Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Twelve Grapes

There is a tradition in Spain on New Year's Eve that involves twelve grapes. At the stroke of midnight on one of their televised end of year celebration shows, there is a clock that strikes twelve times. When the chimes begin, the viewers begin to eat twelve grapes, one at a time. If you can eat all twelve grapes before the end of the 12 chimes, then you will have a great new year. Or good luck. Or something along those lines. All over Spain today, people are setting up little bowls with twelve grapes in each one, hoping to be able to eat the grapes and not choke on them. To eat the grapes and usher in a blessed new year. Or perhaps just to eat and enjoy the grapes while making plans for a fantastic new year.

For me tonight, the twelve grapes will represent twelve blessings from this year.
Twelve gifts that 2014 brought to me.
Twelve reasons to be grateful - one from each month.

January. We started the year with two big family changes. Kristiana went off to sleep away college up in the mountains of North Carolina. And we joined our church. Kristiana said that when she was away at college, she wanted to have a church home to come back to, a place where she knew she belonged and was welcome whenever she returned. There are many other reasons why we joined our church, but that was a huge one.

February. A month of adjustment to having one child at home. A month of getting together with strong women friends to talk and laugh and cry and tell stories. A month when I sat under the teaching of Roberta Bondi. A month of questions and answers and more questions. A month of growth and strength and health and peace.

March. As I looked back over my calendar for the month of March, I saw many medical appointments - the eye doctor with Kristiana, my chiropractor, an MRI for my son's wrist, a sports medicine specialist, a follow up with my oncologist, and the dentist. We are enormously blessed to have excellent medical insurance and coverage. We are blessed to have access to excellent doctors and nurses and various kinds of therapists. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to not have insurance or to not have adequate insurance. Every time I hand my medical card to someone, every time I am able to leave an appointment without a prescription or a date for a follow up appointment, every time my children receive excellent medical care and support, I am grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

April. The month of Easter. Blooming evidence of new life emerging from the soil and the trees and the bushes. Death and new life. Barrenness and fertility. Loneliness and fear. Darkness and tenebrae. Silence and sadness. Then resurrection. The most important day and moment in my faith, in the faith of millions, billions of people.

May. Kristiana came home from college for the summer. I felt like I started a new semester of schooling in how to love and honor people. In a powerful and challenging Sunday school class, we talked about dignity, grace, hospitality and our homeless neighbors in Charlotte. Our church collaborated with a predominantly African-American Presbyterian Church for a series of classes, meals, and conversations on community and power sharing and love in the family of faith and beyond. I hope we are able to deepen and continue those conversations between churches and between people. I am grateful to have begun a friendship with one of the women I met there. None of our conversations or beliefs or creeds matter if we don't engage in relationship, in transformative, honest, tear-soaked relationships.

June. Kristiana and I hit the road in June - for Massachusetts, where we met Jena and Mani. To Connecticut, where we reconnected with friends we have known for fifteen to twenty years. To New York, where we attended the wedding of one of my nieces. To New Jersey, where we spent the night with my sister-in-soul, a woman who used to be married to one of my brothers. And I still feel guilty for not going to see a friend I had arranged to visit. When I think of how she must have prepared to welcome us, to feed us, and for us to spend the night at her home, I shudder to think of my rudeness and thoughtlessness in not going and not calling. I can't even explain what happened, what I was thinking or not thinking at the time - I'm so sorry, Kathleen. More than you can possibly imagine.

July. The heat of July. A week on the beach. A visit to a museum where a photograph etched itself onto my brain and into my psyche. It was the photo of two reindeer skulls, discovered by a reindeer farmer up somewhere in the north tundra lands. The horns of these two female reindeer became entangled during a fierce battle. The reindeer died as a result of not being able to disengage. If they had offspring, those baby reindeer probably died as well for lack of milk. I have thought a lot about those reindeer and talked about them as well. What battles entangle me? What rights or territory or opinions or stances am I willing to die for? Which battles will I no longer enter because, in fact, they are not worth dying for?

August. This was the month that we began our final year of homeschooling. I'm not exactly sure how to measure the time we've been a homeschooling family. Does it count from the day Kristiana was born or the day we started "doing school" - if that's what you call our easy, simple, not-terribly-organized way of reading and writing and doing math and going to the zoo and counting that as science and going to Spain and counting that as geography and language and social studies? I have been homeschooling either twenty-one years and two months (the length of Kristiana's life) or eighteen years and four months (the length of time since I started trying to teach her to read). Either way, it's been a long, long, long time.

