Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thankful Thursday

Thank God it's Thursday! There is much for which to give thanks today... and everyday.

* this morning, I rediscovered the tiny one tazza Bialetti I bought in Florence, Italy back in 2001. It made the perfect swallow of coffee. It tasted like the country in which it was born.

* the Frozen Planet series on Discovery Channel

* Alec Baldwin's voice as narrator

* fresh mango, pineapple, sugar snap peas, and shredded cabbage, but not all at once

* planting peppermint and basil with my daughter yesterday

* a trustworthy auto mechanic, especially since I own a minivan with more than 150,000 miles on it

* journaling, pouring my thoughts, prayers, rants, complaints, joys, dreams, and a few sketches onto paper

* making eye contact with my son while he is in the barber's chair. Barber shop humor spoken with a heavy Southern accent cracks us up!

* learning grammar and punctuation with my son. I thought I knew most of this stuff. Turns out I don't know much at all. (Which verb is correct in this sentence? He is one of the men who does/do the work. The correct answer, based on proper verb and subject agreement is "do." Read that aloud. Doesn't it sound weird? We've decided that there are some rules that may be correct, but we are going to keep doing it the wrong way for fear of sounding either stupid or overly educated in grammar. That's right; we've decided to dumb ourselves down. Actually, we decided that we will simply avoid this kind of verb-subject situation completely.)

* walking Maya this morning and getting caught in the rain. I enjoyed getting wet with her. I'm convinced that she was confused about my wetness because I usually carry an umbrella in the rain, but I wasn't prepared this morning. She spent a lot of time on our morning walk staring at me.

* roasting peanuts here at home. I can't wait to eat some when they cool down a bit.

* learning to love the great outdoors by clipping the bushes and filling nearly 15 bags with leaf debris. Hard work with beautiful results.

* the leaf debris people who come pick up our bags and piles of branches every Tuesday

* cardio funk class in the dark while wearing glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces. Fun was had by all.

* reconnecting with people there whom I haven't seen in a long time (I'm not sure if it should be who or whom. This new book with all of its rules and regulations is gonna mess me up, I suspect.)

* being remember and being missed

* being asked by my watercolor teacher if he could create a portrait of me

* saying yes

* having him give me the portrait as a gift

* recognizing that I am not a watercolorist by nature. I have concluded that writing and taking photographs suit me fine.

* emails and texts that include photos

* sending a letter and some photos to the Spanish teacher in Haiti with the 2nd team that went to Bayonnais. Receiving letters back from him and from one of the students.

* going on a tennis road trip with my son tomorrow. Watch out, South Carolina, here we come! I expect there will be many hours between matches spent either in the minivan or sitting on bleachers someplace with books, journal, magazines, scissors, glue, and markers spread out all around me.

* every day, even though each one is infused with challenges, spills, falls, disappointments, and do-overs, every single day is a gift. I am increasingly grateful.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

So many stories, so little time

A few days before Easter, I joined a group of people for a "Lenten Morning of Silence." We spent the better part of three hours in silence, in prayer, leaning into the presence of God, before plunging into the darkness of Easter weekend. During break times that morning, I looked around at the gathered group and wondered, "What are their stories? Why did they come here this morning? Where will they go when they leave here? Whose names and faces float into their minds as they pray? What words have they chosen to focus on during prayer?"

Two weeks ago, I attended a going away party for my dear friend, Katie Crowe. It was held in an absolutely magnificent apartment in the downtown area of Charlotte. I have never seen such beauty in one apartment. They have an original Matisse, for goodness sake. Wow! The photo above is of their patio - yes, this is the patio outside of their apartment!!! As I walked around, camera in hand (yes, I took photos of the Matisse and many other works of art on display), I wondered, "What is their story? How did this couple meet? What drew them both into art collection? How did they end up in this apartment in this city?" I heard Vicki, the wife, say, "We both collected art before we met, and we have continued since we got together." How did that happen? How soon can I housesit so I can stare unabashedly at the paintings and sculptures they have carefully amassed?

This photo was taken at approximately 5 am on the morning of Thursday, April 12th. This is the 2nd team of adventurous souls from First Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, heading for Bayonnais, Haiti. I was asked to go to the airport that morning to see them off. I was glad to be there, to support them, to hug them, to wave at them once they passed through security, and then spend the next four days praying for their safety and their enjoyment of the journey. Who are these people? Why Haiti? Why now? What did they hope to see, to experience, to learn? Who did they leave behind and what concerns were they carrying with them?

