Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Keeping Life in Perspective

Take a moment and read the July 31st entry on Jen Lemen's blog. It is entitled "Meeting Elizabeth Edwards."

Don't worry; it's not about politics.
It's about life.
Living every moment of every day fully.

There may not be many days left for Mrs. Edwards, it would appear.
Perhaps not for any of us either.

Life is short.
Life is precious.
There is so much beauty.

Go out into the world and love deeply.
Live this day with joy, with love, and with grace.
Tomorrow may be too late.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

How do I know I am actually here?

It is an odd question, I know. But sometimes I wonder how I know that I know that I know I am here, now, living, breathing, diving headlong into this life. I believe that part of the reason I journal, part of why I take pictures, part of why I blog is so that I have evidence that I am alive. That I am breathing. That I am fully here right now.

When I travel, I take photos of the bed I sleep in, the coffee cup at the cafe around the corner, the metro station sign, the dinner table at the home of a new friend after a sumptuous, two-hour meal, and the streets where I walk because when I return home I want to have proof of where I've been. Some of my favorite photos from my journeys are the simplest ones: the toothbrush by the sink, the left shoulder of my dearly beloved Antonio as he walks ahead of me, the lighthouse covered with graffiti overlooking the abandoned port, my skirt and belt laying on the other bed in the hotel room, and my spiral journal and my left foot in Madrid's Thyssen Museum.

I am here.
I am happy.
I am in love.
All is well in my world.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tennis Lessons

I've been playing a lot of tennis lately with the kids. Out on the courts, swinging our rackets wildly, hoping that a few shots will land on the other side of the net, but not the other side of the fence. We have a lot of fun out there together. A lot of fun.

Yesterday morning, Daniel and I went out and played for a while. Early in the morning. Sun shining. Birds singing. Trees abuzz with bees and squirrels and other forms of life. When I arrived, my mind wasn't singing. My heart was abuzz with anger, self-pity, and disappointment. The usual stuff of life that sometimes forms the perfect brain freeze in my head.

As I swung my racket wildly, mostly trying to bat away the thoughts of malice and planned wrongdoing, it hit me: "Gail, you are outside on a sunny Charlotte morning, playing tennis with your son. You aren't sitting in traffic or working a dead-end job. You have a family that (sometimes appears to) love you. You are in good health. And you have a faith that is supposed to carry you through these times. So what is your problem?" Almost instantly, I began to look at the trees, the Carolina blue sky, my son, and myself differently. An added bonus was that I began to play better tennis. Right then and there. Hmmm...

So what did I learn on that tennis court yesterday morning?

1. Sometimes tennis is played one-on-one and sometimes in doubles. Who is my opponent and who is my partner? It seems that my partners and my opponents sometimes change places. Sometimes the match feels very lonely, even when I ostensibly have a partner on my side of the net. Play on, Gail. Play on.

2. Some days I play better than other days. A bad day on the court doesn't make me a bad person. A bad day off the court doesn't make me a bad person. A bad day on or off the court cannot negate all - or any - of the many great days I have had.

3. With every swing of the racket, there is a lot to remember. Hold the racket correctly. Pull it back by the time the ball is crossing the net in my direction. Always be ready to make adjustments with my feet. Watch the ball all the way to the racket. Extend my arms fully. Swing hard and follow through. Bend my knees.

3b. The longer and lower I keep my knees bent, the better my shots. The longer and lower I keep my knees ben, in prayer that is, the better my life.

4. Hit the ball to the best of my ability every time. Hit it as deep into the far court as possible. Every shot. Every day. Not every shot will land where I want it to. Although the outcome is not always under my control, but my job is to hit the ball as well as I can. To live as well as I can. To love, to laugh, to cry, to pick myself up when I fall and when I fail, and to live as fully and honestly as I can.

5. Don't think about the next shot or the last shot. Don't think about how well I played yesterday or even earlier today. Focus on this shot, this moment, right here and right now.

6. I must learn to give up on trying to control my partner and my opponent. I have control over no one else on the court. I barely have control over myself. Release each of my playmates to play the game their own way, to live their lives as they see fit. Love them. Support and encourage them, but release them to live the life each of them is meant to live.

7. It's okay to scream sometimes. At myself, never at anyone else. Yell. Pump my fists. Stomp my feet. And then get on with the game.

