Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thankful Thursday - A poem

Motivos para la alegría

La fiesta, la música, la chispa, el éxito, 
el acierto, el afecto, 
el prestigio, lo entretenido, 
las pequeñas comodidades,
un rato en buena compañía, 
caer bien, 
conocer gente, 
tener amigos,
algún gesto de ternura, 
un buen libro, 
unas risas... 
...todo esto, sí.

Pero hay más: 
la gratitud, por tantas oportunidades, 
los fracasos, que son escuela, 
los errores, si nos hacen humildes, 
la soledad, porque nunca es completa, 
las etapas malas, que siempre terminan, 
las batallas internas, porque estamos vivos, 
los grandes ideales 
que dan sentido a las grandes entregas, 
la fe, a las duras y a las maduras, 
y tantas historias cotidianas 
en las que se gesta lo eterno.

Here is my feeble attempt at translating a poem by one of my favorite writers 
from my favorite language into my second favorite language. I am honored and thrilled to have met him on more than one occasion as he is a member of the Jesuit community of my dearly beloved friend, Antonio. 

(Please forgive me, Jose Maria, if I have butchered this translation. Your Spanish is so much more lyrical than my English. Perdóname, José María, por mi traducción tan rudimentario. Tu español es mucho más lírico que mi inglés.)

Reasons for Happiness -

Parties, music, sparkles, success,
Ability, affection,
Prestige, entertainment,
The small comforts,
Time spent in good company,
To get along well with others,
To meet and know people,
To have friends,
A tender gesture,
A good book,
All of this, yes.

But there is more:
Gratitude, for so many opportunities,
Failures, which are our teachers,
Mistakes, if they make us humble,
Loneliness, because it is never absolute,
Bad times, which always end,
Internal battles, because we are alive,
Grand ideals,
which give meaning to our grand commitments,
Faith, both hard and ripe,
And so many quotidian stories
in which the eternal is seen.

Find this and more poems in Spanish here. And if you want to listen to the prayers in which these poems are read aloud, click here. Gracias, amigos, por todo el trabajo que hacéis allí en Valladolid, España, para que nosotros podamos colaborar y unirnos en oración todos los días.  ¡Qué Dios os siga bendiciendo!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Eight Things I'm Grateful For

Nope, it's not Thanksful Thursday, but nor should gratitude be limited to one day a week.
Besides, I've missed a couple of Thursdays, so I'm going for it today.

1. Yesterday, I went to a local YWCA with some women from church. We ate dinner with fifteen "women in transition" and then made greeting cards with them. Each of the women from church brought along two ingredients to add to a colorful, healthful salad bar, sweet tea, or brownies. When dinner was over, we made cards that we can give to friends and family. The best part of the evening was the time we spent in conversation with these brave, hard-working women who have been blessed enough to find their way to that safe place where they can live for eighteen months before transitioning into their own living spaces. I met a woman there who is hoping to obtain her high school diploma - at 50 years of age. She currently is on an eighth grade reading level. And she was as proud as someone working towards their Master's degree. She is also moving into her own apartment next week. She said she's scared, but she's ready. Needless to say, I had tears in my eyes as she told me her story. She will remain in my thoughts and prayers for the foreseeable future. I am enormously grateful for the opportunity to spend time with those beautiful, frightened, strong women. I am hoping to go back there sometime soon in order to lead them in a journaling workshop.

2. My son complains a lot about my cooking - or rather my lack thereof. It's true; I don't like to cook. But his pleas and complaints have motivated and inspired me to try new recipes. On Sunday, I put chicken, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, honey, onion, and garlic into the crockpot. I let it gently boil for six hours and then put it on top of rice and next to a large salad. My son was impressed - so were his parents. Delicious. I'm grateful for the ease of finding easy and quick recipes online. I am grateful for the crockpot that was given to me more than ten years ago. I am grateful for electricity. And I am grateful for how great the house smelled while our dinner simmered on the counter.

3. I'm repeatedly and profoundly grateful for the bounty, the convenience, and the financial feasibility of going to the supermarket. I am grateful for the farmers, the butchers, the drivers, the stock people, the cashiers - every time I walk into Trader Joe's or Harris Teeter, I am amazed at how seamless the process of shopping is. I do not take it for granted. Ever.

