Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Journey of 365 days...

begins with the story of a determined turtle.

Back in October, we went on a lovely family vacation to Hilton Head, South Carolina. My darling son, Daniel, participated in a tennis tournament, and all of us basked in the warmth and beauty of the South Carolina coast. On two occasions we went to a local petting zoo. I had far more fun there than I expected. Daniel and I were drawn to this fine spotted creature also basking in the warmth of the South Carolina coast.

Soon after discovering that she was being watched, the turtle decided to head back to its hiding place. One of the finest moments of that week-long getaway, actually it was a series of fine moments, was watching this solitary turtle make what we thought was an epic journey through her tiny enclosure.

She squeezed her curvaceous form between the fence on the right and that first row of tiny bamboo-like stalks. Once she made it through there, I ran around to the back of the fence and continued to track her progress.

Over the dusty path, between leaves and bushes and small trees, she never stopped moving. She pulled herself and her well-proportioned frame over roots and rocks and branches.

Did I mention that she was a determined little thing? Check out that neck extension and those powerful legs.

After rounding one particular curve, she slid off the edge of the path and splashed into a shallow pond. Undeterred, she swam across and began to extract herself from the drink.

A woman on the move is a force not easily stopped.

Under the branches and stalks on the other side of the pond from where she began, this newly discovered hero of mine began to push her way into the brush under which we had seen her resting earlier in our visit.

Once again, she spotted my eager face staring down at her, so she turned her back to me and stood still. I think she was waiting for me to leave so she could reenter her boudoir without being observed.

I know I tend to overthink these things and make epic adventures with moral imperatives out of the tiniest stories of the tiniest creatures doing what they do everyday. But the truth is that this is the story of my life: this tiny creature doing what I do, living out tiny stories and turning them into epic adventures with deep moral truths. Or so I'd like to believe. Here I go again...

This year, 2010, is drawing to a close. An epic year of homeschooling and cooking and folding laundry and watching tennis and going to doctors' visits and journal making and cardio funk and new televisions and a new computer and more lines on my face and fewer dollars in the bank. It was a year of letting go of certain relationships and delving deeper into others. It was a year of relearning to ride a bike and lift weights and trust my own heart. It was a year of letting go of my old understanding of what "church" is supposed to be and holding onto my faith with far gentler hands. As this year draws to a close, I am certain of fewer things, confident in fewer friends, but far more comfortable with myself.

I started this year in this same room at this same desk thinking many of the same thoughts and hoping for many of the same miracles. But the journey back here to this desk has been fraught with slips and slides, cuts and bruises, unexpected mud puddles and blazing sunlight, tremendous highs and horrendous lows. I've been called names I hope to soon forget and let in on secrets I hope to never forget. I've been closely watched and I've been flatly ignored. I've been called upon and I've been hung up on. I've been coldly rejected and I've been warmly welcomed. I've taught many classes and I've learned many lessons.

Two nights ago, my therapist told me that I seem sadder and more mature.
He said I've come a long way this year, but I still seem to be hurting deep inside.
My eyes welled up with tears, and my heart welled up with emotion -
both joy and sorrow, hope and despair, pride and chagrin.

With my voice quivering, I asked him, "Isn't that what life is like for everybody?"

In just over 30 hours, a new year will begin.
Another journey of 365 days.
Beginning with another hopeful and determined turtle.
With her home on her back and her heart in her throat.
Here I go again.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I'm fairly certain that I've posted this poem before. I make no apologies for posting it again.

after the angels,
after the stable,
after the Child,
they went back...
as we always must,
back to the world that doesn't understand
our talk of angels and stars and especially not the Child.

We go back complaining that it doesn't last.
They went back singing praises to God!

We do have to go back, 
but we can still sing the alleluias!

From Kneeling in Bethlehem. Ann Weems @1987.

After surviving our first snowstorm of the season

and recovering in the spectacular home of an even more spectacular friend,

I am coming back and moving forward - singing the alleluias.

All is well, so very well. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"A Baby Will Come"

It's the name of my new favorite Christmas song.
Beautiful lyrics. Simple melody.
Makes me cry every single time.
Listen to it here...

Merry Christmas to all.

