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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What I Need... What I feel... What I want...

I found this quote at this blog and loved it.

"life is just overwhelming at times,
and we are all standing on a corner
with a sign in our hands needing something".

debi smith kaich jones
I don't have any cool photos of myself standing on street corners holding any signs. But I do have a journal full of notes and cards and scribbles and pleas and questions and all kinds of other stuff that wouldn't fit neatly onto any signs.
For example - "When you think of someone you miss and love, send love and light, G. And then keep moving. And while you're at it, send love and light and peace and strength and attention to yourself. Light a candle for yourself."
And, while testing a few new pens in my journal, I found myself practicing a new and more deliberate type of penmanship with a new pen I have fallen in love with (the Micron 02 tip in black, red, green, and blue). Here's what I wrote in my new handwriting: "Use what you love. Wear what you love. Eat what you love. Love what and who you love. Boldly. Fearlessly. Without apology. Just do it." Looking at it now, it's not so much handwriting as it is soulwriting.
Last week, while reading A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth ( a 1300 page novel that will probably take me the better part of a year to get through... it's good, but I'm a very slow reader of big, thick novels. More than a little intimidated, I confess.) I came across this quote on page 321.
We are, each of us alone, thought the Nawab Sahib; blessedly, we rarely realize this.
Here's what I wrote in my journal as a response to that quote:
"Each of us is alone. Yes.
We rarely realize it. No.
I think we are fully aware of it - which is why we do so very much to avoid our loneliness. To downplay it. To smother or bury it in stuff, activities, noise, sex, attention, affection, anger, accusations of others, work, busyness. We need to let the loneliness cut deeper."
A few questions keep popping up on these colorful journal pages of mine. Questions like: What am I hungry and thirsty for? What do I need to stop indulging in? What have I been chasing? What's chasing me? Is it possible to stop all the chasing, the fantasizing, the grasping and pulling and attempts at manipulation and work harder at quenching my own thirst? At allowing my thirst to be quenched without so much work on my part? Is that possible? Am I willing to take the risk and let go?
My dear friend, Katie Crowe, preached about this very subject of hunger and thirst a couple of Wednesdays ago. And because she loves me so much and knows how much I love to print stuff out and glue it into my journal, she sent me her sermon in written form. Here is part of a Henri Nouwen quote that she included in her sermon: "I think you understand what I am talking about. Aren't you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? [Yup, I sure am hoping that.] as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied [Yup, that's me too. Always seeking, always hoping, and so often being disappointed.] ...We are the beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That's the truth of our lives. That's the truth spoken by the voice that says, 'You are my Beloved. You are mine and I am yours. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. Wherever you go, I go with you and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will not hide my face from you. You belong to me. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.'"
My journal bulges with responses to that quote as well as a few other parts that of her sermon that I didn't include here.

Dig deeper, Gail.
Drink deeply from The Wellspring of Life.
Listen with greater inner attentiveness to His Voice.
Step out of the stream of my fears and insecurities,
conscious and unconscious motivations,
and tap into The Source of security and peace.
Go to the place where I am deeply loved,
deeply affirmed, 
deeply longed for
and tenderly held.
Where I am the beloved, the chosen one.
Where I am the feast.
Live in and from a deeper and thicker place in your heart and soul."
Nope, no clever photos of me holding up well-crafted holding signs. Rather, I find myself gently and tenderly holding up my battered, bruised, and remarkably resilient soul for closer inspection and introspection.
The questions and doubts and hopes and yearnings and dreams keep coming up in me and for me. I am beginning to think they are never going to stop. (Well, duh, Gail!)
I am also getting increasingly clear on what I need, what I feel, and what I want. (It's about time, Gail.)
And, most life-affirming of all, I find myself falling more deeply in love with this soul of mine. (Yay, Gail.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

A reminder - but not too gentle

Do not be anxious for anything

    * not even while so many people I know and love are dealing with job loss or foreclosure on a home?
    * not even the possible imminent deportation of a teenager when her family lives here in Charlotte?
    * not even chronic or terminal illness with faulty or non-existent health insurance?
    * not even the betrayal of a loved one?
    * I'm not supposed to be anxious for anything at all?

