Thursday, November 27, 2014

What do you smell like?

There's a story in the Bible, in John chapter 11, about Mary, Martha, and their brother, Lazarus. He was sick, and they sent word to Jesus informing him, "the one that you love is sick." They knew that Jesus loved them all; he had been to their house before, eaten with them, and spent time with them. They hoped Jesus would come and heal him.

Sadly, Jesus did not come when they expected him to, and Lazarus died. Four days later, Jesus arrived at their home, and both Mary and Martha told him, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." The great news for them was that Jesus raised their beloved brother from the dead.

The next chapter, John 12 describes a scene in which Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, washed the feet of Jesus with her tears, dried his feet with her hair, and then anointed them with very expensive oil.

I have read that story dozens of times in my life, but lately I've been reading the stories in Scripture while attempting to put myself right there in the scene.

I try to imagine how I would respond if that happened in my family room - Jesus came to my house. He had raised my father from the dead and all of us, Dad included, are sitting their spending the evening together. We are in the family room, talking, watching a football game (because of course Jesus loves NFL football), and in walks my sister (I don't have a sister, but for the sake of the story...).

She gets down on the floor at the feet of Jesus and begins to cry, buckets of tears. Then she lets down her long hair and begins to dry his feet with her hair, while still weeping. Then she pulls out a bottle of essential oils and pours them onto his feet. It drips onto my carpet, splashes onto the couch and family room table.

How much attention would we be paying to the Carolina Panthers game at that point?
(We probably would have turned away from the Panther's game because they would be down by 17 points early in the third quarter.)
How much would we be talking about what we had eaten?
How much would we even be talking about the wonder of my father being alive again?
We would be stunned into silence by her outpouring of tears and oil and love and gratitude.

The story says that after she was done, "the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume."

When she looked up at the group around her, when she got up from the floor, when she wiped her tears, when she gathered herself and left the room, Mary undoubtedly reeked of gratitude. Her hair, her clothes, her spirit, she reeked of gratitude.

When Jesus got up and left that room, left that house, and began his walk towards the cross of Calvary, he too reeked of her gratitude and her love.

Because the floors of houses back there were dirt or stone or wood, that fragrant oil would have soaked in deep, between the stones, the wood slats, or down into the dirt. For days, perhaps weeks, that scent would have wafted through that room and throughout the house. Their home reeked of her gratitude.

The Bible also says that our prayers waft up before God's throne like fragrant incense.

All of which got me thinking - when I enter or leave a room, a house, a church service, when I interact with someone at Trader Joe's or Starbucks or Loaves and Fishes, what fragrance am I leaving behind? What do I smell like? Do I too reek of thankfulness, of love, of joy, forgiveness, and peace? Or do I smell like fear and anger and hatred and worry?

When people come into my home, get into my car, and spend time with and around me, do my house, my attitude, and my presence reek of gratitude and tenderness, acceptance and welcome?

On this day when we gather with family and friends, when we eat and tell stories, and watch football, will we each pour out our love on one another? Will we grant forgiveness to those who have hurt us and the ones we love, so that the stink of anger and hatred will dissipate? Will we be intentional in our desire to douse ourselves with gratitude and grace, kindness and gentleness before we enter into fellowship with our loved ones? Will I?

On this day when we are mindful that many have lost loved ones, many are alone, many are afraid, many are angry, many are mourning and sad, will we reach out to those that we know are hurting and share our love, our affection and our food with them? Will we allow our love and our gratitude to fill the space between us with the fragrance of community and encouragement, support and sharing?

What do you smell like today?
What do I smell like?

Happy thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

So much sorrow

He deserved it.
He acted in self-defense.
What about the dangerous kids?
What about the heavily armed officers?
Stop the looting.
Burn it all down.
Kill them all.
Why can't we all just get along?
By any means necessary.
At least it's not happening where I live.
I never thought it would happen where I live.
Seek peace and pursue it.
Even peaceful protesters get tear-gassed and arrested.
The looters would have looted no matter what the verdict was.
Who speaks for the ones without a voice?
Who decides whose voices are worth hearing?
Let's sit down and talk about this.
There is nothing left to say that hasn't already been said.
My pain is bigger than your pain.
Her pain is no worse than his pain.
I'm not a racist; I have black friends.
I'm not black, but I know what you're going through.
You're not like other black people.
You're black; tell me what to think and feel.
I know it's not politically correct to say this, but...
All the political correctness and unwillingness to speak the truth plainly is why we are in the position we're in.
I too have been a victim.
Black lives matter.
White lives matter.
All lives matter.
Nothing I do matters.
We need more guns in the hands of the good guys.
Everybody has the right to protect themselves.
I agree. 
I disagree.
You are wrong.
You are right.