I wish you peace and joy and love.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The quote I'm pondering today...

A sincere seeker said: "I have always longed to see God everywhere and in all things, and live in God's presence. I have practised it but I haven‘t succeeded."

"This isn‘t something you bring about by practice," the sage replied. "When you understand who you are, you‘ll no longer seek God‘s presence, you‘ll realise that you are God‘s presence."

The Ocean in the Dewdrop, Francis J. Padinjarekara

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pondering all these things in my heart

This Advent season, I keep thinking about the young unwed Mary and the baby Jesus. I've sung songs and seen church plays and read the Biblical account of the birth of Christ countless times. The shepherds. The wise men. Simeon and Anna in the temple. No room in the inn.

I know the story well. Perhaps too well. So well that I have never been as aware of the tiny chain of life that connected Mary to her baby boy as I am this year. Which is odd because both of my children, on the occasion of their first Christmas, "played" the baby Jesus in the church play. Held aloft by the man playing Simeon. Held close by the young person playing Mary. My babies.

I imagine Jesus as a newborn baby. Helpless. Hungry. Sleeping in an animal stall. Cared for by an unwed teenaged mother and a confused, though trusting, step-father. What would we think of her today? Her story of an immaculate conception? Even if she never explained it that way, if she simply showed up in our neighborhood, at our church, in our circle of friends as a pregnant teenager, would we, would I make "room in the inn" for such a child as this?

Perhaps I am pro-life but welcoming a pregnant teen into my life, into my family would be a little too embarrassing and difficult to explain because of my steadfast support of "abstinence as the best form of birth control." Why is she pregnant?

Perhaps I am pro-choice but welcoming a pregnant teen into my life, into my family would be a little too embarrassing and difficult to explain because of my steadfast support of the right to choose not to have a baby at such a young age. Why is she pregnant?

Perhaps I would give a few dollars, buy a few packs of newborn diapers, take over a few meals, and return to my insulated and uncomplicated life and inwardly thank God that none of my daughters turned up pregnant and none of my sons admitted to getting anyone pregnant.

Many years ago, I was invited to the baby shower for a young woman I knew who was pregnant "out of wedlock." I knew her and her family from the church we attended at the time. Great family. Beautiful young mom-in-the-making. She had taken a year off from college to come back home and have the baby. As her belly grew, so did her magnetic attraction - at least for me. Every time I saw her, I would make a beeline to her, ask if I could touch her belly, ask her how she was doing, tell her how much I LOVED being pregnant, and promise her that if she ever wanted to talk or had any questions to give me a call.

Anyway, as her pregnancy drew to its close, I received an invitation to her baby shower. When I arrived at their house, I was a little embarrassed and felt a little out of my element because I didn't know anyone in attendance other than the pregnant woman and her family. Later I pulled her Mom aside and asked as politely as I could why that was the case. She said that I WAS THE ONLY PERSON AT THE CHURCH WHO HAD EVER ACKNOWLEDGED HER DAUGHTER'S PREGNANCY. Everyone else would greet her and greet their family "as usual," but no one ever asked about the pregnancy or the baby. No one. Needless to say, her words brought tears to my eyes and sorrow to my soul.

All those staunchly pro-life, sign-waving, abortion-protesting folks (one person in the church had even spent time in jail because of pro-life activities) couldn't figure out a demonstrable way to support and encourage the daughter of dearly beloved friends who had chosen to embrace the gift of life. It was as if that gorgeous, growing, round belly wasn't housing a new life with a soul of its own. A short while later, a beautiful baby boy was born to that brave young woman. As unimaginable as it was for me that people  could ignore her pregnancy, it had to have proved impossible to ignore the squirming, gurgling little bundle of wonder she proudly carried into church a few weeks later.

Remembering her story makes me rethink a similar situation 2000 years earlier when a beautiful baby boy was born to another brave young woman. I wonder if anyone at her synagogue or in her little town of Nazareth acknowledged her pregnancy. Or if they also turned their backs on a young woman facing the biggest choice/crisis/moment of her life. I find myself pondering these things in my heart in an entirely new way.

Like I said, this Advent season I'm thinking a lot more about Mary, the teenaged mother, and her precious world-changing baby Jesus.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's my party...