8. It's okay to hit the ball out of bounds and even over the fence sometimes. No one is perfect. Contrary to what I believed when I began taking tennis lessons three summers ago, I now admit that I'm not ever going to play at Wimbledon. I have decided that the goal on the tennis court is to just have fun. Right here and right now. Every once in a while, hit a wild shot on purpose. Just for the heck of it. Just to get out a little frustration.

9. Sometimes I suck at tennis. I can practice and practice, think about every pointer my coach has ever given me, and still I miss shots that I shouldn't miss. I dump balls into the net for no reason whatsoever. I hit shots that were on their way out of bounds, shots I should have left alone. Sometimes I'm just not that good at tennis - or marriage or motherhood or life. For better or for worse, there are very few games that I am playing at the moment in my life that I can quit. So suck if you have to, Gail, but play on.

10. Sometimes at the end of the match, at the end of the day, I need to sit down and have a good cry. To tell someone how poorly I played. To garner a little sympathy and have a little pity party. (Yesterday I reached out to a couple of people in the middle of the day; thanks for your support and encouragement to stay strong. Your words mean more than you know.) But then I've gotta wipe my tears, get back on my feet, pick up my racket, my wounded ego, my sometimes-broken heart, and get back into the game. Again. And again and again and again.

Play on, Gail.
Play on.

Monday, July 23, 2007

A Marvelous Monday

A couple of months ago, the children and I drove to a nature museum nearby and walked through the woods there. We listened to the sounds of creation, watched turtles sunning on logs in a small pond, collected rocks, and watched a lonely bull wander around a small yard. The children approached the bull, and the bull approached the children. Quiet greetings all around. Tentative extension of human hands towards bovine horns. All went well. Then the bull decided that he wanted to take a closer sniff of Daniel's shirt. No harm done. Daniel backed off quickly. That's when I snapped the picture above. The next photo is of his sister's obvious deep concern about her brother's safety. Don't you love her expression???

It is the next photo that makes this a marvelous Monday. This one was taken outside The Inn at Manchester, in Manchester, Vermont, back at the beginning of June. We had just left our college reunion at Williams and drove north to spend one night in our favorite Vermont tourist town. We spent time shopping in the outlet stores, browsing through books, magazines, great bags (I am a bag addict!), and other goodies at The Northshire Bookstore, choosing a pair of earrings at Long Ago and Far Away, the silver shop that was my first stop on this twenty-year journey of collecting silver jewelry, and nibbling on red Australian licorice and chocolate from Mother Myrick's... We got a lot accomplished in 24 hours. Oh yeah, we were surrounded by the Green Mountains of Vermont, the lush rolling lawn next to the Inn, and hosted by a pair of native North Carolinians that have transported Southern Hospitality to VT and now own The Inn. This snapshot captures how we all felt that day in that beautiful place.

These two children of mine, these two marvels who fill my days with laughter, reading, gratitude journaling, card-making, tennis, swimming, baseball, dancing to our iPod music - those two people are what have made this a marvelous Monday. Those smiles, that arm wrapped tenderly around her brother's shoulder, the quiet conversations they have while floating around in the local swimming pool, the time they spend outside playing "wall ball" (whatever that is), riding their bikes, shooting hoops, and hanging out together here at home while Steve and I go out to dinner or to a movie, those are the memories that have made this a marvelous Monday.

Are they perfect children? Absolutely not. Do they sometimes complain about chores, the dinners I prepare, their bedtimes, the assignments they get at the homeschooling table, and having to walk the dog? Certainly.

But they have no idea how unusual it is for a brother and sister, or siblings of any combination, to not have physical fights with each other ever, to not yell or scream at each other, to miss each other whenever one has a sleepover and the other is left at home alone, and to seek each other's company at some point every single day of their lives. They have no idea how wonderful it is for us as parents to know that they will defend each other, that they look out for each other, and that they will encourage each other to follow the rules of our household even when we are not around.

On this marvelous Monday, I played an hour of tennis with my son, starting at 7:30 am. I took the two of them to my mother's house for lunch and watched them swim, play games, and encourage each other as they practiced their newly-learned flip turns at the end of my mother's condo pool. Upon our return home, they played tennis on the driveway, walked the dog, and ate dinner together. The dinner of salad that Kristiana prepared.