4. I am grateful for appliances and electronics of all kinds - this computer, my cell phone, television, the washing machine and dryer, the iron, the dvd player-videotape combo in our bedroom, lamps, ceiling fans, dehumidifiers, water heaters, clock radios, exterior hard drives, calculators, digital cameras, vacuum cleaners, carpet cleaners, refrigerators, dishwashers, microwave ovens, toasters, blenders, juicers, the NutriBullet, coffee makers, DirecTv control boxes, light switches, electric sockets, the aforementioned crockpot, and my sewing machine. I don't understand how any of it works, but I cannot imagine my life without these things.

5. Speaking of my sewing machine, I am grateful for the discovery of my latest creative obsession - sewing. Thanks to the ease and wonder of Youtube, I have watched hours of do-it-yourself videos teaching how to make skirts and dresses. I have checked books out of the library. I have gone to JoAnn's and Hancock fabric stores and bought all kinds of fabric, elastic, and other goodies. I have converted three Good Will- purchased dresses into maxi skirts. I bought two pairs of jeans at the Salvation Army store ofr $8 total - and converted them into a denim skirt. I have created a tee shirt maxi dress, a strapless maxi dress, 3 pencil skirts and a maxi skirt from scratch, and I converted a scarf I got for my birthday into a poncho. I've got a few more items planned - and then I'm gonna stop for a while. I certainly don't "need" any new clothes, but it has been a lot of fun doing all of this. I've always wanted to learn to sew - and finally I am teaching myself. I am so grateful for the dozens of styles and colors of fabric to choose from. I'm grateful for the thousands of videos teaching novices like me how to create clothing we can wear and be proud of. My favorite teacher is the beautiful, funny, talented, gifted Mimi G. It is hard to believe that she has four children, one of whom is 20 years old.

6. At 7:00 this morning, I went to my chiropractor's office to have my blood drawn for yet another panel of tests. I am grateful that he is still involved in my treatment, in my long-term care. I am grateful for the office staff who got there even earlier than I did. I am grateful for the nurse who drew my blood. Her name tag identified her as a nurse in a pediatrician's office, so she doesn't even work at Dr. Arnone's office, but she goes there to help people like me. I am grateful for the people who work in the lab and do the testing. I am grateful for the people who transport the blood, saliva, and all the other fluids and tissue samples that are tested. I am grateful that so many people are willing and able to work as doctors and nurses, physician's assistants and physical therapists, dentists and technicians of all kinds.

7. I am grateful for all the exercise equipment I have collected over the years - hand weights, an exercise ball, a rebounder, elastic bands, and an extensive collection of workout dvds and videotapes. Plus there are countless workouts available online, workouts that require no equipment but the weight and flexibility of my own body. I am enormously grateful for the desire and strength to exercise on a regular basis. Building strength and endurance are two of my favorite things to do, especially now that I am on this side of all that I went through last year. Breaking a good sweat, doing a challenging yoga workout, and spending some time bouncing up and down on the rebounder all make me very happy. And grateful to be alive and well.

8. Last and most of all, I am grateful to be alive.
It's that simple. Grateful to be still upright and breathing on this planet we call earth.
I am grateful to be married. To be a mother.
I am grateful to be a friend and confidante of so many beloved people.
I am grateful to be a sister and a daughter, a cousin and an aunt.
I am grateful to be able to teach and type and text.
I am grateful to be able to cook and clean, dust and sweep.
I am grateful to be able to drive and walk the dog and wash dishes and read.
I am grateful to be able to go to the supermarket and carry my own groceries.
I am grateful to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.
I am grateful to be able to speak, understand, and write in more than one language.
I am grateful for the ability to comprehend what is happening around me and within me well enough to be grateful for the many blessings I have experienced in this life.
Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.
Thanks be to God.

Addendum - I am grateful for Glennon's truth-telling: We have been forgiven and set free and no one can take that away. No one. I am enormously grateful for her reminder in this blog post and video.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Re-post and review: The Dreaded "C" Word

Every now and again, I go back and reread old blog posts. Look what I discovered this morning??? The only change I've made is the addition of paragraph spacing. Apparently, when I started keeping this blog, I didn't realize that paragraphs were possible to construct, so I wrote really, really, really long one-paragraph essays.

