Thursday, December 31, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Happy New Year

My husband and I agree that 2015 has been the fastest year of our lives.
It has absolutely flown past.
How is it that we are at December 31st already?
Whether or not we can explain it, here we are.
Looking back at a full and busy old year.
Staring a new year in the face.

There is so much to be grateful for.
People. Places. Names. Faces. Stories.
Meals. Trips. Clothing. Gifts.
Opportunities. Joys. Anniversaries. Birthdays.
Protection. Provision. Purpose.
We survived another year. I survived another year.
In good health. In good company. In good spirits.
It hasn't been the easiest year or the happiest year of my life.
But I made it. We made it.

As I sit here pondering this year that is coming to its end,
I remember many moments of sorrow, sadness and tears.
The horrible shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
The death of my Spanish mother, Marta.
The untimely death of my former neighbor's husband.
Too many kanswer diagnoses for too many people I know.
School shootings. Movie theaters. Malls. Playgrounds.
Innocent people gunned down, killed, or otherwise deceased without explanation or just cause.
Sandra Bland. Tamir Rice. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray.
The refugee crises - in Africa, in Europe, right here in the Americas. People are on the move, running from torture and suffering.
Catastrophic floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other (un)natural disasters.
The rise of Trumpism in our country and the violence and racism and prejudice that his fear-mongering has unleashed.
Too many other sorrows to name.

I remember reasons for joy and gratitude too.
The birth of my first grand-nephew, Myles.
Two more on the way - all three of my oldest brother's children were expecting babies at the same time. One has arrived - and two more will arrive in February and April.
I started seminary.
The "royal" wedding of my dear friend's only daughter.
We hosted the bridal shower for another friend's daughter.
Another fantastic trip to Spain.
I've had two chances to preach and several other chances to teach at my church.
Hugs, tears, laughter and stories with people I met at the Loaves and Fishes pantry.
My daughter emerged from a terrible car accident without serious injury.
The confederate flag was removed from the South Carolina state house.
Reading so many fantastic books and hearing one of the authors speak at Davidson - TaNehisi Coates is an inspiring and a challenging writer and thinker.
President Obama survived another year without an assassination attempt by a deranged fear-fueled racist. (Believe me, I am not alone in marveling that he has lasted this long without coming under attack.)
I got to sit and talk to Cornel West about racism and injustice and history and the future- like old friends.
New friends, mentors, pastors, and soul sisters.
Being called "clergy" for the first time.
An absolutely fantastic, life-changing, marriage-rebuilding week in Hilton Head in September.
I turned 50!
Too many joys to name.

And there are also the shining moments that emerged from the dark moments.
Getting started with We Walk Together after We Need to Talk after the shooting in Charleston.
Getting to know an amazingly funny and determined and courageous young mom not long after she was diagnosed with breast kanswer - and being able to walk some of her journey with her. She is kanswer-free now and on vacation with her spectacularly beautiful family.
Walking another friend through the pain of deciding whether to remarry after a difficult divorce.
Watching two young people I love emerge stronger than ever from challenges faced at college.

I am thankful this Thursday to have made it to this Thursday.
There are many, many people who were around when 2015 began, but who are not alive today.
I am thankful for the gift of life itself, the gift of breath, the gift of a body that still seems to know how to keep me alive and active.

I am grateful that you are here with me, reading, thinking, finding reasons to be grateful for the blessings in your own life.

I am enormously grateful for this day, for this moment, for this opportunity to look back and look ahead. With joy. With hope. With peace. With love.
Thanks be to God.
My deepest thanks.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Christmas Eve

If the story I've read in the gospels of Matthew and Luke is true,
if God came into the world as a newborn baby boy,
through the body of a teenaged girl,
into a small nation dominated by a larger nation,

if Love was born in a stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago,
Love that touched lepers,
Love that fed the hungry,
Love that raised the dead,
Love that healed the broken, the wounded, the bent over, and the bleeding,
Love that opened the mouths of the mute and the ears of the deaf,
Love that delivered the oppressed,
Love that turned over the tables of the money-obsessed,
Love that challenged the powerful to become people of compassion,
Love that stood between the accused and her accusers,
Love that calmed storms,
Love that sat with and talked with outcasts,
Love that welcomed women and children,
Love that washed the feet of the one who would betray him and the one who would deny him and all the ones who would abandon him,
Love that died and Love that rose again,
Love that prays for me and for you and for all people,

If that eternal Love,
that tender Love,
that fierce Love,
that truth-telling Love,
that unprecedented Love,
that prodigal Love,
that irresistible Love,
that incomprehensible Love,
that amazing Love,
that newborn Love,
if that is the Love we are preparing to celebrate tonight and tomorrow,
then today is THE most thankful of Thursdays.
Thanks be to God.

Merry Christmas!

While preparing to teach Sunday School last week, I rediscovered this song.
And discovered this video to go along with the song.
The scenes from the video were taken from the movie, "The Nativity Story."

A Baby Will Come

The kings of this world
Have torn it apart
But we can take heart
A baby will come

To the hungry and meek
To those who grieve
To the broken, in need
A baby will come

We have known pain
We’ve felt death’s sting
God, help us believe
This baby will come

The angel appeared
Said do not fear
For peace is here
A baby will come

The advent of life
Let hope arise
We’ve our Savior and Christ
The Baby has come

We’ve waited so long
God, for Your mighty arm
May our doubts ever calm
For the Baby has come

The proud will be low
The humble will know
They’re valued and loved
For the Baby has come

Cause the kings of this world
Won’t have the last word
That, God, is Yours
For the Baby has come

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What's that sound?

So I was in my kitchen one day late last week.
Suddenly I heard a loud roaring sound, like a chainsaw.
A rumbling, revving chainsaw.
Moving back and forth.
Very close to my house.

It sounded like it was inside my house.
But the only people here at home were my daughter and I.
And she and I don't ever use a chainsaw in the house.
Neither she nor I have never used a chainsaw.
We don't own a chainsaw.

I turned my head so I could gauge the direction the sound came from.
Above me from the direction of the neighbor's house to the south.
But it's closer than their house.

I found myself repeating the following questions -
What's that sound?
What could possibly be making that sound?

Just as suddenly, I knew exactly what it is.
It was the sound of our vacuum cleaner.
Being used upstairs - while I was downstairs.

I think it was the first time I've ever heard the vacuum cleaner being used when I wasn't the one using it.

How sad and funny and revealing is that???

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Prayer for a world in labor

One week ahead of Christmas Eve. One week ahead of remembering, focusing on, pondering the birth of the baby that changed the world. The birth of that baby on a night when there was no room for them in the inn. Born to a teenager. I've spend a lot of time over a long period of time thinking about what that night, that holy night, that painful night, that frightening night must have been like for Mary and Joseph and their newborn miracle.

Tonight, I heard Amanda tell a story of labor and delivery. Of waiting. Of fear. Of trust.
Of wishing for a predictable, controllable delivery. And how rarely that happens.
Contractions. Pain. Waiting. Hoping. Relief.
After a discussion of Amanda's story, I had the chance to close our time together in prayer.
For the second time, I wrote out my prayer.
For the second time, when it was time for me to read the prayer aloud, I had to leave out parts of it due to time constraints.
For the second time, I will share the whole prayer here.


Creator God, Waiting God,
Laboring God, Delivering God,
You who came up with the amazing, inexplicable miracle of pregnancy, 
we give you thanks tonight for the gift of life. 
Thank you for hospitals and doctors and nurses and midwives and birthing centers.
We thank you for medical insurance and payment plans and the willingness of medical 
centers to care for women and their babies even if they don’t have insurance.
Thank you for mothers and fathers and babies and siblings and family.