Tomorrow may turn out to be a terrible Tuesday, the day that they discover the thrill of sibling rivalry and household hatred. I certainly hope not. In any case, I will continue to celebrate the two little people - that are not so little anymore - that God saw fit to give to me and to Steve to love and teach and train in righteousness until they make their way into and through the great big world out there.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Leaving Church

"Leaving Church" is the title of the book I finished reading about an hour ago. It's the memoir of an Episcopal priest who felt the call of God on her life early on, went to seminary, became an ordained minister, only to leave the pulpit ten years later. Soon after leaving church - at least as a minister - she penned these words:

Gradually I remember what I had known all along, which is that church is not a stopping place but a starting place for discerning God's presence in this world. By offering people a place where they may engage the steady practice of listening to divine words and celebrating divine sacraments, church can help people gain a feel for how God shows up - not only in Holy Bibles and Holy Commjunion, but also in near neighbors, mysterious strangers, sliced bread, and grocery store wine. That way, when they leave church, they no more leave God than God leaves them. They simply carry what they have learned into the wide, wide world, where there is a crying need for people who will recognize the holiness in things and hold them up to God.

There are dozens of phrases, sentences, and paragraphs in this book that I underlined and would love to include here, but I will end this post with a prayer and the commentary Barbara Brown Taylor wrote about that prayer in her beautifully written account of how God has moved in her life before, during, and since her life as a priest, a minister of His Word among His people here on earth. These words are taken from page 94 of the book.

We could even be quiet together, which was something else that did not happen many other places in our lives. Silence was so countercultural for most of us that it took a lot of practice before we could do it together. At first, when one of us paused after reading a prayer out loud, the rest of us would tense up. Did she lose her place? is it someone else's turn to speak? Maybe mine? But after a while we learned how many ripples one prayer can spread when another does not land right on top of it.

I learned to love hearing the world outside while we were praying for it inside. The sound of an airplane brought all those aboard into church - the fussy babies, the slack-jawed sleepers, the bored businessmen playing games on their laptops. For those who travel on land, on water, or in the air, let us pray to the Lord.

The sound of an ambulance spoke for the sacred person lying on the stretcher inside. For the aged and inform for the widowed and orphans, and for the sick and the suffering, let us pray to the Lord.

The sound of the wind in the pines made music that rivaled anything we were singing inside. For the good earth which God has given us, and for the wisdom and will to conserve it, let us pray to the Lord.

Every now and then I would forget to eat breakfast so that the loudest of all these sounds was the gaseous racket of my stomach. This may be the real reason many of us fear silence in the church - because anyone sitting near us may hear the hissing, rumbling, wheezing sounds of a living human being, which do not match up with the attractive countenances that we work so hard to present to one another. Since these are the sounds of being human, I even learned to love hearing them while sitting quietly in chruch. For real hunger, for twisted guts, and for our inability to conceal them, let us pray to the Lord.

I wish I'd been privileged to sit under her teaching, listen to her prayers, and receive communion from her while she was still in the pulpit.
I wish I could join her for worship and tea on her porch on the Sunday mornings now that she isn't in the pulpit.
That's right; often she stays home on Sundays where she reads and worships and sings and prays in the great outdoors. What a concept!

PS. The photo is of the church tower of the magnificent cathedral in Sevilla, Spain. Also taken by my trusty little point and shoot camera last October.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Now that I know how to add photos...

This photo was taken while Kristiana and I were doing one of the things we love most: sitting quietly in a coffee shop - in this case it was The Smelly Cat here in Charlotte - having something sweet to drink while writing sweet (or perhaps not-so-sweet) words in our journals.

One day last December, I decided to try taking a self-portrait in our bathroom, standing in front of the mirror above my sink. I took several shots and liked them all. This is my favorite.

The very next day, Kristiana took the camera into our bathroom, stood in front of Steve's sink, and took a few photos of herself. The amazing thing is that she didn't know I'd taken mine just the day before. I guess great minds do think alike.

This is a photo I took while on the trip to Sevilla last October. A gallery of open doorways beneath a small arena (think of the colosseum in Rome) caught my eye as we were making our way out of the little Roman-built village. I loved the interplay between the light and the shadows. What a telling metaphor for my life - Loving the light, but also longing to hide in the shadows so much of the time...