It was originally published on October 27, 2004, my first month of writing this blog.


My father died of lung cancer three and a half years ago. 

My closest maternal uncle, Uncle John, died of prostate cancer two months ago. His daughter, Aprelle, who is not only my cousin but also my godmother, is battling bone cancer even as I write. 

Several aunts and uncles on my mother's side have died of various forms of cancer during my lifetime. 
Alyssa, the nine-year old friend of my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia yesterday. 
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, on Monday morning I was the interpreter at the funeral of Marta, a 42-year-old mother of two, who died of cancer last Thursday. 
Caroline, the seven-month old daughter of a dear friend of ours has already gone through four rounds of chemo, had surgery, and has four more rounds of chemo left before the end of the year. 
Cindy, one of my dearest and oldest friends is a seven-or-eight- year survivor of breast cancer that claimed both of her breasts. 

In March of 2002, Leza, my best friend from college died of complications from colon cancer that had spread to her brain. And she was the strictest vegetarian I have ever known - except for her final days when she broke down and asked for barbecued beef ribs and Pepsi. I was honored and thrilled to be the one to go to the restaurant and pay for her to eat them one last time. 
How on earth did she get colon cancer? Well, one answer to that question is that her mother died of ovarian cancer when Leza was just a few short years out of college. 

We all have sad stories and sobering statistics to add to this list. Whenever I see a woman with a flowery scarf, boldly colorful bandana, or silky kerchief tied over a hairless scalp, I want to hug her quietly and then scream loudly. Where did this awful disease come from and when are we gonna be done with it? Why do the cause for it and the cure for it elude us so efficiently? Why? 

Sean, my masters' degree thesis advisor was a remarkably honest man. When faced with a question he didn't have an answer for, he simply stated, "I have no coherent answer for that question." This is one of those inquiries for which there is no coherent reply. 

Cancer sucks. It evervates. It paralyzes. It demoralizes. It debilitates. It tortures. It kills. 

I myself had a breast cancer scare just last month. I will never be able to thank Brenda, the mammography technician, enough for her kind and supportive words, as well as her clear explanations for everything we saw on the various scans she did. When I left the mammography office, I saw the bewildered and horrified face of a woman whose news had obviously not been as good as mine. I cannot imagine the agony she faces with the treatments and surgeries that are sure to come. As I walked out of the Ob-Gyn office that awful day late in September knowing that I would have to undergo a diagnostic mammogram to figure out the nature of the lump I had found, I swore to myself that I would live my life as fully as possible no matter how much time I had left. I promised myself I would call my friends and family, send out letters, emails, and postcards telling all the people I love that indeed I love them. I promised myself I would always do the optimistic thing. I would find the silver lining in every cloud, look at the bright side, and be thankful in every situation. 

On October 7th, when I found out that all was well, I reiterated those promises. I reminded myself that I am not released from those promises simply because I had learned that the lumps were nothing to worry about. 

There is still war raging around the world. Famine, disease, abuse, addictions, crime, and a host of other earthly ills claim lives every day. Volcanoes erupt. Hurricanes blow through the South. Snow storms strand hikers in out of the way places. A family that was in our church two Sundays died in a plane crash this past weekend. Not one of us knows how long we have to live - even when the medical test results are "negative." 

So I "take the plunge" more readily nowadays, take more risks, and no longer hesitate to pray for and then make contact with friends when they cross my mind. I approached Lauren (Winner) on Monday night after her great talk on spiritual memoirs and extended my hand in friendship. I sent an email to Rebecca, a friend from years ago whose smile, laughter, and wisdom I miss. I wish her all the best with her soon-to-arrive baby. I called David in California to check in on my favorite handyman. I sent a postcard to Antonio, the best Jesuit priest I know. I leave countless phone messages for friends whose companionship on this journey called life I treasure. I send out emails that are far too long, give out way too many details, and ask way too many personal questions. I began to keep this blog so that I would have more opportunities share my love for words, my love for life, and above all, my love for my friends with my friends. But right now I'm gonna turn off the computer so I can go call my cousin and see how she's doing. 

