Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Twelve Grapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To God be the Glory!

There were so many other blessings this year -

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

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

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

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

Happy grape eating to you.
Happy new year too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Tis the season for Christmas carols, and one of my favorites is this one -
Come, thou Long-Expected Jesus. 

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art,
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a king,
Born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit, rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all-sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.


Dear Lord Jesus, please come to us on Christmas. Come to us on Christmas Eve. Come to us this very day. Perhaps I should ask you to help me come to you. You are always here, always present, it is I who turn away.

Bring peace to us. Bring healing to us. Bring reconciliation to us and through us into this sad and broken, pained and warring, beautiful and glorious people of yours.

From our fears and sins, our prejudices and anger, our violence and addictions,
our sadness and sorrows, our divisions and doubts, our brokenness and selfishness,
our depression and obsessions, our weakness and excuses, please release us.
Please help us to be willing to let them go.

You know me, Lord. You know that sometimes I would rather hold on to my attitudes and opinions, my convictions and predispositions than release them and allow for truth to prevail, for grace to abound, and for peace to reign.

Let us find our rest, our help, our joy, our peace, our strength, ourselves in thee.
Please help us want to find you and find ourselves and find forgiveness and
find grace to help us in our times of need.

You know me, Sweet Jesus. You know that I don't want to forgive those that I think have done wrong, but I want to be forgiven. You know that I don't want to extend grace to others, even though I want to receive grace. You know that I want to be right far more than I want to be loving. Please forgive me, help me, and transform me.

You are my strength and consolation.
You are my healer, my redeemer.
You are the hope of my life, my heart, my future.

You know me, Healing Savior. You know that without your strength, your presence, your comfort, I wouldn't be here. Kanswer and kanswer treatment would have consumed me. You know the attachments I form so easily, the ones that distract me and draw me away from you and those I live with and love. Please, Lord, be my hope, my love, my joy, and my heart.

You are the answer to my deepest desires and my deepest questions.
You are the center of my deepest joy, the reason for my highest praise,
and the source of all that is good and perfect in my life.

You know me so well, Gracious and Generous One. You provide me with everything I need and long for, often even before I realize I am in need. You give me reason to smile, to laugh, to write, to pray, to sing, to dance, and to encourage others. Your grace is all-sufficient. Your mercies are new every morning, every hour, every moment. Great, so very great is your faithfulness.

Lord, I need, I yearn, I long for you to deliver me from my worries,
to deliver me from my jealousy and pettiness,
to deliver me, deliver all of us from our habit of vengeance and violence,
to deliver us from our hopeless cycles of consumerism and guilt,
activism and apathy, criticism and shame.

You know me better than I know myself, Savior, Deliverer and Soon-Coming King. You know that, given enough idle time and aimless thinking, I heap impossible rules and expectations on myself, berate myself for not living the way he or she or they live (whoever he or she or they may be), convince myself that my dearest friends and beloved family members no longer love me, and then cry myself to sleep over my lack of worth.

I am tired of living this way. I am tired of suffering this way.
Reign in my heart, I beg. In my life. In my thoughts.
Because my thoughts sometimes trick me and my fears often tyrannize me.

Lord, I need your gracious kingdom,
your peaceable kingdom,
your reconciled kingdom,
your glorious kingdom,
your joyful, hopeful, love-filled kingdom.

Come, thou long expected Jesus. Not only on Christmas. Not only for a short while.
Oh come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.


I like this version of the song -  especially the bridge they added.
"You have come to us, O God; 
You have come to us to save;
You have come to us, Emmanuel;
You are worthy, worthy of praise."

And if you aren't sick of this song yet or tired of singing Joy to the World, 
this is a slow, thoughtful, soothing rendition of the two songs combined.

