not Fair"

I am the youngest of four children and the only girl in my family. Three older brothers who mostly shut me out of their boyish activities when we were growing up. My two oldest brothers lived in a bedroom in our basement and shared a bathroom down there. My parents, third brother and I slept on the first floor of our house and shared one bathroom between us.

Meal time was controlled chaos. If I didn't get my hands on the serving dishes early in the meal, there was a good chance that the best of the chicken or fish or roast would be gone. If I got to the breakfast table late, bacon, eggs, and grits would have to be scraped from the bottom of the pot in hopes of pulling together enough for a decent meal.

I learned to eat and enjoy what they didn't like. Things like liver and onions, chocolate ice cream, even liverwurst became staples for me because my brothers refused to eat the liver, the liverwurst, and would fight each other for the vanilla and strawberry ice cream, leaving the chocolate untouched. I ate the parts of the turkey and chicken that came in those little wax bags stuffed inside the raw carcass.

When my parents weren't at home, all control went out the window, and true chaos ensued. Food would be hoarded down in the basement room. I would scramble eggs that were already cracked in the carton and make toast from the two end slices of the loaf, the pieces no one else wanted. (To this day, I prefer those end pieces. My husband and children leave them for me.) I washed up the dishes they left in piles in the kitchen and then sat on the staircase outside their room hoping they would invite me in. Most times I went up to bed and drifted off to sleep having not spent even five minutes with my brothers in their subterranean hideout. Often the last words on my lips were, "It's just not fair." And it wasn't.

The whole food thing sounds pretty nasty now that I think about it.
It was.
My description makes my brothers seem like selfish fellows.
And in some ways they were.

Being the unrelentingly optimistic kid that I was, I learned to make the most of a difficult situation. Since I couldn't hang out with them, I walked to and from the library during the summer and fell in love with reading and classical music. I got sick of not understanding what my two oldest brothers were saying to each other in their rudimentary Spanish, so I began to study it as a 7th grader. I am convinced that many of my present day eating habits, my ease with traveling and being alone, my love of books, especially smelly old library books, and certainly my love for the Spanish language came because of the way I was treated as a child.

Have I ever related the story of why I'm no longer ticklish? It's because two of my brothers would hold me down and the third one would tickle me until I cried or wet my pants or both. I willed myself to stop laughing, and then they left me alone. Ta-da - no more tickles!

Who's the world traveling, healthy living, chocolate ice cream loving, completely bilingual one now, guys? Like the old adage says: "The best revenge is living well."

Last Sunday night at church, I heard this statistic: The United States is home to 5% of the world's population and consumes 50% of its resources. Staggering. Sobering. Disheartening. Disgusting. Inexplicable. Inexcusable.
It's just not fair.

All the while, we gorge ourselves to morbid obesity, try to figure out ways to keep outsiders out, speak in economic, environmental, religious, and political terms that much of the world cannot understand, and become enraged when the world repeatedly turns to us for help in its ongoing time of need - many of the very needs we have created because of our greed.
It's just not fair.

How many hungry, sick, wounded, and suffering men, women, and children will go to sleep tonight telling themselves, "It's just not fair"???

I often go to bed asking: Will the rest of the world ever get to live well? If they never do, then we'd better prepare ourselves for much more revenge yet to come.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Confessions of An Imperfect Woman

I read lots of blogs. Blogs on motherhood. On issues of faith. On scrapbooking. On raising two dogs. On being a spiritual pilgrim. On travel. On writing. On journaling. I read the Bible and other books and magazines and internet articles and watch the news and Jon Stewart and Oprah and The Office and ER. I listen to sermons and PodCasts and tirades and comedic radio programs. I take notes. I meditate. I ponder. I journal. I pray.

And then I try to do it all. To follow every piece of advice I read and hear. To follow every good eating and exercise regimen, to incorporate every spiritual discipline, to preserve all our memories on acid-free paper attached with acid-free glue sticks and subtitled with acid-free pens, and be the ideal wife and mother every moment of every day. Perfectly. Without mistakes. Without exceptions. Without falling off the wagon. Ever.

To that end,
I exercise five days per week.
I am regimental about what I eat and don't eat.
I read the Bible and pray daily.
I go to church at least three times per week.
I write thoughtful and inspiring blogs.
I love, honor, and cherish not only my husband and my children,
but also my mother and mother-in-law.
I read with and to my children daily.
I teach them Spanish and history and language arts
and the old hymns of the church, and
how to read carefully while always questioning
the texts they are devouring.

