Happy Birthday Robert!

I first met Robert last fall at the park.  My family and I go up on Sunday
evenings to a “family picnic” in the park for folks in need.  We take sweet tea
and the fixin’s for hot chocolate (and yes in this kind of heat, we are still
serving hot chocolate!) and our friend brings coffee and ice water.  I don’t
remember how Robert and I started up our conversation that first time but it
soon moved to books…..we’re both fans of John Grisham.  I had just read his
book for teens, “Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer.”  It was a great book.  Robert had
not read or heard of it.  I sent him a copy the following week.  And I didn’t
see Robert again for a while.

I found out from the organizer Donna that
Robert was in jail.  Wrong place, wrong time.  She encouraged me to write him.
This was new for me, a bit out of my comfort zone.  But I felt like it was
something I was being called to do.  So I did.  A rather awkward how are you,
don’t know if you remember me kind of note that first time.  Thank goodness we
had the books to talk about.  We soon were writing regularly though, and I’d
send jokes or funny or inspirational stories I’d print out and put in with my
letters.  When spring approached, I wrote him that I was asked to bring sweet
tea for the first time and how nervous I was making it in five gallon batches.
I was at the hospital with my Daddy when the call came from Donna’s cell phone.
It was Robert, “I’m out.  It’s over.  They dropped the charges. I’ll see you
Sunday and I’m going to try that tea!”  It was a joyful moment.

That
first Sunday we shared a hug and some books.  He drank the tea and declared it
delicious.  When one of the younger guys made a sarcastic comment about
it, Robert told me to ignore him and then “straightened” him out with a tongue
lashing.  Robert told everyone how good it was and that I had made it.  I didn’t
deserve the praise (I’ll admit the recipe needed some tweaking), but it made me
smile that Robert was back and so happy to be there.

Last Sunday we had
quite a crowd.  The good people bringing the meal brought sandwiches and pasta
salad and desserts.  Folks had seconds and some even had thirds, which was a
blessing considering the heat and the size of the crowd.  They shared some for
people to take “home” with them.  Robert, who is not a small guy by any
means–he’s a big teddy bear actually–was given a few sandwiches and a big
plate of pasta salad to take with him.  Robert doesn’t have a permanent address
but I believe he was headed to a friend’s place to get out of the heat for a
while.  As we were breaking things down and preparing to leave, a man walked
up.  He had just heard about the picnic and had hoped we’d still be serving.
Unfortunately we weren’t, as all the food had been distributed.  We were able to
pour him two “glasses” of icy sweet tea out of the bottom of the cooler.  Robert
walked off and I stopped for a moment to watch.  Out of the corner of my eye, I
saw him take his plate of pasta salad over to the newcomer.  Then he pulled
sandwiches out of his bag as well and handed them over.  He didn’t do this for
anyone to see or take notice.  He saw someone whose need he understood firsthand
and he shared what he had.   This was not the first time he has done this.  As I
stood there, I remembered when we served breakfast on July 4th and passed out
sack lunches.  We had had enough to give out extras then as well.  Robert had
given his extras to someone who came up late that day too.   How blessed I am to
call this man my friend!

Today is his birthday.  His brother is driving
over from a neighboring town to take him back for a celebration.  Robert’s
sister, whose birthday was earlier this month, is joining them from out of
town.  His daughter is coming to be with her Daddy and to surprise her aunt.
His son can’t be there as he is serving our country overseas right now, but he
will be remembered and celebrated, as will Robert’s son who drowned and his
daughter who died of sickle cell years ago.  He was so happy and so excited
thinking about it.  He planned to do laundry while visiting his friend Sunday
evening in preparation for the big day.  It is even possible that his wife of 32
years, whom he has known and loved since 9th grade will be there too.  I hope he
has a wonderful and joyful day full of laughter and celebrating and healing.  He
deserves it.