Please be with us, Lord, as we wait, as we wait for answers and resolutions.
As we wait for healing and restoration, for reconciliation and transformation. 
Please be with us as we wait, as we labor, and as we deliver all that is ours to deliver.

We ask, Lord, that you be with us at times of miscarriage and stillborn. 
At those moments of agonizing loss, pain, sorrow, and grief, 
at times when we think we cannot handle another contraction,
yet another piece of bad news about yet another tragedy, 
be with us even then, Lord. Especially then. 

On second thought, Lord, we ask, not that you be with us, 
but rather that you help us sense that you are already with us. 
You have promised to never leave us nor forsake us
so we don’t need to ask you to be with us. 
Help us, please, to feel your presence, to hear your voice, and to follow you. 
Help us to know that we can grip your strong hand and cry out when the pain hits,
and help us to trust you enough to lean back in your everlasting, outstretched arms.

As we leave this place tonight, please guide us out in this dark and cold night,
in this world that is groaning, in labor, and racked with pain.
Help us to be people of peace and calm.
Help us to be doulas for hearts and souls that are suffering.
help us to be caregivers of the hurting and the wounded
and co-laborers with you in your work of bringing new life into the world. 

Lord Jesus, please deliver us from fear and hatred.
Please deliver us from our addiction to ease and comfort.
Please deliver us from evil.
Please deliver us from this world of darkness into the kingdom of your light,
your joy, your peace, your hope and your love.
And please help us in turn to want to accompany you and each other as you deliver others.

Thank you, Lord God, for your patience as you wait for us, as you wait with us,
and as you wait in us.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being born, for being delivered into this world through 
your blessed mother, Mary, so that you in turn could die and deliver us. 

Thank you again for the gift of life, for the gift of the life of this community,
and for the gift of life that you came to earth to deliver in person. 

May your joy fill us, heal us, and surround us, and send us out into the world
with the good news of who you are and how you love us. 
May your peace surpass all that we understand.
May our hope be found in you, come from you, and flow from you into us and 

out into the world you were born to save. 

After we recited The Lord's Prayer together, 
I said this:
Go forth with joy.
Go forth with peace.
Go with God.
And have a very Merry Christmas. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

It's my party

Fifty years.
I keep saying it.
I keep shaking my head.
I keep giving thanks.

Today is also baby Bean's 2nd birthday.
And Evelyn's birthday. I think she's five today... or is four?
It's also the third anniversary or the horrors of Sandy Hook.
My heart and mind have spent a lot of time there today.
With Karen and her family and the schools and families there.
There is beauty. There is joy. There is gratitude.
And there is sorrow, sadness and anger.

That's life.
This good life.
This tear-soaked life.
This life of friends and family,
love and learning,
resentment and frustration,
fear, doubts, and questions.
It's all in all of us.

But we are here.
I am here.
I am happy.
I am at peace.
I am so very grateful.
Most of the time.

At the same time, the stories from Sandy Hook and Charleston and San Bernardino and
Paris and Baltimore and Kenya and so many other war-torn, dangerous, violent, lonely,
frightening places remind me to give thanks for the blessings,
to stand up and speak up for those who cannot,
to give time, energy, money, and my presence to those in need,
and to hold on to hope and joy and love when despair, sorrow, and hate threaten to overwhelm me.

It's my party today.
I have danced.
I have cried.
I have laughed.
I have opened beautiful, thoughtful cards and gifts.
I have eaten delicious and nutritious and also not-so-nutritious foods.
I have been hugged and kissed and called and messaged and loved today.
I have read and journaled and cut and glued and planned and downloaded.
I have marveled at the generosity of the people I am blessed to call my friends and family

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Thanks be to God.

This is what I posted on Facebook after reading nearly 100 birthday messages.

There's an old song of the church that begins with the line, "How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me? Things so undeserved, yet you gave to prove your love for me. The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude..." That song is directed towards God - but today, I am gonna appropriate those first lines and turn them towards all of you, my friends and family, pastors and church family, former colleagues, teachers, students, and classmates, all current companions on this amazing journey that is my life - in the US, Spain, Haiti, Italy, Ecuador, Norway, India, and wherever Kevin, Claudio and Natalia are at the moment (I'm crazy jealous of all the travel so many of you get to experience...) I am enormously blessed to call you all my friends, and to be making this life pilgrimage with you. Your friendship, companionship and love sustain me in ways you cannot imagine. As I enter the next age and stage of my life, I forge ahead with joy, hope, gratitude, and so much love in my heart. Gracias a todos vosotros. Que bendicion es teneros en mi vida, en mi camino y en mi corazon. Abrazos fuertes a mis amigos. Due baci per voi, Graziella e Barbara. Grazie mille.

Then my amazing friends and family posted 50 more messages. 
How can I say thanks, indeed? 

My good friend, Kirk Hall, used to pray a prayer very similar to this one often at church. 

Life is short
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those
who journey the way with us.
So be swift to love,
and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God,
who made us,
who loves us,
and who travels with us 
Be with you now and forever.  Amen
(Adapted from a blessing by Henri Frederic Amiel (1827-1881)

Thank you all for gladdening my heart today.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Completing 50 Years

When expressing age in Spanish, you use the verb "cumplir." It means to complete.
So instead of saying, "I'm turning 50," you say, "I'm completing 50 years." Cumplo 50 aƱos.
That way of explaining it makes much more sense because you don't turn one year old until the end of that first year - hence you are completing one year.

I am less than half hour away from completing 50 years.
In my 50 years -
I have laughed.
I laughed at Oprah's graduation speech when I graduated from Wesleyan University with a Master's degree.

I have wept.
I wept when my father died in March of 2001 and when the towers fell in September of 2001 and when I sat at that cafe in Orvieto, Italy, writing in my journal a month after that.

I have traveled.
I have seen the Grand Canyon and the Eiffel Tower.

I have taught.
I taught Spanish to seventh and eighth graders in the same classroom where I took my first Spanish class as a seventh grader.

I have learned.
I learned how to drive a stick shift during my senior year in college when two friends of mine gave me the keys to their pick up truck and told me to go out and figure out how to drive it on my own.

I have given birth.
My daughter was born in a hospital and my son in a birthing center. Now they are 22 and 19.

I have fallen in love.
I fell in love with Madrid the day I arrived back in August of 1986.

I have read.
One of my favorite things to do is pull out an old journal and read accounts of where I have been and what I have done on this life journey of mine.

I have written.
I have kept a blog for more than ten years, journaled for more than thirty years, and have completed the first draft of my book. (Please send prayers and good vibes to me to edit it in these next few months.)

I have prayed.
Every day, I give thanks for so many blessings. Every day, I ask for peace and mercy for those who suffer. Every day, I ask for help and strength to do all that is mine to do and to release all that is not mine to do. Every day, I spend time in silence with God and with myself.

In these 50 years, I have been broken hearted beyond all I could ever have asked or imagined.
While on my kanswer journey three years ago, as I celebrated my birthday with my children at Starbucks, an incomprehensible tragedy took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Sorrow beyond sorrow. I pray that the families of all of those victims will be comforted tomorrow. The shooting at the church in Charleston this past summer. The earthquake in Japan. The girls taken by Boko Haram. I pray for peace in our fear-filled, violent, and our gun-crazed country and world.

