Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Knowing Place - Take Two

This is what I wrote yesterday about the knowing place.
I woke up at 4 am this morning thinking about it.
I turned on my light, took some notes in my journal, and went back to sleep.
Here's what woke me up - the fact that the knowing place exists,
the fact that I have discovered peace and rest there,
doesn't mean that I am free of all doubt and fear and uncertainty.
Not even close.

During the hardest times in my life - this spring, four years ago on my kanswer journey, back in 2008 during another family crisis, and during the other major storms in my life - the knowing place has held firm. I knew that we weren't alone in our trials. I knew that we were loved and being prayed for and supported by many, many beloved friends and co-travelers on our life journey. I knew that God was with us. I knew that all would eventually be well.

But still.
But still.

I doubted. I had questions.
I wondered. I worried.
I held my Bible up and reminded God of the promises contained therein.
I battled despair and wondered if life was better than death.
I had no blessed idea of how the crises would be resolved.
Or if they would ever be resolved.

My journal is filled with pages of large letters -

Pages of questions -
What if I die?
What if he dies?
What if she dies?
What if she lives and this is as good as it gets?
Is this a life that will be worth living?
What if insurance won't pay for this?
Will I trust God even then?
Will I believe God's promises to be true even then?

There are pages of Bible verses - particularly verses and passages taken from the book of Job.
"Job 1:21 - Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; 
the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Job 13:15 - Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.
Daniel 3:16-18 - Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up. 
Mark 9:21-24 - Jesus asked the father: "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us." Jesus said to him, "If you are able! - All things can be done for the one who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief."

For anyone unfamiliar with the stories of Job and the three guys mentioned in the Daniel passage, here is a very brief synopsis. Job was a rich man who lost everything, including his children (but not his wife), in several tragic incidents that all took place on the same day. After hearing about all that had gone wrong, Job responded with that noble quote in Job 1:21. Later in the book, he declares his trust in the God who is said to have allowed all those tragedies to happen. Spoiler Alert - at the end of the book of Job, all of his stuff and family are restored, in even greater abundance.

The three guys mentioned in Daniel are captives of the king to whom they are speaking. They have been summoned and required to bow down to a statue the king has made of himself, ninety feet high and nine feet wide. These three young men refuse to bow down and are threatened with being tossed into a fiery furnace. They stand in defiance to the king's order, declaring their belief that the God they worship could deliver them from the fire, but even if God didn't deliver them, they still wouldn't worship that statue. They end up being thrown into that fiery furnace. Spoiler Alert - God protects them, they are not burned by the fire, a fourth person (could it be God?) is seen in the fire with them, they are delivered out of the furnace and promoted into high positions in the king's service.

In Mark, Jesus is introduced to a father whose son has suffered with "a spirit" that made his life horrible. The father asks Jesus' disciples to heal the boy, but they are unable to do so. Finally, the father appeals to Jesus himself - and he simply states what I have felt often - "I believe; help my unbelief." Spoiler alert - the boy is healed!

My appeals to God went something like this - "I'm here in the knowing place, God, trusting in your power to heal. Believing that you can deliver her and me and us from the fiery furnace of illness and fear and worry and helplessness. Don't you want to deliver us? Since you are able to deliver us, Almighty God, why won't you do it - and do it right now??? What about the happy endings that appear so often in Scripture - like in Job and with those guys in the book of Daniel? When do we get our happy ending, our healing, our deliverance?"

These passages and several others rested comfortably, or rather uncomfortably, in my journal and in my heart during the horrors of this spring's doings and undoings. There were moments when I had enough strength and faith to stand firm in the knowing place and declare, like Job, "Blessed be the name of the Lord" and "Yet will I trust in God." But there were many, many moments in which I read and spoke those words through clenched jaws and gnashing teeth.

These passages and several others also reminded me that not all Biblical accounts end happily. In fact, very few of them do. Execution and exile and enslavement are not uncommon responses to those who declare their trust in and reliance on God.