And this last one is short and so very sweet.
Jesus, oh what a wonderful child, indeed.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Alone with The Alone

I love my church, my brothers and sisters at First Presbyterian Church here in Charlotte. We are a flawed, broken, leaky, sad, funny, generous, loving group of folks trying to figure out who we are, what we believe, and how we can share the Good News of Jesus, of Love, life, redemption, joy, salvation, and peace in a world that desperately needs good news and people of good cheer to live faithfully and tell our stories honestly. This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to tell my story at our midday Wednesday Worship service. I spent several weeks thinking about which of my life stories I would tell. In the end, I decided to tell two stories and tie them together. I told the story from memory, but today I am writing it down.


I love to travel. I love to travel alone. Soon after I met the man who is now my husband, I told him exactly that - "I love to travel, and I love to travel alone. If that is going to be a problem, then this relationship is not going to work." We've been together almost 28 years, so I guess it's working well for us.

Back in 2001, I made plans to take my first solo trip to Italy. I was scheduled to leave during the first week of October that year. Then September 11th happened. Many of my family members and friends told me that I shouldn't go, that it was selfish of me to leave my family behind. That the world was dangerous. That terrorists were everywhere.

In a moment of deep wisdom, my husband said, "You should still go, Gail. If God is in control of your life here, if God's hand of protection is over your life here, then God will be in control of your life there and God will protect you there. When it's your time to go, it's your time to go. It won't matter where you are." Which was exactly what I wanted to hear.

But in order to get a second word of confirmation, I went to see a pastor friend of mine. I told him my dilemma, and he agreed with my husband. Yay! Then he asked to pray with me before I left. In his prayer, my friend asked God that I would "have an experience of being alone with The Alone." I had never heard that phrase before, but it stuck. I thought about it often over the days as I prepared for my journey.

On the day of my departure, as I made my way from our house in Connecticut down to JFK Airport in NYC, I saw the lower Manhattan skyline without the Twin Towers for the first time. The reality of that tragedy appeared before me in a deeper way, on a deeper level. I made it to the airport safely, got through security, and made my way to the gate where I made myself comfortable in the waiting area. There weren't many of us waiting to board that flight to Rome as many people had cancelled their travel plans, but those of us who were there eyed each other suspiciously, wondering who might be dangerous, and who could safely be ignored. We were collectively relieved when a group of twenty or twenty-five nuns joined us in the waiting area. Our tense shoulders relaxed. We breathed a collective sigh of relief because we knew that our flight had been "prayed up" and all would be well. All was well. We arrived in Rome without incident.

I spent a week wandering around on my own in Rome, then boarded a train to Florence, where I was planning to visit with a college classmate of mine who was (and still is) an art history professor there. Outside the train station in that spectacular city, I waited my turn for a taxi, then checked into my hotel, unpacked a little, and went back out to the front desk to ask for a recommendation for lunch. The concierge recommended a place called Mario's, pulled out a map, circled where we were and where the restaurant was located, and wished me buon appetito. I set off on yet another journey, alone with the Alone. I found the restaurant, elbowed my way through the crowd and gave my name to the host. A few minutes later, I was ushered into the crowded little place and seated at a table with three other people.

Oh no, I thought. I don't speak much Italian but now I'm sitting with three people I won't be able to communicate with. I began to look around at what the diners at other tables were eating. My plan was to point at someone else's plate and have whatever they were having. Just then, I heard someone say, "I don't read Italian so I'm not sure what I'm going to order." As it turned out, the host, in a moment of wisdom, had sat four English speakers together at the same table. One of the three of them was an Anglican priest on vacation from England. The other two were a married couple from California. Not only did they know a college professor of mine who had moved from Massachusetts to Santa Cruz, California, but also the wife had had lunch with my college friend just a couple of days before my arrival.

I sat there at the table at Mario's in Florence, Italy, tears in my eyes and a laugh in my throat. I was indeed experiencing time alone with the Alone, yes, but also connected to community. How many stories and journeys and connections all converged at that moment at that table?

