Thursday, January 29, 2009

I know I'm supposed to...

be grateful for how good my life is.
After all, we have a house we love and two cars that run well.
We have a cute little dog that makes us all laugh.
We have some of the best neighbors in the world.
My husband has a job that provides for all we need and quite a few extras.
We have our health - and decent health insurance.
We have some money in the bank, not tons of money, but some.
We have traveled a lot and made friends in many places.

Eating ice cream with Carlos, one of the other translators for our team, in Nicargua.

We have friends who love us and check in on us regularly.
We have been invited to someone else's house for the Super Bowl,
so there will be no mess to clean up here.
If you believe those stats that talk about the percentages of people in the world that have graduated from high school, have electricity and indoor plumbing, food in the pantry, coins in a jar in a closet or on a shelf, and money in the bank (and I believe those stats), then we are among the wealthiest people in the world.

Check out the dragonflies mating on her shoe!

I know I'm supposed to be grateful.
And I am. I really am.

Getting onto the runway, preparing to return from Managua, Nicaragua to Atlanta and eventually Charlotte.

But still, sometimes...

I get scared.
I feel lonely. A lot of the time,.
I get angry and resentful and bitter sometimes.
I wanna scream at people - family members, church members, politicians, friends, and strangers alike.
I wish I could turn back the clock on my life to some earlier era and pretend that there was some time in the distant past when everything was perfect, everyone was healthy, and no one had any problems at all.
I worry that all of this, all our blessings, are gonna to be taken away in an instant.

Sometimes I believe lies.
I tell lies.
I want to live a lie.
I do live a lie.

Looking into a small chapel in the cathedral of Granada, Nicaragua.

Sometimes I question my faith.
I wonder what it would be like to abandon my faith.
I wonder what it is exactly that I believe.

Sometimes I fantasize about what I would do, where I would go, how I would live, and what I would never do again if I won the lottery or somehow came upon a boatload of money. Sometimes I fantasize about how I would do all that stuff if I didn't have a lot of money, but instead had a lot of courage.

Bags packed. Room clean. Ready to hit the road.

Sometimes this family thing, this marriage thing,
this parenting thing, this life thing,
is a little too much.
I know I'm supposed to be bigger and stronger and smarter and more grounded than all this.
But know that I am not bigger or stronger or smarter or more grounded than any of this.
I am profoundly, truly, deeply, and fully human.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What I miss...

Yesterday a friend of mine told me that someone told her that it's not such a great idea to spend too much time looking into the rear view mirrors of our lives. It's a better use of our time, he told her, to look out through the windshield towards the future.

His comments reminded me of the Scripture that says to forget what is behind and press on towards the mark, the future. There is also the great promise of a hope and future, plans to prosper us and not to harm us. I like those passages, the ones that reassure me that these present sufferings do not compare to the glory that is yet to come.
That's good stuff, for sure.
But there is also the here and now. Both the current sufferings and the current joys.
Life is what it is, right here and right now.

There is nothing to be gained by trying to erase the past. it was. it is gone.
nonetheless memories ooze in around the edges of each day, each hour.
flipping through a few digital photos this evening,
i was reminded of good times gone by.
if you want to hear the song that would be the sound track to this post if i weren't both technologically un-savvy and averse to forcing you to listen to a song you may not care to hear,
check out billy joel's "I've loved these days."

I miss solo dinners and sipping overpriced tropical drinks with mango in them.

I miss spilling tropical drinks and sweet and sour sauce and garlicky gravy on my journal while I eat and drink and write all at the same time.

I miss going out on unpretentious, uncomplicated coffee dates with my husband, sitting at a bookshop table, flipping through magazines, and holding hands.

And most of all, i miss solo travel. walking past statues i love on the way back and forth to my hotel.
i miss taking photos of famous and infamous sights
i miss sitting for hours in museums and cathedrals and on park benches with nothing at all on my agenda and no one expecting me to show up at any particular place at any particular time
i miss leaving my hotel at 8 am and returning at 8 pm to put my stuff down before heading out for a nighttime adventure
i miss knowing that no one else in the world knows where i am
or what i am up to

i've loved these days, it's true.
but i also miss the simplicity and ease and beauty and unpredictability and wildness and freedom of the life i used to have

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

America is Beautiful

Please go to this page, scroll half way down,
and check out the video box that refers to
"America's Song." Beautiful.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

So many thoughts and emotions...

