Monday, March 31, 2008

On the road again...

Nope, I'm not going on a trip anytime soon; that's not what I meant. This time I mean Providence Road, a main artery here in Charlotte. And the road of life, of course.

Every afternoon, I go careening up Providence Road en route to picking my son up from school. Every day I pass the same buildings and intersections, looking in my rearview mirror for speeding drivers attempting to overtake me; after all, this is NASCAR country. I look ahead for pedestrians attempting to cross in unseemly spots. I look around for the city buses that zip up and down and all around this growing town. I look at the walkers and joggers and cyclists all seeking to attain and/or maintain some inaccessible standard of fitness. Kristiana sits beside me and we chat or we listen to my Ipod or we tune in to our latest addiction, National Public Radio.

What I don't do nearly enough is pay attention to what is going on around me with the attention it is due. With that in mind, I have begun to make an intentional decision to slow down my eyesight. Yes, I look out for the city buses, but I glance into the darkened windows and try to see who is on the bus. Not that I expect to know anyone, but perhaps I do. Perhaps it doesn't matter if I know anyone; each person on that bus, each person in each car, each person darting across that busy boulevard is worthy of being noticed, being acknowledged.

As I sit at red lights at busy intersections, like the one at Rea Road, I try to imagine where everyone is going or where they have come from: to pick up a child from school or back home after taking a child to the doctor's office. To the hospital to work the night shift or to sit vigil beside a sick loved one. To the supermarket to pick up the ingredients for a romantic dinner or to figure out how many of the basics can be purchased with a dwindling supply of food stamps. Perhaps there is a clandestine rendezvous in the offing or simply a contented return to uninspiring chores after a quiet lunch in the parking lot outside the office building of a dear friend or beloved spouse.

Minivans and Suburbans going in both directions. School buses. City buses. Motorcycles. Trucks.
Power lines. Telephone lines. Pedestrian markers. Traffic counters.
There they all are, passing in front of me the images of an endless loop of film in an abandoned movie projector.

But they are not abandoned. Nor are they forgotten. I see them. I wonder where they are off to and how they are doing. In the car alone, I have sometimes wept with tears of deep sadness when I think of the fact that some of them are driving around desperately looking for work, for a lawyer who can help them find relief from their mortgage crisis, for a doctor who will tell them that the diagnosis of cancer or bipolar disorder or Down's syndrome or spontaneous miscarriage wasn't correct - that it was the tragic result a misread test result.

And sometimes when my vision clears, I look up and see glory. The glorious Carolina blue sky. Unfettered clouds floating by, unencumbered by my worries or concerns. I look up and see the brightly shining sun and know that this too, this traffic slowdown, this moment of universal sorrow, this drought, this anguish will pass.

Indeed, all shall be well. Not always as quickly as we'd like. Not always in the way we'd like. But it does pass. Our tears dry. And we get to look up and see the sun again. Or in our case here in Charlotte today, we get to look up and see the rain clouds.

In sunshine or in rain, I give thanks. (Even more so in rain these days!)

In sickness or in health, I give thanks. (I am glad that the kids and Steve are coming to the end of their coughs. And so far, I'm still cough-free.)

When death appears at my doorstep and carries off someone I love, even then I give thanks: for the end of their suffering, for having known them and loved them for as long as I did, and for the example that has often been set for me of how to die with dignity and at peace.

Speaking of death's dismal effects on those of us left behind, less than two weeks ago, we celebrated the 7th anniversary of my father's death. I do miss my Dad. He died the most dignified, peaceful, quiet, love-bathed death possible, I am certain of it. Lung cancer had made a latticework of his insides; breathing was nearly impossible for him, even with a mask delivering 100% oxygen to his tattered lungs. Miraculously, he was not on any pain medication at the end, but it was his last night with us, and we all know it. Just before 6:30 that morning, we sat him upright in his hospital bed, and he turned to look out the window into the early morning light. Suddenly, he opened his eyes wide, and drew in a deep quick breath, as though he'd seen something magnificent. Just as suddenly, he was gone.