but in everything

     * even in the midst fear and worry? (Oh, yeah - I'm not supposed to be anxious...)
     * even in loneliness?
     * even in the face of demanding teenagers, uncommunicative siblings, and self-absorbed parents?

by prayer and petition

     * I'm a faithful pray-er - but I have absolutely no idea how or why it matters
     * I've got lots of petitions and requests - but I usually end up saying the same thing over and over and over: "Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy on us all."
     * Followed immediately by: "You have already had mercy, I know. But can you please keep the mercy flowing?"
     * And then: "If you know what we need before we ask and you have a plan for us to prosper us and not to harm us, then why is all this terrible stuff still happening? And what's it gonna take for me to really trust that you know what you're doing?"
    * Silence. Deep sighs. More silence.
    * Then I start praying again. This cycle never stops.

with thanksgiving

     * Counter-intuitive, I know. But as soon as I start the thankfulness, the gratitude list, I feel better.
     * The crazy thing is that some of the craziest things (and by "craziest things" I mean THE WORST THINGS) that have happened to me have generated the most gratitude.
     * For example, watching my dearest loved ones struggle has caused me to be enormously grateful for every normal day, for every sunny day, for every rainy day. As Billy Blanks of Tae Bo fame says: "Every day above ground is a blessed day." (Let me quickly confess that there are some days when every day does not FEEL like a blessed day... that's for sho!)

present your requests to God

     * I go back to an earlier question, one that has baffled me for years: why do I need to make known requests that are already known?
     * I've come up with a partial answer: It's not so much that I need to tell God what my requests are. It's that I'm supposed to give them to God, to present them, to hand them over. As in - stop carrying them myself. There isn't much I can do with them, so I may as well pass them along to someone who, if the testimony about God is indeed true, can do exactly the right thing with them and for us all.
     * Perhaps the goal is to stop presenting my requests and problems and pleas and demands to other helpless, hapless, sometimes hopeless folks like myself.

and the peace of God

    * Notice there is nothing said about answers to the requests. No promises here about getting everything I ask for as soon as I ask.
      * This is a HUGE phrase because if God is God, then His peace must be pretty wide and deep and I want a whole lot more of it!
      * All the peace I have felt and known in this life has come when I have allowed myself to rest in my faith, in the belief 1- that there is a God; 2- that God cares for me even when, especially when those that I had come to rely on let me down once again; and 3- that help, peace, joy, strength are all on the way. No, they are already here and I simply need to remember that they are already here and I must avail myself of them.

which surpasses all understanding
     * as far as I'm concerned, any kind of peace that lasts longer than the time it takes to drink a single cup of coffee surpasses my understanding
     * if I can produce it or explain it, it's not going to last long or surpass anything

will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.     * I have done a terrible job of guarding my own heart and mind, so I will take all the help I can get, Lord.

     * You mean I don't have to guard anyone else's heart and mind either? That's not MY job???
     * And while you're at it, God, can you guard my body and spirit and emotions too? And the hearts, minds, bodies, spirits, and emotions of everybody on the planet? Why do we so arrogantly and selfishly ask you only to bless America, Lord? Please bless everybody, every single person, everywhere. Most of the people in the world need your hand of blessing a whole lot more than we do.

Yes, every now and then, I need to be reminded to keep on praying and asking and begging and pleading for grace, mercy, strength, peace, understanding, love, forgiveness, healing, and a whole host of other stuff that keeps me upright when I would must rather be facedown. Even if nothing outside of me changes as a result of my prayer - in fact, there have been times when I have been convinced that prayer has made a drastic difference, not only for in my own life, but also in the lives of people I have prayed for - at least I know that inside of me, everything is changing. Absolutely everything.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Poem by Hafiz on Loneliness

Don't surrender you loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

30 Stories in 30 Days

Rachelle Mee-Chapman is doing a great series this month of answering questions posed to her by her friends and readers - a series of 30 stories in 30 days. I posed a question to her about faith and marriage - and this is the beautiful and brilliant and thought-provoking answer that she provided.

