Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Eerie Feeling...

There is an palpable eeriness that I feel as I move around and through my life right now. An unsettled feeling. The gas shortage continues with no end in sight. The financial markets are crashing and burning still. Again. Banks are gobbling up other banks and financial institutes. The presidential campaign is mind-boggling in its inanity.

Like most areas of the country, this part of North Carolina is suffering with a glut of houses on the market to be sold. One family of neighbors recently bought a house - before selling the house they currently live in. Now they own two houses, and it doesn't look likely that either will be sold anytime soon. It's eerie.

A townhouse complex being built nearby. Progress is slow, but steady.

Like most areas of the country, here in North Carolina there is the baffling continuation of the building of houses and shopping plazas. One friend recently explained it well when she said that the housing and building market is a huge machine that is hard to get up and running and at least as hard to slow down and bring to a stop. Kinda like a freight train rolling downhill with a brake failure is how I understood her example.

The neighborhood pool is covered and the pool parties are over.

The extravagant shopping sprees are over too. A woman I know, someone who buys $1500 handbags every quarter (yes, every three months), who thinks nothing of buying dresses in the same price range, who wears shoes that cost anywhere from $200 - $700, she told me that she got a $500 gift card from a local store. A unsolicited and unearned $500 gift card issued from the store to entice her to come shopping! She said she gets two or three emails a day from a certain salesperson from a store she frequents letting her know that there are great deals to be had. She said she is simply not shopping these days. At all. I don't know which part of her story shocked me most: that she received a gift card in that amount from a clothing store, that she gets that many emails from a single saleswoman, or that she isn't shopping these days.

I, one of the least likely full-price-paying shoppers on the East Coast, got a call from Nordstroms last week informing me that, because I had bought a Donna Karan item in the past, they wanted to let me know that there was a sale of DKNY clothing. Did I want her to set anything aside for me? Are you talking to me, GailNHB? The only DKNY items I can imagine ever having bought from Nordstroms would have been underwear or tights on sale for less than $8. "No, Crystal, there is no need to set anything aside for me" I said. "But if I am in the store and need help, I will look for you." What I didn't say is that I won't be in there anytime soon.

The excessive, wasteful, greedy lifestyle that has come to define much of American consumerism is over, folks. At least for now. These times they are a'changing. And it feels eerie.

Out for a walk this morning with K and D. We walked past this woman and her dog as she talked with the gentleman in the van twice during our round-trip journey. They were talking about the Sarah Palin - Katie Couric interview. I liked what I heard.

In the midst of the eeriness, the quiet in the midst of the storm raging around us, there is peace, there is beauty, there is neighborly contact and conversation. As a threesome, we walked and talked and opined on politics and smoothies and books and travel and tea and photography and the turmoil in the world. We gave thanks that all is well for us at the moment and that we have access to peace that passes understanding and joy that is unspeakable and full of hope. We reveled in the freedom of homeschooling and marveled at the beauty of our neighborhood.

And with my tiny but rather talented camera, I recorded some of that beauty. I was reminded that the flowers and the ants and birds and dogs like Maya, in all of their splendor and simplicity and quiet, fear nothing. They live and breathe and eat and drink and make messes and reflect the beauty that emanates from their core. Their colors, their brilliance, their resilience - it comes from within them and beyond them.

Yes, there is an eerie feeling around.
But there is also a joyful feeling. A hopeful feeling.
A deepening of roots and opening of buds.
A widening of smiles and warming of hearts.
And all of it comes from beyond us.

Perhaps the eeriest thing about all this eeriness is that it hasn't seeped into my soul yet.
Instead, it has caused me to give thanks,
to remember, declare, and remind all who will listen that
hope floats, peace is possible, and love never fails.

Again the words of Jesus resonate.

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to Him than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion - do you think that makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like that. The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers - most of which are never even seen - don't you think He'll attend to you, take pride in you, do His best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

Taken from Matthew 6, The Message.

