Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thankful Thursday - A Love Story

Every now and then, I fall back in love with Jesus. Crazy, I know. But it's true. I will hear a song or see flowers in bloom or or be hugged by a young child or fli through an old travel journal or read an amazing book and be reminded of just how much I love Jesus.

Today's motivator of the rekindling of my love for my Lord is a book by Martha Kilpatrick called Adoration.

(Full disclosure here - I received this book from an organization called Speakeasy - a group that invites bloggers and other writers to review books on our blogs. The books are sent for free and in exchange for the free reads, we agree to write reviews within 30 days of receiving the books. I love to read. I love to write. I hate to spend money. What a deal!)

Martha Kilpatrick begins this marvelous book this way -
When Jesus visits
some stare but are blind,
some know and are ignorant.
But occasionally one sees
in holy wonder...
(page 5)

Amen, Martha. Amen. That's exactly how I see Jesus. That's how I see this walk of faith. That's how I see much of my life - which is exactly why I began and continue this habit of Thankful Thursday blogging. There is so much beauty in the world, in the people of the world, in the magnificence of creation. I happen to believe that all of this was created by God and given to us to enjoy - to gaze at in holy wonder. So when I saw those opening lines on one of the earliest pages of this book, I knew I had a gem in my hands.

This book is about Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus of New Testament fame. She's the woman whose story is told in John chapter 12, the one who broke the alabaster flash of precious oil, anointed Jesus' feet with it, and wiped his feet with her hair. The story is also told in Mark chapter 14 and in that account, when she is ridiculed for wasting the oil on Jesus, he responds by saying, "I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." This book, Adoration, is a detailed consideration of Mary and her deep, passionate, unequaled love for Jesus. She sat at his feet and listened to him speak. She sat at his feet and wept tears of gratitude and joy and love. She took a bottle of perfume worth a year's wages and poured it onto the feet of the one she loved most of all. Indeed, she was one who "sees in holy wonder."

Later in her book, Martha Kilpatrick writes -
God is willing to be and wants to be
(Do you understand? He wants to be!!!)
the Intimate Companion of the most secret place,
the Consummate Lover to the desperate soul. 
To Mary, Jesus was a person - fabulous and amazing.
She knew Him by His name... JESUS.
He was not just Teacher, Rabbi, Father.
He was a person, knowable, intrinsic.
He was not his labels... to her.
He was not his roles, 
He was not even his miracles to her.

He was her heart's companion,
the long-lost mate to her soul, the finishing
of her own being, the mirror of her creation,
the secret of her mystery.

She let him into her ordinary humanity
with no inhibitions.
She exposed her bare soul to him,
to be known, to be captured.
(page 33-34)

Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it truly a love story? Jesus was not only a teacher, a healer, or a miracle worker. He was the lover of her soul and she wasn't afraid or ashamed to show her passionate love for him regardless of who was in the vicinity. Mary's love for Jesus captivated her, filled her, defined her, became her most easily identifiable trait. He was all she needed and wanted.

Martha Kilpatrick's eye for the details of these stories, her ability to find new nuggets of insight I had never seen before - and I have read the story of Mary of Bethany dozens of times - caused me to read the Biblical account several more times and gain a deeper appreciation for the kindred spirit I share with Mary of Bethany. I too fall to my knees and weep sometimes when I pray, when I journal, when I am reminded of the love of Christ, the faithfulness, kindness, generosity, mercy, healing, comfort that overflow into my life because of who Jesus is. I have been known to use fragrant oils in prayer and in rituals of gratitude towards God. I have been known to weep in front of dozens of people when I pray or read the Bible or share some of what I am learning through prayer and Scripture. What can I say? I love Love.

This book, Adoration, examines Mary's love for Jesus more meticulously than I have ever seen or read before. This book speaks of her need - my need - for the inestimable treasure of relationship, personal relationship with Jesus. Not the kind that begins and ends with "an altar call," but that kind of relationship that deepens over time, that broadens with the passage of time, the kind of love that excludes no one and welcomes everyone. This book grants people like me permission to love Jesus elaborately, passionately, whole-heartedly, unashamedly, openly, and excessively - if such a thing were possible. I can pour out my heart's desires, my needs, my dreams, my longings, my hopes at the feet of the one who loves me most and rest in the cradle of his loving embrace. I can fully indulge this love affair with Christ without apology or explanation.

Like Mary, I have been ridiculed and insulted for my sentimentality and my faith. I have been called naive and hyper-emotional. I have been smiled at condescendingly and dismissed for my beliefs. But this is true love. This is my greatest love. This is the love that sustained me through kanswer, through my daughter's illness, through job loss, through moving from one state to another, through the death of my father and my father-in-law, through so much sorrow and loss and pain and fear. I know that because of this Love story I am in the middle of, I can always find a quiet corner, close my eyes, open my heart, and feel the love of Jesus wash over me, into me, around me, and through me in inexplicable ways. Inexplicable and indescribable until I read this book, that is.

One of the things Martha Kilpatrick does very well in this book is draw a stark contrast between Mary's adoration of Jesus and her sister Martha's spirit of borderline contempt for Jesus. (Confused? The author's name is Martha and that is also the name of Mary's sister...) One example comes from the account in the John chapter 11 of the death of Mary and Martha's brother, Lazarus. I have always been intrigued by the fact that both Mary and Martha said the same thing to Jesus when he showed up four days after Lazarus died.