Two score and five years ago today, my mother ushered me into the world. I am eternally grateful to her for taking the chance after already having three active and demanding sons, a hard-working husband, and a life of her own.

A wall hanging in the house we rented in Hilton Head.

And now, all these years later, I sit at my dining room table, on a very cold and very bright,
perfectly ordinary Charlotte day - celebrating my life.

Nope, it hasn't been easy all the time.
Nor has it been exciting all the time.

But every single day, my life has been full of miracles.
I have been loved and cared for and respected.
I have been the recipient of generosity and kindness and compassion.
I have been protected and provided for and honored.
I have never gone hungry or been forced to sleep outdoors (Well, my parents made us go camping and sleep in a tent when I was a kid, but I've forgiven them for that!).
I have traveled across the ocean, across the country, and across the street - and I have always made it home safely. Even when I have missed flights or been stranded in unlikely hotels, I have never been taken advantage or, mistreated, or robbed. (Well, I did get fondled by the conductor on a train at the border between Spain and Andorra once, but I've forgiven him too.)

I could tell so many stories of so many wonder-filled, jaw-dropping days and moments and sights. Sunrises and sunsets. Palaces and temples. Museums and mountains. Weddings and funerals. Hospital hallways and hospice workers. Those stand out in my memory.

Me - doing one of the things I love to do best - journaling.

But the thing that keeps coming to mind today is this: My life consists mainly of perfectly ordinary days filled with perfectly ordinary moments. Cooking and cleaning. Folding clothes and scrubbing the shower. Choosing paint colors and washing towels. Drinking tea with my children and watching television with my husband. Writing in my journal and looking at blogs I follow on the internet. Somehow, every single ordinary day, every single ordinary moment has added up to one wild, precious, tear-soaked, friend-rich, love-saturated, extraordinary life.

Thank you to everyone,
known and unknown,
present and absent, (I miss you, Dad!)
outspoken and silent,
for everything you have done to give me so much to celebrate today.

Thank you, Mom, for trying one more time.
Thank you, Lord, for the 14th of December, 45 times over.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

My word for 2010...

has been pilgrimage. Psalm 84:5 is part of a prayer that says "Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage." 

My goal this year was to keep my heart, mind, and spirit on pilgrimage even when my body was anchored here at home.

It is very easy for me to let my mind wander - across the ocean, across the country, across the state. My mind visits five thousands ports of call every day, sometimes within a six hour period.

My soul tends to stay close. Wants to find shelter nearby. Within. In safe places. Quiet places. Like my study room in the morning before anyone else is awake. Like my minivan in the afternoon while waiting for the kids to do whatever it is they do at their varied destinations. Like in my bed in the evening before turning out the light for the night. My soul finds rest and recuperation in simplicity and quietness.

My heart, oh my achy-breaky heart. I'm handling it rather tenderly these days as it is cracking wide open. I'm reading The Gifts of Imperfection, and my heart is being both broken and mended on nearly every page. This wandering heart of mine is turning for home. Finally.

Until reading this book and pondering its wise words, I've always thought that having this wandering heart was a sign of strength and health and vigor and curiosity and intellectual voracity. And to a certain degree, that is true. But what I have come to realize over the past two days is that a significant part of my wandering has been an attempt on my part to find something "out there" that I already have within: worthiness and "enoughness."

I recognize now that I have spent too many years of my life looking for, pleading for, jumping up and down for, and crying out for attention and approval from others. If _____ loves me and _______ pays attention to me and ________ gives me gifts and __________ writes to me, then and only then will I be satisfied and happy and complete. If I travel to _________ and see ____________ and tell stories about having experienced ____________, then and only then will I fit in with ____________. If I drop enough names and show enough photos and write enough blogs and wear cool enough clothes and lose five more pounds and earn one more degree and have the right people's cell phone numbers on speed dial, then and only then will I be enough. And somehow, I allowed myself to believe that the truest and highest form of myself would be discovered or developed or deepened "somewhere over the rainbow" or across the sea.

