Sunday, November 29, 2009

Something joy-filled this way comes...

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the season of preparation before Christmas Day.
Today we will decorate our Christmas tree. We will pull out ornaments and memories of Christmases past.
We will share our dreams and hopes for this Christmas and new year soon to begin.
We will prepare our hearts and minds and our home for the coming of the Lord. Again. Afresh.
May He come again with joy. With peace. With hope. With comfort. With presence. With love.

Something healing and joy-filled and beautiful and colorful and quiet and grace-filled this way comes.
No, not something, but rather Someone.

I love this time of year. Not because of the presents that we give one another. Not because of the special songs that are sung for only one month out of the year. Not because my birthday falls within the next two weeks. Not because of the abundance of chocolate mint drinks and candies that appear at this time of year. Although I thoroughly enjoy all those things.

I love this time of year because just as the days are getting darker and shorter and colder, hope dawns again. The brightness of the moon these past few nights has reminded me that, simply by lifting my eyes to the hills or to the horizon, I can see the light that appears and illumines the darkest times and places. I love this time of year because that tiny baby born in Bethlehem many moons ago grew up to become the One whose Story stirs my soul to life and hope every morning and sends me off to gentle, peaceful, restorative sleep every night.

Even though there is so much that is meant to distract us from that story, even though there is so much ridicule aimed at those of us who still believe that story, even though there has been so much suffering inflicted on billions of people all around the world in the name of the man that tiny baby grew up to be, I still believe that He is the Prince of Peace, The Healer, The One who Comforts those who Mourn.

So later this morning, my husband, my daughter and I will forego the Sunday sermon at church in order to decorate our Christmas tree. We will tell stories and listen to Christmas music and give thanks and praise for that tiny baby in that tiny manger in that tiny town. And we will open our hearts and minds and hands and spirits to welcome that Special Someone, that love-obsessed, peace-loving, joy-filled Someone that this way comes.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On this Thanksgiving Day

It's a foggy Thanksgiving morning here in Charlotte and I awoke with only one thing in mind: gratefulness.

I am grateful that, after many nights of interrupted sleep, last night I slept well and didn't awaken fully until nearly 7 am.

The coffee this morning was strong and sweet. The oatmeal was thick and hot and sweetened with blueberries, soy milk, and a little brown sugar.

I sat at the table and read and journaled peacefully while the rest of the family either slept or did something quiet.

I don't have much cooking to do today; my mother and my niece are whipping up a feast that I need only to make an appearance at.

We seem to have passed through the worst of the most recent storm that descended on our family. There is renewed hope. There is peace.

I have received emails, phone calls, text messages, and even snail mail from friends and family, each one expressing love and encouragement and support and gratitude that I am a part of their lives.

The church service last night was both encouraging and challenging: It's easy to give thanks when our salaries have risen, when there is extra money in the bank and food in the pantry. It's easy to give thanks when the table is overflowing with food and our closets are full of new and top-of-the-line garments.

But for many people, those conditions for giving thanks have not been met this year. For many, jobs and savings and homes have been lost since last Thanksgiving. Health and security and an expectation of more of the same have also been lost.

And here came the challenge: We ought to give thanks even for the little that we have. What we have may not be much. It may be messy. It may be second-hand or leaky, unfashionable or glued together. But in any case, in every case, we have cause for thanksgiving. We have cause for rejoicing.

Giving thanks in all circumstances is not easy, but if we find ways to give thanks, if we begin and end each day counting and naming our many blessings aloud (or in my case in the pages of a journal), then our perspectives are likely to change. Our expectations are likely to change. Our relationships will change as we find reasons to compliment and complement one another. Our speech patterns will change as we seek ways to build one another up and not only criticize one another. Our point of view will change as we seek out blessings and abundance, rather than focusing our attention on what is missing and what we wish we could change. And at the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the month, we will recognize that our souls will have been transformed as well. Because it is impossible to spend that much time seeking and finding the good in every situation, giving thanks in every situation, and not be changed, profoundly changed by the process.

On this Thanksgiving Day, my heart is full of gratitude for all that has been, all that is, and all that is yet to come. Whatever it turns out to be.

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's shaking?

Mary Oliver wrote this delightful tidbit in her book of poetry entitled, Evidence.

We Shake with Joy

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body

On this day, two days before we will sit around a table laden with food and surrounded by family, I ask myself, "What else is shaking in this body of mine?"

Well, there is a little bit of extra skin and fluff where my yet-to-be-born babies hung out for a few months many years ago.

There are the bags under my eyes, some due to age, most due to the countless tears that used to occupy them but have since soaked the front of many a tee shirt and bathrobe.

There are a couple hundred dreadlocs that hang nearly halfway down my back these days.

There are quivers up and down my spine every now and then when I think about the dreams that are yet to be fulfilled and the challenges that will undoubtedly try to stand in the way of their realization.

My head is shaking back and forth as I marvel at both the blessings and the obstacles that are my joy and my lot in life.