One of my favorite Bible passages temporarily lost its shine, but after I broke the rose-colored glasses through which I had desperately tried to see my life and the world, it was restored to its luster... John 16:33 records Jesus saying to those he loved, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

I used to like the parts that talk about me having peace and Jesus overcoming the world. What I didn't want to think about or experience was the part where he talked about us having trouble. When I encountered difficulties, I retreated into "Why? Why me? Why her? Why us? We are so good." I couldn't even finish that last statement without laughing to myself, sometimes laughing through my tears. We are so NOT good. Nor are we immune to the pain and suffering that are part of the human experience. Who are we not to suffer? Who are we not to face trials, tribulations, and difficulties?

But still.
But still.

On those same journal pages, on those long drives to the hospital for visits, during the wee hours of the morning when I would find myself awake and on high alert, even as abundant tears flowed and unsavory language found its way through my furious fingers, even then I knew. I knew that our story would not be one of bitterness and sorrow and fear forever. I knew that God was working - even when I didn't feel it. I knew that I would not devote myself to the worship of despair and fear. I knew that I believed - even in times of unbelief.

I knew and I wondered.
I believed and I doubted.
I questioned and I was convinced.
I rested peacefully and I woke up in the middle of the night.
I felt God's presence and I felt God's silent absence.
All of the above.
All in the knowing place.

The way forward was not (and is not) always lit beyond the very next step.
The way forward was not (and is not) easy.
The way forward passed (and passes) through unspeakable sadness.
But it was and it is ever and always moving forward.
Thanks be to God!

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Knowing Place

Today I told someone a story about the past four months of my life. I told her that several people who knew what was going on suggested that I take a leave of absence from seminary while we groped our way through the dark valley of shadows and sadness. I explained to my friend today that I never even considered taking a break. That seminary classes were an oasis for me. And I told her that I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be - reading, writing, studying, learning about history and the Bible and the church.

She asked where I knew it - where in my body or mind or soul I knew that I was where I needed to be. My answer was: "In my entire being." Every part of me knew. I never doubted that I was on the right path, doing what I have been created to do. Preparing to do what I'm already doing - listening to stories, walking with other pilgrims, stumbling along the rocky path of life with others, sharing some of the lessons I'm learning about how to walk fully, hope-fully, joy-fully, peace-fully, and gratefully.

Fifteen years ago, a pastor-friend of mine, Ian Cron, wrote and recorded a CD that included a song called, "The Knowing Place."

I have no words for it 
It is a sureness in my soul
I have no words for it 
In the flood, it is my stone
I have no words for it
It is a chamber in my heart
I have no words for it
My only candle in the dark
It has come to me through losses
It has come to me through pain
It has struck me like a clear blue sky 
in the pouring pouring rain.

Chorus - 
The knowing place is here in my heart
It's where I can know I'm safe in the dark
The knowing place is where I'm sure
That here in his arms I'm always secure
Oh here in the knowing place.

I cannot take you there
It's down a road I've walked alone
I cannot take you there
It's paved with blood and broken bone
I cannot take you there
I cannot share this private view
I cannot take you there
There's only room enough for two
He has thrown my windows open
He has trampled down my gates
He has honored me with burdens
And the weightlessness of grace

I have spent hours singing and pondering this song since it was recorded in 2001.

I like the first verse.

"I have no words for it" - for the peace, for the calm, for the knowing
even in the midst of the storm, even as the tears flow.
Knowing that all shall be well - even when it didn't look that way.
Knowing that we were not at the end of our story.
Knowing that hope remains. Knowing that joy is possible.
Even in the midst of the storm.

"It has come to me through losses. It has come to me through pain."
Losses? Pain? Oh yes.
Physical losses. Emotional losses.
Some relationships lost. Confidence in other relationships lost.
And in the midst of all that loss, in the midst of all the pain -
knowing even then.
Knowing that I am not alone. I am never alone.
Knowing that I have hope and a future.
Knowing that the loss of body parts to kanswer,
the loss of my father,
the loss of connections with people I thought would be with me forever -
even then, I know that I am well, that all is well.
And whatever isn't yet well, shall be well.

But the second verse is the one that resonates more deeply within me.

I have been loved. I have been supported. I have been held. All life long.
She sat with me through chemotherapy. He sat with us in the Emergency Room.
They put our names on prayer lists. She keeps us in the center of her prayer circle.
She has been my friend since my daughter was three weeks old.
He has been my companion on this journey of faith since the fall of 1989.
He has been my husband for 24 years and 363 days.
There have always been people with me, around me, near me.

