Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grateful for odd things too...

Today I am grateful for odd things...

- like being one block away from dropping my son off at tennis practice today only to have him receive a text from his coach telling him to go home. No practice today. He'd explain later. What??? Thank you for letting us know fifteen minutes after we left home.

- like receiving a letter from DirecTv granting us three free months of some game channel. Now we get to play Uno and Boggle with our television remote control for three whole months! What? Thank you, I guess.

- like figuring out that my dog was playing with a cricket she had somehow captured, batting it around with her paws on the staircase. What? Thank you for gracing our presence with this poor and terrified little critter... I think.

- like discovering this stuff, whatever it is, at the supermarket. I didn't buy any of it. But it was odd enough to capture in a photo. I cannot imagine what it is, but somebody must eat it or they wouldn't be selling it especially for such steep prices. What? Thank you on behalf of all those who are more adventurous eaters than we are.

- like smiling garage door openers. What? Thank you for making my entrance and exit more festive somehow.

- like the very wet, very large, very inquisitive nose of a donkey pushed through the slats of a fence at the petting zoo we like to visit on Hilton Head Island. Well, hello there, Donkey. Thank you for your wet welcome.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stonehenge on the table

This past June, Kristiana and I traveled up to Williamstown, Massachusetts, for my niece's graduation from my alma mater, Williams College. (Go, Ephs!)

On the day before the graduation, we sat down with a couple that I met when I was a freshman back in the fall of 1983. (I'll give you a second to do the math... tic-toc-tic... Never mind, here it is: I will turn 46 in 15 days (there is still time to shop and ship, folks!), and we go back for our 25th year reunion this coming June..)

Anyway, there on the table on their back deck, my friend had constructed a miniature version of Stonehenge - at least that's what I called it. On a glass table. Stones suspended, delicately balanced. All I kept thinking was: "Don't bump the table, Gail. Don't bump the table." Dale assured me that the stones had been there for a very long time and also that the glass could handle the fall. 

Oh me, of little faith.

It was great to see Dale and Cindy again. To talk. Tell stories. Well up with tears. Double over with giggles. They are good friends. We share a rich, colorful, and rocky history. I am grateful that we are still friends.

 Dale was right in a way he didn't know as he spoke: that a delicate balance has been maintained around and above the table of our friendship for a long time. And the glass, the ground beneath us, can handle the fall. It already has.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Beginning the ascent into Advent

As the Advent season gets underway, I am being drawn down and back into silence. Into prayer. Into pondering the wonder, the miracle, the messiness, the improbability of a teenager in Palestine being pregnant with God. I understand her question to the Angel of the Annunciation because I would have asked the same one: "How can this be?" Indeed.

I know what it is to be pregnant. I had an simple explanation of how I ended up that way. When I think of Mary's ridiculously incomprehensible explanation of her pregnancy, when I think of the birth of the Christ Child, his life, death, burial and resurrection - my faith must expand exponentially to hold it all within this mind and soul of mine.

Faith, among other things, is the suspension of disbelief, of cynicism, of doubt. This time of year, these weeks leading to the celebration of the birth of Christ, is the time of year when my faith both wavers and stabilizes... Who do I think I'm kidding? That's how my faith feels every single day. 

But when doubt rises, when questions come, when my skepticism bursts into full and fragrant bloom, as happens every few weeks, days, hours - I am most grateful that the faith I profess doesn't apply only when life is easy, explicable and enlightening. It is a faith in God that has sustained me during times of suffering, waiting, emptiness, and hopelessness. It is during the darkest times, during the darkest and shortest days at the end of the year, during the longest and most uncomfortable days just before the birth of a baby, that I am most grateful to enter this season of waiting for the arrival of The Light, of waiting here for Love again to be born. 

I am grateful for the predictable three trimesters of pregnancy, the four seasons of the calendar year, and  also for the liturgical calendar that turns and turns and turns - and returns me to this quiet season of anticipation, of preparation, and of reconnection with the things - and The One True Thing - and the people - and The One - that matter most to me.