Fast forward eleven years, and I embarked on another solo journey, but this one was not of my choosing. On Halloween of 2012, I went in for my annual mammogram. After the technician finished the scan and consulted with the radiologist, she walked me around the corner to the ultrasound room. After that technician finished her scan, she went to see the radiologist who then came into the room and asked, "Are you experiencing any symptoms?" I asked, "Symptoms of what?" He said, "Oh, okay. Nevermind." He did another ultrasound but before I sat up, the ultrasound technician came back into the room with a fist full of papers and told me she had arranged for me to have a biopsy two days later. She also gave me her cell phone number and told me I could call her anytime. Two days later, when the biopsy was finished, the nurse who had assisted the doctor walked me to the exit door, hugged me, and wished me good luck. Somehow, even after being given so many clues from those earnest and caring medical personnel, I still managed to spend the following four days convincing myself that I didn't have kanswer.

On Tuesday, November 6, 2012, I was told what I should have figured out already:
I had kanswer in my left breast and in one lymph node.

If you've ever had kanswer or know anyone who has, then you know that kanswer quickly becomes a full time job - scans and tests and blood tests and decisions and appointments and more scans and more tests. The best part of that difficult time for me was how immediately and completely I was enveloped by friends from church, my neighbors, my family members, folks on Facebook (and readers of this blog) and how thoroughly and profoundly I was loved. There was no doubt in my mind that I was connected to a community of faith and love and grace and support.

One of my dear friends sat with me for four of my six chemotherapy treatments. The other two treatments were attended by a pastor friend who lives three hours away and a fellow lover of travel who flew down here from Connecticut. Friends sent letters, cards, flowers, Edible Arrangements, and care packages. Meals were arranged, as was a trip to the beach early in the week of my surgery. The love that flowed my way sustained me.

At the same time, I knew that when decisions about treatment and surgery had to be made, I had to make them alone. When the chemotherapy infusion, that dreadful poison was administered, it flowed into my port, mine alone. When it was time to undergo heart scans and crawl into the bone scan machine, I was there alone.

The moment that stands out most is when I crawled into the MRI machine, that noisy, clanging, brightly lit tube where my body was scanned in search of kanswer clusters that had escaped my breast and lymph node. I lay there facedown with my arms stretched out above my head, praying, thinking, humming hymns to myself. I prayed that the machine wouldn't find more kanswer. I thanked God for medical insurance and doctors and nurses and technicians. I thought about the effect kanswer was having on my husband and children and how hard I was going to work to get that kanswer out of my body so that I could get back to being the wife and mother, friend and teacher, sister and daughter I had always been. Then I began to hum quietly to myself. Within a few minutes, I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I hoped and prayed I hadn't been startled. I tried not to move or cough or cry; the last thing I wanted was to have to repeat that lengthy, loud scan. I also tried not to smile as I recognized that I had in fact fallen asleep in an MRI machine. I was reminded of the verse in Psalm 3 that says, "I lay down and sleep. I awake for the Lord sustains me." I lay there, once again experiencing what it is to be alone with The Alone. And I realized at that moment, as I realize at this moment, that there is no place I would rather be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mother Mary

It's a crazy story. Another teenaged girl gets pregnant.
She gives an explanation that nobody believes.
She says she's still a virgin. It is a "God-thing, a Holy Spirit thing."

Her parents must have shaken their heads in sorrow, suspicion, despair, and doubt, whispering about her in the darkness after she fell asleep.
"How can she be so calm? How can she not be ashamed of her situation?"
"She said something about going to visit Elizabeth who is also pregnant. What is going on in the world? First it's Elizabeth who has been unable to conceive all these years. She gets pregnant. Now our daughter, who is so young, who is in the middle of preparing for her wedding, gets pregnant. If Mary wants to go spend time with Elizabeth, we should let her go. The gossip might die down a little while she's gone. Maybe Elizabeth will be able to talk some sense into her."
"She said it has something to do with the Holy Spirit. What does that even mean? Should we be worried?"
"Yes, we should be worried. Let's send her to see Elizabeth and while she's gone, we can come up with a plan on how to deal with whatever it is that she's going through."

I cannot imagine what I would do if my daughter told such a story. Actually, I know exactly what I would do - I would put her in the car and take her to the adolescent behavioral health ward at the local hospital. And I would pray for her healing and for a speedy restoration of her sanity.