But this life, this journey, this painful and beautiful life pilgrimage, is a road I walk alone.
A road that is paved with blood, broken bones, pieces of my broken heart, and so many tears.
In the painful recuperation from chemotherapy and surgery,
in the wretchedness of mourning my father's death,
in the sorrow of being abused be someone whose job it was to help me,
in the pain and the power of childbirth,
in the helplessness of watching the daughter I love suffer unrelentingly,
there was only room enough for two - for me and God.

It's strange to write that - to write about being alone with God.
Talking to God in prayer and in journaling.
Crying out to God - literally shouting and screaming at God.
Listening for God in The Word and in the words of others.
Pleading with God for visible signs of mercy and healing.
Knowing that God was listening and feeling that God was actively working.
Even when I couldn't see it or explain it or prove it.
I just knew.
I just know.

That's exactly what the song is about.
That's what this life of faith is about.
Having no words for it.
But knowing that God is present.
Knowing that God is at work, even when it looks like nothing is happening.
But resting, basking, living in that knowledge anyway.

I cannot prove that God had anything to do with the conversation I had with friends at the wedding reception in which I broke down and cried as I told some of my story. I cannot prove that God had anything to do with the phone call that he made after that emotional outburst of mine. I cannot prove that God had anything to do with the fact that the doctor that wasn't taking new patients accepted one more. I cannot prove that God had anything to do how great that doctor has been for our family. But I believe God had everything to do with all of it - because when she asked how things were going, I could have said, "Things are going fine." I could have held myself together, but I didn't. I told the truth about how things were going and they listened and he acted and things shifted.

I cannot prove that God had anything to do with guiding that woman to the journaling class I was teaching more than ten years ago. She didn't even attend the church where I was teaching. But there she was. I cannot prove that God had anything to do with her saying to me, "You belong in the pulpit." I cannot prove that God had anything to do with her suggesting that I think hard about leaving that church and finding someplace that affirms the voices and wisdom and teaching of women. I cannot prove that God had anything to do with her inviting me to attend my first eight day silent retreat in 2011. I cannot prove that God had anything to do with her recommending that I develop a relationship with a spiritual director - the woman who asked the question I mentioned at the start of this blog post - "Where did you know it, Gail?"

I cannot prove that God had anything to do with any of it.
But I know it's true. In my entire being.
In the knowing place.

***Part two is here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Top Ten List

One mass shooting after the other. Hatred. Fear. Prejudice. Discrimination.
Members of our government vote to keep it legal for anyone and everyone to buy weapons of war without a background check, even people who cannot legally board an airplane. 
Sixty five million people displaced from their homes during the past year due to war and other horrors.
Someone we know arrested for child molestation.
In the face of all that, I must give thanks. 

Here's my top ten gratitude list. In no particular order.

1. One of my nieces flew down here to Charlotte from NYC for a few days. 
She was recently engaged to be married - and is blissfully happy.
She has never needed help in this area, but she is positively glowing.

2. The ridiculously sweet cherries and watermelon we have bought this week.
The bounty that we are privileged to enjoy every day.

3. Being hugged by an almost-two-year old. 
Being called by name by a three year old. 
Having that sweet little guy ask where my daughter was.
The love of a child is a precious gift.

4. The House Democrats who sat down in the Capital chamber for gun legislation.
Their determination to demand a vote in the face of the ridicule and dismissal of their political opponents. 
NO ONE will ever be able to convince me that private citizens need to own assault rifles. 
The same constitution that allows for gun ownership allowed for slave ownership. 
That same constitution prevented women and people of color from voting. 
I think that at least one more part of that constitution needs to be changed.
Cuz enough is already enough.

5. Barbara Brown Taylor's books - including Bread of Angels, When God is Silent, God in Pain.
Lately I have been reading her sermons - which I probably shouldn't do because it will be very hard to NOT want to just read them from the pulpit when it's my turn to preach. 
She will certainly inspire me to study hard, to write thoughtfully, and to preach with fear and trepidation - that is a profoundly serious and important work, standing behind that sacred desk and speaking words of truth, challenge, encouragement, and joy.