I don't think he saw something magnificent; I think he saw Someone Magnificent, the Savior he'd loved and honored and served for at least as long as I had known him. I was standing beside his bed with my hand in his when he slipped away. I called out for him, even though I knew he had left us - "Daddy, Daddy." Gently I removed his oxygen mask as the tears flowed down my already damp cheeks. Then it hit me: No more oxygen tank. No more glasses. No more arthritis. No more replacement hip. No more dentures. He's dancing and laughing and singing and rejoicing. All is well, indeed. All is well.

This afternoon as I make my way towards Daniel's school, I will look around at the trees with their purple and white blooms, the daffodils and tulips in bloom, and the cars and buses full of people on their way to only God knows where. I will look up into the gray sky and give thanks for the rain.

I will remind myself, probably with tears in my eyes yet again,
that just as these gloomy skies will soon give way again to the brilliant sunshine,
someday all that ails us, all that ails our city, and our nation,
all that ails us all around the world -
all shall be well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

More Prayer for Jen B...

And an opportunity to do more than pray. Please read this story and consider how you can help.

This is our chance to make a difference in the life of someone we don't know and probably never will know... at least not on "this" side.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Peace and how to achieve it, not only in the world, but also in my heart.

Pregnancy - not my own, of course, but the pregnancies of two friends who are due the same week, and another who is waiting to hear if she is "with child."

Preachers - some under fire, some who should be, and why they are mostly men, mostly looking to preserve their male status as preachers and take great offense to the idea that women can preach, that Paul didn't mean that women can never speak before adult men, and who think that God intended for half of the people He created in His own image to never be able to speak to or teach the other half of the people He created in His image.

Perfection - In her book, Momma Zen, Karen Maezen Miller describes perfection like this: "Not perfect as in better than something else, but perfect as in complete." Perfection as completion.

Prejudice - as in "pre-judgment." Sadly, I would imagine there are several people who will read the title "Momma Zen" and roll their eyes, wondering what a good Christian girl like me could possibly be doing reading a book with the word "zen" in the title. Yup, I'm reading it. It is easily the most honest, down-to-earth, realistic book about motherhood I have ever read. Ever.

Here's a quote that hit me hard this evening as I read the book (sitting in the front part of Caribou Coffee while my daughter attended a volunteer meeting in the back room... the joy of reading about motherhood as I did the mothering thing: taking her where she needed to be, waiting for her, and driving her home) -

"Practice acceptance of yourself so you can be kinder with your child. Practice nonjudgmental awareness of your life so you can save your loved ones from the cruelty of your own impossible standards and your hard-hearted disappointment. Practice greater faith and less blame. Take this blink of time when you are still stumbling at the gate, still awkward at the tasks, to turn down the sound [of what she describes as our constant self-critical evaluation] and tumble freely in a state of grace."

Yikes! All my criticism of friends and family, whether it is in the presence of my children or in my own head: not good. All my criticism of the way that people dress and how poorly groomed they sometimes are: not good. All my moaning and groaning about how many people in my life have disappointed me: not cool. Do my husband and children and friends and loved ones deserve to hear me ranting and raving about everything that bothers me? No, they don't. It's time to turn down the soundtrack of my criticism and begin to fill the airwaves of our home, car, our telephone lines and the e-mailboxes of people I claim to care about, with the music of amazing grace, words of peace and encouragement, and the golden beauty of silence.

And here is another one:

"We give our children life. How, then, can we expect to keep our own intact afterward? But we do. We haven't yet recognized our new position in the natural order of things, and we keep trying to return to where we were before. At first, out of innocence: Let me get back my looks. Let me get back my energy. Let me get back into the swing of things. Then with ferocious will: Let me get back to my own life! So goes the battle between the old and the new, the giver and the taker, the parent and the child. I am talking about something more than just the gauzy cycle of life. Sure, you're older now and one day you're going to die, but before that, you have to die. Your child has arrived and the battle has been joined. It is the battle to the death of your ego. The demise of your selfishness and impatience. The end of your idle distractions and carelessness. The decline and fall of Numero Uno. Or so you must pray, because in this contest, you must lose and lose quickly. Pray that you will never bear the shattered consequences of winning when your child's safety, trust, and happiness are the casualties."