FYI - For those of you keeping score at home... For some reason that I cannot recall at the moment, I gave this photo the label "monastery gallery," but it is from the arena in a small village outside of Sevilla.

Twenty Things Right Now

1. I got this idea for 20 things right now from the blog of Ali Edwards. She's so wonderfully creative and colorful and posts wonderful photos of her life.

2. I am at home alone. Steve has gone to work. Daniel is off to play even yet more baseball. He played four games this past weekend in Milledgeville, Georgia. And at least six games this week. Kristiana stayed at home this weekend, splitting her time between her best friend Amber's house and being here with my mother. K is currently at Amber's house. I need to call her and set up a pick up time.

3. I'm enormously grateful for the love and support of our friends and family. They have bailed us out of many a jam, cooked us many a meal, and loved us through many a year.

4. The lake front resort we stayed in over the weekend is in Eatonton, Georgia, the hometown of one of my favorite writers of all time, Alice Walker.

5. Alice Walker is in a very bad way in terms of her relationship with her daughter, Rebecca. I pray often for their reconciliation.

6. Eatonton, Georgia and its surrounds is a study in contrasts: multi-million dollar golf resort communities on one stretch of road and trailer homes with tin roofs and plastic sheets on the windows just a few hundred yards away.

7. I spent a fair amount of time over the weekend thinking about that contrast and how oblivious many people at the golf resort seemed to be to the pain surrounding them on all sides.

8. I also challenged myself over and over to enjoy myself, despite the contrast.

9. I don't like sleeping on flannel sheets. There were flannel sheets on the bed in the huge house we rented for the weekend.

10. I'm glad I took my own pillow and didn't have to sleep with my head on a pillow that had a flannel pillowcase.

11. Who uses flannel sheets in Georgia in the middle of July?

12. Cathy, a woman who worked at the baseball park cleaning up after fans and players who leave extraordinary messes behind us, spoke to me for quite a while about how much she works, how she couldn't wait to go home when all the games were over and the crew cleaned everything up, and about her surprise that there is a girl on Daniel's baseball team.

13. There is a girl on Daniel's baseball team, Abbie. A very fast little runner with a very long blonde ponytail.

14. As I felt my impatience with Cathy's questions and comments building (I was supposed to be watching Daniel's game) I became acutely aware of the probability that few parents who come to the ballpark take the time to talk to her, answer her questions about the teams on the field, and just have a normal human conversation with her. How dare I be so impatient and unkind in my thinking?

15. I just finished a book called Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller. The main premise of the book is that what is killing people most efficiently, in the emotional, relational, physical, and spiritual sense, is our incessant addiction to comparisons. I see someone else and immediately feel the urge to look like that person or drive a better car or live in a nicer house. OR we look at others and declare ourselves superior because we don't want to be like and live like them. In nearly all cases, we divide ourselves into us vs. them teams and proceed to find ways to make ourselves right and others wrong.

16. During most of the weekend, I was painfully aware of how often I do just that: I am more spiritual and more environmentally aware than those people. I don't drink as much alcohol as they do. I pray more than he does. She is thinner than I am. They have more money than we do. They travel more than we do and fly first class all the time. In other words, I was confronted with how much better I think I am than some people and how much worse off than others. I also found myself asking this age-old question nearly hourly: who cares, Gail?

17. Steve and I had a pretty good discussion about the book and my selfish thoughts in the car on the way down there. I sure wish he'd read the book because our conversation could be that much better.

18. One of the boys on Daniel's baseball team rode with us from the golf resort to the baseball complex on Sunday morning. On the way there, this little boy declared to Daniel that blue eyes are the best. Why? Because he has blue eyes. He actually said that: "Blue eyes are the best because that's what I have. What color do you think is the best?" Silence. I'm not sure Daniel know what to say. I didn't say anything; Steve reached over and touched my leg. Yup, the comparisons and superiority stuff starts really early.

19. We drove a mother and son pair back home from Georgia last night. They live just a couple of blocks from us. The mother declared that "in our neighborhood you almost have to have a luxury car." And then she went on to give the names of her neighbors and the makes and models of the cars they drive. Plus the cars some of her neighbors have given to their children. The comparisons and superiority stuff doesn't stop.

