Hey, This Alarm is Beeping!

pic of stats screen

During the weeks of the HospitalStay my sister and I became number watchers.  We obsessed over heartrate and blood pressure and Mama’s temperature.  For some reason, somebody decided that the Metric system would be a good thing to use, so her temp always registered on the Celsius scale.  I finally looked up and found a converter app for my phone and, from then on, I would announce what her temp was on the Fahrenheit scale.  On a regular basis.

It got to the point that Dr. C, who was filling in for Mama’s surgeon, replied, when I asked what number he was looking for on the respiratory screen to indicate improvement, “I’m not going to tell you.  Because then you’ll be looking for that number all the time.  And there are other things to factor in.”  Yeah, it seems he had MY number.  He was right.  There were times I thought if I stared at the numbers hard enough, I could bring her blood pressure up or down, or that I could will her temperature to return to normal 1/10 of a point at a time.

And then there was the beeping.  Oh, that infernal beeping.  After a couple of days we learned the difference between the “hey, the medicine has almost run out over here” and the “heart rate is excessively high” or “O2 levels are dropping.”  For sanity’s sake, this was good knowledge to have.

We had really good nurses and techs for the most part, and they were so kind.  The respiratory therapists were great as well, and they were willing to share and answer questions.  I appreciate them so much.  But as is usually the case, there’s one in every bunch.  I particularly remember a late afternoon in the STINKU (sorry, STICU) when Mama’s O2 levels were dropping, the alarm was sounding, and I could actually hear sounds that were distressing.  I went to her door and stood, hoping someone would hear the beeping if I opened the door.  When that didn’t happen, I started staring people down.  Finally the two RT’s who were having a pleasant conversation with someone behind the desk looked up.  “Did you need something?”

(Hold up.  Okay.  Doesn’t that just make you mad?  Not “do you need something?” or “can I help you?” but DID–it just feels so condescending…..and unfortunately this is not the only time I was asked if I did need something.  Maybe it was in the delivery.  Okay, rant over.  Thank you.)

Yes, yes I did and I still DO need something.  I pointed out the incessant beeping, the numbers dropping, and the sound.  “Oh well she probably just needs suctioning.”  And yes, that helped tremendously.  But how long would Mama have gone without relief if I hadn’t been there to stare someone in?  So frustrating, especially since we were only allowed to be with her a few hours a day.

Another time during our stay with the CVICU, the IV alarm started going off.  The meds were low.  No one came in for a few minutes, and then our favorite nurse walked in. “Y’all I am so sorry.  I was in with my other patient with an emergency.  I apologize, I know this sound has got to be making you crazy.”  She went on to say that working there, you pretty much get used to the beeps.

I guess you do, as I heard them whenever I closed my eyes for days after we left the hospital for the last time.

I was thinking the other day about those beeps, those alarms.  I think we all get used to them.  Oh not that incessant chiming of the whirring machinery in the Intensive Care Units or Emergency Rooms.  But the beeps, the alerts that we should be hearing from one another.  Sometimes I think we get so busy, too busy, that we don’t take time to hear what others are saying.  Or feeling.  Oh sure, we ask folks how they are doing, and we usually get the obligatory “fine, and you?” but we don’t often go beyond that.

I just finished reading The Invisible Girls: A Memoir by Sarah Thebarge.  (Yes, you should read it, thank you for asking.)  A really good book.  And actually quite an impressive one, considering my lack of focus.  I haven’t been able to “sit through” a whole book in several months.

Until now.  In her memoir, Ms. Thebarge meets a Somalian family in a chance encounter and realizes that these girls and their mother seem to be invisible to all around.  Just as she herself felt invisible at times.

How often do we go about our days, focused on the to-do list or the activities du jour and fail to make eye contact, to hear what those around us are really saying?  How many “alarms” have we not responded to?  And how often is someone suffering quietly because we are not listening?  Or seeing?  I am sad when I realize that I am guilty of this.  All too often I don’t make time, take time–I am not interruptible enough in my comings and goings.

I had a conversation with someone the other day about what it all boils down to.  Relationships.  We want to matter to someone.  We want someone to care when our alarms are beeping, be it ever so quiet.  We want to be known and treasured.  Not much to ask, huh?

Here’s link to a shorter version than what I shared before of Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministry sharing what that kind of relationship looks like:


There are folks all around us whose alarms are quietly beeping, who are in need of attention or some love or just someone to sit with them where they are.  They are looking for a friend.

Tonight I am thankful for people like Sarah Thebarge and Hugh Hollowell who see and who are friends of those who could really use one.  I give thanks for the ones who have heard my alarm going off and who have sat with me.  What a beautiful message we can give to one another, “You are not invisible or silent.  You matter.  I hear you.  I see you.”  Let us make it so.

pic of i see you

Love Ya, Dear

She was regal and elegant and loved the Dukes of Hazzard.

She was regal and elegant and loved the Dukes of Hazzard.

It was three years ago this morning that I got a call from Mama.  “She’s gone,” was all she could choke out before she broke into sobs.

