What Pours Out of You?

Today I was able to be a part of the Holiday Marketplace at Bare Bulb Coffee.  Aub and I were there for over four hours hanging out and visiting with the people who came in to browse or shop.

During the afternoon I made the acquaintance of a young expectant mother who had a table set up with her wares.  She has a home business as a rep selling bags for a reputable company.  She was always the first of the vendors to speak to people, and she had a way of engaging folks who dropped by.  She had the most attractive display.  It was cheery and full of the holiday spirit.  And all those bags!  I was in bag heaven.  (Have I mentioned my bag obsession? Thank goodness for the GW Boutique and eBay!)  Watching the young woman visit with people, I thought of Daddy.  He would have described her as “eat up with personality.”  And that was her to a “T.”

As people who are in close quarters for a period of time do, we wound up in conversation.  In hearing her story, I was taken aback.  It was not what I was expecting at all.  She sells the bags to supplement a school she runs and owns in Honduras–for any and all children.  A bilingual school, it is a step above the public schools there and gives the children a head start to make life better for them and their families.  She sells the bags for the children.  I had to sit and let that soak in.  So many who sell as reps for companies like this sell for the incentives or commissions so they can help their own families.  And there is nothing wrong with that at all.  But this young mother of one and one on the way, a military spouse, sells these to help her mission of helping children in another country–so many of whom are there on scholarship.  Bless them all.

At one point she apologized for sharing so much of her story.  She said she tells it fast because there’s so much to tell, and she worries that she shouldn’t go on and on about it.

Oh sweet girl.  Do not apologize.

When you have a passion like hers, it pours out.  Beautifully and wonderfully so. It flows like a bubbling brook, cool and refreshing and full of life and sparkling goodness.  And so hers did today.  About this school.  About the people there.  About her students.

I was reminded of a couple of things today.  Daddy used to tease Mama that she drew people to her to tell her their life stories.  His eyes lit up as he teased her about it.  It was truth.  And she loved hearing people’s stories as did he.  I am glad I got to hear the fascinating story of this young missionary in Honduras who married her husband who was stationed there and wound up living in this same community as I do.  Coincidence that threw us together today?  Maybe.  But I don’t think it was coincidence that I asked the right questions that led her to share her story.  I am thankful for the time and space to learn about her journey.

The other thing is the way her passion poured out of her–what a thing to see!  I wonder what pours out of me when I’m under the spell of what lies in my heart.  Anything good?  Is it about my past sadness and loss?  Or is it about the laughter echoing in my head from something silly my children were sharing a few minutes ago?  Or is it something else entirely?

What pours out of you?  What can’t you wait to share with others?  I need to do an inventory and fall housekeeping of my heart to rearrange what is there.  I want to glow and beam with a story I can’t contain.  It looks good on a body, that’s for sure–that passion of doing what your soul is called to do.

Yes, that’s the good stuff.  And today I am thankful for the reminder.  Sharing stories is good.  Sharing your passion is priceless.

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Letting It Go

My Fella and I took the crew along with Mess Cat and her little guy Shaker to see the new Disney movie “Frozen.”  I had no idea what to expect.  The only previews I’d seen featured Olaf the snowman, so I had no clue about the depth and meaning behind the storyline.  I do love me some Olaf though.

It was a really good movie.  Aub says it is by far the best Disney princess movie ever made. Even better than “Tangled” and that’s saying something.  There is a twist that makes it very different from all of the others that I can recall, and I am thankful for it.  I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who plan to see it and haven’t, but if this is the new trend for Disney heroines, I’m all for it.  And they get it.  Sisters and sisterfriends.  There’s nothing better.

The movie began in song.  It was a musical, and some of the music was not so traditional, which intrigued me.  As the first song was beginning I heard Cooter, who was sitting next to me, sigh.

“What’s wrong, Buddy?” I whispered.

“It’s just that this is what is depressing about Disney movies.  They always sing these songs.”  He sighed again.  Poor put upon child.  Suffice to say I am thankful for Olaf the snowman and Sven the moose who saved the movie for Cooter and Shaker.  They were delightfully funny.

Our own Princess has read the novelization of the movie.  This is the first time she’s read a story before going to see the movie.  A big moment for her.  (I had to have her reassure me a time or two that it was all going to turn out okay–so glad she had already read the story.)  I asked her how she liked it, and she just beamed.  Then she asked how soon we could buy the movie on DVD.  (I know it seems like there’s a quick turnaround these days, but the movie did just come out two days ago.)

As the movie progressed during a climactic moment for Elsa, she sang a song that has been recorded by Demi Lovato–“Let It Go,” written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.  The lyrics in the movie grabbed my heart and swirled around making me feel and think about things I have put aside for a long time.  I came home and listened to Demi Lovato’s version and had the same reaction.