In separate encounters with Jesus, the two sisters said, "Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

The author of Adoration posits that Martha said it as a reprimand of Jesus for his absence, but Mary said it as a recognition of the fact that he was the loving and all-powerful solution to all their challenges. When Martha addressed him, he responded to her with important spiritual truths. When Mary spoke to him, he became overwhelmed with emotion, wept, and then performed a miracle. (Adoration, pages 71-72) That's what I hope my prayers do for Jesus - touch his heart and cause him to perform a miracle - even if that miracle is simply helping me to remember that no matter what life brings my way, he, Jesus, is walking with me all along this journey.

Here is another example of how Martha tells this love story far better than I ever could -
What Mary chose to seek... to grasp... to own -
possessed her and also became the Treasured Property
to which she gained permanent title.
Christ was her personal Wealth, her Prize of Life, her Home.
Neither man nor nature could move or remove this possession.
No evil could dislodge it. No enemy steal it.
He, the only Imperishable, was
the hiding place of her spirit.
And no one could get in, much less steal. 
(page 51)

No one else possesses me the way my Lord does.
No one else has access to the hiding place of my spirit as Jesus does.
No one else can get into the secret place of my love for my Lord.
No one else knows the depths of my heart in the same way.
No one else can handle my fears and doubts, my laughter and joys,
my pride and deceit, my hopes and expecations like my dear sweet Savior.
I can love him, talk to him, listen for him, and adore him for eternity and never have enough.
And that is exactly my plan. For all of eternity.

This is a love story - Mary of Bethany and Jesus.
This is a love story - Gail of Charlotte and Jesus.
And this is also a book-love story - Gail and this book, Adoration.
I have reviewed two other books for Speakeasy. I don't think I will reread those other two books again. I don't even know where they are at the moment. This book, on the other hand, will remain within arm's reach of me for a long, long time.

Thank you, Martha Kilpatrick, for this confirmation that my love for Jesus is not excessive and never can be.
Thank you, Speakeasy and Mike Morrell, for the gift of books and the freedom to write what I really think and feel about the books I receive.
Thank you, Jesus, for so many reasons to love you.
Thanks be to God.

Disclosure of material connection - I received this free book from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed here are mine alone. I will not receive any commission if you choose to buy and enjoy this book. I am disclosing this according to the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR Part 255. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I almost cried at Staples today...

Truly it was a "first world problem" kind of moment. I had the whole thing planned. I was going to get paper for our two home printers and I wanted to pick up another pack of my new favorite pens. I had a printer ink refund card and a Staples reward for $10. I figured that if I got two packs of paper and one pack of pens, I would end up only having to pay $5 or $7 out of pocket. I got to the cash register and after the kind woman rang it all up, I handed her the refund card and she scanned it. Then I showed her my refund email coupon - and she said that she couldn't scan it because those coupons have to scanned first. They cannot accept coupons after gift cards. She called the manager over and I heard the same lame story. The manager said she could void the entire transaction and start again - but with the line growing behind me and the tears building up in my eyes, I said, "Never mind. I will use the coupon some other time." Crap!

As I walked to my car, with tears brimming, I asked myself, "Why are you so emotional about something so simple? What's really bothering you? It's certainly not two packs of paper and a pack of pens. So what is it?"

I've been feeling a deep feeling of loneliness lately. Of sadness. Of sorrow. As much as I like to focus on gratitude and joy and happiness and peace, there are times when my tears just need to flow. The reasons that I cry vary. The times when I cry vary. The triggers for my crying vary. Some days I need a good cry. Today is one of those days.

I saw a little boy riding a scooter yesterday and on the back of his tee shirt was an oval with a fish in it. The message had something to do with swimming for a cure for kanswer. It said, "Keep swimming, Mia." Crap - another kid fighting for her life against this dreadful disease. When will this kanswer madness end?

Listening to NPR stories about the ebola outbreak in Africa, unrest and violence in Ukraine, elections in Egypt, and in Europe, the account of the man who shot and killed people because he couldn't understand why women didn't want to sleep with him, the man who did exactly the same thing a few hours later, the fact that thousands of people will say that guns aren't the problem and there shouldn't be any laws restricting the purchase or carrying of guns, the men who showed up at a Chipotle restaurant carry AK 47 rifles, another mudslide with loss of life, wildfires out west, those schoolgirls who are still missing, still under the control of their kidnappers, hundreds of thousands of lives lost in wars over the years - and not only American lives, one of my neighbors lost her job, a dear friend isn't sure if her child will be able to graduate from high school... the list of sorrows and heartbreaks is long and getting longer every day.

Two old hymns come to mind.

I must tell Jesus all of my trials. I cannot bear these burdens alone.
In my distress, he kindly will help me. He ever loves and cares for his own.
I must tell Jesus all of my troubles. He is a kind and compassionate friend.
If I but ask him, he will deliver and make of my troubles quickly an end.

