For the Love of Kindness, PLEASE

Y’all.

I’m done.  I am worn out.  I am so tired to seeing folks hurting others with their comments and freely shared views on social media and other outlets.

The thing is, they don’t mean to, I’m sure.  These are good people.  And just like me, they hurt other people without even realizing it.  Still…..

This past week there has been a story that has gone viral.  The one about a restaurant owner/manager who yelled at a toddler to stop crying.

And even with those words, my words trying to sum it up in a nutshell, I’ve done what so many of us do–ignored that there is another side to the story.

Two sides, a crying baby, parents who may or may not have tried to calm the child, maybe some frustrated clientele, maybe not, and a frustrated restaurant owner who yelled because she had had enough.  They all agree that she yelled at the child.  She admitted as much.

What has made me the saddest are the people who have come out on the side of the restaurant owner–as if it is EVER okay to yell at a child like that.

Just to be clear with my stance–

In my opinion, that is NOT okay.

Children, as is their nature, are going to have “melk-downs,” as our Princess used to call them.  It’s inevitable.  What happens after those breakdowns is in large part determined by the adults around them.  And when those adults are overwhelmed, things can get ugly very quickly.

My friend, Karen Spears Zacharias, wrote A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder.  That book changed me.  It made me aware of what role we all play in the prevention of child abuse.  With a kind word, offering support, encouragement, offering a helping hand–we can often diffuse a volatile situation and maybe even change a life.

Yes, naive or not, I do believe that.

In response to the story of the child in the restaurant, one of my aunts wondered why the manager didn’t try to distract the child.  With a straw, a plastic spoon, something, saying that this was something a good manager would do.

Exactly.

We’ve been to restaurants where the waitress pulled out packs of saltines from her pocket to give to the little ones.  Then there’s the crayon and paper menu go-to for distractions.  Over the years I’ve learned to keep someTHING in my purse for just such occasions.  Markers, paper, pencil, something to keep them occupied.  But when I was starting out with my first little one, I had no idea.  I had to learn from others how to handle those moments.

And yelling doesn’t cut it.

My parents in their last years carried around copies of their favorite children’s book in the trunk of their car.  Daddy was known to head back out to the car from the pizza place or a doctor’s appointment to get a copy for a child they met.  He also loved perusing the Matchbox cars section of stores.  He picked up interesting and different ones, in addition to the ones he collected as special.  He usually had one or two with him or in Mama’s purse at doctor’s appointments.  To share with whatever children they might meet.

You don’t get much better than a new little car for a distraction.

Notice, I said–in their later years.  After all of us were grown and they had learned what worked and what didn’t.

This young couple in the restaurant–I’m thinking they are just learning too.  I’m sad that there is so little grace for them, and yet grace is being given to the woman who chose to yell AT A CHILD instead of handling it in a manner that would be kinder.

And that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?

Nanea Hoffman of Sweatpants and Coffee, whom I introduced you to last night, is a wise woman.  My guess is she gets it from her Daddy.  Yesterday she shared this, in response to the story:

“I don’t care who is right or who is wrong. I care who is being KIND.”

– Nanea Hoffman’s daddy

Amen.

Sounds a lot like my Mama, who would often add–“I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.”

I’m trying, Mama.  I’m trying.

Y’all, we can do better.  We can step outside our judgments of who is right and who is wrong and BE KIND.

And maybe tote a little Matchbox car around in our pocket for good measure.

.....or you know, Hot Wheels.....

…..or you know, Hot Wheels…..

So many folks say, “I wouldn’t want to be raising children in this day and age.”  I get it.  It’s not easy.  That’s why those of us doing it right now sure could use the encouragement and support and KINDNESS of those around us.

Let’s forget about who is right or wrong and Just. Be. Kind.  That’s everything.

Love to all.

Following Through

It’s been a long summer, y’all.

Yes, I realize it’s not exactly over, but since we are on week 3 of school and the schools around here are starting in a week and a half, there is something of a farewell feel in the air.

And then there are the farewells themselves, of course, but that’s for another night.

Tonight was the last night of swim lessons for the summer for my little guy Cooter.  This is his third summer of taking lessons.  He enjoys his time in the water, and since his sister made the swim team at the end of last summer’s lessons, he’s had his eye guardedly on the prize.