I was clever at disguising my desperation - or I thought I was. I came across as self-assured and fearless. I came across as outgoing and strong. I came across as very religious and committed. And to some extent I was all of  those things. I still am. But the problem was that I equated doing those things and being those things and pretending to be and do all those things with my self-worth. If I obeyed and showed up and helped out and gave in and cooperated and had perfect kids and an enviable marriage and did as I was told and said all the right things at the right times in the right places, then at some point, the right people would turn to me and declare their undying love, their devotion, their loyalty to me. Sadly, even when I heard what I thought I needed and wanted to hear, I didn't believe it. When I saw clear evidence of love and support and encouragement, I didn't believe it. So I kept performing and pretending and going on pilgrimages in search of... I'm not quite sure what.

I was so wrong. So very wrong.
Recognizing how wrong I was is breaking my heart.
Recognizing how wrong I was is mending my heart too.

I feel myself cracking wide open. I see myself in a whole new light. I feel The Light shining into the dark corners of my wounded heart. Once again, I hear Jen Lemen's words: Something healing this way comes.

The truth is seeping in, running down and into the cracks around the foundation of my life -->
I am loved. I am accepted. I am worthy. I am forgiven. I am made new.
Every day. Every hour. Every moment.
Just as I am.
Right here.
Right now.

I no longer have to do what Brene Brown so aptly calls "hustling for approval and acceptance." I no longer need to please and appease and do "whatever it takes to make you like me." I no longer need to compete for friendship and attention. I no longer need to always have the correct answer, the most clever  segue or the most outrageous anecdote. I no longer need to prove that I am the most useful, worthy, reliable, docile, or dependable person in every crowd. I don't have to be the wittiest, smartest, funniest.  I don't have to downplay my sorrow and overinflate my joy. Nor do I need to overinflate my sorrow and downplay my joy. Nope. No more.

I have no plans to burn my passport and stop traveling.
I have no plans to radically alter my life - at least not at the moment.
My only plan at the moment is to keep reading this book, writing furiously in its margins.
Then I'm gonna go to bed and get some sleep. 
And in the morning, I will accept more of the gifts of my deep flaws and imperfections,
rejoice in the lessons I am learning along the way,
and walk on in this pilgrim journey.

I love the crazy shadows in this picture. A photo of me taking a photo of me. 
Oh, the shadows, the flaws, the wrong angles, 
Steve and Kristiana's feet in the background... 
My life, like this photo, is a mess - and I love it!

"Most of us use the terms fitting in and belonging interchangeably and like many of you, I'm really good at fitting in. We know exactly how to hustle for approval and acceptance. We know what to wear, what to talk about, how to make people happy, what not to mention - we know how to chameleon our way through the day.

One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; 
it requires us to be who we are." 
(The Gifts of Imperfection - page 25)

My many years of desperately trying to fit in have been exhausting.
I'm going to rest from those hopeless attempts at an impossible goal.
Enough is enough.
I am enough.
Not perfect. Not even close.
No longer interested in perfection.
I am enough.

Recently, Kristiana and I went to see the musical, "Dreamgirls."
(Thanks again, GI, for the tickets!!)
Dinner: A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a salted caramel brownie, and tea.
Pre-theater reading: On Pilgrimage - Outward and Inward

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

They're not just for the birds...

The tree under which we sat telling stories and laughing at our family reunion.
Greenville, North Carolina - August 2010.

I've been fascinated by trees lately. Their majesty and strength, perseverance and patience. I used to either completely ignore them or fear their imminent downfall. For most of us, much of the time, trees are just there, dropping leaves and branches, threatening to cleave our roofs in two, smash our windshields to splinters, and otherwise make our insurance agents want to come up with reasons to drop us from their rolls. In ongoing fits of foolishness and greed, builders cut them down in order to build houses and office parks that no one seems to be buying these days.

Nevertheless, there they stand, unfazed and faithful trees. Tall and strong. Short and wide. Ignorant of me and far too easily ignored by me. Especially now that Christmas season is upon us and so many trees here in Charlotte are being subjected to the decorative whims of so many light-seeking southerners, I am yet again reminded that trees are truly magnificent creatures, whether real or fake, well-lit or shadowy, height-endowed or height-deprived.

