Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On living with purpose...

I'm in the middle of yet another fantastic book. This one is entitled An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, written by Barbara Brown Taylor , the same woman who wrote Leaving Church - another book that blew my mind.

The chapter I started today is called, The Practice of Living with Purpose - Vocation. So very appropriate since I have spent the better part of the past couple of weeks berating myself for not being a good enough homeschooling mother or wife or friend or daughter or sister or human being. I'e been wondering if I should go out and get "a real job" and earn some money for myself. What exactly is the purpose of my life? Is my sole reason for being alive right now as simple as getting these kids ready for and into college and out into their own lives? See? It was perfect timing for me to begin this chapter today.

The author begins by listing all the jobs she has ever been paid for. Interesting list.

Here's mine: I've been a babysitter, dog walker, camp counselor, camp laundress, college dining hall worker, college library worker, security guard, college admissions officer at my college alma mater, alumni relations officer for the same college, junior and high school Spanish teacher and college admissions counselor at my high school alma mater, Bible teacher, speaker, and retreat leader. I made jewelry for a while but sold precious few pieces - I think that counts anyway.

There was something about getting paid for my work that made it more meaningful and significant than doing all this work at home and not get paid for it. Receiving a regular paycheck made that work feel like it mattered more, that someone needed me enough to pay me to show up, and that my presence in that building on all those days was worthy of a tangible reward. I know I'm not supposed to feel this way, or I can feel it, but I shouldn't admit it publicly. I know I'm supposed to receive Oprah's oft-repeated declaration - being a stay-at-home mom is the hardest job in the world - as payment enough. Sorry, O, it's not enough anymore. The God's honest truth is that I work very hard every single day and don't earn any money. I don't get weekends off, nor am I allowed to wander far from my office. In fact, when I'm out of the house, on my way someplace in my minivan, that becomes my office. With two teenage children who have cell phones of their own, I'm on call 24 hours per day. Yes, I get to travel alone every now and then, but it certainly doesn't add up to the equivalent of 4 weeks paid vacation, not by far.

The point of this is not to complain. Really, it's not.
Well, maybe a little.
But that's not the main point.

The main point is that this chapter on vocation in this well-crafted book on how faith gets lived out in the world has given me a much-needed new perspective on what it means to live with purpose - whether or not I earn a salary or any accompanying benefits. Apparently a similar readjustment to one's life purpose happened several centuries ago to a certain monk named Martin Luther.

According to the book I'm reading, Martin Luther was a monk who became convinced that no livelihood was dearer to the heart of God than any other, so he left the monastery to proclaim the priesthood of all believers. He said, "Whatever our jobs in the world happen to be, our mutual vocation is to love God and neighbor. None of the things with which you deal daily are too triffling to tell you this incessantly if you are but willing to hear it; and there is no lack of such preaching, for you have as many preachers as there are transactions, commodities, tools and other implements in your house and estate, and they shout this to your face; "My dear, use me toward your neighbor as you would want him to act toward you with that which is his.'"

The author goes on, referencing the tools and other implements of her paid jobs: "With Luther's encouragement, I went on to use martini glasses on serving trays, saddles on spotted ponies, communion bread and wine, newspaper stories, bouquets of flowers delivered to nursing homes, suppers cooked for friends, checks from my checkbook, and green ink on student essays as powerful means of engaging my vocation."

This next part is the part that touches me deeply today, on this Wednesday in the middle of a week in which I have complained a lot - out loud and to myself - about how unfulfilled and underappreciated and unseen and taken for granted I feel: "Everyone of those tools gave me ample opportunity to choose kindness over meanness. Every one of them offered me the chance to recognize the divine in human form, inviting me out of myself long enough to engage someone whose fears, wants, loves, and needs were at least as important as my own. Of course, they also gave me ample opportunity to act like a jerk, missing my purpose by a mile. Yet even this turned out to be helpful, since recognizing my jerkdom is how I remember that is not who I want to be."