Guardedly as in he wanted it but he didn’t want anyone to know he wanted it.  *sigh* Only eight years old and already worried about how he’s being perceived.  I’m not even sure what to do with that.

So he took lessons.  All summer.

This round Cooter was finally able to swim his twenty-five freestyle and twenty-five backstroke.  Without stopping.  He’s had moments before this summer when he was just about able to, but he wasn’t consistent.  And this week he was.  I saw a smile on his face and a light in his eyes that had been missing–he was back on his game.  And I was thankful.

Still, I didn’t want him to get his hopes up. There will be another round of lessons in a few weeks, and I figured one more round would do the trick.  Help him build up his stamina and be more consistent in his strokes.

Then last night he did really well.  That smile though, y’all.  He knew it.

Last night I saw this on one of my favorite Facebook pages–Sweatpants and Coffee.  Nanea Hoffman is a very wise woman.  The two words jumped out at me.  Follow through.

YES.

That’s what I wanted for my little guy.  For him to follow through.  Follow through on his strokes.  On his practice.  On his focus, his mindset.  On respecting his coaches.  And on his dream.  Follow through on making it happen.  With hard work and lots of practice.

So we talked.  I don’t know how much sank in, but we talked about how he might feel if he wasn’t invited to try out for swim team this time around.  How he might feel and what our game plan would be–which had a lot to do with practicing and continuing to work hard towards his goal.

But following through.

And with a good attitude.

Because, in the words of my Mama, this is “all for the fun of it.”

Tonight when lessons ended under a cloudy sky leftover from the earlier storms, with rain threatening to fall on all of us, the coaches gathered up all the children and their families.  They handed out certificates to all the students and added a check mark for those who had completed the lessons and were ready to try out for the team.

Cooter’s teacher went last.  She handed out two certificates and then said she had two who were ready to try out.  Oh my heart.  Cooter looked around and I could see the wheels turning in his head.  There were only two others in the class, and he was one of them.  With a look of wonderment mixed with joy on his face, he turned to the teacher and walked up to get his certificate.

Well done, little man, well done.

Tonight I’m thankful for the words of Nanea Hoffman that gave me what I needed to tell my son that no matter what, if this was something he wanted, he needed to continue to follow through.  Right to the end.  Which is now a new beginning.  I give thanks for young people who dedicate their time, energy, compassion, and encouragement into making swimming a good experience for these little ones. (When one of his coaches from last summer and the first of this one came up and high fived him, I was undone–love these teachers!) And yes, I’m even thankful that swim lessons are over for the summer, and that, in a few weeks, after a lot of practice between now and then, we will have another swim team member in the house.  Most of all, I give thanks for the joy that spread through all of our hearts tonight–we did this as a family, and that is priceless.  From his oldest sister videoing the awarding of certificates “just in case” to his middle sister whom you can hear in the background squealing “I knew it, I told y’all he would get it, I knew it!” to us proud parents, holding our breath, hoping for the best but ready to catch him if it didn’t happen…..family.

Let today be a day of following through.  On anything.  But something.  You can do it.

Love to all.

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Cooter making his way down the lane encouraged by his swim coach/teacher.

shelling peas

sitting down with a bowl full of unshelled peas
still warm from the sun
the white enamel pan cool
on my lap
filled to the brim with a whole mess of them

my fingers move with the same motions
memorized by the hands of my people
zipping them open
and dropping the peas down into the pan

the plink plink plink plays the background tune
to the stories shared or watched
as we sit under the fan
thankful for a reason to sit
out of the hot summer sun for a while

we gather and
many hands make light work,
as my Mama used to say

as the pile of purple goes down
with the sun
the peas collect and promise
a good meal soon

the feel of summer
pea hulls in the hands
the smell of summer
their earthiness full of the gift of the land

and the one who grew them
and picked them
sharing his bounty

I smile, remembering precious moments
shelling peas with the ones I love
who taught me how

and now I take the little fingers entrusted to me
and I show them how to unzip
and shell
and look
just in case there’s a bad one in the bunch

they laugh and giggle
and I hope it will always be so
folks shelling peas
and giving thanks for what they have

and laughter
on porches
and summer sunsets
kissed by an evening breeze

and a pot of fresh-picked peas on the stove

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Learning with my Littles

We have begun week 3 of school here at Zoo Crew Academy.  It’s summer in Georgia, so unless we want to go out and play between 4:23 and 4:32 every morning, it’s just about too hot to do anything but keep ourselves inside.