After describing the Biblical phenomenon of manna, BBT challenges her listeners and readers to ponder, "how you sense God's presence in your life. If your manna has to drop straight out of heaven looking like a perfect loaf of butter-crust bread, then chances are you are going to go hungry a lot. When you do not get the miracle you are praying for, you are going to think that God is ignoring you or punishing you or - worse yet - that God is not there... If, on the other hand, you are willing to look at everything that comes to you as coming from God, then there will be no end to the manna in your life. A can of beans will be manna. Grits will be manna. Bug juice will be manna. (You've got to read the sermon, Bread of Angels, to understand that reference...) Nothing will be too ordinary or too transitory to remind you of God... Because it is not what it is that counts but who sent it, and the miracle is that God is always sending us something to eat. Day by day, God is made known to us in the simple things that sustain our lives - some bread, some love, some breath, some wine - all those absolutely essential things that are here today and gone tomorrow. " (Bread of Angels, pages 10-11) 

6. Arriving at the airport overlook area five minutes before my niece's flight was scheduled to land. I love sitting there watching airplanes land and take off - dreaming of faraway cities I would love to disappear in and explore. Seconds after I pulled into a parking space - I hadn't even turned off the engine yet - I looked up to see an aircraft approaching the runway to land. Delta - the airline she was flying on. I hurriedly pulled out my cell phone and took photos as the jet landed. Then I sent her a text telling her that I had seen a Delta plane land and wondered if it was hers. One minute later, she responded and said that, yes, she had just landed. Yay! Perfect timing. 

7. During the worst four month period of our lives, from the middle of February until the middle of June, we had to hire a lawyer. She is fantastic. Truly a wonderful lawyer and a kind and compassionate woman. Today we spoke on the phone - and she said, "You're one of those good clients who makes all the tough ones easier to take." It sucks to have to hire a lawyer - no offense intended against any lawyers, but having to hire one usually means something is wrong - but if you've gotta have one, let it be a kind one, a generous one, and an highly competent one. Our lawyer is proof that such a combination is, in fact, less rare than the Lochness Monster. (Again, no offense intended.)

8. Laughter with my family during a lively round of Cards Against Humanity
That is one wild and crazy, crude, and very funny game. 

9. The opportunity to live vicariously through people I know who are traveling and on vacation.
Horseback riding near rivers and mountains and open plains. 
Sitting poolside near the lake.
Crossing the ocean.
Long pilgrimage-style walks overseas.
Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Reading at the beach. 
Those who live in their favorite places - no need to own a vacation home when you can live in your dream house, looking out over the water every morning.

10. Looking forward to eight days at this place.
This quiet, prayerful, beautiful, thought-provoking place
I haven't been there since the summer of 2012 - the summer before I was diagnosed with kanswer.
May the silence envelop me and heal me - and may that healing overflow beyond me.
May the prayers raised from that sacred space join the millions of other prayers raised every day -
for peace and mercy and salvation and the healing of the whole world.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thankful Thursday - Never Alone

This coming Saturday, I will sit through the final seven hours of what my seminary professor calls, "Baby Greek." Ten weeks of Biblical Greek will come to an end at 5 pm, just under 48 hours from now. Twenty five or so students laughing, groaning, stumbling, stuttering our way through New Testament Greek. We have had to learn about prepositions, participles, particles, aorist, pluperfect, and case. We have been introduced to terms like nominative, genitive, ablative, vocative, accusative, and dative - words that meant absolutely nothing to me ten weeks ago. Honestly, I'm not sure how much more they mean to me know, but I've had to memorize them and figure out when they apply to the nouns they are related to. For the first time in decades, I have had to create index cards with vocabulary words - in Greek. I have had to learn what a lexicon is and how to use it. Once again, I confess to you, my patient readers, that I am a geek: I have loved this class. 

The professor cracks himself up - bending over in laughter several times during each class. But then he snaps to attention and blows my mind with insights on Scripture and the life of Jesus and what it means to be a follower of Christ. How he ties it all to the vocab lists and new grammatical terms moves me to tears even as I keep my hand tightly gripped around my pen taking copious notes. We do translation work with our classmates. We look over our shoulders at each other with impatient glances when someone in the class asks one too many questions. We huddle over our weekly quizzes and plead with God to remind us of the stacks of cards we have perused all week. We count down the hours until the end of the day - class goes from 8:15 am until 11:45 am. Chapel service at noon, then lunch. Class resumes at 1:30 and ends at 5 pm. Together. 