Even during weeks like this, when driving here, there, and beyond becomes the main activity of my day, when laundry piles never seem to diminish, while dirty dishes, crumbs and dust seem to multiply, I can choose kindness over meanness. When the things that used to be small annoyances begin to cause my heart to race and my blood pressure to rise precipitously, I can choose peace over pouting. In the face of the umpteenth apology for the same grievance, I can choose forgiveness over bitterness. In every stalled conversation and frigid exchange, I can choose to start again with a smile and a kind word. When I am gathering my thoughts and mentally listing all the complaints that I will use when I verbally attack someone I claim to love, I can choose to take a deep breath instead, sit silently for a moment, and remember that my husband and children are tired and cranky too - that they deserve to be loved and honored and welcomed home in their current state of exhaustion just as much as I do. They too have unfilled dreams, longing for love, and unmet needs - just as I do. I can choose to focus on them and not only on myself and my sorrows.

Lest I come across as sounding a little too holy and selfless - even to myself - I hereby publicly confess that I will also give myself permission and space to be a jerk when I need to be, to be wretchedly human, to curse, to gripe and moan and groan, and sit unmoveably in my grouchiness. I will cry and stomp my feet and do some revenge shopping and be angry. I will overeat and stay up too late watching inappropriate things on television, and mix myself a strong drink or two to wash it all down with. But after all that, I will lay my jerkiness and crabbiness and selfishness aside and ask forgiveness for yet another mess I've made.

Barbara Brown Taylor: Since some people consider being human a liability, and "fully [human]" would only make things worse, I should perhaps explain what I mean. To become fully human means learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else's hourly failures to live up to divine standards. It means learning to forget myself on a regular basis in order to attend to the other selves in my vicinity. It means living so that "I'm only human" does not become an excuse for anything. It means receiving the human condition as blessing and not curse, in all its achingly frail and redemptive reality. "The glory of God is a human being fully alive," wrote Irenaeus of Lyons some two thousand years ago.

If that is so, if abundant life is possible even beyond these piles of laundry, if joy unspeakable is possible even when I have to cook yet another hastily made, even more hastily consumed meal, if peace that passes understanding is possible when I have yet another prescription to fill and yet another floor to scrub, if being fully alive is possible in the midst of and beyond all this grit and grime (and I've heard it said countless times that all things are possible!), then that is the life I want. That is the only life I want.

The purpose of my life, whether I ever get paid for my daily work again, is be to become the fully, wholly, divinely, completely human being God created me to be.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Untitled - Part 1

Why “untitled”? Because after months of living through and living out this story, we decided that it didn’t need a name. It just needed to be told. We decided that sometimes we spend too much time in life trying to come up with titles, with labels, with categories. We spend so much time observing and categorizing our lives that we end up with precious little time to live them. So this time, and a few more times in the coming weeks, together we will write the story of what is possible when labels get peeled off of people and relationships and outcomes, when common sense is ignored, and when we face the worst thing we know about ourselves and realize that it’s not so bad after all.
How do you put a title on something like that?

Four years. Four feet apart. Forty-four words passed between us. If that many. Then one day, I turned around in my seat, looked her in the face, and said, “Hey, do you want to meet for coffee sometime this week?” When she said that she didn’t drink coffee, I wondered if there was hope for us. I’m glad I didn’t let my pro-coffee position come between us.

We ended up spending nearly four hours talking and laughing and telling stories at Starbucks the very first time we hung out together. I thought: I could be friends with this woman forever. Or so I hoped. To my utter shock, she said she neither wanted nor needed any new friends. I couldn’t imagine the she really didn’t want ME for a friend. What’s up with that? She was clear-headed, articulate, but inexplicably unimpressed with me.

I drove home that day with a thousand questions floating around in my head. How do you become friends with someone who tells you in your first meeting that she doesn’t want any new friends? Will it be possible for me to let her off the hook that easily? What’s it gonna take to get this girl to invite me in to her life and heart?

Many weeks would pass before either of us understood just how deeply we had touched one another that day. Fortunately, we had not idea how much we would have to work through in order to become the friends that we are today. Sometimes not being able to predict or foresee the future really is best.

