Thursday, February 28, 2013

For those of you who are wondering what just happened...

So last Sunday, I went to see and hear Glennon Melton speak at a church here in Charlotte.
I wrote about her amazing talk here.

Glennon and the beautiful preacher man

On Sunday evening, Glennon and her sister, Amanda, sought me and found me in their massive Momastery facebook page fan-o-sphere, and they friended me. What? Who me?
Then they each wrote to me, actually sent me private messages.

Amanda and me

And then THIS happened. And a whole lot of Melton's Monkees, my sister Monkees, came a-calling on little old me. And leaving messages. And sending love. And praying for me. And lighting candles. And sending care packages. And inviting me over to sit and eat with them.

What? Who me?
Yes, me.

Because, as I have often said, I am determined to be kind to everyone I meet and see because we are all fighting great battles. I knew that Glennon was a bit reluctant about speaking in public, a bit nervous about being in rooms full of Monkees before she had herself fully together. She made me laugh as she described her terror, but it is terror nonetheless. For her, sitting in front of a crowd and baring her soul was going to feel a lot like entering into a fierce battle indeed.

So when I found out that she was coming to Charlotte, I knew that I had to go. I won't lie; I wanted to go mostly for me, because I wanted to be in the same room with one of my greatest teachers (and someone who I just know could easily be one of my best friends as well). But I also wanted to be there for her. I wanted to sit where I could see her, look into her eyes, and send her lasers of love. I wanted to be close enough so that my joy, my excitement, and my sheer awe at the woman that she is and the woman that she is becoming would be palpable for her. Understanding that perfect love casts out fear, I hoped that my deeply flawed and imperfect love would serve to divert fear - even just a little bit.

Apparently, she felt it. She felt buoyed by all the love in the room - and by my love in particular. Somehow the nods I nodded and the amens I uttered gave her space and caused her to feel safe enough to tell her story, her truth, and know that in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, all was well. For me to know that I was part of that, to know that she rode the wave of my love and support into revelations and stories that might not otherwise have been shared, that is a great honor, indeed.

Before you shake your head and click back over to facebook, let me be clear. This is not about me. It's not about my big, bald head nodding up and down. It's not about my few vocalized "amens."

This is about God. This is about grace.
This is about sisterhood. This is about community.
This is about presence. This is about paying attention.
This is about hope. This is about persistence.
This is about showing up. This is about leaving the measuring rod at home.
This is about feeling fear and doing the hard things anyway.
This is about fighting your own battles and supporting other warriors in theirs as well.
This is about how love wins.
This is about how love wins.

For those of you who are wondering about what just happened -
love just happened, my friends.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

thin places

Last Friday morning, I told Daniel that he could either do his regular homeschooling assignments or he could climb in bed, sit next to me, and watch a movie. He deliberated for three long seconds and chose the latter.

We watched The Way, a beautiful movie by Emilio Estevez and his father, Martin Sheen. It is a story of a pilgrimage, a journey, a transformation. It is a story of friendship, parenthood, risk-taking, love, and death. It is a story of life itself.

I confess that I was a little nervous about my movie choice. After all, Daniel is 16 years old. He likes rap music and playing tennis, cheeseburgers and gatorade, professional wrestling and The Jersey Shore. What is he going to think of a movie about a few people walking an ancient pilgrimage across the northern coast of Spain? Will he care enough to put down his iphone and actually watch or will he bail out twenty minutes in and say he'd rather watch his biology video after all?

Before we watched the movie, I talked to Daniel about the concept of "thin places." Those places in the world where you feel like you are closer to God, to eternity, to that which is unseen but deeply known. Those moments when you know that you are not alone, that you are loved, and that, indeed, all shall be well. Those places and those times when you know that you know that you know that you are exactly where you need to be, and your body and soul quiver with recognition of the eternal, right there with you, within you, around you, next to you. Well, at least that what it feels like to me.