It's a new day! A bright new day! Yes, it snowed here in Charlotte last night.

Aretha Franklin can sure sing!

Those little Obama girls are beautiful - as is their mother.

There are millions of people willing to stand in the cold on an historic day in order to say that they were present at one of the most important days of our lifetime.

It was great to sit with my mother and my two children and watch the inauguration in the warmth of family room. (Steve had to go to work - which in these days of rising unemployment is a true blessing, one that we do not take lightly or for granted.)

I hope and pray that President Obama and his new administration find a way to work together with all those in government and all the citizens of this great nation to bring about healing, restoration, and peace, both here at home and all around the world.

I know there will be many disappointments and missteps.
There will be misunderstandings and misrepresentations.
There will be many fingers pointed and fists raised.
He will anger both the left and the right
because of decisions he makes
and decisions he does not make.

But on this day, on this inauguration of our new President,
I celebrate with so many the changing of the guard,
the transfer of power,
the handing off of the baton.

Change has come to America.
Thanks be to God!!!

On a far more personal note, a dear friend and poet, very fortunate resident of the beautiful city by the bay, San Francisco, Maya Stein wrote this poem and sent it out earlier today as a means whereby we can bring today's events in Washington closer to home.

Perhaps today is the first of many swearings in, a date
not just for our new president to occupy his office
but a reminder that we are each our own head of state,
the chief of our decision-making, responsible for keeping peace
with the neighbors while holding our private countries intact.

How would it be, then, to take an oath with a hand
held high, and re-pledge our commitment to preserve and protect,
to keep our borders open to fresh alliances, to spare the land
the razing of our spirit and all that self-destruction we’re so capable of,
and to plant into the earth the belief in everything we love.

Let there be angels!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dreams Sometimes Do Come True!!!

It's Martin Luther King Jr day. Steve, Kristiana and I just watched CNN's broadcast of his most famous speech - the I Have A Dream speech. I cannot watch that or listen to it without tears welling in my eyes.

As a student, later a teacher, and finally a returning alumni speaker at my high alma mater, I wrote three different speeches tying Dr King's dream to my life at Poly Prep Country Day School in Brooklyn, New York. As a seventh grader, I entered Poly in the first year that it admitted girls. Six years later, when I graduated from high school, I was the first black girl to graduate. As a senior, I wrote an extemporaneous speech for the school's speaking contest that honored Dr King and thanked him for dreaming a dream that planted itself in the hearts of the teachers, alumni, trustees, and leaders of Poly Prep, a dream that ultimately made it possible for me to attend Poly.

Six years later, when I returned to Poly as a Spanish teacher and college counselor, it seemed like there were more black students in the senior class than there were in the entire school (which went from 5th thru 12th grade at the time) when I was a student. As I stood on that platform as a faculty member and spoke to the student body, as I looked out at students and faculty alike, I saw a rich tapestry of people that I could never have imagined when I stood on that same platform as a student.

And twenty years after graduating from Poly, I was invited to return to Homecoming Day to give a speech. I spoke about coeducation at Poly - the education of boys and girls, black students and white students, Jewish and Protestant students, but also Muslims, immigrants from many nations, gay and straight, athletic and artistic, and any combination of these and so many other categories of students. I stood on the same platform and looked at the alumni of that fantastic institution, I looked at the faces of the men who attended Poly before I did, and I thanked them for having the courage they had back in the mid 1970s to withstand the opposition of other alumni and the faculty members who opposed the admission of girls.

I thanked them for taking the chance on girls like me.
I thanked them for continuing to take the chance on students of all backgrounds.
For giving thousands of students the chance to be educated and to educate one another.
And once again, I thanked Dr King for dreaming that dream and for sharing that dream with our nation.

