Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Countdown is On - Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Tommy Walker sings some of my favorite contemporary Christian songs.

Like "I Have a Hope."
I have a hope. I have a future.
I have a destiny that is yet awaiting me.
My life's not over; a new beginning's just begun.
I have a hope. I have this hope.

And "To God be the Glory."

Also "When I don't know what to do."
This song was my theme during a time of deep trial back in 2008 and 2009.

When I don't know what to do, I'll lift my hands.
When I don't know what to say, I'll speak your praise.
When I don't know where to go, I'll run to your throne.
When I don't know what to think, I'll stand on your truth.
As I bow my knees, send your perfect peace.
As I lift my hands, let your healing come.

But today, as 2016 comes to a close, I am thinking about this one, "We Will Remember."

We will remember the works of your hands
and we will stop and give your praise -
for great is thy faithfulness.

My kids laugh at me and shake their heads because I listen to the same two dozen songs or so over and over again. The songs highlighted here are on my short list of oft repeated tunes. I cannot imagine beginning or ending a year without looking back and remembering all that God has done, God's great faithfulness and mercy and comforting presence, even in the toughest times, perhaps most especially then. 

The second verse of this song goes like this: 
When we walk through life's darkest valleys
we will look back at all you have done
and we will shout, "Our God is good and he is the faithful one."

As I look back at some of life's darkest valleys, some of which we traversed in 2016,
I can shout, I do shout, I will shout through many tears, that God has been good and oh so faithful.

God showed up through the compassion of friends and pastors who sat with us in the emergency room at the hospital - a dreadful, distressing, hopeful, helpful place that we had to visit four times this year.

God showed up through the chocolate chip cookies, the muffins, the roasted chicken, the tea dates, the hospitality, and the generosity of so many friends and family members.

God showed up at church through the prayers, the sermons, the lessons, the tough discussions, the apologies, the forgiveness, the tender care given and received in that sacred place and that loving community.

God showed up on the streets of Charlotte through the peace keepers who stood between and among those who protested police brutality and those who sought to silence the protests.

God showed up in seminary classes when the discussions got hot - how could he show up with a "Tr*mp/P*nce Make America Great Again" tee shirt AND a safety pin? What was he thinking?

God showed up at Myers Park Baptist Church with words of encouragement from Dr William Barber when he challenged us to be people of subversive hope, of courage, of resilience as we enter into the new year and a new president takes office. Let there be hope.

God showed up in the hospital, at doctor's appointments, at the silent retreat, in sessions with my therapist and my spiritual director, in Madrid, in New York City, with my writing group, at 24/7, at the hospice unit, through hugs and laughter, tears and brokenheartedness. God was ever present.

God showed up and helped my dear friend sit tenderly and lovingly with her father as he transitioned from this life into the next one.

God showed up with another friend as he went through treatment for kanswer: chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. God showed up as attentive doctors and nurses, family members with meals and encouragement, and seminary friends with ceaseless prayer and notes of support.

God showed up as strength and stamina for a dear pastor friend went from being on a pastoral team of two to being a solo pastor. So many more responsibilities, so much more expected. But God was faithful and present always.

God showed up as we walked the streets of Charlotte praying for peace, as we served the community as volunteers, feeding the hungry, welcoming the homeless, loving the outcast, and encouraging the fearful and despairing.

God showed up in times of celebration - at weddings, at parties, at graduations, at church services, and in small moments of simple joy and quiet happiness.

Entering 2017, I do have a hope and a future.
In 2017, when I don't know what to do, I will bow my knees and lift my hands.
Ending 2016 and looking ahead to 2017, I will join many others in giving God glory for God's great faithfulness.
Today, tonight, tomorrow, and all the time, there is so much to remember,
so much to release, so much for which to give God thanks and praise -
and so much to look forward to.

The countdown is on.
Just a few hours left in 2016.
I plan to spend them with my dearly beloved ones.
Eating, drinking, being merry.
And always, always, always, giving thanks.

Happy new year to you, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances.
Know that you are never alone, often prayed for, and always loved.
Peace be with you every step of your life journey.

May God Almighty bless you and keep you,
protect you and provide for you in 2017 and beyond.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Up in the Air

For much of my childhood, I wanted to grow up to be a doctor. A pediatrician. I have always loved children, even when I was a child, so I thought that being a doctor for children would be a good calling. I went off to Williams College with pre-med studies in mind. Biology 101 and 102. Chemistry 101 and 102. Physics 101 and 102. Screeeeeeech! My pre-med studies came to a grinding halt in the physics building. I couldn't understand any of it. ANY OF IT! I went to extra help every week. I met with the professor. I reread my notes and my textbooks. Over and over. I just didn't get it. Mass. Volume. Pulleys. I shake my head just thinking about it.

But one day it clicked. The professor explained whatever the concept was in a way that actually made sense to me. I listened. I cocked my head to the side, then to the other side. With great glee and a renewed sense of hope, I whispered words of encouragement and support to myself. I took copious notes. I nodded my head. I smiled. I felt a wave of absolute bliss roll over me. There was hope that I would get back on track in physics. 

The following class, the professor walked to his place at the head of the class and with a drawn and sad look on his face, he explained that in the previous class, the one I had understood so well, he had made a mistake in the way he explained whatever the concept was. He had made some miscalculation and therefore everything he had taught us should be disregarded.

I'm not joking. Everything I understood was wrong. How disheartening is that?
Well, my hopes to be a doctor slipped away at the end of that physics class.
The professor gave me a passing grade just so he wouldn't have to deal with me again.
I'm convinced of it. 

There was one topic in physics class that I did manage to come to some sense of understanding about. Not a complete mastery, not even close, but it was a topic that mattered greatly to me, so I was determined to come to some grasp on it. That topic was: flight!

How do those huge steel tubes, full of people and property, get off the ground, stay off the ground and cross large swaths of land and huge oceans of water? Speed, volume, mass, pressure, lift, friction. Don't ask or expect me to explain it because I cannot. 
What I do know is this: I love to fly. 
Being up in the air is one of my favorite places to be.
On an adventure. Across the sea. 

The view from my seat.

A week ago tonight, I returned from a ten day trip to Spain. To Madrid. My favorite city in the world.
I stayed with my dear friends, Eduardo and Leticia, and their two wonderful sons, Alvaro and Jaime.
I walked. I prayed. I journaled. I ate. I drank. I prayed some more. 
I caught a cold. I fell in love with watermelon flavored cough drops.
I had what felt like an anaphylactic response to something - I still have no idea what I was allergic to. 
I managed to avoid a trip to the ER only by the grace and mercy of Almighty God.
I spent most of the trip praying prayers of gratitude that I didn't die alone on the street, with my throat, eyes, and mouth swollen shut. 

 Look at that wonderful, funny, huge statue of a frog.
How could I not love a city with such a great sense of humor?

These photos were taken at a Nativity scene at one of Madrid's main cultural centers. The figures are approximately eight inches tall. I went to see it three times in ten days. I saw more than 150 Nativity scenes in one exhibit - all from one person's private collection. Building nativity scenes is a big deal in Spain. A very big deal.

This is the view from Eduardo and Leticia's kitchen window. 
There was the full moon. Greeting me.