Steve leased a beautiful blue Jaguar for me for two years and a HUGE part of the reason why we didn't buy it at the end of the lease is because we realized that luxury cars and all the baggage that comes standard with them are not commensurate with the life we choose to live. We don't deserve to be treated differently because of the car we drive. We don't deserve more respect or more envy or a better parking space. With all due respect and thanks to Steve who leased the car for me for my 40th birthday, I don't miss that car one bit. Not one tiny bit. Well, perhaps except for the stereo system. And the cool interior lighting at night. And the automatic air conditioning... Seriously, I don't miss it at all.

On a brighter note, I had a great conversation on this very topic with a friend last week, and she pointed out the fact that very few people even think to question the lifeboat theory of life - which has to do with deciding who gets into the lifeboat and who doesn't. Who is worthy of rescue and who isn't? Who fits in with "our group" and who doesn't? I've decided that it's time to start thinking more deeply about abandoning lifeboat thinking in my own life in as many areas as I possibly can. AND I'm going to ask people around me how they decide who gets onto their lifeboats. Why not get some other people talking about this as well???

20. I look forward to signing off the internet and making myself some coffee. I am in desperate need of some quiet time. Staying with two other families in the huge house on the water, sleeping in the bedroom with the flannel sheets, heading off to the baseball complex with 37 other people, eating every meal with the entire team, and then driving home with other people in the car - none of that makes for the kind of alone time that keeps me at peace with myself and those around me.

Off I go.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

In all of our glory!

Thanks be to Lisa, my new blogger/best friend, I have entered the photo age! I am so excited about this - you would think I'd won the lottery or something. Not that I gamble or anything...

In the top photo are my two children, Kristiana and Daniel, and the Yorkie that has us jumping through hoops, Mama Maya Mia.

In the bottom photo, that's me in the middle, of course. My two beautiful children, flank me in uptown Charlotte. Two weekends ago, we went out to dinner as a family to celebrate our wedding anniversary. My husband, who regularly refuses to pose in pictures, is behind the camera - per usual.

It was a beautiful night, so The Silvermine Academy - that's the name of our homeschool - decided to go out on an evening field trip. Don't we look happy?!? We are.

Thanks again, Lisa. You are a great teacher!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How different would my life be???

If ice cream sundaes, with two scoops of chocolate peanut butter ice cream with chocolate syrup and walnuts had 150 calories?
If Masterpiece BBQ wavy potato chips counted as vegetables?
If Starbucks grande soy white mochas with one raw sugar didn't stain my teeth or add bulk to my belly?

If stay-at-home parents earned a salary for as long as they had children at home?
If homeschool parents earned a teacher's salary for as long as they taught at home?
If I lived out all the things I talk about every time I give a motivational talk, teach a class, or lead a retreat?

If I didn't judge everyone I lay my eyes on?
Didn't judge them based on their skin color, hair color, body shape?
Didn't judge them based on their shoes, outfit, and jewelry?
Didn't judge them based on the behavior of the people they were with?
Didn't judge them based on the car they drive, the neighborhood in which they live, and their language or country of origin?
Didn't judge them based on their political opinions, religious persuasions, or their opinion of me?

If I didn't hold so many grudges?
Expect everyone to meet my needs immediately?
Demand so much attention from others?
Keep records of nearly all the wrong done to me in my life?
Didn't take everyone's actions and comments personally?
If I loved my neighbors, my friends, my enemies, my in-laws, my own siblings, my husband, and my children as I love myself?

If I lived like I believe that God is in control of all things?
That nothing happens by accident?
That the Lord is My Shepherd and I want for nothing?
That God is my refuge and strength?
That He is the God of peace, the God of hope, the God of all comfort?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Life, Death, and My Internet Buddies

I think about death a lot.

What will be the cause of my demise? Will it be sudden or long and drawn out? Will I have the chance to say farewell to my friends and family? The ones I haven't seen in years, the ones I haven't yet told how much I love them, the ones who haven't told me how much they love me - will there be time to get it all said and done before my day of final departure arrives?

Once I pass away, what will become of this shell that has housed my spirit for all these years? Who will come to celebrate my life and tell my children what I have meant to them? How will they know when I'm gone? How will you, patient reader, know?