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always had to be
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know
Well, now they know

There was a time in my life when I tried to hide what was going on, how things really were.   I guess I believed that if I could hide it, it wasn’t really real.  But when things blew up and everyone knew, I had to deal with letting it go and not caring what folks said or thought.  I walked away and tried ignored the coldness of others judging and changing hearts.  And eventually that cold didn’t bother me anymore.  Most of the time.

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn my back and slam the door
And here I stand, and here I’ll stay
Let it go, let it go
The cold never bothered me anyway

These last lines below are truth.  The distance from all of this so many years ago makes it seem small most of the time.  Except for when it doesn’t.  When I left that life behind, I remember laying on the floor next to a vent, hoping the cool air would calm my heart and soothe my soul.  There in my only safe place on this earth, I lay there and could not find the strength to grieve all that I had lost.  All I could feel was relief.  I closed my eyes and rested.  For the first time in a long time.  It was quite a while before I could let my heart grieve.

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
Up here in the cold thin air I finally can breathe
I know I left a life behind, but I’m too relieved to grieve

The thing that this song and the movie reminded me of is something that I learned many years ago.  If you have something you are dealing with and you keep it a secret, one day, as Shakespeare wrote, the truth will out.  When it does, things will only be harder and hurt more than it would have if you had been able to garner the courage and share with someone you trusted to begin with.  In my experience and in Frozen too, the longer the secret is kept, the number of folks who will get hurt only increases.

I know there are hard situations in this life.  Things that don’t get awful right away.  They get hard one harsh word or rough touch or untruth at a time.  I know it’s easy to think you have it under control.  That things will get better–there is no reason to share it with others.  No need to bother or worry anyone because this darkness is only temporary.

My friend, that is rarely true.  The actions of others are not your fault nor are they under your control.  The truth is that unkind and mean words and hurting ways tend to spiral into worse and worse situations.  Don’t hold it in, don’t worry about being the “good girl” and not letting it show.  Find someone you trust, and keep looking for someone who will listen and believe until you find them.  Then share it all.

And let it go.  Turn your back and slam that door.

Save yourself.  And others.

From more pain.

Over time the relief you feel may morph into grief, but over time and distance, it will begin to feel small.

And one day you will fly.  And find yourself surrounded by the ones you love who truly love you.  The very ones you tried to protect with your secret will lift you up and make you stronger.

Tonight I’m thankful for a movie and a song that reminded me of my journey and how important it is to let it go.  How healing that has been for me and those around me.  And when those memories come back, they seem a little smaller each and every time.  Except for when they don’t.

And in those moments, I am thankful for the ones I love who know me and love me in spite of it. And who stand beside me and help me let it go.  All over again.

In the previews they show a moment when Olaf the snowman tells his new friend, “Some people are worth melting for.”

Just that.  Surround yourself with ones you would “melt” for, and who would melt for you.  Those are the relationships that will light the darkness and heal the brokenness in this world.  Those are the friendships that will save lives.

I think Torey Hayden put it best in her book, “One Child.” She writes:

“She looked up. “What I can’t figure out is why the good things always end.”
“Everything ends.”
“Not some things. Not the bad things. They never go away.”
“Yes, they do. If you let them, they go away. Not as fast as we’d like sometimes, but they end too. What doesn’t end is the way we feel about each other. Even when you’re all grown up and somewhere else, you can remember what a good time we had together. Even when you’re in the middle of bad things and they never seem to be changing, you can remember me. And I’ll remember you.”  
―  Torey Hayden, “One Child”

“Let’s Get This Thanksgiving Started!”

This morning when he woke up my little guy Cooter came right up to the kitchen door and proclaimed quite loudly, “Let’s get this Thanksgiving started!”

That made me laugh.  I mean, the turkey had been in the oven for a while, but yeah…..it’s not Thanksgiving without the “fambly folk” there.  And how can your day go any way but great when it starts out with someone so excited to start the day right there by your side?

A morning of cooking after a day of baking yesterday, all with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade playing in the background.  I’m a purist.  We do NOT switch back and forth between channels and parades.  I do have someone on remote control duty to mute or block out the picture when certain commercials come on.  *sigh* I thought it was supposed to a family friendly program.  Ahem.

It was perfect timing as the last of what I was preparing was finished at the same time Santa arrived at the parade.  We did our traditional waving to Santa, and then we loaded up everything and headed to Mess Cat’s.  We had a wonderful meal with great folks.  As Mama and I used to say after Daddy died two years ago, “It was really good, contextually speaking.”

And yes, the memories came flooding back.  When I made Mama’s dressing and her gravy this morning, I thought back on all the years she made it and how sometimes she would make it just to give us a special treat.  Have I mentioned that cooking was her love language?