How do we do it, those of us who are parents of tennis players, soccer players, singers, dancers, basketball players, and lacrosse players - just to name a few of our children's occupations? We take our offspring from place to place. We burn countless gallons of gasoline and spend too much on food and hotels and equipment and therapy. Why do we do this? What are our hopes for our children? How many of those hopes are unrealistic? How many of those hopes are not shared by our children? How much do we think about those who are childless or those whose children struggle with the simplest of tasks while we are bragging about our "successful" children? How do we even define success? And what on earth, literally and figuratively, what on earth does it cost us, our children, our families, and our planet, to support the choices we have made for and with our children?

While sitting in Luna's Living Kitchen, waiting for my meal of raw food delicacies, watching the men and women behind the counter juicing some things, chopping other things, putting food on plates, bringing it all out to us, their customers, my mind wanders. I wonder - who are all these people? Who figured out that you can make a ridiculously tasty lasagna but serve it raw, vegan, and cold? What is that woman in the white sweater thinking, the one in the middle of the photo? Who chose the colors that adorn the walls of that brightly lit and inviting place and why? How did all of the people in that room end up in that room at that moment?

Sometimes I am completely blown away by the choreography of our life stories, the bobs and weaves, the hops, skips, and jumps, the circuitous ways in which we meet, we make eye contact, and we speed along on our way. Or we meet, make eye contact, and move towards one another to introduce ourselves. There are so many stories and so little time. Every day, we have to pick and choose whose company we will keep and whose we will bypass.

And this man, this overdressed man standing in a local sandwich shop, had to be photographed. I imagine that I could spend the rest of my life listening to his stories and never be bored. He is, after all, The Most Interesting Man in the World. I don't usually drink beer either, but I suspect that he could persuade me to have one as he regaled me with tales of his adventures. Someday, sir. Someday...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

In the minivan earlier today...

Driving him to pick up newly strung tennis rackets. He's in the passenger seat next to me.
Driving her to school. She's in the seat behind him.
Twenty-five minutes each way; fortunately, their two destinations are only a few blocks from each other.

Me: I need a vacation.
Him: Nods his head.
Her: silence.
Me: No, what I need more than a vacation is a good wife. Do you wanna know why? What does a good wife do?
Him: Everything.
Me: Exactly, everything. I want a good wife for ninety days. I can't imagine what it would be like to discover clean laundry in my room and hot meals in the kitchen without having to cook them or clean up after them.
Him: So get yourself a maid for a month.
Me: No, I'd want a maid for 90 days.
Him: How much would a maid cost?
Me: I don't know, but it would be a lot. Or I could just get a good wife - and she would do everything, but she wouldn't get paid anything. Except for the gratitude and praise of her family.

Both of them: silence.

Me: That's your cue.

Him: What? I wasn't listening.

Me: (laughing) Exactly my point.

Me: (screaming) God, help me please!

I kept driving.

They're Back!

The images, the memories, the faces, the names, the stories. Haiti, with all its wonder, its brutality, its beauty, its pain, is back on my heart and in my mind. Not that it has ever been gone.

The memories made inside the bus as we learned each other's names and tendencies towards motion sickness.

Looking at that North Carolina Public School bus, riding in that bus on the kidney-splitting, bumpy roads of Haiti, and disembarking from that bus into four days of life in the tiny town of Bayonnais, I found myself asking, in the words of Mother Mary, "How can this be?"

The images seen from the bus on our way to Bayonnais: the photos above and below were taken from opposite sides of the bus on the same stretch of road.

Some views were more pleasing than others, but every view was cause for both gratitude and petition.

They are all back - those beautiful and handsome and serious faces, those colorful shirts, and their ready smiles and strong handshakes.

Watching a brief, but fiery faculty meeting outside the school at Nicholas. Apparently, faculty members frequently arrive late. Apparently, the tardy arrival of teachers is frowned upon. That morning, they were reminded of their teacherly responsibilities. I don't speak Creole, but I could feel the heat emanating from that corner of the school grounds.

I remember looking back at that building and thinking: How can that possibly be a school? What do they do when it rains?

Standing next to the building from the previous photo, I saw this view down into the valley. Then I wondered, how can they concentrate on schoolwork from this vantage point?

Making our way down from the higher mountain school to the lower mountain school, the view was both bleak and beautiful. I didn't know such a combination was possible until I was in Haiti.