Friends who send packages to my children (thanks a ton, Lisa!).

Friends who travel miles to sit with me and cry (Karen, you are THE BEST!).

Friends who send songs and stories and hugs and kisses and dreams and hopes and support and advice and all their wishes for what is yet to come.

Even the silent friends, the ones who don't write or call back or do any of the things that I wish they would do, even they bring a smile to my face.

Even the distant ones, the ones who seem to have disappeared from my life completely, you still have a space in my heart and soul and mind and spirit. You always will.

Perhaps it is time to stop shaking.
Perhaps just for a moment I will sit here,
be still,
close my eyes,
still my fingers and my thoughts,
take three deep breaths,
remember that I am safe, I am loved, I am at peace
thanks again, Lisa, for that timely note)

and give thanks.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What I'm clinging to this morning...

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord, my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering."

Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him."

The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed."


Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown? Lord, save us."

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

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

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


Father of an ill child: If you can do anything, take pity on me and my son.
Jesus: If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.
Father: I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief.


Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once, Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"

"You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you ask, 'Who touched me?'"

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet, and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.

He said to her, "Take heart, daughter. Your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."


My prayer this morning is short, simple, and desperate:
"Lord, please say the word and let her be healed.
Give her peace. Give her rest.
Help her to be free from her suffering.
Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thankful Thursday

It has been a very long time since I have expressed my gratitude in a post.
Here goes...

* I am grateful for this six or seven-year-old laptop that keeps me connected to the internet and gives me a private and safe place to store my photos and documents.

* I am grateful for the external hard drive where I back up all the things I have on this laptop. After all, it's not going to last forever. (But it has lasted longer than our two-year-old Mac - which had to have its hard drive replaced earlier this week! So much for my naive belief about Macs not having major problems like PCs... )

* I am grateful for the study in which I am sitting, a small and sacred space where I can sit quietly surrounded by my books and my journals, and filled with my questions, dreams, and thoughts.

* I am grateful for the big red couch in the living room downstairs. I get to climb into its cozy lap every morning when the children and I start our homeschooling day.

* I am grateful for the previous owners of this house who, upon moving out seven years ago, left their extra refrigerator for us in the garage.

* I am grateful for the refrigerator and freezer we have in our kitchen. The extra one in the garage died this week, and we had to transfer its contents into the kitchen.

* I am enormously grateful for all the food we have in this house and in our bellies, perishable and non-perishable.

* I am grateful for indoor plumbing and running water and electricity and windows that open and close and brick walls and doors that close and lock and grass and trees and birds and falling leaves and cloudy skies and starry nights and the full moon.

* What else am I grateful for today?

- for easy and quick access to medical help.
- for the doctor who put the two stitches in my finger last week.
- for my family's help around the house when I was unable to do my usual tasks.
- for the health and strength and happiness we share as a family

- for our extended family, those we are in contact with and those we have fallen out of contact with. (I do love you still and pray often that you and those you love are well. I pray that your daughter's wedding goes well and that she is tremendously happy in her married life.)
- for friends, far and wide, who have changed my life in profound ways and whose lives I have influenced as well. You will never know how much I love you - and miss you.

- for our two functioning automobiles.
- for the fact that our roof isn't leaking during these days of heavy rain.

- for journals and markers and magazines and scissors and glue dots and stickers
- for books and websites that encourage me to live fully, deeply, with joy, with gusto, without apology, without reservation, without rancor, without resentment.
- for a camera that captures mostly ordinary and occasionally extraordinary moments and places in my life.
- for the many albums that hold those photos, my memories, and great joy within their covers.

- I am grateful for art and music and poetry and novels and non-fiction books too. I am grateful for coffee and tea and ice water and soy milk and orange peach mango drinks from Trader Joe's. I am grateful for rosemary olive oil bagels with butter and an egg on them. I am grateful for thick socks and sweatpants and heavy robes and soft pillows and down comforters. I am grateful for Sweet Mint Lifesavers and Burt's Bees lip balm sticks and Kleenex and Dr. Bronner's soap and Clean Day laundry detergent and Harris Teeter fresh-baked whole wheat bread.

- I am grateful for my neighbor with her pink raincoat and pink and white umbrella, outside chasing her two sons who I would imagine insisted on riding their bikes and scooters in the rain. She has no idea how beautiful she is and how much her smile lights up my day every time I see her.

- I am grateful to be alive and happy and healthy and stitched together and held together and loved and even liked on this cloudy Thursday afternoon way down south in Charlotte, North Carolina.

*** We are tremendously blessed.
And I am deeply grateful.
Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Two stitches holding me together...

Yesterday, Kristiana and I decided to make a large and lovely pot of vegetable, bean, and barley soup. Delectable. Delicious. Dangerous.

Well, the soup wasn't dangerous. But the knife that I sharpened in order to cut the sweet potatoes was.

Well, the knife wasn't dangerous. But when I stuck my hand into the soapy water in the sink to grab something to wash, the blade of the knife was facing up, my right pinkie was facing down, and they met.