Mama would call my great Aunt Eloise, lovingly called “Aunt Wease,” every morning and every evening to check on her.  Mama traveled the hour and fifteen minute trip down to see her and stock her pill caddy with all her medicines at least once a week.  When Daddy went to Emory for those many weeks, and when Mama couldn’t leave him, my crew and I went down.  I am not happy about the reason, but I am thankful for those visits.

That morning Mama had tried to call and had not gotten an answer.  She had to drive Daddy to an appointment up in Macon for his MRI, so she waited and tried again when she got to their office.  When she still didn’t get an answer, she called Aunt Wease’s sweet neighbor, who basically had to break in and found her.  Bless her, she had passed on in her sleep.  Peacefully.  We were heartbroken.  And thankful.  She was at the point of having to make some hard decisions about moving out of a home she knew better than the back of her hand.

I told Mama I would pick Daddy up so she could make the long and lonely drive down.  I picked him up and spent the day with him at their house.  A day that was very long for Mama.  Making calls.  Planning.  Answering questions.  Making decisions one is not equipped to make in that state.  A regimen I now know all too well.  Bless her.

She asked me that evening if I wanted to speak at the service.  At first I said no.  But as I thought about it, I could not let her only be remembered by the pastor who had maybe met her once.   So I sat at the keyboard and poured out my memories and my heart.  I gave the eulogy that first Saturday in May looking out at my Daddy who was fighting his own battle with death, and my Mama, sitting holding the hand of my baby girl.  My Mama lost the woman who was a mother to her, and we had lost our grandmother.

It was after this service that Daddy teased me and asked me if I would give his eulogy.  I said yes, praying it would be a long, long time.  It was a way too soon eighteen months later.  

She was a wonderful contradiction of pearls, never wear white before Easter or after Labor Day, color coordinated everything, ending a phone call or visit with “love ya dear,” and loving those Duke Boys or taking us fishing.  What follows is what I shared that day about a beautiful woman who loved me as a granddaughter and helped shape who I am becoming–

May 1, 2010

Eloise Holder McQueen was many things before I came to know her—a daughter, a sister, a friend, a hard worker, and a wife. When I came to know her, she was just Aunt Wease, and yet she was so much more. From her jelly jar glasses to her love of easy listening music and the Dukes of Hazzard, she was a fascinating woman. She made me feel special—she never failed to make me feel beautiful, from when I was little, playing dressup in her clothes, until the last time I saw her. She taught me about beauty—“The sooner you wear makeup, the sooner you’ll need it.”

In the true essence of “it’s all better at Grandma’s” I can still taste the PET milk she
had—the best in the world, nothing like what Mama had. She made me feel grownup. She took me to her ladies’ meeting and she let me drink coffee (which was mostly the aforementioned PET milk!). She shared her wisdom—“If you hold your nose when you go under water, you’ll make your nose pointy.” She was a wonderful cook (or so I thought)—I thought it was a true sign of class to put almonds in casseroles like Aunt Wease always did. She was a classy and beautiful lady. When she loved you, she loved you fiercely and she loved you too much to let you slide. Recently during a visit, she pointed to my younger daughter and said, “She has beautiful hair.” I murmured a thank you, to have her promptly say, “It would be really beautiful if you’d run a brush through it.” (She was right!)

I also recently learned that she was not the cook that I remembered—she told me stories, laughing, about how she really didn’t like to cook. She had a great sense of humor. Over the years, Uncle Ray encouraged me to tease her constantly, asking her when she was going to get her hair fixed, though she had just been to the beauty shop the day before. This is something she and I have continued over the years. We still shared a love of Tweety Bird that Uncle Ray started years ago. Mostly she gave me the gift of time—we played Go Fish, she took me for ice cream, she took me fishing, we talked, and we laughed.

I have been blessed to know many strong women in my life—my Granny, my friends, my aunts, my sisters, and my Mama. Just as much a blessing are the strong men who love them and encourage them to be strong. Aunt Wease was just such a spunky woman, blessed by just such a man, Uncle Ray. They were best friends, travel companions, and so very, very dear to me. My favorite memory of them, and there are many, is when my friends showed up to go to our high school graduation together, and they told me there was a couple stopped on the side of the road about a mile from our house, putting signs on their car. It was Aunt Wease and Uncle Ray—putting on “Tara is Tops” and other such made up stuff to celebrate with me. Such silly fun.

God blessed me with Aunt Wease, and Aunt Wease gave me three great gifts—
She loved me fiercely.
She adored and loved on my children and not only allowed, but encouraged them to do things I was never allowed to do in her beautiful home!
She raised my Mama with love and kindness to be a strong woman too. Her legacy lives on through us today. Love fiercely, travel with laughter, give great hugs, be strong, and always say goodbye with “Love ya, dear!”

Aunt Wease and my Mama.....love ya dears!

Aunt Wease and my Mama…..love ya dears!

Mimosa Memories

pic of mimosa tree

We had three mimosa trees in our front yard at Mama and Daddy’s.  The two on either end were somewhat smaller than the middle tree, and for whatever reason, the middle one is the only one we would climb.  I LOVED that tree.  It was my escape, my hideaway, my “house.”  There were two limbs that were sturdy and ran parallel all the way up as high as our roof.  I would use them as stairs and hand rail and climb up to the spot where the top branch formed a cradle with three branches–perfect for laying in and reading or dreaming or cloud watching.  It was this “room” that was the room of Scarlet Royal Winters, my alter ego, I guess, and the room was “decorated” in red, gold, and white (get it?).  I devoured many books up in that tree.