The challenge is and always has been to believe and live out the truth of those words when the hard times come - and they do come.
They have come.
It's eerie.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Running on Empty

There is a gas crisis here in Charlotte - and in the Southeast in general. I suspect that we would all gladly pay $5 or $6 per gallon, but we simply cannot find gas. Dozens of gas stations here are simply dry. Out of gas. I have a little more than half a tank this morning, but I wonder when I will next get the chance to fill up.

My life tank is feeling a little like that these days. There is still some joy and peace and grace in there, but I am in need of a tank refill. Refueling. An engine light is blinking.

I saw this sand dollar at the beach two weekends ago.
I saw myself in it: broken in half and underwater.
The tide was coming in, and just after I took that photo,
it disappeared. Washed inland and then back out to sea.

A few yards away was this majestic pier. Overhead, casting a cool shadow on a hot day. And underneath the pier, evidence of an earlier pier, most likely, just as strong and sturdy. But it had been leveled by a powerful storm sometime ago. There was the stump. Solid. Proud. Capable of serious bodily harm to an inattentive passerby. In its own stumpy little way.

It is easy sometimes to pay attention to the brokennness.
The empty tank.
The destruction.
The loneliness.
The sorrow.
The drowning feeling when the tide is in.
It is easy sometimes to think that someone somewhere is hoarding gas.
And joy and laughter and grace and chocolate chip cookies as well.

But then the tide rolls out.
The beach reappears.
And when I look up, I see the beauty of the pier and the sun
and the beach and the sand and of life.
I have been forgiven.
I am loved.
I have a hope and a future.

And if I would just remember the joy and wonder and awe that
children so often feel at the beach,
perhaps all would not be easy,
perhaps there wouldn't be surpluses of gas in an hour,
perhaps family life wouldn't be like it was "in the old days,"
(whenever those "old days" were...)
perhaps I would still worry and doubt and be afraid sometimes.
But at least, I would see the great beauty that surrounds me
all the time everywhere.

I keep going back to a favorite passage of mine, the one when Jesus said,
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?
Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life.
I'll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me - watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

One thing I know for sure:
I need some free, light, restful, unforced, graceful living.
I need a real rest.
Until I am able to inhale and exhale fully and deeply again,
I'm gonna be drinking a lot of Teavana tea,
looking up at my new peace flags (thanks, Lisa),
burning my "No worries" candle (thanks, Jen)
listening to some Sara Groves (thanks, Jill),
celebrating the gift of my many friends and other loved ones,
(you know who you are and how much you mean to me)
and praying.

I suspect that once I do all that stuff,
I will be just fine...
All shall be well.
All is well.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Let There Be HOPE!

Barack Obama, the first African-American man to ever be a nationally chosen nominee for President of these United States stood outside the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, speaking to us of hope, of change, of stepping across divides and around our differences in order to secure our future and strengthen our standing in the world. Yes "us" - I was there!

Regardless of your political persuasion, and I know there is a very wide spectrum of political convictions among those who read my random rants, and regardless of the outcome of this election, this man has changed the political landscape of this country forever. I am grateful for his courage, his strength, his hope, his dream, and the will of the millions of people who have helped make this possible for him and for our nation.

This is the clearest zoomed in shot I took. I think he was looking directly at me in this one. Don't you?

This is my view without the zoom. I guess it's unlikely that he actually spotted me in the crowd. But a girl can dream, can't she???!!!

Yes, I heard Barack Obama speak here in my hometown, a city where, during my lifetime, blacks and whites were not permitted to eat in the same restaurants, share water fountains, ride in the same section of public transportation, or sleep in the same hotels. During my childhood, my own family, my parents, siblings, and I, suffered under the injustice of racism in this state many times as we traveled to Mount Olive, the town where my mother grew up. I cannot imagine how difficult it was for my mother, her eleven siblings, and her sharecropper parents to endure the horrors of Jim Crow laws in the early half of the last century. My father wasn't exempt; he grew up in rural South Carolina during and after the Great Depression.