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

Blood flowed. As did my tears. Steve rushed home from work to take me to urgent care. By the time we got there, the bleeding had stopped. I expected the doctor to say that they could just bandage it well and send me on my way. Nope. They advised me to get a tetanus shot and then proceeded to close the gap in my finger with two stitches. And for the foreseeable future: no dishwashing.

It has proved much more difficult than I expected to let go of the reins of doing housework.
To ask for help with simple things.
To type without my pinkie.
But I am learning how to swallow my pride and let things go, accept the help of my family, and stop apologizing for needing emergency medical attention.

As always, the first thing I did when we were back at home after my little adventure was give thanks to God that it wasn't any worse than it was. I could have severed a nerve or a tendon. I could have been burned by the soup pot. Our house could have been damaged as a result of the horrific gas leak at the end of our driveway this past summer. In all of the times I have washed dishes in the past, on all of the car rides and train trips and flights, in any or all of those ordinary but potentially life-threatening moments of life, tragedy could have befallen us. We could have faced yesterday's little incident without the rich blessing of health insurance to cover our costs. If that had been the case, I would probably not have gone for help and would have faced the possibility of infection and deeper damage to my finger and an even larger bill for later assistance.

So many possibilities.
So much protection from harm.
So much for which to give thanks.

After a terrible car accident involving five young women she knows, Jen Gray wrote a moving piece the other day that speaks to the sacredness of life, the need to put and keep the big things and the little things in their proper perspective, and to take time to honor and celebrate the miracle that is this life we live.

Every time that I look at this damaged pinkie over the next ten days,
every time I change the bandage and apply antibiotic ointment to the wound,
every time that I think of the two stitches that are holding me together,
I will remember Jen's words:

"This life is holy.
This life is sacred.
This life is to be cherished."

PS. I am sure many of you appreciate the fact that there are no photos with this post. After all the years of me looking at countless cuts, bruises, puddles, and piles that they have endured and produced, my husband and children flatly refuse to look at my stitches. Wimps!!!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Home away from home...

Without question, without any doubt, without apology, I know and proclaim that the place my heart and soul find deepest rest and peace is in the country of Spain. When the wheels of whatever aircraft I happen to be on touch down on the tarmac at Madrid's Barajas International Airport, I practically burst into song.

Until breakfast at La Uni Cafe in Valladolid, Spain, this past September 16th, I hadn't heard the song that ought to be playing on my ipod every time I land there: "This is Home." (Unfortunately, I have not been able to find that particular version of the song on Itunes as yet, but I'm still searching.)

I was born in New York City nearly 44 years ago and spent the next 17+ years there. Since then, I have lived in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and North Carolina, but Spain is my home. My heart's home. My soul's resting place. Until I can afford to own or rent a place there, however, my place of residence, my soul's layover point, if you will, continues to be Whatever City, USA.

Someone filled and left that black journal there for others to peruse and marinate in. It is laying on top of my journal - into which I copied many questions and statements and words of wisdom gleaned from reading my new favorite "little black book."

Less than a month ago, I discovered my heart and soul's home away from home. It's a converted warehouse space in a part of Charlotte I had only driven through on my way to one of the groovy, artsy-fartsy parts of Charlotte. A part of Charlotte I have only driven through as quickly as possible.

But one day back in early October, the kids and I drove through "that part of town" more slowly, in search of 24-7. We found it. Across the street from an unfinished condo complex, a sign of the real estate and financial crisis that has gripped this nation for more than a year now.

We approached the rather unremarkable door, pushed it open, stepped inside - and I began to weep. Immediately.

A self-portrait taken at 24-7.

We all know that it doesn't take much to make me cry, but these tears were different. These were the tears of a child returning home after several weeks at summer camp. A child that has had fun at camp, made new friends, gone on hikes, eaten hot dogs and smores around the fire, and had a wonderful time.

What the child doesn't realize until she returns home - and what I didn't realize until I stepped into that sacred place - was how much she missed home. How much she needed to return to a place where all was peaceful and quiet and welcoming and warm and there were no expectations for clever banter or malicious gossip about the weakest link in the camp cabin. I desperately needed all of those things, more than I knew.

The writing on the wall. An invitation to come away and rest. I said, "yes."

Stepping into 24-7 was like returning home. Rediscovering the place where quietness and peace reign. Private alcoves to sit and read and pray and cry and take communion and look at the drawings and paintings created by other visitors and read other people's words in journals and on the walls, and add my own to theirs.

This is what that lovely metal table looked like after I unloaded all my loot and took up temporary residence last Saturday. Many pages of collages and journaling and prayers were composed on that table in the midst of that mess.

I sat there quietly for nearly three hours. Emptying not only ink cartridges but also the satchel of shame and pain and resentment and loneliness and fear that I didn't realize I was carrying. And somewhere in the midst of all that, while draining my large water bottle and refreshing far more than my dehydrated body, I heard my soul whisper something faint but unmistakable -

"This is home."