A dear and wise friend reminded me of the need to have "the discussion" with my son again today - 
"Don't give cops any backtalk if they stop you. 
If they ask you for your license, tell them where it is before you reach for it.
Keep your hands always visible.
No sudden moves. No belligerent commentary.
There's no guarantee that this response will save your life, but at least you will have an idea and a plan about how to respond if you are stopped by the police." 
I turned away from that discussion with tears in my eyes and a prayer on my lips.

Another friend wrote on Facebook about looking at her two handsome black sons with extra love and grace and prayer today. 

I think about my three brothers, one in Brooklyn, NY, one in Texas and the other in Florida. I pray for their safety. I pray for them and the vulnerability they must feel when they are on their way to work or out to eat or back home. 

I pray for the many broken hearted, angry, unsurprised, head-shaking black people in this nation today. I pray for the mothers and fathers who will hug their children even harder when they get home tonight, grateful that they have arrived safe and sound. I pray for those whose children will not get home safe. I pray for the many who will gather with family and friends to comfort and challenge one another, to ask questions, to weep for the brokenness in our nation, to try to formulate responses.

Sweet Honey in the Rock has been singing this for years -
"We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes - 
until the killing of black men, black mothers' sons,
is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers' sons."

I pray for white people too, for the ones who feel confused and perplexed, the ones who feel persecuted and criticized, the ones who feel defensive and angry, and also the ones who are standing - and sitting around table - with their black and latino brothers and sisters in solidarity. I pray that they too will gather with family and friends to comfort one another and challenge one another, to ask questions, and to weep for the brokenness in our nation and in each of us, and also to formulate responses within their community.

We all need safe spaces to speak out, to be silent, to grieve, and to find new ways to live. The old ways haven't been working too well for us. Something has got to give. I think our pride, our fears, our wrong-headed attitudes, our unwillingness to admit that we each and all have participated in getting us to this place, and our pre-formulated responses are among the first things that have got to go.

I pray for all people everywhere because we are each and all affected by and infected with fear, prejudice, anger, doubt, questions, and we all also yearn for peace and justice. Most of us don't know where to begin. Some of us are so steeped in sorrow and sadness at the moment that we feel paralyzed. Some of us hope that with the passage of time the anger will settle down again and these tragic events will be forgotten yet again. Tragically, some of us will forget. Tragically, some of us will never forget. Because it keeps on happening. Our children are shot in the street. Our children are shot in school. Our children are beaten up and abused, raped, prostituted and drug-addled. It happens at home, in school, at church, and everywhere in between. Our nation, our states, our cities, our towns, our communities, and our homes are far too violent, too tolerant of violence, and too unwilling to speak out against violence and injustice. I include myself in that statement. 

This cycle of violence keeps on turning.
On both sides. On every side. 
Even on the inside. Especially on the inside. 
Cuz all the stuff happening on the outside began on the inside. 

Fear. Injustice. Racism. Violence. Anger. Tragedy. Sorrow. 
There is so much sorrow. So much pain. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

What I am praying for these days

I pray for traveling mercies for all who will be on the move in these next few weeks during the holidays.
I pray for family gatherings, that peace and kindness would prevail.
I pray for those who do not have family gatherings to look forward to, those who don't have friends who can welcome them in for meals and fellowship.
I pray for those who wish the noisy, inconsiderate, mean, abusive friends and family weren't going to be present.
I pray for those for whom this will be their first holiday season without a dear one at the table.