Who are we? I’m Gail. She’s Mary Anna – “with two n’s,” she often reminds me. We were born eleven years and twenty thousand miles away from each other. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Her native city is Caracas, Venezuela. I have three older brothers. She has one older sister. We are both married with children. I have two teenagers rampaging around my house. She has one adorable 20-month-old under her watchful care. Before having her son, she was a real estate agent. Before having my two children, I was a junior high and high school Spanish teacher and college counselor. We are both currently employed as “Desperate Housewives.” I’ve never seen the show of that title, but I know I am one.

She knew from the tender age of thirteen that as soon as she was able, she would leave her homeland of Venezuela for the United States. I decided at the tender age of 13 – actually, I didn’t make a single firm decision about my life until I was in college. And then I promptly changed my mind. She graduated from high school at 16 and went to a huge university in the city where she had grown up. I graduated at 17 and attended a tiny college five hours from home. But we had something in common on the university level: we both studied political science.

My memory is horrendous; hers is remarkable. She listens to music every waking moment, whereas I could and often do spend days without turning on music of any kind. One passion we do share is writing. For a brief while she read my blog voraciously – until she started her own blog and became a prolific writer in her own right. She blames me for getting her started with journaling, but I refuse to accept the blame. She accuses me of turning her into a geek; that I will take credit for. But until she is carrying a pencil case in her purse, she hasn’t come over to the dark side yet.

We grew up speaking different languages, but her second language is my first language, and my second language is her first language. Was that us getting our signals crossed or finally uncrossing them? We’re still not sure about the answer to that. But I will say this: she thinks we don’t speak her language enough. I’d be glad to speak Spanish more, but she knows a whole lot more Spanish than I do – and I’m not yet ready to give her the higher ground in this relationship.

How we met is intricately tied to this whole first and second language thing. Until recently, I served as the main translator at a bilingual congregation in a local church here in Charlotte. My job was to translate sermons from Spanish into English on Sunday mornings. When the sermon was given in English, it was her job to translate it into Spanish. When I got tongue-tied on the pulpit, which was often, I could always count on her to provide the right word at just the right time. At least, I think they were the right words; she could still be pulling the wool over my ojos – I mean, eyes.

Back to that first meeting at Starbucks… we met there one Thursday afternoon to get to know each other a little. After all, we’d sat four feet away from each other for over four years. What neither of us expected was to discover that we had far more in common than sitting one row apart for all that time. What neither of us expected was to discover that we viewed our roles in the church, our roles as women, as wives, as mothers, as inhabitants of this country, as inhabitants of this amazing planet we share in very much the same way. From the very start, we were able to finish each other’s sentences. More than once I have teased her about having read my journals. And she teases me about reading her mind.

Let there be no doubt; our friendship hasn’t been easy or smooth every step of the way. But that’s a story for another blog post – and there will be more blog posts about this remarkable, rocky, dark, shadowy, insightful, challenging, eye-opening, life-changing, and soul-stirring friendship we share. In the past three weeks, one of us has had to admit to a long-maintained lie, and the other has had to face a long-denied truth. Both of us have emerged from one of the most difficult realizations of our lives together. Or perhaps “together” isn’t the right word; it may be more accurate to say we have emerged at the same time and side by side.

One thing we have learned in the four short months that we have spent getting to know one another is this: we may be co-travelers on this life journey, but our experiences are radically different. We have sat in movie theaters, church services, restaurants, parking lots, and Italian classes together – but if you ask her to describe what happened and what was said, her answer would be different from mine. Even sitting in Starbucks right now (yes, we are back at Starbucks!) the retelling of the story of our friendship has reminded us of both the beauty and the mystery of sharing life together. As much as we may share, as much time as we spend talking and texting back and forth, we are each fully aware that, she is living out her own story and I am living mine. Even though we are on this life journey concurrently, each of us walks it alone.