Joan Chittister expressed it beautifully in the introduction to her book, The Liturgical Year:

"It is the nature of liturgical spirituality - 
the attempt to live the life of Jesus 
over and over again all the years of our lives - 
that is the essence of this book. 
It is about the spirituality of joy and suffering,
of waiting and faith,
of asceticism and celebration,
of loss and hope
that marks all our lives 
and that needs to be 
strengthened, deepened, revisited, 
and rediscovered in the life of Jesus 
and the life of the church
every year of our lives." (page xvi)

Sunday, November 27, 2011


A dear, dear friend gave me a book a year or so ago entitled Simply Wait - Cultivating Stillness in the Season of Advent. Being that today is the first Sunday of Advent, I pulled it out and began my Advent journey with this slim volume serving as my guidebook. I can already tell that it's going to be exactly what I need this year. Exactly what I need.

 Here is the prayer of invocation for this week's readings:

Holy Anticipation,
that breathtaking space in-between
what has been, what is, what is-to-come.
Where winter dreams reveal secret longings
and winged angels announce the coming of Love.
You draw us to the edge of Advent possibility
like the song of angels drawing shepherds - 
eyes wide and breath held - 
waiting, watching. 
Come, settle into our living for awhile
and do not let us settle for too little. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I know this feeling...

"Think about what it is like to feel love in your heart. Think about what it is like to feel inspiration and enthusiasm pour from your heart. Think about what it is like to feel energy well up in your heart making you confident and strong."    (The Untethered Soul, page 50)

Yesterday, Kristiana and I went out for a 2 hour and ten minute walk - 65 minutes each way to a supermarket I love. They sell bulk spices in small packets, and I wanted some ground cloves. So we set out on an adventure. Ipods in high gear - can you see the wires hanging from our ears? I had my camera in hand. I was grateful for her endless patience with me as I stopped too often to take too many photos.

But as we walked, as I sang out loud, as I took nearly 100 photos, I had that feeling: I felt my heart swelling with joy and love, enthusiasm and inspiration oozing into every pore of my body. It was a gloriously gorgeous day - and I was thrilled that we were outside experiencing it together. It was an afternoon of honoring how glad I am to be alive. Launa said it so well: "We are so alive right now, and we will not always be."

There were no ground cloves at the market. They had sold out. I laughed. I realized that it didn't matter. The joy of that walk, the fresh air in our lungs, the music in our ears, the time with my daughter - those were what I was really looking for. I found them. I was happy... yes, I know this feeling. All too well.

Friday, November 25, 2011

37 Days until the End of the Year

That's right; only 37 days until the end of 2011. What are you going to do with these final 37 days?

The first thing I would recommend is that you go to this website. Patti Digh has been a writing and blogging crush of mine for years. I own all of her books, except the last one... at least, I don't own it yet. Every time I'm up in Asheville, I look around for that head of white hair, hoping to meet her, get an autograph, and perhaps grab lunch at The Laughing Seed. But so far, no luck.

She planted this 37-day seed in my head and heart years ago -
what would you do if you had only 37 days left to live?
Why aren't you doing those things now?

So about a week ago, it hit me: count off the last 37 days of this year, and then figure out a way to make them count. Not that I'm leaving for Spain or Italy and spending our savings account in five star hotels, drinking all the chianti I can legally purchase, and buying the best that Armani has to offer - if they even had anything in my size. Nor am I eating all the Darrell Lee red Australian licorice that Target has in stock. I haven't made a list of all the people who have ever offended me and sent them nasty notes lined with red ant larva expressing my anger. In fact, none of those things even occured to me until I started typing this paragraph.

What I am planning is to take time each day to reflect on the wonder that is my life and my story. I will spend time each day writing in the special journal I have created for these 37 days. The scrapbook supplies I've been saving for "a special occasion," the stickers that I've repeatedly postponed using, the pens and markers that I have always said I would use when ... something important happened sometime in the future. Well, that future time has arrived, and all that stuff is now bound into 2 inch looseleaf rings, ready to be filled with this year's final thoughts, photos, and quotes.

During these 37 days, I will look back at photos and videos I've taken this year, remember the places I've been, the people I've had a glass of wine with, the graduations I've attended, the visitors I've hosted, the hosts that have welcomed me as a visitor, the prayers I've raised and the answers received, the church I finally stepped away from, the one that is welcoming me in these days, the people I've met this year and the ones I've lost along the way - whether through death or attrition - and the long-term friends that have never considered walking away. These will be 37 days of prayer, music, writing, gratitude, intention and reflection.