I shopped. I walked some more. I took hundreds of photos.
I visited several museums. I bought postcards and scarves and seasonings and candy.

It was another beautiful, heart-strengthening, tear-producing, faith-deepening trip to my favorite place in the world.

It was also an anniversary trip - 30 years ago this fall, I went to Spain for the first time. I met a young Spaniard back in the fall of 1986 who became my boyfriend and is still one of my dearest friends. I had no idea that I was beginning a love affair with a city, with a country, with a people, an affair that would shape the rest of my life. Because of that trip, I became a Spanish teacher. I became a translator. I found a love of and a facility for learning language that I didn't know I possessed. I began to attend the Catholic church that fall, the church I could see from my bedroom window all those years ago, and learned a whole new way to love and worship God. 

Can you see the church tower above the roof line of the house? That's the house I lived in, the one with the glass front. And that's the church I attended - with the woman who owned the house.

I will never fully understand my innate love for Madrid and for flight.
I will never fully understand why I have been so blessed with so much love,
so many generous, hospitable, and kind friends.
I will never fully understand much of what has happened to me.
But this I do know - I am grateful.
So very grateful.
And also - I know that I was created to travel.

So in the end, I didn't need to pass physics with flying colors
(pardon the pun)
in order to enjoy flight.
Other than being in Spain, walking the streets of Madrid,
there is no place I would rather be than up in the air.

Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to American Airlines and British Airways.
Gracias, Leti y Eduardo, por todo.
Besos a vosotros y a los peques.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for tonight?
For the ham to bake?
For the turkey to defrost?
For the cookies to cool?
For family members to arrive?
For the last gifts to be bought and wrapped and carefully placed?
For the candles to be lit and Silent Night to be sung?
For the Christmas story to be read aloud tonight or tomorrow or both?

What else are you waiting for?
For the holidays to be over?
For the wrapping paper to be recycled and the gifts to be put to good use?
For the kids to go back to college?
For the start of a new year and the advent of new hope?
For life to get back to normal?

There has been a lot of hate and fear being born again in our nation and in our world.
So tonight, I am waiting for love again to be born.
There have been marches advocating hate and racial division and a return to the old ways of separate and unequal.
So tonight, I am waiting for love again to be born.
There have been acts of terrorism here in the US and in Syria,
in Germany and in France, in our homes, in our work places,
and during the past year of election cycle politics.
So tonight and tomorrow and on January 20, 2017, and for the next four years,
and for all the days and weeks and months and years beyond that,
I will be waiting for love to be born again, day after day after day.

At the same time, I've got to stop waiting for love to be born,
and get to work at birthing more love into the world in which I live.
Love that forgives.
Love that welcomes the refugee and the outcast.
Love that reaches out with tenderness.
Love that touches the unloved.
Love that asks questions.
Love that listens to the answers compassionately and graciously,
even when I don't agree with those answers.
Love that resists every attempt to silence it or deflect it or make it something less than what it is:

In a few hours here on the east coast of the United States,
we will celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus, The One Who Was and Is Love Incarnate.
Jesus came as the one who forgave,
the one who welcomed the outcast and the refugee,
the one who touched lepers,
the one who asked questions and listened patiently to the answers,
the one whose answers raised the hackles of many of his listeners,
the one whose life, whose questions, whose answers, and whose love
got him killed, executed by the domination system that sought to silence his message of hope,
and stifle his message of love.

In that baby, in that manger, in that little town of Bethlehem,
in that occupied land and into that oppressed community,
Love was born.

Into our occupied communities, into our oppressed communities,
into our little towns, our big cities,
our corrupt state government, our inefficient national government,
into our hearts and our homes,
our marriages and our relationships,
we desperately need Love again to be born.

This song by Rob Mathes, the music director at a church I attended many years ago in Connecticut, is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It has been since the first time I heard it.

All is set.
I know my stocking’s downstairs.
The sky is smiling - there is magic in the air.
I can’t sleep; I am so glad to be home on this early morning, I am not alone. 

This is the season. This is the time.
I see the face of a child, and that face it is mine.
I’m looking for starlight. I’m listening for angels. 
The house (everyone) is asleep on this Christmas morn, but I’m awake.
Yes, I’m waiting here for Love again to be born. 

Bundled up, I know what’s waiting for me
More than a pretty package next to the tree
Something else, a gift far greater I know, born in Bethlehem, long ago.

This is the season. This is the time.
I see the face of a child, and that face it is mine.
I’m looking for starlight. I’m listening for angels. 
The house is asleep on this Christmas morn, but I’m awake.
Yes, I’m waiting here for Love again to be born. 

The sun is rising. I see the distant lights.
Oh what a glorious day will come from this holy night.
To us is born every December anew
a love that’s unbelievable, 

given to me, given to you.

This is the season. This is the time.
I see the face of a child, and that face it is mine.
I’m looking for starlight. I’m listening for angels. 
Everyone is asleep on this Christmas morn, but I’m awake.
Yes, I’m waiting here for Love again to be born. 

Indeed, I am waiting here for Love again to be born.
What are you waiting for?

Merry Christmas.
Happy New Year.

If Christmas is not a holiday for you, may whatever you celebrate at this time of year bring you happiness and joy, peace and hope. Together, tonight, tomorrow, and for as long as we live, let's work and walk and wait for love again to be born.

Friday, December 09, 2016

A Thought Experiment

A dear, dear friend of mine, Amy Brooks Thornton, wrote this.
She said her friends could share it. So here it is.
A lot to think about. A lot to work for.

Dear men who enjoy having sex with women, I implore you to make this cause yours too.
Let's say you're college age or in your twenties starting your career, trying to make ends meet. You have a girlfriend or maybe an occasional hookup, but you don't want to get married or make a commitment just yet or ever.
Let's say you have the responsibility of pregnancy prevention and you have some choices:
1) To take a pill that is something like a birth control pill that significantly increases greater risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke and blood clots. And, when you finally get sick, you contribute to the increase of national health care costs as well as your own.
2) To use another form of birth control that is less effective but is just a physical barrier or a timing thing, so, absolutely no hit on your health.
You chose #2 because who in their right mind would choose cancer or a heart attack just for sex? (Health care costs aren't really on your mind right now.)
But then, because the prevention method is not 100%, you get pregnant. (For the sake of argument, in this case, men can get pregnant.) And, you have choices:
1) To make a commitment to your girlfriend or hookup partner so you do not have to bear the responsibility of raising a child on your own while you are finishing college, starting your career, or trying to make ends meet. Actually, you never want to bear childrearing on your own. You know some single women who've done it and it's not a pretty picture. How many men do you know raise children on their own?
2) To raise the child on your own and try to balance college classes, a job, payments for childcare and doctors bills, increased health insurance, and no night life. So much for hookups.
3) To get an abortion.
You choose #3. You risk some people getting angry at you, but it'll be over within an hour, maybe the feelings will last for much longer, but the alternative is a lifelong decision that, at this point in your life, could skew your life in a completely different direction than you had imagined. No more graduate school. No more start up business. Two jobs to make ends meet. And no more night life. Abortion is sounding better and better.
Again, you have choices:
1) You go to the abortion clinic in your state and live through people screaming at you as you walk through the door, you live through listening to the heart beat of the fetus, you live through 24 hours where everyone—except your girlfriend/hookup who likely is not to be found—questions your decision but not one of them has to raise a child as a single man in his teens or twenties.
2) You get a back alley abortion where no one will know but your health is at risk.
3)You go through with the pregnancy with all of its medical complications, you look like a cow, no one wants to have sex with you, you feel VERY emotional and gain 20 to 30 pounds, you bond with the child inside of you, and then give the baby up for adoption.
4) You decide to get married or make some lasting commitment so you have help. But, your girlfriend/hookup has split long ago and no one is interested because you are pregnant.
What do you do?