I don’t know why Robert is going from place to place,
basically living on the streets or any vacant place he can find.  I don’t know
why he and his wife aren’t living together.  I don’t know why he spent so long
in prison waiting to be told the charges were dropped.  I don’t know what path
led this intelligent and compassionate man to be where he is.  And it’s not my
business or my place to question, but I do know this.  We are more alike than we
are different.  He is a good man and I’m blessed to have him as my friend.  And
I also know that I can’t wait to hear all about his birthday when I see him on
Sunday.  Happy Birthday Robert! May God bless you and your family!

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Need To Be Known

tomato pie

A friend and I were discussing earlier last week how we all want to be needed.
Don’t we all really want to feel like we are making a difference somehow,
somewhere in the world, or at least in our own small corner? It’s an amazing
feeling when someone needs you and you are able to help.

My friend and
I were texting last night, after 9 pm, discussing that our young ones had not
eaten supper yet.   Our neighborhood walk and playing in the sprinklers had
delayed the evening meal in our home.  (I LOVE Summer!)  I was reheating, and
she was cooking.  She then sent me a picture of part of her supper.  A
beautiful, delectable, mouth-watering tomato pie.  Oh my.  Suddenly my bowl of
cereal with fresh, juicy blueberries wasn’t looking as wonderful as I had
thought it would be.  (I really had been looking forward to this–we’re talking
fresh blueberries after all!)

“You’re mean, like that Taylor Swift song.
That looks yummy!” I texted.

“But you don’t even like tomatoes.” She
wrote back.

I stopped.  What? How does she know?  I was overwhelmed with
a warm feeling (we call them warm fuzzies at our house).  It enveloped me, and I
was filled with gratitude for this friend who KNEW something quirky about me.

“Well I do if they’re cooked, and I’m trying to enjoy them on sandwiches
if there’s mayonnaise.”

“I’ll bring you some to try.”

And she
did just that.  Today I reheated the yummy goodness that was the tang of
tomatoes and the gooeyness of cheese–ultimate summer comfort food.  DELICIOUS!
(I think I licked the foil–it was just that good!)  Such a gift.  But truly
(and don’t tell her because I love having leftovers shared with me) the greater
gift was the gift of being known.  This girl, my friend, not only listened to
me, but she heard me.  She is learning me one conversation at a time, just as
I am with her.  Why she remembered my quirkiness about tomatoes, I don’t know,
but I am so thankful she did.  In that one text message, I heard, “You matter to
me.  I know you.”

Too often in a conversation I listen without really
hearing. Too often in the clutter and busyness of the days, I pass
by folks–folks who have a story to share.  I listen to someone telling me about
their trip or a book they read or why they don’t wear polka dots on rainy days,
and I don’t engage in the conversation.  My mind is wandering to what I might
say next or my grocery list or whether the dishwasher has been unloaded, and I
miss the opportunity to learn about the precious person in front of me.

Next time the opportunity presents itself I hope I will take the time to
listen and to hear, because this is one of the greatest gifts to give–a gift
that says “you matter so much to me I want to hear you and get to know the
awesome creature that is YOU!”  It’s guaranteed to create warm fuzzies.

In the meantime, I’m off to see if I can find some tomatoes.  I’m a work
in progress after all. Just might try them fresh.  If not, I know a friend who
has an awesome tomato pie recipe!

Remembering Numbers

I was calling my folks last night. Before I thought about it I had dialed the
number. I looked back to double check that I had even typed it in correctly. I
had. It made me think about the fact that my “home” number has been the same
since I was two when my parents moved back to the area my Daddy had grown up in.
We moved when I was nine to where my folks live now. The telephone serviceman
asked if they wanted to keep the same number. Why not? And so for forty years of
my life, that number has been a constant.

I thought about that. This number that I can type faster than I can think it is
the one I learned in school. The one when asked by the school secretary–double
checking before calling home when I wasn’t feeling well, how can I get your
Mama–that I slowly, digit by digit, called out to her. The one I filled out on
school forms, on job applications, on college applications, and now on emergency
contact spaces on various forms.