While we watched the movie, there was no texting, facebooking, or instagramming. No requests for bathroom or popcorn breaks. No rolled eyes. No sarcastic remarks. Just this Momma and her sweet son watching a movie on a Friday morning in February.

At the conclusion of one of the most poignant scenes in the film, he said, "That is definitely a thin place."
I smiled and thought - with a soul-shifting tremor - "Right here, right now, this bed of mine is a thin place."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Something I've heard all my life...

Today I was reminded of something I've heard all my life.
Well, all the time in my life that I've spent in church.
Okay, all my life.

"All you need is Jesus. Whenever anyone says that you need Jesus plus anything else, they are wrong. They are talking about religion. They are talking about traditions. They are talking about adding on to Jesus. Jesus is all you need. All you need is Jesus."

This morning, Kristiana and I went to see Glennon Melton, the Mother Superior over at She is undoubtedly one of the top five speakers I have ever had the honor of listening to. I thought I loved her and her wry, irreverent virtual voice as a result of reading her blog. But seeing her in person, hearing her actual voice, laughing with her, groaning with her, and seeing how she loves her amazing sister (who was there with her), I confess that I'm even more in love.

Anyway, Glennon reminded us of that saying, "All you need is Jesus."
Then she turned it on its head when she added - "I need Jesus and Lexapro and Twizzlers and diet Coke and cute stockings and..." that's when my pen lost track of her list and I had to stop and laugh out loud.

She provided numerous personal examples of how God sets our lives up so that we will need each other, need love, need friendship, need silence, need retreat, need safe spaces, need advise, need shoulders to cry on, need to sit at one another's feet and learn all that we are meant to teach each other, and sometimes we need licorice and soda too. I had to stop my pen at that point and grab a tissue.

Do I need to say that I have spent quite a bit of time this afternoon making my own list of stuff I need along with Jesus? Here's a partial list -

* someplace to live
* a car to drive in and out of suburbia
* clothes to wear and a few pairs of shoes as well
* money to maintain the lifestyle we have chosen
* red australian licorice
* uniball vision elite pens, micro point with black ink
* sweet potato french fries
* solo travel in Spain
* silent retreats in Pennsylvania
* moments when I can scream out curse words and spew hatred towards kanswer
* scarves and hats - especially now that I'm a bald kanswer warrior
* mojitos and lemon drop martinis
* the occasional bacon cheese burger with extra crispy fries
* time in Gibbs' living room with the fireplace lit
* Sharpie and Copic markers
* long phone conversations with friends who live across state lines
* the Real Housewives of Atlanta
* Law and Order Criminal Intent
* sensitive toothpaste
* Advil and Claritin
* toasted bagels with eggs and butter
* peanut butter cups
* long, slow hugs
* alone time, away from everybody, including my family
* my journals, oh sweet Momma Jesus, I would be lost without my journals
* help with occasional constipation
* cloth bags for when I go to the supermarket
* two or three bosom buddies who can handle it when I curse and cry, friends who don't ever, ever judge me
* coffee with milk and sugar
* over-the-knee socks
* books, the library, ibooks, kindle books
* my computer, ipad, phone, and the internet
* secret places to write my truly deepest secrets
* sandalwood incense
* cherry coke
* key lime pie

Again, this is only a partial list...


You would be surprised at how long I've felt guilty for thinking that I needed more than Jesus. I knew that the Bible said that it wasn't good for man (or woman) to be alone, but somehow that didn't seem to count when people said the thing about only needing Jesus. I knew that despite all my attempts to reduce the solution to my neediness to Jesus alone and try to make Jesus the answer to all my questions, I always came up with things and people I needed and questions for which "Jesus" wasn't the answer.

Like - what do you do when the diagnosis is kanswer or bipolar disorder or passive aggressive personality disorder? How do you respond when repeated requests for change go unheeded? How do you continue to be affiliated with an institution that believes that half of the people in attendance have nothing to say to the other half because of our gender? Stuff like that...