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear.
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.
Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear
all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

I used to think that if I prayed then everything would be okay. All my problems would be solved. I would be healed. Everything that bothered me would disappear. And all I had to do was pray. Of course, I had to find the right words, pick the right Bible verses to quote back to God - because God always responds to the quoting of His Word. If I asked in the right way with the right tone of voice the right number of times, then I would get what I wanted. The bad news is that I never figured out the right pattern in order to get God to answer "yes" to all my prayers. The good news is that I never figured out the right pattern in order to get God to answer "yes" to all my prayers. The best news is that I have learned that prayer is about opening myself to God, to God's will, to God's direction and wisdom. Prayer is about talking to God and listening to God. It's not about getting God to give me whatever I want whenever I ask. I can testify that there are things I have prayed for and received that I wish I hadn't gotten... but that's a-whole-nother discussion for a different time.

Two days ago, I listened to both of the hymns I quoted here, songs I have sung since I was a young child, songs I memorized before I was ten years old. But this time, I heard them differently. It's not that all my troubles will go away when I tell Jesus. What will happen is that Jesus will help me. Jesus will love me and care for me. I will no longer bear these burdens alone. So much needless grief and sadness, so much heavy lifting that I try to do on my own, so much forfeited peace and rest and joy. Truly Jesus is the kindest and most compassionate friend, the most loyal and ever-present friend I've ever had. But I must admit that I wish Jesus would bring more of my troubles, first world though they often are, quickly to an end.

After leaving Staples, I got into my car and drove towards the supermarket, which was my next stop. I spent those seven or eight minutes telling God how pissed off I was about the coupon fiasco, natural disasters, kidnapping, gun violence, mental illness, overpriced medical procedures, loneliness, and unfulfilling relationships. I told God that I wanted a break from the usual disappointments and a glimpse of something brighter and happier and more fulfilling. (I also realized that I should have told that cashier to take the pack of pens off my total and then had her ring it up on a separate order and paid with the coupon. Truthfully, I shouldn't have bought the pens at all.)

God's amazing grace showed up in how much better I felt after that heart-opening eight minute car ride. God's grace showed up in the bounty of fresh corn and watermelon and salad greens and bananas and other colorful, healthful goodies I picked up at Harris Teeter. God's grace showed up in the simple joy of seeing that someone else had emptied the dishwasher this morning while I was out running errands. God's grace showed up in the chapters I read from Furious Pursuit - Why God Will Never Let You Go. Boy, oh boy, have I needed this book in my life over the past week or so. No one can be reminded too often that they are loved and being furiously, relentlessly pursued - certainly I don't hear it enough.

God's grace shows up in the midst of my tears too, in my anger, in my loneliness, and in my sorrow too. God's grace shows up in the reminders that I am loved, that I am chosen, that I am being faithfully and fiercely pursued, that even when I feel most neglected and lonely, I am never alone. The same is true for you and for everyone everywhere.

I almost cried at Staples today. I have been crying as I've typed this post. And I'm sure I will cry several more times today and this week. There is so much sorrow in the world, in my family, and in me. Crying often makes sense in this wounded and broken world.

But there is beauty as well, and justice and peace and joy and love and grace and mercy and compassion. I'm sure I will weep over that is well.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Thankful Thursday... Wait - it's Friday

Today I am thankful that I was too busy having fun long into the night last night to compose my regular Thankful Thursday gratitude list.

What am I grateful for?

* a visit with a dear friend over tea and international cookies (each cookie had the name and an image of a city or country on it)
* laughing at crazy products with her as we walked through World Market
* my daughter and I met my Mom at Starbucks today and had a lovely time
* a lunch date set up for tomorrow
* a baby shower as well - new life is soon to come. Who doesn't love that new baby smell?

* volunteering at the Loaves and Fishes food pantry with my daughter this afternoon
* for the conversation I had with one of the other volunteers in which we spoke of the time we spent in Haiti, not on the same trip, but we both went to the same village in the mountains of that beautiful island
* each client who came in to pick up food, some with smiles, most with hard-luck stories to share, all with gratitude for the assistance we were providing
* the woman who asked us to pray for her as she is interviewing for various jobs
* the other woman who is dealing with vision problems due to diabetes and who takes care of her 14 year old nephew who has hepatitis and several other serious illnesses that keep him out of school
* I am enormously grateful for the existence of that pantry, not only for those in need of the sustenance provided, but also for those of us whose needs are different, but who want to help them meet their pressing need for food

* all the beautiful, fresh, sweet, ripe fruit and vegetables available at this time of year
* whenever there is a sale on fresh produce
* the ability to go to the supermarket and buy what we need and what we want without worry
* the many supermarkets, farmers' markets, roadside stands, and other stores where so much food is available for purchase
* this amazing, beautiful, overworked, underappreciated planet that provides us with so much bounty
* those willing to do the intense and often thankless work to grow, harvest, ship, stock and sell it to the world
* I am grateful that my tastebuds are back in full working order - losing that simple and profoundly important gift during chemo is not something I will soon forget

* getting my sewing machine back from the repair shop
* not running into the EXTREMELY RUDE woman who attended me when I dropped it off last week
* that I didn't reach across the counter, grab her by the throat, and give her a good shake
* the kind and gracious and thankful gentleman who explained the problem to me
* not having to pay too much for the repair
* I am grateful (in advance) for the alterations of old garments and the production of new garments that I will be working on in the next few weeks
* I am grateful that I have stopped buying fabric - I do not need to make any more maxi skirts or infinity scarves than the ones already in production!