Traveling mercies to you, Gail

Here is the link to the original post.

Wow! I had no idea what lay ahead of me on this journey that is my life... But if God is God and knows all that is yet to come, then certainly that post needed to be written then and reread today. The truth of what I wrote more than nine years ago rings even truer today - if truth can get truer.

Caroline, the girl who was diagnosed with kanswer as an infant, is now a beautiful girl, growing up with her father and older brother out in San Francisco.
My cousin, Aprelle, is done with bone kanswer, and living her funny, adventurous, indefatigable life in Brooklyn, New York.
Cindy continues to be kanswer-free now almost 15 years since her diagnosis.
I have lost touch with Alyssa and her family, but Kristiana is still friends with her son, so I assume all is well with her, or we would have heard something about it by now.

Nowadays, when I see women in bright scarves, sometimes I do hug them.

As for my litany of questions, I continue to ask those same questions -
why does kanswer exist? Why is there so much suffering in the world?
Why are there so many natural disasters and so much loss of life?

My list of questions is longer now than it was then.
So is the list of kanswer survivors.
So is the list of those who did not survive.
Kanswer still sucks. Kanswer will always suck.

Unfortunately, the dreaded "c" word became a reality for me eight years and 30-something days after writing that post. The dreaded "c" word became the empowering "k" word and I have emerged victorious from that battle. Thanks be to God - I am done with doctors' appointments, scans, chemotherapy, herceptin treatments, and all that other kanswer-related crap.
For better and for worse, my chest is flatter and my hair is shorter than it was when I wrote that post.
But my life is far sweeter now. I appreciate every day, every meal, every interaction in deeper ways.
My friendships are dearer. I reach out to those I love more frequently and with more intention.
My faith is stronger. My prayers are more frequent and filled with more gratitude.
My love is deeper. If I love you, you know it. If I am grateful for you and what you have done in my life, you know it. I don't hold back anymore.
I have a lot of questions, but I'm learning to live with them and also,
as Rilke* so wisely wrote, I am learning to live into the answers.
I have deep disappointments and significant concerns about my life and the lives of those I know and love. But my hope is still in the Lord.

And I still miss my Dad - whose birthday was October 27, the day that post was originally posted.

*“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I love to travel. Fly. Walk. Take a bus. Catch a train. Drive. Put me on an airplane and fly me anyplace. Put me in a car and let's hit the road. On more than one occasion, I have tried to compile a comprehensive list of the many cities and countries I have visited in my lifetime. That is a long list.

I have great memories of many trips my family made from Brooklyn, New York, down to North Carolina and South Carolina for family reunions. During my earlier years, we often visited a family that lived in New Haven, Connecticut - the father is an African-American man who taught German at Yale. (I didn't realize how AMAZING that was at the time. Now I get it...) We drove from our home in Brooklyn all the way out to California one summer, up to Canada once, and down to Daytona Beach, Florida, once or twice. One of my brothers went to Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and we drove him out there before his freshman year. I loved every mile of every trip. I hated, hated, HATED camping out in the tent we had, but I loved being in the van and watching the world roll by.

We had a 15-passenger van that my father used to drive children to and from school, and adults to the New York School for the Blind in Manhattan. There were four children in my family and each of us had a row/seat in the van all to ourselves. Mine was the third from the front. I would load it with pillows and teddy bears, books and paper, so that I would be alternately entertained and well-rested all journey long.

Those are fantastic memories. Well, most of them are good memories.
There is one truly horrible memory I have of one of our trips - and one very funny memory.

Only four of us made the trip out to California: my mother, my father, my brother, Darryl, and I. One night when we were in New Mexico, we stopped at a campsite and set up our tent for the night. We went swimming in the pool at the camp and then took showers before having dinner. Not long after we had finished eating, it started to rain. Hard. Thunder and lightning. The water began to rise and enter the tent. My father told us to get into the van, which was probably 15 or 20 yards from the tent. So Mom, Darryl, and I made our way to the van. Then we watched in horror as the tent poles collapsed, the tent fell, and the whole thing began to roll away in the water - with my father inside!!! Somehow he managed to get out of the tent, ball it up and shove it into the back of the van. We got the heck out of that campsite - and only then realized how deep the canyon around us actually was. It took us days to dry out all of our stuff. It took us weeks to get over the horror of watching that scene unfold and face the possibility of losing my dearly beloved Dad to a southwestern flashflood.

On that same trip, as we rolled along some hot highway out west, my father decided that we would stop at a rest area to use the bathroom and take a break. My mother was sleeping on the back row of the van. When we got to the rest area, my father woke her up and told her what we were doing. She said she didn't have to go to the bathroom and was going to just stay in the van. So the three of us jumped out of the van and took care of our business. We got back into the van, got back on the highway, and kept on going. About half an hour later, my father asked my mother where she wanted to stop for dinner.

"Honey? Sweetie? Eleanor?"

I looked over the back of my seat to the back row - and it was empty! Mom wasn't in the van. As it turned out, she had decided to go to the bathroom after all. We turned around at the next exit and went back to get her. She stood patiently outside the building at the rest area. My father was profoundly apologetic for having left her behind. She said, "I didn't know how long it would take, but I knew that at some point you would notice I was gone and you would come back for me." We laughed about that for hours.

Anywho... Coosawhatchie is the name of a town off Route 95 in South Carolina. I've seen it every time we drive down to Hilton Head. I should probably look it up on Google or some other search engine and find out where the name comes from. I assume it has some Native American significance.

That, or years ago somebody queried, "Do you remember the name of that town that is about half way between here and the coast? You know the one on the other side of where Aunt Verna lives? What is it called again? Coosy? Coosawhatchie?" And it stuck. Coosawhatchie.

There is something comforting to me about recognizing landmarks, familiar stands of trees, rest areas, and road signs as I make my way from one place to another on my travels. I enjoy looking at the license plates of all the cars that pass me as I drive along and try to imagine where people are going and why. Yes, I'm the person who always drives three to five miles per hour over the speed limit and 97% of the vehicles on the road pass me by - even the 18-wheeled trucks going uphill. I'm also one of the only people my age who has never received a moving violation - and I plan to have that fact etched into my tombstone - She Never Got a Speeding Ticket, Ever.

One of my favorite parts of taking trips is taking naps in the car - as long as I'm not driving. When I am driving, I like taking photos of my son while he's napping. I'm not sure if taking photos while driving is any less illegal than texting while driving, but so far I haven't had any problems. Perhaps I should rethink my epitaph - "She Never Got Caught."

As I drive along, I pay attention to the road crews cleaning up the trash that foolish and selfish people throw out of their cars and trucks. Often they are prisoners, out in the sunshine, picking up the detritus of road warriors too lazy to keep their trash until their next stop. I wonder how happy those men and women must be to be out in the fresh air, grateful to be outside the walls and barbed wire of the state prisons. I wonder if any of them have ever run away from the road crew site. I doubt it because the guards are always carrying shotguns.

 In my wilder daydreams, I used to think about what would happen if I stopped and offered a ride to one of the prisoners. Those daydreams usually ended up with me cut into pieces and left for dead while some hardened criminal drives away with my car, my purse, my clothes, and my journal. Nope, I've never picked up a prisoner or any hitchhiker for that matter.

While driving down to Hilton Head last Friday, I pulled out the small notebook I keep tucked in the door pocket and wrote down the word Coosawhatchie. I wanted to get the spelling right. I wanted to take a photo of the sign as well, but I was wise enough to realize that writing and taking a photo at the same time would mean that I didn't have either hand on the steering wheel. And that is not a good thing while driving along Route 95 South at 72 miles per hour (the speed limit is 70, of course). I wrote it carefully and sailed past the exit sign smiling at the budding blog idea that was running through my head. Suddenly I realized - THAT WAS MY EXIT!!! The GPS recalculated, told me to take an exit 20 miles south, and on we drove. Daniel was roused from his slumber when I said, "SHOOT, I missed my exit."

I love to travel so much that the extra twenty miles didn't bother me. And the total trip time was only about 15 minutes longer than it would have been if I had following the original plan and gotten off at... what's the name of that town again?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Yet Another Doctor To Thank

Yesterday was MLK Day - a day to celebrate the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Did I go to a march here in Charlotte to honor and celebrate his life?
Did I attend a march on Washington to demand more equality and justice for all?
Did I serve the homeless, the hungry or the poor?
Did I read a book about Dr. King or watch a documentary about his life?
Nope, nope, and nope again.

I woke up alone in a hotel room with a view of the pool and a walkway to the beach in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I took advantage of the coffee delivery service offered by the hotel, and after savoring that cup of coffee, I went for a long walk on the beach. I returned to the room where I showered, got dressed, packed our bags, and went outside to begin to put our stuff in the trunk. Daniel returned from spending the night at the vacation home of one of his tennis buddies. After he changed his clothes and we finished packing our stuff into the car, we spent the morning and early afternoon at the Van der Meer tennis center in Shipyard at the tennis tournament my son was participating in. At 2:15 in the afternoon, he and I began our journey home from that beautiful island I love so much.

While on the surface, yesterday was a day like so many others we have spent at so many other tennis tournaments, I was fully aware of the significance of our presence there on MLK Day.

Fifty years ago, when Dr. King was still alive, nothing that happened to me and Daniel yesterday or this past weekend as a whole would have been possible.

* First of all, Daniel would probably not even be alive because interracial marriage wasn't legal in many states here in the South. Not that Daniel was born in the South, but our marriage and his birth would certainly have been frowned upon, even in many of the northern states in the mid 1960s.
* But assuming Steve and I were married and Daniel had been alive 50 years ago, he and I would not have been able to stop and use the facilities at the gas station or rest area on our way from Charlotte to Hilton Head.
* We would not have been able to stay at the beach resort we enjoyed this weekend.
* He would not have been invited to stay in the home of a white tennis player.

* We would not have been welcome in or served at most of the restaurants on Hilton Head.
* We would not have been granted admission to the tennis centers where he played.
* He would not have been allowed to participate in the tennis tournament.
* I would not have been permitted to walk on the beach and speak to or even look at the white people there - unless I was serving them food or drink or taking care of their children.

Frequently during the course of our time there, I thought about the history of race relations here in North and South Carolina. I gave thanks for the dedication and sacrifice, the risks and demands, the belief and hope that Dr King brought to his pursuit of truth and justice for all.

I acknowledge that the experience Daniel and I had this weekend was probably due more to our financial status than improvement in race relations - although it didn't matter how much money black people had 50 years ago. The color of our skin would have been enough to exclude us from many places and opportunities during the time of Jim Crow laws.

I know that as a nation, as families, and as individuals we still have many old wounds that need to heal. I know there are many new wounds being inflicted on a daily basis due to our ongoing prejudices based on race, age, gender, skin color, hair color, body size, religion, church denomination, country of origin, first language, health status, sexual preference, employment status, immigration status, economic resources, city and neighborhood of residence, political affiliation, preferred source of nightly news, and so many others. We are experts at erecting boundaries and borders to keep ourselves separate and hopefully above others. We are also rather proficient at finding ways to beat up on and condemn ourselves for attributes both under and out of our control. There is still so much work to be done in our world and in ourselves.

Nonetheless, today I am thanking Dr Martin Luther King Jr for being a drum major for love, for righteousness, and for equality. I thank him for endangering and ultimately sacrificing his life not only to break the strangle hold of racism, fear, violence and hatred in this nation but also so that people like me and my husband could fall in love, get married and then raise our children here in the South. I thank those who followed after him and also lost their lives for our sake and on behalf of others. I thank my father and mother for moving from South Carolina and North Carolina respectively up to New York City where they met and fell in love and brought me and my three brothers into the world.

I thank God and pray daily for those who continue to work for freedom, justice, and peace. The battle is far from over. By some measures, things are worse for the poor in this country today than in Dr. King's time. That is truly sorrowful.

Although we didn't do anything particularly special or unselfish yesterday, Daniel and I will volunteer at the food pantry again on Friday - honoring Dr King as well as those we will serve. I will regularly remind my boy and myself of how much of the richness, the beauty, and the privilege of the lives we lead came about because of that famous doctor that we need to honor and thank - and not only on the 3rd Monday in January.

PS. My daughter spent yesterday at her university home-away-from-home, up in the mountains of North Carolina, living out the dream of Dr King and others that our sons and daughters would someday be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character... and their intellects, their GPAs, and their determination to be excellent students.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The sound of silence

This silence is full. Beautiful. Holy. Thankful.

This blog silence is because I have been busy preparing, packing, driving, unpacking, and leaving my daughter at her new home - a university dormitory in the mountains of North Carolina.

Last week, two days before she left, I pulled out collages of her baby photos and put them up on the bookshelves in our family room. I told her that THAT is how I see her - as my baby. Heading out into the world as a college junior, living away from home.

This silence is one of awe and gratitude.
She made her lists and checked them twice.
She packed her stuff carefully and efficiently.
She ordered her books and paid for them with a gift card she received for Christmas.

When we arrived on campus on Thursday, she knew where to go and what to do to get her ID card and room key.
She left us to unload the minivan while she went off to orientation for people interested in becoming teachers.
She returned to her dorm with her first friend, Rachel - which happens to be the name of her best friend here in Charlotte.
She spent that first night transforming her room into her cave and private retreat.
The next day, she met a professor from the Literature and Language department, which will be her major, and Professor Lobby immediately began to work with her to optimize her schedule. He invited her to come to the department office on Monday (tomorrow) to meet his colleagues and so that he can  help her make the best class choices this semester.
I stood in awe as she was showered with favor and blessings on Friday: friends, advisors, professors, deans, new classmates, they all seemed committed to one another and to the success of all the students.
When the time came for us to say our farewells, we stood together on the sidewalk outside her dorm and prayed together, for continued safety, wisdom, provision, fun, and higher learning for her.
Then we hugged and kissed and watched her walk back to her dorm. No tears were shed. No hands were wrung. We had been preparing for her departure from home and her arrival at college for so long. She was ready. We were ready. And now she is on her own, growing in her independence daily, basking in it, happy and hopeful.

Five years ago last Monday, she came home from the hospital after a total of 31 days over the course of about 50 days and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Tomorrow she will begin her junior year of college. My gratitude, my joy, my excitement, my trust in her and in God are all boundless tonight.

This blog silence in no way reflects the laughter, the praise, the celebration, the joy that has been loudly expressed and experienced in our home over the past couple of weeks.

I took two prayers from The Book of A Thousand Prayers and adapted them for my dearly beloved daughter.  Lord, we pray for Kristiana as she leaves home for the first time. Help her to settle into her new surroundings, and be with her as she makes new friends and adjusts to different patterns of living. Watch over her, Lord, and guard her, we ask. Help her to know your love and constant presence wherever she is and protect her in mind and body. Fill her with the power and joy of your Holy Spirit and keep her faithful to your son, Jesus Christ. Amen? Amen.

She found that prayer in a card I gave her shortly before we began our journey back home
- along with a little bit of cash. Everybody needs a little cash in their pocket.

Go, Kristiana, go!

Do not forget - All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of thing is already well.

Monday, January 06, 2014


When I was a teenager, my brother and his wife sang in the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. I loved going to their church on Sunday nights to listen to that marvelous choir sing marvelous songs of faith, hope, and joy. They used to have what they called, "cantatas," concerts around specific themes - like Christmas and Easter. During their Christmas cantata one year, they sang a song called, "When they saw the star." Upbeat and catchy, the lyrics included: "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great joy. When they saw the star, they rejoiced. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with great joy; they rejoiced with exceeding great joy."

The Biblical account in Matthew 2 tells us that "they" were the wise men, the magi, that followed the star they had seen in the east (which is present day Irag/Iran) and were led to Bethlehem to the baby Jesus: "They went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. They opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh."

Today, January 6th, is the day that the church celebrates the arrival of those wise seekers to the home of the Christ Child. Epiphany. The revelation. The arrival of the star, the Light of the World, and those who seek wisdom, light, and newness of life.

This morning, I read two beautiful Epiphany prayers in a book entitled, The Book of a Thousand Prayers. Here they are:

God of gold, we see your glory:
   the richness that transforms our drabness into colour,
   and brightens our dullness with vibrant light;
your wonder and joy at the heart of all life.

God of incense, we offer you our prayer:
   our spoken and unspeakable longings, our questioning of truth,
   our search for your mystery deep within.

God of myrrh, we cry out to you in our suffering:
   the pain of all our rejections and bereavements,
   our baffling despair at undeserved suffering,
our rage at continuing injustice;

and we embrace you, God-with-us,
in our wealth, in our yearning, in our anger and loss.

     Jan Berry

we offer you the gold of our desire to love,
   even though our hearts are often cold;
we offer you the incense of our longing to pray,
   although our spirits can be luke-warm;
we offer you the myrrh of our frustrations and troubles,
   even when self-pity and bitterness creep in.
Receive and make good our gifts
out of your great love for us,
and grant that we, like the wise men,
may find some kneeling-space at Bethlehem.

     Angela Ashwin

Having seen The Star, having decided to live in Its Light,
I too am rejoicing with exceeding great joy.
May the light of the world dispel the shadows in all our lives.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Singing in the Rain on this Thankful Thursday

Today I spent almost three hours serving people at the Loaves and Fishes pantry at church. Helping them choose food to take home and serve their families.

For each client, I am given a yellow post-it note with their name on it and the number of people in their families.

The first woman I helped was there collecting food for her family of 3. She was so grateful for the food and so overwhelmed by the seriousness of having lost her job that she wept - and accepted my offer of a hug.

One man had a backpack and two cloth bags that he carefully packed so he could get it all onto the bus on his way home. He too was deeply grateful for the assistance we offered.

I asked one toothless and smily client if she knew what her name, Bonita, means. She said, "Yes - pretty." I told her, "And don't you forget that." She laughed at my silliness - which was exactly what I hoped she would do.

One man said he had only recently arrived in Charlotte and, with his briefcase, crisp white shirt and tie, he looked like he came directly to the pantry from a job interview. I slipped him an extra stick of margarine and an extra pound of ground turkey. He shook my hand, asked my name, and said how grateful he was to have so much to choose from.

But the client who stood out most for me today was there with her sister. Neither of them could walk much so they took turns sitting in a chair that I moved from place to place in the pantry so they could see all the shelves and pick their food from a seated position. My client will undergo her final round of chemo for breast kanswer on January 8th. Do I even need to say that I cried when I found out? I got down on my knees in front of her chair and told her that one year ago right now, I too was undergoing chemo. She pulled off her hat, showed me her gloriously bald head, and asked if I too had lost all my hair. She was wearing very cute slippers, but because it started to rain while she was in the pantry, I tied plastic bags over them and walked her to the van that was picking her up. I asked her if I could hug her - and she too accepted my offer.

I keep those post-it notes, jot down a detail or two on each one so I will remember the client, and staple them into my calendar/diary. That way I am reminded to pray for them every time I open my calendar. So many stories. So many needs. So much suffering. So much love to offer. So many hugs. So many reminders that we are all in this together - that my life journey intersects with so many others at just the right time. I was reminded that my kanswer story is not mine alone. That my bus ride was by choice, but that is not the case for many people who ride the bus. That everyone needs a hug sometimes and an extra stick of margarine too.

Because I didn't have my car with me - which is a story all its own - at the end of my time at Loaves and Fishes, I had to walk two and a half blocks to the bus depot and take the bus home. Which I did gladly, with my umbrella up while singing in the rain.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve folks who need assistance.
I am grateful that they were willing to share a little of their stories with me.
I am grateful to be part of a church that serves the homeless and hungry of our city.
I am grateful that no one I know actually thinks Jesus would not "be down with" giving food freely to the hungry. (Who comes up with that foolishness???)
I am grateful to have the option to take the bus home when I don't have my car.
I am grateful that my daughter picked me up at the bus stop.
I am grateful that my daughter cooked dinner again.
I am grateful that my dear daughter is one week away from her first night on her college campus in Asheville.
I am grateful for the rain.
I am grateful for jeans, turtlenecks, socks, sneakers and umbrellas.
I am grateful that my husband is still gainfully employed and we can afford to eat so well, drive our cars, take the bus, wear clothing we like, and have enough free time to serve those around us.

Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.