I would like to know how many men (politicians and otherwise), who are making it hard for women to get abortions and birth control, have asked themselves these questions?
I would like to know how many of these men have impregnated a woman to whom they did not make a commitment?
I would like to know how many of these men impregnated a woman and supported the abortion because they did not want a baby in their own backyard?


Thank you, Amy, for this challenging piece. Thanks for pushing us to think beyond our own personal opinions or situations in order to think about where other people find themselves. Thank you for your fight for the rights of so many people, even when that fight isn't convenient or easy or comfortable for you. I love you, my sister friend. Very much. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Thankful Tuesday - one day late

There are times in life when all I can do is bow my head
in wonder
in awe
in gratitude
in joy
in shocked and stunned gratitude.
Did I mention gratitude already?

This has been a tough year for our family. The details of the story are not mine to divulge, but I will tell what is mine to tell. From February 19th until May 20th, we were in a battle over here in our house. A serious battle. Illness. Fear. Worry. Sleepless nights. Restless days. Hospital stays - four of them. Desperation. Anxiety. Weeping, much weeping. Ceaseless prayer. Friends came over with food. Friends stayed away and prayed. Friends didn't know what to do or what to say or even what to pray. We didn't either. Although the battle "officially ended" on May 20th, there were several skirmishes that followed. Watchfulness. Tension. More crying. Slow and steady progress towards health, healing, wholeness.

We never gave up hope. Don't get me wrong; I had moments of wanting to pack a small suitcase, grab my passport, and hit the road for the longest pilgrimage I could find. I had moments of wondering just how many days and nights I could survive on less than two hours of sleep. I tried not to spend too much time fantasizing about sleeping six or seven or even eight hours in a row. Uninterrupted. I forgot what that felt like. Around that time, a friend told me that sometimes in life you have to renegotiate your relationship with "hope." This past spring was certainly one of those times - on some days, hope meant eating a meal in peace. On some days, hope meant going for a car ride and having it end with a nap. On some days, hope was the prospect of going off to seminary on Saturday and being able to sit through my two classes.

And all year long, there was a cloud hanging over over all of our heads. That cloud was this: my daughter had to complete her senior thesis in sociology for UNC Asheville. She had to do a lot of reading and writing and research and conduct interviews and write it all up in a paper that was supposed to be 20 pages long, at least. Plus she would have to give an oral presentation of her paper at school.

Day after day, for weeks on end, for months, I prayed a variation of the following prayer:
"Lord, this is an impossible ask.
She can't do it. It's too much.
Today, Lord, can you please just give her the strength and courage to make it through the day?
I won't keep asking about the paper; I just want her to be okay.
I just want her to be okay.
Please please please please please.
Help help help help help.
Mercy mercy mercy mercy."

In the midst of my many crying jags, the senior minister of my church sent me a text. I don't think it could have been any simpler: "Lord, in your mercy..." That was it. None of us knew what to ask for anymore. None of us knew what to pray. That one would have to suffice. That one, it turns out, was more than enough: "Lord, in your mercy..."

In September, Kristiana completed the interviews and typed up the transcripts.
Soon thereafter, she did more research and summarized it succinctly.
She wrote one paragraph at a time, one page at a time.
In between, we cursed and cried and wondered and hoped and prayed.
In between, we went for walks and out to movies and watched Law and Order marathons.
In between writing and reading and making pots of pasta and soup, the cloud began to lift.
The paper grew, as did our confidence in the miracle of healing.
Her spirits lifted and so did ours.
Then the professor sent two sets of spirit-crushing comments on and critiques of her paper.
I prepared to write a scathing email and follow it up with a scathing phone call.
You cannot do this to my daughter. You cannot be so mean and so insensitive.
You have no idea how hard we have had to fight to get to this place and this moment in time.
We cannot go backwards. We cannot lose our momentum. We cannot lose hope.
Yes, by then, it was a group effort; we were in this together.
As we have always been.
And we will NOT be moved.

Nearly three weeks ago, on Thursday, November 17th, as my daughter and I drove home from an evening outing, she wept tears of sadness and overwhelm. Between sobs, she repeated, "I don't know if I can do this. I'm just not sure I can finish it." I listened to her with sorrow in my heart and tears in my eyes. I listened for what God might want me to say in response to her, because I had nothing to offer. Nothing. I was devoid of wise words or helpful advice.
So I went back to the prayer that my pastor  gave me: "Lord, in your mercy..."

Suddenly it came to me: Our difficult journey had begun on Friday, February 19th.
It was now Thursday, November 17th. Nine months later.
Just two weeks remained before her paper and presentation were due.
Nine months and two weeks...
What is significant about that length of time?
As it turns out, nine months is the length of time of most pregnancies.
When I was pregnant with her, however, I was pregnant for nine months and two weeks. She was two weeks late. Overdue. Overcooked. She was born with her fingers and toes wrinkled, like she had been in the bathtub for too long. Which was exactly the case: she was in the tub of my tummy for too long. Actually, that's not actually true. She was in my womb for exactly the amount of time she was supposed to be there - even though it was a full two weeks past her due date.

As I explained that to my daughter three weeks ago tomorrow, I told her that, although I had loved being pregnant with her, the last two weeks were awful. The longest two weeks of my life - up until that point. I was miserable and sad and moving slowly and uncomfortable. Then thirteen hours of hard labor. But then - there she was. A new life. Beautiful. Healthy. Strong. Alive. Ours.

With tears now flowing freely, I told her that she was in the same situation twenty three years later. Nine months of hard work, gestating, growing, becoming whole.
She had two more weeks before the due date for her paper and her presentation -
and they were gonna be tough.
Hard. Demanding. Painful.
She would be miserable, uncomfortable, sad, and moving slowly.
But then it would be over - and she would emerge. A new life.

Yesterday, my daughter, my dearly beloved daughter, presented her senior thesis in sociology for the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She focused on the work of two organizations in North Carolina that offer guidance, companionship, and care for queer homeless youth: TimeOutYouth (here in Charlotte) and YouthOutRight (in Asheville). Some of her UNCA friends came to hear her give her talk. Some students came simply because they had read about her topic and wanted to hear what she had to say. Her presentation at 2:20 pm was the last of the day - and many of the people there had been listening to student presentations since 8 that morning. But still, several took notes on her talk. Several asked questions. They applauded when she was done. And then several students, extremely busy and easily bored college students, waited in line to thank her and compliment her on her research and her presentation.