They will also be 37 days of eating, drinking, and being colorful.
Days of Mondo Beyondo dreaming.
Days of making plans and lists of goals and hopes for 2012.
Days of reading Uncommon Gratitude,  Cutting for Stone and Simply Wait.
Days of waiting for the arrival of the Christ Child, not only in the manger of Bethlehem, but also in the messy, smelly animal stall that my soul feels like most of the time.
Days of counting down towards the New Year that will arrive soon thereafter.

We all have 37 days until the end of the year. I play to use my 37 days to pay close attention to my life, to what is and what is not in it, to what I have and what I am glad I don't have, to who I am and who I am becoming, to everyone and everything around me and within me, and to bask in the love I have received, the grace, the comfort, the forgiveness, the joy, and looking forward to another year in which to live and grow and share myself with others.

What are you going to do with these next 37 days?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Just do it... you know you want to.

They say that you shouldn't spend too much time camped out in memories, in the past, 
in days and lives gone by... whoever "they" are.

I disagree. I say go back, look back, reminisce. 
And give thanks.

Today, I am grateful for the deep connection I have made to women of faith this year, not Bible teachers or anything like that, but the women of the Bible. The adulterers. The demon-possessed. 
The bloody and the lonely. The mother of our Lord and Savior, especially her. 
They have each and all inspired me, challenged me, and accompanied me 
on this year's life journey. I am grateful for their faithful presence.

I am grateful for the simple, profound, confounding, assuring, messiness of the life of Christ. 
Life, healing, redemption, nourishment, sorrow, pain, accusation, death, 
resurrection, reconnection, hope, joy unspeakable.
I am deeply grateful.

The gift of the Eucharist. Body broken. Blood shed. Stories shared down thru the ages. Prayers recited. Peace given and received. Tears shed. Hugs offered. In prayer. In silence. 
In the company of so many. In the company of The One who Loves Me Most.

Perseverence. Patience. Persistence. The kind that grows thru the cracks in the stone pathways. 
The kind that defies the odds. That peeks up, out, and around, and simply refuses to die. 

Light, life, movement, noise, breath, the ocean, hotels, hot water, seashells, mai tais, 
laughter, rosemary olive oil bagels, and chocolate bars with almonds.  

Flowers, trees, grass, leaves fallen, raked, and bagged, dogs that escape their electric fences to play with the neighbor's dogs, vets that sew up wounded dogs (sorry, Wrangler... I hope you feel better soon), and the unconditional love that my sweet little doggie, Maya, shows, 
especially when she can sense that I'm sad or upset.

Even when things don't end well, when the only option is opting out...

Even when you are trying to find your way home, wherever "home" may end up being...

No matter what, no matter where, No matter how dire the circumstances have appeared to be, 
I have found that there is always a reason, a motive to smile and to give thanks. 
So why don't you just do it? You know you want to. 
Look back at old photographs. Recall trips taken this year. Weddings attended. Parties given. 
Babies born. New homes purchased. Jobs provided. Healing granted.
Look at the tough stuff too. Marriages dissolving. Relationships eroding. 
Promises broken. Hearts shattered. 

In every situation, thru every situation, in spite of every situation.
I hope and pray that we will all be able to find reason to be grateful. 

Happy thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On the occasion of a 29° morning...

I was not looking forward to going outside this morning. I wanted to stay inside and pretend it was warm out there. But since I knew I couldn't do that, I scrolled through the photos of our recent trip to the beach and relived a few beachy moments before donning warm attire and heading out into the wild and frigid yonder...

Anytime I see a small body of water, I look for turtles. I usually find them and stare and smile and wish I knew what they were thinking. And planning. And carrying in their backpacks.

Speedo guy made us gawk and giggle. He didn't seem to notice us at all.

That was one fashionable dog, perhaps the best-dressed beachgoer that entire day.

An ominously cloudy sky did not deter my clan from heading for the water.

The wind only served to encourage my son's superhero fantasies. 

A goat after my own heart: up on the roof, looking for a way to escape the pen.