And so we do.

With our math and writing and books and crafts and piano…..

we are staying busy.

This year, I let them choose what they would like to learn about in science.  I was hoping they would choose the same topic, but that would have been too easy I suppose.  Our Princess chose aquatic animals and Cooter chose those of the land.  I’m okay with it, because I’m hoping that if it’s something they are really interested in, they will learn more.

Today Princess was reading from her book and got quite upset.  “Mama, look at this picture!  It’s a beached whale.  Why did it have to die?”

We talked a little bit about it, and she finished her reading, still sad over what she had seen.

This afternoon as we were on our outsandabouts, the littles were watching Gilligan’s Island.  At one point, I think it was Gilligan who said, “He looks just like a beached whale.”

“Well then, I can assure you he must be dead,” quipped our Princess, without missing a beat.

Bless her.  Yes, she can assure us all of that.  Because she knows that’s what happens in many cases.

Homeschooling win.

I love it when I hear them take something they have learned and apply it later on.  That’s what I want most for them–to be able to take what they’ve learned and use it again in some way.  Some way that matters.  That’s my number one goal and wish for them as their teacher and their Mama.

Tonight I’m thankful for this opportunity to learn alongside them, to watch their eyes open in wonder and amazement, and to help them find the answers to their questions.  After all, thanks to today’s lesson my knowledge about beached whales now extends past the Seinfeld episode “Marine Biologist.”  Yes, this is definitely broadening my horizons–and that is a very good thing.

Love to all.

"Southern right whale10" by Michaël CATANZARITI - by Michaël CATANZARITI. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Southern_right_whale10.jpg#/media/File:Southern_right_whale10.jpg

“Southern right whale10” by Michaël CATANZARITI – by Michaël CATANZARITI. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons    This is NOT a photo of a beached whale. because that would have been way too sad.  And there’s enough sadness in our world, don’tcha think?  

Love Thy Neighbor

You know that whole love your neighbor thing?
Yeah.
That.
There’s all kinds of memes and things written out there pointing out that yeah, he meant what he said. That he meant it about all of our neighbors, not just the ones who are the same color or nationality or believe the same things or share the same values or read the same books or have the same favorite character on TV as we do.
Nope.
All.
And so this occurred to me as one of our neighbors drove by while I was out walking a few days ago. I automatically threw my hand up to wave, and then realized it was THAT neighbor. The one who never waves. Who never acknowledges anyone’s presence when he’s out mowing. The one who simply ignores all of the rest of us.
Ugh.
And then I heard those words echoing in my heart again–because that’s where they are now, I know them by heart–“Love thy neighbor.”
Even him?
Yes. Even him.

Okay then.

The funny thing is that the struggle is real. It’s easy for me to stand to the side and nod and say, “Oh yes. ALL the neighbors. ALL the people. Yes. We should LOVE THEM,” and then stand around for hours and meet and plan and discuss how to do just that. But when it comes to my own little corner of the cosmic neighborhood, I find it a little harder. Yes, all those who are different from me. Absolutely. The ones who are this or that? Sure. LOVE. THEM. But point at the neighbor who never waves back–ummmm, for real?

Yes. For real.

So there’s another neighbor of ours. We have an interesting relationship. We’ve not always seen eye to eye. I am sure I make him as crazy as he makes me sometimes. And it’s nothing big–all little things. And yet. Just the other day, I was thinking that yeah, though we do exasperate each other from time to time, I was sure if I needed help, he’d be there.

I was about to be proved right.

Yesterday evening my neighbor loved us.

He saw something that needed doing, and without blinking, he did it. For us. Without being asked, without asking for recognition or any remuneration, he just did it.

And when I saw, I nearly cried.

Because that’s just one of the many wonderful things that love does–sees something someone needs and takes care of it.
Love thy neighbor.  Every last one of them.

It makes me smile at how clever the One running things is–teaching me to love my neighbor through the one that can make me the craziest. Sounds about right though. Always using the unexpected to teach the most important things…..

for now, I’ll keep working at loving all my neighbors. The ones in our world and the ones down the street. It may not always be easy or even fun, but all means all.

Tonight I’m thankful for good neighbors, especially the one who had every reason to turn a blind eye to our need but didn’t. I’m grateful to the ones who first taught me the words “love thy neighbor” and showed me what that looked like. Most of all, I’m thankful for new chances, each and every day, to be a good neighbor to someone else.