Mimosas are such interesting trees–they have these beautiful pink blossoms that look like they belong on dancers in movies from the 40’s and 50’s.  (I’m reminded in this moment of the costumes from the shows in “White Christmas.”  Ahhh…..beautiful.)  The blossoms hang on until they turn a brownish color (or are picked and put in one’s hair), and then they drop.  These trees also drop seed pods.  Sometimes the seeds take and little ones grow.  I can remember mowing over more than one seedling in my days pushing the mower.

We each of us three girls had her own spot in the tree, but mine was the best I was sure.  My brother, nine years my junior, was too young to climb, but he had his own interaction with the tree.  He had been playing outside, and somehow Mama figured out he had eaten some of the seed pods.  (Or maybe just the seeds?)  She did her research, which in the days before Google and the internet, was probably calling her doctor or poison control.  Yep, her source told her they were toxic and she should administer ipecac syrup as soon as she could.  Which she did.  Only this special medicine, designed to make the recipient throw up whatever they had ingested, did not work.  Mama was concerned.  As she tried to figure out what to do next, my little brother, a toddler at the time, climbed on his Sit and Spin–does anyone else remember these?–and went to town on it.  As he turned the steering wheel and spun around and around, he got very dizzy, and well, the Sit and Spin did what the ipecac had not.  No more seed pods (or anything else) left in him.  From then on, we were all in charge of watching him and making sure he didn’t so much as look at the mimosa tree seeds.

There’s another thing about mimosas.  Probably my favorite thing. (I’m whispering this to you.)  They go to sleep at night.  It’s almost magical.  Isn’t that amazing?  No kidding, when the tree’s “brain” detects that the sun is going down, the leaves fold into themselves, showing the underside which appears rather silvery or gray.  And then, when the sun begins to rise, they open their faces to the new day once again.  Absolutely fascinating.

I’ve thought a lot about those trees today.  The two side ones got a tree disease and had to be taken down and eventually my old Friend did as well.  Today some silver maples are in their places.  It’s just not the same, although the mistletoe hanging from one is really cool looking.  (Yes, I know it’s bad for the tree.  Yes, I will do something about it.  But still, it’s cool.)  I miss those days huddled in my coat on the leafless branches and the days where I’d watch the patterns on my legs of the sun shining through the leaves.  One of the most exhilarating memories I have from my childhood is sitting up in my “cradle” as a storm approached and the wind picked up.  All of my senses were heightened, and I held on and “rode” the storm.  (No, my Mama didn’t know, and I did come down when the rain started falling.)

Tonight I am thankful for my little brother and all family lore, but especially the story of The Mimosa Seeds and The Sit and Spin.  I can’t wait to share it with his three little guys.

I was thinking about my old Friend, when I remembered this post by the Dream Center, a non-profit organization in LA that seeks to help individuals and families by fighting trafficking, hunger, homelessness, in addition to promoting adult education and helping families stay together.  A great group of folks, and what an amazing thought:

pic of fb message

I am thankful for whoever planted the mimosas there, because I was the one who got to enjoy them.  Thank you.  Makes me think an awful lot about what seeds I have planted today.

And tonight, in the midst of having a tired body and a weary spirit, I am thankful for the lesson that we are given in nature.  When the sun goes down, wrap yourself up and rest.  The time to rise will come again in morning.  And when we are rested, we can plant seeds that will bring joy to someone else tomorrow or the next day or next year…..and in the present, the gift of a rested spirit is we can smile and share light with those around us.  And so the seeds scatter…..and on and on.

A Walk, A Wave, and Whimsy

While I had the sewing machine out yesterday, working on my little cowboy’s handkerchiefs, I decided to try a quick project I saw on Pinterest. The pinner said she had a long-sleeved shirt that was too snug, so she split it down the front and center and made it into a lightweight spring/summer jacket. It looked really cute, and as she advertised it as no-sew, I thought I’d give it a try.  After all, I’ve been cutting with scissors since first grade, right?

I had a moss green shirt that was roomy and fairly cute that I got when shopping with the crew and a couple of friends at Goodwill a couple of weeks ago.  I decided to give it a try. Yesterday I pulled it out and decided to add some non-matchy ribbon for a bit of whimsy. (I just love that word–thank you Mr. Bob Goff!) It was a quick job and I was pleased with the result. Just right for throwing on when the breeze picks up or our Georgia spring decides to go into hiding once again.

As it was last night…..after several days of being housebound with my sick littles, I decided to go for an after supper walk. As I stepped out on the porch, I realized my “new” jacket would be just the right thing.

My whimsical jacket

My whimsical jacket

Success!  A Pinterest project I had completed and could use.

The weather was gorgeous, the walk was calming, and my mind wandered.  I was really pleased with the jacket, the weight was just right.  “And I like the length of these sleeves,” I thought.  “This is just the right length for Mama.  And this color–she would have loved this color.”  It was then that it hit me, Mama would have loved this jacket, and I would have given it to her.  Oh if only I could…..