I think about that last question a lot. Will anyone go into my email account and send a message to everyone in my address book? What about all the folks whose numbers are entered into my cell phone? My high school and college friends - how will they find out? Actually, I have a letter in the closet in my study room that gives clear instructions on this matter - so take note, Kristiana.

For the second time, I read this amazing blog tonight. Being the techno-novice that I am, I still don't know how to make real links on this blog. (Andrew, you still owe me a lesson on uploading photos. I'll be adding the creation of links to the lesson.) So paste this link into your line up there at the top of the screen and hit "go." It's a long blog, but one of the most touching tributes to life, death, family, love, and tenderness that I have ever read. So go check it out. But before you go, you'd better grab a tissue or two.


PS. A dear friend, Ian Cron, penned these words to a song he sang a few years ago. "If I never said He loves you, if I never said 'I love you,' I tell you now."
I do love you. Very much.

Mi manchi - sai.

A Quiet Week

Feeling a little pinched and closed in this week. Not sure why. Well, there are a few reasons, only a few of which I can share here on the blog.

First and foremost, my journaling class is over for the summer. Those beautiful, strong, honest, loving, supportive women are no longer on my weekly schedule. Unfortunately, one of them is moving to Arkansas this month. Another is in Kansas for two months. The rest have scattered to the four winds for the summer months. When we said our farewells on the 27th of June, we thought it would be only for the summer.

Which brings me to the second reason for my sagging spirits. It looks like we won't be able to continue with our spiritual journaling class in the fall. At least not on Wednesday nights at the church. The Powers That Be have changed the format and yanked the white boards out from in from of several of us unschooled and unordained teachers. I admit that there are moments when the restrictions imposed by The Men In Charge make me want to start a women-only congregation. No rules by the dudes. But that's a-whole-nother blog.

So anyway, my women friends and I will have to decide which direction we want to go and when and where. I'm sure we will make a great choice. In the meantime, I will pray for patience and grace to not be too resentful towards The Men In Charge.

Third in my list of current gripes - that's what this is, I suppose - is the tirade I listened to yesterday by a man who meant well but who was mistaken in his assumption that everyone in the car at the time was a Bush-loving Republican. He started a lot of his sentences with "those environmental wackos," "those Democrats," and progressed to the only logical conclusion: "They just don't have a Godly perspective. They have a worldly perspective." He was careful to include statements like "God gave us the earth to use. Why should we get caught up in that conservation stuff? There is plenty of oil and coal. All that stuff is just political." I listened quietly and leapt out of the car before it came to a complete halt. Did I mention that this conversation took place in the car on the way back to the church from feeding the homeless? I will be sure NOT to ask him what he thinks of homeless people!

Why didn't I speak up? The gentleman in question, God bless him, is a man in his 70s, obviously quite passionate about his opinions, and obviously unwilling to take any disagreement seriously. I know that because of the way he answered the two or three questions I asked. Plus it was good for me to listen to what "the other side" thinks.

And if that weren't enough, there is a drought here in the Southeast, fires out west, flooding in Texas and Kansas, and all kinds of other weather-related disasters around the globe. The ongoing war, suicide bombers, and a dog that insists on dotting my carpet with her urine and feces - I'm ready for a SERIOUS VACATION!

The best news of my week is that Venus Williams and Roger Federer won Wimbledon. Although I am slightly more partial to Serena, I will settle for Venus winning in her stead. And Roger Federer is my favorite male tennis player - by far. My heart is divided to some extent because of all the excellent Spanish players, and if I'd had my way, I'd be living in Spain - but until that day comes to pass, I'll be a committed Federer fan.

Oh yeah - Steve and I celebrated 16 years of marriage a week ago. That's a good thing too - most of the time. Today he tried to kill all four of us. Last night I seasoned two gorgeous rib eye steaks for tonight's dinner. He cooked them to perfection on the grill this evening and then proceeded to put them back on the original plate. I discovered the mistake (thanks be to God) after we'd tasted them and served our plates but before we'd sat down to eat. Meat back onto the grill. Salad in the trash. Wash the plates. Pray for the best - and thank God that we have four bathrooms in the house... just in case we need to put them all to the test later.