* I am thankful for the chatter of birds, chipmunks and squirrels when I'm walking in the morning
* I am thankful for the cool temperatures during those early hours of the day
* I am thankful for air conditioning in the heat of the day
* I am thankful for the efficiency of the ceiling fan above my bed, especially at night

* I am thankful for the breezes that blow through the car when I drive with the windows open
* I am thankful for gas stations with the option of getting a car wash
* I am thankful for safe travel every time I return from an outing and pull into my driveway

* I am thankful for electricity every time I flip a switch
* I am thankful for running water every time I turn the handle
* I am thankful that I still notice those tiny miracles
* I am thankful that my life has consisted of so many miracles, large and small
* I am thankful that even in the darkest and most difficult times in my life, there have always been miracles - always

* I am thankful for the many courageous women (and men) writing and  telling their stories of illnesses, of infertility, of divorce, of depression, of difficult parenting issues, of financial instability, of loneliness, of body image issues, of eating disorders, of addiction, of sorrow of all kinds
* I am thankful for the stories of healing, forgiveness, strength, reprieve, restoration, reconciliation, love, babies, jobs found, graduation, completion, reunions, and marriage too
* I am thankful that so many people are willing to open their mouths and their hearts, inviting all of us to walk with them on their journey and inviting themselves to walk with us on ours. As we say in our house, "Everybody's got something," so once someone decides to break the silence and tell the truth, keeping it real, then the rest of us can exhale, breathe deeply, drop our tense shoulders, and surrender into the beauty and the mess, the joy and the grief, the hunger and the fullness, the doubts and the trust, the fear and the hope, the hugs and even the rejections that we all face in this life, on this life journey.
* I am thankful for you - that you are here with me on my journey, reading my rants, sending love and encouragement and kind thoughts.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Keeping it Real

I went out to lunch on Saturday with a friend I hadn't seen for a long time. From the moment I got into her car until she dropped me off four hours later, we didn't stop talking, telling stories, laughing, moaning, nodding our heads, shaking our heads, marveling at how much we have in common.

We talked about marriage, parenting, church, faith, our mothers, our bodies, our love for Spain, travel, and money - among other things.

We also committed ourselves to trying to "keep it real" more often. To tell the truth about ourselves and our thoughts, our faith and our doubts, our families and our wishes to run away from home. We promised each other that we would make a more consistent effort to "keep it real" on Facebook, with our families and friends, and most importantly, with and within ourselves.

Tonight, my "keeping it real" confession is this - I am a terribly underprepared and disorganized homeschooling mother. Whenever I tell people that I homeschooled Kristiana through her entire pre-college years and Daniel has spent only one year in traditional school, they say things like, "Hats off to you. I could never do that. It must be so hard. You must be so organized."

Who wouldn't want to keep this sweet face safe at home?

Thank you for saying all that, but the truth is that I used to be far more organized than I am nowadays. I used to plan units and lessons weeks in advance. I don't anymore. I barely plan two or three days in advance anymore. I'm tired. Truly, I'm exhausted.

I'm ready for a break from wondering what to teach and what to read. I am ready for a break from the guilt of feeling like I'm not teaching him enough and he is missing out on things that "all the other high schoolers in the world" know. I'm ready for a break from worrying about whether or not he will be ready for college. I'm tired of the weight of this responsibility.

Heading off to school for sixth grade

At the same time, I love the fact that every year, except for his sixth grade year, he has chosen to be a homeschooler. Towards the end of his fifth grade year, he said he wanted to go to school, to see what it was like. So he went to school, a local Christian school. He had a great time there, made friends, participated in athletics, and handled his school work without much help from me. He had to decide by Valentine's Day of that year if he would return for the seventh grade. He chose to come back home.

Rating his sixth grade homework assignments

I love being with him every day. I love the fact that he doesn't have to get out of bed at 5 am and prepare to leave the house while it is still dark outside. I love the fact that he doesn't have to find a table of friends in the lunch room, avoid bullies in the hallway, or deal with teachers and administrators who will never love him the way that his father and I do.

In addition, my son and I have fantastic conversations on a daily basis - about rap music, tennis, the Bible, food, college, professional sports, prayer, allergies, politics, those missing Nigerian school girls, our silly little dog, driving, travel, the weather, his friends, my friends, church, television shows, the classes I teach at church, my mother, my mother-in-law, and more. Every day I get to sit with my son and share my heart with him. And remarkably, he shares his heart with me. We laugh together and cry together. We drink tea together and eat cookies too. He makes the best nachos on the East Coast and doesn't hesitate to make me a batch when I ask him to.

Keeping it real - I'm a terribly disorganized homeschooler who needs to spend time grading a paper my boy submitted last week, editing his transcript for this year, and making calls and arrangements related to what he will do next year as a senior in high school. I'm not looking forward to any of that. Not one bit. But I wouldn't trade these days, these weeks, these months, these years at home with my children for any public school, any private school, or any boarding school education that money could buy.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What I learned at church today...

I love going to church. Prayer and music and baptism. Listening and learning. Reading and taking notes.  Laughter and tears. Hugs and kisses. Asking, pondering and answering tough questions about faith and life and serving one another and those around us who are in need.

Today, I experienced all of the above.