I pray for those who are suffering with kanswer, ebola, diabetes, high blood pressure, AIDS, mental illness and anxiety, drug and alcohol addiction, and every other ailment that plagues the world's people.
I pray for the doctors and nurses and physician's assistants and counselors and therapists and social workers and hospice workers and specialists of all types who have been called to serve and touch and heal those who are sick, suffering, and dying.
I pray that our nation and its leaders will give the health and welfare of the millions of poor and desperate inhabitants of this country a higher priority than the shrill and selfish voices of those who are already wealthy and have more than they need.

I pray that we will be more concerned with those who have no one who loves them, nothing to eat and no place to live than we are with those whose incomes we envy, whose houses we covet, and whose bodies we lust after.
I pray that I will be more committed to speak up and do more for those whose voices aren't heard, for those whose interests aren't being represented in the "halls of power," and whose lives seem to matter less than the lives of others.

I pray that we will stop bombing, burning, shooting, and killing one another on this holy ground.
I pray that we will be more interested in caring for this planet on which we live than in making money on its resources.
I pray that we will be willing to live with less than demand that the earth give us more.
I pray that we will recognize that there is already enough food and water and oil and resources available to us - but we have to be willing to consume at a slower pace and share what we already have at a faster pace.

I pray that systemic change will begin to happen in governments, in companies, in churches and other faith-based organizations, in towns, in neighborhoods, in homes, and in relationships between people, change that brings about freedom, justice, and peace for all people everywhere.
I pray that each of us and all of us will decide to do one or two small things every day to bring about that change - that we will speak kindly to one another, that we will speak up when we see someone being treated unjustly, that we will vote, that we will write to our government representatives, that we will get involved in efforts to bring change, that we will never give up hope, and that we will always operate and live from love, from joy, and from gratitude.
I pray that we will begin to pay attention to the good things that are already happening and not focus on the negative.

I pray that we will see greater holiness and brighter beauty in each other, friend and stranger.
I pray that we will recognize the heaviness of life's burdens in each other's eyes and respond with grace and warm affection. 
I pray that we will look into the faces of those we encounter and smile.
I pray that we will be willing to admit when we are in need of gentleness and tenderness - and that we will be willing to accept both when they are extended towards us.

I pray for the one whose criticism of and meanness towards her own children has caused deep pain, beyond anything she intended - but it's still there.
I pray that I will forgive the one who abandoned his children and has never asked for forgiveness or worked for reconciliation.
I pray that I will be granted the courage to ask for forgiveness of the one whose heart I broke and whose trust I abused.
I pray that I will be gracious, kind, and humble enough to accept the apology from the one who hurt me.

I pray that I will not allow prayer to be an excuse for not getting actively involved in being the answer to prayer.
I pray that I will be able to both act and pray at the same time: that I will work for the good of others and pray at the same time, that I will serve my community and pray at the same time, that I will support and encourage my family and friends and pray at the same time, that I will welcome the stranger and feed the hungry and comfort the uncomfortable and pray at the same time, that I will enjoy the bounty and beauty of life and pray at the same time.

I pray that all people everywhere will sense the boundless love of God, the comforting presence of the One who loved them enough to come to earth and live among the people, and the gentle breath of the Spirit so undeniably that our only response will be, "Speak, Lord, you servant, your child, your beloved one is listening."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

From the sunrise to the sunset

My time at the beach was fantastic.
Enlightening. Encouraging.
Invigorating. Instructive.
Challenging. Quiet.
Cold. Comfortable.
Wanna see?

Driving over the bridge to Sunset Beach early Friday afternoon.
I like this image of driving over the edge...

Parked at the water's edge.

 I got bundled up and walked down to the beach.

 It was cold, but I was happy.

Sunset on Friday afternoon. 

 Sunrise on Saturday morning.

I chose the Hippie sandwich for lunch -
excellent name for an excellent sandwich.

The table where we read and wrote and shared and cried
and came up with our book project plans.

Sunset on Saturday afternoon.

My home away from home, The Bermuda Room, at The Sunset Inn.

My spirits and hopes rose with the sunrise and settled deep in my heart with the sunset.
From the sunrise to the sunset, I listened and learned and laughed.
I wandered and wondered. I played and prayed. 
Now I've just gotta keep my writing and editing momentum going.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Tonight's thankfulness is for things yet to come.

