Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Joining with all nature in manifold witness

One of my favorite hymns is "Great is Thy Faithfulness." 

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with thee
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not
as Thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.

Chorus - Great is thy faithfulness
Great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed, thy hand hast provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.

Summer and winter and spring time and harvest
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside

[Here's a longer, more gospel styled version of this great hymn -
that is actually a medley of several songs of praise and gratefulness.
And he is accompanied by a few thousand people who could and would surely
provide many examples of the faithfulness of God.
Here is another version if you want to listen to a shorter version than the other two.]

Sure, old fashioned words and phrases and titles of God appear in its lyrics 
- words like thee and thy and thou in it - 
but the meaning of those words and phrases, the acknowledgement of the goodness of God, 
the faithfulness of God, and the reminder to pay attention, to take note, 
and to join with all nature in manifold witness to God's great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Our silly little dog is a great example of faith and faithfulness.
She's twelve years old - and she's showing signs of her age.
Limping. Ear infections. Hearing impairment. Bladder challenges.
But she is unrelenting in her love for us -
actually, for my husband;
the rest of us, she tolerates when he's not around.
On her short strolls, as she sleeps peacefully through much of every day,
she demonstrates the utmost faith in our faithfulness and our provision.
She never worries about where her next meal will come from.
She never worries about the mortgage or the bills,
kanswer or heart disease.
She eats, sleeps, walks, and lives in this present moment
every single moment.
May my faith someday be as vast and as deep as hers.
(There she is, on the other side of our driveway, next to our neighbor's house -
can you even see her?)

At the foot of our driveway lives a magnolia tree.
Recently I have taken notice of its magnificent magnolia blossoms.
Their fragrance unforgettable.
I've never picked any of the magnolia blooms.
They are too big, too fragile, too perfect for me to tear from their perch.
I stare at them. I sniff at them. I practically bow down to them.
And, of course, I thank God for them.

As I made my way home from someplace the other day, 
I came upon this terrific turtle crossing the road.
Certain that I didn't want any cars to run over it,
uncertain about how I would keep that from happening,
I managed to flag this woman around my new turtle friend.
She pulled over, got out of her car, and bravely picked it up,
moving it to a safe and shady spot off the road.

I wish I could have spoken to it - 
Where are you going, little one?
What adventure was calling you across this road?
The woman who picked you up was convinced
that you would meet greater challenges on the road ahead.
I'm sorry she didn't put you on the side of the road that you were heading for.
What do we know about turtle thinking?
Absolutely nothing.
Thank you for being a sign and symbol of the provision and protection
of the earth and of nature itself for its own.
Clearly you lived well before meeting up with us - the ignorant do-gooders.
I hope we didn't divert you too seriously from your appointed rounds. 
I hope you are safe and happy and well wherever you are today.

As I look back on the past few weeks and months and years, 
I am reminded over and over of the great faithfulness of God.
Recovering from kanswer
- it has already been four years since my surgery.
This November will be five years since my diagnosis - FIVE YEARS!!!
My daughter is a college graduate.
My son is a successful college student.
My niece has released her first album and is making waves and headlines with it.
New babies will be born. New families will be formed.

Beyond the borders and boundaries of those I know, love, and hold dear,
there is the manifold witness of so many folks whose lives and work,
whose passions and activism are manifold witness to
the justice, the righteousness, the wholeness, the healing that 
God wants for all people,
not just the folks who look and live like them,
not just the folks who were born here and live "legally,"
not just the folks who agree with them politically.
There is work to be done towards reconciliation and peace
for all people everywhere, starting right here in our broken and beautiful city.
And they are doing the work.
What a witness to faithfulness, hope, and the future.

Remaining alert, being attentive, staying 'woke
in a world, in a nation that so desperately wants
the most active and passionate and determined among us
to go back to sleep,
to slip into a consumerism-induced coma,
this kind of commitment takes a toll.
Wears us out, breaks us down, trips us up.