Okay, so maybe my children's "happiness" isn't the most important thing on my agenda. But their safety, their trust, their souls, their joy, their belief in what they are capable of being - that is on the line every day. Will I seek to win every argument just because I am the mother? Will I seek to win every argument just because "I am right" about certain points and they are mistaken? In the choice between being right and being kind, I must choose kindness more and more often.

In my childhood, I learned what it felt like to be beaten into silence and submission, physically and emotionally. Physical punishment is not doled out in our home. Period. And I pray that emotional punishment is ever decreasing in frequency. Forced apologies. Admission of grievous ills and wrongs that I never quite understood, but always offered in order to be back in the good graces of my parents and whatever other authority figures loomed in my life at the time.

I know what it felt like to be forced to admit that I was being disrespectful in a confrontational situation, but never be told that the point I was making was right. I want my children to be respectful in their words and their attitudes, but I also want them to understand that when they have made a valid point, they will be acknowledged for that.

And apologies from an adult in my life? Not so much. Apologies from someone who lied to me and was caught in the lie? Never. Apologies after being insulted and humiliated in public? Nope. My prayer is that I will set a new standard in our home, in our marriage, in our parenthood: a standard that applies to all of us. A standard of justice, of humility, of each serving the other, of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and innumerable chances to start over again when we inevitably mess things up.

I am ready to die: to die to my own selfishness, inconsiderate nature, impatience, carelessness, and superiority complex.

I sat and watched and listened while Steve offered Daniel help with his homework. Without interfering. They neither asked for nor needed my help.
So shut up, Gail. Shut up!

Yup, I'm pondering parenthood a lot. Marriage. Friendship. Forgiveness. Life itself. I'm learning how to remain silent sometimes instead of offering my opinion and advice. I am discovering that there are far more questions than answers. And I am learning to be okay with that.

More often these days, I sit and watch them do their thing. Live their lives. Swallowing my urge to speak up, lecture, offer my suggestions.
Again, shut up, Gail. (Her t-shirt says: "Don't be trashy. Recycle." She bought it with her own money and no commentary from me. Go, Kristiana!)

One final quote: "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves... Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another... If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Most of the verses in Romans 12:9-18

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Washed any feet lately?

Other than my own, I haven't either.

Amazingly, that's what Jesus did for His disciples on this day just over 2000 years ago. Last night in the journaling class, Bonnie read two beautiful, thoughtful pieces about that act of humility and love that Jesus displayed. One was called "God in an apron." What a title. What an image. God in an apron, at the dusty, dirty feet of His fickle followers, towel wrapped around His waist, wiping, rinsing, drying off.

Inconceivable. Unfathomable. Unimaginable.

Tonight as we celebrated Communion together around our kitchen counter, one of us (who shall remain nameless), declared the inability, the unwillingness to wash the feet of anyone else in our family. I understand that reluctance. I didn't force the issue with said resister.

But God did it; Jesus did it. He washed the feet of the one who would betray Him, the one who would deny Him, and the rest of them - all of whom would run away when He was being arrested. If I am honest, I must admit that I have denied Him more than Peter's recorded three times, betrayed Him for far less than Judas' thirty pieces of silver, and run away from Him far more often than I have stood with Him and those who love Him.

I've spent some time over these weeks of Lent pondering the events that are most crucially important to my faith.
Darkness. Loneliness. Anguished prayer in lonely places.
Fear. Abandonment. Restoration. Reconciliation.
Prophecy. Denial. Forgiveness.
Death. Burial. Resurrection.

Not nearly enough time - I always wish for more time to dedicate to my ponderings,
but this is my life. These are the days of my life. Full. Busy. Demanding.
But I remember that I cannot forget what forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation cost me.
I set aside time to ponder it, to read about it, to journal about it.