The last three years, Mama was not able to shop as she once was able to.  Between staying with Daddy and taking care of my great Aunt and our cousin, she was very busy, and she left Daddy by himself or with someone else only for the most necessary of things.  I tried to help out by getting groceries some and keeping my eye out for a shirt or a pair of pants or the like that she was in need of.  She made a comment last year that she hadn’t been shopping for more than just a few groceries in a couple of years.

So it was that we talked her into a trip to the “GW Boutique.”  She was like a kid in a candy store.  It took something she was never fond of–clothes shopping for herself–and paired it with a passion of hers–getting a bargain.  She came away with some things she really loved.  She was abundantly joyful.  When she was with us at Christmas, she was tickled with the gifts we had upcycled for her and for each other from GW.  “You’ve done so well,” she said, almost in awe.  That was high praise indeed.  A treasured memory.

I’ve been told that there will be moments that the grief hits like a tidal wave.  Well, having lived it more than once, yes, I know that is true.  But knowing that something can happen does not fully prepare you for the actual happening.  I think the first time this reality hit was when I had to go to Target to get something for one of the littles.  It was one of my first ventures out after she died.   As I walked in I found myself in that mode of shopping with that extra eye–the eye of looking for something Mama could use or wear.  And it hit me…..I would have to de-program myself.

The next tidal wave hit when I went for my yearly appointment.  Ahem.  Never any fun, and as you do, I had to update my information.  And there, midway down the page, the words that made my hand freeze and my mind lock up for a good two minutes: “Emergency Contact.”  My Mama has been my emergency contact for as long as I could fill out that line on a form myself.  In school, in college, in grad school, at work, every doctor I’ve ever been to…..even when we moved to Japan, for they had to have information about where we would evacuate to, should the need arise.  I no longer had an emergency contact.  The sense of loss and being lost was overwhelming.

There has been one other time when the grief snuck up on me.  Aub had had her senior pictures done, and we were figuring out what shots to order.  As I sat down to place the order on our photographer’s website, once again I froze.   My mind had automatically gone to the “family count” of folks who get pictures…..and Mama and Daddy were always first on the list.  Truth?  I shut down the computer and haven’t placed the order yet.  (My apologies to our photographer–we do love you!  It’s not you, it’s me…..)

I guess you could say I handled this wave of grief on my walk a little better?  At least my feet kept moving.  I finished my walk watching the sun set behind the trees.  I tugged the jacket close and wondered how many more times over the years this loss of Mama, of Daddy, of so many others–how many more times will I be caught off guard?

Tonight I am thankful for my Mama, who taught me how to be thrifty and to love walks in the evenings.  I am thankful for my family and friends who are with me, who laugh and listen to my stories and are patient through my “situational” (I hope) attention and focus disorder.  I am happy to have tackled a Pinterest project and come out with a completed, usable project.  Most of all, I am thankful for my Mama who was full of whimsy and encouraged us to live a life full of whimsy ourselves.  Yeah, I think she would have loved that mismatched ribbon…..it’s just for fun after all.

A Bandana for His Pocket

This guy right here.  Love.  Him.

This guy right here. Love. Him.

We’ve been home all week, with only the trip to the Medstop for a diagnosis of strep and by the pharmacy for the stuff to make us better.  Today I encouraged the littles to go outside and burn off some energy, as they are both a little stir crazy now that they’ve reached that point of feeling some better but still running a little fever.  This is what my little guy decked himself out in this morning.  Today it has been all about cowboys and that hat my folks gave him.  And those boots.  I swanee, they are a mess.  Yes, that’s a hole almost worn through you see there.  But he loves them.

So we got into a conversation about bandanas yesterday.  Last night he found one and asked to have it tied around his head ninja style.  He was quite the sight, darting around “like a ninja.” Seriously, were there steroids in that antibiotic?  This morning he switched up styles and went cowboy on me.

“Mama, Cap carried a bandana didn’t he?” he asked, thinking about my Daddy.

“Yes, buddy he did.  All the time.”

“Well I want to carry one too.”  So then he tried to fold and cram that big bandana you see around his neck into his pocket.  Yeah, that didn’t go so well.  He got frustrated.

“This one is just too big to fit in my pocket, Mama.”

“Well maybe I can do something about it, bud.”

So I went to pull out the sewing machine that didn’t make an appearance last week for Prom Night, and I found a “fat quarter” with cars on it.  I figured if I cut it in fourths it would be about the right size for him to fold and put in his pocket.

As I cut and ironed, I thought about Daddy’s bandanas.  He got a new set every year for Christmas from my great Aunt Hattie.  It was a great gift because he did use them every day.  Except for that brief time in the late 70’s when he wore it around his head Willie Nelson style, he carried one in his back pocket. Every morning as he got dressed in his standard short-sleeved button down shirt and jeans, he tucked a clean bandana–usually red but sometimes blue–into his pocket.  He used it for everything from little one’s noses to cleaning little hands when they were playing outside.  It was a part of who he was.