These times, they are a'changin. Glory be!

The Charlotte Observer reported that twenty thousand of us gathered to catch a glimpse of the man we hope will be our next President. In the crowd were men, women, blacks, whites, gay people, straight people, families with infants in their arms, teenagers, college students traveling in packs wearing matching tee shirts, older couples in what I assume were their church clothes, and thousands who were not so easily identifiable or categorized. Contrary to what the two dozen protesters and sign bearers across the street seemed to think, some of us were followers of the same God they promised will surely send us all to hell! Gasp!!! Gulp!!!

On second thought, maybe it's not the same God...
but that's fodder for a-whole-nother conversation.

Barack is the one in the white shirt on the right side of this picture. I took as many photos as I could that would reflect the size and diversity of the crowd.

One friend of mine said it so well on Friday morning. This isn't verbatim, but it's what I remember: "During campaigns, politicians promise all kinds of things that they know they won't be able to deliver. Once they are elected, they keep precious few of their promises. I don't expect that Barack will be any different than any President before him in that regard, but even if he keeps 20% of the promises he is making, if he is able to move us beyond politics as usual, then we will be so much better off as a country."

A woman in her 70's standing in line behind us as we waited to pass through security yesterday said, "I am the oldest person in this part of the line, so I will say this. I have voted many times in my life, and this is the first time in many years that I have been excited about the person I am voting for." The bumper sticker she held up proudly said, "Rednecks for Obama." One of the campaign volunteers who walked past said, "Okay... We will take all the support we can get." We all laughed.

As I stood there, mostly on my tippy toes, watching, listening, cheering, waving the American flag I was handed, clapping, and marveling at the wonder of that moment, tears came to my eyes. I told myself over and over, "Live this, G. Breathe this. Listen closely. Watch carefully. And pray for this nation of ours at this crossroads in our history. You are here. Be here now." Every few minutes I would close my eyes, listen, feel the moment as deeply as possible, and then I would look up to the sky, and say, "Thank you, Lord."

I underestimated the excitement I would feel at being there, where he was, listening to him share his dream with us, live and in person, even though I was nearly one hundred yards away from him. I underestimated the hope that I would feel simply because I was there among thousands of others who have this same dream.

Speaking of dreams that sometimes come true - I am not a tee shirt wearer myself, except for when I am exercising or going to sleep. But I saw one for sale yesterday that I almost bought. It had an image of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on the bottom right side and an image of Barack Obama on the top left side.
Above Barack's head were the words, "The Dream."
Below Dr. King's face, "The Dreamer."

Obama 08!

Friday, September 19, 2008

This morning, I stepped in it.

Isn't she adorable? Well, at the moment, I hate her. Profoundly hate her.
Anybody want a Yorkie? Free! I'll pay for shipping and handling.

Yes, I stepped in it.
A pile of crap.
Maya's crap.
In my bedroom in the dark.

You see, sometimes she sleeps in our bedroom, in her little bed.
But apparently she doesn't always stay in her bed.
And sometimes in the middle of the night, she has to go potty.
Usually, she waits until Steve takes her out in the morning to give in to that feeling.

Last night, she decided she didn't want to wait until morning.
So she pooped in about five different places in our bedroom.
On our carpet. Our off-white carpet.

When I got up this morning, I went to the computer.
At the other end of our second floor.
With off-white carpet in all the upstairs rooms.

(Why did I not go to my own laptop in my own study?
Excellent question!
Why did I not go do my regular morning prayer and meditation?
Another good question!
Answer: I needed to learn a lesson about priorities.)

While sitting at the computer, I thought: "It smells like poop. But that's not possible. I must be imagining it."
No, I wasn't imagining it. I got up from the chair, looked down at my feet, and there it was.

On my slipper.
On the rug.
I looked across the room.
Footprints leading from our bedroom to where I stood.