Thank you so much for all your words of encouragement and support as I navigate my journey of faith, Rachelle. And thank you for your words of wisdom and compassion and compromise today. 



How does faith, your faith walk, fit in to your marriage? Does it? What would you say to someone who is on a radically different faith walk than her husband? 
Paul and I have always had similar faith walks, in that we are both grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition. We both consider ourselves disciples of Jesus, though we no longer participate in traditional forms of church. In spite of this common connection, we’ve always had very different ways of practicing our faith. Paul likes formal, high church rituals and theological debate. I like more grounded everyday rituals and value orthopraxis (what one does) over orthodoxy (what one believes.) Paul is more orthodox in his beliefs. I tend to practice a more blended faith. 
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years during our own evolving spiritual journey, and from other couples who have far more diversity between them.
Express what you need. Do you really need your spouse to be on the same page as you spiritually? Or do you just need them to listen to you as explain your experiences or ideas? A lot of times mixed-faith couples start out thinking they need to have matching practices, but what they really need is mutual understanding and respect. 
Focus on the Commonalities. The core truths of many religious have large areas of overlap. For instance, The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have done to you,” is found in one form or another in Confucianism, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Taoism. It is possible to practice different faiths and still celebrate the same core values. 
Create Blended Practices. No one said you can't mix up traditions. Plenty of families celebrate Hanukah and Christmas, or have two officiants at the wedding. In our house we celebrate Christmas and Winter Solstice, Easter and Passover.  These mixed practices can deepen you faith and broaden your understanding of the global community in which we live. 
Practice Trust. This is the most important part! Partners with different spiritual or religious practices need to trust that the other is following a path that is true to who they are. No one can thrive in a religion they are forced into. And doubting that your partner is “right” or is making a “good choice” only damages your relationship. You trust each other in other major areas of your life. Practice that same trust in the area of faith. 
What about you? Are you in a relationship with someone who has a different faith/religion/spirituality than you? How do you manage (or even celebrate!) the differences? Share your inspiring story with us in the comments. We need your insight. “There ain’t nowhere to go but together.”

Rachelle Mee-Chapman, specializes in customized soulcare for spiritual misfits. She works with clients at Magpie Girl to help them find a spirituality that fits; and hosts Flock, an online soulcare community. You can learn more about her creative approach in her free ecourse, Magpie Speak: a new vocabulary for soulcare.  Friend :: Follow :: Presents!

"And still, I am worthy of love"

Some of my favorite bloggers have posted photographs and written blog posts and linked them to this woman's new book. I am awaiting my copy of it from at the moment.

I don't know about you, but I am desperately in need of daily reminders that prefection is not possible, that "perfection is the enemy of completion" (I didn't make that one up...), and that perfection robs us of precious time and energy on this exhausting and terminal thing we call life.

On the blog post that the title of this post links to, Chookoloonks asked her readers to confess some imperfect aspect/fact/habit they have and end each one with "and still I am worthy of love." I couldn't think of just one for her comment section, so I'm going to use this space to create an entire list of a few of my many imperfections. Countless imperfections, really.

I mop my hardwood floors less than a dozen times per year - and still I am worthy of love.

I clean my house ineffeciently and infrequently - and still I am worthy of love.

I don't always use unscented, environmentally harmless, biodegradable cleaning products - and still I am worthy of love.

At the end of every winter, I swear that I will replace our leaky windows and seal our leaky doorways and have our heaters inspected so that the next winter, our house will be more energy efficient. But I never do anything - and still I am worthy of love.

The same promise/failure/guilt cycle happens at the end of every summer in anticipation of the following summer (i.e - get the air conditioning system checked and repaired, etc, etc, etc...) - and still I am worthy of love.