Mary had to know that the entire situation was wacky, that her story sounded odd, even unbelieveable. She knew what it took to get pregnant and she knew she hadn't done the deed. When she received the message from the angel, when she got the news that she was going to have a baby, she asked, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?"

The angel explained it - "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God."

Who me? What? When? Why me? How will this be? How will I be?
What if this is all a hoax and none of it is true?
What if it's not a hoax and all of it is true?

Then she said some of the most daring, dangerous, inspiring words recorded in Scripture:
"Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."
I am putting my life on the line here, in the Lord's hands. I'm not sure how this is going to turn out. I'm not sure what is going to happen to me or this baby - but here goes. Here I am, Lord, use me. Use my body as a vessel. Bring it on. Let's do this.

Nazareth. Bethlehem. No room in the Inn. A baby born in a stable. Laid in a manger. The smelly animals. The excited shepherds. Angels. Joseph. Mary watched and listened and held her baby close and pondered the magnitude and meaning of what had happened to her, through her, and to the world.

This week, I've been thinking a lot about what her final week of pregnancy must have been like. She must have been exhausted and excited, reluctant and ready, fearful and fearsome. As she felt that little one moving around inside her, what questions did she have? What did she think he would look like? Who would he resemble? What would this child be like? What would be it like to hold this miraculous child in her arms? Would anyone ever believe her story? I've got dozens of questions to ask dear, courageous, strong, trusting, thoughtful, faithful Mother Mary when I finally meet her. 

I've been thinking about the messy, dangerous, angry, broken world Jesus was born into. Occupied by the Romans. Ruled by a jealous king who ordered that all the boy babies under the age of two be slaughtered - he didn't want the Newborn King to grow up and claim his throne. The slaughter of the innocents continues in our world - in Cleveland, in Sandy Hook, in Pakistan, in Charlotte, in hospitals, in schools, in movie theaters, on airplanes, in shopping malls, in homes, on the street, all over this world and this nation. Murder. Abuse. Genocide. Disease. Violence.

We need a Peacemaker. We need a Miracle Worker. We need a Redeemer. We need a Savior. 
O come, o come, Emmanuel. Be God-with-us, I pray. Touch us. Heal us. Teach us. Guide us.

I am thankful that Mary said, "yes" to that angel all those years ago. I am banking my life, my present and my eternal future, on the life, death and resurrection of the Christ Child she bore. 

What a mess. What a mystery. But if this story is true, then it is also one of the greatest miracles in all of history.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thankful Thursday

Tonight I am thankful for -

* the fact that my daughter is home from college for a month
* her immediate leap into cooking
* the hour I spent laughing and talking about college and tennis and siblings and practical jokes and coaches and friendship with my two children and a friend of theirs this evening. That young man's mother and I share the same birthday, same day, same year.

* continued discussions about Ferguson and Staten Island and racism and privilege and fear and hope and forgiveness and prejudice and how to change the ways we interact with each other
* the ways in which we are being called to work for reconciliation, justice and peace
* the example being set by so many on what we can do to make a difference: march, protest, reach out and ask for conversation, raise money for those whose businesses have been destroyed by looting and fire, writing responses, creating videos, honestly and intelligently challenging each other to think more deeply about these difficult topics, refusing to turn away and pretend that injustice is non-existent, refusing to engage in meaningless, spiteful, inflammatory arguments

* the courage of Sadia and Justin who came to church yesterday and talked about moving from homelessness to housing and the ways in which their faith sustained them during the time they didn't have anyplace to call their own
* the list of things she said that we take for granted when we "have a key," when we have a place to live: being able to buy and cook food, a place to wash one's clothes, a place to invite friends and family, a place to shower and bathe
* the welcome they received, the warmth extended to them by the people in attendance
* the opportunity I had to talk to a group at church about reading Scripture more actively and writing our responses to it

* a new batch of journal refils that I ordered yesterday - more pages to fill with my rants and raves
* the chance to tutor a high school junior in Spanish. I didn't realize how much I missed teaching Spanish until this new gig began.

