Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Another wild goose chase...

The other day, the kids and I came upon a family of geese wandering across one field of grass,

across a wide driveway, (have no fear, the fourth gosling is to the side of the one in front)

and onto the grass on the other side of the driveway. The little ones stayed close to Mom and Dad, not wandering away, not trying to make a new path for themselves. The parents vigilantly watched not only their babies, but also they kept a wary eye on us in our minivan and another car that approached from the other direction.

Not long thereafter, my son tried on these very ugly, although reportedly very comfortable shoes.

My long-legged son said that it felt like he had webbed feet... and as I watch him grow up (he is now taller than I am), as I watch him run from one side of the tennis court to another, as he chases some friends and is chased by others, as I wonder what the future holds for him while wandering all over several southern states with him, I recognize that I too am a wild goose, on a wild goose chase, crossing many roads and driveways with my no-longer-little ones in tow.

I am not entirely sure why we, this fluffy, fleecy family, cross so many roads, protecting one another, looking out for one another, watching each other grow and expand in all the myriad ways and directions that we are growing. I have watched over my younglings closely (some have argued a little too closely!), keeping an eye out for real and perceived enemies on all sides, and done a lot within my power and a whole lot outside of my power - emboldened by faith and prayer - to protect my precious and wild-hearted offspring. I confess that I haven't always been successful at that. There have been accidents, sprains and pulls. There have been visits to the emergency room, hospital stays, and medication regimens. There have been crying jags and silent rages.

What a wild ride it has been. What a fast ride it has been. But thus far, we have made it. Intact.  And more than that, we have thrived. We have accomplished much. Borrowing the words of one of my favorite empowerment songs in history: We have overcome.

My daughter will finish high school this week. She has spent her entire educational career here at home. When we started out umpteen years ago, my goal was to teach her to read and write and then send her off to school. But as the months and years rolled past, I felt less and less confident that anyone else could teach her, guide her, love her, and train her up in the way she needed to go. As I watched her develop physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I realized that I didn't want anyone else to be there for her first step, her first full sentence, her first failed test, her first period, her first triumph as a basketball player or softball player - or her first heartbreak. I didn't want to miss one minute of it.

I wanted to be with her, by her side, holding her hand, and wiping her forehead when she was sick. I wanted to cry with her and laugh with her. I wanted her to be able to sleep late if she needed to. I wanted her to be able to learn to be stronger and more confident, recover from illness, rejoice in her successes, and belabor her defeats right here at home. So we did exactly that. We pressed on. We pushed ahead. We lagged behind. We let things slide. We watched her blossom. We held our breath. We cried out for mercy. We begged for healing. We gave thanks for each hour, each day, each week, each month of progress.

And all along the way, every day, I kept going back to the same statement,
the same plea, the same prayer:
All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well.

And now, here she is. At the cusp of a new phase of her life. One with teachers other than her mother, students other than her brother, rides on the public bus, lunch in the college cafeteria, and surprises of many types on all sides. Including, apparently, the occasional alligator.

I look forward to watching her look ahead, ride off, making her own life, her own family, 
and embarking on her own wild goose chases.

This journey of motherhood has been and continues to be one long wild goose chase. And this Mother Goose is sitting pretty at the moment, plumping my feathers, and looking forward to the next time we need to cross the road to the other side. Together. Looking out for one another. Hoping against hope, praying, pleading for mercy and safety until we reach other other side. Wherever or whenever that is.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It made me laugh. It made me cringe.


And it makes me think. Feel sad. And completely understand why so many people who say they follow Christ and long to live out the answer to "what would Jesus do?" are considered hypocrites and liars and just as fanatical and dangerous as those they are so quick to condemn.

(Thanks for the link, Jacob.)

Here's another video I watched today. It too made me laugh and cringe and wonder what on earth folks can possible be thinking when they predict the date of the Rapture... whatever "the rapture" is.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

"Between the launch and the landing"

At the funeral yesterday, the pastor recounted the Biblical account of Jesus and His disciples crossing the lake on a dark and stormy night. As the disciples battled the raging sea, Jesus slept soundly.

Then, the Pastor said, "Somebody had sense enough to call on the One who is the Master of the Seas. Somebody had sense enough to call on the One who is the Master of the Skies. Then Jesus woke up, spoke to the wind and the waves, and the Bible says 'there was a great calm.'"

I took this photo in the car on the way home from the funeral yesterday.