When we were gathered with family and friends at the house before his graveside service, my sister came out from Mama and Daddy’s bedroom with a small stack of them.  “Here,” she said, “you might need this.”  One of my cousins took one in her hand and smiled through her tears.  “He always carried one.  Thank you.”  Yes, it was something of a trademark of his.  The bandana in the back pocket and a pocket knife, a pocket watch, and a little magnifier in his front pocket.

So it tickles me to see my little guy who adored Daddy take such an interest in carrying one.  Will I make you a special one bud?  You bet I will.  The car fabric was appropriate, as that was his thing with Daddy.  They both loved cars.  Daddy had nicknamed him Cooter, after the mechanic from the Dukes of Hazzard.  They went from playing with Matchbox cars on the floor before Daddy got sick to Cooter driving them around the hospital bed rails where Daddy was in the living room.  They had the same conversation every time.  “Cap, is this a FAST car?”  And based on engine power, make and model, the speed would be assessed.  Each time, I would ask, “Daddy is that bothering you?”  He always answered no, as my little fella drove that car around and around the bed.

When Cooter was old enough to talk, he would always stop at the Matchbox display in whatever store we were in (did you know that the GROCERY stores sell these things?), and ask to get this one or that one for Cap.  Well, since you’re going to share…..yeah, not always, but I’d usually give in.  We were at the grocery store last week and he stood looking at the cars.  He sighed, “If Cap were still alive I’d get this one for him.”  Ummm, well, yes, it came home with us.  How could it not?

After the ironing and stitching I presented him with the final product.

The fourth one is already in his pocket.

The fourth one is already in his pocket.

His little eyes lit up, and he grabbed one and put it in his pocket.

“Mama, can I use it to wipe my nose?”
“You sure can.”

“You know what, if someone hears me sneeze and they say, ‘Oh do you want a tissue?’ I will pull this out of my pocket and say, ‘No, I’ve got my bandana.'”  Oh that smile.  What else you want baby?

Tonight I’m thankful for a little boy who has turned my world upside down.  Thanks to him I find Star Wars action figures and cars in my purse or sweater pocket on a regular basis.  My sister had the forethought to have some of Daddy’s old bandanas stitched up as woobies (something you hold to bring comfort), and I give thanks for her gift and my woobie.   I’m thankful for my day being interruptible so I could go down memory lane and help a little guy honor his grandfather he loves so much.  And most of all, I am thankful for the example my Daddy set of what a true gentleman is like, and that my little guy is remembering those things.  Now I’m off to hide the pocketknife of Daddy’s he’ll get one day.  So not ready for that!

The One in Which I share that I’m Not Happy

pic of i'm not happy

Okay folks. I’m not happy. In fact, I’m pretty much mad. (Warning–It’s been another napless day.  I’m likely to offend someone.  You have been warned.)

In the past few weeks, I have had conversations with friends and family that have broken my heart. It seems that people who have all read the same book are using quotes from it to make the people I love feel vulnerable, uncertain, afraid, upset, judged, and hurt. ENOUGH.

It is especially ironic and very sad that this book is supposed to be the epitome of GOOD. In fact, it is often called The Good Book.

It seems that some people who are well-versed, and some who maybe aren’t, are using verses from the Good Book to let others know the path they are on is doomed. Or that the questions they are asking will lead to a fate worse than death. Or what they believe or think is WRONG WRONG WRONG.

What are we doing? Why are we using the words from this Book to hurt others? That’s not going to make them want to read it more. Or to follow the One who wrote it at all. It’s just my opinion, but it seems that some folks are quoting chapter and verse to prove whatever point they want to make and forgetting about two important ones.

First there’s the one that tells how to love others.  Pretty much He said to love others as He loved us.  And since His love is referred to as perfect love, I’m thinking we (myself included) are falling short.  (John 13:34)

Then there’s the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The Shepherd has 100 sheep, but when he counts to be sure, he comes up with 99. He doesn’t say, “Oh well, it’s okay, no one else will count them, so we’ll be short a little yarn this year, it’s all good.” No. He loads up and goes after that ONE. One is enough for Him to love and to go after. There is no story we cannot bring Home with us.  And when He finds the sheep, the Shepherd brings it home and parties. Abundant joy, people, that’s good stuff. (Matthew 18:12-14 and Luke 15:3-7)

Here’s the thing.  I’m not trying to evangelize here.  Probably just the opposite.  I love this quote from Saint Francis of Assissi:

pic saint francis quote

Or there’s the old saying I used to hear the old folks around saying: “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

I’m not trying to make light of people and what they believe.   I respect your right to believe what you believe.  But I am begging you, please do NOT, no matter how well intended, share what you believe in such a manner that you are negating all others and what they might think.  Let’s face it, life and all that is in it, is pretty much a mystery.  I  joke about looking forward to an Everything You Always Wanted To Know 101 class when I leave this earth.  But for now, I just have to accept that some things are not going to make sense.  Not easy, but I can’t honestly say I have all the answers.  Or that I get everything I read.