Except when I don't.
Except when I don't feel like it.
Except when I'm feeling human and lonely and sad.
Except when I want to eat milk chocolate pecan turtles and key lime pie and drink sweet coffee and diet Cherry Coke and mojitos.
Except when I take the day off from homeschooling and tell the kids they can watch television or play outside or eat whatever they want all day because Mom needs a break from everything and everybody.
Except when I want to run away from home and roam the streets of Rome.

I pretend to be perfect, except when I want to be really bad.
I attempt to remain devout, except when I want to abandon all my convictions.
I want to be gracious and kind and gentle, except when I want to be the steam engine that rolls through towns, careening around curves, and shaking fine china off of shelves in every stodgy and proper home.

Like a good girl, I have learned very well how to feel guilty for every failure, every foible, and every false front I put up. I have learned very well how to justify my selfishness, my fears, as well as my refusal to give up my selfishness and fears. And most of all, I have learned how to pretend to feel really bad for being bad even as I secretly enjoy my mischievousness with every cell of my being.

I love my life, my husband, my children, and my friends.
I live amazingly well, blessed in every area of my life.
I have never missed a meal or even come close to it.
I have traveled extensively and plan to do much more.
I read and write and receive letters, calls, and text messages from people I know and love, and I rejoice over each missive that I receive.
I am enormously thankful for all the blessings that God has poured into my life.

Except for when...

I think I'll go Google a few blogs and articles about women like me, people like me, for whom imperfection is more the rule than the exception. I expect that within 5 seconds, over 1,000,000 hits will come up.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Behind every good man...

This story is good for a chuckle... even though it's probably not true.
Barbara Walters of 20/20 did a story on gender roles in Kabul, Afghanistan several years before the Afghan conflict. She noted that the women customarily walked 5 paces behind their husbands.

She recently returned to Kabul and observed that women still walk behind their husbands. From Ms. Walters' vantage point, despite the overthrow of the oppressive Taliban regime, the women now seem to walk even further behind their husbands and were happy to maintain the old custom.

Ms. Walters approached one of the Afghani women and asked "Why do you now seem happy with the old custom that you once tried so desperately to change?"

The woman looked Ms. Walters straight in the eyes and without hesitation said,
"Land mines"

Moral of the story: Behind every man (at least 5 paces) is a smart woman.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Carolina Blue"

I'd heard the phrase many times before moving here to Charlotte. I'd heard it many times in relation to the University of North Carolina team colors. What I hadn't heard or seen or imagined until we moved here was that "Carolina Blue" refers to the color of the sky on a sunny Carolina day.

There's nothing like it. Walking on our quiet street with the children and the dog, trees budding with spring blooms, and the sky above, dazzling in its depth of color. I usually say trite things like, "I'd love to have a turtleneck in that color." The color of the sky over our heads is impossible to capture in a bottle of manmade dyes. It's indescribable. It's Carolina blue.

As the morning passes and the sun approaches its zenith in the sky, the blue intensifies. As the afternoon shadows lengthen, the shade of blue lightens, and the sky somehow seems broader and more beautiful still. Every day as I watch the progress of the sun, the clouds, and the change in colors, I wonder how it is possible for such grandeur to be reproduced on a daily basis. Wondrous. Majestic. Mind-boggling. Blue sky.

But it's the sunset in the western Charlotte sky that melts me. Every time I see it, I am amazed by its glory. Streaks of clouds chase the sun onto its mount of transfiguration, as it transforms itself from high, sizzling yellow to low, rich orange. The afterburn of airplanes form a dozen arrows pointing the way to evening. I follow them with my eyes and with my heart.

Tonight on my way home from dropping my daughter off at a friend's house, I nearly crashed the car twice so mesmerized was I by the sky-wide portrait to my left. I looked around at other drivers and saw absolutely no one look over at the sunset. How do they not see it? Is it possible to take the sunset for granted? May it never be!

It's dark now. The moon is smiling its quarter-smile down on us. I'm going to sign off now, go outside, and stand on our freshly mowed lawn (yeah, Steve!) and smile back. If the moon is visible where you are, why don't you join me outside? We can wave up at the Woman in the Moon and wish each other pleasant dreams.

Buona notte.
Buenas noches.
Good night, moon.

Monday, March 19, 2007

This is my 300th Blog: Words about Silence.

Three hundred messages sent out into the Virtual Universe from my corner of it. Still there are so many stories to tell, countless questions to ask, and wonders to describe.

Earlier today my daughter and I watched "The Lake House" together. One of those movies about impossible love. Love that transcends time and place. Over the miles and the years, they fall in love. Through letters. The power of words.