We are learning to listen to one another in new ways. We are learning to talk to each other in new ways. We are learning when to give advice and when to sit in silence. We are learning how easy it is to misunderstand and be misunderstood. We have learned about forgiveness – both asking for it and extending it. We have learned about help – asking for it, receiving it, and giving it. When “common sense” says to walk away, sometimes that still, small inner voice whispers: “Give her another chance.” When “common sense” says to do anything and everything it takes to bring suffering to an end, sometimes the heart, this crazy heart of mine, that crazy heart of hers, says “Don’t give up, don’t give in, don’t give over to despair. Take one more chance.”

Recently we had a long talk about sharing the story of our friendship on our blogs. My initial reaction was one of hesitation. I wondered: Why would we want to do that? Who wants to read about us? She answered with a question of her own: Why not share it? She was right: why not tell our story? This is a universal story of how a relationship that looks impossible on paper sometimes defies all the odds in reality.

Anyone who has lost faith in the power of faith and friendship and forgiveness and honesty and love and prayer to fix most of what ails us needs to read this story. Our hope is that after reading this story, you will take a chance on making a new friend or forgiving an old friend or rescuing a lost friend. Perhaps you are the old friend, the lost friend, the new friend, the one that needs to ask for reconciliation or forgiveness. Please don’t wait. Not one moment is promised; not one day is guaranteed. So make every day, every hour count.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

8 Things I Love About Summer

1. No fixed schedule of events or activities - freedom to roam (until my kids call me on my cell phone and ask me to come pick them up and take them someplace that they are dying to get to, right now, right now... "Come on, Mom. What are you doing that you can't stop and come meet my immediate and urgent needs?")

2. Going for long walks in shorts and a tee shirt - and sometimes walking thru sprinklers (even though I cannot imagine how people still justify using the same water they drink and bathe in to water their poisonous lawns when every other month we hear on the news that we are living in drought conditions.)

3. The summer solstice (not that I worship the sun. I just like knowing which day is the longest one so I can stay up just a few minutes later than I already do.)

4. Seeing - and sometimes asking to touch - little babies' teeny tiny toes (So far, none of the parents seem too creeped out by how much I stare at their children's itty-bitty body parts. Wait, I'm not sure that came out right...)

5. Friends that hibernated through winter come out of hiding (Do people really hibernate? Or am I just too dull to realize that these people no longer want to be my friends but because I'm so pushy and they've had so many summer cocktails, they finally respond to my relentless stalking???)

6. Sleeveless tops, skirts, and flip flops - my summer uniform (Yup, I'm a 44 year old still talking about wearing a uniform. What the heck is up with that? Grow up, G. Put on some jeans!)

7. Summer fruits that are all sweet and juicy (I do like fruit. It's always ready to eat. No cooking necessary. Just rinse and eat. Repeat as desired. My kind of food!)

8. Basil growing in pots on the deck (No, Laurie and Lisa, I will never have a 40-acre garden that I harvest from and live off of all year long. These basil pots are all I can handle. And the truth is, it's my daughter who planted the seeds and waters them. I just take credit for it because I bought the seeds and the organic soil. That counts, doesn't it? We are using organic soil - whatever that is...)

I do love summer.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I'm no expert, but...

Taken on my first morning in Madrid last September.

I am no connoisseur of coffees... at least I wasn't until Lisa introduced me to Brother Bear's Muddy Waters blend. Yum, yum. Before this new addiction took hold, however, if the dark beverage was hot and sweet and had caffeine I would drink it. But even with my unsophisticated palate, I don't think I would have drunk anything that was delivered this way.

Taken this past Monday morning on my way back home from Macon, Georgia.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Questioning my love...

Jen Lemen has an amazing way with words and photos and videos that has touched my heart since the first time I discovered her blog a few years ago. When she stopped blogging last December, the blogging world lost one of its best writers, and I lost one of my life's role models; her importance and influence in my life are greater than she can possibly imagine. When she started writing publicly again last month, I cheered; literally, I pumped my fists and shouted for joy in front of my computer.

Yesterday she posted a blog about experimenting with the truth and, once again, put into words so many things that I have been feeling of late: fear and doubt and love and vulnerability and worry about what he thinks of me and what she thinks of my writing and why so few people leave comments on my blog or send me email anymore or respond to my texts.