I am enormously thankful for the hard work, the piles of cards, the new alphabet, the deeper appreciation for the Holy Scripture. 

Two weeks ago, my daughter and I went to the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden. As we explored the gardens, we stopped and sat down on nearly every bench that was in the shade. I especially liked the rainforest greenhouse - misters keep the plants damp and the visitors as well. 

There weren't many other visitors - it was a very hot day. But there were a few. Children in sun hats. Older couples also scampering from shady bench to shady bench. Empty walkways. Gratefully, I had my daughter. We walked and talked and laughed and sipped water from our thermoses. I am thankful for the simple pleasure of a walk through a garden with my dear, dear daughter.

Last week, I attended the graduation of three dozen preschoolers from the Charlotte Bilingual Preschool here in Charlotte. I think I was the only person in the room who was neither related to a child nor a member of the school staff. Children singing in English and Spanish. Adults taking photos and videos. After they received their diplomas, the new graduates were asked if any of them wanted to say anything to the audience. Several bravely took the microphone and said things like: "I really like this school and I don't want to leave." "I like everything about this school." "I really want to stay here." Could any teacher ask for a better compliment or higher praise?

As I watched and listened and looked around the room at all those proud parents and grandparents, hailing undoubtedly from a dozen Central and South American countries, I wished I could hear their stories - why they left their home countries, how they got to the U.S. and why they chose Charlotte. I wanted to know how many of the people around them they knew before sending their children to that innovative and inspirational school, and what their hopes and dreams are for the precious boys and girls they celebrated that day. I wanted to know who their companions have been on their life journeys. I hope and pray that they have never known what it is to be alone.

I am thankful for how welcoming they were to me - the stranger in the room, the one taking photos from the corner, the one who teared up as their favorite little people marched into the room to the tune of "We Are the World." I hadn't heard that song in more than fifteen years. Those rising kindergarteners had no idea just how relevant that song is to their situation - We are the world. We are the children. Together. Never alone.

On Tuesday night, I attended a support group gathering for family members of people dealing with brain conditions and sensitivity (often called "mental illness"). There is something encouraging, sobering, and heartening about sitting in a room surrounded by others whose loved ones are dealing with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and personality disorders. Some have children as young as eleven years of age. Some have children who are in their late 50s, adult children whose guardianship rests in the hands of these brave older adults. We look into each other's eyes, sharing sorrows and victories, rubbing each other's shoulders and offering tissues to wipe each other's eyes. We hope for the best and prepare ourselves for the worst. We share email addresses, medication compliance tips, and tales of sleepless nights. Together. In our darkest hours, on our scariest days, during our longest nights, these monthly gatherings, these support group sessions remind us that we are never alone.

Recently, I've had coffee and tea dates with friends facing their own challenges - with children, with spouses, with ex-spouses, and also celebrating their new joys - with new friends and lovers, jobs they enjoy, new homes being built and renovated, and upcoming trips. Today I had lunch with a new friend, another mother who is on a similarly heart-breaking parenting journey with her beloved children.  I laugh and cry with my friends. We tell stories. We share tips and suggestions. We sit in silence. We journal. We share food, wine, water, and long, fast paced walks. Together. Even when I'm sitting in my study, writing and editing these blog posts, I know that I am not alone. What a gift friendship is. Companionship. Tenderness. Compassion. Love. Co-traveling along life's journey. Never alone.

The moment in Greek class that I like best is the last one. Not because I want to leave and go home - remember, I'm a geek and I love Greek. But rather because of the benediction that Professor Carson Brisson prays over us each week. He wrote it years ago (I know because I Googled "Carson Brisson benediction" and discovered that it has been quoted many times.) and apparently he prays a version of it at the end of every class he teaches. I have videotaped it twice, taken notes on it twice, and edited it three times in a computer document. I love this prayer. It is a reminder, another fantastic reminder, that we are not alone. Never alone. He prays it. We hear it. We live it out. Together.