He went on to say that between the launch of the boat and the landing on the other side of life, there are furious storms. Between the launch and the landing, life seems uncertain. Between the launch and the landing, fear takes over. But between the launch and the landing, the Master of the Seas proves Himself strong and mighty, present and aware, and most importantly, between the launch and the landing, He is with us. He never leaves us alone in the boat. (I absolutely LOVE the way that black Baptist preachers, in their robes and collars, choose a phrase and work it into their sermons over and over. Chanting. Stomping. Shouting. Driving the point all the way home. In the spirit of full disclosure, however, I must also confess that I often wish I had earplugs to reduce the impact of the volume of the shouting on my innocent eardrums.)

A stormy takeoff from Barcelona this past February.

Between the launch and the landing of my life, there have been storms. Some far more fierce than others.

The storm of growing up with three older brothers - all of whom were comfortable with the practice of torturing their younger sister. Two of their favorites stand out in my mind: 1- two brothers would hold me down while the third one tickled me, usually  until I had to pee. My only defense was to train myself to stop laughing. To this day, I am not ticklish.  2 - two brothers would hold me down while the third poured water into my mouth, laughing and telling me that I had better swallow the water fast or I'd drown. I still don't like drinking water while lying on my back... not that I have ever attempted that other than with the help of my sadistic siblings.

The storm of heading off to college - my three aforementioned brothers each attended a Christian college. (I wonder about the connection between Christian colleges and the use of corporal punishment and torture. Apparently there are statistics that indicate that the more frequently one attends church, the more likely one is to support torture. I am NOT making that up. Hmmmm...) Anyway, I informed my parents that I did not want to attend a Christian college as I had my head and heart set on attending Williams. Permission denied. After a few difficult exchanges on that topic, I declared that if I were forced to attend a Christian college, I would do so only as a freshman. I would then declare my emancipation as an 18-year-old and transfer to the college of my choosing. They relented.

The storm of getting married - I met my husband at Williams College, the bastion of secular teaching and free living... hardly. Wonderful man whose skin color is not the same as mine. Let's put it this way: Stevie Wonder's song, "Ebony and Ivory," used to make us smile at each other, intertwine our fingers, and try to figure out whose fingers were ebony and whose were ivory. Not everyone was happy about our union. Not everyone in our immediate families attended our nuptials.

The storms of illness and injury - cancer, congestive heart failure, bipolar disorder, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, alcoholism, adult attention deficit disorder, depression, burned fingers, cut fingers requiring stitches, infertility, miscarriage, cracked teeth requiring crowns, high cholesterol, dangerously low blood pressure - have blown into, through, over and around my life and the lives of those I love most all life long. And that's just the physical stuff - my friends, family members, and I have also dealt with job loss, having to move from one state to another, bankruptcy, divorce, foreclosure, pornography addiction, loneliness, betrayal, infidelity, flooding, fire, theft, and abandonment. Mine, like yours and everyone else's, has been a stormy life.

This was a moment in time when the lake was very calm.
Not just the lake in the photo, but also the one in my heart.

Certainly, there have been days of smooth sailing. Sometimes days, weeks, even months on end. At those times, I celebrate the fact that I am someplace between the launch and the landing, precariously balanced between one storm and another, watching, waiting, alert, attentive, hopeful, peaceful.

But then storm clouds rise again, open, pour down rain and hail, sleet and snow, making it nearly impossible for me to remain afloat and continue believing that I will, indeed, make it to the other side. At those moments, like the twelve desperate disciples, I turn to The One I thought was in charge of it all and ask: How can you be asleep at a time like this? Don't you care that I'm drowning here? Does it matter to you that the one you love is sick? What about the promise to supply all our needs according to your riches in glory - are you not gonna keep that promise? Didn't you also promise that you would do whatever two or three agree on and asked for? We've been asking for healing for her from MS and her from bipolar disorder for years. We've be praying for a job for her for two years now. We've been begging for mercy from storms and earthquakes and tsunamis; why are they still coming? We thought you were the one, but this faith thing, this life thing isn't working out like we expected. Not even close. Are you in charge or not?

When I'm done with my pleading and crying out for help, I remember once again that I've gotta wait until my boat ride is completely over to see when and how the storms are resolved. One thing I know about boat rides is that they aren't over until the boat docks safely on the other side.

 Peaceful waters in Hilton Head two weeks ago.

After describing fear-inducing storms yet to come and then promising them that they would always be Accompanied by Someone who would comfort, teach, guide, and strengthen His followers on their own life journeys, on our life journeys, on my life journey, Jesus told His terrified disciples (including me) this: "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Life is too short...