Hundreds of adults met in the fellowship hall at Sunday School hour for a class called, "Conversations from the Street." The idea was that we would discuss our questions and fears, our hopes and concerns about our encounters with people on the street, be they homeless, hungry or otherwise in need of help. People asked if we should give money to people who ask for it. If we offer one kind of food but they protest and ask for a different kind of food, how obligated are we to giving them what they want? What if someone shows up at our homes and ask for a place to stay or money or food? What if someone wants to use the restroom at the church? What about in our homes? What if someone shows up at the church at the time of a paid meal, like on Wednesday afternoons or evenings when weekly meals are offered to attendees, should homeless people, those without enough money be able to come in and eat for free? What if we don't believe the hard luck stories we are told? Does it matter if the person asking is telling the truth? Do we have the right to make suggestions or demands about what people on the street do with the money we give them?

Excellent questions. We didn't get to discuss most of them as we didn't have enough time.

The one comment that resonated most with me didn't answer any of the questions posed. Our new, wonderful, wise, thoughtful, generous, experienced, challenging minister of missions said this: No matter whether you give money or food or not, look the person in the eye. Smile. Pay attention.  She said there is a myth that most of the people who are on the streets have a mental illness. She said that is a lie, that only about 15% of the people on the street are mentally ill before they become homeless. What often happens is that days and weeks and months go by and the men and women standing on corners, sitting on benches, lying on heating grates, and asking for assistance are ignored. Passersby (myself included) don't even look at them - so they begin to question their reality and their existence. She said that recently she saw a man sitting on the sidewalk asking for money, and even though she wasn't going to give him anything, she looked at him, smiled at him, and told him she didn't have anything for him that day. He smiled up at her and said, "Thank you for that smile."

Dignity and wholeness and honor.

I remember spending time at Charlotte's main public library with my children several years ago. We were seated at a table together, looking at the books we had chosen when three or four homeless men walked past us. One of the men looked down at us and began to smile, but as soon as our eyes met, I looked away.  I didn't want to look him in the eye. I didn't want to acknowledge that he was looking at us. I didn't want him to come talk to us. I didn't want to have to figure out what to say or how to not give him money. I didn't want him near my children. I was scared. Sometimes I still am afraid when I see homeless people, especially when I am by myself. Honoring that man's dignity and wholeness or giving him any sense of honor was not on my mind at all that day. To the contrary, I wanted him to disappear and leave me to live my neat, clean, pampered, insulated life. I don't think I took my children back to that branch of the library for a good long while.

This morning, that way of looking at people, that way of dealing with people, my unexamined, unwarranted prejudice and fear were all challenged. No homeless person has ever hurt me or harmed me. Not one homeless person has ever yelled at me or robbed me or threatened me in any way. So why all the fear?

I suppose we can all stand to examine our fears and prejudices. I know I need to examine mine.
Gay people. Straight people. People who choose neither of those categories. People who choose both.
Black people. White people. Asian people. Latino people. Native American people.
Those who straddle more than one of those groups. Those who refuse to choose.
Rich people. Poor people. Iraqi or Afghani people. Africans. Asians.
Fat people. Skinny people. Tall people. Short people. People in wheelchairs.
People who don't speak English well. People who speak with accents.
Single people. Married people. Divorced people. Widowed people.
People who don't fit neatly into any of these groups at all.
The list of our self-imposed categories, our divisive categories is long.

This morning, I was challenged to look at my long list and begin to dismantle it.
One person at a time. One encounter at a time. One conversation at a time.

When I think about what Jesus did while he was on earth, I recognize that nearly everything he said, every miracle he performed, every conversation he had was related to building the dignity and bringing about the wholeness of those he encountered. He spoke to homeless people, blind people, sick people, women, foreigners, snobs, the mentally ill and every other kind of social, spiritual, and economic outcast - there were no groups that he feared or avoided or ignored. There was no one beyond his compassion or his reach or his love. I have so much more to learn from his example. So many walls within and around my soul that need to be knocked down. I expect that Erika will be an instrument God uses, a voice, a vessel, and a prophet in my church and in my own personal spiritual walk.

I suspect that as I learn to honor the dignity of those around me,
as I learn to work towards the wholeness of those around me,
I suspect that my own dignity and wholeness will grow deeper as well.
I cannot imagine any way in which the building of other people's dignity
and the movement towards their wholeness would not also transform me.
I suspect that I will be testing that theory in the days and weeks and months to come.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thankful Thursday

The other day, I asked you to check out what was happening here on Glennon's site.
Thousands of people looked and responded.
Here's what happened.
I am enormously thankful for how so many people reached out to change the lives of five families.
However, I am certain that I am not nearly as grateful as they are.

Today I am also thankful for the dear friend whose candor on the phone last night sent me to my journal and to my computer for hours of writing and pouring out my soul, my dreams, my questions, my disappointments, my hopes, and my anger too. Her honesty forced me to face myself and be honest with myself in a way and about a topic that I haven't wanted to deal with for years. I'm not sure what's going to come from all this soul-deep blood-letting, but I am enormously grateful that she told me the truth as she saw it and challenged me to examine the truth as I know it. Thank you, Thelma. (Or are you Louise and I'm Thelma?)

I am thankful for this amazing video about a truth that we all need to be told: you are not forgotten.
I am thrilled that I was led to it today - it relates directly to the conversation I had last night.