* seven hours of silence tomorrow to ponder the year that is coming to a close, to plan for the year that is soon to begin, and to pay close attention to all that is happening right now
* the completion of another year of life - between now and next Thursday, I will celebrate my 49th birthday
* the miracles and blessings, the challenges and disappointments that I have experienced in my life - every single one of them has molded me and prepared me for this place, this moment, this phase of my life journey
* this great quote I read recently: "Good thing I'm aging; otherwise I would be dead."

* an excellent appointment with my chiropractor today - he is such a beacon of hope and a font of encouragement in my pursuit of excellent health and balance
* that I could laugh when I said to him, "That kanswer was the best and worst way for me to learn how to take better care of myself, but I wish I could have learned all this another way."
* my recent bloodwork results were the best he's ever seen for me

* breakfast with my dear friend this morning - making the time to eat and tell stories and laugh and shake our heads at the outrageous behavior of people we know
* these quotes I received as a gift from that same dear friend:
- When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, 
my soul expands in worship of the Creator. (Mahatma Gandhi)
- Some gifts you hold in your hand... Some you hold in your heart. (Unknown)
- There are no mistakes, no coincidences. All events are blessings given to us to learn from. 
(Elisabeth Kubler-Ross)
- If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change. (Buddha)
- There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. (Albert Einstein)
- I find that the more willing I am to be grateful for the small things in life, the bigger stuff just seems to show up... I am constantly looking forward to each day with all the surprises that keep coming my way. (Louise L. Hay)

Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

My Christmas Wish List

Dear God,

I don't believe in Santa Claus, even though I sometimes treat you like you are Santa Claus. I come to you with long lists of people with needs and problems, tragedies around the world, and all my fears and failures - and I bring lists of and plans for solutions to all those problems. And I expect you to do as I ask in a timely and efficent manner. I expect you to take my list and check it twice, and then be super nice, saying "yes" to everything right away.

I am reminded of that scene in Bruce Almighty where Jim Carrey plays You. In one scene, he's reading through all the prayers that people are sending your way. Tens, hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of prayer requests flow past him on the cosmic computer monitor. In frustration, he says, "Yes," to all of them. And the entire world is plunged into chaos. Is that what would really happen if we all got our way and you agreed to and with everything we asked for? I bet it would.

So even though I know that I won't get the nod for all of these things, I'm gonna write and launch my list anyway. I have come to believe that even if prayer doesn't change any of the situations I pray for, it will definitely change me. Prayer reminds me that I am not in control of much. Prayer pushes me to think about people other than myself and situations other than my own. Prayer deepens my trust in Someone or Something far beyond myself - in You. Prayer changes the way I see the world, my world, my life and my story.

Lord, please help me to be and think and act more like you. Help me to love and forgive and laugh and trust. Help me to enjoy this life you've given me and not worry so much about what I mistakenly think I lack. Help me to notice and honor the people I live with, live near, and even those that I see only in passing. Help me to want to be more involved in the lives of others, especially those who suffer and ache and desperately need love and a listening ear and a shoulder on which to rest. Help me to be willing to risk my security and safety and comfort for the sake of those who have none. Please, please, please.

Look at me; I haven't even gotten to my official Christmas wish list and I'm already asking you to do so much for me.

So what do I wish for? Just a few simple things.
* I wish for an end to starvation, terrorism, poverty, homelessness, and war.
* I wish for an end to ebola, AIDS, kanswer, diabetes, and bipolar disorder.
* I wish for all children's hospitals to have to close down because there are no longer any sick children to care for.
* I wish for an end to violence, abuse, and the fears that often trigger them.
* I wish for an end to jealousy, comparisons, and greed.
* I wish for freedom, justice, and peace for all people everywhere.
* I wish for a deeper understanding and experience of the love that prompted your precious son to come to earth as a baby to live among oppressed, abused, mistreated people.
* I wish for a nation and a world in which oppressed, abused, mistreated people find rest and safety, healing and wholeness in you.
* I wish for all eyes and ears and hearts to be open to the hope that you offer to the world.
* I wish for a week when chocolate, coffee, soda, and licorice will neither do harm to my internal organs nor leave pimples on my face. I need just one week of a full-fledged sugar binge, Lord. I know that while you can certainly handle all the other wishes on this list, my final request might be asking a little too much. Please forgive me for my selfishness.