In these 50 years, I have been blessed beyond all I could ever have asked or imagined. Even on my worst days, the day my father died, the two times my daughter was admitted to the hospital, the day I heard those dreaded words - "We found kanswer" - even on those days, blessings and grace abounded. Excellent medical care. The comfort of family and friends. Hope, always hope. Faith. And on my best days, joy prevails. Countless safe trips in my car. Walks with friends. Trips overseas. Solo adventures. Silent retreats. Sharing poetry. Being loved. Being remembered.

Completing 50 years.
Grateful grateful grateful grateful.
Thank you for walking this journey with me.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Final Thankful Thursday of my 40s

This has been a week of "lasts." This is the last week in my 40s. The last Monday, the last Tuesday, the last Wednesday, and today, the last Thursday of my 40s.

I am thankful for forty nine years and three hundred sixty one days of life, each one a gift.
I am thankful that I have arrived at this moment in my life, healthy, happy and at peace.
I am thankful that the challenges I've faced in these 50 years have made me more grateful, not more bitter.

I am thankful for this life journey I have walked all these years.
I am thankful for this poem fragment written by Ruth Forman.

Let the journey continue
let us speak the same language in our many tongues
may the path lead us home may the journey lead us home
in faith child let it be
in faith mother let it be
in faith pop pop  
in faith sister
brother my brother let it be let it be
we the sky we the laughter of the rivers
we know day we know dawn we know evening
pray we know ourselves
pray I find myself in you
pray I find me in God
then I know where I'm going and feet to get there

The journey long y'all the journey long
but we got company
pray we find it know it like our hands
"The Journey"

The journey long, y'all.
Thank you, brave one, for walking with me through my moments of fear.
Thank you, sister of my soul, friend of my heart, for being a companion on my journey.
Thank you, teacher, pastor, mentor, for guiding me on this path towards being a pastor.
Thank you, generous, kind, loving friend, for showing up for every treatment.
Thank you, doctor, nurse, chiropractor, and physical therapist, for steering me towards a healthier way of life.
Thank you, prayer warriors, near and far, for interceding on my behalf before the throne of mercy and grace.
Thank you, activists, speakers, and peacemakers, for standing up against inequality and racism.

Thank you, Lord, for these and all my blessings on this, the last Thursday of my 40s.

Monday, December 07, 2015

What is going on in this country?

Gun violence that is out of control. A persistent refusal to acknowledge that something has to change. That the laws have to change. It should not be harder to get a dog than a gun. And nobody needs to own an assault rifle. Nobody. Ever.

Violent, racist, xenophobic, hate-filled speech from Donald Trump, who claims to want to be our President. There are thousands of people who support his horrific rhetoric. He has given a loud, public voice to the racism and fear and ignorance that this country has tried to claim no longer existed here.

The president of Liberty University encouraged his students to carry weapons in order to "end those Muslims." Liberty University calls itself a Christian college. Christian as in "Christ" - the one who told us to turn the other cheek. To love our enemies. The one we call Prince of Peace. The one who never took up a sword and defend himself against anyone.

Often when I hear stories of people who claim to know and love God advocate violence or hatred or fear or discrimination, I think back to the 1990s when thousands of people wore WWJD bracelets.
Those letters stood for this question: What would Jesus do?
If we see someone homeless or in need, we should ask ourselves: What would Jesus do?
If we hear of someone who is sick or lonely or dying, we should ask ourselves, What would Jesus do?If we see injustice happening, what would Jesus do.
Ostensibly, we were supposed to respond with answers like: Feed them. Visit them. Pray for them. Welcome the stranger. Be present. Be generous. Forgive. Speak up for the downtrodden and needy.
Crazy stuff like that. Radical stuff like that. Revolutionary stuff like that. Jesus-y stuff like that.

What would Jesus do in response to what is going on in this country.
I have a few ideas, but I don't know exactly what Jesus would do or say.
However I do know this: Jesus would not arm himself in order to kill the newcomer or the stranger.
Jesus would not tell the young people in the synagogue or the town to arm themselves either.
Jesus would not vandalize or burn down mosques or churches or homes.
Jesus would not build walls to keep desperate people out.

What is going on in this country?
What am I going to do about it?
What are you going to do?

Help Wanted

This is the last week of my 40s.
That's right - a week from today, I turn 50.

How can this be?
How will this be?


I have no desire or interest in living until I'm 100, so I won't say that I am entering the second half of my life. I suspect that I entered the second half of my life sometime in the last ten to twelve years.

I am asking for your help.

From those of you who are adept at self-care and celebration, I need help in figuring out ways to celebrate, to remember, to enjoy this last week of this decade of my life.
What can I do this week to celebrate 50 years?
What can I be looking back at and recalling?
What can I be journaling about?

From those of you ahead of me on the journey, I need help in figuring out what I should look forward to in my 50s.
What have you enjoyed most about your 50s and 60s and beyond?
What makes the 50s better than the 30s and 40s?

From those of you not yet this far along the road of life, I need help with not giving in and giving over to some unnecessary definition of being middle aged. Help me to stay young.
What do I not have to give up in this new decade?

Forty-three days ago, I began counting down "50 days until 50" in my journal.
I have thought and written about friends and places, songs and stories,
hairstyles and fashion styles, schools and jobs, trips and moves in my lifetime.
I have reread old journals and flipped through photos and postcards and letters from earlier in my life.
I have read texts and emails and letters from dear ones, past and present.
I have followed recipes, eaten favorite foods, and recalled excellent meals I've enjoyed.
I have been grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

I have also remembered losses, heartbreaks, rejections, abandonment.
I have also remembered bad decisions, bad choices, and bad friendships.
I have also remembered being afraid, being angry, and being confused.
I have also remembered kanswer, chemotherapy, and surgery.
I have also remembered falls and burns and scrapes and scars.
I have also remembered weeping, wanting to run away, and wishing it could all be different or better or something other than whatever "it" was.
Still, even with these less joyful memories, I am grateful.
Because, thus far, I have survived every challenge I have faced.
I have learned, I have grown, I have been transformed.
I am learning. I am growing. I am being transformed.
Not always easy. Not always happy. Not always fun.
But here I am, still here, still strong, still thriving, still grateful.

I need your help, friends.
What's next?
But where and how?
When and with whom?
I am in seminary, it's true. I am taking classes and preparing to love, serve, and encourage people for the rest of my life. Can you give me ideas and suggestions of how to put all this education to use in this broken, violent, wonder-filled world?

Fifty years old.
Fifty years young.
Fifty years for which I give thanks.

"7 days until 50."

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Another story from the road of life

Tonight, Dorothy (Dot) Counts Scoggins told her story at The Well at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church. She recounted her experience of being the first African American girl to integrate one of the high schools here in Charlotte in 1957. Her stint at Harding High School lasted only four days - before her parents decided to withdraw her from the abuse, scorn, spitting, insults, and other forms of abuse she faced. She said that at the end of those terrible four days, she vowed that she would spend the rest of her life working so that no other student would have to go through what she was forced to endure.

The sad truth is that, by many measures, the public schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system are as segregated in 2015 as they were in 1957. Some argue that for most poor students and many students of color, the segregation that begins in the preschool years, the segregation that continues all the way through high school, perpetuates levels of poverty, underperformance, and hopelessness that affect many generations of families and communities.

Dot challenged us to join our neighbors and friends in service to our children, even if we don't have children of our own in the system. She challenged us to not get tired, to not give up, to keep working, as she has done, to mentor and tutor and walk alongside teachers, parents, and students on this exhausting journey towards an educational system that meets the needs of all of its children.

Following her story, we thanked her for her courage as a teenager and for her continued courage as a retired woman who continues to work on behalf of children that are not her own, but that belong to our entire community.