I am thankful that the two tornado warnings that have been issued in the past 24 hours have passed without terrible incidents in our area.
I am thankful for the rain that has fallen today.

I am thankful that more attention is being paid to the tragic kidnapping of those two hundred school girls in Nigeria. I pray that very soon they will return home to their families. I cannot imagine the sorrow and pain their families are suffering every day.

With their pain on my mind, I am even more thankful than usual for the time I've been spending with my daughter during the past nine days. 
Supermarket shopping. Cooking.
Going for walks. Doing yoga.
Volunteering at Loaves and Fishes.
Going to church. Going to the movies. 
May I never take her presence for granted.

May I never take friendship, love, or joy for granted.
May I never take faith, hope, or peace for granted.

May my gratitude deepen and widen with each passing day, week, month, and year.
Life is short and unpredictable. Beautiful and awful. Tearful and joyful. 
There is so much to celebrate and enjoy and be grateful for.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

If I asked you for $25, would you give it to me?

Would you give me $25 if I told you I needed it to pay for kanswer treatment?
To provide for my children? To send my child to daycare because I was sick?
Would you help me?

No, I'm not sick again.

But there are so many people who are. So many people who need our help.
 And for $25 or less, you can help someone who needs treatment, childcare, hope, and a future.

Please consider giving to some brave women who are dealing with kanswer and to the children of women who have died of kanswer. I'm asking you to give, even if it is only $1 or $5. No one can give more than $25, so there is no pressure to give more than that.

Click here and read about it - then share it with others so that we can do small things to make a huge difference in the lives of others.

Let's join Love Flash Mob and change some lives today.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ways in which you (yes, you) have been like a mother to me...

* you pray for me and think good thoughts on my behalf

* you come visit me

* when you come visit me, you bring gifts and food and so much love with you

* when you come visit me, you cook for me because you know how much I don't like cooking

* if you can't come here, you ask me to come to where you are

* when I get to your house, you are thrilled to see me and make me feel welcome

* when I arrive at your house, you have cooked up a feast or you tell me we are going out to eat because you know I don't like cooking

* when I am at your house, you treat me like family and you say I am part of your family

* you make sure I'm eating right and eating enough

* you express dismay and concern because I don't like cooking

* you make me feel guilty if I am not in touch often enough or I can't get there to see you very often

* you give me advice and suggestions on life, love, health, and parenting

* you come here to the blog and read my ramblings

* you laugh at my funny stories

* you cry at my sad stories

* you roll your eyes and shake your head at my silly stories, but you smile at the same time

* you share your stories with me

* you send me emails, texts, what's app messages, and other written forms of support, love, and encouragement

* you send care packages and other goodies

* you tell me that you love me

* when I miss a few days, you write me notes and ask if I'm okay

I bet you hadn't thought about your role in my life quite like that.
Please allow me to say it publicly - today is your day.
Male or female, having given birth or not, Mother's Day is your day.
You are a great Mom, dear friend - 
you have mothered me and I'm sure you have mothered others as well as yourself.
Thank you for being such a gentle, caring, patient, loving Mom.
Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Thankful Thursday

No more of this! At least not for a while...

Today is yet another warm and glorious day here in my corner of the world.
Flowers in bloom. Dogs are barking. Birds singing.
Chipmunks scampering. Squirrels deciding which way to go.
The boy is playing lots of tennis. The girl is home from college.
My family is back together under the same roof.
Talking. Laughing. Eating. Watching videos on youtube.
Making travel plans. Making school plans. Making life plans.
The branches of two massive trees in my neighbor's yard intertwine now and it is parklike and cool under them. My dog loves to just stand there and enjoy the shade. I do too.

Today is our itty bitty doggie's ninth birthday - Happy birthday, Maya!
Life is good. I am thankful.

What else am I thankful for these days?

* organic strawberries on sale
* the sweetness of clementines
* the lush beauty of watermelon
* large plates of salad
* olive oil, vinegar, and freshly ground sea salt as the dressing
* not having to cook!

* making continued progress in my yoga practice - getting more flexible and sweating a little less in downward facing dog
* long walks to the library
* several hours of yard work with my husband last weekend
* how great the yard looks now
* having saved hundreds of dollars because we didn't hire someone else to do the work for us
* applying that savings to our upcoming vacation budget

* espresso after a delightful solo lunch
* safe travel back and forth to UNC Asheville to get Kristiana
* safe travel back and forth to tennis practice every day
* safe travel back and forth everywhere we go
* not having to worry about where our next meal will come from
* a realization I had earlier today while thinking about people I know and people I know about who have more money than they know what to do with, enough money that if they didn't work another day in their lives, they already have enough money to never worry about their future... I realized that I don't have to worry either. Cuz what does worry do? Does worry pay for college or fix broken appliances or repair cars? Nope. So why worry??? I can choose to release myself from worry and fret.

* NPR and the sad, colorful, challenging, interesting, horrifying stories they tell
* offsetting many of those stories with the hilarity and silliness I watch on television
* the Nutrition Action Healthletter my friend, Judy, sent me a subscription for
* all I'm finding out about food and supplements and exercise by reading it
* realizing that I will not always eat perfectly, nor will I ever be fully informed about every morsel I put into my mouth
* getting to a place of being perfectly fine with that - Perfection is no longer the goal. Peace is.