I know it’s a little thing. My fifteen year old has memorized more “home” phone numbers than I
can count, and I don’t think she thinks anything about it. But lately my six
year old has started proudly spouting off the seven numbers that will “phone
home” for her. It got me to thinking about the seven digits I first learned well
when I was around her age. The numbers I immediately dial when I have a funny
story to share or when I have a cooking question or a “my car is making this
sound” question or a “what do you think I should do?” The numbers I
instinctively dial when I’m hurting or sad. Those numbers have never
changed.

Oh I know it’s not about the numbers.
It’s really about the folks who answer when I do punch in those numbers. And I
think that’s what my fifteen year old gets. It’s not about whether the number
changes–it’s that the folks who pick up don’t. They always answer and they
always listen and they always love us…..no matter
what.

And that’s where we’re blessed.

Learning from Rodney

My friend Rodney works at Publix. This is how I know him. He worked at the one that closed across town and now makes his daily trek to the new one, where he greets folks with a “Hey, ma’am!” and bags groceries. His sweet gentle nature is a great mix with his boisterous welcomes and infectious laugh.
Last week I went in to shop for Mama and Daddy. I picked up a few things for my family as well (it is rare that I spend more for Mama than I do for myself–comes with feeding a family of five, I guess). As I was checking out, I explained to Mr. Tom that I had two separate orders. Rodney was bagging up the groceries and asked, “Who you shopping for?”
“My Mama and Daddy.” “She can’t come?” he asked. “No, my Daddy’s sick and she can’t leave him.” Rodney thought about this and paused for a second. “What’s wrong with him?” “Cancer,” I said. “Cancer. He’s in the bed a lot now.”
“Oh,” he said, still bagging. “I’m so sorry. I’ll say a prayer for him.” I was about to thank him when the most amazing thing happened. Rodney started praying right then. “Dear God, please heal her Daddy and make him well. And help her Mama. Amen.” Tearfully, I grabbed Rodney in a hug and thanked him. What a powerful prayer from a man who saw a need and didn’t wait to reach out and try to meet it.
I have been reading a book called “Praying for Strangers.” Each day the author, River Jordan, would approach a stranger and tell them she was going to pray for them and ask them what they needed prayers for. The book is compelling, but I haven’t done anything with it myself. Yet.
In that moment with Rodney, I felt covered in prayer, but something else. I felt that I was supposed to stop (all of our groceries were bagged–my littles were waiting on the bench patiently, but I was unsure how much longer that would last) and take a moment with Rodney. I was sure of this.
“Rodney, thank you for that beautiful prayer. Is there something I can pray for for you?”
He grinned his “aw shucks” grin and said, “No. No. Not really.”
I could tell he was holding back.
“Yes there is Rodney. What is it?” I asked gently.
He sighed. “My family. Please pray for my family.”
I felt prompted to ask, “Anything in particular?”
“For my mom. For my family.” He paused again. “My Daddy passed last night.”

I began crying. I hugged him again. “Oh Rodney, I will. I will pray for you and your family. I am so so sorry.”
He fiddled with the bag holder. “Yeah. It happened last night and my mom just called me this morning. I am sad. That’s the only Daddy I’ll ever have, you know?”

Yes. Yes, Rodney, I do know.
What a beautiful soul this man has! Sweet, sweet spirit. Whose faith is probably so much stronger than mine. This kind man who had just lost his father, and yet took the time to pray right then and there for the father of someone he only knows by sight, occasionally, and at his job. He stepped out of his own grief to reach out and walk with me through mine for a moment.
Rodney is interruptible. I’ve seen him stop pushing carts to speak to someone and welcome them. I’ve watched him talk to customers as he bags the groceries (he’s just that good). But in those moments, the world around us faded and he did what came very naturally for him. He stopped. He reached out. Even in his own pain.
I have a lot to learn from Rodney. May God bless him and his family!

