Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Are you the only one who didn't know?

I am not much of a music person. Unless you count the old hymns of the Baptist church, sung in four-part harmony.
I am not much of a movie person. Unless you count the ones with Meryl Streep that involve her character being unfaithful to her husband.
I am not much of a Scandal or Walking Dead or How to Get Away with Murder or Downton Abbey person either. But Law and Order, Tiny House Nation, and What Not to Wear - those I know about.
I am not much of a news junkie. Unless you count Jon Stewart, The Nightly Show, and whatever stories I catch on NPR on my way to and from church and lunch dates and visits to the chiropractor.

Because I am not much of a music person or a movie person or a news junkie or a follower of many of the most popular television series, I often find myself answering some version of this question:
"Are you the only one who...?"

Are you the only one who doesn't know what's happening on Scandal or Storage Wars or on any of Tyler Perry's seventeen primetime shows or with the zombie apocalypse?
Are you the only one who isn't on top of what is going on in Sudan, Egypt, Liberia, Afghanistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Congo, Pakistan, Ukraine, England, Italy, Spain, or right here in your own home country?
Are you the only one who didn't watch the Oscars or the pre-Oscar shows or the post-Oscar shows?
Are you the only one who hasn't seen or read any of the Harry Potter books and movies?
Are you the only one who isn't well versed in Presbyterian/Baptist/Catholic/Buddhist/Hindu/Jewish/ Muslim/Lutheran/Taoist/yogic/tantric philosophies, beliefs, practices, sacred texts, prophets, leaders, and all the lingo that goes along with each of the above?
Are you the only one who hasn't marched in a Moral Monday event?
Are you the only one who doesn't know how to make a standing pot roast or fry chicken or make a pound cake from scratch or poach an egg or chop an onion properly or how to make vegan, gluten-free dishes that taste, smell, look, and have the exact same texture as their original version?
Are you the only one who hasn't committed all the relevant and reliable statistics about race, poverty, injustice, incarceration, police brutality, prejudice, and inequality to memory?
Are you the only one who isn't saving every extra dollar for your retirement?
Are you the only one who doesn't know the name and capital of every country in Africa, Asia, South America or Europe?
Are you the only one who doesn't understand how computers/cell phones/television sets/ automobiles/electricity/the sewer system/the internet works?

No, I'm sure I'm not the only one, but as I scroll down my facebook timeline,
as I listen in on conversations at Starbucks or in the supermarket checkout line,
as I engage in virtual and actual interaction with friends,
as I read blog posts and glance at the covers of books and magazines at Barnes and Noble,
sometimes it feels like I am the only one who doesn't know everything about everything.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible comes from Luke 24, the last chapter of the third gospel. Part of that chapter describes a conversation between Jesus and two of his followers on the day he rose from the dead. This is how one version of the Bible puts it -

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things of Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

So many responses and questions have bubbled up in me over the many years of reading and pondering that story.

Like - why did those men not recognize Jesus? Some say it's because they clearly did not expect to see their friend risen from the dead. I think it's partly due to them not ever looking up at him - they were sad and dejected and probably had their eyes down rather than up.

Like - the fact that Jesus asked them such an important question - what are you discussing? What are you talking about? I like that Jesus cared what they were talking about. I love that, even though Jesus had demonstrated many times in the stories written about him that he was capable of reading people's minds and thoughts, he still asked the question and then gave them time and space to answer it. He wanted them and he wants us to tell him what's on our minds and hearts. There must be some power in speaking these things aloud - or else why would he ask?

But what has caught my attention today is their question for Jesus - Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have taken place there in these days?

I hear myself asking God that same question on a daily basis.
Lord, are you the only one who doesn't know that those girls are still in the hands of that terrorist group in Nigeria?
Are you the only one who isn't upset about the gun violence that plagues our nation?
Are you the only one who doesn't see the suffering of the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the dying, the bankrupt, and the lonely?
Are you the only one who doesn't want kanswer and AIDS and diabetes and lupus and fibromyalgia and measles and autism and leprosy and malaria and dengue fever and hepatitis and depression and borderline personality disorder and liver disease and dementia and ALS and chronic migraines to end?
Are you the only one who refuses to step in and do something about all of that and everything else that ails our planet and its inhabitants?

I follow those questions with my personal statements of misplaced and displaced hopes.

I had hoped that you would be the one to end injustice in my lifetime.
I had hoped that you would be the one to redeem the lost.
I had hoped that you would be the one to protect the children from predators and abusers.
I had hoped that you would be the one to make it all stop, whatever it is.
I had hoped that you would be the one to fix what is broken, to heal what is wounded, and to restore all that has been lost.

I answer Jesus' question in my journal on a daily basis: this is what I'm discussing on my life's journey. This is what I had hoped. This is what I'm thinking about and praying about and hoping for. These are the ways in which my heart is broken. These are the people I know who need to be touched and healed, rescued and reconciled. This is what matters to me today, what I'm talking to my friends about.

I also ask myself the same questions that I have been asked and the ones I have asked of God:
Am I the only one who doesn't care, isn't involved, doesn't weep,
and isn't doing something about what's happening in the world?
Am I losing myself in anger and frustration and despair and fear?
Or am I working at being the answer to my own prayers and the prayers of people who suffer?
Or am I holding on to hope and gratitude and joy and light and life and faith in the face of all that is bleak and dark and frightening and broken and desperate and dying all around me?

Am I the only one who remembers and then forgets and then remembers and then forgets the miracles, the blessings, the outpourings of love, the assistance, the deep sense of community, the random acts of kindness, and the intentional ones too that have rained down into my life, into the lives of people I know and love, and into so many people's lives all over the world - even in the most dismal and daunting and dangerous places and moments in the world?
Am I the only one who prays with burial spices on hand, often expecting to find a dead and powerless cult leader rather than a living, all powerful, ever present Redeemer?
Am I the only one who has had far more encounters with the latter than the former?
Am I the only one who is profoundly grateful for God's infinite patience with my infinite impatience, for God's grace in spite of my frequent lack thereof, and for God's comforting, quiet presence in response to my sorrowful rants?

Am I the only one whose questions far outnumber my answers?

(Note on Monday, March 2, 2015 - I'm not sure what happened, but this post should have been published last week, on Wednesday, February 25. )

Monday, February 23, 2015

Operating Instructions

In 1993, Anne Lamott published the journal of her first year of motherhood and called it, Operating Instructions: A Journal of my Son's First Year. In her barbed, humorous, heart-moving, impassioned way, Anne describes her journey into single motherhood. Overwhelming motherhood. Desperate motherhood. More than ten years ago, I devoured the book, laughing and groaning and nodding my head in agreement with so much of what she expressed.

I pulled it off the shelf again tonight and flipped through it, hoping that I somehow missed the section about parenting those "little ones" when they are driving, when they are away in college, when they are adults, and when they are struggling.

I hoped that there was an appendix related to dealing with children who want to be treated like adults, except when it comes to money and emotions and academics and athletics and friendships and love and faith and family and food and the future and the past and the present. Other than that - they've got it covered.

Today I had lunch with a new friend, an instant sister-friend. Sensing her spirit of deep discernment, I asked her a couple of questions about parenting, and then basked in her words of wisdom. Although her children are younger than mine, her soul is much wiser and stronger and more experienced.

She taught me about how to listen when they are speaking, how to ask them questions, and how to answer theirs. She taught me about how to pray more effectively for our children, about stepping out of the way and letting God work in and through their lives, even when it looks like they are going through a tough time. (Your will be done, Lord. Yours alone.)

She reminded me that the struggles we face, whether they are related to parenting or work, faith or fidelity, whether they are our struggles or our children's struggles, these difficult moments don't last forever. A wise uncle of mine turned a familiar phrase upside down during my daughter's illness back in 2008. He said, "This trial has not come to stay. It has come to pass." My daughter's trial did pass. It felt like it would never end, but it did.

Paul said it well at the end of 2 Corinthians chapter 4 - Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

When we are in the midst of them, our troubles do not feel light or momentary. On the contrary, they feel - they are - weighty and burdensome. I am grateful that I haven't lost heart, that I haven't given up. And that is my prayer for my children - to never give up, to never lose heart. I pray that they will know that this too, whatever this is, will pass.

My friend challenged me to ask God questions when I am facing challenges and when my children are facing theirs - "What are you saying to me in this, Lord? What am I supposed to learn through this?" On my kanswer journey, I returned to that query many, many, many times - "What am I meant to learn from this, God?"

I remember pleading with God to take the kanswer away, to keep me from having to go through the chemo and surgery - that whatever I needed to learn, I was willing to learn another way, any other way. Couldn't there be another way to learn about faith and strength and courage and pain and suffering and illness and healing and love and friendship? Eventually, I laid down my resistance and my armor and most of my anger, and I acknowledged that there was no way out but through. Whatever I needed to learn, I wanted to learn it well so that I won't have to take the course ever again. Ever.

Similarly, I have to lay down my anger and my resistance and my armor and allow my children to fight their own battles, to pray their own prayers, and to figure out what they need to learn from the deep waters they are currently treading.
I have to allow them to find their way through the dark valleys and the deep shadows.
The times of fear and loneliness, of doubt and despair, of difficulties and disappointments.
My children are wise and foolish, thoughtful and impulsive, contented and complaint-ridden. Aren't we all?
My children are determined and hesitant, strong and weak, faith-filled and doubtful. Aren't we all?
My children can and will find their way into the light, into the joy, into the strength that are theirs to receive and to claim. On their own terms. In their own time. According to the will and plan of the God who loves them most of all.

As much as I would like to keep them from suffering,
as much as I want to do their laundry and clean their rooms,
as much as I long to have them back at the homeschooling table under my watchful gaze,
as much as I would like to write their papers for them,
take their Spanish tests,
answer all the questions on every test,
intercede with their professors and coaches,
I cannot. I will not.

My friend said, "You cannot cheat a person out of their life experience."
Ouch. I cannot and I will not cheat my children out of the challenges and demands of college.
They spent most of their lives here at home with me.
They never had to deal with bullies in the classroom or on the playground.
They never had excessive amounts of homework or twenty-page papers to write or entire novels to read overnight.
There were never science fair projects that we had to do for them.
Some would argue, some have argued that we cheated them out of important school-related experiences.
If those people are correct, then it's time for that cheating to stop - my babies are no longer babies. They are grown people making their way into and through their own lives.
I will never abandon them. I will always love them and listen to them and laugh with them and cry with them. But I do need to release them into the care of keeping of the God who lent them to me for these past few years.

My friend said, "Our life experiences are what God uses" to make us who we are.
Do I wish I didn't have to go through kanswer? Absolutely.
Do I wish my daughter had never gotten sick? Absolutely.
Do I wish my father hadn't died of kanswer back in 2001? Absolutely.
Do I wish my childhood church hadn't split open back when I was 12 years old? Absolutely.
But if those things hadn't happened, I would not be the woman, the mother, the wife, the teacher, the writer, the person I am today. Absolutely.

If I hadn't gone through kanswer, there are people I would never have met, people I wouldn't be able to encourage and walk with right now.
If my daughter hadn't gotten sick, there are a lot of lives that we wouldn't have been able to touch, a lot of friends we wouldn't have made, and a faith community we would never have discovered.
If my father hadn't died, I wouldn't be able to sympathize with those who have lost dear ones.
If my childhood church hadn't imploded, I wouldn't appreciate the amazing group of people I get to worship with these days, nor would I understand the importance of healthy conflict resolution.

I wish there were operating instructions - not only for the first year of life, not only for raising teenagers, but for every stage of life. I am grateful for the strong, wise, transparent, loving, patient, hilarious, prayerful women (and men) that I have been blessed to know, that have spoken into my life, and have provided some operating instructions all their own to guide me on this, my life's journey.

Today I am especially grateful to and for you, Tish.
Girl, you rocked my world today.
All the way to the core of who I am.
I thank God for you.

PS. My children are both dealing with the usual social, academic, athletic, and emotional challenges of being college students. I am at home spending too much time thinking about them, worrying about them - and today my friend, my wise, caring, prophetic friend steered me back towards a posture and position of faith and trust that I had lost sight of.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thankful Thursday

Several years ago, when my children were still quite young, I was droning on and on about some topic that they weren't interested in, but that didn't stop me from pontificating mindlessly and endlessly. At one point, I said, "I know I sound like a broken record, but..." and I continued with my rant.

In unintended unison, they asked, "What's a record?"
Thus ended my lecture.
Well, probably not, but it did silence me for a few seconds.

I know I sound like a broken record, but it's Thankful Thursday.
I know I sound like a purebred optimist, but it's Thankful Thursday,
the day to share some of what I'm grateful for.
As far as gratitude goes, I hope to sound like a record stuck in the same groove
every Thursday - and all the other days of the week as well.

Today, I am thankful
* for a warm and sturdy house during these days of record-shattering cold temperatures
* that we didn't lose power due to freezing rain and ice

* for a challenging Ash Wednesday service - the challenge being to hold fast to these days, to God's dream of justice for all, to hold fast for peace and prayer, and forgiveness
* for Erika's explanation that in the past, the meaning of "fast" was more about "fasting for" something than "fasting from" something
* for these days of Lent, these days to ponder and read and write and pray in preparation for Easter
* for the many books, podcasts, devotionals, blogs, and gatherings that provide encouragement, support, resources, and insights about Lent and faith and what it means to follow Christ to the cross, to the tomb, and out the other side to a transformed, recreated, renewed life
* that at the end of these days, we will celebrate the wonder and power of the resurrection, of new life, of hope, of joy unspeakable
* for the community of people all around the world that is observing this holy season
* for the millions of prayers that are being raised every day - for peace, for forgiveness, for wholeness, for healing, for reconciliation, for restoration, for a halt to wars and violence of every kind

I am thankful for a stove, a crockpot, a kettle, a juicer, a blender and a toaster
* for a pantry, for a refrigerator, for a freezer, and for a microwave oven
* for a washing machine, a dryer, an iron, and a vacuum cleaner
* for air conditioning, heat, and ceiling fans
* for closets and dressers and shelves and the abundance of food and clothing and books and cosmetics that fill them

I am thankful for yoga
I am thankful for yoga videos from the library
I am also thankful for the freedom to compose my own yoga practice
I am thankful for health and strength and the ability to exercise

I am thankful for friends who call me on my crap, who hold me accountable when necessary
* for those who answer my questions with wise words
* for the ones who answer my questions with more questions
* for those who encourage me to keep asking questions for and of myself
* for their reminders that I don't need permission or approval from anyone to be the woman I was created to be
* for Jen Lemen - whose answer to my question about why I'm having such a hard time with my writing lately, included these words: "Go take a bath. Clean. You are forbidden to write until you stop lying to yourself and are back in your body, doing simple tasks with rhythm and joy."
* for the brief break I took from writing and used it for thinking and praying and watching Super Soul Sunday episodes that I had recorded
* for the clearheadedness, the advice, the patience my friends have with and for me

I am grateful for the many opportunities I have to tell stories of my faith walk at church, here at home, on the phone, in emails, in texts, and in person
I am grateful for how the stories of the Bible are coming alive for me in new ways lately
I am thankful for that burning bush and the curiosity that drew Moses towards it
(Makes me wonder what unusual sights in my life are meant to draw me towards God)
I am thankful for Isaiah, for his prophetic boldness
(Makes me wonder what prophetic words I am called to speak and write)
I am thankful for Jonah's honesty: "God, that's why I didn't want to tell those bad people about you. I knew that if they asked for forgiveness, you would forgive them, and I wanted them to be destroyed."
(Makes me wonder who I don't want to forgive, whose demise I secretly long for)
I am thankful for David, for his love for Jonathan, for his lust for Bathsheba, for his resignation in the face of the tragic consequences of his selfishness, and for his understanding of God's grace and mercy after he messed things up so badly
(Makes me have to face my own love, lust, resignation, and the consequences of when I mess things up)
I am grateful that the Psalms include angry rants, pleas for revenge, and confession of wrongdoing
(Makes me want to write my own rants, pleas, and confessions in my journal far more honestly)
I am thankful for Mother Mary's trust, courage and willingness to invest her life and her future in the crazy story of an impossible pregnancy made possible
(Makes me wonder how many crazy stories I have dismissed - and how many miracles I've missed out because of my skepticism)
I am thankful for Mary Magdalene and her friends and their love for Jesus
(Makes me want to spend more time with my sister-friends and talk about the ones we love most of all)
I am thankful for the way that the woman at the well asked Jesus tough questions and answered his  
(Makes me wonder what I would ask and what I would say if I could spend some time alone with Jesus, literally sit with Jesus to talk. Makes me wonder if I would be smart enough to shut my mouth and just let him talk or if I would fill the air with my words and wondering)
I am thankful for the questions Jesus asked: Do you want to be well? What do you want me to do for you? What are you talking about as you walk along the way? How much bread do you have?
(Makes me wonder how I would answer those questions - what do I want Jesus to do for me? do I want to be well, to be better, to be whole or am I too comfortable with and in my illnesses? What am I talking about and thinking about and mulling over with my friends? How much do I have and how much of it am I willing to share with others?)
I am thankful that I can read the Bible with my whole heart, soul, and mind
I am grateful for a faith community that welcomes questions, that encourages questions, and that doesn't seek to answer every question
I am glad to be living into the answers and also into deeper questions

I am grateful for the gifts of life, of love, of laughter
Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Lord, please forgive us

Shootings. Murder. Executions.
Kidnapping. Rape. Sexual slavery.
Genocide. Human trafficking.
National and international unrest. Civil war.
Infringement over borders.
Religious hatred and intolerance.
Racial injustice. Prejudice. Fear. Mistrust.
Immigration issues. Deportation. Extortion.
The list of horrors, the list of sorrows, the list of needs is long.
And getting longer.

In response, some advocate for more guns.
Repay violence with violence.
Hatred with more hatred.
Fear with more fear.
Higher walls. Thicker walls. More walls.
Do it to them before they do it to us.
Defend yourself. Defend your property. Defend your borders.
Stand your ground.

I go on Facebook and blogs and media sites and read people's angry and shrill responses to what is happening in our city, in our nation, and in our world.
I read diatribes against our President and politicians of all persuasions.
I read accusations about civic and community leaders, about pastors and teachers.
I read the same names over and over - followed by their ruthless and remorseless verbal attacks on "friends" that are trying to figure out what is wrong with our country and our world.
I read taunts and insults, slurs and innuendos.

I read people's desperate questions.
I read people's hopes and dreams of peace and justice.
I read about an army of love, taking back the night in their cities and towns.
I read about random acts of kindness and love.
I read about generosity and community, about dreams realized, wishes granted, and victories won.
I read challenges to stop engaging in meaningless online exchanges and get out into the community, into the world engaging with hurting people.
I read accounts of sworn enemies sitting together at the table of peace and conversation.
I read news of lives saved, families reconciled, and hope restored.
I read prayers of gratitude.

Then I get on my knees.
I speak up - as in, up towards heaven.
Then I get up.
I stand up - as in, stand in front of people and plead for peace and love and mercy to be extended to those we see and ought to love. To the "least of these" - whoever and wherever they may be. Wherever we may be.
I turn up - as in, turn up the volume on kindness and grace and attempts at understanding.
I turn down - as in, turn down the volume of my voice and the vehemence of my opinions.
After all, as sincerely as I believe what I believe, I may be sincerely wrong.

I may be wrong about not repaying evil with more evil.
I may be wrong about not caring where people are from, but instead focusing on where they are right now.
I may be wrong about praying for all people everywhere to know peace and safety and have enough to eat and access to medical care and an education.
I may be wrong to dream of living in a nation in which paying our teachers, our nurses, our nurses' assistants, our community leaders, our librarians, our preschool childcare workers, and our social workers a generous wage to promote health, peace, understanding, reading, writing, listening, creativity, and education, was a higher priority than paying our professional athletes and actors millions of dollars to play games, to pretend, and also to promote soda, fast food, diet trends, alcohol, and overpriced shoes.
I may be wrong to want to acknowledge how little I know and how wrong I'm sure I am about so many things I think and believe.
I may be wrong to pray, on behalf of myself, my family, my city, my nation, and my world, but nothing will stop me from doing so.

Lord, please forgive us.
Forgive us our fear and the many ways that fear motivates our lives and our choices.
Forgive us for turning to violence as an imperfect and ineffective response to our fear.
Forgive us for how often we accuse others of and judging others for doing the same things we do.

Forgive us our tendency to pull the trigger first and ask questions later.
Forgive us for creating the triggers in the first place.
Forgive us for relying on the triggers we have created.
The trigger of prejudice.
The trigger of defensiveness.
The trigger of violence.
The trigger of addictive behavior.
The triggers of anger, of rage, of volcanic outbursts.
The trigger of competitiveness.
The trigger of jealousy.
The trigger of comparison.
The triggers of superiority and inferiority.
The trigger of isolation.
The trigger of abandonment of others.
The trigger of abandonment of ourselves.
The trigger of sarcasm.
The trigger of ridicule.
The trigger of gossip.
The trigger of excuse-making.
The trigger of manipulation of others.
The trigger of ill-conceived humor.
The trigger of lying.
The trigger of abuse.
The trigger of retaliation.
When in doubt, when afraid, when threatened, pull the trigger. Any trigger.
React first. Process later.
Lord, please forgive us, I pray.

Lord, please forgive us because most of the time, we don't have any idea what we're doing.
Lord, please forgive us because some of the time we do know what we're doing.
We know that what we're doing will hurt others and hurt ourselves.
Please forgive us because, even knowing that, we do it anyway.

Lord, please forgive me, I pray, because I am often more interested in being safe and staying safe than in helping others, reaching out to others, acting with and for others, and speaking up for others.
Forgive me, I plead, for all the times that I too have pulled the trigger and later had to hope and pray that my words, my actions, my greed, and my self-righteousness have not caused irreparable damage.
Lord, please forgive me because I often know that I am about to hurt someone,
but I do it, I say it, I write it anyway. Whatever "it" is.

And Lord, please help us to forgive one another.
Help us to walk slowly and patiently with one another through the minefield of life.
Help us to listen closely enough to hear the terrified pounding of each other's heartbeats.
Help us to recognize that we do, in fact, all bleed and ache and shake and wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, wondering if we are going to be okay. If our children are going to be okay. If this planet is going to survive our abuse of it.
Help us to look past our clean and well-manicured facades, to look beyond the outward appearance of things and people and situations and see each other's true selves, hear each other's true stories, and bear each other's true burdens.
Help us to love one another.
Help us to love you.
Lord, please help us, forgive us, transform us, and make us new.
Otherwise, the long list of horrors, sorrows, violence, executions, shootings, attacks, kidnappings, fear, and everything else that is plaguing and killing us will only get longer.

Lord, please forgive us.
Lord, please have mercy on us.
Lord, please give us the courage, the strength, and the fortitude to have mercy on each other.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Since last I was here...

It has been a busy eight days since my last post. (If you are uncomfortable with stories related to female anatomy, then you should probably skip this post. I'm warning you now.)

Last weekend, I attending the most lavish, beautiful, fun, well-planned, no-detail-left-unattended-to wedding I've ever had the pleasure of being invited to. The daughter of a dear friend was wedded to the love of her life in the presence of dear friends and family. My husband and I were honored to be included in the festivities. We attended the rehearsal party on Friday night. And on Saturday, we stayed until the last dance of the reception, hugged and applauded the bride and groom, and then I hobbled back to the car in my high heeled shoes purchased especially for the nuptials. How do women wear such shoes every day? I'm so glad there was never a dress code for homeschooling that included such instruments of torture. But it was worth the pain. As someone said to me nearly twenty years ago, "Sometimes you have to suffer for sexy." I suffered last weekend with high heeled boots on Friday and then towering toe-crushing shoes on Saturday.

On Sunday, I attended a Sunday school class at church and listened to the principal of a local K-8 grade school talk about the challenges and the rewards of working at a school where more than 75% of the students come from economically disadvantaged families. Keeping teachers motivated, involving parents who don't have a high school diploma themselves, working in a community where churches are closing down and unable to assist - she has her hands and her heart full. But she spoke with joy and excitement and gratitude for all that is happening there. She spoke with candor about the need for more volunteers and more time with students and more money to keep the whole thing up and running. She has a tough job - and also a huge, generous spirit.

On Tuesday, I attended a writing class with my favorite writing teacher. Writing prompts. Reading aloud. Discussion. Laughter. Tears. Eleven or twelve women with writing projects under construction gather to share our stories and our work. We sit together as a group for an hour, and then we break into small groups to share pieces we have honed and receive support and suggestions from each other. My group is the best - of course! We laugh and groan and ask questions and share insights and encourage each other so seamlessly. I hope the three of us remain friends beyond the timeframe of this class.

On Wednesday at Wednesday Worship, Erika preached a great sermon about peace in life and in death and included stories about Oscar Romero, the priest who was assassinated at the altar while serving communion at a church in El Salvador. The Scripture passage for the day was the story of Jesus showing up among the disciples after the Resurrection and showing his wounds to Thomas. Even though his terrified followers were behind locked doors hiding, Jesus appears and offers them peace. Then he offers his wounds as proof of his death and of his resurrection. Rather than heaping condemnation or shame on Thomas, Jesus offers his comforting, peace-giving presence.

In her prayer after the sermon, Erika said, "Into the locked rooms of our lives, Christ comes." That statement has stuck with me ever since. How many locked rooms and secret places do I think I can hide in? Why wouldn't I want Christ there with me? Why wouldn't I want to be reminded that death has been swallowed up in victory? Don't those wounds remind me of that victory? Don't my wounds remind me of the many trials and difficulties I have overcome? I hope and pray that I will never try to lock Christ out of any dark or shadowy or dusty or dank or messy areas of my life.

On Wednesday evening, I taught a class on journaling as a spiritual practice at church. The folks in the class were great - participating, asking questions, sharing their journaling experiences, fully engaged. I hope they all come back next week and bring friends. I love to journal. I love to teach. Combining the two? Priceless!

On Thursday morning, I got up extra early and drove half an hour to babysit for two precious little people while their 30-year-old mother underwent chemotherapy. (Have I mentioned lately that KANSWER SUCKS???!!!) The three year old boy and two year old girl had me singing and jumping and dancing and reading and laughing. I fed them and changed diapers and filled cups with milk and water and cooked ravioli and baked cookies and followed them up and down the stairs to their bedrooms several times. I loved every minute of it. They were so polite - saying thank you for everything I gave them and did for them. I cuddled with the little lady in her bedroom before putting her down for her nap: she nodded slowly and sweetly when I asked her if she was ready to be in her crib. I didn't hear a peep out of her for the next three hours. I hate that their mother has kanswer, but I am glad to know them and be able to support them and encourage them through this dreadful battle.

Late that same afternoon I tutored a young man in Spanish. Such a sweet kid. Such a tough road he has had to travel to get to Spanish 3 as a junior in high school. I tutored him on Monday as well. I am glad to be able to help him gain some level of proficiency and enjoyment of the language I love so much.

This morning, I met with a new ObGyn for an annual exam. It's a strange thing to have an appointment with a gynecologist being that I don't have many "female parts" left to be examined. I had to do an online health assessment earlier in the week and the program practically screamed at me because I haven't had a mammogram in more than two years. Um - I don't have anything to be mammogrammed, people! Nothing else to press in your torturous device. Thanks be to God!

It is a strange and a wondrous thing to be able to give thanks that I no longer have breasts. There's a great tee shirt I've seen online about that very thing. It says, "Yes, they are fake, but the real ones tried to killed me." There ought to be one that says something like, "Yes, I'm completely flat chested. But I got rid of them because they tried to kill me."

Anyway, great doctor. Patient. Funny. Kind. Gentle. Exactly what you need when you lay back with your feet in stirrups.

Which reminds me of a story I heard more than twenty years ago. A woman I worked with at the time had bright red hair. I think she was the reason that I am so drawn to "gingers" nowadays. I loved her and I loved her hair. She was beautiful and funny and generous and thoughtful and, for some crazy reason, she appeared to like me as much as I like her. We talked about food and exercise a lot. At the time, I was a member of a gym but hated going. It felt like a waste of time to get ready to go to the gym, drive there, work out, drive home, shower and get on with my evening. I wished there was a way to get a good workout at home. She introduced me to workout videos - which I have been pretty much addicted to ever since. How did I not know about workout videos???

Anyway, she told me about going to the ObGyn one time. Her doctor was a man. When she laid back on the table and looked up at the ceiling, she was shocked to discover that there was a picture of George Clooney on the ceiling. What on earth would make that doctor think that a woman would want to see that handsome face staring down at her at that precise moment in her day? And then the doctor, trying to make small talk at one of life's most awkward moments, asked her, "Is your hair naturally that color?" Her answer was: "Well, doc, you should be able to tell." How funny is that???

Okay, back to my day... After the doctor's appointment, I went to the supermarket and loaded up on salad fixings, ingredients for green juices, some fruit, and kombucha. It's gonna be a healthy eating weekend for me. I sometimes miss my bags of red australian licorice washed down with cherry coke, followed by sour cream and onion potato chips, but I feel so much better now that I eat better. I am always a little shocked when people tell me they don't like salad or fruit. Then I remember that when I was pregnant with Kristiana, I used to eat a big spinach salad nearly every day to provide dark greens and healthy protein to my growing baby - and I would hold my nose while I ate. I hated salad that much back them. I've come a long way from there. Thanks be to God.

This afternoon, I had to go exchange to shirts I bought for Steve for Christmas. They were too big for him. The saleswoman who helped me find them in a smaller size informed me that the price had fallen since the holiday. So I ended up returning two shirts and leaving with four shirts - and the price difference I had to pay was less than $8. After that, I spent almost two hours with a friend whose daughter is getting married this June. Wedding preparations. Job searches. Stories. Laughter. And more to pray for. Life is full. So very full.

While I ate dinner tonight, I talked on the phone with the guy who was my boyfriend on my first trip to Spain. We've known each other since the fall of 1986. The last two times I have gone to Spain, he and his wife and daughter have taken me out to dinner. What a beautiful family. What great memories and stories we share. I am enormously grateful that we are still such good friends.

After saying "adios" to Jorge, I finished my preparation for teaching Sunday school this Sunday. And then I began preparation for teaching next Sunday. Yes, it's true - two Sunday school classes and two Wednesday night classes within two weeks. There is precious little that I like doing better than studying, planning, preparing, and then teaching from the Word of God to the people of God in the church of God.

Tomorrow morning, I head off to a day-long retreat with the elders and deacons from church, to plan and dream and think and pray about the direction we will go as a church in 2015 and beyond. Lots to ponder. Lots to discuss. Most important of all, lots to pray about. May God lead us, guide us, direct us, and woo us into the kingdom building work that is ours to accomplish in the coming months and years. And may we have fun together as well.

So, there you have it. My week in a nutshell.
My life these days as an empty nester is busier than ever.
I am grateful, so very grateful for the freedom and for the limitations.
For the free time and for the ways in which my calendar is filling up.
I am grateful that my relationship with my children is still strong - even though they have both flown the coop and are making their way in the world of university study.
I am grateful for the deep conversations and deep laughter I have shared with my husband now that we are alone together again.

Since last I was here, I have seen joy and pain, sorrow and celebration, peace and suffering.
Since last I was here, I have written and read and prayed and laughed a lot.
Since last I was here, life has been so good.
I am enormously grateful.
Thanks be to God.