I'm not saying that anything or anyone else filled all the holes and empty places inside me, but I knew that Jesus alone didn't do it either. Loneliness persists. Needs persist. Emptiness persists. Even with Jesus. Even with a bone-deep trust in God.

Glennon made a great point - we have all these "holy holes" inside of us, all these empty places inside of us so that we will reach out to one another, create community, find others with similar empty spots and travel this life road together, seeking answers, seeking fulfillment, seeking love together.

I do need Jesus. Don't get me wrong. 
My life without my faith would be a far emptier life, a far less meaningful life.
But I need a whole lot of other stuff and other people as well.
And I'm no longer afraid or ashamed to admit it.

Thanks, Glennon, for confirming what I always knew and felt but could never express so clearly.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A few places and times when I've been alone...

Waiting for the B37 bus to pick me up outside PS 307 after orchestra practice

Waiting for the B8 bus outside of the Veteran's Hospital near Poly Prep after basketball practice

Walking the ten blocks from the Cortelyou Road subway station to our house on Bedford Avenue

Sitting in a train car on the border between France and Spain in the middle of the night

Having my breasts grabbed by the conductor on that train a few minutes after entering Spain

Walking home from my boyfriend's house after the subway and buses stopped running in Madrid

Walking from Pochi's house on la Calle Irati to El Instituto Internacional, Calle Miguel Angel, 8, Madrid

Choosing and paying for my wedding dress

Pushing my daughter out of my uterus

Pushing my son out nearly three years later

Homeschooling them in the basement of our Norwalk, Connecticut, home

Staring at the television screen as the second plane hit the second tower

Standing at the American Airlines ticket counter less than a month later getting my passport stamped before my first trip to Italy

Walking from Il Duomo in Florence to the hotel three nights in a row

Racing up the stairs to the top of the bell tower in the duomo

Watching my child weep

Watching my father die

Sitting in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican, listening, praying, still hoping He is The One

Receiving the news: "We found kanswer in the breast and lymph node"

Lying in an MRI machine wondering just how much kanswer those noisy magnets would detect

Closing my eyes every time one of the nurses inserts the needle that delivers the healing therapy into the port in my chest

Lying in bed at night, praying for healing, silent tears streaming down my quivering cheeks, wondering whether or not this dreadful disease will disrupt my life again

Hoping against all hope that it does not

Utterly and completely alone


This list of lonely moments could go on; in my mind, it does.
There are moments when I am convinced that I have always been alone.
Certainly I have had companions alongside me for certain stages of the journey.
Parents, siblings, my husband, our children, my friends, and other loved ones -
they hug me, sit with me, call me, hold my hand, feed me, laugh with me, and weep with me too.
You write to me, pray for me, bring me food, and send me surplus barrels of hope when my supply runs dangerously low.
But in the end, in the beginning, and all along the way, I walk alone - and so do you.

Unless -
Unless God can be trusted.
Unless The Word of God can be believed.
Unless it is possible that even when we don't see, feel, hear, smell, taste or touch God,
God is with me. With you. With all of us.
Unless my Sweet Momma Jesus is walking with me,
asking what I'm thinking about and talking about along the way,
and then listening to my answers,
holding me close, loving me dearly and nearly,
through the silent nights, in the noisy machines,
along the rocky, narrow, and treacherous path of life.
Unless the Wise and Ever-present Spirit of God does guide me into all truth,
remind me of all I've been taught, and lead me beside still waters.

From Isaiah - Fear not, for I have redeemed you, 
I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you.

From Deuteronomy - Be strong and courageous. 
Do not be afraid or terrified because of (your enemies), 
for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you. 

From Jesus - 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.

I am with you always, even to the end of the age. 