Sunrise on our last morning there.
Perhaps tomorrow morning will be warmer. 
I doubt the sky will be as beautiful though.
I look forward to finding out.
I wish I could do so at the beach again...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Big Gratitude

Gratitude has been on my mind a lot lately. Gratitude is always on my mind, but more than usual of late - mostly because I'm coming to the end of a three-part series I've been teaching at a local church on gratitude.

Gratitude to _____________.
Gratitude for_____________.
Gratitude in spite of ______________.

We can all fill in those blanks in a variety of ways. Together as a class, we've been exploring new ways to see and appreciate all that we have and all that we are because of the many blessings we have received and in spite of many of the challenges that we face. Gratitude is always an option. Always.

As I was preparing for our last session together, which will take place this coming Wednesday night, I was reminded of another part of gratitude, another kind of gratitude that I want to discuss with the class: big gratitude.

It is good and right to give thanks for our daily bread.
For the roof that remains over our heads every night and every day.
For friends. For family. For employment.

But there is a broader circle of gratitude, a wider web that I found myself entangled in last summer while sitting at one of my son's many tennis tournaments. The one I'm referring to was here in Charlotte at a beautiful golf, swimming, and racquet club called the Charlotte Country Club. It is truly a hidden gem, one that I am grateful to have discovered; it is a welcome side effect of our extensive tennis tour schedule.

So there I was, sitting outside of the courts in the parking lot in a folding chair I had brought from home. I had found a sliver of shade, graciously provided by a nearby tree and a strategically placed light post. I had my journal in my lap, a pen in my hand, a water bottle at my feet, and my son was playing a great match of tennis.

As I sat there on that early summer morning, I looked around and was struck by the beauty of the location, the sound of the birds singing, the tennis balls being struck by new string, and the scores being spoken aloud by the young players. I looked around, slowly registering the presence of fences around the courts, players' chairs, score cards, garbage baskets, and bleachers where spectators sat.

Gradually and thoroughly, I submerged myself in a deep sea of gratitude. I was grateful for the people who had sat at sewing and weaving machines making tennis nets, tennis shorts, socks, tee shirts, tennis dresses, and the fabric of the chair in which I sat. I was grateful for the electricians who mounted the light posts and connected them to electricity. I was grateful for the people who manufactured and installed the tennis net poles, the folks who made and installed the fences all around the facility, the people who poured curbs, the driveways, and constructed the clubhouse buildings. The makers of Gatorade, coolers, towels, tennis bags, sneakers, shock absorbers, grip tape - they all flashed through my thoughts that morning. I was grateful for the engineers and designers and factory workers who worked together to create the minivan that carries me, my son, and all his gear to so many tournaments all year long.

The tournament directors, the facility managers, the cleaning crews, the maintenance workers, the officials, the parents, the players, the people who paved the parking lots, the ones who painted the lines on the tennis courts, the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who had worked so hard to make that moment possible for me - I was overwhelmed with gratitude. 

Big gratitude. 

As I watched my son run, reach, swing, serve, volley, lob, and do all the other things on the court that boggle my mind - and not my son alone; I am amazed every time I watch the young men and women who compete in these tournaments. Their skill confounds me - as I marveled at his very existence, this growing boy who for some inexplicable chose me as the antechamber through which he would make his entrance into the world, that morning, my heart swelled and my eyes filled with gratitude, soul-deep gratitude, big gratitude.

Grateful to God and to all the people who made that morning possible.

Grateful for life, health, strength, family, friends, access to money, to a car, the heart, mind and spirit that allowed me to have that profound experience of gratitude, and everything else under the sun. Absolutely everything.

Grateful in spite of my fear of losing it all, in spite of my feelings of unworthiness, in spite of the difficulties that come up, in spite of how nutty people think I am for thinking about my life and the world this way.

Big gratitude.

Francesca Johnson,  the heroine in the movie, "The Bridges of Madison County,"
said it perfectly: "There is so much beauty. Go well, my children."

The photos in this blog were taken in Macon, Georgia, this past June, and not in Charlotte a year ago when the incident I describe here took place. On the morning in question, I was too busy writing down all the things I was grateful for to pull out my camera and take pictures.