I have a friend who was going through a really hard time.  He happened to be homeless at the time.  I met up with him one day, and it was obvious he was intoxicated.  I think he expected a lecture, but whatever, this isn’t my first rodeo with an alcoholic and I figured out a long time ago, a lecture was not going to make it better.  So we visited about other things.  After a quiet moment he asked, “So are you one of them…..Christians?”  I was actually speechless, because I could hear the defensiveness and anger in his voice.  He was ready to disregard how much I cared about him because if I were a Christian, I would HAVE to care about him and it wouldn’t be about his worth as a person.  Maybe he thought then it would be about trying to save him.  I sat for a minute and then I replied, “Well I really like Jesus…..and I try to do what He said…..”  All of the hot air went out of my friend, and we have built from that moment a precious relationship.  I don’t walk in his shoes, so I can’t judge his disease.  But I can love him through it.  That’s about all I can do, but he says it’s enough.

I am tired of hearing about people being hurt by people who are supposed to know better.  We don’t know what others are going through.  When someone talks about how wrong divorce is, and about the tragedy of broken families, he or she should consider that there might have been abuse, and maybe that child is really, truly, and finally WHOLE.  Using verses from the Good Book to condemn the way someone is living is risky business, and if the Parable of the Lost Sheep (told twice) is to be believed, and IF that person is in trouble, from what I’m reading, the Shepherd’s going after that one.  All is not lost. And ultimately I’m not the judge of their right or wrong anyway. When someone hears a friend talking about how fragile their faith is in that moment, he or she is not helping the friend by saying it’s wrong to question, and that the only thing you need to know is Jesus died for our sins.  We have no idea what life events brought that person to the point of asking questions.  I can share from personal experience that when life’s turmoils have taken over, and I’ve asked questions and gnashed teeth, I came out on the other side with a faith that is stronger–even though I still don’t have all the answers.

Tonight I am thankful for the folks who have walked alongside me on my spiritual journey, no matter if we believed the same or not.  I give thanks for my Mama and Daddy who loved people from all walks of life and empowered us to do the same.  For my daughter who is strong in her beliefs and challenges me to figure out where I stand, I give special thanks.  I’m thankful for phone calls from friends asking great questions and the sharing that follows.  And I’m especially grateful for a question from someone who was drunk, the question that made me think about who I am and why I do what I do.  Yeah, I’m still trying to figure all that out.

Nice Normal Family


I saw this posted somewhere in the fall of 2011, and I sent it out in an e-mail to different family members.  It cracks me up and suits us very well.  As far as me and my people are concerned, “normal” is a setting on the dryer and nothing more.

It was just a few weeks after I sent this out that I found myself seated in the parlor of the funeral home with my Mama, my sister, and my Aunt.  We were there to arrange for Daddy’s service.  It was to be a simple, graveside service at the old country church where Daddy had spent many hours taking care of the grounds in recent years, where some of the plots read like our family tree.  If he couldn’t be buried in the back pasture at home, it was where he wanted to be.

We took the seats offered and waited while Miss M had to go take a call in her office.  We were somewhat relieved.  We could take a moment to breathe and gather our thoughts.  Everything was happening so quickly.  We looked at each other, and someone whispered, “Now y’all remember, as far as anyone is concerned…..” and we all joined in with a stage whisper, “we are a nice NORMAL family.”  And we couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

Which is when Miss M returned from her office.  Ah yes, that would be about right.  But she was full of grace and didn’t blink an eye.  I am sure she’s seen all kinds of emotions in that very same room.  She was very good, guiding Mama through the decisions efficiently and kindly.  In the middle of Mama asking us what we thought about one detail or another, Sandy, who needed to use the facilities, piped up and said, “Excuse me, do you know where your bathroom is?”  Oh my.  We were done for then.  And yes, we still remind her of that story.  Often.

That whole “being” a nice normal family thing stuck with us over the next sixteen months.  Through dealing with situations we never had before, we had to remind ourselves how “proper” folk behave and try to act accordingly.  It was especially helpful during the HospitalStay with Mama.  Sandy and I were together during so much of it, and we had to realize that not everyone could appreciate our humor in dealing with the “situation.”  Some laughed, some became our friends during the stay, but others…..well, I saw this the other day and can’t quit laughing.  Yeah, that’s how we looked I am sure.  (I just wanted to say, “Come on people laugh, loosen up.  We’re funny people, right?”)

Poor eels.  I'm laughing guys.  I get it, I really do.

Poor eels. I’m laughing guys. I get it, I really do.

Yeah, I’m sure we looked that way a lot.  We were cutting up and all you could hear was crickets. 

What is normal?  Who decides what normal is?  So much stress in life is over that word.  Normal.  We want to fit in, we want folks to laugh at our jokes, to admire our outfits, to praise our opinions.  But the truth of the matter is normal is only in the eye of the beholder. Each one of us deals with things as best as he or she can. If we start worrying about what the “normal” thing to do would be, we’ll really stress ourselves out. In fact, I think “normal” changes as we do. What would have been normal for my family two years ago is far from it today.

Tonight I’m thankful for a family who is not so normal but full of good folks who will love you through the hard stuff, celebrate the good stuff, and listen to all the stories in between. I’m thankful for memories of inappropriate laughter and for understanding funeral home directors. I’m really thankful for those eels tonight, because they make me laugh. And normal or not, laughter is good for you, I don’t care who you are.



CatBit and Clover

Beautiful fields of clover all over.....

Beautiful fields of clover all over…..