We need strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.
We gain that, we regain that in community,
on the yoga mat,
listening to music,
dancing when nobody is looking,
filling journal pages,
reading poetry,
talking to, laughing with, and creating art with soul sisters,
eating good food,
slipping between clean sheets with dreams already swirling,
playing with puppies,
holding newborns,
planning getaways and "do nothing days,"
flipping through Bella Grace magazine,
sharing dreams about what church could look like if we dared to
abandon some of the old ways of doing things,
drinking tea, coffee, Fresca, and watermelon mojitos,
falling to our knees in prayer,
giving thanks for the many blessings that we have already received,
and taking note of the ten thousand beside.

Great is God's faithfulness.
Morning by morning.
Day by day.
Hour by hour.
Even in the darkest hours.
Perhaps most especially then.
Thanks be to God.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thankful Thursday

It has been too long since I've written a Thankful Thursday post.
Not because I haven't had anything to be thankful for.
Not because I've forgotten to give thanks for the goodness of life.
In any case, I'm back now.

Tonight, I am thankful for:

* the upcoming opportunity to be involved with a retreat at Montreat this coming August.
Never heard of Montreat? Check this out. I've never been there before, but I have heard fantastic things about the center and the programs it hosts. We shall soon see.

I am honored to be involved in leading the conference book discussion for Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans' fantastic book about her experience both inside and outside of the church. I look forward to talking about and walking through this book with the attendees of the conference. I also look forward to meeting Rachel and hearing her speak.

In addition, I will be leading a workshop on journaling as a spiritual discipline. I love, love, love to journal - gratitude journaling, travel journaling, art journaling, making journals, buying journals, decorating journals, taking sermon notes in my journals, reading old journals... One could easily argue that, for me, journaling is a bit of an obsession. Being invited to share that obsession with others, encouraging them to pour out their hearts and minds on paper (or at the keyboard) is one of the things in my life that gives me great joy.

* our son had a fantastic first year at Wingate University. He was chosen as the MVP on the tennis team and was chosen as the best "freshman" male athlete of the year. His grades aren't out yet, but he thinks he will have a 4.0 average. It is a thrill for me to watch him mature into a young man that I would be proud to have as a friend.

* this absolutely fantastic recipe for Mediterranean Farro Salad, given to me yesterday by my dear friend, Heather. I love grain salads - quinoa salad, farro salad, salads with rice in them. Yum yum. I made this one for dinner tonight - but I tweaked it in all kinds of ways. I omitted the red onion. I added toasted almonds and pine nuts, goat cheese (instead of feta), dried cranberries, a chopped fresh red pepper, and used balsamic vinegar instead of red wine vinegar. (I very rarely follow recipes exactly as written, unless I am baking cookies or cakes...) So good!

* Last week, I attended the Define American Film Festival on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Gantt Center for African-American Arts and Culture here in Charlotte. Wowza - what a great event. Films and panel discussions. Swag bags and all the Kind Bars we could eat. (I love Kind Bars and that company was one of the sponsors, so they were giving the bars away by the handful. Literally! And if you know anything about me, you know I'm frugal/cheap - and I love freebies.)

How do you define "American"? Does that word refer solely to people who were born and raised in the United States? Or are all the people who were born and who live in any country between Canada and Argentina "Americans"? What about people who were brought here as children? People who arrived here seeking safety and refuge from abuse and danger in the countries where they were born? Are legal documents necessary in order to be American? When you hear the word "American," if you were asked to picture "an American" in your mind's eye, what would that person look like? When you see someone who appears to be of Asian descent, or someone who appears to be of Central or South American descent, do you assume they are not American? Do you wonder about their "immigration status"? These and other similarly challenging questions and concerns were the focus of the film festival.

My daughter and I saw "Dolores,"
"Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America"
"Am I too African to be American or too American to be African?"
And by herself, my daughter saw "Residente."
I had already seen "White People" and "Meet the Patels," so I didn't watch them again last weekend.
The panel discussions following each film were recorded and are available for view.