The memories took me back even further.  To when I was little.  We were having a holiday meal at my Granny’s house.  She had cooked and cooked and the food covered the stove and the countertop.  How she fit all of us in her house back then I have no idea, but she sure did.  I was finally old enough to fix my own plate, so I walked down the line and noticed there were two pans of dressing.  One had a lot out of it, and one only had a little.  I don’t know if I felt bad for the pan no one seemed to want (yeah, I do stuff like that sometimes) or if it was just easier to get some out of that pan because of the line.  Regardless, I got a helping out of the pan with more.  I realized my mistake on my first bite.  Mushrooms.  I really don’t care for mushrooms, but I sat and ate the dressing I’d spooned out for myself and didn’t say a word, exactly as I’d been taught.  On the way home I leaned forward in the backseat and proudly told Mama and Daddy how I’d eaten the dressing with mushrooms without complaining once.

Daddy laughed.  And then Mama.

It was a few minutes before they could catch their breath and tell me why that was so funny.

Granny, who also showed love with food, had made a special pan of dressing for her oldest, Daddy’s older brother.  Not mushrooms.  No.  Oyster dressing.  He loved it, so she made it especially for him.  Oh dear.  (Daddy later mused at what my Uncle must have thought, seeing more of his dressing gone.)

I may have shared that story before, but for some reason it came to my mind as we had dinner today.  Leroy, my brother-in-law, had prepared his dressing.  I don’t know why dressing was so important to me this year.  Maybe it’s because the past two years, even though I made many of the side dishes, Mama brought her dressing.  Aub would go over the night before and help her make her dressing and gravy.  They’d drive up mid-morning with all that deliciousness in tow.  As has happened with each family get-together since Mama passed on in February, the thought comes to mind–“Who’s going to make (fill in the blank) now?”  I knew I was going to make some dressing, and I knew Leroy was too.  But I also knew neither would be hers.

And you know what?

It was okay.

Leroy’s dressing was delicious.  I found out how much I really love sage when it’s added just right.  And while my dressing wasn’t hers either, it’ll eat.  I think I did her gravy justice, but Leroy’s turkey gravy was absolutely delectable.

It was a good day.  I realize that even though she’s not here to make her dressing, she is here with me.  Always.  I just have to listen a little differently now.  And as I was listening today, I remembered the Thanksgiving two years ago when Mama came to my house.  With her dressing.  And gravy.  Only one week after Daddy left this earth.  She came with dressing and love and time and smiles for all of us when that was probably the last thing she felt like doing.  There’s a lesson in that.

Today as I finished prepping the sides–the sweet potatoes and apples, the homemade cranberry sauce, Mama’s gravy, pineapple casserole, and other things we traditionally have, I remembered the people I love who taught me to make them or whose favorites they were.  And I realized that in trying new things, like Leroy’s dressing and gravy or Granny’s all those years ago, I was stepping outside my comfort zone and embracing the day.  Instead of mourning that Mama is gone, today–just for today–I was able to remember without tears, and take a taste of what this new different normal is like.

And it was actually rather okay.

And tonight I’m giving thanks for that.

(Oh and just to let you know, Cooter was ready to start the day because he loves peach cobbler.  He asked me to make it yesterday.  And today, as he sat eating it, I heard him tell his sister and cousin, “This is the best Thanksgiving ever!”

That’s more than I could hope for.)

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Several years ago Oprah came to town.  She was supposedly going to select her studio audience based on letters written in about why the writer wanted to be there and whom he or she would bring with them.
As we’d been stationed overseas for a while, and because of the timing of the airing of her show (my children were underfoot at that point in the day, and let’s face it, she’s not always family friendly), I hadn’t watched her in years.  Maybe since college.  But I wrote and talked about how I would take my dear friend, who was a huge fan, with me.

Not.  Selected.

Oh well.

When the show aired, I recorded it and watched it later.  And that was the last time I watched her show.
It was her show called “My Favorite Things.”

Just no.

I don’t remember everything she gave out.  Some might say I was jealous because I didn’t get to go, but that is not the case.  I was sick to my stomach after watching.  I remember two things specifically that she gave out to everyone in the audience.  A refrigerator with a TV in the door and six gourmet cupcakes worth $50.

Say what?

I lost a lot of respect for her that day.  Here she is with all of this–power.  She could have bought and given out things that made a difference for the giver and the recipient (and so much more, because you KNOW some folks had to rush out and buy whatever because they saw it on her show).  But it didn’t go that way.  Today her favorite things list might be different.  I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t watched or read her magazine since then.  I do know that I saw this on the cover of her magazine on 14 November 2011, three days before my Daddy died, and it did not sit well with me.  “Things” –“If you’re looking for joy, you’ve come to the right place”.  What in the world?