On this dismal, drizzly Friday afternoon,
I ask but one thing of you, O Lord, my God, my Sweet Momma Jesus:
You know I believe you. You know I believe in you.
Will you please, please, please, help me conquer my unbelief?
And one more thing - please don't ever leave me alone.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thankful Thursday

Today I am grateful for -

* the salad from Panera that was brought over by a dear friend - who also brought the soup that I will have for dinner

* strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow

* a lengthy and humorous telephone conversation with my oldest brother

* travel magazines, sharp scissors, glue tape, and empty journal pages

* daily reminders that I am loved, prayed for, thought about

* jumping up and down on my brand new rebounder (mini-trampoline)

* cozy couches where I can set up all my journaling stuff and let the creative juices flow

* the men and women who maintain the natural gas pipelines that keep my house warm during the winter

* the folks who make sure that the sewer system and electrical systems function relatively smoothly

* organic, raw coconut oil - the best moisturizer I've ever used

* Smooth Move Peppermint tea

* the engineers and developers who build our roads and bridges

* Engineers Without Borders who take their skills into towns and villages, like Bayonnais, Haiti, where their work saves lives

* my body's determination to fight and destroy the kanswer cells that have invaded it

* being reminded of the importance of taking good care of myself

* planning a solo museum visit and lunch at one of my favorite restaurants

* the beauty of the earth, the glory of the sky, the expanse of the sea

* cameras and phones to capture moments of beauty and light

* the love behind the emoticons and swirly lines

* trusting that at some point I will be able lay my questions down and live out the answers

* the power of prayer to calm my anxious heart

* being reminded of the promises and assurances in the Bible

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, 
but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed...
Therefore, we do not lose heart. 
Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us 
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:7-9, 16-18.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Catching up on my life, catching up on your life

Steve, the kids, and I went to Daniel Island this past weekend for Daniel's tennis tournament. I loved being on an island named after one of my favorite people in the world. The tournament was held at the same facility where the Family Circle Cup is held - that is a professional women's tennis tournament. Beautiful place. Great photos of some of the best women's players in the world. Go, Serena!!!

We shared a rental home on the Isle of Palms with another tennis family, ate several meals with them, sharing great stories and laughter, walked on the beach with them, and commiserated over the bizarre rules and expectations of junior tennis players and their families. Such is the club we've joined; no one forced us, but sometimes it's crazy-making.

We all love the beach, even on windy days in February.


Today I went in for the 5th of six healing therapy treatments. Yet another dear friend drove more than two hours to sit with me for the three and a half hours of infusions. We talked, laughed, groaned, ate lunch, prayed, and otherwise made the most of a pretty awful thing - kanswer sucks!!! All the while, I received texts and emails full of support, love, good thoughts, and prayers. Then I returned home to find more cards from still more friends in the mailbox. Last week and over the weekend. I received lengthy emails from people sharing their own stories with me. It is official - I have some of the best friends in the world. And  am enormously grateful to receive their love - your love - and good will while I'm still alive and not at my funeral when only family and friends will hear it.


Nearly every day, I receive an email or a text from someone asking for prayer or support with a problem they are facing or sharing a story of a challenge they have faced or are currently facing. And nearly every single person begins or ends with an apology of some sort: "I shouldn't be telling you at this difficult time in your life, Gail." "I don't even know why I'm telling you this. This is my problem to solve." "Where did this story come from? I haven't thought or spoken about this stuff in years."

Friends, sister-friends, soul-friends - please, please, please don't ever apologize for sharing your life with me or for telling me your stories. There is nothing about you that I don't want to know. There is no tale, no experience, no joy, no sorrow that I don't want to know or hear about. For some reason, you and I are walking together at this moment in our lives. Please don't think that I don't care what is happening to you now or what has happened to you in the past or, worse, that there isn't enough room in my soul for you at this challenging time in my own life.

If nothing else, this kanswer thing has shown me that there is a tremendous need for each of us to love and be loved, to help and be helped, to share and be shared with. We are all dealing with something that is causing our minds and souls distress and fear, so let's bear one another's burdens. Let's share our stories and live together with the questions, praying that someday we will also live our way into the answers. Just as the True Lover of My Soul demonstrated on his last night on earth, let us love one another to the end.