On a regular basis, I promise myself that: I will give up meat and caffeine and sugar and white flour and alcohol and late night snacking. I will exercise 4 - 7 days per week. I will purchase only organic foods, drink only filtered water out of environmentally friendly containers, and eliminate artificial coloring and flavors and food byproducts from my life and our home. I will pay to offset the air pollution of the flights I take; better yet, I will travel less in order to pollute the planet less. Those life changes have sooooooo NOT happened in my life or at our house!!! And still I am worthy of love.

I am stingy in my gift-giving, lazy and slow in giving thanks for the gifts I receive, and profoundly ungrateful as well - and still I am worthy of love.

My homeschooling organization and planning are next to non-existent (in fact, I should be overseeing my kids right now as I write this blog post) - and still I am worthy of love.

I complain about my children, my marriage, my home, being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, and homeschooler, and many other aspects of my life as well - and still I am worthy of love.

I brag about my children to people who don't want to hear about my children - and still I am worthy of love.

I tune people out when they talk, I don't pay attention to what I hear or read, and I rarely am able to recall what is said to me - and still I am worthy of love.

I interrupt people when they speak way too often - and still I am worthy of love.

I feign interest in conversations and explanations and books and blogs and stories and accounts when I really don't care at all - and still I am worthy of love.

I spend way too much time fantasizing about running away from home and living a completely different life in a completely different place under a completely different name - and still I am worthy of love.

I spend too much money on pens and paper and paint and glue and journals and art supplies and books - all of which I already have dozens of - and at the same time I criticize my husband and children for their spending habits - and still I am worthy of love.

I am quick to judge everyone I know and even people I don't know and find them lacking in all areas - and still I am worthy of love.

I am quick to judge myself, my body, my mind, my soul, my spirit, my abilities, my faults and my failures, and am extremely critical of myself, finding very little to compliment myself on - and still I am worthy of love.

Currently, I am profoundly dissatisfied with "the church" - as in the buildings where people arrive, well-dressed and quiet - and how infrequently we are able to share the truth of our real lives and our pain and our difficulties there. But at the same time, I am reluctant to speak publicly about my true anger about the church and its leaders because I worry about what my "Christian" friends will think of me and whether such commentary on my part will disqualify me from being able to teach or speak in the same church institutions that I currently dislike so much - and that contradiction/dichotomy makes me feel like a hypocrite most of the time - and still I am worthy of love.

I often wish I had more thoughtful, spiritually astute, God-loving, Bible-believing, interesting, kind, gentle, well-read, well-traveled, well-groomed, perfect friends - when I know full well that I am often none of those things - and still I am worthy of love.

I have conversations/arguments in my head with people (for example - with politicians, newscasters, television personalities, pastors, neighbors, friends, and family members - even total strangers that pass me too closely on the highway or treat me disrespectfully at the supermarket) with whom I have disagreements. Most of the time, I win those arguments, of course. Sometimes, however, I lose those internal arguments, and end up punching that person in the mouth - in my head, of course. Every single time I have one of those internal conversations, however, I end up being angry at and bitter towards those people for conversations we never even had - and still I am worthy of love.

I sometimes force myself to include a Bible verse or "Christian" theme to certain blog posts and my facebook status because I think I should mention God every time I write or speak. Then at other times when I really want to include a verse or quote, I don't because I don't want to come across as some kind of religious fanatic - and still I am worthy of love.

Even though I do love God and cling tightly to my faith in nearly every situation and circumstance, I am deeply flawed on every level of my thoughts and words and living. I am eager to wander from the straight and narrow path much of the time, and sometimes I make elaborate plans about how I am going to abandon nearly everything I believe to be right and true for the sake of my selfishness. On occasion, I actually follow through on those plans - and still I am worthy of love.

I lie and judge and criticize and demand and hold grudges and gossip and compare and withdraw and flirt and avoid and deny and cheat and plagiarize and coopt and manipulate and ignore and walk away and doubt and question and minimize and plead ignorance  - and still I am worthy of love.

Care to add any confessions of your own?