Today, as I watched and listened to the "I have a dream" speech yet again,
as I look around our family room at my own family,
and acknowledge the fact that we live where we live,
that we attend the church we attend,
that we live at peace in this southern city,
the fact that Steve and I, a white man and a black woman, are even married,
I know that this life we share is possible to a large extent because of the courage of people like Dr. King 45+ years ago.

Even with all the work yet to be done,
all the poor and homeless and soon-to-be homeless yet to be housed,
all the sick and suffering yet to be restored,
all the oppressed and marginalized yet to be embraced,
all the wars yet to be ended,
all the immigrants yet to be offered a reasonable way to become citizens of this great nation,

today, as I imagine Dr Martin Luther King Jr and Coretta Scott King and their own parents
and my father and my grandparents and my aunts and uncles
and the many hundreds who lost their lives struggling for freedom in this nation
- as I imagine them setting up their chairs to watch the inauguration tomorrow,
- as I imagine Barack Obama's family in Africa setting up their seats and preparing their celebratory feasts,
- as I imagine the millions who will descend upon Washington DC today and tomorrow
- as I imagine all of us who will watch at home with tears flowing, tears of joy and anticipation, tears of concern and hope,

I am awed by the truth that dreams do come true.
The most impossible and unimaginable dreams do come true.

Let there be singing and dancing.
Let there be grace and gratitude.
Let there be peace.
Let there be hope.
Let there be many moments of silence.
And let there be many more dreams dreamed and brought to life in the months and years to come.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What have I done with my life?

Borrowed this list from Amy who borrowed it from somebody else.
Read through the list. Highlight the things you've done.
Simple. Fun. Enlightening.

And look? Yet another list for me to play with... I truly am obsessed.

1. Started my own blog
2. Slept under the stars (Does it count to be in a tent?)
3. Played in a band.
4. Visited Hawaii

5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sung a solo.
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris

13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch.
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty. ( I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, but I have never been to the Statue of Liberty.)
18. Grown my own vegetables. (I've grown my own herbs.)
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.
20. Slept on an overnight train (Was groped in the middle of the night by the conductor... i didn't sleep much after that!)
21. Had a pillow fight

22. Hitchhiked (My husband used to hitchhike to see his girlfriend. Before he met me, of course.)
23. Taken a sick day when you're not ill. (How does a stay-at-home mom take a sick day?)
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb (I've held and eaten lamb chops...)
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunse
31. Hit a home run.
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person

34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught myself a new language.
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke.
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant. (I've bought food and given it to a stranger on the street. Does that count?)
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance (When I was a young child, I was hit by a car - right in front of my house. My mother saw the whole thing happen. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been for her.)
47. Had my portrait painted (does charcoal count?)
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. (I couldn't afford the entrance fee to go to the top, but I stood at the bottom while friends of mine went up. Does that count?)
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud.
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies.
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma

65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check (accidentally)
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.
71. Eaten caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square.
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job.
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person

80. Published a book. (I've had writing published in a book. Does that count?)
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car

83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House.
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating.
88. Had chickenpox.
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby

95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake.
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee.
100. Ridden an elephant

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thankful Thursday

I have always loved lists.
To do lists.
Lists of favorite books, people, places, and foods.
Lists of things I want to own.
Lists of things I want to sell.
Grocery lists.

So in the spirit of avid list-making, I offer this list of things I am thankful for today. Things that many people, including you, my friends, family members, and readers have done for me, sent to me, held on to for me, and blessed me with.

* journals

* artwork and photographs and sketches

* handwritten cards and letters

* mass-produced cards and letters

* poetry and jewelry

* cds of music

* soap and perfume and scented oils and lotions and creams

* candles and incense

* chocolate and flowers

* salad dressing (!)

* meals, so many meals

* recipes and the food produced when those recipes are followed

* invites, e-vites, e-cards, email, and text messages

* Itunes songs, books, magazine subscriptions

* voice mail with words of encouragement, Bible verses, music, and a simple "Hello. Just wanted you to know that I'm thinking of you. No need to call me back."