Last Thursday, my daughter and I drove up to Asheville and walked through the gardens of the Biltmore Estate. In silence. We looked up at the trees and down at the bare earth. We marveled at the daffodils already in bloom and the tulips about to bloom. We sat on a bench and listened to the geese squawk and the trickling water as it flowed past and the leaves as they fell. That was the second time last week that Kristiana and I went on a silent walk, intentionally listening to and enjoying the beauty of creation. The power of silence.

Without words.
Senza parole.

How ironic that I should write about being without words on my blog. This place where my words are spilled out into the hearts, minds, and lives of others. Where my words are read but my voice is not heard. Where I try, feebly and inadequately, to tell the story of my life, to share my doubts and fears, my triumphs and joys, without saying anything at all. A place where silence is both broken and preserved.

I am learning to walk in silence.
To live in wonder.
To realize that I am not alone.
To open my heart to love.
To close my mind to hate and fear.
To believe that my words, my blog, and my life are being read, heard, understood.

Three hundred blogs.
Three hundred times I have asked:
Is anyone out there?
Can you hear me now?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Sad Farewell

The husband of a friend from church passed away on Saturday night. This morning I interpreted at his funeral service. Songs of farewell sung by a friend of the family. A funny and endearing eulogy given by his sister. A message of hope from the Pastor.

I sat there looking at the shell that used to house his spirit. I thought of the times I'd spoken to him, hugged him, and watched him love his wife. I tried not to think about the pain he suffered as his life came to an end. He was a man whose life was not easy. He served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Sadness and anguish, rather than goodness and mercy, seemed to follow him all the days of his life.

But his sorrows have ended. No more dialysis. No more cane. No more eyeglasses. No more pain medication. No more suffering for Bob.

As I sat there, tears streaming down my cheeks, I wondered to myself:

What songs will be sung at my funeral?

Who will preach and what will he say?

Who will tell the story of my life, my loves, my sorrows?

Who will attend and from whence will they come?

How old will I be? How old will my children be?

Who will explain that nothing in the world meant more to me
than my faith, my time alone with The Alone?

Who will be able to express my love for my husband, my children,
my friends, and my extended family?

Will anyone be able to capture my awe at the beauty of
this amazing world God created? The art I've seen,
the music I've heard, the books I've read, the places
I've traveled to, and the memories I have carried?

What about all my journals? Who will read them? Who will get
to know the real me, the one who laughed at myself, and cried
so often for others? The one who read so many books, took notes
on so many sermons, and sent out so many emails?

Who will discover all my stashes of soap, perfume, journals and pens?
Who will find all my gum and candy and power bars? Who will eat it all?
Just how much of a pack rat will I appear to be?

What about my collections of earrings, scarves, skirts, and cross necklaces?
Who will wear them all?

In the meantime, until that sad day arrives, I must make the most of the days that remain. I must live fully, laugh heartily, and love fanatically until the last. What will be said about me at my funeral will be based on what I do with my life on my way to that day, so I'm going to get up from this computer and go live!

I recently read a quote that said something like this, "Don't live in such a way that you arrive safely and calmly at your death." I like that.

Live with abandon. Live with joy.
No pity parties. No constant complaining.
There will be times of loneliness, yes,
but live the loneliness out loud.
Ask for help. Accept help.
Accept the hugs and support of friends.

While there is still time, celebrate life.
Celebrate love and laughter and friendship.

I'm off to celebrate my children - beginning with a big hug.
We'll see where things go from there.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Feeling very human today

Disappointed. Forgotten.
Lonely. A lot of loneliness.
Sad. Surrounded by sad and lonely and disappointed people.

I've been doing a lot of reading and writing in my journal. I've been doing a lot of blogging. Talking on the telephone a fair amount. I taught the class at church on Wednesday night; it went swimmingly. Kristiana and I went out to dinner with another mother-daughter pair last night. Then she and I roamed around the mall, shared a cup of tea, and talked about all kinds of great things. I am blessed, indeed.

But I am also lonely a lot of the time. It's a loneliness that aches for a kindred spirit to share my deepest, truest, most intimate secrets, hopes, thoughts, dreams, and crazy ideas with. Someone who listens. Laughs when I laugh. Cries when I cry. Someone who shares. Someone whose tears and laughter I get to share.

It's not that I don't have a generous, loving, ridiculously tolerant husband. Most of the time, however, my husband is either at work, at a sporting event of some kind, or preparing for work or a sporting event of some kind. Much of the rest of the time, he is recovering from work or some sporting event. There just isn't much time these days for laughing, crying, or sharing secrets. He's a good man who tries to be a good husband and father. But there are places in me that he doesn't understand, cannot reach, and may not even know exist. So the loneliness persists.