I attended the funeral of my father's last surviving brother today. He was a remarkable man: he was one of the original African-American pilots trained at the Tuskegee Institute and went on to train the famous All-Black 99th Pursuit Squad - which made history in aerial combat in the European Theater during World War II. Those pilots are well known as the "The Tuskegee Airmen," and he taught them everything they knew! After the war, he ran a business, taught in the Columbia South Carolina's public schools, working his way up to being an Assistant Principal, was heavily involved in church and community service, and was one of the gentlest, kindest, funniest people I have ever known. He lived 94 years.

The preacher at the funeral said that even those 94 years were too few.
Too few to carry grudges and bitterness.
Too few to be selfish and angry.

He reminded us that ife is too short to hold out and hold back:
give freely, laugh loudly, love deeply.
Too short to miss weddings or funerals.
Celebrate love, celebrate life.

Too short to spend so much time in pursuit of stuff and status.
Too short to constantly deny oneself every pleasure.

Too short to hang on to what has stopped working.
Too short not to try one more time.

Too short to keep it all in: tell him that you love him.
Tell her too.

Too short to save the good linens, highly polished silverware, and crystal goblets
for holidays and special occasions.
Too short to go out and buy that stuff; take a memorable trip instead.

Too short to hide the good jewelry in the bottom of the lingerie drawer.
Wear it every day. Be dazzling every single day.

Too short to lose faith; keep hope and trust alive.
Too short hold on to old ways of thinking; open your mind and heart to new questions and responses.

Too short to stay angry at the kids or the ex-wife or the current husband.
This is not a dress rehearsal. This is it. This is the only life I have.

Uncle Earnest lived his life fully to the end. In his dementia, he could still recite poetry, play the piano, and sing the old hymns of the church. He still smiled and hugged his grandchildren and told great stories. He will be greatly missed.

As I stood near his casket and looked at the headstone that will soon adorn the plot where it will be laid to rest, the preacher's sentiments echoed once again in my mind: life is too short not to live my eulogy every day. Reaching out to those I love. Smiling and laughing. Taking photos and writing blogs. Filling the pages of my journal with stories and collages and great memories. Serving others. Feeding the hungry, befriending the lonely, corresponding with the son of a dear friend who is in prison. Teaching and speaking and walking alongside fellow life travelers, listening to their stories and learning the lessons and living the experiences of a life well-lived. Daily giving thanks to God for all the people, all the days, all the hours, all the moments that make up this very short life of mine.

PS. Life is also too short to worry about being embarrassed 
by taking notes on the sermon at the funeral 
or taking photos at the burial
of one of my favorite uncles.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Just the thought of it makes me sick to my stomach...

Coming home from the Y tonite (Zumba is awesome!!!), as I thought about taking a shower, I cringed. Not because I don't want to be clean. Not because I don't want to slather on my homemade moisturizer and Tom's of Maine deodorant. But because the ants are back. Every spring and every fall, my bathtub comes under attack. And this is the second wave this spring. Thanks to the remarkable effectiveness of Terro baits, I know the ants will be gone within 48 hours. I know that. And I knew that as I drove home from the Y. But as I came up the stairs and approached my bedroom, I was thinking, "Just the thought of seeing those ants makes me sick to my stomach."

Earlier today, Daniel was making his famous homemade chips. (He uses whole wheat tortilla wraps, olive oil, and salt. He drizzles the wraps with olive oil, cuts them into triangles with a pizza cutter, sprinkles salt on them and bakes them for 7 minutes in the oven. Then he dips them in salsa or hummus. And two clementines and a glass of chocolate almond milk and Voila! Lunch!!! Crunchy, salty, duper deliciousness.) When he pulled them out of the oven with the oven mitt, he discovered that there a hole in the mitt. Hot right thumb. In a moment of panic, he grabbed the pan with his left hand, his ungloved left hand. OUCH!!! Aloe vera gel. Baking soda paste. Cool water. Ibuprofen. Prayer. Hugs. Tears. And a blister, a small hard blister. Just the thought of the pain he felt makes me sick to my stomach.

Ten days ago, one hundred sixty tornados blew thru the southernmost part of this nation. Homes flattened. Lives lost. When I think about all those folks whose homes are gone, whose places of worship are no more, whose livelihoods have also been lost, the thought of the despair they must feel makes me sick to my stomach.

And don't get me started on those who still suffer the consequences of that devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Or the ongoing wars in the Middle East, Africa, and the drug-related conflicts in Mexico and other parts of Central and South America.

Or the joblessness, the bankruptcies, the foreclosures,
the troubled marriages, the longing for companionship,
the troubled children, the longing for children,
the emptiness and loneliness and fear that plague so many of us so much of the time.

At this rate, I will feel queasy for many days and weeks to come.

Then I think: peace is possible. joy is possible. gratitude is possible.
And all of that is true. All those things are possible. They are available.
But they don't always happen. They certainly don't always come easily.