* having the courage to have difficult conversations with my husband and children
* having the courage to not bring up tough subjects when the time isn't right
* gaining the wisdom to know what is worth the discussion and what isn't
* knowing my family well enough to know when "it is what it is"
* knowing the same about myself

* recognizing that I am far more merciful, kind and compassionate with others than I am with myself
* recognizing that I need to change that - and be more merciful with myself
* observing how great it feels to extend grace to myself

* an entirely new understanding of the 23rd Psalm, thanks to this fantastic book. (Thank you, Deb Simon, for sending it to me.)
* a deeper understanding of Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, thanks to this amazing book
* several other really good books that I've read and enjoyed lately
* basking in the fact that I'm not the only person who is neck-deep in my love for Jesus
* basking in the fact that I'm no longer afraid to say how crazy I am about this faith journey I'm on
* having many opportunities to talk and write about what I'm learning and seeing and experiencing in my life

* laughing at myself yesterday when I realized that, no matter what issues I might have with my body, having saggy breasts is an issue I will never have to deal with
* remembering the saying I heard while watching The Real Housewives of Atlanta a few weeks ago (like I said, I watch silliness on television) - "I might have ninety-nine problems, but _______ isn't one of them." Kenya Moore filled that blank with something vulgar. I choose to fill that blank with "saggy boobs." (Gotta look on the bright side, right?)
* another time I always giggle about this double mastectomy thing is when I think about packing for trips - I never have to pack bras anymore. Small thing. But it is a thing.
* I am grateful that I don't cry every time I think back to my kanswer journey anymore
* I am grateful that I continue to find reasons to smile when I think about what I have endured
* I am grateful for the lessons I've learned on this terrible, beautiful, painful, joy-marked journey - one of which I shared in two recent Bible classes I taught. Looking at the story of Thomas, I spoke about how the resurrected Jesus shows up and shows his disciples his scars, his wounded hands and side. He doesn't hide them. He uses them as evidence of what he has endured. I think of my scars in the same way - they are signs of the awfulness that I have SURVIVED. I didn't die. I didn't lose my joy. I didn't give up. I survived. Every scar tells a story of what we have endured and what we have survived.

***** Please don't ever be ashamed of your scars or your stretch marks or your broken places. You are brave and strong and have survived so much. Tell your story. Write it down. I am a survivor and so are you!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

She Speaks Wise and Encouraging Words

I was one of those people who LOVED Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love. My husband bought me the movie for a Christmas or birthday present, and although I like the movie, I absolutely love the book.

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a TED talk Elizabeth gave on success and failure and staying true to calling of love in our lives. It's only 8 minutes long. I hope you enjoy it.

And I also hope that you are able to identify the thing, the activity, the task that you do that you love more than you love yourself amd I hope you are able to find great joy and energy and contentment in doing that thing.

Have a wonder-filled Wednesday night.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

A new favorite song...

A couple of hours ago, I watched a communion service online. It was being held at a church here in Charlotte that I've visited several times. They celebrate communion on the first Sunday of every month in the evening. To be completely honest, I forgot about the service until it was too late to go in person; thank God for online streaming capabilities.

They sang a song called "You are my strength."
You are my strength. Strength like no other, strength like no other, reaches to me.
In the fullness of your grace, in the power of your name, you lift me up. You lift me up.
You are my strength. Strength like no other, strength like no other, reaches to me.

I found a video on youtube that is a modest approximation of the way they sing it at The Park.

Strength like no other.
Strength to parent and homeschool.
Strength to endure kanswer treatment.
Strength to deal with difficult relationships.
Strength to teach and lead meetings.
Strength to love and serve those in need.
Strength to be open to all that has come and all that is yet to be.
Strength to be honest about my fears, doubts, jealousies, and failures.
Strength to work for change in the world in small ways.
Strength to forgive those who have hurt me.
Strength to ask for forgiveness of those I have hurt.
Strength to say "yes" even when I'm exhausted.
Strength to say "no" even when I'm not.
Strength to ask and answer difficult questions.
Strength to listen to the sorrows and challenges that loved ones face.
Strength to pray in faith for healing and provision and protection for myself and others.
Strength to endure the dark valleys when healing and provision and protection don't come.
Strength to let go when I don't get my way, when the answer to my prayer is "no."
Strength to keep reaching out when few seem to be reaching back.
Strength to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
Strength to admit my brokeness and my emptiness.
Strength to admit my strength and my joy.
Strength like no other reaches to me, even me.

When I feel like I can't make it through another day of homeschooling,
when I feel like I can't drink another green juice or smoothie,
when I feel like I cannot endure another whine-fest,
another blast of complaints,
another meaningless conversation,
another tale of first-world problems,
another story of abuse and neglect,
another story of racism or sexism,
another story of kidnapping and war and natural disasters,
another account of denial of education or health care,
another series of excuses about why those in need have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps -
all of which I am repeatedly guilty of doing -
when the weight of all of that threatens to crush me, body, soul, and spirit...
Lord, then, right then - You are my strength, strength like no other.

When I get caught up in fear about the future,
about kanswer,
about finances,
about my siblings and their families,
about my children and their future,
about the state of our city, our nation, and our world,
You, Lord, are my hope, hope like no other.