May joy and nothing less find you on the way.
May you be blessed, oh may you be a blessing.
And may light, Love’s own crucified risen light
guide you and uncounted others
(I cannot make an ultimate judgment;
I am not in charge of that number.
God’s in charge of that number, thanks be to God)
you and me and uncounted others out of every darkness,
some of which are absolutely beyond imagining,
heartbreaking darknesses that kill us and 
we have to be resurrected,
out of every darkness and then the darkness itself,
all the way home.
I speak of home with trepidation, I admit that, 
perhaps some of you would speak of home with trepidation too.
But I will speak of home.
I tell you, this is what I believe about home:
those most home,
you can see them, you can find them,
those most home, relentlessly,
those most home, most seek the very least home.

Dr Carson Brisson, June 4, 2016.

Benediction after Greek class.

May we seek those least home, those who feel least loved.
May we reassure them, each other, and ourselves, that we are never alone.
Never ever alone.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sighs too deep for words...

It was a year ago tonight that it happened.
Wednesday night prayer meeting.
It wasn't his first time in attendance, but it was his last.
And theirs as well.
They studied the Bible together. They prayed. They sang.
Then that young man pulled out his gun and shot down nine people.
In church.

When I think of the way they welcomed him into their midst,
when I imagine their shock as he opened fire on them,
when I ponder the grief of those who survived,
I shudder with sighs too deep for words.

Less than a week ago, another mass shooting.
Fifty died. More than fifty wounded.
Some have said that it wasn't his first time at that club in Orlando.
But it was his last - and theirs as well.
They danced. They sang. They laughed.
And then that young man pulled out his gun and shot so many.

When I hear the stories of the men and women who had gathered there that night to have fun,
to enjoy themselves and each other,
when I ponder the grief of those who survived,
the sorrow of those who mourn,
the relief for those who escaped,
the terror and horror for those trapped inside,
screaming for help, texting their loved ones,
I shudder with sighs too deep for words.

Last night I attended a prayer vigil for those in mourning in Orlando.
Hundreds of us gathered to sing, pray, to light candles, ring bells, and remember.
Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Bahai, non-religious - together.
Longing for peace. Clinging to hope.
Crying. Pleading. Sighing. Groaning.

This morning, the We Walk Together crew walked from the Islamic Center of Charlotte (seen in the photo above) to a Middle Eastern bakery. These walks are planned months in advance - and we all marveled at the beauty and timeliness of starting out at the gathering place of our Muslim neighbors today. One of the men there came out to where we were gathering in the parking lot and explained the holy month of Ramadan to us in simple terms. He talked about how true Muslims do not embrace violence or kill others. He read to us from the Quran and encouraged us to come back when there were more learned people around who could answer our questions. What a kind and gentle man he was. 

He too sighed with deep sorrow as he talked about those who have misread, misunderstood, and misused the name of their Prophet to advance their own evil agendas.

All of this sorrow, all of these tears, all this broken-heartedness, and
all of this prayer remind me of one of my favorite passages of Scripture.
Romans 8:26 says - The Spirit helps us in our weakness.
(and boy oh boy do I feel weak at times like this)
We do not know what we ought to pray for,
(most of the time I don't know what I ought to pray for)
but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans 
(so much groaning going on these days - thankfully, we are not alone in our sorrow)
that words cannot express. 

Words fail. Words fall short.
Sometimes the best word is no word at all.
Sometimes all that is needed are those sighs too deep for words.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Thankful Thursday - One Good Thing

Earlier this week, I rediscovered this blog.
And found this archive of her newsletters.
And just now, I read her eloquent reminder to be grateful for one good thing every day.
I had the honor of meeting this gifted writer and photographer back in 2008 in San Francisco, when I joined her and a group of adventurous and creative bloggers as we toured China Town, cameras in hand.

I am tired.
I am ready for a break from studying Greek and cleaning my house.
I am ready for a break from driving all over town and making appointments.
I am ready for a break from serious conversations and high-achievement oriented meetings.
I need to laugh more.
I need to sleep more.
I need to rest my weary brain a whole lot more.

But still, but still - all of my problems are far outweighed by the blessings in my life. The goodness. The beauty. The love. The companionship. The generosity and hospitality and compassion of so many people. And I am profoundly grateful.