Her professor greeted her afterwards and gave Kristiana high praise.
She said, "I still have to read the final draft of your thesis,
but rest assured, you are a college graduate."
She did it! She did it! My child is a college graduate.
All we have to do now is wait for her diploma to arrive in the mail!!!

Nine months and two weeks since February 19, 2016.
Eight years and twenty one days since November 15, 2008.
Twenty three years and thirty seven days since October 30, 1993.
But who's counting?

Words cannot capture the joy, the pride, the relief, the gratitude,
the love, the hope, the belief in miracles, and the awe that we all feel today.
Thankful Tuesday.
Thankful Wednesday.
Thankful Thursday.
Thankful and thoughtful on Friday.
Thankful on Saturday too.
Thankful and singing on Sunday.
Perhaps I should just go ahead and be thankful everyday.

Monday, November 28, 2016

"We are praying each other strong"

Back in the spring, in the midst of a very dark valley on our life journey, a friend from church came over with muffins and a card with words of encouragement and support. She just showed up, unannounced. Unexpected. In her card, she wrote a phrase I had never heard or read before,
"We are praying each other strong."

When I read that phrase, I knew it was exactly what I needed at that moment.
At that dark and challenging moment. At that fearful and inescapable time of trial.

There's so much packed into that simple declaration.
Beginning with the "we." Plural. Together. Not alone.
Her wise words reminded me that I was not alone; after all, "we" are "we."
I am not alone now.
I have never been alone.
Nor are you. Not now. Not ever.

"We are praying."
It's an ongoing activity.
The praying wasn't finished when she arrived that day. 
The praying isn't finished now.
The tears were flowing freely back in the spring when she dropped by. 
The tears are still flowing now, at the end of November. 
The emotions are still real and raw, and so the prayers must be as well.
Real and raw prayers.
Lord, in your mercy...
Give it to me, give it to me, give it to me - give me peace...
Heal our land...
Please send rain...
Don't you care that we are drowning?
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage.
We pray together. We pray for each other. 
We continue to pray.
We are praying.

"We are praying each other..."
I'm not just praying for you.
You are not just praying for me.
We are praying for each other.
We are praying each other's names and stories and needs.
We are lifting one another up. We are holding each other up.
We are asking for healing and peace and joy and grace and wholeness for each other.
You know what I need. I know what you need.
Whatever we don't know, and there is so much that we don't know, 
that we leave in the hands of the One who knows us both better than we know ourselves. 
And we keep praying. 
Keeping it simple. Keeping it honest. Keeping in plain.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

"We are praying each other strong."
We aren't just praying for healing or for a job and for marriages to survive. 
We aren't just asking to get through this - whatever "this" is.
This horrendous aftermath of a horrendous election. 
Yet another inexplicable act of violence at a school, Ohio State University. 
We aren't just praying for an end to acts of aggression and hatred.
We aren't only praying for peace and courage.
We are praying each other strong.
Strong to face all that lies ahead for all of us.
Strong to stand against the power of money to manipulate and control us all.
Strong to stand against those who want to pollute and desecrate sacred land.
Strong to stand against politicians who seek to roll back civil, religious, social, and personal freedom.
Strong to stand against the fear and anxiety that cause us to want to 
"do it to them before they do it to us" - whatever "it" is.
Strong to stand against racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, anti-Muslim sentiments,
and all the other fear and intolerance, indignity and indifference that poison and threaten us all.
Strong to fight the good fight, the long fight, 
the fight for justice, righteousness, and all that is good.
This is going to be a long, hard battle. 

I confess that I have wavered in the battle.
I have heard too many tales of terror in the past twenty days.
Stories of people being called names, being beaten up, finding epithets spray painted in public place.
Stories of domestic acts of terror. 
Those stories have planted seeds of fear in me.
Those stories have kept me indoors when otherwise I might go out for long morning walks.
Those stories have brought tears to my eyes and increased my heart rate.
Those stories have driven me to my knees, pleading with God to protect my children, 
my brothers, my nieces and nephews, 
and the children, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews of so many people I know and love.
I have had days lately when I have chosen to not look people in the eye in the supermarket
or at the gas station or even in my own neighborhood.
I have been afraid that I will see hatred and fear in their eyes.
I am afraid they will see hatred and fear in my eyes.
I have been afraid that someone will say something hateful to me.
I have worried that white people are feeling freer to speak words of racism and hatred towards black people. 

But then I remember. I am not alone. 
I remember: white people are not the problem.
Black people are not the problem.
Muslims are not the problem.
Donald Trump is not the problem.
Fear and hatred are ultimately not the problem.
They are all symptoms of what is really ailing us.

Brokenness is the problem. 
Sin is the problem. 
And until we face that thing that is broken within us,
that thing that is broken among us,
until we are willing to confess that we are all in desperate need of healing 
that we cannot provide for ourselves,
until we are willing to lay our weapons down, and lay ourselves open,
then this painful, this dreadful, this fearful thing we are facing now,
it's not going anywhere. 
And we will stay stuck in these repeated patterns of kill, hate, kill; 
fear, loathing, fear;
run, hide, run;
justify, explain, defend;
kill, hate, kill again-
ad nauseum

I refuse to give up. I refuse to give in. I refuse to give over to despair.
So I will do what Flo wrote about in her card back in the spring.
I will be praying you strong.
I hope you will be praying me strong.
We will pray each other strong.
And we won't stop anytime soon.

We are praying each other strong, folks.
We will be praying for a long time. 
Because we are going to need to be strong from this day forward.
All the way to the end.
Wherever and whenever we come to the end. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

How Can This Be?

How can it be that swastikas and confederate battle flags and hands raised in the nazi salute are being normalized?

How can it be that our state governor, who has never before mentioned anything about rigged elections related to his own past campaigns or the most recent campaigns of others within his political party, is now whining and complaining because he's behind in the vote count this time around? Suddenly, now the election is rigged and there has been voter fraud.

How can it be that people who have never felt any fear for themselves or their loved ones are now looking around and wondering which of their neighbors wants others of their neighbors to be deported? And which of their neighbors might hate, resent, fear, or ridicule their LGBTQIA child, their other-abled child, or they themselves - simply for being who they are, who they have always been?

How can it be that inter-racial families, inter-national families, inter-religious families now have to make contingency plans in case some of their loved ones have to "be registered"?

How can it be that I feel like I don't want to make eye contact with some people out of concern that they may say something racist to me?

How can it be that nowadays I am surprised when white people treat me with respect? How can it be that I have come to expect to be mistreated, disrespected, or ignored simply because of the color of my skin? How can it be that I've been so sheltered for so long?

How can all of this be happening in the United States of America?

On the other hand...

How can it be that so many coalitions are forming between groups and individuals that have never worked together before - coming together for peace, unity, protection, and non-violent resistance?

How can it be that more churches are beginning to figure out ways to be sanctuaries for those who might be deported?

How can it be that plans are already being made, that plans are still being made, that plans cannot stop being made for long term subversive action, long term commitments to long term solutions to our nation's long term problems?