Tonight, the Haiti team is having a reunion, so I have no choice but to be thinking about it again.
To be thinking about them again. They are back. I'm glad.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wrestling with the story...

In Lauren Winner's book, Still, she writes about a friend who felt her feet getting rather chilly before her confirmation at church.

I think of a story my friend Julian told me. She was twelve, and she was preparing to be confirmed. A few days before the confirmation service, she told her father - the pastor of the church - that she wasn't sure she could go through with it. She didn't know that she really believed everything she was supposed to believe, and she didn't know that she should proclaim in front of the church that she was ready to believe it forever. "What you promise when you are confirmed," said Julian's father, "is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever."

What a great way to express the truth of a life of faith.
The truth of any life, really.

We each and all have a story that we confirm in our lives.
A story of faith in God,
faith in Buddha,
faith in Allah,
faith in money,
faith in justice,
faith in peace,
faith in logic,
faith in ourselves,
faith in as many things and theories as there are people.

And our chosen story is one that we ... let me go back to first person singular.

I have chosen the story of faith in God, faith in the stories told by and about Jesus, and faith in the story that all of this faith will give me the courage I need to live this life with integrity, grace, and love and also provide me with life beyond the grave. However, like that twelve year old girl in Lauren's story, I often feel like I'm not sure I can go through with this. I'm not sure I can stand and proclaim that I believe all of it and will believe it forever.

The story about God telling the people to kill men, women, and children, without leaving anyone alive.
The story about the flood killing every human being on the planet and most of the animals.
The story about women being silent in church and being saved by having babies.
Even the part about Jesus' death and resurrection puts me on the defensive when someone pushes me to explain it all logically and neatly.
There are many parts of The Story that raise the hair on the back of my neck and make me drop my gaze sometime when people ask, "Do you really believe this? Can you imagine God doing this, really?" I cannot prove it; all I can say is that I believe it.

That's where faith kicks in, the belief in things unseen and not completely understood.
And that is also where wrestling with the story kicks in.

I remember going to wrestling matches when I was in high school. Frank Edwards was my favorite wrestler. When he was a senior, I was a sophomore. I loved watching him wrestle. I loved watching him play football and eat in the cafeteria and walk down the hallways in school, but that's a story for another day and another topic.

The two competitors would line up opposite one another in that small circle, wait for the ref to blow his whistle, and the match would begin. Each one eyeing the other. Looking for a weak spot. Looking for a place to grab hold and pull the other to the floor. To incapacitate. To pin the opponent down. To slither and slide out of the grip of the other. Wrestling was sweaty, painful, demanding work. To this day, I can spot wrestlers by their "cauliflower ears." All that face-to-mat time left its mark on the tops of their ears.

These days, I find myself facing off with The Story I believe. Often. Looking for ways to pin it down. To take the  legs out from under all the theologies and doctrines and inexplicable stories within The Story. To bring it down to a level I can handle and understand. But I confess that I cannot pin it down. I cannot explain it. I cannot lasso it to fit into any paradigms, patterns, or blog posts with a neat beginning, a pithy middle, and a clever ending. I can barely understand it. Yet somehow I still find that all of these wrestling matches have strengthened my faith muscles, increased my faith stamina, and left me marked for life. All this face-to-floor time, face-to-fist time, and face-to-foot of the cross time, has left my knees wrinkled, my eyes baggy, and my soul aflame. I am finding peace in surrender to the story. And, miraculously, I still believe.

Lately, I find that I am able to spot other wrestlers by the marks left from the tears, the prayer sessions, the meandering blog posts, the questions written - or that used to be written - on their furrowed brows, and their radical new (to me) strategies for fighting the good fight. We get together and shake our heads over cups of hot tea, wondering if the story can still be true - and if it is, what it has to do with our marriages, our parenting, our friendships, and the emptiness that always creeps back in right after we are feeling most full and satisfied. We call each other, and over the phone lines we wrestle with the stories we've been told, some of which are myths, and the lies we have come to believe and try to find ways to distinguish between truth and fiction.

Many years ago, I met a man in Spain, a man with whom I felt a nearly instant connection. We walked and talked and strolled through museum exhibits together. We talked, laughed, and spent long periods of time together in silence. During one of our long and winding talks, we tried to figure out how our connection had happened. We couldn't.

But he said something that I have never forgotten; he said, "Nos conocemos."
We recognize one another. We know each other.
No need to explain it; no reason to try. We know.
Unfortunately, not long meeting one another, we fell out of contact.
But I still know. I just know.