Life is short. Love is eternal.
Suffering breaks our hearts and spirits. Love rebuilds us.
Some memories remind us of painful times gone by. Love grants relief.

We are all heavy carrying burdens, my friends. Each of us. All of us.
We are all lying in bed at night wondering how we will survive it, whatever "it" is.
We are all desperate to be seen, heard, held, and welcomed home. Wherever "home" is.

If we choose to share our sorrows only when the designated listener has everything in order in his or her own life, then we will never, ever get to share our sorrows. So go ahead - tell me all about it.

I will catch you up on my life.
Please catch me up on yours.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Falling in Love...

Nothing is more practical
than finding God,
that is, than falling in love
in a quite absolute
final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination 
will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you
out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love.
Stay in love.
And it will decide everything.

Pedro Arrupe, SJ


I discovered this poem this past August when I was at the 8 day silent retreat.
The eight days of silence with The One who loves me most.
I was reminded of it earlier this week when I received it in an email.

I am in deeply, madly in love with God these days,
with my Sweet Mama Jesus,
with the ever-present, ever-moving Sarayu, Spirit of God.
Sweet secrets, deep secrets, dark secrets, all sacred, always sacred.

On this day of celebrating love,
my prayer is that I will fall deeper in love
with The Lover of My Soul,
the one who holds my hand in this dark hour,
who wipes my every tear,
who hears my heart's deepest cries
and who is always with me.
No matter what.
No matter what.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Not Another Manic Monday...

Not even close. Today is a marvelous Monday. A Monday marked by gratitude.

I am grateful for the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the orchid. I confess that the first thing I did when this plant was delivered last week was apologize to it for its imminent demise. I am notoriously neglectful of plants; I do well with chldren and dogs, but plants usually die slow and torturous deaths while in my care. I am glad to say it has survived for more than a week. In fact, there are more flowers on it today than the day it arrived. Around here, that is a very good sign.

I am grateful for the sunshine we have been blessed with recently. Much needed rain has also come, but when the sun is out, Maya and I head for the deck, each of us looking for a spot where we can bask in the sun. Furthermore, on the nights that follow the days when I get some sun on my face, I sleep very well. After a night of restful and restorative sleep, I wake up happy and even more grateful.

Heather sent me a photo of this prayer on her fridge. Amen, Heather, Amen!

And I am enormously grateful today (and everyday) for the gift of love. I had never seen a car decorated so brightly for Valentine's Day before, so I had to capture this one last Thursday night on my way home from a meeting with other church members who have gone to Haiti, hope to return someday, and in the meantime are looking for ways to continue to support the schools, the church, and the children there in Bayonnais.

How great are those lights? How great is love? 
Please hug somebody this week and tell them how you feel. 
I'm sure gonna be doing that all week long - and beyond.

I am grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.
What are you grateful for?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Wishing I could have a few bite-sized Snicker Bars

Living with kanswer is hard. Not many people around me know just how hard.
Everyone who knows me and knows I am dealing with this has been fantastic.
Visits. Cards. Meals. Books. Videos. Photographs. Emails. Stories. Distractions.
Amazing. Mind-boggling. Giggle-producing. Heart-softening.

But still... sometimes, I want someone who knows me well enough to know that I don't always need cards and stories, ease and comfort. Someone who won't flinch when I weep, who won't try to stop me from feeling what I'm feeling. Someone who is wise and strong, quiet and present. Someone who loves me unconditionally, who smiles at me through his own sorrow, who listens to me, who feels nothing but tenderness towards me. Someone who will pray just the right thing, quote just the right verse, and never have it sound trite, over-simplified, rehearsed, or condemning.

Sometimes I miss my father. He passed away in March of 2001 after a brave battle with lung kanswer.

Today, I texted that to my daughter while she was on her way to school.
This is what she wrote back:
I am sure he looks at you with a heart full of love. 
He knows what it is like to live with cancer (her spelling not mine)
and I am sure he is sending down love notes in lots of different ways
every single day.