Love to all. And your neighbors too.

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created in the Image

let no man put asunder
what God has joined together–
this community,
knitted in the womb of an idea,
and these people
as they work towards
bringing the Kingdom here
and now

this place
where the stranger is welcomed
and made a guest of honor
he whispers as he meets another new face
“I probably won’t remember,
I’m sorry”
“Don’t worry,” they whisper back
and smile,
“there will be plenty of time for that”

where the prodigal returns
and is fed from the bounty
as all smile and remember
how much he loved to eat,
and after the bread is broken
he falls back into
his old ways–
the older ways–
by cleaning and putting away
and helping however he can

where the elders show the younger folks
what hospitality looks like
and generosity
and giving of oneself for others

and what love looks like
in the form of food
and hugs
and words of encouragement
and kindness

and time

where the little ones play
coming unto, dazzling in their joy
and laughter and the getting along
with all who come through the door

this community
where the music is played
and reverberates in the hearts
of those who hear–
like Zacchaeus, they would climb
that sycamore tree if they had to,
to catch a glimpse

only they don’t have to

for as the music plays and eyes meet
across the room
a Breath is drawn
and released with a sigh,
the Soul rests
and all who enter
remove their shoes
and shrug off their heavy bags,
weary

and thankful for this place
where peace is the drink of the day
everyday
and a community is being created
through the hands of those who
Heard

and built the ark
when no rain was in sight

a dove flew to the window,
still for a moment,
then soared toward the stars
well pleased

and as the doors were locked
and the lights turned off
the people dispersed
for the night
but the community
remained

and always will
in the hearts of those
who give it wings
and carry it out into the world

light

Looking for Love

This morning pretty much every single one of us got up on the wrong side of the bed.  You name it, it was frustrating us.  Whine was the flavor of the day for everyone, including me.

I walked outside to take Miss Sophie for her morning walk, and I felt the need to stay out in the heat and the sun a few minutes longer.  I didn’t like anyone, including me.  I found myself looking for someone to be angry with, and my parents came to mind.

Because they aren’t here.

Sometimes emotions make no sense, y’all.

I was immediately ashamed of those emotions and chastised myself for being angry with people I love, who had to leave this world through no fault of their own.  My heart was immediately trying to make up for where my mind had gone, and I was overwhelmed with the love I feel for them–the people who taught me better than to walk around angry like this.

And then I saw it.

A heart with wings on the fence that Miss Sophie and I walked by this morning.

A heart with wings on the fence that Miss Sophie and I walked by this morning.

The heart.  The heart with wings.

This. This was no coincidence.  I was taught to love and carry love with me everywhere.  To give it wings.

The thing is that just because someone does something well, it does not mean that doing it is easy.  Quite the contrary sometimes.  Like my oldest, she is very good at school.  Some parts of it ARE easier for her than for others, but the truth is that she applies herself and she works hard when she needs to.  Her grades and success are because of her efforts.  My Uncle is good at gardening.  He winds up with such a bountiful harvest, and for that we are all very thankful, but it is in NO WAY easy.  He’s good at it–I hope he enjoys it.  But he works very hard at it.  Sowing and reaping and everything in between.  My Cousin makes eating right and taking care of herself and her family a priority.  She does it, and she does it well.  This is not something she learned just through reading books and websites or the backs of essential oil bottles.  She learned it the hard way.  Through living it, because she had to–for the sake of her own health.  Her wisdom and knowledge that she shares is hard come by.  And yet, she’s always gracious and generous and encouraging with all that she knows.

My Mama was good at loving folks.  She could find something lovable in pretty much everybody.

But I am realizing as time passes that it must have been hard at times too.  Just because she made it look so easy, doesn’t it mean that it always was.  I wish I could tell her thank you for loving me all the times when I wasn’t very lovable.

There is grace in knowing it wasn’t easy for her.  That gives me hope.  I want to love like she did.  Each day, though, I find myself struggling.  I am trucking along, all loving and kind and trying to be helpful and then {BAM}, I have this emotion of not liking someone.  The realization eventually comes that the dislike is more about me than them.  I usually need to get my heart in order.  The emotions that are counterproductive in my efforts to love can be anything from jealousy to fear to insecurity to misunderstanding.  Love has so many emotions that are out to get rid of it.