We asked questions.
We offered answers.
We listened to each other.
We challenged each other.
We shook our heads.

And then I prayed.
More accurately, I read a prayer that I had written earlier today.

Just before noon today, Lori Raible, the courageous, strong, beautiful, hopeful woman who invited me to be involved at The Well, asked (via email) if someone on the planning team would be willing to pray at the end of tonight's gathering. I immediately volunteered. She immediately accepted my willingness. Soon thereafter, as I pondered the topic for the evening, Being Tired of Being Tired, I began to pray right there at my kitchen counter. Suddenly, and for the first time ever, I felt the urge to write the prayer down. To type it up. My fingers flew across the keyboard as both the words and my tears flowed.

Because we were nearing the end of our allotted time, when I stood up to pray after Dot's story and our group's discussion, I had to leave out a few lines of the prayer I had written. Here it is in its entirety -

Lord Jesus Christ, Sweet Holy Spirit, God Almighty,
You who are strength in our weakness, 
You who are joy in our sorrow, 
You who are peace in the midst of our violence, 
we are tired tonight. 
We are tired of segregated and unequal schools for our beloved children.
We are tired of prejudice.
We are tired of poverty and homelessness.
We are tired of the shootings. 
Tired of the brutality.
We are tired of blame and scapegoating.
We are tired of fear-mongering and hate-mongering.
We are tired of loneliness, sorrow, pain, despair, and death.
We are tired of marching and protesting and pleading for fairness and justice.
We are tired of shrugging our shoulders and shaking our heads about all of this.
We are tired of having to fight the same battles over and over and over.
We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

But we know that you are our strength when we are tired.
We know that you are our healer when we are sick.
We know that you are with us in the valley of the shadow of death, 
in fire, in flood, and even at the end of our lives 
because you promised that you would be with us always.
We know that your joy is our strength.
We know that you are living water to quench our thirsty and tired souls
We know that you are light in the darkness,
that you are our peace,
that you are our righteousness,
that you are our provider.
We know that you came to bring us life, abundant life, 
even in the face of death, danger, violence, and sorrow.
Thank you, Lord, for always keeping your promises. 
Thank you for always being with us - even in the worst of times.

Tonight, Lord, we ask you for peace that passes all understanding, 
for courage to speak up and stand up against all that displeases you,
all that destroys what you have created,
and all that breaks the hearts and crushes the spirits 
of the beautiful, broken, hurting, needy people
that you came to love, serve, heal, and save. 

We ask that you give us the right words to say, fervent prayers to pray, and effective actions to complete that will reveal to the world the kingdom that you said is near us, among us and within us. 
We ask that you will help us become people of courage, love, and peace in a world characterized by fear, hatred and violence.
We ask that you transform us by the stories we have heard and the challenges we have been given this evening.

We ask that you take us from this place energized, strengthened and encouraged in new ways 
to serve our communities and each other in ways that honor you 
and help to heal the world around us.
Lord, please fill us anew with boundless hope, unspeakable joy, and deep love.
Please fill us from the well, the bottomless well of all that you are.

We ask that you empower us now with the words of the prayer you gave us when you taught us to pray, saying, "Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen." 

Tonight I am thankful for the community of people that gather at The Well.
Our world, our nation, our city - we are thirsty.
We need living water.
I am thankful for this group of people seeking to both receive and share the water of life.
I am thankful for the stories we tell and the stories we hear.
I am thankful for people like Dot and Lori and Joanne and Sandra and Mary and Anthony and Toni and Doriel and Erin and Kate and so many others who are walking this difficult road, who are tired of fighting the same battles over and over, but whose hope has not yet been lost.
I am thankful for their courage and their willingness to speak difficult truths to people who don't want to hear those truths.
I am thankful for the example they set for me to keep speaking difficult truths in settings where some prefer for me to sit in silence.
I am thankful for every opportunity to listen and learn - and also for every chance to speak and pray.

I am thankful for the God who has drawn us together and sends us out into this hurting world.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thankful Thursday - In life and in death

In August of 1997, we moved into our first "real house." Not an apartment. Not a townhouse. Our first stand alone house. In the Silvermine section of Norwalk, CT. (Hence, the URL of this blog - Our daughter was three and our son just under a year.

Before we even got out of the car, our new neighbors were on our driveway. A luminous, smiling, pregnant mom, Barbara, and her two young children, aged three and two or thereabouts, greeted us with hugs and introductions and the warmest welcome we could have imagined. More than we had imagined, to be truthful. Later that same day, we met her husband, Tom.

When she explained that she would be having her baby at home just as she had done with her first two children, I knew that beautiful woman and I were going to be good friends. We talked about home births and nursing. We shared recipes and baked Christmas cookies together. We talked about homeschooling (which she didn't do) and public schooling (which I didn't do). Not many days passed without someone from our house going to their house or somebody from their house coming to our house.

My husband and Tom cut a path through the woody brush between our houses so that our children could run back and forth to each other's homes without having to walk on the road. They came to swim in our pool. We sat at their kitchen table for painting projects. (I still have a child's wooden chair that my daughter and I painted at their house in my bedroom.) They played basketball on our driveway. Our children ran in the woods behind their house. Chalk drawing on driveways. Trick or treating as a clan. Sledding together at a nearby golf course on snowy days. Hot tea and snacks with Barbara at the kitchen table while the kids played in their family room or in the children's bedrooms. Sitting at their island while she cooked dinner. Sleepovers.

One winter afternoon, Barbara told me that a few days earlier, after spending some time outside playing, her children had come into the house soaking wet. In their winter clothing. Wet. She asked how they had gotten wet and they informed her that they had been "jumping on Kristiana's trampoline." We didn't have a trampoline... turns out they had been jumping on our pool cover! We were all tremendously grateful that the cover didn't break under the weight of their little winter-bundled bodies. Once the shock of thinking about what could have happened wore off, we laughed at their antics - and marveled at how comfortable they felt coming into our yard to play. Truly excellent neighbors, from the oldest to the youngest of the two families.

Tom and Barbara proved to be generous, kind, funny, loving, and enthusiastic neighbors until they moved from Connecticut to Florida. We were sad to see them leave the neighborhood, but we visited them twice in their new surroundings. Beautiful people in a beautiful home creating yet another beautiful community of friends around them. We have lived here in Charlotte for more than thirteen years. They have lived in Florida longer than that. For the past few years, our sole contact with them has been through Facebook. But still, somehow, it felt like they were still good neighbors. Beloved neighbors. We couldn't have asked for better neighbors or friends.

I found out this morning that Tom recently passed away.
I don't know how. I don't know when.
But he's gone.
One of the kindest, funniest, brightest, gentlest men I have ever known - gone.
He who loved his wife and children with a passion and depth that I have not often seen - gone.
The sky over The Sunshine State is not as bright these days.
It can't be.
Because Tom is gone.

In life, there is no time to waste on mean-spiritedness or emotional stinginess.
There is barely enough time to show our loved ones how much we do love them.

In life, Tom showed Barbara and their children that no one and nothing mattered more to him than they did.
In life, Tom showed me how to be present with and to those we love.
In life, he laughed, he ate, he talked, he lived with his whole body and spirit. No holding back.

In death, Tom's light still shines.
In death, Tom's smile radiates from the faces of the three wondrous and stunning children he left behind.
In death, Tom's spirit brought great memories to the minds of my family here in Charlotte, smiles to our faces, and tears to my eyes as we recalled his joyful merrymaking. I am heartbroken for them and for all of us who will have to live without his enormous heart beating in the world.