I guess that's a little too much information.
See, it's been a tough week!
All in all, all is well.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Weekend to Change Your Life

That's the title of the book I finished this afternoon. Written by Joan Anderson, the author of A Year By The Sea, it is one woman's outline for a weekend to reassess one's life, decide what to keep and what to dump, and reimagine one's future for whatever years remain. Excellent, inspiring, challenging, life-affirming read. Not for the faint of heart, those who would rather not challenge the status quo of their existence, or those who are afraid of silence, solitude, and their own shadows. I, of course, loved it.

I finished reading it, taking notes on it, and deeply pondering some possible next steps in my own life in the car on the way home from a baseball game at Fenway Park - well, the Greenville, South Carolina, minor league team's version of Fenway Park anyway. When we were a mile from home, I asked Steve to drop me and my latest toy, a brand new iPod, off, and I walked the rest of the way.

In the gathering dusk. That time of evening when the sun has set but there is still enough light to make one's way home. As I walked, it occurred to me that that is exactly where I am in my life: in the gathering dusk. At 41 and one-half year years of age, most likely I am more than half way home, half way to the end of the race, beyond the 5th inning stretch. These final innings are mine to manage, coach, and then live through. On my own. With my own choice of soundtrack.

I know I'm not really alone. My dear friend, Antonio, explained that to me in a particularly meaningful way this past January as we drove along the northern coast of Spain. He said that one of the reasons we both like solitude so much is because we are never truly alone. There are those who travel along with us and within us in spirit, those who await our return in body, many who applaud our adventures, and others who wish us nothing but the best all along the way. That is vastly different from the profound loneliness that many people experience when no one is at home waiting for their return, when no email is awaiting their eager eyes, and no tiny envelope occupies the top left corner of the screens of their cell phones. No, I'm not alone.

On the other hand, I am very much alone. At the board of directors conference room table of my soul. In the air traffic control tower of the take offs and landings on my soul's runway. I am the only one making the decisions. Ultimately. I decide who gets in and who doesn't. Which flights I will take and which I will miss. Which goals I will strive to attain and which ones I will decline to pursue.

As I walked home tonight in the gathering dusk, I thought about the ways in which I will pursue my dream of being a regularly engaged speaker and teacher. Of traveling and speaking overseas. Of living overseas for at least six months straight at some point in my life. Of actually making money as a speaker. (Anybody out there need a speaker for a luncheon or retreat? Price negotiable.)

One red sports car with music blaring passed me three times. Slowly. What do those young men want? What or who are they looking for? Should I have stayed in the car with Steve and the kids? Is it safe to be here in the gloaming alone?

Perhaps it was foolish to jump out of the car in my skirt and sandals, with my iPod on full blast, alone on the sidewalk in my quiet neighborhood. Perhaps it was silly to think that I could handle this last mile alone. Perhaps it was impetuous and dangerous.

But so what? If I spend the rest of my life safely strapped into the minivan, living under safe and well-planned conditions, if I never step out of the security of suburbia, just how boring will my life become? Spontaneity, unpredictability, and freedom of will and spirit ought to define me. Someone once wrote that if you aren't pissing somebody off, raising somebody's eyebrows, then you aren't living big enough. May I always be pissing somebody off and raising a few eyebrows!

As I meander into my 40s, I admit to being tired of walking the straight and narrow all the time. I long for unplanned days of sleeping late, lying in bed with coffee and books until the mid-afternoon, and arising only to shower and dress for late nights of rambling conversations, dinner, and then dancing with friends and loved ones. I long for afternoons of wandering through museums at my own pace, of sitting in parks, journal in hand, people to watch, and no agenda to follow. I yearn for evenings alone in a well-appointed hotel room, incense burning, reading, snacking on lemon stilton cheese and water crackers, grapes, and milk chocolate with almonds. Silence and solitude are my favorite travel companions. As I meander into my 40s, I ask myself more and more questions, finding fewer and fewer simple or satisfying answers.

If not now, when?

If not me, who?

If I am not living this life passionately,
falling madly in love over and over again,
then what am I doing all this for?

If all the feelings, the longings, and the dreams that are surging through me and the pages of my rapidly-filling journal have any chance of fulfillment, if Anderson's book is to believed, if eye has not seen nor ear heard all that God has in store for those who love and trust in Him, then look out world: I may be entering the second half of my life, but the best is yet to come.
Even in the gathering dusk.
Perhaps especially in the gathering dusk.