I screamed and cursed.
Something like, "Oh my God! Steve, your f-ing dog pooped in our bedroom."
Something like that. No, it was exactly that: My screams woke Daniel up.
He quoted me verbatim.
"I'm so sorry, buddy, you didn't deserve to hear that."

Here's the thing: it really is my fault. No, I'm not trying to get anyone's pity or pats on the back.
I walked her at 9 pm. She did both sets of business then.
We went to bed around midnight - we LOVE Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Neither of us wanted to walk her at that point.
I thought: "If we don't walk her, we should put her in her box. Just in case..."
But I said nothing. I did nothing.
And then this morning, I stepped in it.

Of course, all this stuff makes me think about my life. In what areas of my life, my marriage, my parenting, my friendships, am I ignoring the signs of the ____ hitting the fan? Where am I allowing the crap to build up and back up, but I refuse to do something about it? To exercise it, to take care of it, to put everything where it belongs? What makes me think that waiting will make the bad stuff go away or get better? Why don't I just do what I need to do when I know it needs to be done? Why won't I have the difficult discussion, the confrontation, say what I need, ask for help, and receive help when it is offered? How many times and in how many ways do I need to step in it?

There are corners of my life where I can already smell something.
Something is not right. Constipated. Or is it running loose?
I'm not sure, but it's not right.
The question is, will i turn over and go back to sleep?
Hoping it can wait until morning or next week or next month.
Or will I get up and take care of it before I step in it again?

I hate Maya right now.
But she is a great teacher.
And I would gladly give this great teacher away to the first person who asks for her!

Added on Saturday, Sept. 20th at 10:30 am: In response to Amy's comment and question: Daniel quoted me almost verbatim, leaving out the offending word, saying "f-ing" in its place. And as he said it, he wept. Hearing either of his parents use curse words wounds his tender spirit. Literally causes him to cry.

It was heart-breaking to me to see his tears on account of something I said. I could do nothing but apologize and ask for his forgiveness after he confronted me about my bad language. So I guess Maya wasn't the only one teaching me yesterday morning. I'd give Maya away in a heartbeat, but Daniel, I will definitely keep.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Seven weeks ago today...

I was above the clouds.

Actually I was above those clouds seven weeks and three days ago. Arriving in Managua for the trip of a lifetime. And not a day goes by, that I don't think about the week we spent there. On average there are two or three times each day when I think, "Seven weeks ago right now, I was eating breakfast... holding Sheila in my arms... talking to Charlie... riding on the bus to our next destination..." or whatever I think I was doing at that time on that day of the week.

The bottom of that banner says: Managua welcomes you.

It certainly did. So did every beautiful boy and girl, man, woman, grandmother, and teacher I met. Tears were shed and then wiped away. Hugs and meals were shared. Hands and hearts held. Faces admired and caressed. Prayers were offered and answered.

Welcome, welcome, welcome.

Following Kristiana's star - can you see the little yellow star she is carrying?

It wasn't an easy expedition for my tender-hearted daughter.
She cried before we left, and she cried while we were there.
She wondered what her purpose was in going and
whether or not it had been worth the time and money
for her to take the trip.

But then, seven weeks ago today,
she led a tiny band of wide-eyed, love-starved children
in several rounds of "Follow the star."
They marched and ran and jumped and hopped.
They laughed and took turns - and for a few moments,
she forgot her fear and they forgot their hunger.

It was an contemporary and unexpected reenactment of one of my favorite Bible passages: "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great joy." Between many rolls of belly laughter and my own round of tears, I took this photo.

Can you spot the salamander thing that lived on the walls above our beds?

Anybody who has read this blog with any regularity knows that I am not one of those calm, animal lovers who can peacefully share my living space with critters that have more than four legs. So when we discovered, not one, but two little salamander thingies living in our room, I was not a very happy camper. In fact, I fumed internally that I had not signed up to go to camp and therefore did not deserve to have to live with campy critters. And where was the lizard spray when you need it?