A recent walk on the greenway - Charlotte's term for public walkways in wooded areas.

Kinda like people, aren't they?
Some are tall and majestic.
Some unmovable and sturdy.
Others are short and wide.
Others weak and easily shaken.
Some are lit from within, while others seem hellbent on putting every one else's lights out.

These trees were too small to provide much shade during an October tennis tournament.

Whether we want to believe it or not, unlike the tree in my living room, we are all real -
real happy and sad, fulfilled and empty, at peace and at war,
strong and weak, brave and fear-filled, often all one and the same time.
Unfortunately, many of us live as though falsifying ourselves,
covering our faults and denying our fears,
disallowing our needs and disavowing our longings,
applying a lot of make-up and cover up,
closing ourselves in and shutting our loved ones out
will eventually convince others (and ourselves) that
we really are perfectly okay, no need for assistance or attention, thank you very much.

The trees behind the house we stayed in on Hilton Head, October 2010.

That's when I turn back to the trees and look at them in awe and wonder.
There they stand - in scorching heat and stinging cold, in drenching rain and unrelenting drought.
Their bark peels, their leaves fall, and their roots go down deep.
They welcome all climbers and fliers and crawlers and nesters.
They offer themselves as home and hiding place, shade and shelter.

A tree next to a tennis court here in Charlotte. 
I love the way the branches have woven themselves together. 
Makes me think of the way some of my friendships feel.

They join together and branch out.
Sure, they succumb to storms and insect invasions.
Caterpillars, small and slow, make sawdust out of them.
Somehow, though, most trees manage to live long and leafy lives.
Standing perfectly, contentedly, determinately still.

A little tree nestled in the branches of our big, fake Christmas tree.

There's a lesson in those boughs and branches somewhere, I'm sure of it.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Wishing us all one simple thing...

May this Christmas season bring peace, love, light - and joy - to us all!
And when joy shows up on the kiddie table at Caribou Coffee -
then by all means, take a photo and take it to heart.

Joy to the World!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I Am a Tree-Hugging Liberal...

We have been the proud owners of the same artificial Christmas tree for more than ten years. We bought it way back when we lived in Norwalk, Connecticut at an after-Christmas sale at one of those old fashioned hardward stores that doesn't exist anymore. Pre-lit. Eight feet tall. Or is it seven? It's taller than I am, but short enough that I can reach up and put the star on top.

Which is exactly what I did this past Saturday morning after I'd assembled and decorated the tree - alone again: I reached up - proudly, contentedly, happily, joyfully - and placed our golden- sparkly star on top of our tree. If I weren't afraid to be either electrocuted or poked in the eye by one of the indestructible plastic pine needles, I would have hugged this gorgeous tree of ours.

When I began to assemble the tree on Saturday morning, I confess that I was pissed off to be putting the tree up alone again. It seems that most years, it is a chore I end up doing all by my lonesome. But somewhere between putting the branches into the stem and plugging one layer into the other, I remembered: "This is not a chore at all. I love doing this, and like many other things in my life, I like doing it for myself and by myself."  

As I assembled it with my hands, I also put it together in my mind and heart. I reassembled many memories of Christmases past, of the countless hours I sit on the big red couch, journal in hand (there's my huge journal on the right side of the table back in 2007), music on the boom box, and dream big dreams of Christmas. I fill page after page with my musings. I listen to the same cds over and over - Sarah McLachlan, Rob Mathes, Andrea Bocelli, Sandi Patti, New Song - so many songs that bring me to tears year after year. I recall waking up year after year and watching in wonder as my children discovered the tree for the first time on Christmas morning - yes, we used to wait to put up the tree on Christmas Eve night after the children went to bed. Steve put a stop to that madness ages ago...

Our worst Christmas ever... 2008.

As I put the decorations on the tree, I try to remember where each one came from and some story that makes it special. There are the volcanic glass teardrop-shaped ornaments that we bought on our honeymoon in Hawaii. There are the Disney characters purchased in Disney World in November of 1999 when Kristiana was 6 and Daniel was 3. There are the handmade ones that we created and decorated at the Norwalk library. The one I acquired in the tiny wood carver's shop in Orvieto, Italy. The ones bought for and sent to us from friends and family far away- Connecticut, Arkansas, Holland, Belgium, China, Russia, and elsewhere. Ornaments presented to us on the occasion of our first Christmas here in North Carolina. I will not tell a lie: I have been known to kiss an ornament or two as I put it on the tree. I suppose that being alone when I do that is not a bad thing.