This time of year in middle Georgia, there are these beautiful fields of clover interspersed with the tiny purple flowers that will eventually take over.  I think the clover is precious, as it is only in season for a short while, and it reminds me each year of the story of the CatBite.

I was probably six years old because I remember Mama still toting my baby sister around.  We had a cat, I’m thinking it was Josie.  We couldn’t have her as an indoor cat because we found out my middle sister was allergic.  Bless her, I think Mama and Daddy originally got the cat to cheer her up because she was sick so much when she was little.

I liked to go out on our little back porch and play with the cat.  And with chameleons too, but that’s another story.  I can remember Mama warning me not to bother Josie while she was eating.  Ahem.  Well technically, what I did was not BOTHERING her, I was only trying to help.  The cat food was so pretty, in those little star shapes.  So I put one on my finger and held it out to her.  She took the piece in her mouth and ate it.  Cool.  I tried again.  I’m not sure how many times I did this before Josie took bad aim or I moved my finger at the wrong time.  This is when the CatBite happened.  I don’t blame Josie.  I only wish Mama hadn’t blamed me.  I was hurt, and I was in trouble.  Not a good combination.  And to top it all off, after Mama called our pediatrician, I was hurt, in trouble, and on the way to get a tetanus shot as a precaution.  (I think it was a tetanus shot…..if that doesn’t make sense, let’s say it does and move on, deal?)

Because our pediatrician then was in Macon, Mama loaded me and my two sisters in the Little Blue Car, and we drove through town to the interstate.  Just as we started onto the entrance ramp to I-75, the car broke down, and Mama had to carefully pull over to the almost non-existent shoulder.  I am not sure what exactly was wrong, but it wouldn’t go.  Not an inch.  I am sure Mama had to take some very deep breaths.  Not an ideal place to break down.  At all.  The only plus is that Daddy worked on the other side of the overpass at the USDA station.  This, my friends, was in the day way before cell phones or bag phones and just after the dinosaurs.  The funny thing is, I don’t remember how it was resolved.  The picture in my mind’s eye is of the car sitting on that hill.  And the clover.  As I stood next to the car, the clover at my feet and far beyond was so breathtakingly beautiful.  And when you look at it up close, it’s amazing how all those tiny little parts go together to make up this field of scarlet.  A work of Art.

I am sure that the car was fixed and we were on our way, because that’s how Mama rolled.  She got things done.  But the two things that stick out from the memory of all of this is the sight of that pretty cat food star on my finger and the beauty of the scarlet against the vibrant green of spring.

There’s really nothing to learn from this story tonight. Except maybe don’t feed a cat on your finger…..and even if you tell your young’uns don’t do it, you might want to double check to see how that’s going.

But wait, there is this.  I’m thankful that when I look back at the TRAUMA of being CatBit and of the Little Blue Car leaving us stranded,  I do not recall a moment of fear or worry.  What I do remember is the joy of being with Josie, and the happiness and comfort that the vision of clover brought me then.  It still does each year about this time.  It takes me back.  For that I am truly thankful.

Honk Less. Seek More.

This afternoon I stood outside visiting with another volunteer and friend at the Daybreak Shelter during the family style picnic we go to each week.   One of our friends came up and started a conversation.

“See that grass?” he asked, pointing at the newly laid sod.  I nodded.  “Yeah, if they had put fertilizer on it right before that big rain the other day, it would be taking off about now.  But they didn’t.  And look at it.”

I thought for a second.  “You mean some 10-10-10?” I asked.

He continued.  “Yeah, that’s right.  That sure would have helped.  See if they put that on there, it would really grow.”

I kicked my shoe on the sidewalk, trying to figure out how to phrase what I wanted to say.  I tried to speak gently.  “I’m afraid you’re telling the wrong person about this.  Is there someone you could tell that could make it happen?”

He laughed.  “No.  No one will listen. Besides it’s too late.  The rain is over.  It’s just going to take a long time now.”  He continued to bemoan the fate of the new grass.

How many times do we do this?  Tell everyone but the one we should about our problems or issues or concerns.  Everyone but THE one who could do something.

I did not want to write this tonight.  But it has been all my mind ever since.


Because I am guilty.


I don’t fault others or myself for talking things through with someone.  Not at all.  It is important to have a good sounding board, someone who will listen and make suggestions on how you could best handle a situation.  But in the end?  The only way to resolve it and to make things happen is to address it with the other person or people who COULD make a change.  (You getting all this, Tara?  Um yeah, I’m writing it down.)

I remember talking a situation over with Daddy a few years ago.  Numerous times.  The same old thing.  And, after several conversations, his response was pretty much, “Why are you telling me all this?  I can’t do anything about it.”  Finally I got his point.  He couldn’t.  But I could.

Daddy was right.  Too often we do just what my friend was doing. We hem and haw about something that is going on, but when it comes down to it, we do not ACT.  How many times do we complain about a work situation with everyone but the person in charge?  How often do we put our concerns aside, thinking it is too late or our voice won’t matter? How many times do we feel our heart breaking over the plight of a group of people, but tell ourselves no one will listen?