My ears and eyes were opened to stories and circumstances I had never thought about before.
One of the directors said it well: "Citizenship is another layer of privilege."
I know more than a handful of people from Central and South America who are here in the US without documentation. I have heard many stories of nervousness and fear about deportation. But I know far more "real Americans" who rely on the hard work and dedication of those same undocumented residents to keep their homes and places of work clean, to cook and clean dishes and tables at restaurants where they like to eat, to build our new homes, to put roofs on our houses, to mow our lawns, to run the stores we like to shop in, and to take care of their children. And every single one of us, documented and undocumented, native born and foreign born, each and every one of us peers into our refrigerators, our pantries, our bread baskets, and our fruit bowls at the products that are planted, tended, and harvested by those that many politicians and law enforcement officers and far too many unreasonably intolerant citizens of this country think should be deported back to their counties of origin. What would we eat if we sent them away? "Real Americans" aren't interested in or willing to bend over in hot fields and orchards in the relentless heat for eight and ten hour shifts. Nor are "real Americans" interested in allowing these brave new arrivals to bring their true skills to their new country. Imagine the competition if foreign-born business people, lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, chefs, scientists, researchers, writers, and politicians were able to work in their chosen fields of expertise here in the US - many of us would rather not face that kind of competition.

I am enormously grateful for the stories I heard, the tears we all shed, the hugs exchanged, the questions asked and answered, the hope that was raised, and the relationships that were deepened at DAFF. What a gift to our city and our country. So many stories already told, so many yet to be told.

* Speaking of farro salad and under-appreciated farm workers,
I am grateful tonight for strawberries and romaine lettuce,
for grain and flour and bread,
for milk and cheese, for kale and cucumbers.
I am grateful for turkey burgers and potato rolls,
for barbecue sauce and homemade vinaigrettes.
I am grateful for clementines and pineapples, for mangos and lemons.
I am grateful for the electricity that keeps powers the refrigerator,
dishwasher, stove, and microwave oven.
I am grateful for dish detergent and cutting boards, knife sharpeners and silicone spatulas.
I am grateful for almonds, pine nuts, dark chocolate, and hard apple cider.
I am grateful for fried fish, hush puppies, cole slaw, and tarter sauce.
I am grateful for farro, quinoa, brown rice, and veggie bouillon cubes.
I am grateful for mojitos, lemon drop martinis, and red wine.
I am grateful for ceiling fans and air conditioning.
I am grateful for gas stations and bus stops, for traffic lights and exit signs.
I am grateful for friends, for companions, for travel mates.
I am grateful for airplanes, airports, and passports.
I am grateful for chances to teach and to preach.
I am grateful for puppies, photos of puppies, and older dogs too.
I am grateful for invitations to Kentucky Derby parties, to dinners, and to discussion groups.
I am grateful for my pillows and my slippers and my bed.
So much to give thanks for.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Just another mindless Monday

Well, not exactly mindless. Perhaps forgetful...

I joined my We Walk Together pals this morning for The Liberty Walk here in Charlotte. Following signs and plaques related to the role Charlotte played in the Revolutionary War. I confess that I didn't pay full and complete attention to the history lessons because I was caught up in conversations about freedom, liberty, independence, and people who don't feel free in our city and our world. The poor. The immigrant community. Gay and queer people who don't feel free to fully live out their hopes and dreams. Women whose words and lives are demeaned and diminished. Nothing mindless about that, I suppose. Quite mindful and stimulating, if I am to be completely honest.

Then I drove to a nearby greenway to meet a friend and go for a walk. Unfortunately, she forgot. Not exactly due to mindlessness, though. She and her family had the good fortune to be able to spend an extra night outside of Charlotte, enjoying Mother's Day weekend. Based on the city where she spent the extra night, I have reason to believe that she ate some delicious food, drank some strong and tasty drinks, and enjoyed herself tremendously. No worries, dear one; we can reschedule.

From there, I went to the mall. I've got a Belk gift card that has been burning a hole in my wallet for the last three or four months. I perused the sales racks, looked at dresses and tops and jeans and sheets and towels and shoes and socks and purses and luggage and work out equipment and came to the conclusion that there isn't a single, solitary thing I need, even if it is on sale. I settled on a set of small rubber spatulas for use in the kitchen. I put my cell phone down on the waist high shelf across from the cash register. I put my backpack on top of it. I pulled out my wallet. Pulled out my gift card. Ran it through the machine. Put the gift card back in my wallet. Put my wallet back into my backpack. Accepted the bag with the spatulas in it. Turned and walked away. Twenty minutes later, when I was sitting at a traffic light just a few blocks from home, I reached into the pocket of my backpack to add something to the grocery list on my cell phone... where is my cell phone??? WHERE IS MY CELL PHONE!?!?!?