Needless to say, I burst into tears when I read her text. She's so right.
He does love me still. Perhaps now more than ever.
I sure miss him now more than ever.

I cannot even imagine how broken-hearted he would have been to hear that I have kanswer, to watch me go through healing therapy, and to know about all that is yet to come. One thing I know for sure is that he would visit or call me every day. Daddy would insist on being with me at every healing therapy session. He would drive me everywhere I needed to go. He would walk with me, talk to me, sit silently with me, and bring me bags of mini Snicker bars, even though I would tell him over and over that I need to stay away from sugar because sugar feeds kanswer. He would say, "One of these little bars won't hurt you." Then he would brighten my room with his mischievous smile, so we would each eat one - with me shaking my head and him laughing at my excessive caution.

After throwing the wrappers away, he would wipe his forehead with an ever-present handkerchief, look deep into my eyes, and say, "Gail, do you remember what God said to Joshua? (And then he would pull out his Bible so he could show me on the page.) In Joshua 1:9, God said, 'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.' That's true for you too, Gail. God is with you everywhere all the time, even now. So be strong, girl. Don't be afraid. Don't let kanswer get you discouraged. God is with you. God loves you and I love you too." Then he would wrap those thin but strong arms around me and give me a long hug. And I would start to cry, just like I am crying now as I think about him.

I love you too, Daddy. And I miss you. More than ever.

Friday, February 01, 2013

By all accounts...

By all my calculations, if all the notes I've taken over the first three cycles of healing therapy could be used to predict a pattern of some kind, today should be a pretty crappy day. I should be dragging myself around, moaning, groaning, whimpering, and praying for the end of the weekend.

But, thanks be to God,
thanks be to all of you,
thanks to all the prayers, candles, sitting, thinking,
thanks to all the plants, cards, notes, emails, texts, calls,
thanks to all the soup, rotisserie chicken, and banana bread,
thanks be to All that Is Good and Kind and Perfect,
I feel great today.
Unexpectedly energetic, perky, and grateful.

I woke up earlier than usual this morning with enough energy to write in my journal, read some, pray for a few minutes, and respond to a few emails. Then I made cornbread for my son and started a load of laundry. I spoke to a dear friend on the phone and tried to imagine what another is doing in Barcelona today. I encouraged my daughter to ask for what she wants in her personal, student, and work life. I've flipped through a couple of journals I recently made. I've read a few goodies on the internet.

I know enough not to over do it, and I also know enough to enjoy this moment, and be grateful.
I am enormously grateful.

I had a major "AHA" moment yesterday:
I can be splendidly imperfect during this process.
I can be grouchy and tired.
I can be grateful and happy.
I can miss appointments or not make them.
I can ignore phone calls or send dozens of texts late at night.
I can watch reality television and read books on faith.
I can completely neglect my housework or scrub every sink on a daily basis.

I don't have to plan for bad days. I don't have to plan for great days.
I can simply let it be, dear Gail, let it be.
I can stop imagining how _______ or ___________ or _________ would handle this situation.
I can lay down the measuring stick, the calendar, and the magnifying glass.

Comparison is a waste of time. There are no competitors. This life of mine is not a competition.
There is no one who can do a better job on my kanswer journey than I am doing.
There is no one who can mother these two children better (or worse) than I can.
No one can create the journals or blogs or meals or messes that I create.

Why do I waste so much time wondering what anyone else would do?
Heck, I don't even need to ponder, "What would Jesus do?"
Certainly, Jesus had plenty of problems to deal with when he was here on earth,
but dealing with breast kanswer while homeschooling a teenager,
walking with another child through her community college experience,
and comparing his front lawn to that of the other suburban families on the cul-de-sac
were not among his challenges.
I can do this kanswer/mothering/marriage/life thing exactly how I want and need to do it.
And that's exactly how I plan to do it - my way!

By all accounts, today should be a fairly crappy day.
But I am enormously glad that my account-keeping is faulty today.