Cover of O Magazine at the checkout at the grocery store on 14 November 2011.  I don't think she gets it.
Cover of O Magazine at the checkout at the grocery store on 14 November 2011. I don’t think she gets it.

Y’all why would anyone let Oprah “handpick” their gifts for the people they love?

Friday is the beginning of things getting crazy in the retail arena.  Actually I’m noticing that more and more stores are opening up tomorrow, Thanksgiving.  This makes me sad.  Are we so desperate for sales or for a bargain that we will forego the needs of folks to be with their families?  To be able to take time to breathe and give thanks, if only in the smallest of things?  I don’t even know.

So before the madness begins, I’m asking y’all to take a minute and browse through a few of The Happy Napper’s favorite things.  A few years ago I was introduced to The Advent Conspiracy by my brother, Rev.  It’s a powerful book to read, and it’s even more powerful as a study for a group of folks to discuss together.  The thing they share which breaks my heart is that the world’s water shortage could be ENDED with the amount of money spent on Christmas in THIS COUNTRY alone.  What?!  That right there.  It is a fact that broke my heart and has changed my way of “doing Christmas” a little more each year.  They break it down simply to–Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.  Amen.

They offer lots of great ideas in the book and DVD.  Ways to give and let folks know you love them here at Christmas AND also how to help the world.  Your community.  Build relationships and make a difference.  Because I think that’s what we really want more than anything–to be loved and known and to make a difference.

I’m happy to share a few of my favorite things.  Thanks to my Aub for creating the links for all of these.  She knows that the gift of her time and expertise is one of my favorite gifts she gives me.  And I love her.  I think she’s getting it too.  One day she saw a purse on-line that was over $10,000.  She showed me and said rather vehemently, “Well that makes me just want to slap somebody.”

She gets it.

So without further ado, here is my list of My Favorite Things.

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Bare Bulb Coffee–If you aren’t local around here, find your own local coffeehouse or locally owned bookstore or such as that and support their missions by supporting them.  If you are local, they have the cutest little fabric coffee sleeves with a pocket for a gift card.  Great gift, great coffee, and you’ll be supporting missions that feed children in need and share great books and time with precious children from low-income families.  They also have art classes on a regular basis.  Make plans to paint with a friend and give that as your gift.  Fun and meaningful. They get to be with you and you with them AND you each take home a painting.  Awesome.

The Open Arms Shop–They make skirts and scarves from recycling t-shirts.  Y’all, they are the cutest.  The people working there are refugees from other countries trying to build a safe life for themselves and their families.  Beautiful.

Stitches & Paint–These folks are some of the best.  A family business, the husband and wife and daughters quilt the fabric–and they have an eye for cute prints–and make all kinds of bags and accessories.  My favorite of the favorites is their clutch wallet.  Mama got me a new print every year for my birthday.  Love this Georgia company.  (And they are fine people–they support missions as well.)  They’ll make you say “Vera who?”

Goodwill–aka The GW Boutique.  Y’all know I love ’em.  Name brand jeans for $5.  Please.  And we have found Legos and all kinds of toys like new there.  It’s gotten so my children beg to go.  We don’t always find something, but it’s always a fun adventure.  Last year we made a rule that all gifts from siblings to each other had to be something picked out at the GW.  They had so much fun!  The focus was on the adventure and finding just the right thing–not on how much money spent.  I think that’s a tradition we are going to keep.

LOVE146–The story behind this organization that works with young women who have been rescued from trafficking is a heartbreaking one.  It all started with one young girl.  In an undercover mission, they saw the young girl with 146 on her tag still had some fire in her.  She hadn’t given up like the others.  When they went back to rescue, she was gone.  But they remember.  The Christmas cards made by the girls in the Round Home are absolutely beautiful.

Living Water International–This is the mission directly supported by the Advent Conspiracy.  They work to get clean water for every person on our planet.  Such a simple thing, but it is so hard to make possible.  They have neat ways you can support them.  Pop over and check it out.  Clean water–hard to believe we live in the age we do, and not everyone has it.

Heifer International–My brother introduced us to them.  He bought a goat in our honor.  Yeah, he gets it.  He has just been waiting for me to catch up.  I’m trying, Rev.  Heifer has a great catalog of things you can buy in honor of someone, and it makes a wonderful gift.  I love it when we get our catalog every year.

St. Jude Gift Shop–They have really great gifts in their shop and sales go to support St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.  This was one of Daddy’s favorite places to support, so yeah.  Go check them out.

Society of St. Andrew–They  work to put together volunteers to glean from fields and distribute the food to those in need.  A $12 donation will feed 600 servings of nutritious food to hungry families in America.  For your donation, you receive a beautiful Christmas card with unique artwork to give to your recipient.  Feeding someone in need in honor of someone you love–that is a beautiful gift.