* pajamas

* tickets to basketball and football games

* a shiny, sparkling, fragrant, dust-free house

* comments on the blog and in my email inbox

You have encouraged me to take care of myself, even when I feel most worn out.

You have offered to hold on to hope for me when I could not.

You have sent me phone numbers and website addresses and links to so many helpful, kind-hearted, concerned people.

You have cried with me and for me.

You have laughed with me and at me.

You have told me to write the story down, to tell the tale to all who will listen.

You have read my meandering musings with regularity.

You have reminded me to take deep breaths, vitamin D capsules, and long hot baths.

You have told me to "put that guilt sh*t aside."

You have cursed when I could not. (Why do I still find it so hard to curse!!!???)

You have done research for us and sent articles and dropped things in my mailbox.

You have not let me forget the importance of gratitude, of seeking peace, of prayer, of sleep, of eating well, and of asking for help when I have needed it.

You have invited me to your homes for tea, coffee, food, wine, laughter and tears.

You have shared your secrets with me and allowed me to share a few of mine.

You have brought back to my mind so many great memories and answers to prayer in the past.

You have assured me with great confidence that there are many great moments, days, and years yet to come. That this is the beginning of something new and fabulous.

When those who I thought I could and should be able to rely on turned away, you stepped in and took good care of me, of our family.

When I have expressed my outrage at the behavior of those who have been less than all they could be, you have helped me to release that anger, to grant forgiveness to the offending parties, and to focus on who and what is most important.

You have been my strength and my rock and my hiding place.

You have been the hands and feet of Love.

You have been the word made flesh in my life again.

You have been the fulfillment of many promises for me, for my family.

You have sat with me in silence.

You have screamed and cried out for mercy right along with me.

You have prayed aloud when all I could do was sit in stunned, muted shock.

You have lit candles, worn special jewelry, drunk tea while imagining yourself drinking tea in my kitchen, and sent your best love, chants, thoughts, and prayers our way, over many miles and across many oceans.

One friend wrote, "I won't be a hypocrite and say I will pray for you. I know I won't pray, but I will send my best thoughts and wishes your way." I loved his honesty.

One of you - my amazing nephew Matthew - has flown from NY to Charlotte, not once but twice in the past two months, to show us just how much you love us.

You have been my friends, my supporters, my posse, my mentors, my advocates, my family, my therapists, my listening ears and strong shoulders, buoys on life's stormy sea, co-travelers on this life journey who have carried my heavy load when I could not, lovers of my soul, and much, much more.

Today, on this chilly Thursday morning in Charlotte,
at the end of this list,
this incomplete list of the countless blessings in my life,
this list that has brought tears to my eyes and smiles to my lips,
I say to all of you,
I say to each of you,

"Thank you."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Celebrate Small Wonders

I have found myself far more focused on small wonders, on small miracles, on small victories lately. And at a local bookstore not long ago, I captured this image, a tiny ad on a table in the cafe section of the store, that confirmed my decision to pay attention to the little things. I celebrated that day with one of their peppermint mocha trios! Yum, yum.

But I digress.

Please allow me to share a few small wonders I have celebrated lately.

* a new friend who has sent me oodles of uplifting emails in the past two weeks, encouraging me to be the best mother I can be

* cutting and filing my daughter's fingernails

* hugs and kisses

* sharing coffee and cornbread with the four women (!) who came to clean the house

* basking in the smell and shine of a sparkling clean home

* rereading last year's journal of my trip to Spain and Italy

* sweet treats from The Great Harvest Bread Company

* Peaceful Patchouli soap in the shower

* socks that reach above my knees, onto my thighs

* turtle necks on cold days

* putting collages I've made into frames for display

* prayer beads and prayer flags

* prayer itself

* music, especially when we all sing along

* comforting a grieving friend who has comforted me

* unexpected, but perfectly timed phone calls from friends

* flipping a switch - and having the light come on

* not always getting it right (whatever "it" is), but moving on anyway

* playing word games with my son - who beats me a little too often for my taste

* fresh vegetables and beans cooked in olive oil and served over brown rice;
we call it "a veggie cook-up," and we all love it