Christmas 2009.
Don't you love my big comfy couch?

Not every Christmas has been merry and bright around here. But every Christmas - at least for the past ten years - has been graced with the towering, loyal, quiet, majestic presence of this tree I have come to adore. This tree that I would gladly hug if I could...

Instead of hugging it, however, I sit and stare at it. I give thanks for its endurance and for the joy it heralds. I marvel at the fast-approaching day, the sacred day on which we celebrate the birth of the King of Kings, that impossibly large figure in human history laid to sleep in that impossibly small wooden manger in an impossibly smelly wooden stall in a tiny town so far from here. That same King, I have read and come to believe, died on a horribly distorted tree 33 short years later - that is one tree I would not want to hug.

Yup, with very few exceptions, I am a tree-hugging liberal.
Nope, I'm not ashamed of it. Not even a little bit.

Blessed Advent to you all.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 22, 2010

What We Want

What We Want

What we want
is never simple.
We move among the things
we thought we wanted:
a face, a room, an open book
and these things bear our names -
now they want us.
But what we want appears
in dreams, wearing disguises.
We fall past,
holding out our arms
and in the morning
our arms ache.
We don't remember the dream,
but the dream remembers us.
It is there all day
as an animal is there
under the table,
as the stars are there
even in full sun.

- Linda Pastan

This poem was posted originally on Jena Strong's blog on January 25, 2007.

I have been having some very vivid dreams lately.
And every morning, I wake up with achy arms and an aching heart.
Realizing again, confessing again, filling my journal yet again
with lists (remarkably short lists) of the things I want.
The simply impossible things I want.

And every morning, after I write down the details from my dreams, I follow those descriptions with all the logical reasons why what I want is unattainable and impossible, why those things are not mine to have, never were and never will be. I explain to myself over and over just how selfish I am to even think these thoughts and dream those dreams - as if I can control my dreams. I scold and reprimand myself - over and over. But then when Mondo Beyondo time comes around, when Journal Your Christmas comes around, when New Year's Eve comes around (and here they all come yet again) - and I spend time sitting in front of the Christmas tree, journal in hand, memories and gratitude and wishes and hopes in mind, those same impossible things that I want appear yet again at the very top of my wish list. Every single time.

What animals are lurking under the table in the kitchen of your soul, friend?
What are you dreaming of and aching for?
No need to tell me. Tell yourself. Say it out loud to yourself and for yourself.
Perhaps this next year or this next month or the next few days
the moment will arrive when you and I get some of what we want.
Impossible though it may seem from where I sit right now.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Song of Praise

For the beauty of the earth

For the glory of the skies

For the love which from our birth

Over and around us lies -

Lord of all, to Thee we raise

this our hymn of grateful praise.

All of the photos were taken on Hilton Head three weeks ago - or is it four weeks now?!? Except for the last one, which was taken in our kitchen on the night, two weeks ago, when we celebrated Kristiana's 17th birthday. Those two beautiful women are my mother and my daughter. 

Grateful praise, indeed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A quiet week...

During these past seven or eight days, I have spent much time in prayer. On my knees. At the kitchen sink. Driving from one place to another. Sitting still. Remembering. Wishing. Hoping. Sending out buckets and showers of love and light. Pleading for relief and peace.

I lit the pair of candles in the bottom right corner.
I never pray for myself alone. Ever.

For and and on behalf a friend and her daughter and their entire family.
For another one out on the west coast visiting family.
For another desperately seeking a job.
For another who began a new job recently, having to hand her son over to someone else to care for during the hours while she works.
For another watching her mother battle valiantly against that horrific monster of cancer.
For another who has moved back to the city of her upbringing, a place that holds both good and horrible memories.
For several sister-souls that are deciding whether or not to have children, fearful that motherhood may not be an option for them at all.
For another whose son was threatened at school - by a boy with a gun.
For another with a new granddaughter.
For another in a faraway country, still adjusting to life with a baby in her family's home.
For another whose son is entering the world of tennis, a demanding, expensive, time-ravenous world.
For another who underwent surgery yesterday.
For another whose refusal to rest and enjoy the simple pleasures in life both wearies and worries me.