How can it be that in the midst of the angst, in the midst of the uncertainty, even on the days when my heart rate climbs precipitously at the mere thought of my beloved son being stopped, harassed, beaten, or even killed by someone bent on evil, someone in the small southern town where he attend college, when I shudder at the thought that someone might speak harshly and insultingly to my precious daughter - how can it be that even in those moments, a few deep breaths, a prayer, a long conversation in a parking lot with a prayerful friend, an exquisitely written poem by the daughter of a soul sister friend, two pieces of watercolor art made for me that now hang above my desk, and a timely text from a wise friend all arrive at just the right moments, and serve to guide me back onto the path of peace, of strength, and of hope for a brighter future?

How can it be that in two days I will have both my children at home with me again, two or three of my son's college friends, along with my mother and one of my brothers - all eating and drinking (I'm gonna need a couple of strong drinks, for sure), talking, watching television, laughing, sighing, and giving thanks?

How can it be that my mother and others in her generation can watch all that is transpiring in our country since the election, and while shaking their heads in dismay, still rest in the blessed assurance that they have seen this foolishness before and survived it? They saw worse. They went through worse. They sang and prayed and walked and boycotted and laughed and cried and mourned and resisted their way to victory once - and they believe that we will do it again. How can they be so hopeful, so joyful, so powerful? How can this be?

How can it be that simply repeating the name of Jesus - Jesus, Jesus, Jesus - is enough to reignite the embers that keeps my subversive hope simmering?

How can it be that in less than a week Advent begins? The days of preparation before the celebration of the birth of that same Jesus remind me that, even in the darkest days (the people group to whom Jesus was born lived in a land that was under occupation by violent, hateful people), in the most unlikely of circumstances (Jesus' mother was a young woman, unmarried, pregnant, in a community where such an occurrence could be resolved by execution), even when everything feels hopeless, frightening, and completely out of any single person's control, light shines. Faintly. Dimly. But it's there. Hope grows. A tiny seed. Barely visible. Hardly reasonable. But it's there. Love is born. Again. For the first time.

How can it be that I need Advent, I need hope, I need faith, I need love, I need Jesus more than ever this year?

Isaiah 43: 1b-3a - Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk though fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. 

I find myself wanting to remind God of this promise and all the others that I read in Scripture - promises that I will never be left or forsaken. Promises of peace that passes understanding. Promises of justice. Promises of a future with hope. The truth is that I don't need to remind God; I need to remind myself that those promises are real and true - and I have already experienced their fulfillment in my life. Many times. Many many times.

I look forward to remembering and celebrating those promises around our dinner table on the ultimate Thankful Thursday, two days from now.

How can this be?

PS. I know I've mentioned Kathy before on this blog. She's a strong sister in the faith who lives in Colorado and writes and lives and speaks and preaches and breathes her faith. Out loud. Even when it hurts, especially then. She inspires me in ways she can't even imagine. This is her latest blog post - about the length of the journey ahead of us, all of us. I found it on Facebook earlier today and this is the caption I added when I shared it on my timeline: "Thank you, Kathy Silveira Escobar, for yet another message of hope and determination and forward momentum. This is gonna be a long, hard journey. May we learn to walk together in ways we never have before. Together. In peace. Unstoppable."

That's exactly how we have to get through this, whatever "this" is and whatever "this" becomes -
together, in peace, unstoppable.

You in?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thankful Thursday: Kanswer still sucks

This morning, my husband and I were talking about the results of the election - as were most of the people in this country. I said, "This is the second consecutive presidential election in which we have been forced to rethink who we are and how we will live." He said, "What happened last time?" Four years ago on election day, I was diagnosed with breast kanswer (this is how i spell the name of the "c" word. Back then I wondered about the answer that that disease was going to bring into my life). We celebrated President Obama's second term on the same day that my life was turned upside down. The mammogram and biopsy I endured before getting the diagnosis were followed by tests. Scans. Appointments. Protocol decisions. More tests. More scans. More difficult decisions. And all that before a single step was taken to get the kanswer out of my body.

Mine was a fast growing kanswer, so the decision was made to do chemotherapy first, then surgery, a double mastectomy, and fortunately I didn't have to undergo radiation because of the surgical decision I made. During the arduous weeks of chemo and the difficult weeks following surgery, I remember thinking that the kanswer itself hadn't bothered me. I didn't know I had kanswer. I wasn't in any pain, nor did I feel any other discomfort. It was the treatment that nearly killed me. Things got progressively and profoundly worse before they got better. I cried and complained. I worried and prayed. And now, four years have passed and I feel healthier than I have ever felt in all my 50 years of life. But in order to get to this place, I had to be told what my problem was. I had to admit that, even though I thought I was eating well and exercising enough and taking decent supplements, something was dreadfully wrong in my body, something that could kill me. I had to get the diagnosis, accept it, and treat the problem. And that was gonna suck. Kanswer sucks, and so does the treatment. But if I wanted to get rid of the kanswer, I had to do something. Something drastic.

This past Tuesday, our nation revealed that it has a slow growing, long term, malignant kanswer. We've had it since the first days of this nation. Since before we became a nation. We have lived in fear, acted from a place of supremacy, and been harbingers of hatred since day one. I know that not everyone has felt that way. Not everyone has lived that way. But there has been a kanswerous undercurrent of hatred that has run through our nation's veins throughout its entire history.

This recent election has served as our national MRI, our bone scan, our EKG, and our blood test. Our heart is damaged. Our bones are brittle and porous. It's in our lymph nodes. It's in our gastro intestinal tract. It's in our lungs. It's in our brain. Our entire body, our entire nation is in need of major work. Healing work. Restorative work. Reconciliatory work. But first we've gotta name what's ailing us. We have to accept the diagnosis.

There have been many biopsies down through the years. Small samples taken out of larger contexts - samples of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and lots of other isms oozing out from under a very thin layer of gentleness and kindness that has covered them for decades. People have been pulled out of their cars and homes and places of work and schools - and insulted, assaulted, lynched, beaten, shot, dragged behind cars, and in many other ways humiliated, hurt, and murdered. That layer of goodness was pulled back this week. It's still there, for sure. More people voted for her than for him. Protests against the outcome of the election have already begun.

But the results are in - we are sick. We are dreadfully sick.
The USA has stage 3B kanswer - not stage 4 just yet.
I don't think it's terminal. At least, I hope it's not.
But things look pretty bad right now.
Are we ready to start treatment?

Many people, many black and brown people, have been talking about this disease for decades. For centuries, really. Most of them have been told they were being alarmist, over sensitive, and exaggerating. We were essentially being told that we were and we are hypochondriacs. Looking for trouble where it didn't exist. After all, we elected a black man to be our president, twice. Well, look at us now. People are already being verbally attacked, threatened, made to feel unsafe in the country we were born in. Swastikas have already appeared. On college campuses, in high schools and middle schools and elementary schools, students of color, immigrant students are being bullied and harassed in public.

It's happening, people. The kanswer is growing. More rapidly now.

Beneath the facade of "political correctness," the demands for basic human kindness, decency, and respect that many have criticized for years now, there is a deep, gangrenous infection. Rottenness. Hatred. Fear and loathing. Mostly fear - being manifest as anger and hate. So much hate. So much fear. The illusion that many have lived under, the illusion that our nation is not so bad, that we are beyond racism, that we are beyond the ravages of Jim Crow laws and institutional bias and systemic oppression, that illusion has been shattered this week.