Like Jen - and everyone else I know - I struggle with how to deal with my longing for the approval and pleasure and the very presence of those that I love. Like nobody else I know, I have countless questions about this thing we call love. Every single day, I spend way too much time questioning my love.

How do I let the ones that I love know how much their presence in my life means without being melodramatic?

How do I show them that I am doing well in my life without their approval, presence, or permission without giving the impression that I don't need them in my life?

What happened to us as human beings that we have gotten to this place where sharing our affection and love and need for one another feels riskier and more frightening than expressing road rage towards complete strangers or losing our tempers in line at the post office or even supporting war and defending our right to bear lethal, life-ending arms against one another?

Why do I struggle with how and how often to tell the people that I love that I love them, that I care about every detail of their lives, and that I am here for them and with them - without sounding phony or desperate or manipulative?

How do I say, "I love you more than you know" without scaring you away?
Or sounding like a broken record because I say it so often?
Is it possible to hear that you are loved too often?

How much am I willing to risk by saying such a thing to you -
or anyone who is neither my husband nor either of my children nor some other blood relative?

(I took this photo in a hotel elevator -
it was part of an advertisement for the hotel.)

Is it really love if I'm this afraid to tell you, to say it out loud?
Is it really love if I'm more concerned about what you will think of me if I tell you the truth
than about whether or not you know the truth?
Why do I not just take my chances and tell you the truth?
Which is simply this: I love you.

Does it matter whether or not you believe me?

Does it matter whether or not you love me back?

Why do I spend so much time worrying about all this?
Why do I keep questioning my love?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Never really alone...

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love my solitude. Before he became my husband, before he even became my boyfriend, Steve understood that without time alone, considerable chunks of time alone, I turn into a shrew, useless, and mean-spirited. So when my complaints outnumber my compliments, when my silence speaks louder than my speeches, then it's time for me to head off for some time alone.
A couple of weekends ago, I went away for the weekend with my son. He had a tennis tournament in Winson-Salem, so I went with him. Just the two of us. I was looking forward to some time with him to talk and eat and watch NBA games at night in our hotel room and get to know each other again. Well, before we even reached our hotel, he had made plans to get together with two other tennis players to hang out. (Sometimes I really want to confiscate that boy's Droid!) Then he wanted to stay for dinner. Then he wanted to hang out after dinner. So I ended up going to dinner alone that Friday night. A lovely meal at a lovely Thai restaurant in downtown Winston-Salem.

Just me, my journal, my cell phone, my plum wine, and a lovely view of a handful of central North Carolina's finest skyscrapers. Dinner arrived quickly, and I tucked into it with gusto. All alone. Lovely.

The following morning, we got up early, had a quick breakfast, and headed off to the tennis courts. I had barely driven the van into the parking break before he leaped out and spent as much time as he could hanging out with his tennis player friends. What? And there I was thinking that I was going to have so much quality time with my son. All he wanted was either time on the tennis courts or in the company of his tennis friends.

So I pulled out the book I've been nursing for a few weeks, a fruit and nut mix I am especially partial to, and my cell phone - just in case my darling son changed his mind and suddenly felt the desperate urge to talk to me or text me or, better yet, come sit with me in the car. No luck. So there I was again. All alone.

I sat in the comfort of my car and watched my son play his heart out and his legs off. All alone.

Yesterday, I did the same thing: went with him to a tennis tournament - just the two of us alone. And he did exactly the same thing he'd done weeks earlier - upon our arrival, he abandoned me in the parking lot and ran off to meet people who seem to mean more to him than I do at the moment.

Later as I sat and watched him play, my eyes began to wander away from his majestic strokes and impeccable strategy - no bias here - and I took a few minutes to notice and create a mental list of a few of the things around me. Suddenly it became clear that, although no one was sitting anywhere nearby, I was not alone. I had not arrived at the Charlotte Country Club parking lot alone, nor would I leave alone. I was surrounded by so many people - or perhaps it is more accurate to say that I was surrounded by the phantom presence of hundreds, if not thousands of people. Their handiwork was abundantly evident everywhere I looked.