BeadforLife–Make a difference in the life of a woman in Uganda, who is trying to create a better life for her and her family.  Our sisters there cut and roll beads from recycled magazines and newspapers, and oh–the beautiful jewelry they create!  If you are local, I have lots of their crafts I can show you–just let me know.  From bracelets to necklaces to jewelry bags, soap, and lip balm.  The person you give something from BeadforLife to will love the gift as much as the story.

ABAN–This is a beautiful story of young people making a difference.  Callie and Rebecca were college students who came up with an idea to help the young women living on the streets of Accra, Ghana and help rid the streets of the water sachets that littered them in bulk.  Thus, ABAN was born.  They have created some fabulous bags and accessories from the recycled water sachet bags.  The young women who are a part of the program are learning to dream, and they are gaining the skills to make those dreams come true.  Again, a gift with a  story that will make a difference.

Mossy Creek Soap–I love her soaps.  The different “flavors” are delightful and there is a scent for everyone, including her “naked” unscented soaps.  I recently visited with her and picked up a tin of the most amazing stuff  that works naturally on aching muscles.  If you know of someone who would love to make their own soaps, she has soapmaking classes on a regular basis.  Give them as a gift, or better yet, give it as a gift and join the recipient.  The gift of time with them and soapmaking. Win.  Win. Win.

Which brings us to another point of the Advent Conspiracy.  All gifts do not have to be wrapped in a box and paper. A gift described by one of the authors was a gift given to his wife.  One of her friends put together a book of notes from many people who loved her.  She had the gift of spending Christmas day reading all of the wonderful thoughts written just for her.  Beautiful.  We adapted this idea and put together a Hope Book for my Daddy one Christmas after his fight with Goliath began in earnest.  It had notes and stories and jokes and pictures that people who loved him wanted to share with him.  I cried putting it all together.

Other gift ideas that are outside the box are also relational.  Tie an invitation to have a cup of coffee out with you to a teaspoon or special coffee mug.  Give a bottle of nail polish with a note to have pedicures together to your sister.  A card with a note with a “gift card” for a picnic together or a walk in the woods is perfect for just the right person.  The point is to make the emphasis on the relationship and time together rather than the “thing.”

Over the next few weeks things are going to get hectic and crazy.  Don’t get caught up in the commercialism that takes away from the beauty of the Light of the season.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-shopping.  As a matter of fact, the places that give me my purchases in a paper bag with handles just turns my head.  But don’t let it run your life and take over your schedule.  Because it can.

I started off small the first year.  I picked one gift to change it up on.  Since that time several years ago, I find it easier and easier to step outside the box although some gifts are still bought at the store in a box or on-line.  It’s about trying to be more intentional and making the season more about time together than anything else.  Letting go of the stress and making more time for what is most important.

I’ve only included a few of my favorite things.  Please feel free to share yours with me.  I’d love to hear your gift ideas or what your most favorite and special gifts have been.

Wishing you all a day of great memory-making and joy!  Happy Thanksgiving.

Tears on a Tuesday…..Loneliness, Laundry, and Living on the Streets

Whoa, Tuesday!  You sure did jump out of nowhere and grab ahold of my heart today.  Totally wasn’t expecting all of that.

There have been tears today.  Over the realizing all over again what Thursday is and that she isn’t here to make her dressing.  I’ve only not had Mama’s dressing three Thanksgivings in my life–the year we were in Japan and the two years that Daddy was so sick.  I just don’t even know.  But I know there are harder things in this life.

Later Sister called saying she was thinking about making gingerbread cookies. I laughed, as she often calls looking for a recipe.  Often the same recipe I’ve given her before.  More than once.  She knows it–she owns it.  When I asked if she needed the recipe, she began sobbing into the phone.  Oh baby girl.  I wanted to crawl through the phone line and hug her.  Turns out she didn’t need the recipe after all.  She just needed me to listen.  Whenever she makes those cookies she thinks of Mama and all the times she called and asked Mama for the recipe.  Precious memories.  And hard.  But still I know there are harder things on this journey.

I was with my Sister Circle this afternoon at Daybreak. We had a small group as some of our friends were out of town.  As we talked about forgiveness and what that looks like and what it’s like to apologize, our conversation eventually turned to the holiday season.  We eventually got around to whether or not the holidays were hard for each of us.  One of our sisterfriends said no, that it was about being with family and she was so happy for Thursday and the opportunity to do just that–be with her family all together.  I looked over at Miss N, our sisterfriend who is the artist, and asked her.  She shrugged.  She won’t be going to be with her family this year.  “It’s hard,” she says.  “It’s only one day.  It’s just one day.”  And I could hear her unsaid words echoing in my head and heart.

“Why’s it gotta be just one day?”

I know.  I get it.  She’s lonely every other day of the year.  Why go and do this for just one day when she’ll have to go back as it was the very next day?  And every day after that.