I know that many people who voted for the president-elect didn't do so with malice in their hearts. They genuinely want a change in the way things are done in Washington. They want to see new blood and new ideas and cling to new hope that someone with no connection to big government will somehow be different and do different things. I get that. I do. But along with voting and hoping for change (sounds oddly familiar...) they voted to open the door for all the -isms that so many had fought to extinguish to come back out into the open. Those who have worked and continue to work unrelentingly hard to bring justice and freedom to those who are oppressed and living in fear knew that the hatred was still there, that intolerance was still real, and that there was still far too much kanswerous bitterness in our midst. It was just slightly muted, buried in a very shallow grave. As a result of this election, that mutant and barely dormant virus has been reinvigorated in the bloodstream of our nation, and it is running down our streets and boulevards already.

So I sit here wondering: are we ready yet to name what ails us?
The many things that ail us? Are we? All of us?
Are we already too afraid to speak up and tell the truth?
I confess to being nervous about hitting "publish" on this blog post for fear of angry reprisal, hateful rhetoric, and threats of violence.

Are we ready to endure the painful work of healing that is necessary?
The chemotherapy that must hit every cell of our bodies,
every faith community, every town, every city, every village, and every suburb,
every club, every place of employment.
The chemotherapy of honesty about our complicity and our silence,
the chemotherapy of confessing our participation in systems of oppression,
the chemotherapy of being vulnerable enough to hear what others have to say about the disease that has racked our body politic, our churches, and our communities for ages,
the chemotherapy of listening to the stories and pain and fears of those whose opinions we don't agree with, even them. Especially them. Whoever that "them" might be,
This is gonna hurt. We are not going to want to finish the treatment.
We are going to writhe and we are going to suffer. All of us. Together. And alone.

There will need to be surgery too. Probably radical surgery.
Bilateral surgery - both sides, all sides - need to cut off some stuff that is rotten and toxic.
Our empty promises. Our no longer veiled threats of violence.
Our dismissal of and disdain for those we consider to be our enemies.
Gotta cut it off, cut it down, cut it out.
All of us. Each of us.

I remember when I was first diagnosed and made the decision to do chemotherapy, I read many articles and blog posts about not doing chemo. About eating really well for an intense period of time. About doing lots and lots of enemas. And drinking strange concoctions. I was told to go through the healing process naturally. I was told to go to health food stores and get information about the right supplements and potions. I was told to have more faith. To go to other countries for treatment. I was told to just do a lumpectomy. And all those people meant well. I know they did. But for me, I knew chemo was my choice. I knew that a double mastectomy was my choice. I knew that I didn't have enough faith or patience to eat five pounds of kale and drink two gallons of fresh pressed juice every day with the expectation that my kanswer would be beaten that way. I just didn't.

And today, I feel the same. Healing what ails this nation is going to take more than sitting together and drinking green juice. More than good, hearty heapings of hope and good will. It's gonna take a whole lot of people standing up and speaking up, speaking out against what they hear and what they see happening. It's gonna take the political will to defy any and all attempts to deport millions of people who live here peacefully while working hard to provide for themselves and their loved ones. Any and all attempts to intimidate anyone because of who they are and how they have been created. This kanswer isn't gonna go away if we ignore it or downplay its seriousness. It's just gonna keep on growing.

On November 6, 2012, my life changed completely. In every way. On every level.
And I live with that change, I see the results of that change every day.
No more dreadlocs. No more breasts. No more uterus.
Scars across my chest. Scars on my lower abdomen.
Regular check ups with an oncologist.
Regular visits with a holistic chiropractor.
And none of that is gonna go away any time soon.
These scars are here to stay.

On November 8, 2016, the life of this nation changed completely.
We will live with this change for the rest of our life as a nation.
We are already facing pain. We are already seeing the suffering of too many.
Today my brother had a longtime friend, a white friend, try to explain to him why
"Make Am*rica White Again" isn't racist.
There will be scars. Forever.
There will be painful reminders of this kanswer for the rest of the life of this nation.

Today is Thursday, so it's supposed to be Thankful Thursday on this blog.
I'm not feeling too thankful at the moment - at least not related to this election.
Except for this piece of good news - the disease in our system has been exposed.
Also many people I know and don't know are already at work.
Already making plans for the hard work that is going to have to be done for us to unite what has never been fully united before.
Already reaching across aisles and over walls and past boundaries.
I will walk with friends on November 15th, talking and planning and hoping and praying and commiserating too.
And I will keep loving my family, weeping with my friends, being humbled by the wisdom of younger travelers on the journey, and I will try, desperately try to learn to love my enemies too. How perfect is the timing that the Bible passage I have to translate from Greek into English this week for my New Testament class in seminary speaks to the need to love my enemies. Seriously, God?

Kanswer still sucks.
But we can't treat it if we don't acknowledge it.
This week, we are being forced to acknowledge it.
But are we yet ready to treat it?

Monday, November 07, 2016

What to do on Election Day

1. If you live in the United States of American and are registered to vote,
then please, please, please vote. 

2. Smile at the volunteers at the voting place.
They are going to be working a long and difficult day tomorrow.
Dealing with many hundreds, perhaps thousands of voters.
Some of whom will be angry and impatient.
Please don't be one of those angry, impatient, and mean voters.
My mother is a volunteer at a voting place here in Charlotte.
So before you think to say something rude or mean or impatient,
remember that the person you will be dealing with is someone's mother or father 
or sister or brother or friend. Someone's significant someone.
Please be respectful. 

3. Be kind to folks who express political opinions that are different from yours.
We are all concerned about this country. 
We may not agree on how to deal with our concerns, but we are one nation.
We are the United States of America.
In the words of Rodney King, "Why can't we all just get along?"

4. Pray. Pray. Pray.
Light candles.
Burn incense.
Be still and know.
Breathe deep.
Send up smoke signals.
Whatever you do to beckon peace and calm, please do it.
And you don't have to live in the US of A to do any of that.

5. Make plans to reach out in peace to people who know who are on the "other side of the aisle," extending a peaceful hug, handshake, or high five. Truthfully, we need to find ways to cross the aisles, boundaries, borders, and retaining walls that we have constructed during this election cycle - and during the past several presidencies. We need to find ways to cross the moats and gator infested waters that we have constructed around our tribes and clubs and social circles and faith-based enclaves.

Earlier today, I read this hopeful and challenging piece by a woman I met a few years ago,
a gifted writer, a passionate pastor, and an all around compassionate woman, named Kathy. 
Here is a taste of the wisdom she shares in her blog post about who we need to be and what we need to do after tomorrow, after election day: 

But here we are, flawed messy beautiful human beings, left with an important task as tomorrow comes and goes.
Who will we be?
What shall we do?
Whose image will we bear?
How can we participate in healing and hope and unity and kindness and compassion and generosity and reconciliation and justice and mercy and beauty and presence in this upcoming season?
Here is another gem that Kathy wrote - on the night of the first Presidential debate.