Here's what I wrote in my journal as I sat there:

Here I sit. Surrounded. Trees. Bushes. Flowers. Grass.
Court lights. Traffic lights. Brake lights. Cars.
Streets. Stop Signs. A parking lot. Lines. Islands.
Tennis players, officials, family members, friends.
A thermos, chair, umbrella.
Tennis courts, fences, plants, score cards, nets, lines, clay, chairs.
Electrical poles, a court watering system, mulch, concrete, asphalt, chains.
Racquets, shoes, balls, clothes, hats, strings.
Houses, pools, clubhouse.
Water, gatorade, ice.
So many people. So many stories. So much overlap.
How did we all end up here? Today?
Who am I to deserve all this?
Awe. Reverence. Curiosity.

I have been reminded often lately that the world is getting smaller. Countless life stories overlap more and more often. Tennis players and their family members come down from the mountains and up from the valleys to compete at the same tournaments as Daniel. Tennis officials leave their lives and livelihoods behind to oversee junior tennis tournaments. Chefs prepare food for the players and others. Club employees tend to the courts and the equipment. I am always curious to know their stories - how did they end up there on that day for that match? Factories around the world produce the racquets and strings and balls and bags and tennis shoes. Pilots fly those products across continents and oceans and truck drivers deliver them and store clerks sell them. Closer to home, Steve works hard to earn the money to pay for all of Daniel's tennis stuff and Kristiana's camera and piano lessons and art supplies and food and books and and clothes and the electricity to power the wireless network that allows me to post this blog and the cell phone service that allows me to talk to and text with the ones I love most. All of which reminds me that I am never really alone. Someone's story intersects with mine at every intersection of my life.
Again, I wonder, how did we all end up living this way? In this place? On this day?
And who am I to deserve all this?
This I do know: I am grateful. So very grateful.
Thanks be to God.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Back to my list-making...

First Jen Lemen did it - she made up some great list topics and filled them in.
Then Jena Strong did it.
Now it's my turn. But I'm adding a few categories of my own.

Things I'm learning:
* Italian
* patience
* forgiveness - both extending it and receiving it
* how to be married
* how to parent teenagers
* how to say "no more"
* how to say "bring it on"
* how to deal with bullies and bossiness

Things I want to unlearn:
* everything I know about medication and doctors' offices and emergency rooms
* most of what I know about church and its useless, meaningless, oppressive traditions
* how messed up the world and all of us, its inhabitants (including myself!), really are
* how to be a full-fledged adult - childhood was so much less stressful
* everything I know about pollution and chemicals and child abuse and modern slave labor and economic imbalance and animal cruelty

Things I'm wishing and praying for:
* peace everywhere: in every broken heart, in every unquiet mind, in every tormented soul, in every family, relationship, home - and beyond
* an end to that ridiculous oil spill
* an end to our deep dependence on that oil and all the things it is used to create
* a way of life that is based on contentment and gratitude, not greed and consumerism
* healing for people I love from cancer, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, glaucoma, depression, heart disease and fear
* for a healthy and energetic pregnancy for a dear friend in Spain
* good health, healthy food, and life-sustaining work for all who are in need
* an end to tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, drought, and war
* the return of passion, deep, pulse-quickening passion

Things that are making me happy:
* an excellent mug of morning coffee
* my bed
* the ceiling fan above my bed
* all the rain we've had lately
* great times with my husband and children
* having a buddy to go see Hindi movies with
* subtitles at Hindi movies (I wish I understood Hindi)
* the many good books I'm reading at the moment, especially Dreaming in Hindi
* summer fruit and vegetables, fresh and tasty
* starting a summer journal
* unexpected reconnections with friends and family after not only brief misunderstandings
but also after way too much time of being disconnected

Things that are getting on my nerves:
* politics and political shenanigans
* recurring nightmares, fears, and worries
* greed and injustice
* my own apathy and unwillingness to take risks
* people who are quick to criticize but incapable of taking criticism
* the escalating cost of living