Which somehow takes me all the way back to the beginning of this rambling piece.
I'm not sure I ever can or will believe the whole story in its entirety.
I mean, I believe it, but only some of the parts, some of the time.
I cannot explain my unwillingness to let go and walk away from this story.
But I know that I will keep wrestling with this story, with my life story,
with my faith story, and with The One that has captured my heart
for the rest of my life.

Anybody else out there still wrestling with the story?
Do you have any marks or scars to show for the fight?

Nos reconocemos. We will recognize each other. We know. 
I just know.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Who am I?

I am, in no particular order -

* someone's sister

* someone's wife

* lost in wonder, love and grace

* the mother of two people

* a teacher

* a very careful driver

* too hard on myself most of the time

* a writer

* a friend

* alternately sad, joy-filled, anxious, lonely, wistful, adventurous, guilty, ecstatic...

* a complainer

* a gossip

* in the middle of my life looking back, looking forward, looking within

* a cousin

* an aunt

* a follower of Christ

* a reader of too many books at once

* a dreamer

* a student

* a niece

* a traveler

* a church member at a large, suburban church

* a regular attendee at a much smaller church in the middle of the city

* wondering what church is supposed to be, do, and look like

* a very light packer

* addicted to prayer, sugar, and collecting art supplies

* jealous of the group heading to Bayonnais, Haiti tomorrow morning

* the holder of a faulty memory

* someone's only daughter

* an art journaler

* an escape artist

* looking for ways to shorten this list

* resisting the urge to go back into this list to clarify the things that are damning and humiliating

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nearly 900 Posts Later

Back in October of 2004, three blog posts into this blogging adventure, I wrote: 

I claim that my faith is the most important thing in my life. And it is. It really is. I leap out of bed most mornings and cocoon myself in my study room for an hour of "quiet time." I write in my journal. I read the Bible. I do some sort of preplanned Bible study. I marvel at how much I learn each time I read and meditate on God's Word. So why are there other mornings when I don't want to get out of bed at all? Why are there times when I am not so sure? When I wonder if what I believe is really true? I know that in the past I have had people berate me for revealing my doubts in public. Well-meaning people say that because I have taught Bible classes and advised other people on their faith, I shouldn't say that I'm not always 100% sure. But isn't the un-sureness a part of the faith walk? The Bible says that "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Sometimes I'm just not certain. Sometimes I'm not so sure. But I have come to believe that that's what faith is; it's continuing this God-oriented journey even when the outcome isn't clear, even when I don't feel the solid rock under my wandering and stumbling feet. But I march on. I press on. I remember once hearing a pastor say that he keeps a small part of his heart aside in case all this faith stuff is wrong, in case he's been duped by all this God-stuff. I remember that you could hear a pin drop when he said that. His honesty was unnerving, but also reassuring. Pastors are supposed to be sure, aren't they? Yet because he told us the truth about his doubts, it was okay for us to tell the truth about ours, for me to tell mine. I love the story of Thomas, the disciple who said he wouldn't believe that Christ had risen from the dead until he could put his finger in the wounds in Christ's side. He is often referred to as "Doubting Thomas." Even though the Bible doesn't tell whether or not he inserted his finger, there is a painting I love (I'll have to find the name of the artist. Perhaps it's Caravaggio...) that shows Thomas' finger in deep. He didn't just look at the wound up close; he sticks his finger into it. He spoke his doubts out loud in the company of people he loved and trusted, and in the painting anyway, when he had the opportunity to do so, he reached out in doubt and withdrew his finger with his faith substantiated. Good for him. How great it was for Christ to stand there patiently and let Thomas find out the truth behind the rumor of His resurrection first hand, or perhaps "first finger." Do we dare give voice to our doubts? Do we dare reach out our hands in doubt and ask God to give us a way to feel, to sense, to know - some sign of His presence? How do we find the balance between faith and doubt? Between hope and despair? Between telling the truth and keeping the truth secret??? This whole faith thing baffles me... 

Doubting Gail

Sorry for the format of it, the solid paragraph, the questions and quotes all in a row. But that's what my mind and heart were like back then - a long solid densely populated paragraph of wonder and worry, doubt and desperation, questions and confusion. But there was also a sense of contentment in the midst of the bafflement. Desire in the midst of the doubt. 