And for so many others, that this list - and my time in prayer -
could, can, and often does go on for pages and hours and entire days.

I stood under this hole in the ceiling of the Pantheon in Rome for a long time.
I felt the ceiling of my soul open wide as I stood there looking up.
Love and light poured in. So did sorrow and pain.
I often recall Jen Lemen's words when the sorrow feels too big:
"Something healing this way comes."

Just now, when I sat down to think about and pray for the dear ones listed here and the many others that enter my mind and heart whenever I crack my soul open even just a little bit, I looked up at the wall above my desk and an email sent to me about a year ago caught my eye. My best friend from childhood back in Brooklyn wrote it at a time when my family and I, but especially my dear daughter, was heavy in her thoughts and prayers. I trust that she won't mind if I share part of that email here with you, my dear friends, who are often in my thoughts and prayers.

She wrote: "This morning in my little prayer closet (yes, I've actually transformed a corner of my closet into a little prayer closet) you and Kris were very much on my heart. I'm thankful for the progress made so far and all the great things God has done. And I hear the Lord saying, 'Am I not about to preserve and save? Am I not able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond man's greatest, most creative and cunning thoughts? This has never been out from under my control even though at times it felt as though it was. If I can hold the world together simply by the power of My word, shall I not surely hold you together, Kris together, your family togther and bring you through to the most powerful testimony you could have ever thought possible I would give you to share? I see your tiredness and I'm aware of how you feel. My grace, my grace is ever sufficient for you. Can I not multiply it so that it is enough? Just like fish and bread, there will be extra baskets full. And you can share it with, impart it to someone else in need of that same grace.'"

She was right. We have come through to a place we couldn't have imagined at that difficult time. Our family and my daughter and I have been held together - sometimes by the thinnest and weakest of cords. Frayed cords. But we are still together.

And now I am able to share grace and strength and encouraging words and stories of our experiences, my experiences with others at times when they are desperately in need of a listening ear and a helping hand. I can hold on to hope for others who are now facing and fighting battles that feel overwhelming, challenges that feel insurmountable, and mountains that feel both immoveable and unclimbable. I pray that each one will pay the prayers and support forward, to the mothers and friends and neighbors and parents and children in their current life situations - and in the future - who need hope and tenderness and mercy and forgiveness and acceptance to be held and offered to them.

Prayer on the wall in the basement of the National Cathedral, Washington, DC.

It has been a quiet week. Tear-soaked. Prayer-woven. Hope-full.
Day after day, hour after hour, I return to the same lines, the same thoughts, the same pleas:
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

"My body made your body..."

Whenever I want to tickle or pinch or otherwise invade the personal space of my kids, I say that.
"My body made your body so I can do whatever I want with your body."
No, don't get up and go call the police or report me to children's services; it's just a joke.
We all laugh - and then I tickle or nuzzle or cuddle with them some more.

Last week when we were in Hilton Head, I spent a lot of time watching my children.
I watched them rollicking and rolling and falling down in the sea.

I watched them as they played happily with the animals at the petting zoo.

I stared at their hands.

I stared at their feet.

 I walked with them and talked with them and ate with them and biked with them.

I spent a lot of time watching them talk and read and swim and sleep.
Watching them while they rode their rented bikes all over the resort.

Watching them while one played tennis and the other watched tennis.

I spent a lot of that time marveling that my body made their bodies. Even though I was there for every moment of my body making their bodies, it still amazes me, silences me, rocks me to my core. Every single day. The wonder of the human body. Mine and theirs. The wonder of life itself.

Have I mentioned lately that I love my children? I really do.
I'm gonna go cuddle with my daughter right now - and tickle her too.
She hates that!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

On the move...

These have been a busy two and a half weeks. A long weekend in the Tennessee mountains. Followed closely by a week in Hilton Head. With a few days of laundry, homeschooling, and recovery after that. Stories will follow. In the meantime, here are a few photos...