In life and in death, Tom belongs to God.
May his soul, spirit, and body rest in divine peace.
May he enjoy and glorify the God he loved - forever.

May Barbara, GM, B, and LJ know the comfort of God's loving presence.
Today, tomorrow, during the memorial service on Saturday, and forever.

Thanks be to God for his life.
For his example.
For the gift of his presence in my family's life.
For all that he meant to so many.
Rest in peace, dear Tom.
Rest in peace.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mixed Feelings...

I am thankful that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a day we've set aside for intentional gratitude.
But it's also a day when many will still be hungry.
Many will still be homeless.
Many will still be trying to flee war torn countries and cities, seeking safety.
Many will still be mourning the death of loved ones.
Many won't be invited to table with family or friends.
Many will be lonely.
Many will be hospitalized.
Many will be in prison.
Many will be unemployed.
Many will have to work in stores, selling people things we don't need.
Many will struggle to find reasons to be thankful.

I am grateful for the ability, the freedom, the finances, and the opportunity to go to the supermarket today to get food for my family.

I am grateful for the ability and the opportunity to donate money so that others can eat, not only tomorrow but also other days as well.

I am grateful for the bounty at the Loaves and Fishes pantry, a place where those who aren't able to provide for all of their needs can receive help.

I am grateful for the many people who are working to create systems and programs that will solve the problems that cause such disparity and poverty.

I am grateful that my daughter is home from college for the next few days.
I am grateful that my son will make time to hang out with us between visits with his friends this weekend.

I am grateful for the friend who sent me her sermon - with difficult but necessary words that put Thanksgiving in perspective. That the meal we will enjoy tomorrow harkens back to that first Thanksgiving, after which began the slaughter and the displacement of the native peoples that lived on this continent. That we ought to be aware of our history and that we ought to be working to repair broken relationships with the broken people around us, to allow ourselves to be broken for the sake of healing and reconciliation.

I am grateful for this piece by Tim Wise and how directly it speaks to the near impossibility of talking to some people about racism.

I am grateful that I got to hear TaNehisi Coates speak at Davidson College last week. His book, Between The World and Me, is one of the most important books I've read in the last five to ten years. His perspective on race and racism infuriated me; his perspective on the beauty and strength of African-American people encouraged me; and his reading of the history of slavery and injustice in this country enlightened me. It wasn't an easy read. It wasn't a fun read. It was a weighty read. A sobering read.

I am grateful for the challenges of seminary - the questioning of my ideas, the questioning of my integrity, the requests that I cannot grant, the requests that I will not even entertain.

I am grateful for the realization that in seminary, in my classes, in my small groups, in my exchanges with other students, fear, pain, sadness and woundedness are evident. Even though I hate having that fear and pain directed at me, I am grateful for their vulnerability. And for my own. I am grateful that our mutual transparency provides us with chances to move together towards healing, with the goal of becoming wounded healers.

I am grateful because these exchanges force me to see the humanity, the fragility, the brokenness, the lostness, the beauty, the strength, the humor, and the courage of the students around me and the professors in front of me - and also in myself.

I am grateful for the conversations that I have had with family, friends and pastors about the exchanges I have had at seminary. I am grateful for the wisdom and advice I have received on how to deal with those with whom I may disagree. If I am going to be a pastor, I need to learn to deal with those who don't believe as I do, who don't want to hear what I think, and who have no problem with telling me to keep my opinions to myself. In truth, I have to learn to deal with those issues and situations even if I never become a pastor. Perhaps I should have learned all this in the first forty-nine and a half years of my life - but I have to believe that it's better to figure it out now than five years from now or ten years from now.

I am grateful for the students in my class who are teaching me to think, speak, and act courageously, opposition and criticism notwithstanding.

I am grateful for the lessons I am learning beyond the classroom -
It's okay to say "no." No explanation necessary.
It's okay to speak my mind. No explanation necessary.
It's okay to ask questions. It's okay to answer questions.
It's okay to be wrong - as long as I am willing to be corrected.
It's more than okay - it is my right.
It is everyone's right to speak, to listen, to learn, and to be wrong.

I am grateful for these early lessons that have nothing to do with either class I'm taking,
but have everything to do with listening to the still, small voice that assures me that
all shall be well and all is already well.
The voice that reminds me to trust that all things, even difficult things, work together for good.
That none of this is a surprise to the God who called me into this next phase of my life journey.
That nothing and no one can separate me from the love of God.
That every lesson is a blessing.
That silence is no longer an option.
That I have nothing and no one to fear.

But I have mixed feelings.
I am grateful and sorrowful.
I am hopeful and discouraged.
I am frustrated and excited.
I am prayerful and skeptical.
I am feeling mixed up.
Feeling human.
Feeling grateful.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thankful Thursday - This is my story...

I went to The Well tonight. (I love the image that comes to mind when I ponder that statement - going to the well. To drink deeply. To quench my thirst. To receive the water of life. Living water.)
The Well is a new worshipping community here in Charlotte.
It meets at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church every Thursday evening.
Dinner is from 5:15 until 6:15, with a time of worship, storytelling, and community starting at 6:30.
Come join us sometime...

Tonight was the third time that the participants of The Well have gathered.
We eat together.
We pray together.
Someone reads a passage from the Bible.
Sometimes we sing.
We listen to each other's stories.
We talk.
No sermon. Just someone telling a story.
Just us sharing. Listening. Reflecting.
It's a beautiful thing. A rare thing. A precious thing.

Tonight, Mark Yaconelli told the story of his friend and mentor, Morton Kelsey.
A story of love, redemption, trust, broken trust, music, restoration, and the creation of a new story.
What happens when the life story we've told ourselves for decades turns out to not be the whole story after all? What if we are loved beyond all our wildest dreams and expectations? What happens to our hearts and our lives? What happens to our souls?

Then he directed us to turn to one another and tell a story about a time in our lives when we were trusted, when someone counted us worthy of their trust. What did that feel like? What did that trust bring up in us and bring out of us?

Other questions followed: what happens to people who are never trusted?
What happens when someone breaks our trust?
What happens inside of us when our trust is broken?
What happens when we interact with the person who has broken our trust?

I was reminded of one time (one of the many times, for certain) when I broke someone else's trust.
In one of the worst ways a person's trust can be broken.
I spoke about the moment of being forgiven, being welcomed back into relationship with the one whose life I had shattered.
Someone responded by saying, "I'm sure your remorse helped her along in her forgiveness."
I had to disagree - "No, she came to me first and forgave me before I asked."

Hers was life-transforming forgiveness. Love. Radical reconciliation.
Undeserved. Grace. Favor. Mercy.

Now, that is good news. The best kind of good news.
I'm not sure that better news has ever been shared.
"You don't deserve this. You haven't earned this. You haven't even asked.
But I forgive you. I love you.
Please come and be a part of my life.
Come back home. Be my friend. Be part of my family."

This is my story - selfishness, foolish choices, broken trust.
Confession. Tears. Sorrow. Forgiveness.
I was the prodigal friend welcomed back into the fold of friendship even though I knew I was unworthy. She was the prodigal friend, excessive and extravagant (that's what prodigal means) in her compassion and mercy towards me.

Tomorrow I will spend most of the day listening to Mark teach about storytelling, about giving testimony of not only the blessings, but also the brokenness in our lives.

Here's the text from the brochure about the workshop.

A Leadership Conference with Mark Yaconelli Building Community. 
Building Trust: The Power and Practice of Personal Storytelling 
Where? Union Presbyterian Seminary Charlotte 
5141 Sharon Road, Charlotte, NC 28210 
When? Friday, November 20th 
Session One 9:00am-12:00pm 
Session Two 1:30pm-4:30pm 
Participants are encouraged to attend both workshops, but may attend only one. 