As I think about what our country might feel like and sound like at this time tomorrow night (11:45 pm), I am reminded of images we have all seen of the aftermath of tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and floods. Buildings demolished. Landmarks washed away. Whenever I see those images, I think about the tremendous amount of damage and the prospect of a tremendous amount of work that must be done to discard the debris and rebuild the affected cities and towns. 
I keep thinking that our nation has suffered a political tornado, a hurricane, an earthquake, and a flood. Where does all the debris from this storm get taken? Where do we dispose of the angry words and accusations that have been levied so freely and frequently of late? The dismissals and insults of entire groups of people, nations of people, and other political candidates? Where do the disgruntled and angry voters, the ones whose candidate doesn't win, where do they take their grievances and grudges? What happens to all the people who are convinced that the whole process is fixed and fake and there is no reason to have faith in the next President or in each other? What do we do with all of our conspiracy theories and blaming of "them" - whoever that "them" might be? Where does all that bitter bile go? I do not know.
But what I do know is that I promise to be part of the clean up crew.Part of the peacemaking team.Part of the rebuilding effort.Part of the joy brigade.Part of the "free listening" squad.Part of the crew that will never say "I told you so," no matter what happens.
A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling down my Instagram feed. I'm one of those people who joined Instagram to look at other people's stuff, but I have never posted anything myself. Is that the same as being a stalker??? Anyway, I started to scroll down the feed of one of my social and political heroines, Rebecca Walker. Several months ago, she posted this: 
How long is the fight? Forever.
How many conversations do we have to have to change the world? A million.
How will we accomplish it? One carefully chosen interaction at a time.
Healing is going to take a long time, a lot of conversations, and patience that we have clearly not had with each other over the past year or so. But it will happen one conversation, one encounter, one exchange, one hug, one smile, one walk, one meeting, one march, one changed law, one school integration plan, one new job, one storytelling session at a time. 

What am I going to do on election day? I plan to consciously and intentionally engage in conversations that I hope and pray will contribute to changing the world, the nation, this city, and my own home. And I plan to continue having those kinds of conversations the day after that and the day after that.

I'm not going to vote tomorrow - but only because I voted on the first day of early voting here in Charlotte. Instead of voting, I'm going to spend an hour with my spiritual director in the morning. Sharing my joys and sorrows with her. Listening to her wisdom. Filling several pages in my journal with her questions and comments and insights on how to be a woman of peace and grace and strength and courage, no matter what. Then I will have lunch with another wise and gentle, thoughtful and loving friend. We too will invoke words of peace, prayers for calm, and encourage one another to stand firm, with kindness and gentleness, always unwavering in our determination to live lives of love. And all the while, every step of the way, I will be in deep prayer for our nation and for our next President - either one. In fact, I will pray for all the candidates in all the elections, the ones who win and the ones who don't. 

More than that, I will be praying for each of us. For all of us.
For our future as people living together in the same land.
Working together.
Learning together.
Walking together.

Now that I'm thinking about it, I am going to vote again tomorrow.
Tomorrow I will be voting for peace.
Voting for reconciliation.
Voting for hope.
Voting for joy.
Voting with my mouth, my feet, my heart, and my life.
I suppose, on those terms, it is indeed perfectly legal,
and actually we should be encouraged to "vote early and vote often."

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Even in the midst of it alll

In the midst of this horrendous election cycle

in the midst of all the hateful trolling on the internet

in the midst of the barrages of insults that ensue during and after every political exchange

in the midst of the aftermath of an Alabama pipeline that has had two major explosions in the past three months

in the midst of the uproar over that oil pipeline being constructed out in North Dakota (how can not we understand why there is this ongoing protest when those two explosions and oil spills have happened so recently? do any of us what such a pipeline running through our property, through our family graveyards, or through our cities?)

in the midst of the clean after weeks of from major flooding here in the south,

in the midst of all that,

there was also a church that was burned down and the words "Vote Tr*mp" spray painted on the side of the damaged structure (I won't even spell his name completely for fear that an internet search might bring someone here looking for news about him)

there were also two police officers ambushed and killed in their police cars in Iowa

just after the story of their tragic deaths was made public, there were many reactionary, angry responses that involved blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for their deaths (turns out the murderer was an example of why the Black Lives Matter movement exists - it was a racist white guy who some suggest was still angry about being escorted out of a local high school football game because he waved a confederate battle flag in the faces of black fans at the game)

there is continued bombing of civilians in far too many Middle Eastern cities to list

in the midst of all of that, there are still reasons to be thankful.

More of the Chibok girls kidnapped from their school in Nigeria in 2014 have returned home.

Rice and beans are being loaded onto a school bus here in Charlotte, and that bus will soon be shipped to Haiti to help offset some of the devastating after effects of the hurricanes that have affected that embattled island nation.

Gatherings, conversations, and planning for a brighter and more united future are still happening here in Charlotte, in places of worship, in places of work, in private conversations in living and dining rooms, and in public gatherings across the city as well.

Every Wednesday night for the past nine weeks, I have been able to sit in a room with more than a dozen other people who love someone and, in most cases, live with someone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness. The laughter, the tears, the stories, the empathy, the sympathy, the advice, and the strategies shared around that table has truly been life changing for me. The class is called "Family to Family" and it is put on by a local chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The two teachers of the class, like everyone who works for NAMI, are volunteers AND every employee has a loved one in their own family that has been diagnosed with a mental illness. In other words, everyone involved with NAMI "gets it." No judgment. No shocked looks on anyone's faces. No one who thinks we are exaggerating. No one who says we should have spanked them more or we shouldn't be so indulgent or that we are overreacting to bad behavior that we need to just fix. It is truly a safe place for each of us and for all of us. It's called "Family to Family" not only because each teacher has a family member affected, but also because the group begins to feel like family as the class progresses. I will miss these courageous, terrified, funny, heartbroken, hopeful, determined, exhausted people when this class is over two weeks from yesterday. I sure hope we keep in touch.

Last Friday, I got to hold an eight week old little girl in my arms for over an hour. She is the fourth child of a 32 year old woman who was diagnosed with breast kanswer when she was 30. That precious little child was a surprise gift to and for a young couple that was still reeling from the trauma of chemotherapy, multiple surgeries, and several complications from both the chemo and the surgery. That tiny little body felt even more miraculous than usual - because isn't every newborn baby a miracle to behold and to be held?

I got to spend three hours with a four year old last week. I pushed him in the swing for a while. We played soccer for a while. Every time we heard an airplane, we would stop and stare up at the sky until we saw it fly over us. At one point, he asked me why the clouds were moving. What a great question! I said something about the wind moving the clouds, but he wanted to get back to running and falling and kicking that soccer ball. When he got tired of all of that, we went inside where he watched a couple of television shows and I recovered from chasing him and the soccer ball.

My daughter is less than six weeks away from completing her undergraduate senior thesis - and she will graduate from college!

Halloween happened. Small clusters of children and parents strolled down our street, the former running across meticulously manicured lawns to the doors of frustrated homeowners who gave them candy anyway while the latter watched, often while holding a beer in hand. Between their visits, some of us, the residents of my block, chatted with each other, laughing at the antics of the costumed candy-grubbers, bemoaning the invasions of ants and moles that we all seem to be suffering through, and wondering aloud about how we will resist the urge to eat all the leftover candy. I love my neighborhood and my neighbors.