Friday, November 11, 2011


How could I not post something on this most interesting of dates?

* Eleven randomly selected truths about me in no particular order:

7. I wear a size 11 shoe.

2. I was 11 years old when I started to really notice that faith in God made a difference in my life.

8. Eleven years later, at the age of 22, I had recently graduated from Williams College, and the faith thing was still really important to me - even though pastors, professors, and friends had predicted that college would be the burial ground of my faith.

3. Eleven years after that, I was 33 years old, the mother of two very young children, taking graduate courses at Wesleyan University, and wondering what I was going to do with the degree I was working on - a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with an emphasis on African-American Women's Literature.

6. Eleven years later, at 44, I was living here in the South, doing nothing with that degree other than looking at it on my bookshelf, but I was glad to have met Oprah in person at my graduation from Wesleyan. I have a framed picture of the two of us, arms around each other.

4. I'm pretty sure she doesn't remember me.

11. I really could be her other friend, Gail. Perhaps I should let the first Gayle know that I would never be a threat to their relationship, just an addition.

1. I haven't yet hit the "eleven years after that" mark, but I'm sure these years will fly by faster than I am ready to admit.

9. To have a handful of friends who know me, know a lot about me, know how messed up, selfish, afraid, impatient, tolerant, intimidated, indecisive, and passive I can be sometimes, and still love me - that is one of life's greatest gifts. Those friends are worth more to me than pure gold.

5. To have faith in a God who knows me better than I know myself, who hears my every cry for help and mercy, who sees and catches my every tear, who knows the deepest yearnings of my soul, things I have never shared with a living soul and doesn't flinch, and to know beyond everything else I know that it is my faith in God that has sustained me through every trial, every challenge, every heartache, every blessing, every victory, and every joy - that is certainly the greatest gift in my life.

10. I was not born with eleven fingers or eleven toes, but I knew I woman who had eleven fingers. She worked at the elementary school I attended back in Brooklyn, New York. Once, when I asked if I could, she let me touch it. It felt weird, almost like there weren't any bones in it.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Thinking Small, Living Small

This is a picture of the corner counter in my kitchen - but you probably already figured that out. Notice all the stuff we store there. Not a whole lot of room for chopping or preparing a meal. Back when we lived in Connecticut, this corner between the stove and the sink was the only counter space I had - except for about 10 inches between the other side of the stove and the refrigerator. I didn't have a choice about where I would do my meal preparation: I had to use that corner. I had to keep that corner clear and use the space efficiently. I learned to do that well. Every day meals and holiday meals were produced in that tiny corner between the sink and the stove.

In this new home - well, not so new anymore... as of yesterday, we have lived in this house for nine years - NINE YEARS - I've got counter space on the other side of the sink. Room for more stuff and more food preparation.

And when I step even further away from that counter in the corner, I bump into a lovely island that allows for still more room to work, space for my kids to sit and eat, and for me to sit and write. I'm sitting on the stool on the left as I type this post. It is now possible for all four of us to be in the kitchen, doing some kind of meal preparation at the same time. Not that it happens often, but it's possible. We can pour coffee, hot water for tea, fill cereal bowls, and flip pancakes all at the same time.

When we moved into this house nine years ago, guess where I spent the majority of my time doing meal preparation? At that tiny counter in the corner. I would pile up the veggies for a salad in that one corner. Then I'd prepare any meat I was going to cook in that one corner. Then I'd lay out serving dishes and utensils in that one corner.

Slowly it dawned on me that I was living mighty small in that corner of my kitchen. I had to remind myself every day that I could prepare meals on any of the counters in the kitchen. This new place offers an expanded space for me to do what I need to do in order to nourish my family and myself. Some days, I find myself huddled back in that corner with spoons and knives and colanders and cans and bags and cutting boards - all jumbled together. And then I remember: I don't have to think and live so small.

Do I even have to tell you how often the cycle of

* forgetting how much room I have to stretch and live and be productive,
* complaining about how small my world is and how cramped I feel,
* marveling, laughing, and groaning when I find myself back at "the counter in the corner"
* and rediscovering the wide, wild, inviting, and precious expanse of my real world and my real life

repeats itself in the rest of my life?