Ordinary into Extraordinary

barbie beach

About a year ago, one of my favorite authors, Karen Spears Zacharias
blogged about Barbie Beach in Turin, GA. They were celebrating March Madness at the time,
complete with Barbie cheerleaders. I was fascinated, and thought to myself how
much I’d like to go and see it for myself. I realized it was somewhere on 16
past our turnoff to my aunt’s house, but I wasn’t sure how far. So I put that
wish in my back pocket I guess.

Fast forward to the first Saturday in this past May. Princess T, our six year old, had a soccer
game at 9. Daddy took her to that game here in town. My sister, who had come down from Atlanta
with her son and stayed over Friday night, took the Moose (our four year old)
with her over to Mama’s for the morning. So that
left me and A’belle (our 15 year old) to head up to Newnan for her last soccer game of the season.

There are several ways to go, and believe me, I processed over and over the
merits of each one. Finally, a need to stop by our favorite coffeehouse (for more than
just coffee but that’s another story) dictated that we go by interstate part of
the way. I decided to take the route that we take when going to my aunt’s house.
We continued down the road quite a ways (35 miles on 16 before you do
anything!). As we were nearing that mark, I saw a sign, “Slow Royal Wedding in Progress.” I
smiled to myself. How nice! Someone is having a wedding, out there in
their beautiful wooded yard. A beautiful day for it….. Almost before I
could finish that thought, I saw a sandy area, complete with many, many Barbies out of the corner of my eye. A’belle and I both hollered at the same time, “It’s Barbie Beach!” I was
beside myself. I kept looking at the clock trying to figure if I could turn
around and visit at this point. But we were going to be only a couple of
minutes early as it was (yes, EARLY, people!), so the decision was made without
discussion that we were going to come back the way we had come (scratching my
earlier idea of taking the back roads home). It was a beautiful day for
soccer. The girls played hard, and we were done. Time to head back! We
stopped at a Chick-Fil-A about five or so minutes from the Ball Park and picked
up some lunch, and we were on our way.

Soon enough I saw the sign announcing I had found the wedding once again. A car in
front of us had just pulled in. Unfortunately they did NOT follow the signs to
park correctly, but just barely pulled into the driveway. (Isn’t it annoying
when wedding guests don’t follow protocol?) I pulled over and tried to get
out, but the traffic was daunting. We waited until they finally left, and then
tried to back up, but that was to no avail–I was sitting on the edge of a
ditch. I was so excited I could hardly stand it, but I took the time to drive
down the road a quarter of a mile and turn around. I pulled in, parked (in the
clearly marked place), took a deep breath, and A’belle and I headed over to this wedding scene
completely set up with Barbie and friends. How
much fun is that? All kinds of wedding guests! The lovely bride and groom in their carriage. All kinds of loyal followers watching as they drove by. Fortunately we were okay in our
non-formal attire. (Well my good gracious, there were even some “nekkid”
attendees, but I didn’t photograph them…..for the sake of the young’uns, you
know.) We saw Shrek there, and a Gnome, and Batman as
well. There was even a blimp; what wedding is complete without a blimp? And
then there were the relatives that you just wish you hadn’t invited (the ones
laying in the sand!). 🙂 We even got pictures of the signs by the road that
served as our “invitation.” A’belle was good-natured and posed, holding up the
corner of the sign that had come a’loose. But when I suggested she wave at the folks
passing by, she rolled her eyes and said something I won’t repeat and walked
away quickly.

Lastly we ambled back to our vehicle (which was properly parked–now next
to a cable service man who was paying his respects) where our post-wedding meal
was waiting, catered by one of the finest restaurants in the south (our previously purchased
chicken delicacy and sweet tea). 🙂 We made our way back home singing along to great music and flying high on the wings of our unexpected, delightful adventure. I just know it wouldn’t have
been as much fun had we planned to go!