Broke my heart.

I also saw my friend Mac today.  I guess I “conjured him up.”  I hadn’t heard from him in about two weeks, and last week some folks shared how concerned they were about him.  I called his Mama this afternoon to see if she’d heard how he was, and so yes, of course, he was right there in front of me after I hung up with her.  I was glad to see him.

He hung around for us to visit after Sister Circle was over.  It’s been cold, and today it rained all day long.  He looked like he was doing all right though.  But he’s tired.  He teared up as he talked about it.  He’s done with living on the streets.  Again.  He wants to go back to the transitional program he was a part of out of town.  Again.  He had lost the number to the contact there, a man who really cares about Mac.  I have it, so I handed Mac my phone with the number ready to dial. Was I calling his bluff, wondering if he was just telling me what I wanted to hear?  Maybe.  But he took the phone.  He made the call himself.  And he called back.  And he did this for himself.

Turns out he can’t return there.  Long story, but I understand.  And I agree.  But the person there cares so much, he called me back with two places to contact and see if they have an opening for Mac.  I am thankful for him and his caring heart.  Funny thing is, I didn’t see it in the beginning.  This tough love thing is hard to discern sometimes.  And judging someone at first contact almost always gets me in trouble.  He’s a good guy.  I appreciate him.

As I sat visiting with Mac, a volunteer called out a name, and a young couple went over to the half-door at the laundry room where several washers and dryers were working hard to keep up with all the needs for the day.  The volunteer who is there without fail every Tuesday afternoon handed over a basket of clean clothes.  What caught my eye was the look of sheer joy on their faces.  The young woman (honestly she didn’t look much older than my Aub) closed her eyes and breathed in the clean smell.  They both pulled their still warm clothes close to their chests and sighed contentedly.  The woman squealed with delight and her companion laughed loudly at her joy.

Y’all.

I had to look away and wipe my eyes.

I’m a spoiled you know what.
I have my own washer and dryer.  I have a precious family whose clothes I get to wash.  Whenever I want.  We have a place to store our clothes rather than shoving them back in a backpack…..and having to carry all of our clothes on our back or risk having them taken away.   Oh, how I have taken it all for granted.  How many times have I whined or moaned over the laundry, the washing the folding the putting away?

Watching that beautiful couple and their sheer joy over something that is so basic for me and mine…..

it made me thankful.  And ashamed.  And it put things into perspective.

At least for today.

So in the morning, in the midst of the traditional baking and remembering who is not with us this year, and trying to figure out if I even want to attempt Mama’s dressing, I will be making calls for Mac and waiting for him to call me and keeping my fingers crossed that something will work out…..and that this time he can hold his own in his battle with that demon alcohol.  And I will be playing catch-up with the laundry.  I am sure at some point I will find myself breathing in the clean clothes and holding the warmth close to my heart.  And remembering the joy I got to see.
Yes, I know there are far harder things in life.  The realization that the loneliness will return after one day of being with others keeping you from even trying, the horror of fighting a demon that puts your life in danger each and every day–and cold, wet night, and the life of carrying all the clothes you own around in a backpack…..I’ve seen them all today.  All I’m left with is the tears.

Oh Tuesday…..

I Think Jesus Loves a Good Hootenanny

I don’t know exactly how to say this.  I do not intend to offend in any way, and yet I feel like it must be said.  This has been rolling around in my mind and heart for some time now, and now here we are.

‘Tis the season.

I had a call about three weeks ago from a friend of an acquaintance.  The acquaintance knew I had volunteered with the Sunday night suppers at the park and at Daybreak, and her friend was looking for a soup kitchen/food serving program to be a part of.  She called me and asked me to speak with her friend.  This woman, the friend, explained what she was looking for.  I told her we didn’t have the suppers on Sunday nights anymore.  I let her know about some of the programs that she could contact and see if they needed volunteers.  As we talked she asked me for numbers for the programs.  I sat down with my laptop and looked them up.  She was looking for something local, and we really don’t have regular daily soup kitchen programs here in town that I am aware of.  I found one with a contact number but they wouldn’t need volunteers for another couple of weeks.  When I shared this with the woman, she became very frustrated.  I got the sense that she needed to, for whatever reason, serve in a soup line sooner rather than later.  And she especially wanted to serve in that capacity–not with a food pantry or clothing closet or the like.  As she said goodbye I was sad and confused but not surprised.

This time of year folks want to serve food to folks in need.

I actually saw someone post on Facebook asking where would be a good place to help out now that it’s cold and folks are hungry.