The bravest girl in our group - so brave that she gouged the eyeball out of a deep fried whole fish and ate it - tried to catch both of them. To no avail. So I let it go. Fearlessly and miraculously I fell asleep each night with absolutely no concern about waking up with either of them burrowing in my hair. And every morning there they were, hovering high above us, graciously and patiently waiting for us to check out of their Lizard Motel.

Did I mention in an earlier post that on our first morning there, I opened a drawer that was inches from my head only to discover a swarming nest of huge ants and their gel-encased larvae? I screamed and slammed the drawer shut as quickly as I could. Unwilling to face that teeming mass again, I immediately came to the conclusion that I was more willing to spend the rest of the week with that nest near my head than have to deal with getting rid of it.

Fortunately the bravest woman I have ever known was my roommate. (There were quite a few brave souls on the trip. I suppose that to some degree we were all brave simply for having undertaken the adventure.) She put her hands into a plastic bag, and using it as a glove, she pulled the drawer out and ran outside with it, tossing the ants and their unborn children into the nearby grass. Unwilling to leave any ant unevicted, she checked the drawer across the room and discovered a smaller, though equally active ant nest over there.

I guess the time has come for me to accept that little critters live in every house, dorm, cottage, and hovel all the world around. Some crawl across kitchen counters. Some remain behind closed walls. Some live on the walls above bunk beds in Nicaraguan mission houses. Until I am able to accept the fact that we, the humans, are in the minority on the planet, I will continue to have fearful encounters with them. Slowly, very slowly, I am making peace with being in the minority yet again. I thank those two Masaya salamanders for being my teachers.

Packing the crates and suitcases for future groups and activities.

One of the goals of our trip to Nicaragua was to provide Chosen Children's Ministries with clothing, toys, candy (why do we feel the need to rot the teeth of the people we say we want to serve?), cosmetic supplies, school supplies, and whatever else we could carry in our suitcases - all of which would be used in towns and villages like Xiloa and Paradise.

Fortunately and unfortunately, what most groups do is leave their stuff in piles in the dining room - seen in this picture - or in the storage shed behind the dorm buildings. Either way, the few CCM workers frequently find themselves facing piles of unorganized stuff that they must to sort through and categorize.

During our week there, our group organized the shed and all of its contents. I was on the dining room organization team. Suitcases, crates, boxes, and other bags were emptied, sorted through, repacked, labeled, and placed in designated spots in the shed. Guillermo, the CCM director there in Nicaragua, told us that we had in effect saved them six months of incremental work.

Who says American teenagers are disorganized, self-centered, and superficial consumers? I do; but for a week, twenty-one teens from Charlotte, North Carolina, laid all that aside and served people in need of our help.

Seven weeks ago tonight, we were sitting together for our evening team meeting.
After spending the day in Xiloa.
Holding babies.
Feeding children.
Distributing cosmetic packs and toys.
Following the star.
Sorting through clothes and school supplies.
Watching salamanders scamper up, down, and all around our room.
After having our hearts emptied, sorted through, repacked, labeled,
and left in Nicaragua for future use.

Seven weeks ago my body was there.
Tonight my soul still is.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Where I have been hiding...

Question: Where have I been hiding? Well, not hiding exactly.
On second thought, maybe we were hiding from all the political buffoonery and the hurricanes and the collapse of our entire economy. (How anyone can say that the United States doesn't have problems is so far beyond all that is rational to me!)

Answer: For a few days, we were off the grid. Off the beaten path. Off the hook. Living on cliches.
On the beach. Walking for hours collecting shells. Making memories.
At Sunset Beach, North Carolina.

I really like these crazy little mileage markers. This one was outside of the Sunset Slush Italian ice place in Ocean Isle, North Carolina. As much as I would love to visit any of the places on that sign, where I sat as I looked at that sign, right there on the wicker chair outside the yellow building with all the delicious dessert safely stored inside, right there was exactly where I was supposed to be at that moment. All was right in my world, right then and right there. Bliss.