I think: it's only ants. Terro baits work. This will all be over soon. There are folks in Alabama who would love to have a house with ant problems, so grow up. Deal with it.

I think: it's a minor burn. He'll be fine. The tears will dry. My heartrate will get back to normal. There are folks who would trade their son's cancer for my son's burn anyday.
And all of that is true too. The burn will heal.

I tell myself: Have faith, Gail. You talk about your faith and prayer and trust all the time.
Remember what God said: Be strong and of good courage. Fear not. I am with you always.
I tell myself: Now is the time to live all this faith stuff out.

Nevertheless, suffering is real.
Drought devastates. Floodwaters rise. Fires consume.
Parents pass away. Children lose their way. Loved ones walk away.
Divorce happens. Depression happens. Desperation happens.
Loss in life happens. Loss of life happens.
Life hurts. A lot.

Just the thought of it makes me sick to my stomach.

PS. Earlier today, a friend of mine posted something on her facebook page that comes to mind now. She wondered what it would be like to never say "should" again. It's funny how "The Mean Pastor" gremlin voice in me keeps saying, "You should put a happy ending on this, Gail. You should be upbeat and cheerful. No one needs to read something so sad. God is good all the time. All the time, God is good." Perhaps He is, but that's a tough sell with someone whose very soul is breaking and aching, someone whose wife has been confined to a wheelchair with MS for over 15 years while their children learn to take care of her rather than the other way around, someone whose engaged daughter is fighting the side effects of chemotherapy just six weeks before her wedding, someone who is the sole breadwinner in her household and has been out of work for two years, someone whose marriage has been lonely and empty for a decade, someone who has been abandoned by her husband and the father of her three daughters, someone whose mother died recently and is acutely feeling her absense, someone else whose mother is slowly disappearing behind the partition of dementia. The truth is that sometimes life truly sucks. Tonight, my heart is feeling that suckishness to the max. Tonight, it's making me sick to my stomach. Period.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Wanna see my mother's day gifts?

Here they are: priceless!!!!!

they heal my heart and they break my heart
they make me laugh and they make me cry
they keep me awake at night and are part of my sweetest dreams
these kids, these two amazing kids

Friday, May 06, 2011

A prayer of thanksgiving...

Thank you, Lord, for the sheep and goats, the llamas and donkeys

the turtles, alligators, deer and squirrels,

for the chickens and the children, for curiosity and awe.

Thank you for the bravery and example 
of the one that tried to get away.

Thank you also for the example set by
the ones that are comfortable in their gilded cages.

Thank you for endless bicycle trails and 
my endlessly patient teenagers who said "Yes"
every time I asked to go on a bike ride.

Thank you for enough balance to be able to take a self-portrait while riding my beloved bike.

Thanks most of all for letting the last street 
at the end of a long road
on my very last bike ride
be the street on Hilton Head Island that was named just for me?
(Notice the yellow sign that says: ROAD ENDS.)

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

My life at sea...

Let me correct that - my life at the seashore.
Sunshine. Biking. Smiling. More biking. Eating way too much. Biking to burn off those calories.
Have I already mentioned that I have become OBSESSED with bike riding? What will I do when I return to the busy traffic and absence of bike paths in my home city?

Stopping in the middle of a bike ride to get on the swings.

An evening ride to the beach.

Me and my new best friend.

Daniel, checking his texts before we ride.

My crew leaves me in the dust... in the sand, really.

A sandy city at sunset.

Life at the seashore makes me smile.

PS. these photos were taken with my blackberry camera. not bad.

Monday, May 02, 2011

The halfway mark...

The first thing I did when we arrived at our vacation house was take over the dining room table 
with my books, my journal, my computer, and my art stuff. I feel like I'm right at home...

Then I wrestled an alligator in order to keep it from devouring my daughter. Notice that my hands aren't actually touching it. Nor am I actually smiling; that is a grimace from having wrapped my arms around it and nearly getting stuck to the hot metal. 
(Homeschoolers learn all the time: I learned that iron left out in the sun gets hot
and I shouldn't touch it.)

My daughter loves the sea. She sat there for a long time, quiet, still, at peace. 
She gets it: be still and know.

If someone had told me six months ago that I would 
fall madly in love with riding a bike,
I would have laughed heartily at the absurdity of such a thought.
Nowadays, I wake up wondering how soon I can get out for a ride. 
I took this photo while out on a two-wheeling adventure yesterday.

That basket-laden wonder is my new best friend -
sitting on the driveway here in Hilton Head after an especially long ride. 
Who in their right mind would not want to jump on that bike and head out for a spin?

Four days down.
Four more days to go.
I am happy.