This brought back memories of another Barbie wedding many moons ago. The
bride’s and bridesmaids’ and flower girls’ (the original Strawberry Shortcake
dolls) dresses were all crocheted. Dear Aunt had made the tux I
believe. Annie’s Song by John Denver was played on the
cassette tape player, and my younger cousin served as the minister. Granted I’m
pulling all this out of some aged files of gray matter, so I might not have it
right. I do remember a wienie roast reception followed, and it was so much fun!
I recall a beautiful day that had been long anticipated and was one of the
best childhood memories I have.

Today I am celebrating mothers who are creative and make fun and warm
memories out of ordinary things like Barbies and hot dogs. And I am
celebrating folks who make an ordinary spot (where the utility company cut down
their rose bushes–seriously, you can google Barbie Beach Turin, GA) into a
place and a moment to celebrate, laugh, and turn the ordinary into the
extraordinary. And I’m celebrating that I have a really cool daughter who
would play along and make a ride up the road so much fun!

Learning from Rodney

My friend Rodney works at Publix. This is how I know him. He worked at the one that closed across town and now makes his daily trek to the new one, where he greets folks with a “Hey, ma’am!” and bags groceries. His sweet gentle nature is a great mix with his boisterous welcomes and infectious laugh.
Last week I went in to shop for Mama and Daddy. I picked up a few things for my family as well (it is rare that I spend more for Mama than I do for myself–comes with feeding a family of five, I guess). As I was checking out, I explained to Mr. Tom that I had two separate orders. Rodney was bagging up the groceries and asked, “Who you shopping for?”
“My Mama and Daddy.” “She can’t come?” he asked. “No, my Daddy’s sick and she can’t leave him.” Rodney thought about this and paused for a second. “What’s wrong with him?” “Cancer,” I said. “Cancer. He’s in the bed a lot now.”
“Oh,” he said, still bagging. “I’m so sorry. I’ll say a prayer for him.” I was about to thank him when the most amazing thing happened. Rodney started praying right then. “Dear God, please heal her Daddy and make him well. And help her Mama. Amen.” Tearfully, I grabbed Rodney in a hug and thanked him. What a powerful prayer from a man who saw a need and didn’t wait to reach out and try to meet it.
I have been reading a book called “Praying for Strangers.” Each day the author, River Jordan, would approach a stranger and tell them she was going to pray for them and ask them what they needed prayers for. The book is compelling, but I haven’t done anything with it myself. Yet.
In that moment with Rodney, I felt covered in prayer, but something else. I felt that I was supposed to stop (all of our groceries were bagged–my littles were waiting on the bench patiently, but I was unsure how much longer that would last) and take a moment with Rodney. I was sure of this.
“Rodney, thank you for that beautiful prayer. Is there something I can pray for for you?”
He grinned his “aw shucks” grin and said, “No. No. Not really.”
I could tell he was holding back.
“Yes there is Rodney. What is it?” I asked gently.
He sighed. “My family. Please pray for my family.”
I felt prompted to ask, “Anything in particular?”
“For my mom. For my family.” He paused again. “My Daddy passed last night.”I began crying. I hugged him again. “Oh Rodney, I will. I will pray for you and your family. I am so so sorry.”
He fiddled with the bag holder. “Yeah. It happened last night and my mom just called me this morning. I am sad. That’s the only Daddy I’ll ever have, you know?”Yes. Yes, Rodney, I do know.
What a beautiful soul this man has! Sweet, sweet spirit. Whose faith is probably so much stronger than mine. This kind man who had just lost his father, and yet took the time to pray right then and there for the father of someone he only knows by sight, occasionally, and at his job. He stepped out of his own grief to reach out and walk with me through mine for a moment.
Rodney is interruptible. I’ve seen him stop pushing carts to speak to someone and welcome them. I’ve watched him talk to customers as he bags the groceries (he’s just that good). But in those moments, the world around us faded and he did what came very naturally for him. He stopped. He reached out. Even in his own pain.
I have a lot to learn from Rodney. May God bless him and his family!