What did I choose from their extensive flavor list? Mango and lemon on Friday. Raspberry and lemon-lime on Saturday. Steve shared his watermelon and mango with me on Saturday as well. Delicioso.

This was taken on Friday morning. We arrived too early to check into our bed and breakfast, but right on time for a walk on the beach.

This is a shot of the moon as it rose over the horizon on Saturday night as we ate at The Laughing Mackerel on Ocean Isle.
What a sight!

Hopscotch with the kids while the surf rolled in.

Marveling at the moon on Saturday night. Can you see the light reflected on the water? I could have stood there all night. But there was a fox wandering the beach, and Steve and the kids didn't want to risk having a run-in with it. Me? I'm a woman who runs with wolves; what harm can a little fox do to me???

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Contented with my Discontentment

I have lived a blessed life. Two loving parents. Three brothers. An intact family. Cousins living across the street. Kind and caring neighbors all around us. Went to great schools in elementary, middle, and high school. A fantastic college where I met a fantastic guy. I have traveled extensively. On the road and right here at home, I have discovered art and music and beauty and joy and friendship and love, so much love.

I am married and have two amazing kids. A great house. Neighbors that truly like each other and look out for each other.

I am Blessed. Indeed.
Here are a few photos of some of the richest blessings of my life.
I take none of them for granted.

Food. The floral and fruity centerpieces on the counter of a dear friend's beautiful kitchen island on the occasion of the 30th birthday of another dear and wonder-filled friend. We ate and drank and laughed that night. Went out on a boat ride, then ate and drank and laughed some more.

Spain. The place where my heart finds rest. These are the three gorgeous children of the friend of dear Spanish friends. In their matching coats, bright smiles, and obvious curiosity about the American who shows up once every year or so, they charmed me yet again.

Italy. I discovered this marvelous country just three weeks after the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. Walking the streets of Rome, Florence, Siena, Orvieto, and other fabulous towns during four sojourns there, I have marveled at the history and the presence/presents that this country so effortlessly maintains and so generously shares.

Nicaragua. Unmoored me. Cut the bowlines that kept me firmly anchored in my blessed and simple life. And it brought back to the surface of my soul the once-sunken hull of The Great Ship of Discontentment.

What on earth do I have to complain about? Right????
I have been wrestling with this question for years now.
But for some reason, this month, this week, yesterday, round 314 of the ongoing spiritual, emotional, mental wrestling match started. Once again, I hear and feel the thumping of heavy feet, the bumping of fierce foes, and the flinging of fine lamps, weighty leather wingback chairs, and even the volumes of once sacred-texts being tossed around in the living room of my soul.

"Oh, no. Here we go again. I thought I had gotten over this discontentment stuff once and for all," is what I think. Even as I think those thoughts, I know that I always knew it would be back. Whatever it is. It simply will not let me go, let me be.

After months of collecting dust on a shelf in my study, a tiny volume of Anthony DeMello's writings caught my eye and attention this morning. I bought this book early in March of 2007, but I haven't finished it yet. I opened it and began to read.

The deceased DeMello spoke to directly to me this morning through a essay he wrote entitled, "Fire on the Earth." Here is the part that hit me hardest. Pinned me.

Now is the time to see that absolutely nothing outside
of you can bring you lasting joy. But the moment you do that
you will notice that a fear arises in your heart.
That fear that if you allow the discontent to be,
it will turn into a raging passion that will grip you
and cause you to revolt against everything that
your culture and your religion hold dear;
against a whole way of thinking and feeling and
perceiving the world that they have brainwashed
you into accepting.

This devouring flame will cause
you not just to rock the boat but to burn the boat
to ashes. Suddenly you will find yourself living in an
altogether different world, infinitely removed from
the world of the people around you, for everything that
others hold dear, everything they are crying their hearts
out for, honor, power, acceptance, approval, security,
wealth, is seen for the stinking garbage that it is.
It disgusts and nauseates.

And everything others are forever running away from
holds no terrors for you anymore.