When I am with family and friends,
when my thoughts flow freely,
when the classes I teach bring smiles and nods to the faces of those in attendance,
when I am able to use my Spanish in service to others,
when my writing touches the hearts and minds of others,
when my children and husband make me laugh,
when I go for walks with friends and out for tea dates,
when friends text and call and send care packages,
You, Lord, show up as joy, joy like no other.

I'm gonna have to find this song on iTunes and listen to it a few hundred times.
I'll try not to cry my way through it every time I hear it.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Thankful Thursday

I am thankful, first and foremost, that I am alive and well and still loving my life (most of the time).
I am thankful for the beauty of these spring days.
I am thankful for the irises that are in bloom. We transplanted the ones in our front yard from our yard in Connecticut when we moved down here back in 2002. They still bloom beautifully every spring.

I am grateful for a full refrigerator and freezer, for working appliances, and for a house that has withstood so many storms and protected us and our stuff for so many years.
I am grateful for the English professor at Williams who assigned journal writing as part of our class grade. That was the start of my regular journaling practice - way back in 1986. I've got a lot of notebooks filled with my ramblings. It is so much fun to choose one at random and read what I was thinking at any given time over the years. 

I am thankful that my son and I saw a HUGE turtle yesterday. I wish we had stopped to take photos, because that thing had to be 15 inches across. Some other people had stopped to take pictures, but foolishly we did not. I hope to see it again sometime soon. Next time, I will definitely stop.
I am thankful that my son and I have such good times together as we homeschool. We are reading through a children's version of The Odyssey and having great discussions about the chapters I read aloud to him every day.
I am thankful that he contentedly goes with me to Loaves and Fishes twice a month to serve people in need. He actually looks forward to it almost as much as I do.
I am thankful that he still likes hanging out with me.
I am thankful that he often agrees to making his awesome nachos for me.

I am thankful that my daughter is just a few days away from finishing her junior year in college and her first semester living in a dorm. She is still the bravest person I know.
I am thankful that she is looking forward to being at home this summer, resting and recovering from this challenging adventure called college life.
I am thankful (in advance) for the meals she will cook and the times she will empty the dishwasher and walk the dog and go with me to the supermarket.

I am grateful for the simple and indulgent pleasure of getting a mini-facial at the Origins store at the mall, picking up a couple of products I needed, and getting four travel sized products for future adventures. Technically, I was only supposed to get three freebies, but she said that I was such a pleasant customer that she decided to give me an extra one. Thank you, my dear.
I am grateful for the 90 minutes of browsing and people watching while waiting for my son, who was hanging out with a friend.

I am also grateful for -
- ice water in tall glasses
- the super sweet organic strawberries on my salad tonight (Thanks to Carol for the idea)
- the company of my cute little doggie, especially when the guys are away on tennis weekends
- the ability to resist the urge to buy things I didn't need from the mall
- the times when I treat myself to fun little goodies
- my new slippers. My old ones were so old and dirty and threadbare that my husband had started to look for some on my behalf. Just by way of perspective - the same man who didn't even blink when I told him I was going to have a bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction drew the line at me continuing to wear those slippers. I found my new ones at Marshall's for a fantastic price. He's a very happy man. (Apparently, we are both rather easy to please.)

I am thankful for the many friends who reach out to me on a regular basis.
- The one who lives in Kentucky with her sweet and loving man and is a sister to my soul.
- The one in Connecticut who took a full time job so we can't talk everyday anymore, but I still have full-blown conversations with her... in my head.
- The many dear ones in New York and Massachusetts and Connecticut who I hope to see in June when I'm up there for my niece's wedding.
- The three friends I met in a memoir writing class in 1998 and that formed the writing group that still exists to this day. We don't see each other regularly anymore, but we do maintain regular contact. Leaving them behind was one of the biggest losses when I moved down to North Carolina.
- The one who lives on the lake and in my heart.
- The one who, along with her husband, is pondering whether or not to make a cross-country move soon. I will miss her if she goes, but I know she and her family will be happy no matter where they end up.
- The one I had tea with yesterday and who I hope will become a dear friend.
- The ones in Spain who welcome me into their home and have always made me feel like I was a part of their family.
- The ones who listen to my stories and don't turn away in horror when I cry. I am such a crier.
- The superheroines I have met online, who write and make jewelry and teach and show kindness and teach body compassion and talk about the people they love and the struggles they face and who have loved me so faithfully even though some of us have never met in person.
- I am grateful for the small and ever-present reminders of people I have known and loved in my lifetime - songs that were special over the years, photos of places I've visited with people, foods and drinks I had with loved ones, emails, texts, journal entries, gifts I've given and received, photographs, ticket stubs, sea shells, candles, artwork, pens that have been given to me, the scarf I bought for myself at the same time that I bought a scarf for someone else, the crosses hanging on my walls, the journals people have given to me, books I've been sent. There is love and beauty and generosity and kindness on display everywhere I look as I write this and as I think of all the things and people and moments I am grateful for. 

I will end this list where I began it - I am profoundly grateful to be alive and well,
strong and confused,
imperfect and at peace,
hopeful and doubtful,
an absolute mess and absolutely certain that all shall be well.

Thanks be to God.