Nearly 900 posts later, a few things about me have changed. I no longer spend an hour of "quiet time" at my desk each morning. I pray more and read less. I'm better at formatting my blog posts. I know how to insert photos and links to websites. I break my stream of consciousness writings into small tide pools of sentiments that are easier to absorb. At least I hope I do. 

But my mind still whirls and twists around the same questions and concerns related to the things of faith. My wondering hasn't ceased. I'm still hoping to be offered the opportunity to put my finger into the the wounds, into the holes, into the doubts so that I can feel more assured, more secure, more certain. Much of the time, I find myself feeling less secure, certain, and assured with each passing day. Strangely, the uncertainty feels more reassuring than all that certainty I felt ten years ago. 

Lauren Winner writes about it this way in the preface of her latest book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis

The enthusiasms of my conversion have worn off. For whole stretches since the dream, since my baptism, my belief has faltered, my sense of God's closeness has grown strained, my efforts at living in accord with what I take to be the call of the gospel have come undone.

And yet in those same moments of strained belief, of not knowing where or if God is, it has also seemed that the Christian story keeps explaining who and where I am better than any other story I know. On the days when I think I have a fighting chance at redemption, at change, I understand it to be these words and these rituals and these people who will change me. Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith. And yet I continue to live in a world the way a religious person lives in the world; I keep living in a world that I know to be enchanted, not left alone. I doubt; I am certain; I am restless, prone to wander. And yet glimmers of the holy keep interrupting my gaze. 

Amen, Lauren. Thank you once again for your vulnerable, messy, uncommon honesty.

Since October 2004, I've read books about leaving church, finding an altar in the world, and how love wins.
I've read about how one woman learned to eat, pray, love.
Uncommon gratitude, the untethered soul, and sacred rhythms - all heart-strengthening books.
I've read blogs and written blogs. I've looked at art and created art. 
I've spoken millions of words and sat through days of silence. 
I've traveled thousands of miles, taken more than ten thousand photos, and filled more than 125 journal volumes with my ranting, raving, prayers, and gratitude lists.
I've taught and been taught, seen and been seen, laughed and been laughed at, loved and been loved.
And I am incalculably grateful for every moment since way back in 2004 when I began to share my life's journey in public - the joyous times, yes, but the horrific times as well, for in every moment is a lesson to be learned and a sorrow to be shared. 

But still - I find myself teetering on the tightrope between hope and despair,
between telling the truth and keeping secrets, 
between pouring out more stories and keeping them hidden within the pages of my journal 
and the caves of my soul, 
between keeping the faith as well as I can and giving it all up for some good old fashioned hedonism.
I'm fairly certain that I will do some of all of the above - probably before the sun sets this very night.

Nearly 900 blog posts later (878 to be exact, with 22 still in draft form), this whole faith thing still baffles me.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Solemn, Silent, Holy Saturday

Joan Chittisters's essay for today from The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life is called "Holy Saturday: The Loss that is Gain."

Here are a few of the highlights.

Holy Saturday is a day nobody talks about much in the liturgical year... There are no public ceremonies, no particular liturgies to interrupt the sense of waiting and vacuity that mark the day. For the most part, we are left on our own on Holy Saturday. And yet every human being who has ever walked the earth has known what the emptiness of Holy Saturday is about. 

Everyone who has ever lived, who will ever live, will someday undergo a Holy Saturday of our own. Someday we will all know the power of overwhelming loss when life as we know it changes, when all hope dies midflight. Then, and only then, can we begin to understand the purpose of Holy Saturday. 

Holy Saturday faith is not about counting our blessings; it is about dealing with darkness and growing in hope. Without the Holy Saturdays of life, none of us may ever really grow up spiritually. 

Today, alone and bereft, we come face-to-face with the question we try so hard to avoid the rest of the year: how do we deal with the God of darkness as well as the Giver of Light? Have we been abandoned? Are we left now on our own in this world? Is there nothing else? Was all the rest of it pure fairy tale?

There is the hope that God is in the twilight parts of life as well as in its lucent ones, in the night of the soul as well as in the dawn of life, since both light and dark, night and dawn belong to God. 

Wishing he were still here, hoping he will come back.

It's Saturday, but Sunday's coming.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Holy Wednesday!

It was love at first sight. 
I first spotted her behind the pulpit in the sanctuary 
beneath this high-reaching pinnacle
on a Holy Wednesday at high noon many moons ago.

No springtime blossom, no new bloom of love tasted or smelled 
so sweet as that sweet Georgia-grown peach of a woman.