Things that are soothing my nerves:
* solitude, solitude, solitude
* journaling, especially when I use big, fat Sharpies and Copic and Prismacolor markers on thick watercolor paper
* holding hands
* going to the gym and getting my sweat on
* going out for walks in the morning, alone
* friends who listen to my tales of woe and give me sound advise
* being myself, fully, truly, fearfully, fearlessly, unapologetically myself
* staying away from situations and people that get on my nerves
* dreaming in Spanish, Italian, and sometimes in Hindi too

Things I don't know yet (except, of course, when I do)
* how to let go of stuff (physical stuff, emotional stuff, relational stuff, religious stuff) that needs to go
* that it's time to stop complaining about everything I complain about and do something about it
* how and when to walk away, no regrets, no explanations, just walk away
* how excellent and right and satisfying it is to tell the truth, even when it hurts the person I must speak it to
* that most of the time the one person in my life who needs to hear the truth the most is the woman in the mirror
* the importance of not relying on anyone else to take care of me and meet my needs
* the best ways to take care of myself
* how to ask for help when I need it
* how important my own dreams and hopes are and that it's okay to dedicate myself and my time to make them come true
* how to ask for my bedroom and my solo time and my privacy back
* that faith and prayer and devotion and dedication and commitment matter, big time
* that all is well and that all shall be well

Things I'm looking forward to:
* summer tennis tournaments
* the freedom to set my own schedule
* having a few days alone right here at home
* a break from translating/interpreting
* glasses of cold sangria on hot summer nights
* teaching a class on solitude in the fall
* getting a new computer sometime soon (This one, God bless it, is nearly 7 years old. What is that in computer years? 150??? It has never had a debilitating virus, nor has it ever crashed, mind you, but tragedy cannot be far away --> of that, I am certain.)
* speaking to a group of South Carolina's finest social workers at the end of July - telling my family's story
* every good and perfect gift that is yet to come from the hand of The One who Loves me most
* life itself - and whatever will follow this life too

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Looking back and looking ahead...

(Taken outside Sevilla nearly four years ago.)

Standing in the darkness.
Looking at the path ahead.
In and out of shadows.
In and out of sunlight.
Light at the end.
Light in the middle.
Being right here.
Right now.
All is well.
I am grateful.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Thankfulness abounds...

I love making lists. Long lists. Short lists. Lists of friends. Lists of foods. Lists of things I want to make lists of. I make lists all the time. In my journal. On little strips of paper. On envelopes. In my car. In bed. In church. In my mind.

But the lists I make more of than any other kind are the lists of things I'm grateful for, the ones that remind me of life's greatest and most ordinary pleasures, the ones that remind me of how loved and blessed I am.

On this Friday morning, thankfulness abounds.
On this Friday morning, my heart overflows.
On this Friday morning, I am grateful -

* for the bright morning sun
* that today is our last day of homeschooling for this year
* for the fact that my husband went out to get bagels to celebrate this last day of school
* that it is, indeed, Friday

* for the Italian class I'm taking - it's tough but thoroughly enjoyable
* that "learning more Italian" is on my Mondo Beyondo/ Goddess Goal list of things I wanted to do in 2010 - and I'm doing it!
* for a recent trip to Asheville with the same dear friend that invited me to take this Italian class
* for our day in Asheville: good food, great conversation, decent shopping, (my) loud laughter, and (her) great music, lots of music

* for Muddy Waters coffee brought to us by Lisa
* for the awesome conversations she and I had while drinking this coffee together a few short weeks ago
* for the final pot of it that we will enjoy this morning
* for the chance to order more of it online

* for the joy and challenge and confusion and resilience and power and insanity of friendship
* for the wonder and wackiness and exhaustion of working through relationships of every kind
* for the many friends I have who are willing to do this hard work with me
* for the longevity of the truest and deepest relationships, despite distance, silence, and misunderstanding
* for the advent of cell phones and facebook and email all of which make communication easier - and more complicated because technology cannot reproduce the joy and immediacy of face-to-face conversations
* for the wisdom to know when it's time to say farewell