Listen.  I know.  I am guilty of this, but I also know I have to stop.  The grass is greener on the other side because someone saw a need and didn’t just talk about it; they acted.  If we are going to change the world, our communities, our neighborhoods, our homes, our RELATIONSHIPS–if we are going to stand for justice and the well-being of ourselves and others, we have to stop just talking about it.  We have to go to the folks who can either take action or help US to do so.

I saw this picture of a great bumper sticker the other day.   I love this.

This.  Yes.

This. Yes.

I think I will stick this to my mirror.  So I can remember and recommit every morning–I’m going to quit honking so much, and I.  Will.  Act.

Tonight I’m thankful for my Daddy who empowered me to go to the source, who taught me I could do anything I set my mind to, and who helped me to have confidence in approaching someone with a concern, a plan, a dream.  I am thankful for friends and family who dream with me, who listen to me “honk,” and who then hold me accountable to do the seeking, to act.  Most of all, I am thankful for this gift of grace, that tomorrow I can start anew, with the commitment to honk less, seek more.   This.  Yes, I think so.  Y’all in?

My Sister, Duck Calls, and Sal

The good news was I had a place to stay.  The bad news was it was with fifteen of my new best friends whom I had only just met.  And not even properly, mind you.  We were all thrown together in the waiting area for the CVICU.  Mama didn’t want me to stay, but I was without wheels and it was too late to call someone for a ride home by the time they got Mama settled in her new room.  Night 2 of HospitalStay.

The lights were still bright in the waiting room around midnight.  I only hoped they would eventually dim them.  Let me go ahead and break the suspense.  They did not.  Bright lights.  All.  Night.  Long.

The TV was blaring TNT.  Now for those that love car chase movies with constant car crashes and gunfire, well, people is this the place for you!  Oh, and if you are hard of hearing, never fear, you would not have had a problem AT ALL in this room.

I called my sister who lives closest to the hospital.  I told her I had my Kindle (yes very fortunate, that) and I could read but I was having a hard time focusing.  I could have done any number of things with it, but what I really wanted to do was watch a show we had recently begun to enjoy at home–Duck Dynasty.  I could download it through Amazon, but I would have to buy the whole season.  My frugal sister said, “Do it. You deserve it.  You need it.”   Now, yes, she is my younger sister, but when this girl tells you to do something, it’s a little hard to say no.  So I bought it and downloaded it.  Because she told me to.  (Yeah, that never really worked when I was young either.)

After I went back to visit Mama for the half hour I was allowed to be in there, I returned to the waiting area.  I did have my favorite chair that was close to an outlet and was on an end of a row.  Okay, I could do this.  But wait…..pillows and blankets?  These people had pillows and blankets!  This was like every spend the night party I ever went to.  Go to the bathroom or doze for a few minutes and totally miss out on everything!  I looked around.  The lights were still bright and the TV still blaring, but these folks were snoozing away, most of them.  Because THEY had pillows and blankets.  I was very sad.  Pitiful even.  I tried to use one of my bags as a pillow and my sweater as a blanket.  I must say that the twenty minutes of sleep I got that night were delightful.  And very rejuvenating.  NOT.

Fast forward to the next night that I wrote about in The Three Gifts.  After midnight when Sandy and I were by ourselves, cuddled under blankets brought by our friend, I pulled out the Kindle.  With all the competing noise the night before, I had not even started watching Duck Dynasty.  Sandy had never seen it, so we sat in the otherwise empty waiting area of the surgery unit and watched a little Duck Dynasty.  We laughed at times, if a bit tentatively.  I mean, really, these are just fun people.  It was very surreal, laughing in the midst of the anxiety, but it helped.

After we watched an episode, we checked the clock for the umpteenth time.  Sandy asked me if I had watched the link she had sent me earlier.  I had not.  Okay, she said, now is the time.  And she introduced me to Sal Siccia, someone who was to bring us much comfort and many laughs during the HospitalStay.  Bless him, he took requests.  So friends, meet Sal.

It might have been that we were both so tired and anxious, but we laughed until our stomachs hurt and tears were running down our cheeks.  I found myself going back to watch this at the oddest times, just to bring that great feeling of our camaraderie and laughter back for a moment.  And can I just say that Taylor Swift is a true poet!  So many times in the midst of all the unknowns for Mama during the HospitalStay, Sandy and I would say to each other, “We don’t know what we don’t know.”  And when the folks on the STICU were a little too rigid with their visiting times?  “Why you gotta be so MEAN?!”

It was a little over three weeks later that Sal shared this, a surprise and blessing that brought me to tears.  A beautiful sympathy card.

A precious tribute to our Mama and all Mamas everywhere.  I had never really heard that part of the song before.

Tonight I am thankful for the laughter amidst the chaos, the comfort of laughing with someone who gets it even when the situation calls for tears.  I am thankful for twenty minutes of sleep feeling like a couple of hours.  I appreciate the gift of a Kindle, of a sister telling me to take care of myself, and of good people sharing their stories.  I give thanks that I have a new friend in Sal, who loves by sharing laughter and entertaining.  Most of all I am thankful for my Mama, who laughed at all my jokes, even if she were rolling her eyes at the silliness.  And for the way she could make me laugh without even saying a word.  I’m thankful I’ve known a mother’s love.   It just doesn’t get much better than that.