We consummated our love over Thai food 
and have rekindled it over many cups of coffee and tea
in the past seven years.

She taught me and showed me just how wonder-filled 
it is for women to be stand behind the sacred desk
and speak words of truth and power
to both men and women who are wise enough to sit under the power of her voice.

She has raised her hands and her heart and pleaded for God's blessings
over the people of First Presbyterian Church of uptown Charlotte,
of Bayonnais, Haiti,
of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico,
followers of Christ in Russia,
and countless others I know nothing about.

She has prayed for us and with us through the most difficult moments of our life.
She arrived before us at the hospital on the longest night of 2008 
and began the arduous process of emergency room sign-in.
Her love for our family, our beautiful daughter, and me never wavered
no matter how deep, anguished, or endless my sorrow seemed to be.

 She introduced me to the woman who owns this magnificent view - 
and I cannot ever thank her sufficiently for that life-altering introduction.

Today, on this Holy Wednesday,
my dear friend, sister, soulmate Katie Crowe 
preached her last Wednesday Worship message
and served communion to us
one final time.

 Why would anyone NOT want to receive the bread and a blessing from 
this beautiful, gentle, godly, wise woman?

For now, for what I hope will be only a brief while, 
we have had our last cup of rock-candy-sweetened coffee together.

But I will remain forever intoxicated on the wine of hope that she has gotten me addicted to.

Katie preached about the lonely road that Jesus followed during the last days of his life.
She reminded us that when we are 
"facing the end, the final word, the last gasp, the tearful goodbye,
the painful ambiguities, the tortured failings, the things we can't handle"
we are not alone. 
Christ has gone before us and is with us now.
We are never alone.

To you, my sweet friend, The Reverend Kathleen A. Crowe,
newly minted Senior Pastor of the Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church, 
Durham, North Carolina,
I say this:
As you and I face the end of this phase of our sacred sisterhood,
as we ponder the final word, the tearful farewell,
know that you have never been, are not now, and never will be alone.
Christ has gone before you into Durham and Christ goes with you now.

Know that every Wednesday for the rest of my life, 
I will pray for you and give thanks for how your presence in my life has made me
a stronger, more peaceful, less self-centered seeker 
of solitude, silence and the God who is making all things new.

I love you.
I will always love you.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Can you see the moon?

I just came in from walking my silly little dog. For a few moments, I stood on the front lawn looking up at the sky. Clouds moved past in layers. Between the layers, between the shifts, the moon peeked down at me. The full smile of God, I call it - not just a sliver, nearly one-third of the moon is visible tonight. But only when the clouds separate enough to allow the viewer to catch a brief glimpse.

Which of course reminded me of our final night in Haiti, four weeks ago tonight.

On that windy night, our team sat on the roof of the OFCB school building, praying, talking, looking back, looking ahead, and looking up. At a sliver of the moon, visible to us only when the clouds parted enough to allow its light to shine down on us. With almost no manmade light within miles, we were repeatedly awed by the fact that we could see our shadows on the roof, shadows cast by the light of the moon.

In the distance, a wildfire ravaged the top of a mountain, fueled by high winds, low moisture, and trees and bushes that hadn't been rained on for nearly six months. In Haiti, there are no fire trucks to rush up the mountain from below and no helicopters to douse the flames from above, so we prayed fervently that the fire would go out on its own with minimal harm to people and property.

Within each of us, another wildfire raged. We had just spent four days in the mountains of Haiti and we were all lit from within by the fire to stay there for a few more days with the children, to do more for them (even though none of us knew what "more" we could have done), and also to come home and tell our stories to family and friends here.

The fire of hope.
The fire of faith.
The fire of wonder.
The fire of gratitude.
The fire of love.

Perhaps I should speak for myself -
I wanted to figure out a way to put out that fire on the mountain.
I wanted to figure out a way to stay there and teach Spanish to those beautiful children.
I wanted to choose five or six children to bring home and introduce to my family.
I wanted to come home and tell dozens of stories of all that I had seen and experienced in that amazing place.

But I forced myself to sit in my chair on the rooftop on that windy night.
To close my eyes and breathe deeply.
To live that moment on that final night in Bayonnais.
Fully, gratefully, joyfully, peacefully.
Then I opened my eyes and looked up at the moon.
Which was visible only between the passing layers of clouds.

By morning, the fire on the mountain was out.
Four weeks later, the fire in me rages on.
May it always be so.