That's where the mindlessness/mindfulness kicked in.

I remembered stepping up to that counter and putting my phone down.
I remembered thinking: "Don't put your phone there, Gail. Put it in your bag."
I remembered ignoring my intuition.

I pulled into a nearby church parking lot to do a more thorough search of my backpack -
even though I already knew that my phone wasn't there.
Shaking my head at my mindlessness.

Then I thought, "Let me call the number and see if I hear my phone ringing.
Maybe it fell down between the seats in the car."
Well, you can't call your cell phone if you don't have a phone.
And you can't call your cell phone from your cell phone.

My next thought was, "Let me call Belk to see if they found my phone."
Well, you can't call the store where you left your phone because you don't have your phone.

The next thought was, "Let me call my daughter to let her know I'm heading back to the mall to get my cell phone."
Well, you can't call your daughter if you don't have a phone.

Finally, my mindless thoughts began to subside.
I decided to drive the rest of the way home, call the store from the house
(thank God we still have a land line!)
and decide on my next move from there.

I was not looking forward to the conversation in which I informed my husband that I needed a new cell phone because I left mine at the housewares counter at Belk while buying rubber spatulas that were on the clearance table - less than six months after getting this iPhone. Nope - we don't have insurance on my phone. Cuz I'm the mindful grown up who keeps track of my stuff. I don't drop my phone. I don't leave my phone in random places. Until I do...

When I arrived at home, I told my daughter the tale of my mindlessness,
and then I called the store - thankfully, mercifully, Theodora,
the woman who had helped me there, had found my phone.
So my daughter and I left and drove back to the mall.
Picked up my phone.
And I have checked for it every few minutes since then.
Just making sure...
I don't need any more mindless phoneheadedness today.

Today's incident revealed how attached I am to my cell phone.
How much I take its presence and usefulness for granted.
How often my first response to many of life's various situations
is to pull out my cell phone and text somebody or call somebody
or add something to a list
or take a photo of something.
It felt beyond strange to not have it for more than an hour.

Did you catch that last phrase - "for more than an hour"!?!?!?!?!?
I think it's time for a day or two of being unplugged from this dastardly, addictive thing.
I've got an all day meeting tomorrow; perhaps I will leave it at home.
Or in the bottom of my bag, on silent, and not check it all day.
Yes, that's what I'm gonna do. Not check my phone all day.
(Is such a thing even possible? What if my kids need me?
What if my husband tries to reach me?
What if??? What if??? What if???
Hello! My name is Gail, and I think I'm addicted to my phone.)

I am grateful that Theodora found my phone and kept it safe for me.
I am grateful that I back it up to my computer regularly.
I am grateful that I don't use it to pay bills or buy anything,
so it is far less likely that someone else can buy things with it.
I am grateful that I even have a cell phone.
I am grateful that if we had needed to replace it, we could have done so.
Just another mindless Monday.
Still shaking my head at my absentmindedness.
And bowing my head in gratitude that I got both my phone and my mind back.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Grab a cup of something hot and set a spell...

Two women I have known for more than ten years, Kelley and Tinesha, own a hair salon, teach yoga, lead personal development gatherings, write books, and also do weekly podcasts on getting and being well. Appropriately, it is called The Get Well Podcast.

My amazing, courageous, fierce, intelligent, marvelous daughter allowed me to accompany her in the recording of one of their podcasts last week. We got to tell our story, and now you get to hear it. It's just under an hour long, so grab a cup of something hot or sweet or strong (or all three!) and set a spell.


And then, I beg you, begin to think about your story,
your family's story,
how you've overcome,
who walked with you on your path,
and tell your story.
Others will listen.
And they will tell you theirs as well.
Our stories are gifts we give ourselves and each other.

This podcast is a gift Kristiana and I have given to each other
and now to you.
I do hope you enjoy it.