Thank you, Lord, for considering my humble and modest wishes.
Your adoring daughter, Gail

PS. Okay, okay, okay. I hear you. That last one, about the sugar binge, nevermind.
But all the other stuff, please, please, please! I'm begging you.
I need you. We need you. The whole world needs you.

PSS. Okay, okay, okay. I hear you. All that other stuff? We need to do some of the work to fix that stuff ourselves, don't we? You've already given us more than we need to solve most of the world's problems. Please help me to be willing to be the answer to some of these prayers. To give. To love. To listen. To serve. The befriend. To encourage. To act. To be still. To offer hope. To work for freedom, justice and peace. To be a beacon of hope. To be peace. To be light. To be full of grace and truth.

PSSS. If I do some stuff to help other people, could you help me out with the sugar thing?

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Silenced, Saddened

I want to write another gratitude list.
I want to post photos of our cute new Christmas tree.
I want to share stories of time spent with family and friends over the past few weeks.
And I'm sure that I will. At some point.

For now, I am silenced and saddened by the violence and injustice that is rampant in our country.
I am saddened and silenced by the anger and fear that have caused the violence and injustice.

I am saddened when people ask questions like,
"What about black on black crime?" when they simply want to avoid the conversation about race and racial prejudice and racial profiling and blatant racism in this country.
"Where is the leadership?" when they don't want to take a stand and become a leader themselves and then when they hear about community leaders and organizers taking action, they act like it's an anamoly and seem surprised that leaders are acting and changes are happening.
"What can I do?" when they don't want do anything and they don't have to do anything because they have the luxury to care or not care when they choose. They can go days and days, weeks and weeks, months and months without thinking about whether or not they appear threatening to someone, whether or not they will wear the hood on their sweatshirt while out walking or running in their own neighborhood, or whether or not their sons or daughters will be stopped by a police officer, frisked, searched, handcuffed, misidentified, misunderstood, mishandled, or killed simply because they are brown-skinned.

I am silenced when people say,
"You are making yourselves into victims when you prepare yourself and your children for how to respond when they are stopped by the police."
"But he wasn't innocent; he stole cigars that store."
"My friend/brother/father/cousin is a cop. Not all cops are bad."

What I'm thinking in my moment of stunned silence is:
Even though I prepare my children, that preparation may not save them at the moment of confrontation. Just ask all those parents whose children have died unjustly.
He may have stolen something from that store and pushed the attendant, but he did not deserve to die in the street and lie there for hours.
An officer was indicted and convicted for killing an elk in Colorado and sentenced to four years probation and 200 hours of community service. Seriously? An elk?
What about the men and women killed for knocking on someone's door at night after a car accident, while walking home with candy and a drink, for playing with a toy gun in a park, for carrying a toy gun in the toy section of a store?
My brother was a cop in NYC for fifteen years. It's true; not all cops are bad. That's true. But some cops kill unarmed people for inexplicable reasons and don't get indicted or convicted.
Even when the murder is videotaped.
And the chokehold is illegal.
And the man says he can't breathe
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over
and over again.
Eleven times.
On tape.
Not even a trial.

A few minutes ago, I helped my son find his jersey for his favorite British soccer team so he can wear it while he watches them play. My son who will be heading off to college soon. My son who still comes to hug me when he wakes up in the morning and laughs at the hues of my green juices and even got a tattoo recently that, in part, is a tribute to my victory over kanswer.

I am silenced and saddened by the sorrow of the mothers and fathers who loved their sons and daughters as much as I love mine - who will never find their child's favorite jerseys again or watch games with them again or buy them Christmas presents or hug them in the morning, or even argue with them, get angry at them, warn them about not doing drugs, not stealing, not walking down the middle of the street, and not being beligerent against police officers.

Their children are dead. Gone. Buried.
And no one is being held accountable for their deaths.