It's not that I don't have friends. I have great friends. Friends who call sometimes. Friends who write sometimes. Most of the time, however, my friends, whether they are right here in Charlotte or thousands of miles away on distant shores, feel impossibly far away. Most of the time, however, my friends are too busy living their own lives to have time to call or write.

I reach out with phone calls, text messages, emails, and snail mail. I blog. I respond to other people's blogs. Most people don't acknowledge my efforts. It's hard not to, but I really don't blame them. I don't blame you. Life happens.

But still...

I know that no single person can be my everything. I know that everyone in the world feels the loneliness I describe here. It's part of being human.

For better or for worse,
I've had snatches of glory.
Moments of deep soul connections.
When words have hardly been necessary
because the soul has been sighted
and not a word needs to be spoken aloud.

I've shared silent car rides when more was spoken than in hours of conversation. I've shared silent sunsets by the sea. I've had glimpses of grandeur in gargantuan cathedrals in Italy and tiny village churches in Spain. I've received emails, telephone calls, and cards that moved me to tears and left indelible yet tender fingerprints on the walls in the deepest, darkest caverns of my soul.

But the car rides end and real life begins again. The sun sets and the evening chill drives us indoors. The day of my return trip arrives and photos don't do the memories justice. The correspondence stops. Despondence starts.

Silence can be golden.
It can also be leaden.

I am left feeling alone.
Feeling human.

Having to endure a mammogram later this afternoon
isn't helping my mood either.

My name is Gail, and I'm human.

Addendum at 6:00 PM
My mammogram went smashingly... literally and figuratively.
All is well with the mammary glands.

The Presbyterian Breast Center has the odd practice of calling its patients from one waiting room and putting them/us into another inner waiting room. Silence reigned. The only sound in the room was that of my pen scratching the page of my journal.

I couldn't stand it, so I looked around sheepishly and queried, "Do we like this inner waiting room any more than the outer one?" Everyone laughed; the tension lessened palpably.

The woman to my left, who appeared to be about my age, was soon handed a large manila envelope and told that she was done.

When her name was called, the black woman sitting low in her chair directly across from me, wig slightly askew, strained visibly to hoist herself from her seat; Stephanie will be on my prayer list for a good long while to come.

A very young woman, who I later found out was named Lauren, and I were left alone to await our fates. The weighty curtain of silence fell again. I lifted it when I asked her if it was her first mammogram. She said that she'd found a lump in one breast and was there for a second opinion. The first doctor had told her to wait six months and see if the lump resolved itself. I nodded my head vehemently in agreement when she said that she would never be able to wait that long. She, her husband, her mother, and I all hope that it is simply a cyst brought on by her monthly cycle.

Each of us. There. Waiting.
Boob sandwiches on the menu.

I figured that if we had to be there, alone,
why not form a temporary platoon,
a small band of determined, undaunted soldiers
in the war against not only cancer,
but also fear, silence, and loneliness?
Why not be comrades in arms and laughter,
even if our bond lasted but a moment or two?

I feel less alone now.

Fight on, ladies.
Fight on.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Thankful Thursday

This week, I am thankful for:
1. the opportunity to homeschool my children
2. the bountiful food at the supermarket
3. health insurance that covers all our needs
4. eyeglasses
5. seeing the lunar eclipse last Saturday night
6. the journaling class I'm teaching at church
7. prayer times at church and at home
8. brownies with mint chocolate kisses melted on top
9. soy white mochas
10. fresh whole wheat bread, toasted with butter
11. being back in this yahoo group
12. the movie "Amazing Grace"
13. sunshine
14. rain
15. having a photocopier/printer/fax machine here at home
16. watching Maya run around outside, playing with the children
17. listening to the children read to each other
18. singing hymns with the children at the piano
19. watching Melinda on American Idol - that girl can sing!
20. standing outside yesterday talking to two neighbors - we live on an awesome block.
21. daffodils in bloom
22. scented oils from
23. homemade sweet and sour cabbage - we had it for lunch today. Yes, my children liked it. We ate it along with a salad of romaine lettuce and raw sunflower seeds, topped with oil and vinegar.
24. cars that run well
25. a home that keeps us safe and warm day and night

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

My Name is Gail, and I'm a Phony

Lately I have thought a lot about how phony I am.
How falsely I present myself.
Here are a few examples:

I wear make-up almost every time I go out.
I wear push-up bras.
I sometimes wear jewelry made of cubic zirconia and other non-precious, expensive-looking stones.
I exercise regularly in order to keep the flab at bay.
I suck in my gut when my clothes feel snug.
I paint my toenails and shave my legs more in the summer than I do in the winter.
When someone asks me how I'm doing, I usually say, "Fine. How are you?" even when I want to sit down and cry right then and there.
I rarely tell people how I really feel, especially if what I feel is anything other than "fine."
I say, "It's delicious" even if I'm not at all enthused about something I'm eating.
I used to wait until people looked away and then add tons of sugar to my coffee and tea.
If someone asks me how they look, I usually say, "Great" even if I don't like the outfit.
I buy things I don't want or need when friends are selling stuff.
I sometimes accept invitations to events and meals when I would rather stay at home.
When I hear good news, I don't always say, "Praise God" like I want to.
When I hear bad news, I don't always say, "I will pray for you" as I should.
I try to write clever and uplifting blogs all the time, even though sometimes I don't want to write anything at all or I want to be critical about something or somebody in my life.

I know that there are certain social norms and rules that must be followed in order to save face, be polite, and keep family and friendships intact. I can't spill my guts to everybody who asks how I'm doing. Nor can I go around hurting people's feelings under the guise of honesty or authenticity.

But sometimes, often really, I don't want to eat anymore of what is being served, I don't like that color of clothing or wallpaint, and I don't want to hold my tongue when the truth needs to be spoken. At other times, I want to tell a stranger how beautiful or handsome I think they are, compliment them on a fashion choice, or comment on how much I agreed with something they said to someone else, usually a conversation I eavesdropped on. Sometimes I want to hug a friend or acquaintance and say, "I love you," but I worry about what other people will think of my action and declaration. So I go the way of the phony: I hold my tongue and keep my hugs to myself.

Slowly and surely, I am learning to release myself from certain societal expectations.
I am learning to speak the truth in love when it would be easier to lie.
I am learnig to tell friends, even friends who don't believe in God or in the power of prayer, that I will pray for them.
I am learning to listen to others and then tell them that I disagree with them.
I am learning to gently but firmly challenge people when I think they are offbase with their assumptions.
I am learning how to listen to people who disagree with me and not defend myself or my position.
I am learning that it is okay to say "I love you" - because who doesn't want to be told that they are loved?
I am learning to embrace the freedom of not caring what others think of how I look.
I am learning to wear what I like even if it is last year's style (or the year before last).

Most of all, I am learning to live more comfortably not only with my authenticity,
but also with my phoniness. The Lord knows I'm not about to give up my mascara or my prayer life.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Did you see it?

Last night, we gathered at one of the windows in the guest room of our home and quietly watched the last half of the lunar eclipse as the moon emerged from the earth's shadow and shone its full and glorious face down on planet earth. Did you see it?

Later my husband and I went out for our weekly date, and I looked up through the moon roof of the car and smiled as the Woman in the moon smiled down on me. The sky sparkled with stars, but the moon was the brightest light of all. Did you see it?

I thought about all the times in which people question the faithfulness of God. People often say that God is unreliable, undependable, and uninvolved with the world. Certainly there is much about this world and this life that is unpredictable. I don't deny that.

There are many who say that the earth, this galaxy in which we exist, and all the universe were caused by a cosmic accident, the result of a huge bang billions of years ago. They say that God, if there is a god, had nothing to do with it. Out of nothing, the universe exploded into existence. There is nothing beyond us; everything that is came about randomly. Those of us who believe in God are the weak, deluded ones, so say the skeptics and athiests.

How anyone can seriously think that a huge explosion resulted in the intricacies of the human body and brain, the instinctual activities of animals in the wild, and the very predictable ebb and flow of the ocean's tides is beyond me. It reminds me of the book entitled, "I don't have enough faith to be an athiest." I don't have that much faith, that's for sure.

Last night, as we drove to The Cheesecake Factory for dessert (ask any baker if an explosion in an oven ever created a masterpiece of confectionary perfection...) and I gazed up at the moon, I thought to myself: The Creator God's goodness and provision are so predictable that we can know down to the minute when the eclipse will begin and end. We can plant seeds in soil, seeds and soil we cannot create, design, or fully explain, wait a few months for the cycles of rain, sunshine, and growth to take place, and then harvest our food. We can predict when a baby will be born - with great accuracy - and celebrate that life on the same day every year for as long as he (or she) lives.

Is all of that an accident? A random occurence? I think not.

Last night I stood on our front lawn with my tiny dog, a tall cold drink in hand, and raised a toast to the full moon, the wonder that is this life, and gave thanks to The Creator God not only for His bountiful provision of that magnificent orb suspended there in the deep, dark firmament, but also for the opportunity to enjoy and celebrate beauty in all its forms.

What a glorious moonlit night it was.
Did you see it?