In his book entitled, Between the Dreaming and the Coming True,
Robert Benson penned a most eloquent reminder of the need to set time aside
to think about, pray about, and be fully present and attentive to these sacred days of our Christian calendar:

"If we observe Advent at the mall,
spend the night of the Nativity building tricycles,
kick off Lent with a ski trip, spend Easter at the beach,
we are not likely to come face-to-face with the One Who Comes.
If we take the Eucharist once a year,
give God some directives and pointers for five minutes a day and call it prayer,
and do none of the things that the faithful who traveled this road before us would remind us to do,
then we are likely to only talk to God and never hear a response."

Monday, March 17, 2008

How Quickly I Forget...

* that when I offer to read a book to the children, they say "yes" and gather around and sit quietly while I read.

* that when I offer to play catch with Daniel, there is something magical about putting on a baseball glove and tossing a ball back and forth: that boy starts to talk non-stop with his dear old Mom about nearly everything under the sun.

* that when Kristiana and I sit down across from each other at the table with tea, our journals, and a pile of pens between us, we are about to spend enormously valuable mother-daughter, friend-friend time

* that when I ask Steve if he wants to do something together, just the two of us, he almost never turns me down.

* that when I take time alone to read, journal, think, pray, meditate, exercise, I invariably return to my life refreshed and rejuvenated.

* that time over tea with friends also has a way of making me feel great.

* that few people turn down the opportunity to be listened to, encouraged, enjoyed, honored, and loved along life's busy and often demanding pathway.

* that this time of year, with its flowers in bloom, trees budding, grass thickening, and warm weather becoming more the norm than the exception, brings with it a yearning for deeper connections, for truer friendships, and for more passionate love.

* Love is grand.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been reminded of the fact that I had forgotten nearly all these truths.
Thank you Steve, Kristiana, Daniel, Katie, Bonnie, Karen, Rick, Darryl, Laurie, Lisa, Amy, Judy, Jill, Kate, Moneesha, Jen G, Jen L, Jen B,
Zach, Shelby, Itiel, my journaling class members,
and others whose names I have not mentioned
for reminding me.

Here's another quote that Ali posted in her quote list:

The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker-tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along; people who will appreciate our compassion, our unique talents. Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have a potential to turn a life around. It's overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.
Leo Buscaglia

Friday, March 14, 2008

A quote worthy of consideration

"Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again.
And what do we teach our children?
We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France.
When will we also teach them what they are?

We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are?
You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you.
Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move.
You may become a Shakespeare, a Michaelangelo, a Beethoven.
You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel.
And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel?
You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.

Pablo Casals

I found this quote in Ali's quote stash.
Check it out: go to the blog and find the link on the left sidebar.
Then go tell someone you love, child or adult, that he or she is a marvel.
He is. She is.
So are you.

Me? I'm off to a pizza party to celebrate my son's recently completed basketball season.
Go OP Hawks!

The photo on the left was taken two years ago when he played for the Heat. His photo has been used by the photography company ever since as the sample they lay out on the table. Nope, they didn't ask. Nope, he didn't get paid. Nope, we didn't get a discount on photos. Now that I think about it this way, I think I'll go call my lawyer!

He is embarrassed every time he sees it. As you can plainly see, he did not want me to take the photo of him with the model photo. Oh well.

That's her foot on a recent drive through town.

These two people I feed and clothe daily really are marvels.
As we all are. Yup, you too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Gospel According to Oprah...

I like Oprah a lot. I have liked her a lot for a very long time.

Way back in 1998 when I graduated from the Master's program at Wesleyan University, she was the commencement speaker. Apparently, one of her nieces was graduating as well, so Oprah came and spoke. Before the ceremony, instead of hanging out on the platform at a distance from the crowds, she, Stedman, and Gayle (her other Gail...) came and mingled with the graduates. I thanked her for her constant support of stay-at-home mothers. She looked directly at me and said, "You're welcome." Not willing to let hers be the last word, I approached her and asked if I could have my photo taken with her. She readily agreed; downstairs in our family room is a photo of yours truly with my arm draped over her shoulders, both of us in dark sunglasses, one of us firmly standing on Cloud 9.