What? This one-day training will be an exploration of personal storytelling in ministry. Through presentation, contemplative exercises, theological reflection, and a variety of narrative practices, participants will encounter the power of personal storytelling for spiritual formation, outreach, social justice, and other ministries. The workshop will give participants practical skills for telling stories, creating narrative events, and assisting others as they "give testimony" to the work of the Spirit in their lives.

All of which has me wondering...

What would be the impact on our families, on our friendships, on work, on service, on ministry, on our entire lives if we learned to both tell and listen to one another's stories with grace, with attention, with intention, and with love?

What if we trusted one another enough to be vulnerable, to be transparent, to tell the truth, to give testimony of what we have seen and heard and felt and tasted and how we are being transformed by the stories around us and with us?

What if God's story really is embedded in our own stories and by not telling our stories, we are depriving each other of some chapters of God's Great Story of love and inclusion and hospitality and trust and forgiveness?

What if preaching and teaching and leading are really about telling stories?
Wait... that's exactly how Jesus preached and taught - through stories and parables.
What if we learned from the example of The Greatest Storyteller?

I am grateful for all that Mark brought to The Well tonight.
I am grateful for the stories we shared with each other and the lessons we all learned from those stories and experiences.
I am excited about tomorrow's sessions.
I am excited about learning how to craft my life story and how to tell my story.
I am grateful in advance for all that tomorrow will bring.

Grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

So much sorrow

The attacks in Paris. At sporting events. In a concert. In restaurants.
Senseless killings. Shooting. Horror. Terror.

So much sorrow.

Refugees flooding across borders.
Dying in transit. Losing one another on the way.
Former neighbors, colleagues, and friends joining in on the brutality.
No place to return to even if the violence stops.

So much sorrow.

A friend who is a flight attendant, to whom I had wished a safe trip,
responded correctly: "We aren't safe anywhere anymore, are we?"
She's right.

So much sorrow.

But -

Even though I know I won't be able to stop such attacks from happening,
even though I know I won't be able to stop people from hating each other,
or disrespecting each other,
or silencing each other,
or wanting to kill each other,
I will never let go of hope.
I will never let go of grace.
I will never let go of prayer
I will never stop praying for peace.
I will never stop praying for forgiveness.
I will never stop praying for change.
I will never stop finding ways to do something, to say something,
to speak and act and live in such a way that peace prevails in my immediate surroundings.

So much sorrow.

But I will never give up.

After telling his disciples about the love and presence and Spirit of God that would come to them, guide them, and keep them connected to himself, Jesus said this -
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.
In the world, you face persecution; 
But take courage - I have conquered the world.

There is persecution in this world - sometimes simply for being human and being alive.
There is trouble. There is so much sorrow.
But I refuse to bow down to despair, to fear, and to hatred.
Because my hope is in the Lord. Always will be.

In the meantime, my heart breaks.
I shake my head.
I am rendered nearly speechless. Nearly.
I am left with this:
"Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
And help us to have mercy on each other."

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for the gift of new life.
My nephew, Matthew, and his wife, Monisha, had their first baby yesterday.
This is one of the rare moments when I wish I still lived up north.
I miss holding babies in my arms, that baby smell.
I miss seeing the look on the parents' faces as they admire the miracle that their love produced.
I am thankful today for baby, Myles.

I am thankful that Matthew's brother and sister are also expecting their first babies in the next few months. Three siblings and their spouses all "in the family way." There is so much to celebrate in the Henderson family these days.

I am thankful for the gift of safe travel.
Back and forth to church
back and forth to the supermarket
back and forth to meet up with friends
to teach classes
to take classes
to the post office.

I am thankful every time I see our garage door open in front of my car.
Thankful that I returned home safely.
Thankful that my house is still standing.
Thankful for the electricity that lifts that heavy door.

A few weeks ago, I saw a horrible car accident. Someone in a minivan thought they could beat other cars through an intersection, sped past two lanes of stopped traffic in the right hand merging lane, and slammed into the back end of an ambulance that was crossing the intersection. (Hence the stopped traffic!) I almost pulled over to see if I could help in some way, but when I saw the attendants get out of it apparently unhurt, I realized that help was already on the scene. As we crept past the broken glass and car parts strewn on the street, I saw that all the airbags in the minivan had been activated. And I heard that awful sound of the car horn, you know the sound that happens in movies and television shows when someone has been hurt in a car and is leaning on the horn.

Every time I drive past that intersection now and every time I drive past the intersection where my daughter's car accident happened, I breathe a prayer for the people involved in both of those accidents - and I give thanks for all the thousands of trips and walks and flights and bus rides and train rides and bike rides that have ended safely.

I give thanks for all the ways in which rides that didn't end well often attract helpers and rescuers and support from among concerned citizens and bystanders. Here's one such story - when my daughter had her accident back in August, one of the men who pried open the door of her overturned minivan so she could crawl to safety called and texted me three times after the accident to check on her, to let us know he and his family and church were praying for her, and to invite us to visit his church. One of the times he texted was after she had gone back to college for the fall semester - during a phone call that she and I were having. She was on his mind at the same time that she was on my mind.

I am thankful for my seminary classmates and the ways in which we are bonding as friends, as students, as co-travelers on this journey. We share prayer requests. We share stories. We share Halloween make up and costume tips. We share study tips. We share laughter. We share meals. We share our questions.

I am thankful for the neighbor who takes long walks with me. She and her husband and daughter recently spent ten days in Spain, so you know I asked two or three dozen questions on our last walk together. She and I will head out for an early morning jaunt tomorrow.

I am thankful for the new friend (who feels like an old friend) with whom I write these days. She showed me a library book full of writing prompts - the book is aimed at middle schoolers but it's one of the best books of its kind that I have ever encountered. It's called Leap Write In! Adventures in Creative Writing, by Karen Benke. We have both borrowed copies from the library and have gotten together twice to write. And we have written responses to the same prompt on our own and then shared them when we have been together. Writing buddies rock. Especially when they are spontaneous, easy-going, honest, and funny. Especially when they brew up peppermint tea in cast iron pots. Especially when they slide their journals across the table and say, "Why don't you just read it for yourself?" Especially when we use the same Pilot Precise V5 pens. Little details like that make me even more thankful.

I am thankful for the movement, the protests, the unrest that are forcing change in this country. That are forcing deeper conversation. While I know that there is backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement, while I know that there are some who argue that people don't have the right to not be offended, I am thrilled to see more people standing up and dying in and marching and raising their fists in defiance of racism and classism and homophobia and racist voter laws (have you heard about Alabama closing DMVs in black counties so that it is harder for black people to get photo IDs?) and violence.

I am grateful for the college students and faculty at Yale and Duke and the University of Missouri and elsewhere who are wielding the power they have to force conversation and change. Those who condemn their use of emotional, athletic, academic, and financial power and influence sound a lot like those who condemned the protesters during the Civil Rights movement. "Be patient. Don't get angry. Be respectful. Don't yell. Wait your turn." Wait for what? For how long? For the powerful to decide to voluntarily share power? For the wealthy and the greedy to share their take? For the higher ups to care about the needs and desperation of those below them? For the influential to intercede for ignored?

TaNehisi Coates wrote about the comfort this country has with seeing black people hosed down and beaten, shot with rubber bullets and with real ones, tazed and taken into captivity - all while singing, "We shall overcome... someday." But when those battle-wounded and soul-weary people stand up and say, "Enough is enough," when they walk off football fields (as opposed to when they show up at the courthouse plead for justice for Tamir Rice's unjust killing in a community park), when they demand that presidents and professors, coaches and CEOs step down, then force and threat of force, then calls for resignations and impartial investigations and firings are condemned.