I am thankful that I will spend this weekend at the beach.
Writing. Sitting. Thinking. Praying. Formulating a plan to write a book.
I am thankful for all the encouragement and support I've received in this regard - to write my story in book form.
I am thankful for the opportunity to get away and formally begin this process.
I am thankful for all that I will learn from Maureen Ryan Griffin this weekend.

I am thankful for Thanksgiving.
I am thankful for the day set aside for all of us to talk about what we are thankful for.
I am thankful for the bountiful food we get to enjoy and share.
I am thankful for pumpkin pie, for stuffing, for salad, for warm bread, for sparkling apple cider, for football - notice: I am NOT thankful for turkey. I am sure there are some people who are, but I am not one of those people.
I am thankful for the increased awareness of those who don't have enough.
I am thankful for all the organizations, churches, individuals, and groups that provide food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless.
I am thankful for every opportunity to give food and time and support and a listening ear and a warm hug to my co-travelers on this journey I'm on.

I am thankful that Christmas will soon be here.
I am grateful for Christmas cookies and monkey bread and peppermint flavored espresso drinks.
I am grateful for the Christmas decorations hung on street lights and building facades.
I am grateful for the little white lights we will put up in our windows.
I am grateful for the tree we will pull down out of the attic and decorate in our living room.
I am grateful for the time I will spend with family and friends during the month of December.
I am grateful for Christmas carols, especially "O Come All Ye Faithful."
I am grateful for the 11 pm Christmas Eve service at church, for the candles we light while we sing "Silent Night," and for the briskness of the air as we leave the church just after midnight.

I am thankful for the year that will soon begin.
Another year older. Another year... older.
A year in which I will be ordained as an elder at church.
A year in which my husband and I will both turn 50.
A year in which we will celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary.
A year in which both of our children will head off to college - and our nest will be empty.
A year in which I will celebrate life and love and travel and joy and faith. Every single day.
A year in which I will write a book about this life journey I'm on.
(Gulp! Am I really putting this goal out in public?)

In the meantime, I am thankful for this day - I spent time with a young mom on a kanswer journey of her own, making her a green juice, sharing Crazy Sexy Kanswer with her, tutored an eleventh grader in Spanish, picked up goodies at Trader Joe's for my weekend adventure, and celebrated my son's official commitment to playing tennis in college.

I am thankful for yesterday - I had a long conversation with one dear friend on the phone, laughed and shared stories with another dear in her family room while her two-year-old watched Thomas the Tank Engine, and loosened up my tight hips while doing yoga.

I am thankful to and for the folks at the senior center where I'm giving a series of devotional talks this month on miracles. I am thankful for their questions, even the tough ones. I am grateful for how often they ask how I'm doing and how my daughter is doing. I've known these folks for more than six years, and they have been faithful in their concern and prayers on my behalf and on behalf of my family.

I am thankful for a positive report after my recent visit with my oncologist - instead of having to go back in four months, I can wait six months for my next visit.

I am thankful for NPR.
For the magazines a neighbor has been giving me lately - they have several subscriptions that have been sent to them for free. I get to read them and then use them for collages and in my journal.
For robes and slippers on these chilly nights.
For toothpicks and dental floss.
For three upcoming visits from family members who live far away.
For haircuts and hair color and hair brushes.

For quilts and duvet covers and down comforters.
For brussel sprouts, fennel bulbs, and cauliflower.

For wrong word choices and belly laughter - I recently heard someone use the word "erotic" to describe a business he is planning to open when he meant "exotic."
For neighbors who stop and talk - this morning I tried on a jacket one neighbor bought for someone she knows, someone who is my height. She wanted to be sure the jacket would fit her friend. Earlier in the week, two neighbors went to the gym together and then went for a walk after that. This evening, two neighbors (from two different houses) were introducing their new dogs to each other. One had recently buried his Yorkie, and now he has another one. The other already had a dog - now she and her family have two.
For simple pleasures, great friends, and for life itself.
For novels, memoirs, and poetry.

I am thankful for the poem Jena wrote recently - Some Alternatives to Keeping Up.
Especially these lines -


yourself in the gifts of this time


once again to the next thing
and the next


how holy it is that you're even alive

I am grateful for the holiness of this moment,
this gift of being alive.