I like Oprah. I like how open she is about her struggles with her weight. I like how open she is in her stand against child abuse, poverty, and bad fashion. I like how she takes millions of her own dollars and invites her viewers to add their own money and builds homes for the homeless, schools for the uneducated, provides assistance for so many who are in deep need. I like how she reads hundreds of books each year and recommends her favorites to her millions of viewers.

Have I joined her in every stand against poverty? Have I read every book she has recommended? Have I agreed with every stance she takes on topics as varied as dieting, exercise, travel, food, wine, shopping, and religion? Absolutely not.

Apparently, she is now leading an online class based on a book entitled "A New Earth." Apparently some people think this is yet another attempt by Oprah to turn millions of people on to yet another "new age" religion that will draw them away from The Truth. Apparently lots of Christian radio stations, television stations, Bible schools, websites, and others have decided that yet again Oprah needs to be punished for choosing this book and putting this course online.

Let me be clear: I have not read the book and don't currently have any plans to read it - not because I am condemning it (how can I condemn a book I have never read?) but because I have far too many other books to read at the moment.

However, I have read another Book that talks about the passing of the old earth and the coming of a new earth. I have read another Book that talks about how people will seek to hear what their itching ears want to hear.

In that same Book, I have read a lot about Someone who, instead of condemning and criticizing everyone around Him every chance He got, reached out and touched them. He asked them what they needed. He asked them what they wanted Him to do for them. He told them stories that their itching ears wanted to hear and then He listened to their stories. He sat in their homes and ate with them. He walked along hot, dusty roads and talked with them. He invited them to come with Him, to follow Him, and to spend time with Him. He invited them to lay down their burdens and take on His much lighter yoke.

Did He yell at some people? Did He criticize some people for their snobby, condemning, ostracizing, belittling, unforgiving behavior towards others? Who were the ones He got mad at?

Let me ask that question another way: who did Jesus not yell at? Not the woman caught in adultery. Not the woman at the well who had had four or five husbands. Not the woman who was bleeding for twelve years or the people possessed with demons running around naked and foaming at the mouth. Not the lepers or the blind people. Not the outcasts or the seekers. Not the thousands of hungry people who dared to follow Him out into the wilderness to hear His stories.

He yelled at the people who claimed to be followers of the Law. The ones who believed they were better than everyone else. The ones who were quick to point out the fallen ones, the sinners, the addicted, the lusty, the lost, and the diseased. He yelled at them for making the way so difficult for the ones who were already lost - and who admitted to being lost. He yelled at the ones who were incapable of admitting their own faults, but were always ready and willing to speak aloud about the faults of others. He condemned the people who stood up in the temple and proudly prayed through a list of the kinds of people they were glad they were NOT.

I challenge those of us who say that we embrace the Gospel of Christ: before we jump on yet another bandwagon and accuse Oprah of leading thousands astray yet again, let us carefully consider what we are doing as we walk along this life journey. Are we, like Jesus, coming up alongside other folks on the road and asking them what they are talking about as they walk along the way? Are we asking them what they are seeking? Are we asking them what kind of new earth they long for? Are we listening to their answers without preparing an answer that will challenge and correct every word they say? Are we telling them about the new earth that is promised to all of us?

Are we telling them about our own struggles and about The Book that we are reading, the Book that is providing much-needed answers for us? Are we sitting with them in the wreckage of their lives and crying with them or are we trying to figure out ways to point out blame and separate ourselves from them and their lives? Are we sharing with them the great stories that The One Who Came told us? Are we sharing the great love that He has shown to us? Are we living our lives in such a way that others will want to know what makes us so different?

If we aren't living out what we read in The Book we claim to love and want to obey, if we refuse to live out the radical Gospel of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness, and leper-touching that we say we believe, then what choice does anybody around us have but to find another book, read it, and follow its teachings? What choice do people have but to follow the Gospel According to Oprah or Dr. Phil or Jon Stewart or Bill O'Reilly or Nancy Grace or Anderson Cooper or Ann Coulter or the current president or the one to come? What choice do they have?