I am grateful for the attention that is being paid to this horrendous trial. Have you even heard about this white police officer charged with 36 counts of sexual assault and battery against black women? This Oklahoma officer is being tried now and will be judged by an all-white jury. There seems to be very little wide spread press coverage of the proceedings. I keep asking myself what the media coverage would be if the cop was black, the thirteen victims were white and the jury was all black.

I am grateful that I am learning how to express my thoughts and feelings about these difficult topics and also how to listen to other people's opinions without undue anger and resentment. I still have a whole lot to learn in terms of not wanting to throw something at my television or computer screen, but knowledge of the cost of replacement of either of those items has served as an adequate deterrent thus far.

I am grateful for my husband, my brother, Darryl, Kim, Rick, Indhira, Jen, Jena, Colman, Anthony, Steve, Rodney, and several other people in my life who push me to think more carefully and deeply about these tragedies and injustices and to stand up, speak up, and write about what I think and feel.

I am grateful for the power of prayer to bring about change and healing and peace and rest - and also unrest and disruption and upheaval and transformation. In me. And in the world.

I am grateful for hope and a future.
Even in the face of so much sorrow and suffering.
Even in the face of so much injustice and injury.
Even in the face of death and dying.
Even when so many say that hope is a waste of time and energy and effort.

Today, itty bitty baby Myles brings me an extra dose of hope.
I cannot wait to meet him and hold him in my (great) Auntie arms.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Friday Edition

Cuz everyday can be Thankful Thursday, right???

Today is a special day of thanksgiving because it is the third anniversary of my kanswer diagnosis. Every time I flip through the pages of the journal I kept at the time,
every time I scroll back through the pages of my memory,
I shake my head in disbelief.

These three years have flown past.
So many doctors' visits and treatments and pills and supplements.
So many prayers and tears and cries out for mercy.
So much gratitude and laughter and joy and peace.
Good food. Kombucha. Green tea. Salads. Juices. Smoothies.
Hugs, kisses, snuggles, and smiles.
Hand holding, hand wringing, and hand raising.

I am grateful to be alive, to be healthy, to be here.

I am grateful to be in seminary.
Grateful to be in service at my church and in my community.
Grateful to be in relationship with people who are willing to love me and receive my love.

I am grateful for Kevin and Susan, Matthew and Monisha, and Raquel and Jay (the three names in bold are the children of my oldest brother) and how they managed to all get pregnant within months of each other. Triplet-cousins is what I have decided to call the three little ones who are being nurtured and loved in the bellies of their sweet and beautiful mamas.

I am grateful for my two children who continue to put up with my interference and questions and overt attempts to keep them from branching out as the (young) adults that they are. They make me laugh. They make me cry. And they make me pray. A LOT.

I am grateful for this sweet man of mine, the one who watches Project Runway with me and eats my randomly prepared meals while also determining that sometimes he would rather cook for himself than wait for me to make up my mind and who loves all my idiosyncrasies and weirdness.

I am grateful for honey and maple syrup and pistachios and cashews and dark chocolate covered almonds with sea salt and turbinado sugar and limes sliced and squeezed into glasses of ice water.

I am grateful for spaghetti squash, broccoli, brussels sprouts - and Pinterest, which provides recipes that combine these ingredients in various and delicious ways.

I am grateful for the ability, the privilege, the opportunity to go to the supermarket and choose such bounty for my family.

I am grateful for the chance to serve at the Loaves and Fishes pantry so that I can help those who aren't able to buy groceries for themselves to receive food that has been donated for their edification. Yesterday I met a mother of six sons who recently lost her job. Her two youngest sons were with her - and she expressed deep gratitude for the counselor at their school who gave her the referral to the pantry. Her love for her children, her desire to care for them and raise them well, and also their respect towards and honor for her were palpable. There was another woman who came to the pantry because she (and her husband) had recently gained custody of her three step-children and needed assistance to feed additional mouths. She works at a local market and spoke reverently about her boss' generosity in letter her take extra groceries home at no charge.

I am grateful that last night I had the chance to hear the story of a Mexican immigrant and his love for this country. He came here to earn money to pay for his last year of law school in Mexico but fell in love with this country and the life he found here. He fell in love with a woman from his hometown in Mexico and they got married and now have two children that were born here. Their love for each other as a family, their love for and pride in their lives here in Charlotte, and their yearning to become legal citizens of this country inspired everyone who listened to think differently about immigration and amnesty and grace and hope. Every person in that room was the descendant of someone who arrived in this nation without documentation and uninvited (or, in my case, against their will) - that dear man simply asks for the same chance, the same opportunity that others have misguidedly forgotten that they too benefit from. I am grateful for his courage, his honesty, and his tears.

I am grateful for sunshine and rain and fallen leaves and birdsong and scampering squirrels.

I am grateful for blenders and juicers and Nutribullets and refrigerators and ovens and sinks and dishwashers.

I am grateful for washing machines and dryers and hanging racks and detergent.

I am grateful for cameras and computers and paper and pens and books and backpacks.

I am grateful for the friend who gave me flowers in honor of my three year diagnosis anniversary and for the friend who sent me a journal in which to write down sermon ideas and other seminary-related inspiration.

I am grateful for the company of loved ones and time alone with The Alone.

I am grateful for safe travel, for safe arrivals, and for safe keeping.

I am grateful, grateful, grateful.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Why eating poorly is sometimes a good thing

Three years ago today, on November 2, 2012, I had the biopsy on my left breast, the one that tried to kill me. Four days later, I got the worst news of my life: kanswer.

Blah blah blah.
Hair lost.
Other body parts lost.

I find it hard to believe that nearly three years have passed since my diagnosis.

Anyway, I went to the doctor this morning - the oncologist. I go see him every six months to prove to him that it is possible to live well after kanswer. To be healthier than ever.

Because I hate getting weighed at the doctor's office (why are the scales at doctors' offices always meaner than the ones we have at home?!?), I didn't eat breakfast before my appointment in a foolhardy effort to weigh four ounces less than I would have weighed if I had eaten a bowl of oatmeal and had a cup of green tea.

As soon as I got the all clear from him and made an appointment go back in six months, I headed across the road for a bagel sandwich.

Dare I confess it fully? I ordered a rosemary olive oil bagel with butter, an egg, and turkey sausage. And I washed it down with a cup of dark roast coffee.

Eating poorly is sometimes a good thing - it certainly tasted good going down.

As I stood at the counter waiting for my bagel sandwich to be constructed, I looked over towards the cash register and saw a local television personality, a weatherman from one of the nearby affiliates. He also happened to be a former pastor at a former church of mine. I remembered his high energy and sense of humor and couldn't suppress the smile that floated across my face.

I got my food and sat down to eat and read about the Crusades (seminary reading at its finest). He sat a few tables away with his computer open, two notebooks open, a phone on the table, and pens nearby. He was lost in his work.

Every few moments, I felt an urge to speak to him. To thank him for his service at the church. But I kept resisting the impulse; after all, he left the church between eight and ten years ago. And he was clearly engaged in important work at the moment. Typing and writing. Writing and typing.

I got up from my table to dispose of my tray, and after doing so, I stopped at his table.

"Although I know you are on television now, and I appreciate the work you do there, I just wanted you to know that I still remember you as one of the most energetic pastors ever at _________ Church."