* recognizing that these small wonders are not small at all!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

What if the most important thing is...

to go for walks with my kids?

to hug them - a lot?

to get the laundry done?

to write a letter to a friend in prison?

to gaze up at the clouds as they speed by on this windy day?

to not answer the emails or phone calls and just bask in the love for a few days?

to tuck in my son, who recently fell asleep in my bed?

to allow these three insistent and dear friends to come and clean my house for me this time?

to make tea and fill the pages of my journal?

to read quietly in my bed?

to read a few blogs, check out a few videos, and be inspired by my online friends?

to pull out my camera and take lots and lots of photos, especially of my kids?

to oversee my two studious beauties in our homeschool room...

to spend time in thought and prayer and meditation and quietness?

on second thought, to leave the laundry for tomorrow?

to stop trying to decide what is most important - and just live this moment, right here, right now, with my son and daughter by my side, in my arms, watching Malcolm in the Middle, laughing, sipping cocoa?

what if nothing else matters but this one true and simple thing?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Where's Your Jesus Now?

That is the provocative title of a provocative book I just finished reading.
Stories of fear and faith, of danger and despair,
but ultimately stories of the goodness of God.
The presence of Christ in the darkest hours of life. In the deepest sadness.

It's a painful question sometimes, at least it is for me.
It's a question that seems preposterous in and of itself.
After all, who is Jesus? Who was Jesus?
What difference does He make to us, to me nowadays?

But it's a question that needs to be asked and answered:
"Where's your Jesus now?"

In one form or another, we all ask it.
Some of us might not put Jesus in that third word position.
We might put words like:
money, mortgage payment, job security,
husband, wife, lover, best friend, distant friend,
meditation practice, chanting, candle-light
crystal, stone, goddess, prophet, yogi?

When the storms of life roll through,
when the paychecks and royalty checks stop rolling through,
when the ones you used to be able to trust and rely on disappear,
when you are all alone, inside and outside,
where's your _________ now?

In the final pages of the book, the author, Karen Spears Zacharias, tells the story of a friend of hers who was ill and spent many months out of communication with Karen and others. In a dream she had at the time, Karen was a member of a rescue team going out to sea in search of a woman who was lost. "Twelve men, a long-bearded dude, and a Coast Guard captain" and Karen get into a rickety boat and set out upon a raging sea to search for and rescue the lost soul.

Okay, I thought, but I sure hope we find her soon before we all end up dead. I didn't say this aloud for fear of offending these men, but I was thinking loudly.

Suddenly the bearded dude turned to me and said,
"Don't worry. It doesn't matter how ill-equipped you think you are, as long as you stay in my presence there's peace. The storms of life will never overtake you."
(page 204)

On the next page, she writes: I'm not suggesting that God spoke directly to me. I didn't hear any voices bellowing from a dark garage or see any glowing embers from the chariot of fire. It was more like an inspired video podcast of Isaiah 26:3: "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in you."

The message of that dream is something I have returned to again and again as I have witnessed the swell of fear threatening our world from all sides. And even now, when I am assailed by fears from within and without, I shimmy up the leg of God, and cry out for the safety of his embrace. It is there, in God's protective lap, that the panic that seizes me begins to ease off. Soon my tears turn to deep sighs, and then a calming rest comes over me.

I suspect that this new year, 2009, will be one of clinging to the hands and arms and shoulders of loved ones. Of accepting your offers of coffee breaks and long walks. Of reading your words here online and in the beautiful hand-written letters you send. Printing them out, trimming them down, and gluing them into my journal.

It will be a year of recognizing just how ill-equipped I am for most of what life brings and a year of shimmying up the leg of God and sitting in his lap. Of finding rest and peace in him. Of falling asleep in his arms. Of waking up with tears in my eyes, with clenched fists, and a whole host of unanswered questions tumbling in my heart and mind.

It will be a year of pulling out this book over and over again to remind myself that I'm not the only one who has asked this question of myself and of my faith.

Where is my Jesus now?