Sigh.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, our friends without homes and those with homes who are living in extreme poverty are hungry when it’s hot in the summer, when the weather is kinder in the spring, when the leaves begin to change colors, and now–when the temperatures are dipping into the 20’s and 30’s overnight.  The hunger factor doesn’t change.  It’s just that the cold and the holidays, for whatever reason, make us think of them and remember that they are in need.  I don’t know what it is–maybe the story of this season of a young pregnant woman and her husband far from home and in need of a place to stay on a dark night?  In need of someone to say yes and offer them help?

That story is a part of ours all year long, just as are the stories of our friends in need.  None of these stories go away after the wrapping paper is in the can at the curb waiting to be hauled away.  They still remain after the “Auld Lang Syne” and toasting of the New Year.  Their stories and the one of the young mother with no place to go are with us, very real.  And we should be listening to their stories and figuring out what we are called to do in the midst of their poverty and need.  All.  Year.  Long.

When we spent our Sunday nights at the park serving the sweet tea and coffee and hot chocolate we toted up to Macon, I had several people ask me why I went, what was my reason for going.  After a lot of thought and processing what happened to me every time I was there, I finally had an answer.

I went to the park to see Jesus.

Unfortunately I was rarely asked to clarify my answer.  Folks just nodded, either figuring they knew what I meant or that I was as loony as they come, and that they didn’t need to know what I meant.  And so it was left out there.  And I’m afraid it might have been misleading.

When we gathered with our friends in the park under that grand old tree, there was laughter and conversation and quiet discussions about the hard work of living, and hugs and joyful celebrations of days and weeks of sobriety, jobs attained, applications accepted, families reunited, and commiserating over loss after loss-deaths of friends, jobs lost, succumbing to addictions, and being pushed out of a spot in a parking garage or by the river or in an old warehouse.  There were relationships happening and people joining together.  It was community and unity of people who might not have found themselves together in any other circumstance.  It was precious and unique, and it was beautiful.  And in the midst of it, I know Jesus was right there fellowshipping with us.  I didn’t see him in the eyes of my friends there, and I sure hope they didn’t try to see him in mine.  The thing is, none of us are perfect.  We’re all just living the life we have, traveling down the path in front of us.  I think if we try to “be Jesus” for our friends, the pressure is just too great.  And if we look to find Jesus in our friends we will find ourselves rudely awakened at some point. Again, the pressure is too great, and no one can live up to that.  All of us will wind up disappointed.  We are all just children looking for our way, full of imperfections and dreams and doubts and fears and hopes and hearts that want and need validation and love.  But we are not Jesus.

But I believe he is there.  When we are gathered together like that, he is among us.  The Light is there.  And it is good.

So what am I trying to say?

Not everyone is called to help by going out and meeting folks face to face–whether at a shelter, a place where meals are served, a food pantry, or a clothing closet.  Some are called to help in the background, maybe quietly maybe not, and passionately, by sharing the gifts and talents they’ve been given and supporting those programs with resources and prayer, for example.  But if you are one of the ones who feels called to meet people on the front-line, and you feel called to serve folks in need in a soup kitchen or church hall–

Don’t serve our friends a meal this year.

Not unless you have time to enjoy conversations and get to know people.  Not unless you are willing to make plans to do this again in January.  Or March.  Or July.  September.  It’s those forgotten months that are hard on the organizations and folks trying to help everyday.  It’s the forgotten months that are especially hard on our friends who are in dire need–of the spiritual food of relationships as well as food for their bodies–every single day.

And it’s the forgotten months, in my opinion, that are hard on Jesus too.  I think he loves a good hootenanny, a “happenin’,” as my Mama would call them.  A gathering where folks are full of love for each other, each one helping as he or she can…..a place where folks show respect for each other no matter their differences–I think those are some of Jesus’ very favorite places to be.

Our friends hunger for more than just food.  And more than just food is necessary for survival.  Mother Teresa put this truth into these words:

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So as this season brings the needs of others to the forefront and you feel a stirring in your heart to go and “feed the homeless,” don’t.  Unless you are willing to bring food for the soul as well.  Good conversation, getting to know each other, respect, a listening ear.  I promise you the folks who come to share the meal won’t leave hungry.  And neither will you.

May this holiday season take you out of your comfort zone.  Whatever that may look like.  Love to all.

disorienting days of darkness

We had the great fun and adventure of making a road trip from middle Georgia to Alabama today to be with folks we love, friends and family, to celebrate new life and a birthday.  Cooter was very excited because he has never been out of state.  At least that I can recall.  I haven’t slept nearly enough in his almost seven years to be able to keep up with it all, but yes, pretty sure–he’s never been out of Georgia.

Road trip adventure.  Cooter's first time out of state.
Road trip adventure. Cooter’s first time out of state.

He found a friend at the party right off the bat.  He and Ryan ran around and played with all the girls that were there.  But mostly they played just the two of them.  As they took time out from playing to sit at the little table and visit and have a bite to eat, I heard Cooter talking with Ryan.  “We’re in Alabama right now, but we live in America.”