He threw his hands up in the air, literally both hands, as though as I had pulled a gun on him, and nearly shouted his response. "What? Oh my goodness. I can't believe you remember that. That was so long ago."

He pointed to the spiral notebook on the table and said, "I was just writing in my morning devotional journal about how discouraged and disheartened and stupid I feel. I had just asked God to encourage me in the eternal."

He read directly from the page his journal was open to.
Then he looked up at me and asked, "What is your name?"


He picked up his pen, wrote a few words, and then read them to me:
"Gail is the answer to my prayer."
Then he added, "This is such a God moment."
I clapped my hands and exclaimed, "I love God moments."

A few minutes later, after saying farewell to my new friend, when I got into my car to head up to church for a meeting, I chuckled to myself as I thought: "If I hadn't made the decision to hold off on breakfast at home, if I hadn't decided to eat that fatty, buttery, delicious bagel sandwich this morning and sip that hot sweet coffee, if I didn't have the three year follow up appointment to the worst news I ever received in my life, I would never have been the answer to that man's prayer this morning."

That, my friends, is why eating poorly is sometimes a good thing. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for:

* apple picking adventures with Heather, Shawn, and Graeme

* fresh homemade green juices (today's is deep orange because of carrots)

* watching my son make sandwiches to cook in the panini press

* my daughter's 22nd birthday tomorrow

* butternut and acorn squash roasted with coconut oil, and freshly ground sea salt and rainbow peppers and topped with a scoop of brown rice

* being invited to preach again at my church last week

* Fall Fest @ First - the fall festival at my church two Sundays ago: Food trucks, awesome jazz music by Tyrone Jefferson and A Sign of the Times, face painting, pumpkin decoration, and other fun activities

* we worked together to create a book of prayers and words of encouragement for Mother Emanuel AME Church down in Charleston, SC. 

* meeting an absolutely fascinating, funny, wise, well-read, well-traveled, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, uni-gorgeous group of seminarians last weekend in Clinton, Tennessee, at the Racial Ethnic New Immigrants Seminarian Conference, hosted by the Racial Ethnic and Women's Ministries arm of the PCUSA (Presbyterian Church USA, my church's denomination). 

* this beautiful statue of "Mother Africa" at Alex Haley Farm, which is where the conference/retreat took place

 * the ark of safety at Alex Haley Farm down there in Tennessee - it is actually the chapel. The farm is under the auspices of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), which is led by Marian Wright Edelman. The statement on the logo of the CDF is, "Dear Lord, be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small." Hence, the large boat - a place, an ark of safety.

* some of my new friends - from Puerto Rico, Kenya, Korea, Dominican Republic, and the USA. We talked, prayed, read Scripture, and worshiped in our own languages. Magnificent.

* the chance to pray with and for the group during one of our times of worship

* you know me - if there's a library, I am going to find it and figure out a way to get there by myself

* this is the view from the main window of the library

* being back in contact with a dear, dear friend after more than a decade without intentional, ongoing contact. We may not be able to see each other face to face, but emails and phone calls and facebook messaging feel pretty great at the moment.

* I met up with a friend for dinner last Tuesday, a wise, funny, thoughtful woman who advised me on a dilemma I'm dealing with these days. As I walked back to my car, I pondered the "extravagance" of spending $21 on dinner. Why couldn't I have picked something less expensive on the menu? Why do I insist on wasting so much money on restaurant meals when we have so much good and healthy food at home? As I belittled and berated myself for what should never be considered a punishable offense, I crossed my arms and began to look down at the sidewalk - where I discovered a $20 bill!!! How funny and perfectly timed was that??? God has such a great sense of timing and humor.

* the miraculous diminishment of Hurricane Patricia before it did horrific damage to Mexico

* this article written by a new friend, Amanda, a beautiful young woman (inside and out) who I walk with here in Charlotte. This coming Sunday afternoon at 2 PM we will begin our final walk at the train in Freedom Park. I will miss these people, our spirit of unity, our love for one another, our welcoming community, and our courage to enter so many areas in Charlotte that we have never explored before. This group will have completed more than 100 miles walking together. May our rear ends and our hearts be forever reshaped and reformed because of the time we have spent and the distances we have covered together.

* last week, I asked you to consider giving money for the building of a maternity ward and women's health facility in Haiti. This is what happened: $475,141 given in 24 hours with the average gift being $22.

* having the best spiritual director I could ever hope for. To sit with her and share my heart, my questions, my stories, my doubts, my tears, and have her ask the best questions, direct me to listen to my own heart, to descend into the knowing place where God speaks quietly and gently, where Spirit breathes and moves, where grace abounds, and where love grows. 

* Life itself. I am enormously grateful to be alive. To breathe. To walk. To eat. To travel. To read. To write. To laugh. To take hot showers. To drink cold water. To wear clothes I love. To attend a church where I am welcomed and where I serve. Seminary classes and classmates. 

*At the end of his sweaty Tae Bo workouts, Billy Blanks often says, 
"Every day above ground is a blessed day." He is right about that. 
Life is not always easy. Life is not always simple. Life is not always comfortable.
But for me, even in the worst of times, I am grateful to confess that life is good. 
To be alive is a blessing and a gift. 
Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"Send money!"

A long time ago Alice Walker recorded a short story about an illiterate mother who received a letter from her daughter who was away in college. I looked for it online, but was unable to find it. So I will attempt to write it out here - but I must share two disclaimers first.

1- I heard her tell this story in a recording. I have never read it.

2- I heard it many years ago, so this is a rough and inaccurate retelling of the story.
Hopefully, you will get the point...

Well, here goes.


After she received the letter from her beloved child, the mother, who missed her daughter terribly, took the letter to a neighbor and asked her to read it. The neighbor read the angry, demanding letter - "Mom! School is good! The weather is cold here! I need to buy a coat! Send money!!!"

In a huff, the wounded mother snatched the letter from her neighbor's hand and stormed back to her house, thinking, "I will show that ungrateful child who to treat me better. I'm not going to send her any money. How dare she talk to me that way?"

A few days later, she decided she wanted to reread the letter and took it to the neighbor who lived on the other side of her. This neighbor read an altogether different letter, a gentle, kind, and solicitous letter. "Mom, school is good. The weather is cold here. I need to buy a coat. Send money."

The mother nodded her head, took the letter, tenderly folded it and slid it back into the envelope. She looked at her neighbor and responded dreamily, "If she had said it that way the first time, I would have sent her the money."


I love that story. I love the lesson of how tone of voice matters. I love that the mother wanted to hear the letter again, to read it again, to give her beloved daughter another opportunity to speak to her. And it gave that loving mother the chance to bless, protect, and provide for her daughter by sending her the money she needed for a winter coat.

Sometimes we receive requests for money and other forms of help that are shrill and self-serving. Sometimes they are demanding and insulting. Sometimes they are all about making you feel guilty. Sometimes the requests are meant to flatter you at first and then manipulate you into doing something you might not otherwise consider doing.

At other times, those appeals are thoughtful, joyful, hopeful, grateful, touching, tender, and easy to respond to in a generous way. Sometimes those requests strike a chord, ring a bell, touch a nerve - and eventually move me beyond my usual string of cliches and leave me almost speechless. Almost. Sometimes we are so profoundly affected by the way a story is told, by the way an appeal is made, that we are moved to love, to get involved, and to give generously.

Today is one of those days.
Today is a Love Flash Mob day over at Momastery's blog.
It is a beautiful story about beautiful people in need of our help.
We get to help. We get to give. We get to make a difference in many, many lives.

Here is the link to this love letter asking you to "Send Money."