Thanks be to God.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Two years ago today, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012, I received the worst news of my life - breast kanswer that had spread to one lymph node. Earlier today, I pulled out my journal from that month and began to reread my frantic, tear-stained, terrified, pleading, hopeful ramblings.

Every year when I put the Christmas tree away (we have never had a real tree, only the attic-stored, artificial trees for us), I wonder what our lives will look like a year hence. Will we all still be here? Healthy, strong, together? This year, it will be different. Very different.

Losing my hair. Cut to the bone. To the root. Old has passed. New to come. A new life.

How much have I admired women with short hair? But I couldn't imagine cutting it off. Now I will. I'm looking forward to the new me. Who will I be, Jesus? Who will I be? 

Lord, help me to let go of everything I need to release. Everyone. Every activity. Just let it go. This cancer (sic) near my heart, this wound that must be removed. The spread, Lord, please stop the spread of it. Let it stop here. Let it stop with me. 

Lord, please don't let me die from this. Please, Lord, let me live so that I can be a witness of your love. A witness of your peace, joy, strength. Thank you, Jesus. 

From before the foundation of the world, God knew. All my life, God knew. Every step of my journey has brought me here, prepared me for this. For such a time as this. All shall be well. All is well already. 

This is my story to tell - first to live, then to tell, and to keep on living.


What did kanswer give me that I am grateful for on this, the two year anniversary of hearing that dreaded diagnosis?

1. I love having short hair. I don't miss my locs at all. Not one teeny tiny bit.

2. I am happier with my body now than I was before. I never expected that being boobless, wombless, and mostly hairless would be so easy to adjust to. Any body that can withstand chemotherapy and two major surgeries on the same day is a body worth being grateful for. Any body that has never undergone chemotherapy or surgery is a body worth being grateful for. Now that I think about it a little more, every body is a body worth being grateful for.

3. A story to share with others who are on a kanswer journey. We can talk and laugh and share tidbits and encourage one another to stay strong and weak. To be brave and scared. To accept all offers of help and say no thanks. To answer everyone's questions and to not answer the phone at all. There has to be room for being fully who we are at the present moment.

4. New friends and deeper connections that I wouldn't have had or made if I hadn't been diagnosed. Tamara. Kasandra. Jatrine. Kent. Arlene. Kris Carr. Breast kanswer navigator. Chiropractor. Doctors. Nurses. Receptionists. Friends of friends on Facebook. My awesome barber.

5. A healthier way to eat and drink and sleep and exercise. Kanswer introduced me to rebounding, green tea lattes made with coconut milk, and kombucha. Kanswer drew me deeper into yoga, green juices, almond butter, and pulled me out of my deeply ingrained addiction to sugar.

6. An increased understanding of suffering. Everybody struggles with difficult challenges. I have much more patience and am more able to listen to other people's stories without offering so much advice. I still have a lot to learn about keeping my mouth shut and just listening, but I'm much better at it than I used to be.

7. Deeper faith in God, a richer and more meaningful prayer life, and openness to the unexpected ways and times and places where and when I sense God's loving and abiding presence.

8. Greater joy in and gratitude for simply being alive. As Billy Blanks says, "Every day above ground is a blessed day." There is so much to celebrate, to be thankful for, and to enjoy in this life. The littlest things, the smallest details - freshly picked apples from Sky Top orchards, celebrating my daughter's 21st birthday, wandering around in Hendersonville with her, eating a fabulous dinner at Curate in Asheville, holding a newborn baby boy in my arms, the gift of homemade pumpkin butter, soaking my feet in the little pedicure tub I bought years ago, lavender essential oil, fuzzy socks on recently scrubbed toes, warm cornbread, arriving home safely from volunteering at Loaves and Fishes, the taste of toothpaste, the scent of roasted chicken, sipping tea from the mug I bought in Sevilla back in 2006, looking up at the cross a dear friend brought back for me from Haiti, filling twelve bags with fallen leaves, crawling under my blankets and drifting off to sleep - I notice those details more now than I did two years and one day ago. I no longer even see them as "details;" they are miracles. Life is short. Life is beautiful. Life is good. I am grateful for every moment of this miraculous life I live.

Thanks be to God.