Oh good gravy.

(Note to self: Add US geography to the curriculum.  ASAP!)

As I thought about what he shared with his new friend, it occurred to me how disorienting a change of position, of place can be.  Even if it’s just for a day.  Life is always throwing us curveballs that require us to change.  Doctor retires, we have to find a new one.  Grocery store totally reorganizes, and it takes us a lot longer to get everything on the list.  A family member moves and we no longer have them to lean on in the same way.  The change can be disorienting, and much like Cooter, we’re not even sure where we are anymore.  Or where we came from.

On the way home this afternoon, I was all discombulated.  Alabama is on Central time, so they are an hour behind us.  This served us well on the way over, but on the way home I had to keep thinking it’s an hour later than my phone says it is.  My phone automatically knew which time zone it was in, but the car clock stayed on Eastern time.  And I’m not even sure what time the GPS was on.  It wasn’t much help anyway because this morning it led us to a cow pasture in the middle of nowhere and clapped and waved the checkered flag and said, “Congratulations, you made it!”  Do what?!

When we left our people in Alabama, it was still sunny and bright.  Within an hour the sun began its rather rapid descent.  It was as though gravity started pulling it a little faster down towards the horizon, leaving behind its memories of the day in pink and orange and purple hues.  I looked at the time on my phone, and it occurred to me that in Alabama, at least in the eastern part of the state, the sun sets around five at this time of year.

Oh my, that’s early.

The darkness of winter, on an old state highway.....looking for the hope in midnight and the turning to face a new day.
The darkness of winter, on an old state highway…..looking for the hope in midnight and the turning to face a new day.

The sky was almost completely dark by the time we crossed over the Georgia line.  There is no dark quite like the dark of being the only car in sight on a back road or state highway.  Pitch black except for the lights beaming from the front of my vehicle.  Our Princess had been very quiet in the very back, as “Leave it to Beaver” had us laughing across the state line.  She piped up right after it got dark.

“What time is it?”  She paused only a moment before asking, “Is it midnight?”

This reminded me of Cooter’s thinking it was much later than it was a couple of weeks ago, when I picked him up from Mess Cat’s because he wasn’t up for a sleepover.  The time change and the early darkness and the especially dark darkness that seems reserved for this time of year–it can also be disorienting.  Have us feeling lost and uncertain and have our senses all confused.  We were quite nearly home, and a sleepy voice came from the back, once again asking, “Is it midnight now?”

When we are disoriented, all we can do is go with what we feel.  When we feel tired and very small and overwhelmed by all the darkness that seems to go on forever, feeling like it is the end of the day is really quite logical, I think.

My friend Dena, who writes at Centering Down, talks a lot about darkness and fear holding hands.  She writes, “Yes, our times can be dark in many ways.  The close of fall and beginning of winter reflect difficulties that so many of us face in our lives.”**  She also writes about fear of darkness and how it can come from us not being able to see in the dark and how the dark can make us feel so vulnerable.  Oh yes, my dear friend, it certainly can.  I’ve heard it in the wee, small voices of each of my littles.  Bless them, the dark makes them FEEL wee and small.  Vulnerability is not anywhere anyone of us wants to live.  So we seek answers and we ask what time it is, for in the turning of this day’s page to the next one, there is hope.  And hope–some days that’s all that gets me up in the morning.

Tonight I am thankful for the joy of watching all of my children having fun and enjoying themselves.  I give thanks for hospitality so sweet–I asked what I could do and I was told, “Make yourself at home”–it nearly moved me to tears.  And made me want to find an extra bed and take a nap in that comfortable and comforting home.  All of the stories shared and laughter that came from the sharing warmed my heart and tanned my soul.  For a safe journey and a road trip on which the loudest sounds that were heard were not voices rising in anger or disappointment but the laughter of my Fella as he listened to the “Leave it to Beaver” episodes being watched from the back seats.  For deer that turned around and ran back into the woods and not in front of my vehicle, I am very grateful.  For Mess Cat and crew coming to play with Miss Sophie in our absence so we could relax and enjoy our day, I send out a huge “thank you ma’am.”  Most of all I’m so glad for a day filled with love and grace and community.  There is nothing like being with folks who love to hear children in church and who love to let children be children.  In the disorienting days of darkness, it is healing and helps get me back rightside up to surround myself with good folks and good times.

**My friend Dena Douglas Hobbs has written an Advent devotional, called “Lighten the Darkness: An Advent Journey Through Hope.”  You can find a link to it here on Amazon.  It is a gift for all during this special time of the year, Advent.  It is especially moving for those who know the darkness of which she writes. And she knows of the hope that can be found as well.  I have found comfort in her words.  Tonight I am thankful for her and her gift of writing which she shares with all of us.  ❤