Upon our arrival at the retreat center on Thursday, October 14th, all 168 of us formed a circle around a small pond and prayed aloud, giving thanks for our safe passage to Sevierville, Tennessee, and asking for a great weekend together. The answer to our prayers became clear as the hours and days passed: "You are welcome for the safe trip. And yes, you will have a great weekend together." We most certainly did.

 The theme of the retreat was "Women Under Construction." Among other things, we talked about the creation of a new blueprint for our lives. Deciding who the Architect of our lives will be. Demolition of those things which need to be knocked down. Laying a new foundation. Decorating our newly renovated selves - from the inside out. And a final walk through. We laughed, we cried, we prayed, we sat in silence, we ate way too much. The worst lesson of all: if you microwave a boiled egg, it will very likely explode when it is bitten into and both lips and tongue can be badly burned. Forturnately, I didn't learn that personally, but it happened to one of the women staying the cabin I was in. Ouch!!!

I sat at the edge of a ridge for 30 minutes of silence and solitude. 
Trees, bushes, birds, ants, and me all basking in the sun on the side of that mountain.

Just before we boarded the buses for the trip back to Charlotte, we stood together in cabin groups, lit candles, shared one thing we learned about ourselves, and prayed for a safe trip back down from the mountains. It is a beautiful thing to see and hear 168 beautiful African-American women (or women of any color or background - for that matter!) with candles lit, sharing secrets, laughing, crying, and praying together.

Then on Thusday, October 21st, the four of us left for Hilton Head, South Carolina, for a week-long vacation. Daniel played in a tennis tournament over the weekend, and we stayed on in our rental house until this past Wednesday, the 27th.
I have a newly discovered addiction - biking! But only under certain conditions: it must be on flat terrain - no hills. It must be on a designated bike path, also known as a "leisure path" in Hilton Head - no riding on the street. And there must be a beach at the end of the path - no riding to the mall or the supermarket. And if I can be at the back of the pack with my camera out, then I am in full and complete bliss.

 Anyone who knows me knows that I am not very friendly towards animals. I mean I like them fine, but I don't touch them unless absolutely necessary. But I made a friend in this horse. Gorgeous big brown beast that came right over to me when he first saw me, and two other times during our visit to the Lawton Stables, when I approached his pen, he walked right towards me. At one point, I spoke gently to him for a few moments and he began to close his eyes. We all thought he was going to drift off to sleep and fall over. It was amazing to watch - and to experience. Don't believe my account? Ask my family; they will all concur. (I'm sure the bag of grapes didn't do any harm, but I didn't have them until the very end of our time together. I wanted to give him a special gift to remember me by...)

I never go anywhere without my journal, a fist full of markers, a mind full of dreams, and a heart empty of everything except deep-seated hopes for an unexpected adventure, a reconnection with my very old soul, and new love. I cannot remember the last time I took a trip when at least two of those hopes did not come to pass...

On a bike ride with Daniel. We stopped near a pond to look for alligators. There's one in the picture. On the left edge of the water where the grass juts out a little, there's a bump/ridge in the water. That's an alligator. Later the same day, we watched it swim across to the right side of the pond. So far, so far - and yet so close.

This photo says it all: we were sooooooo happy on Hilton Head last week. So very happy.

Me and my two beauties - and yes, they are both as tall as I am. No one is standing on a stool or a bench - although I think I will need one to be able to keep up with them pretty soon.

There will be more details, more stories to come. At the moment, however, I am deep into doing laundry, cleaning, decluttering, reacclimating to homeschooling and working off all the ice cream and other Tennessee and South Carolina delicacies and preparing to teach four times in November - one class each on solitude, journaling, doubt, and hope - four very big topics, but as with all my classes, I'm pretty sure that I'm learning a whole lot more than I will have time to teach. Plus my daughter celebrated her 17th birthday yesterday - October 30th - and she, her best friend, Arielle, and I spent the whole day wandering around in Asheville, North Carolina, eating, shopping, walking, and laughing at dogs and people in crazy Halloween costumes.

All is well. All is well.
All manner of things is so very well.
Thanks be to God.