Here's the thing: We are all sick of the mess that this world is in. We are all searching. We are all looking for answers.

Here's the question: Whose Gospel are we gonna teach and live out? Oprah's or Somebody else's?

PS. Before you fire off an email and accuse me of being a liberal, too tolerant, and completely blinded by the glare off of Oprah's diamond earrings, read on.

I proudly confess to being a liberal and pray desperately to be more liberal every day: liberal with my love, compassion, and tenderness, liberal with my money, my material goods, and my forgiveness.

I hope to become increasingly tolerant of my own faults and the faults of everyone I know. Furthermore, I pray for the strength to walk unswervingly with and beside them as we together seek out ways to be healed and transformed.

As for Oprah's earrings, they are amazing, aren't they? If they were mine, I'd sell them and give away most of the money to feed the hungry and provide for the poor... And then I'd use the rest to buy myself a smaller pair of diamond studs. I won't tell a lie; I do like a good pair of earrings...

Friday, March 07, 2008

On this rainy Friday...

As described below, this is what happens when severe storms blow through Charlotte!


That's right; it's raining! And it rained, poured, thundered, and lightninged (is that even a word???) during most of the day and into the night on Tuesday. The wind howled, tree branches fell, and there was a tornado watch for most of the night. We are thrilled about the rain - so are the trees, flowers, and fields in our area (at least the ones that have survived our recent bouts of severe weather). Rivers, streams, wells and reservoirs are being replenished and renewed - as is my belief that this drought will not last forever. We are still a long way from being out of the water crisis, but every drop helps. Thanks be to God.

On this rainy Friday, I am grateful for:

* yoga for strength and flexibility
* following exercise with hot, buttered toast and scrambled eggs with garlic sea salt and fresh parmesan (no, I'm not concerned in the least with the offsetting effect of the latter against the former!)
* hot, sweet coffee to wash it down
* my cozy robe and slippers
* Daniel's much improved health
* Steve's ongoing recovery from a deep chest cold of his own
* the fact that Kristiana and I have managed to stay healthy
* ice water
* the recent discovery of Robert Benson's books (Thank you, Bonnie.)
* the freedom to homeschool here in NC - some states are pretty strict about it (Thank you, Jill)
* all the ways in which I am learning (slowly) to control my temper and to ask forgiveness for when I lose it
* the increasing ability to accept my life for what it is and to accept me for who I am, temper, impatience, critical, competitive nature and all
* the increasing desire to figure out other ways to respond to the circumstances of my life than losing my temper, being impatient, and critically comparing myself to others
* digital cameras and instant photographs
* the new "toy" that Steve bought me yesterday (what on earth am I going to do with a Blackberry??? Help!!!)
* the choice I made to spend this entire morning (with only brief breaks) taking care of myself (see above!) - and not paying any attention to my inner critic, Gertrude, who wanted desperately to burden me with guilt and shame for doing so!

* Did I mention that it's raining here in Charlotte? Maya is quite confused about the strange stuff that gets her wet and cold when we take her out for her walks. Poor little, shivering, shaking thing...

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


When I hear about another school shooting,
a shooting in a mall or a restaurant,

when I read about the kidnappings and torture of people in the Middle East, South America, and right here in the States,

when I see images of slaughter and genocide in Europe and Africa,

when accounts of suicide bombings and other random acts of violence appear on my computer screen,

when I am accosted by yet another tale of a woman and her children being murdered by someone who claims to love them,

when I am reminded of the horrors of current day child prostitution and 21st Century slavery,

when friends speak and write of watching family members and friends suffer untreatable pain, and, in one case, die of the flu,

sometimes all I can think to do is weep.

Yes, I pray. Often.
But still, I weep.

I put my pen down.
I put my book down.
I stop writing.
I stop reading.
And I weep.

Then I look up, pleading for peace, and say these familiar words again and again.

"Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

"Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy."