Thursday, February 27, 2014

Things that are wonderful* - also known as Thankful Thursday

Andrea Scher wrote this piece recently. It is a timely and necessary reminder of the hope, the faith, the trust that "underneath the mess, everything is marvelous, I'm sure." Within that fine blog post was a link to this one - from which the title of my post is derived. Maya Stein, one of my favorite poets, wrote a poem called, "Comforts," that Andrea includes in her post about things that are wonderful.


This tall glass of ice water. This quadrant of untamed grass. This half of a grapefruit, pixelated with sugar. This final plank of an empty dock. This red-hued living room. This carved rhinoceros from a place where the real thing runs wild. This echo of a laugh, a touch, a conversation that turned the world upside down. This piece of lined paper. This single bloom from a late summer garden, tucked inside a thin vase. This teeming silence. This warmth. This brief break 
between disruptions. This sprawl of newspaper on the porch. This blank canvas. This tube of paint. This back road squirreling a mountain range. This maple donut filled with custard. This soup you’ll make when your father comes to visit. This five-dollar bill found after two loads of vacation wash. This faint smell of mint coming back from a run. This atlas on the driver’s seat. This curtain parting from the stage. This tree angling its leaves toward autumn. This story birthed from ashes. This unstoppable turning of the page.

How could their beautiful, well-chosen words do anything but draw me to the keyboard to compose a list of things that I think are wonderful, the things for which I am thankful today?

* getting paid for babysitting with homemade chocolate chip cookies and homemade granola
* the lentil and veggie stew that came from the same awesome friend... who is also an awesome cook
* laughing at Jimmy Kimmel and Paul Rudd with her while the cookies cooled
* driving home in the dark with my son, both of us eating those warm treats

* the sour, pungent, healthful experience of drinking kombucha
* the sweet, warm delight of drinking coffee
* the goodness of a freshly pressed green juice
* the sticky, gooey, artificially colored confection that is red Australian licorice

* a handmade Valentine's Day card from my niece
* sending a handmade Valentine's Day card to my daughter
* the bounty of love, affection, and presence that envelops me from all sides

* watching my tiny little doggie sniff at the grass, the bushes, the car tires, and nearly everything else she sees at her eight-inch line of sight, curious about everything she encounters
* the pure and unconditional nature of her love and loyalty to us
* the way that she can always tell if something is wrong with one of us - whether we are dealing with emotional, physical, or mental distress, she stays nearby until we are feeling better. Her empathy, her gentleness, her emotional connection to us is beautiful to behold and experience.

* taking long walks on warm days
* feeling the sweat bead up on my forehead and run down my temples - and not because I'm having a hot flash
* having the strength, the will, and the desire to exercise regularly
* the prospect of stringing together many days of long walks in the days, weeks, and months to come
* thinking of Leonie and her family who have enjoyed a hot summer during this same time that we have wrapped ourselves in robes and blankets to stay warm. For some reason, when I am cold, I am comforted by knowing that it is warm someplace and someone I know is enjoying the summer sun.

* the full moon sliced into slivers by the trees
* the pale pink blossoms on the trees
* the rise of the daffodils
* the refusal of most of the trees and bushes to be destroyed by the weight of the snow two weeks ago

* the simple but profound wonder of sending snail mail - I take it to the box at the end of my driveway. a stranger takes it out of that box and puts it in her truck, drives it to a building a few miles away, sends it through a sorting system, puts it into another truck or perhaps into a bag that will be put onto an airplance, and a certain time later, that letter ends up in the hands of the person to whom I sent it... most of the time.
* the way in which other strangers, some in brown outfits, some in outfits of other colors, show up at our front door with packages of all sizes, shapes, and weights
* the fact that they can leave those packages outside of our house if we aren't home - and we have never had a package stolen from our front steps or next to our garage
* finding letters or packages with my name on them either in the mailbox or at our front door and smiling with the recognition that someone else someplace else thought about me and trustingly went through that same process with me in mind

* the courage of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as they stand up against discrimination, ostracism, and isolation by some of my Christian brother and sisters
* the many Christians who are standing up against this same discrimination, apologizing for the short-sightedness and fear, ignorance and misunderstanding of Jesus' call on us to love one another, to put down our stones, and to go and sin no more
* remembering that Jesus didn't feed crowds of four or five thousand people - except for "the gays"
* the reminders that the only people Jesus got mad at were the religious people who were constantly challenging him for his association with social and religious outcasts, and his own disciples who often tried to keep children and needy people away from him
* the conversations, debates, blog posts, poetry, gab sessions, and other exchanges that are causing me to rethink my sometimes too-firmly-held-but-not-carefully-thought-out positions and figure out new and deeper ways to be who I am called to be in the world with and for others
* knowing that I am not alone when I acknowledge the fact that as my mind is being changed, I risk the loss of respect and communion with some folks whose opinions I used to share and agree with. There is a cost to taking a stand like this.

* watching a documentary about the Supreme Court decision on Loving vs. Virginia, the case that struck down all state laws that prohibited inter-racial marriage. I love that their names were Richard and Mildred Loving. They simply asked to be allowed to do their loving however and wherever they wanted. I am in the middle of watching (and discussing) it with my son, who is himself a product of the freedom granted by that decision.
* This is my second or third time watching it, and it makes me get emotional every time. What brave people they were. What courage it took for them to fight that battle and set an example for their three children of how to stand up for what you know is right, even in the face of danger and opposition. Even when that danger and opposition comes from the government, the police, and one's own neighbors and fellows townspeople. I am glad to know that the decision was unanimous.
* reestablishing the habit of kissing my 17-year-old goodnight and saying a bedtime prayer with him After all, who in the world is too old to be kissed and prayed with before drifting off to sleep? To be clear, I am usually the one going to bed when we kiss and pray, not him.

* The most wonderful thing right now is simple: I am alive. We are alive. And as long as we are alive, there is hope for the future, a future that can be built with love, courage, hope, faith in the midst of the pain, loss, suffering, and fear. We can find beauty and wonder all around us and within us. Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Out on a walk today

Today was another gorgeous day in Charlotte. Bright sunshine. Light breeze. Mild temperatures.
As I walked, I talked on the phone for a bit.
I looked at groves of trees and soccer fields.
I watched cars sail past a little too fast and a little too close.

I prayed for people I know and people I don't know.
My neighbor's mother died two weeks ago. She and her mom were best friends.
The mother of two of my favorite bloggers - they are sisters - died this past weekend.
One cherished friend has been actively seeking full-time employment for well over a year.
She also recently lost an uncle.
Another is planning a trip to Europe with her family.
My sister-in-law went back to work today, a couple of weeks after surgery.
Another sister-in-law walked a half-marathon to raise money for kanswer research this weekend.
The daughter of a dear friend who died of kanswer several years ago ran the full marathon at the same event in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Both of them had my name on their bibs. They don't know each other, but the both know me. I am humbled and so grateful for their love and kindness on my behalf and on behalf of the millions of others who have fought and are fighting kanswer.

I just finished reading a funny, sad, poignant book called The Victoria's Secret Catalog never stops coming - and other lessons I learned from breast cancer, by Jennie Nash. She wrote eloquently about the gift of love, friendship, meals, smoothies, hugs, and presence during the terrible ordeal that kanswer is. She wrote about the fear and courage, the decisions and uncertainty, scars and breast reconstruction, arrogant doctors and compassionate spouses, and the worry and hope that all ebb and flow during the months and years of treatment and survival following a diagnosis.

As I walked today, I thought about that book. I thought about Anya and Noemi and their commitment to help end the terrible reign of kanswer in the world by walking and running and raising money for the cause. I thought about all the women and men dealing with new diagnoses, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, recurrences, hospice care, saying good-bye to their friends, their neighbors, their children, their spouses - and far worse, the ones who are facing this battle alone. There are far too many people who keep their illness to themselves, who don't have strong shoulders to lean on, who don't have meals being brought to them, who have been forgotten and abandoned on the battlefield of their health crises. I weep when I think of those lonely, frightened, and exhausted warriors.

As I walked, I couldn't help but wonder about what I would do and how I would respond if I were to have a recurrence. The "what ifs?" do get burdensome sometimes, I must confess.

As I walked along the busy road, I looked down and saw a piece of paper propped up in the grass.

How perfect is that?

I read it as I walked past, and smiled broadly to myself. I took four or five more steps, then I went back and took this picture. For a split second I thought about picking it up and keeping it, but I decided to leave it there with the hopes that it would bless and encourage someone else the way it blessed and encouraged me. 

Out on a walk today, I fell into a pit of sadness because of the battles I know that so many people are facing, as well as a few of my own. Thanks be to God and to the person who wrote and sent a love note out into the world of South Charlotte, I didn't remain in that pit for very long. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

All other ground...

Our house, like many in the Carolinas, is built on red clay.

Soon after we moved in, I was reminded of that fact - the messy way. One day, two of Kristiana's friends came to play with her here in the house. One of them left to go home, but soon thereafter realized that she had forgotten something here. I opened the door and she ran up the stairs, into Kristiana's room, and back down the stairs, tracking red clay up and down the "builder's beige" carpet. Muddy footsteps on our newly cleaned carpet.

That clay might leave permanent stains but it does not provide a particularly stable or permanent foundation for a brick house. Two years ago, I noticed cracks in the brick on the front corner of our house. We had them fixed. Then last year, I saw more cracks. We got those fixed as well. Today, I noticed sizeable cracks in our driveway. I'm not even sure it's possible to fix these cracks - they are that big. Sometimes I want to sell the house and get away from this red clay and all the cracks and start again someplace more solid.

As I stared down at the broken concrete, my mind drifted back to the fortresses and churches and towers I saw in Spain last October. They were built more than 500 years ago, some of them, but they stood strong, no cracks visible, at least not to my untrained eyes. I wish out house was as well built as any one of those edifices.

But the truth is that no matter how well built the house might be, if it is sitting on a shaky foundation, slippery clay, or shifting sands, it will not stand firm forever. It will crack. And someday it will fall.

This morning while driving to a friend's house, as I listened to one of my favorite hymns,
I found myself singing these words:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name. 
On Christ, the solid rock I stand, 
all other ground is sinking sand, 
all other ground is sinking sand.

The first four lines there have not always been true for me.
I have built my hope on many things other than the blood of Jesus.
I have placed my trust in a lot of sinking sand in my lifetime.
I have leaned on many names and many people who have not been worthy of my belief.

I thought marriage would be the answer to my loneliness.
Sinking sand.
I thought parenting would be the most fulfilling job I could ever have.
Sinking sand.
I thought being actively involved at church would quench my doubts.
Sinking sand.
I thought my loyal and loving friends would fill in the cracks
that marriage and parenting and church couldn't fill.
Sinking sand.
I thought having money, a brick house, and a closet full of clothes,
I thought that traveling extensively, reading, writing, teaching -
and everything else I have ever had or done -
would combine to fill my soul, satisfy me, and ease the sensation of living on
Sinking sand.
No such luck.
All those things have helped ease my loneliness, my fears, and my doubts some,
but ultimately it's all sinking sand.
Because all of us are seeking and all of us are sinking.
All of us are a mess. All of us are hoping for that which we don't yet have.
And none of us can fill the holes for anyone or in anyone else.

Which is why I thank God for Jesus, for faith and hope and joy and grace.
I thank God for the stories of healing, of forgiveness, of tenderness,
of attention, of presence, of friendship between Jesus, the disciples, and
all the others who were blessed enough to know Jesus when he was on earth.
I am grateful for the story of the woman who wanted to touch
the hem of Christ's garment in the hopes of being healed.
I am grateful for the story of the woman caught in adultery
(I have often wondered: Where was the man she was caught with?)
whose life was saved by Jesus' intervention on her behalf.
I am grateful for the story of the woman who sat with Jesus at the well
and had the longest conversation with Christ recorded in Scripture.
When I reread those stories, my faith deepens as does my love for Christ.

Let me be quick to add: There are still times when I doubt.
When I question. When I wonder. When I think this faith thing is NUTS!
Born of a virgin? Fed thousands with one boy's lunch?
Died on a cross? ROSE FROM THE DEAD??? Crazy stuff.
Sometimes I can't believe that I believe it. Sometimes I doubt every word of it.

I have two books called, "The Benefit of the Doubt."
Different books by different authors with the same message: doubt happens.
It is normal. It is part of everyone's faith journey at some point.
Doubt is also useful because it always pushes me to ask more questions, to pray more,
to seek others who are willing to be honest about their questions and doubts,
and in the end, my doubt increases the strength of my faith.
Not long ago, I read something that said, "You can't doubt something you don't believe."
Like the father whose story is told in Mark 9, I often say: "I do believe; help my unbelief."

All my doubts notwithstanding, nothing gives me more peace or joy than the name of Jesus, 
than the stories of his life on earth, and the comfort of prayer and silence with 
the One that I believe loves me most of all. 

Shaky foundation. Shifting sands. Cracks in the walls. Broken concrete.
Every crack, every shift, every break I see in my house,
in my family, in my friendships, in my church, reminds me -
All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thankful Thursday

I am grateful for Jen Lemen, her cute little toes, and her spirit-lifting quote cards.

 I am grateful for the beauty, the quietness, the brevity of the snow.
I am grateful that we didn't lose power during or after the storm.
I am grateful for the meteorologists who kept us informed 
about the severity of the storm,
the department of transportation employees who worked to keep the roads from getting too icy,
and for the emergency workers who assisted the drivers who had accidents
and those who were stranded because of impassable roadways.

 I am grateful for the time we spent on the Isle of Palms last weekend 
before Daniel played tennis on Daniel Island.
I am grateful that there is an island whose name makes me smile everytime I say it.

I am grateful that we were able to safely exit our ice encrusted neighborhood last Friday morning.
I am grateful that we were able to drive to the tournament and back safely.
I am grateful for highways, exit ramps, rest areas, and gas stations.
I am grateful for tires that don't go flat, engines that don't die, and 
GPS that doesn't lead us (too far) astray.

I am grateful for the friends we have met through tennis.
I am grateful that my son has found a sport he loves to play.
I am grateful for the opportunity to watch him compete.

I am grateful that my daughter continues to be happy in college.
I am grateful for the friends she has made - with other students and with professors.
I am grateful for the ways in which she has settled into her newly granted independence.

I am grateful that she survived the experience of getting her first tattoo.
I am grateful that she didn't get it on her face or neck.
I am grateful for the peace of knowing that even if she had done so,
that would be her story and not mine.

 I am grateful for the pizza with arugula, green apple, carmelized onion jam, and goat cheese 
(hold the mozzerella!) that I ate at Vespa's on Daniel Island.
The second time, I also had an arugula salad with beets and other goodies.
I am grateful for the peppery perkiness of arugula, the sweetness of carmelized onions,
and the crunch of sea salt.
I am grateful for the people who love to cook for people like me -
who don't love to cook.
I am grateful for the simple, yet profound pleasure of enjoying good food.

 I am grateful for the beautiful full moon that watched from above with 
Daniel and his partner played doubles on Saturday night.
I am grateful for the beauty of creation - 
the sun, the moon, the stars,
the palm trees, the sea shells, the Spanish moss hanging from the trees,
the strong and gifted young tennis players who were there,
the island on which the tournament took place.

 I am grateful for 24/7, a place of prayer and meditation on 15th Street here in Charlotte.
I am grateful for the many little nooks and corners where I can sit, think, journal, 
and also read the prayers and look at the artwork created
by others who have taken refuge there.
I am grateful for the brave, resourceful, prayerful, generous people who began 
the 24/7 prayer movement and have spread it to 25 countries.
I am grateful that even though I have no real idea how or why prayer works,
I do know that prayer has changed me and strengthened me.
I am grateful for those who pray with me and for me.
I am grateful for the people I pray for.
I am grateful for the gift, the privilege, the honor of prayer.
I am grateful to and for the God who hears and answers my prayer.

I am grateful for my spiritual director, Pat, whom I met with yesterday 
at the Spirituality Center of Charlotte.
There were several quotes on the walls there, 
quotes that will inspire and encourage me in the days to come.
Here are two of them.

I am grateful for Thursdays -
and the way this day prompts me to express my gratitude openly and publicly.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Two Questions I've Been Asking Myself Today

I spent longer than I expected on this website yesterday. Glennon is the one who led me there, but I ended up exploring several video libraries after I watched three of hers.

I ended up watching three of Barbara Brown Taylor's videos and found myself answering the same two questions she answered in this one.

Warning: if you don't have time to explore for a while, if you don't like getting lost in thought or being baffled by questions and commentary on issues of faith and life, love and community, then DO NOT click on any of these links.

But do take a moment to ponder these two questions -
1. What's saving your life today?
2. What would break you?

Here is a partial list of what is saving my life today:

* faith, hope, and joy
* time with my spiritual director
* tea and conversation with friends
* solitude and silence
* journaling and prayer
* good, healthy food
* green smoothies and fresh juices
* vitamins, supplements, and Juice Plus
* snail mail letters and cards
* upcoming teaching plans
* yoga
* Pinterest
* speaking my truth
* faithful friends
* a welcoming faith community
* opportunities to serve others
* my loving, supportive, encouraging family
* wise words written and spoken by wise women in my life
* spending time thinking about who and what is saving my life today

What would break me?
Some people say that losing a spouse, a child, a parent, or one's health would break them. I lost my father to lung kanswer in March of 2002. I lost my daughter temporarily to a dreadful disorder that is currently under control - thanks be to God. I lost my health temporarily to a dreadful disease, but I am well on my way to full health and strength. And I know that if I lost my husband or either of my children, I would be devastated for a long time. I will have to wait and see if those things will break me. I don't even want to think about it anymore right now.

But having watched my father pass from this life into the next one and then removing the oxygen mask after he stopped breathing,
having seen my daughter suffer and be hospitalized for weeks,
having gone through my own medical challenges during the past fifteen months,
having given up the easy and carefree way of life I had before kanswer,
having recently faced the real possibility of my own death,
I have poured out my anguish, my anger, and my anxieties before God, my friends, and into my journal.
I have lain on the floor in my study and in my bed and cried until my eyes were swollen shut on many occasions.
I have asked why? why me? why her? why us?
I have prayed for a break, but I am not broken. At least, not yet.

I know that life is messy, that suffering is unavoidable, and that none of us will get out of this alive.
I also know that life is joy-filled, wonder-filled, and there is so much beauty.
As Glennon so aptly says, life is brutiful.

I am enormously grateful that despite the pain, the suffering, and the loss,
I am not afraid. I am not disheartened. I am not broken.
I am whole. I am healed. I am here.

What's saving your life today?
What would break you?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thankful Thursday

With more than four inches of snow and ice on the ground and every other exterior surface this morning, the first thing I am grateful for today is this warm and strong house we live in.

When I woke up this morning to the sound of Robert Benson reciting "Morning Prayer,"
I immediately gave thanks for the fact that we haven't lost power.

I am also thankful -
* that Daniel and I were able to get back and forth to the supermarket and gas station safely yesterday morning before the worst of the storm hit our area
* that there was still so much food available at the market
* that we were able to get what we needed and a few things we wanted...
* for the food I was able to prepare in anticipation of the storm
* for the fact that my daughter is safe and warm at college and surrounded by new friends and caring professors
* for the fact that far fewer people have lost power than was expected
* that I didn't have any urgent plans or appointments this week. I was planning to have a girls' night out tonight with Heather, but we will reschedule that for next week... which is closer to her birthday anyway
* that warm temperatures will arrive within the next day or two so that some of this snow and ice will melt forthwith
* for the beauty of the earth, the trees, the bushes, and the snow
* that we live here in the South where these kinds of snow events are rare and don't last long

* for green tea lattes with coconut milk
* for black bean and quinoa stew made in the crockpot
* for pizza made with hummus, salsa, spinach, olive oil, and sea salt
* for fresh juices and green smoothies
* for Trader Joe's dark chocolate and nutty bits
* for clean, fresh water to drink and shower in
* for clementines from Spain, the place I love best in the world
* for Shiva Rea yoga dvds
* for the public library from which those dvds were borrowed - along with piles of books on sewing and also books I use for homeschooling

* for the lessons that I have been learning lately. For example, I am learning to be less judgmental of other people and their choices. I am learning to stop myself when I begin to compare my life, my husband, my children, our finances, our home, my body, to name a few things, to other people. I am learning to say, "No" when I mean "no," and "yes" when I mean "yes." I am releasing the tendency to try to be perfect in every area of my life, to be "good" all the time (I'm not even sure what that means most of the time, but I try to "be good" anyway), and to always find ways to be better than other people. Again, I must confess that I have no idea what "being better" means, but those words have echoed through my mind for decades. Lately, I have been able to catch myself as I enter the comparison trap and instead I am beginning to compliment others on their achievements and successes without jealousy or one-upmanship. That comparison/jealousy/perfectionism pattern wounds the soul, the mind, the emotions, and also relationships. It is time for healing from those wounds and for choosing new ways to live and think and be on this life journey of mine.
* that I am less resistant to those changes than I was six years, six months, even six weeks ago
* for the peace, the contentment, the hope, and the joy that increase when the judgment, the envy, the pride, and the constant inner chatter are decreased

* that tomorrow is Valentine's Day, a day to celebrate love
* that we haven't bought each other anything - cuz love has nothing to do with getting more stuff
* for the paper and stickers and pens I already have that can be turned into cards and love letters - and not only tomorrow, but any day and every day
* for the many family members and friends who have been so loving towards me, especially in the past fourteen months or so
* that it has been over a year since my kanswer journey began
* that I am doing so well, continuing to get better and stronger with each passing week
* for the increasing number of days when I don't think about kanswer constantly

* for Pinterest... where I found the following quotes on gratitude.

- Gratitude is one of the sweet shortcuts to finding peace of mind and happiness inside. No matter what is going on outside of us, there's always something we could be grateful for.

- Be thankful for all the difficult people in your life and learn from them. They have shown you exactly who you do not want to be.

- If we do not feel grateful for what we already have, what makes us think we'd be happy with more?

- It doesn't matter if the glass is half empty or half full... Be grateful that you have a glass and there is something in it.

- Gratitude turns what we have into enough and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity... It makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.

- I've seen better days, but I've also seen worse.
I don't have everything that I want, but I do have all I need.
I woke up with some aches and pains, but I woke up. 
My life may not be perfect, but I am blessed.

*** I am blessed indeed. 
And oh so grateful.
Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Celebrating Love Day

Valentine's Day is an expensive holiday. Or it can be if you allow yourself to get sucked in by all the ads and promotions - Buy Jewelry! Buy Flowers! Buy Candy! Buy Cards! Buy A Red Dress! Or a Red Sweater! Or a Red Tie! Go Out For Dinner!

Buy, buy, buy - show your love with stuff!
Spend, spend, spend.
Eat, eat, eat.
Sparkle, sparkle, sparkle.

What if we all decided that, instead of buying more stuff this Valentine's Day, stuff we certainly don't need, we would simply express our love on our own terms? With our words. With our actions. With smiles and hugs and storytelling. With cooking food and enjoying it at home. Looking at photos of times spent together. Wearing red stuff we already have. Making cards from the paper, markers, and stickers we already have. Recalling why we fell in love. Sharing our love. Making love.

If there isn't a "significant other" in the picture, then you can love yourself. Do for yourself what you would want someone else to do for you. Make yourself your favorite meal. Pick out your best outfit and jewelry, shoes and overcoat on Valentine's Day and romance your own gorgeous self. Write yourself the love letter you've always dreamed of receiving and drop it in the mail - old school style. Be sure to decorate the outside of the envelope with hearts and sweet messages. From you to you. From me to me.

Recently, I finished a book called, To Pray and To Love, by Roberta Bondi. I had the privilege of sitting under her teaching this past Friday evening and all day Saturday at a retreat in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she spoke about the wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, third and fourth century writers and teachers who left the cities and towns in Egypt and went to live in the desert in order to deepen their walk with and love for God and each other.

One of the things Roberta talked about was God's love for all people and how difficult it is for many to believe that they are loved by God, that we are loved by God - that I am loved by God.

I grew up in a home and church where I was reminded that God was always watching me. That no matter where I went or what I did, God was watching. A verse I heard over and over when I was a child was the latter half of Numbers 32: 23 - But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure your sin will find you out. So even though I often heard people say, "God loves you," I found it nearly impossible to believe it. I believed that God was a cosmic policeman watching to see me screw up and was ready to pounce on me and punish me for every wrong thought, word or deed.

Hearing Roberta describe her love for her husband and her children prompted me to think about my love for my own family. Often over the years, I have compared my love for my husband and children to God's love for them. And I know that as much as I love them, God loves them a bazillion times more. But I've never been able to unreservedly apply that logic to myself - I have struggled with believing that God truly loves me as I am.

Roberta made us laugh when she told the following hypothetical story.

She described herself arriving home after this weekend, heavy laden with her suitcase and other stuff. She is greeted by her husband and pets at the door and tells them all how much she missed them while she was away. Her husband responds with hugs and greetings of his own. And then he says, "Roberta, I love you in spite of who you are." We all laughed heartily at the idea of such an outrageous statement - and we know we would never say that to anyone we love.

But that is what I have heard my entire life - that God loves me in spite of who I am. In spite of my rottenness and sinfulness, my horrible habits and terrible tendencies, God loves me.

Today I can say with a clearer understanding than ever before - That is a load of crap!
God loves me. As I am. As you are. As we have always been.
As we always will be. Period.

It will undoubtedly take the rest of my life to eliminate those voices that still echo and resound in my head and my memory - those voices that say that God is not only a God of love. That we cannot only cling to that truth about God, but we have to remember God's wrath and judgment first and foremost. Those voices that suggest that, contrary to what it says about God's love in John 3:16, God was in fact so disgusted with me that God's son had to come and die for me. Those voices that warned me about my wicked heart and evil intentions. Those voices that told me that I couldn't speak up when I was young because I was only a child. Then when I grew up, those voices told me that I had to be silent in church because I'm a woman. Those voices that still try to make me feel like less than a fully articulated member of the family of God for other dubious reasons.

I spent the first 40+ years of my life actively listening to those voices and internalizing their terror-filled sentiments. Those voices are still there, but thanks be to God, they are getting quieter with each passing day. I plan to spend the next 48 years, if I should be granted that many more, listening to the voice of The One Who Loves me and celebrating love every day.

I am grateful that what I am hearing more and more these days is this -
From my husband - I love you, babe.
From my kids - I love you, Momma.
From my friends - I love you, Gail.
And from God - Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine...
I love you. (Isaiah 43:1, 4)

On Love Day this Friday, I plan to bask in that newly embraced truth:
I am loved by God and by others just as I am, 
because of who I am, not in spite of who I am.

On Love Day this Friday, I will set aside time to remember who I am and whose I am. And I won't need any overpriced cards, fancy jewelry, or extravagantly decorated chocolates to remind me about it.
(Seriously, Steve - you don't have to buy me anything.)

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Scarred for life

The beautiful, talented, and ridiculously inspirational Andrea Scher wrote a piece recently that got me thinking about my beauty and my scars.

When I step out of my shower, I stand directly in front of the mirror over my husband's sink. There is no way to avoid it. Out I step and there it is. There I am. Bare.

And there they are - all my scars and marks.

Scars on my neck from when I had shingles in the 7th grade. The memories of the pain from that dreadful disease still make me shudder. It started off with a small blister at the base of my throat. I thought I had caught a zipper on my skin and bruised it. I am clumsy that way. But that blister became more blisters and they crept up the left side of my neck in front of and behind my left ear, and on into my hairline. There is still numbness on my neck and behind my ear because of that run-in with shingles. I never had the chicken pox, mind you, but at the tender age of 12, I was stricken with an illness normally associated with far older people. I used to wear turtlenecks as often as possible in order to cover those scars. One of the reasons I loved my locs so much was the fact that they covered those scars on my neck.

Stretchmarks on my lower abs and the top of my buttocks. Those shiny, thin lines remind me of the wonder of pregnancy, that time of growth and expansion when new life and new souls were being formed deep within me. Kristiana decided to stay in my womb 15 extra days - yes, her pregnancy lasted 42 weeks. When she was born, she looked like she had been sitting in a warm tub for... 42 weeks. Wrinkled fingertips and toes, long, soft fingernails, and lots of hair. Daniel was born on his due date, but the damage had already been done. No, let me rephrase that - the miracle had already happened. New life had been ushered into the universe through the portal of my womb, and my belly, hips, and backside would never let me forget it.

A small scar on the bottom of my belly button. As much as I loved being pregnant and adore my children, not long after I gave birth to Kristiana, Steve and I decided that we would have only one more child. Less than two years after Daniel was born, I had my tubes tied via laproscopic surgery through the base of my belly button. Snipped and cauterized, my fallopian tubes lost their ability to deliver ripe eggs into my uterus. Even though I am clear about the rightness of our choice for our family, there are times when I have wondered what additional children would look like and be like. At the same time, I recognize that if we had had more children, I would not be able to go out in the evenings, hang out with friends, or travel as much as I do now. Two children have been more than enough for us to handle.

Scars on my knees and elbows from many falls from bikes, down flights of stairs, and while running and playing in childhood and adulthood. Like I said, I am clumsy like that. I used to be ashamed of how often I tripped and fell, but now I realize that I fall because I am in motion. I fall because I am moving forward. I fall because I want to get to the next place, the next experience, and the next person I need to see and spend time with.

Scars on my chest and abdomen from the surgeries I underwent last year.
No more boobs. No more periods. No more kanswer.
Thanks be to God.

I had the opportunity to have reconstruction after my bilateral mastectomy. I was told that I am young and have many years ahead of me, years in which having breasts would make me feel better about myself and more normal after the horror of dealing with breast kanswer.
I see many commercials and ads for products that reduce the appearance of scars.
I have seen ads for plastic surgeons that promise complete scar removal.

No, thank you. No fake boobs. No harsh creams. No surgery to cover up other surgery.
This body of mine is the canvas on which the story of my life is being written and etched.
This is my body, blessed and broken, shared and loved.
I am not ashamed of a single mark, scar, or wrinkle.
Every single one reminds me of a battle valiantly fought and a victory gratefully won.
This is my body - scarred for life.


Addendum - Here is another piece talking about beauty and strength and being a woman in her 40s. There is so much to celebrate. So much to honor about ourselves and our stories and our scars. We have nothing to fear and nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing at all.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Another name change...

Every now and again, I feel the need to look backwards. To reread old blog posts. To rethink them. To rework them. To rewrite them. Recently, I republished and revised one of my earliest blog posts. Today I am revisiting another one that I think needs reconsideration, also from October of 2004.

It was entitled: "Have you ever wanted a new name?"

I know I have. My name is Gail. Gail - that's it. Nothing fancy. People ask me what it means and I have no coherent answer.

I'm not complaining about the name my parents chose for me, but I must admit to having gone through phases when I wanted something a little more exciting - especially when I was younger. At one point I decided to change my name and have people call me by my middle name, "Nadine." I don't know what that means either, but it seemed more interesting than "Gail." Fortunately I had (and still have) kind and tolerant friends. They agreed to call me by my new name. One problem: when they said, "Nadine?" I said nothing. It wasn't what I was used to being called, so I never responded. I soon went back to "Gail."

For all my high school years my track coach called me "Gailie." Even my high school boyfriend took to calling me by that name; on occasion he still does. I have never told either of them this: but that name makes me feel like a seven-year-old. One friend simply refers to me as, "G." That makes me feel mysterious, intriguing. I like that much better.

It's nearly impossible for my Spanish and Italian speaking friends to pronounce my name. As they struggle to wrap their mouths around that decidedly English "ai" vowel dipthong I smile and sometimes offer them an easier option: "Just call me 'Maria.'" That never works either for the reason mentioned above. I've gotta just deal with it: I have always been, am now, and will always be "Gail." Or am I?

One of my favorite songs is, "I Will Change Your Name." I have loved it from the first time I heard it. We sang it often at Trinity Church in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The words are simple: "I will change your name. You shall no longer be called Wounded, Outcast, Lonely or Afraid. I will change your name. Your new name shall be Confidence, Joyfulness, Overcoming One, Faithfulness, Friend of God, One who Seeks My Face."

That song moves me to tears nearly every time I sing it. For lots of reasons: first of all, I know very well what it means to live up to every single one of the names on that first list. Secondly, I only rarely and barely live up to that second set of names. This past summer while on an extended road trip with my children, I listened to the Trinity CD that contains that song dozens of times in the minivan.

While journaling one summer day I decided to list all the names I could think of that I no longer wanted to be called, the names I no longer wanted to call myself. I followed that exercise by listing all the new names I would choose for myself, the ones with which I would be christened if given the chance. I hope you don't mind if I share some of those names with you. Feel free to add your own...

"I will change your name. You shall no longer be called..." Weak, sad, contrary, rebellious, selfish, divisive, a gossip, complaining, impatient, jealous, nosy, unforgiving, unloving, conceited, cold, distant, moody, unavailable, grumpy, unwilling, judgmental, uninvolved, uncaring, unkind, controlling, nagging, uncommitted, prejudiced, insensitive, unreliable, aloof, overbearing, hypocritical, intimidating, needy, clingy, demanding, inflexible, or desperate.

"I will change your name. Your new name shall be..." Loyal, patient, persevering, mindful, diligent, disciplined, truthful, careful, thoughtful, joyful, helpful, generous, considerate, willing, vulnerable, open, gracious, unbiased, hospitable, transparent, honest, sincere, comfortable, comforting, attentive, persistent, reliable, warm, welcoming, meek, available, funny, gentle at heart, bold, caring, deferential, friendly, open, trustworthy, wise, vital, understanding, prayerful, humble, cheerful, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, self-sacrificing, peaceful, peace-making, and loving.

I'm not always spiritual and high-minded in my naming ceremonies, believe me. I also want to be known as a good cook, an insightful writer, good looking, well groomed, well dressed, well read, well traveled, sexy, sweet-smelling, the life of the party, and an engaging conversationalist. Obviously, I won't be able to fit all of this in the "Name" blank on the form to renew my passport next year, but it's been both good fun and a serious challenge to reflect and work on this list over the past few months.

How would you fill in these blanks?
"You shall no longer be called _______________________________.
Your new name shall be ______________________________."

Hope your autumn is awesome, Gail


On this, the third day of February of 2014, I am no longer called:
* kanswer victim or kanswer patient
* ugly (I had an uncle who called me "Ugly" from when I was little until I was nearly 25 years of age. Instead of "Hey, Gail," he said, "Hey, ugly, how's school? Hey, ugly, are your parents at home?" It took me until adulthood to correct him. One day as I left my house to go to work as a teacher at my high school alma mater, he greeted me outside my house: "Hey, Ugly. How are you doing?" Deep breath - "My name is not ugly. My name is Gail.")
* fearful
* resentful
* to be quiet in church
* to try to live up to anyone and everyone else's expectations for me
* to imitate other people's lifestyles, marriages or lack thereof, writing styles, or eating choices
* to follow anyone else's advice or even entertain their opinions
* to attend every event I am invited to
* to be the only one in my house to cooks, cleans, does laundry, runs the dishwasher, or answers the phone
* to worry about the things that used to wake me up in the middle of the night: my health, our finances, problems with our house, my children's future, my future, the world in general
* to seek the approval, attention, or appreciation of others in order to do and be all that I am called to do and be

My new names include:
* kanswer survivor
* survivor of The Big Chop and proud wearer of a TWA (teeny weeny afro)
* amateur seamstress
* broken-hearted fan of Peyton Manning
* healed and whole
* one who curses every now and then
* honest
* available
* adventurous
* fearless
* courageous
* healthy
* upbeat
* funny
* grateful
* teacher
* joyful
* peaceful
* beloved daughter and cherished friend of God

These days I am called:
* to speak and teach on a regular basis
* to be willing to be wrong and willing to admit when I am wrong
* to change my ways and my attitudes when necessary
* to challenge others when I think they are wrong
* to walk away from people and situations when they are unwilling to engage in honest conversation
* to serve the needy and feed the hungry
* to enter into silence - on my own terms and in my own unique ways
* to pray without ceasing
* to keep writing and telling my story
* to learn more about writing and prayer and solitude and silence
* to love more deeply
* to forgive more quickly
* to laugh more loudly
* to eat more healthfully
* to practice yoga more regularly
* to be awake and alert not only to the many blessings, but also to the many challenges of this life
* to draw attention to the miracle that life is
* to recognize the holy in the ordinary
* to encourage others to do the same
* to do all things with gratitude and joy, all things, even the hard things, especially the hard things