And lots of times they are easier to feel.

Love.  It’s something to work at.  Takes effort.  Focus.  Concentration.  Sure, sometimes the warm fuzzies bubble up and LOVE IS IN THE AIR.  But love was never intended to be fickle.  Or one-dimensional.  Or judgmental.  Love was meant to be all-encompassing.  Through thick and thin.  Good and bad.

And that takes some doing.

I have often thought that I would like to be thought of as a noted authority.  On something.  I mean, I’ve been on this journey for a while now.  Surely I have learned enough about at least one thing to where I can speak intelligently about it.

Or not.  And so I read.  And listen.  And watch.  And upon reflection, after watching people who are really, really good at loving folks and make it seem so easy–I’ve noticed something.  They also seem to have a peace that passes understanding.  I decided maybe I want to be a master at love.  Like my Mama. And the others who are good at it.

But first I am an apprentice.

And so I look to those around me.  Those who love.  And love well.  Or love hard.  They work at it.  Like with me, some days are better than others.  But each day these folks I look up to make a conscious effort to love, even when every fiber of their body says otherwise.

They love by reaching out.  They send messages or make phone calls.  Just to “see how you are doing.”  And they listen.  Sometimes for hours.  Or they text back and forth until the anxiety eases.  They are patient.

Grandma has been at it again.  This was a total surprise--this beautiful shawl she created for me.  I will be able to literally wrap myself up in love.

Grandma has been at it again. This was a total surprise–this beautiful shawl she created for me. I will literally be able to wrap myself up in love.

They love with gestures.  Of kindness.  Invitations.  Even when they hear “not today,” they ask again.  Until the time is right.  They love with thought-filled gifts.  With things they created.  Or found.  They love by showing they thought about the person and who he or she is before they picked it up or made it.  They love by showing another he or she is KNOWN.

My oldest, Aub, texted me from her latest GW Boutique trip.  She said I was going to love her so much.  Really what she did in finding these treasures and remembering that I LOVE Raggedy Anns is show me how much she loves me.  These girls are a symbol of love for me just like the hearts on their chests.

My oldest, Aub, texted me from her latest GW Boutique trip. She said I was going to love her so much because she had found me a surprise. Really what she did in finding these treasures and remembering that I LOVE Raggedy Anns is show me how much she loves me. These girls are a symbol of love for me just like the hearts on their chests.

They love by remembering.  By giving thanks.  By writing notes and saying words like “You matter” or “Thank you” or “How can I help?”

A thank you and remembrance for something that I enjoyed doing so much I feel like I should be thanking them for letting me do it.  The note that came with it was the real treasure.

A thank you and remembrance for something that I enjoyed doing so much I feel like I should be thanking them for letting me do it. The note that came with it was the real treasure.

They love generously.  By sharing what they have.  Vegetables.  Clothes.  Toys.  Books.  Thoughts.  Ideas.  Wisdom.  Knowledge.  Time.

The love without judging.  These people are the ones someone can tell her deepest and darkest thoughts and feelings to and they don’t blink.  Or they blink and call her out to be her best self.

And these folks who know how to love, they remember how short life is.  And they know how powerful it is to take someone’s hand, look her in the eyes, and say “I love you.”  They love and remind others that they are loved.

I am an apprentice.  But what I finally remembered this morning is that I need always ALWAYS to look for love.  Especially when I am tired.  Angry.  Hurting.  Sad.  Worried.  Stressed.  Overwhelmed.

I need to look for love.

And it was like the scales were removed from my eyes.  And I saw the heart with wings.  And then I looked at the ground.

The second heart I saw after I opened my soul to look for love this morning.

The second heart I saw after I opened my soul to look for love this morning.

And then this one.  Love is there, if only we look for it.  I saw all three of these hearts within the span of about 3 minutes.  And maybe ten steps.  Is it any wonder that I was weeping?

And then this one. Love is there, if only we look for it. I saw all three of these hearts within the span of about 3 minutes. And maybe ten steps. Is it any wonder that I was weeping?

Hearts.

I began crying.  Realizing that just maybe these were messages from my Mama.  Reminding me that love is a process.  A work in progress.  And to always look.  Even underneath the hot Georgia sun, with a hurting spirit, love can be found.

If only we look for it.

May love surprise you today.  Open your eyes.  You are worthy of being loved.

You ARE loved.

Love.  Love to all.