* for traveling mercies for the many people I know who are and have been on the road
* for the recent visit of a college friend making his way from Los Angeles up to his 25 year college reunion in Massachusetts (He is traveling by car!)
* for his fabulous memory of places we went together, things we said, food we ate, and people we hung out with
* for his tremendous story-telling skills - he had me laughing and groaning and filling in newly excavated details and memories of my own
* for such great memories of my time at Williams, the greatest of which is the day I met the man who would become my husband

* for surprisingly relaxed, informative, genuinely productive meetings
* for the opportunity to speak and be heard and also to listen carefully and kindly to someone else
* for the humility to hear someone else's opinion and the willingness to accept it for what it is, their opinion
* for the freedom that comes from speaking one's mind with steadfast courage
* for the realization that sometimes it is necessary to respectfully disagree

* for having to walk the dog late at night when I don't think it's my turn
* for loading and unloading the dishwasher for the umpteenth time this week
* for the seemingly endless lists of things I have to do and calls I have to make and bills I have to pay but don't want to
* for the shockingly selfish behavior perpetrated by people who claim to love me and care for me
* for the ways in which all of the above force me to take excellent care of myself, to practice forgiveness of others and myself, and to remember how ridiculously human we all are - myself included

* for the many lessons I am learning this year, and last month especially, on friendship, honesty, listening to my own intuition, and the wisdom of holding my tongue
* for my study room floor, the place I return to every morning - just to lie down, think, pray, journal, and, as Ruth Haley Barton so fabulously describes it, "allow the sediment swirling around in my mind to settle"
* for a private, quiet, solitary place to rest, be alone, and find peace
* for the knowledge that I carry that place, that sacred and tranquil space, with me everywhere I go
* for the countless times that I have crawled into that place and taken refuge there, even when I am in class or on a trip or at a tennis match or in the middle of a difficult discussion - I can have and know perfect peace

* for all the rain we have gotten this week
* for the strength of our roof and our walls to protect us in inclement weather
* for the full moon
* for the magnolia bush at the end of my driveway
* for the joy that Maya has and the curiosity she exudes every time she goes outside
* for the wonder of the world, its beauty and complexity and magnificence

* for my gnarled fingers that remember where the computer keys are
* for my dry and flaky feet that carry me everywhere I have ever gone - and back home again
* for my scarred heart that opens wide every day, despite being wounded so many times every day
* for my indomitable soul that gets wider and deeper and thicker and fuller every day

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

What I am not... what we are not...

I am not a great or enthusiastic cook.
I am not eager to get out of bed every morning.
I am not always excited to homeschool or go to church or even be a mother.
I am not a particularly inspired or inspiring homeschool teacher.
I am not always patient with myself or my family.
I am not a vegetarian.

I am not afraid of much of anything at all.
I am not ashamed to ask for help... most of the time.
I am not hesitant to declare a day off from school or cooking or cleaning.
I am not reluctant to stop everything and drop to my knees in tears, laughter, or prayer.
I am not too proud to beg... for a hug, a kiss, or a piece of chocolate.

We are not always happy to be together as a foursome.
We don't always speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
We don't ask for or extend forgiveness quickly or easily.
We do not listen to each other particularly well sometimes.
We do not always speak well of each other.
We don't always tell each other the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

We do not always choose organic and healthy things to eat or drink.
We are not eager to share our food with each other.
We do not ask if anyone else wants the last cookie, apple, piece of pie, etc.
We don't always pray and give thanks before every meal.
We do not always put our cell phones or blackberries away when we eat.
We do not always eat in the same room.

We do not always go to church - or even want to go to church.
We are not always fair when we disagree or argue.
We do not always treat each other with kindness and gentleness.
We do not always say good-night to each other before we go to bed.
We are not especially physically affectionate towards each other.
We do not always prefer each other's company.

We would not choose anyone else to live with or have as our family.
I am not ashamed to say that I love them.