This past Sunday, nearly two dozen people wearing the distinct green We Walk Together tee shirts gathered at The Harvest Center here in Charlotte to pack hundreds of ziploc bags with socks, gloves, snacks, cosmetic supplies, candy, and handwritten notes of encouragement for homeless folks who will sleep there three nights every week this winter. We converged in that sacred space to do something small, something that some might even criticize as insignificant and counterproductive in the fight to provide permanent housing for those who don't have a permanent home. In the midst of that criticism, we did the work anyway. We lovingly packed those bags, praying that they will bless those who receive them.

One of the things I am always a little uncomfortable about when I write these Thankful Thursday posts is the sense that I am minimizing, trivializing, or ignoring the many terrible things happening in the world. How can I write about giving out Halloween candy when there are millions of starving and displaced and rejected refugees pleading for assistance all around the world? How can I rejoice over packing a few ziploc bags in the midst of a world where plastic is clogging landfills and floating out on the ocean? How can I be so selfishly focused on my daughter's imminent completion of her university studies when there are millions of young women her age who have been forced into marriages against their will or sold into sexual slavery?

Ultimately, my goal here - on Thankful Thursdays or any other day that I write a blog post - isn't to answer every question that plagues us or to offer resolutions to every crisis that grips us. It isn't to uncover every political misdeed, criticize every wrong perpetrated by every public figure, or expound on every passage of Scripture that has been misappropriated in ongoing efforts to exploit the planet's natural resources or oppress other people. There's plenty of all of that out on the internet and right at our own kitchen tables. There's plenty of anger and outrage and righteous indignation out there. There's plenty of thoughtful and meaningful work being done in the world and reported on the internet. But none of that is why I do this.

My goal here is practice gratitude
to spread a little joy
to plant a seed of hope
to bring a smile to my own face
and hopefully to yours
as I recount the often overlooked goodness of God
and the vastly underreported goodness and good news in our world
and on my own life's journey -
even in the midst of it all.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Macular Regeneration

I had a conversation with a dear friend today. I love her. A lot.
But she's a bit of a conspiracy theorist. More than a bit, actually...
"They" are drugging our water, so that men will be more effeminate and they won't want to have children.
"They" are teaching our children how to masturbate and are making our children touch each other's genitals in school.
"They" are experimenting on pregnant mothers to see if "they" can create mutated children.
She also said that she lives in terror of all that "they" are doing and all that is yet to come.
When I said that I didn't believe what she was saying, she said that she understood that there were people who didn't want to see the truth, people who want to remain blind to what's really happening out there. But she knew what she knew, and nothing I could say would change her mind.

Funny that she should mention blindness and not wanting to see.
I've been thinking a lot about eyesight lately. About blindness.
And macular regeneration.

I have blind spots. I have had them all life long.
My children are brilliant. They are excellent athletes.
My house is fantastic. Spacious and well built.
My church is made up of loving, kind, welcoming, generous people who love God and all God's people.
Except... my kids are also deeply flawed and would rather not have to work too hard if at all possible.
Except... my house has chipped paint and stained carpets and leaks and cracks and occasionally critters come in through those cracks. Yuck!
Except... my church and my seminary and my neighborhood and my family and my country are all made up of self-centered, self-involved, selfish people. By no means do I believe that I an free from any of those characteristics.

Macular degeneration is a disease where the macula, the middle section of the retina, the part that allows us to see what is right in front of us, is damaged. I've heard it said often - "She can't see what's right in front of her." I've experienced it often - I will be looking for my purse or my glasses or the thing I want to wear. I look high and low, between things, behind things. Then I stop and say a quick prayer - "Lord, please open my eyes so I can find it." When I open my eyes, there it is. Right in front of my face. How did I miss it? It was right there.

Macular degeneration - it's in front of me, but I can't see it.
I can't see the intentional experiments on unborn babies.
Nor can I see the classrooms where children are told to take off their clothes and touch each other.
Honestly, if that is happening, I don't want to see it. So she was right about that.

But here's what I do see.
I see brave people who are fighting with all their energy to create equitable educational opportunities for all children.
I see others who are quietly fighting to help the poor and disenfranchised to understand their rights and the power they have to control their own lives, through voting, through community organization, through entrepreneurship.
I see a friend walking with her wife through illness while together they raise several beautiful children.
I see one friend working to regain her self-confidence and her courage after the pain of divorce, while another one is trying to establish her self-confidence and courage while in the midst of a difficult marriage.
I see someone who works for the UN, helping desperate people find safety and security and hope.
I see school buses being filled with rice and beans and being shipped to Haiti to feed hungry people.
I see housing complexes being planned and built to provide places for the homeless to come in off the street.
I see a new facility here in Charlotte for people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses to find help, support, and residential care if it is needed.
I see lawyers advocating for indigent clients, for those imprisoned unjustly, and for the abandoned.
I see friends recovering from harsh kanswer treatments.
I see parents who long to be both supportive and effective advocates for their suffering children.
I see black churches and white churches seeking ways to be one church, one united, beautiful, colorful, culture-full church.
It's right here in front of my face, and I see it.

Until recently, my macula had become cloudy with doubt about what is possible between people who say they love one another but cannot get along with each other.
My macula had become cloudy with despair about the growing distance between so many needy people and those who can offer assistance and support.
My macula had become cloudy with the fear that I would not see measurable change for the better in our city, in our churches, or in our home in my lifetime.

But thanks be to God - I am experiencing what I have termed "macular regeneration."
The clouds are lifting.
Connections are being made between individuals and groups that have struggled to find their way together in the past.
Healing is happening in broken relationships.
Barriers and walls are falling - barriers that divide people of different socio-economic groups, between different neighborhoods, between different congregations, between people of different languages and cultures.

We may not agree with one another's politics or faith claims or lifestyle choices.
Agreement in every area is not necessary.
What is necessary is the ability to see one another. To listen to one another.
To welcome one another. To walk one another home.
Even if home feels like it is one thousand miles in the other direction from the one we think we should be going in. Through valleys and shadows, through sickness and health, through protests and peace talks, through it all, we walk together. (please forgive the shameless plug for a group of awesome people I have the honor to call my friends) We have to walk together. If we don't walk together, all of us, there truly is no hope for any of us.

I don't like to think of myself as a conspiracy theorist.
Some of the connections I have heard people make are bizarre, truly bizarre.
I admit that I don't watch the news enough to say for sure whether some of the connections my friend tried to make earlier today are true.
I admit that there are some truths about our world that I don't want to see.
I am guilty of wanting to keep my head firmly buried in the sand on a lot of issues, some of them serious.
But one thing I refuse to believe or accept is the notion that our problems are too big to solve, that our divisions are too broad to bridge, and that our fears are too deep-seated to be uprooted. I have seen too much healing, too much forgiveness, too much hard work by too many people to give up or give in.

I don't know about you, but I'm gonna keep looking for and working towards macular regeneration.
In my immediate family, my extended family, my church family, my city, and beyond.
Quite frankly, I don't think I have any choice.
Because the alternative is despair.
The alternative is fear.
The alternative is blindness.
None of which are alternatives that I am willing to live with or in.

Macular regeneration.
Do you see what I mean?