You have become serene and fearless and free,
for you have stepped out of your illusory world
and into the kingdom.

Most people when they feel the stirring of this discontent
within their hearts either run away from it and
drug themselves with the fevered pursuit of work and
social life and friendship;
or they channelize the discontent into social work,
literature, music, the so-called creative pursuits
that make them settle for reform,
when what is needed is revolt.
These people even though they are full of activity
are not really alive at all: They are dead,
content to live in the land of the dead.

The test that your discontent is divine is the fact
that it has no trace of sadness or bitterness to it
at all. On the contrary, even though it often arouses
fear within your heart, it is always accompanied
by joy, the joy of the kingdom.

Here's to joy in the face of fear,
to learning contentment with discontentment,
and to the raging fire that burns away
all the remnants of years of brainwashing
that threatens to dampen our passion, our hope,
and our pursuit of the true light of the world.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Just wondering...

So much ado about politics and politicians.
The presidential candidates.
The vice presidential candidates.
Family crises - public and private.
Teenage pregnancy.

Tonight I wondered: If Barack Obama's 17 year old daughter were pregnant,
would this discussion of teenage parenting be different?
Would there be different terms being used about unwed motherhood?
Would we be clamoring for them to be able to deal with this in private?
Would she be applauded for her choice to keep her baby and marry the father?

What would we be writing in our blogs and political columns?
Would we be sending emails around asking for prayer for Michele Obama and her family?

Or would we be shaking our heads and saying,
"Here we go again. Another black teenage girl got pregnant.
Do we want a family like this leading our nation here at home
and representing our nation abroad,
showing our teenagers what is and is not correct behavior?"

Would we be this forgiving and gracious if this girl were black???
I'm just wondering...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

El lugar donde mi alma se encuentra...

A few of you have asked how the translation went on Sunday.
It went well. Quickly. But well.
Interspersed with a few out-of-body moments when I thought, "Am I really up here with a headset microphone on and a room of 2000+ people literally hanging on my every word? The vast majority of the people sitting out there have no idea what he is saying, so they need me to pay close attention and tell them... Oh crap, my mind has wandered again. Get back to it, Gail. Don't screw this up."
Thoughts like that. Again and again. For 40 minutes of translation.

Thanks for your support.
Thanks for asking.

Quite frankly, I felt a little like a rock star when it was over.
Lots of people expressed their thanks and awe and admiration.

One gentleman asked me when I learned to speak English.
It took me a second to realize what he meant.
I assured him that English is my first language.
Unconvinced, he asked where my parents were born.
I told him, "North and South Carolina."
He asked what language we spoke at home during my childhood.
I told him that I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, in a single-language household.
He stared at me for what felt like quite a while before his wife grabbed his elbow and ushered him away.

After it was all over and I was walking back to the minivan with Kristiana, it occurred to me that Spanish is such a part of my daily life, my thinking, the culture of my soul, that I forget that for many people learning a language in school is an endeavor that begins and ends in the classroom in which the grammatical structure is taught.

Not so for me. I began to study Spanish in the 7th grade and loved it (and our flamboyantly gay teacher!) from Day One.
I studied until I was a junior in high school. And for a year in college.
Then I went to Spain. Actually, Spain came to me, into me, attaching itself to my DNA.
The Spanish language and culture and food and art and geography and, most of all, the Spanish people,
embedded themselves into the very fabric and core of my being in the autumn of 1986 and will never be extricated.
On the morning when I awoke and realized I had dreamt in Spanish, I knew I would never be the same.

Spain, especially Madrid, is where my soul finds rest, inhaling and exhaling deeply. It is the place on earth where I am happiest.

(This Instituto Internacional is the place where I studied back in 1986. The sign says "Courses in English" to encourage Spaniards to take enroll in English classes there as well, thereby provided natural opportunities for language exchanges and cross-cultural interaction.)

What a blur these past 22 years have been.
More than half my life.
Far more than half my soul.