The thing I am most grateful for, the one good thing that I give thanks for tonight is -
the library.

Seriously? Do we really get to read books, do research, and watch videos for free?

Plus I can sit there and study, journal, and browse the shelves for hours.
I can go there to vote.
I can drop in to use the ladies' room when I am out for my neighborhood walks.
And all those things that I said I'm tired of - I can take a break from all of them at the library.
I don't plan to sleep more or laugh more while I'm there, but one never knows...

What's one good thing that you are grateful for?

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Thankful Thursday - "Don't Miss It"

When storms blow through,
when thunder rolls and lightning flashes
it's easy to miss the beauty of the clouds,
it's easy to overlook the reprieve from the heat and humidity.

When storms blow through my family,
my faith, my home, and my heart,
it's easy to miss the beauty of quiet evenings,
it's easy to overlook the gift of a shared meal eaten in peace.

A dear friend brought dinner for us tonight, and we spent a few minutes talking before she headed home to her own family. She is the one who gave me this phrase - "Don't miss it."

After the storm we have weathered over the past three months, I find myself walking through my life with my shoulders tensed and raised, with my ears piqued to hear every step and movement in the house, with my heart rate increasing every time my mind forms the question, "What if..."
What if it happens again?
What if things don't get better?

She listened to me describe how my heart ached.
She didn't turn away when I cried.
She welcomed my lament along with my joy.
She asked if I could hear what she heard.
She asked if I could see what she saw in my story.
She said, "Don't miss it. Don't miss the beauty in the midst of the pain."
To her admonition, I add my own: "Don't miss it. Give thanks."

Tonight I am thankful for -

The laughter we share over silly things
The morning walks
The evening drives
Finding all but one thing we needed at Target and CVS on sale today

The games we play - dominoes and Canasta
The adult coloring pages we have filled
The trip to the Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Holding hands while tears flow
Salt scrubs on our tired hands
Coconut oil on our dry skin
Sun hats and sunscreen

Ceiling fans on hot days
Ice water
Insulated thermoses that keep ice water cold

Watermelon and blueberries and pineapple
Greek yogurt
Cheese from Spain

Watching Golden State Warriors games as a family
Watching Serena Williams win matches at the French Open
Law and Order marathons on lazy days

The chipmunk that eats the bird seed out of the dish on our deck
The hawk that keeps showing up while I'm out walking the dog
Rainy afternoons

Newly paved roads
Freshly cut grass
Magnolias in bloom - that scent

Four or five weeks ago, I went out for a walk/jog. As I ran up the last hill, huffing and puffing, I passed an African-American woman who was pushing a child in a stroller. I assumed she was African-American because of the color of her skin. I hadn't seen her in the neighborhood before, so as I jogged past, I waved at her. About fifteen steps later, I stopped, pulled my earphones off my ears, and walked back to her. I introduced myself - she is not African-American. She is Jamaican - it has been far too long since I have heard that songlike accent.

Since the day we met, she and I have gone for walks together. Texted. Laughed. Told stories. Sadly, I wished her farewell two nights ago - turns out she was here in Charlotte as a live-in nanny for only four months - and her time here ended yesterday. We both wished that we had met when she arrived in February. What a beautiful, strong, funny, generous, kind, hospitable, courageous woman. I will miss her.

It was easy to jog past her and wave that day. I was listening to my favorite "end of exercise" song. I was in my exercise groove. But something told me, weeks before my friend articulated it so succinctly this evening, "Don't miss it, Gail. Don't miss this chance to meet someone new in your neighborhood."

Tonight I am thankful for the words of encouragement we give and receive from friends and family and even strangers (like the cashier at Trader Joe's today)
The set of Bible verses on the tiny easel that I received in the mail today (Perfect, SC!)
Having a friend of my son mention the very Bible verse my daughter and I were talking about earlier today (Romans 8:18 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.)

I am thankful for the wonder, the miracle,
the afflictions and fragility of life
How short it is
How long it is
How joyful it is
How sorrowful it is
How pleasurable
How painful

How blistering
How demanding
How delightful
How beautiful

Don't miss it.

Thank you, M, for that reminder and challenge.
Thank you for the gift of your friendship.
Thanks be to God.