Anyway, this September was the start of our final year as The Silvermine Academy: Student to teacher ratio: 1:1. Enrollment: 1. As it turns out, it was the start of our final semester - my son is going to begin college in less than one week. He signed a letter of commitment to play tennis at Presbyterian College in November. Soon thereafter, the tennis coach asked him to consider joining the program a semester early. He considered it - and he said YES. So we will take him there this weekend. His classes, his official college career, will begin on MONDAY!!! That means I am finished with homeschooling. The Silvermine Academy will close its doors officially tonight at midnight when the ball drops and I start eating my twelve grapes.

I'm not sure the reality of that fact has sunk in yet. I'm not sure it will for a few weeks.
Steve and I will be empty nesters very, very soon.

September. I have always loved the church - going to church, singing at church, Sunday School, teaching, spending time with other people who are searching after God, being found by God, and finding each other on this journey of faith. This year more than any other I can recall, I felt welcome in the church, loved by pastors and members and visitors of members. I have received notes and cards and letters and phone calls, invitations to meals and coffee and people's homes and into people's lives as never before. I have been invited to participate, to speak my mind, to share who I am, what I believe, and what I am learning over and over. Better late than never. Thanks be to God.

October. My exercise and faith mentor, Andre Hairston, came to my house and filmed this video. Yet another chance to tell my story, to share with others the challenges of kanswer and the power of hope and joy even in the midst of life's greatest challenges. Kanswer sucks - always has and always will. But there's hope! Always hope.

November. This month I was reminded to be thankful for thankfulness, for the habit and attitude of gratitude that has sustained my joy for so many years. I am grateful for story and questions and anointing with oil and men and women who weep. I am grateful for the powerful voices speaking loudly against injustice, violence, fear, racism, and are working to challenge the systems of power, privilege and prejudice that this nation was founded on and continues to rely on. Much has been done and much is still necessary.

December. Another year. Another birthday. Another Christmas. Another celebration. Time in prayer, planning, and preparation for 2015. Packing. Donating. Writing. Reading. Wishing. Looking back. Giving thanks. Looking ahead. Getting ready. Putting grapes into a small bowl and eating them while tears and laughter and gratitude flow freely.

To God be the Glory!

There were so many other blessings this year -

The Miro exhibit I saw at the Nasher Museum in Durham, North Carolina.
The baby shower for a dear friend, and later the birth of her sweet baby boy, Dillon.
The book writing retreat at Sunset Beach.
The visit of Ben and Clare. And Joy. And Natalia. And Moneesha.
And Darryl and Noemi. And Glen and Paula.
Hearing Anthony preach.
Seeing a film about La Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona - and being able to say: I've been there, more than once.
Tea with Evette and Sangita and Cathy and Erika and Katherine and Katelyn and Gibbs and Selina and  Pam and Michelle and Krystal and Sheila and Heather and my mother and so many other truly joy-inspiring and love-sharing women.
Meeting women at a journaling workshop at the YWCA. Writing with them. Listening to their stories.

Okay - so I totally cheated. There are dozens of grapes here. Dozens of things and people and situations and lessons to be grateful for this year. When I eat my grapes at midnight tonight, I will remember dozens more.

In this case, however, I believe that cheating is just fine. Appropriate, even. If I could come up with only twelve reasons to be grateful on the final day of an entire year, then that is cheating. Cheating myself of the joy of looking at life through lenses of gratitude. It would be time to get my perspectacles cleaned, examined, or replaced. (Thanks, Glennon, for that wonderful perspective...) Cheating myself of the opportunity to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another.

May your mouth overflow with goodness, with sweetness, and with memories of good, sweet, tart, strong, sour, and juicy moments this night - and every night and every day as well.

Happy grape eating to you.
Happy new year too.


Monee said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. As we approached the new year I found myself also making a list (mine was in my head though) of things/events/people I was grateful for in 2014.

Congratulations to Daniel!! We always wish him the best but especially now as he embarks on this new adventure! So good.

Silvermine Academy is closing it's doors! Wow. I am in awe always when I think of you and your homeschool. And to think your children have now graduated and off to college and you enabled them to do that all on your own! Double wow!!

Oh and thank you for including my visit to Clt as one of your blessings. You know I immensely enjoy meeting you on my visits back home. It just wouldn't be the same if we didn't have one of our coffee sessions!

GailNHB said...

Thanks so much, Moneesha, for your ongoing friendship and love, support and encouragement even from across the sea.

Trust me, I didn't do the homeschooling all on my own. There are so many people and publishers and librarians and a God in heaven to thank for walking along with me and guiding me and helping me and us to get to this day. I cannot believe it myself, but here we are and there they go.

I look forward to seeing you again whenever you get back to CLT.