These four photos were taken in and around my beloved Madrid in December of 2007.
How could I not fall in love with a city that looks like this during the winter???

PS. The title in translation: The place where my soul finds itself...

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Blur that is My Life

There they are: my two blurry kids. Blurry because they are growing up so fast I can barely see them. Blurry because they move so quickly from one activity and friend and crisis and insight into each other and themselves that I cannot keep up. Blurry because I mustn't have been wearing my glasses when I took the photos.

Here we are together, the entire student body, faculty and staff of The Silvermine Academy, our homeschool. (For those of you who have ever wondered what "Silvermine" refers to in the name of this blog: it is the name of the area where we lived in Norwalk, CT, before moving here. When we had to name our homeschool, we chose that auspicious title. There have been times when we are out in the middle of the day sipping something refreshing at Starbucks or filling a shopping cart at Harris Teeter and someone asks why the children aren't in school, we get to say clever things like, "The children attend The Silvermine Academy, and they are off from school today." Or "This is a field trip sponsored by The Silvermine Academy." That sounds quite impressive, doesn't it? Plus all the people who think they know all the exclusive private schools in the area are left wondering what little gem they missed out on!)

Tomorrow we officially start school. Homeschooling, that is. Sit down at the table. Set some goals. Some parameters. Pull the shrink wrap off the textbooks and workbooks. Choose dates for the required standardized tests.

Undoubtedly, I will panic a little. ("Am I crazy to think I can teach these kids anything? Is my husband nuts to leave me alone with them for another year?")
And then I will relax.
I will remind myself that I am not "doing school" at home.
We are a family. We are friends.
We happen to prefer learning stuff together.
Stuff like goodness and kindness, humor and patience,
how to dust the baseboards and banisters
how to sort through overstuffed dresser drawers,
watch television with a critical eye,
and how to make peach cobbler with local,
fresh Georgia and South Carolina peaches.
(The cobbler the kids made last week was better than tonight's.
We all love being able to judge the subtle differences! YUM!!!)

Stuff like how to find information when they need it,
how to use their time wisely,
and how to forgive themselves when a project or experiment is a flop,
they lose their temper, and say something they immediately regret.

I will remind them that there will be no grades.
There will be no diagnoses of ADHD.
There is no detention, except to observe the lizards that crawl up the screens on the house.
There is no dress code and no late bell.
They cannot be left behind.
They cannot fail.

Yes, you read it right: "Dessert burger." These colorful treats were on display around the 4th of July at a local supermarket. Desserts that are made to look like hamburgers! Who in their right mind would eat such a thing???

Of course, it got me to thinking not only about physical sustenance, but also about emotional, mental, and relational food. How often do I eat "soul food" that is equally unsubstantial? How often do I read things that are junk food for my mind and spirit? How often do I willingly gobble down artificial flavors and colors and trans fat that clog and harden the arteries leading to my soul, that dull my spiritual tastebuds so much that when real beauty, insight, wisdom, and truth come along I miss them?

I must admit that I often feed my children fake food - and I'm not only referring to the Hint of Lime Tostito chips we all have a weakness for. I mean the programs I allow them to watch on television, the trivial novels I allow them to read, and the unnecessary luxuries I indulge them in. I mean well, but it's all fake. Like Splenda and Sweet and Low, those things are pure chemicals, meant to distract us from what is missing, but we all know that it's not the same. It kinda sorta tastes sweet, but I know it's not the real thing. And so do they.

Tomorrow the fall semester at The Silvermine Academy will officially begin. We will sit down at the extra long desk in our homeschool room, rearrange our textbooks yet again, and dream aloud about what we hope and pray the year will teach us. We will discuss the activities of the summer gone by and make plans for the academic year that is poised to begin.

I will look into the eyes of the two blurs that make up the majority of my time and life at the moment, and I will panic a little as I think about how blurry my life feels these days.

Then I will hug them once again, clear my throat, and tell them to open their notebooks to a clean sheet of paper and put the date at the top.