My Christmas Wish…..

Oh such a lovely day.

Absolutely shimmering with love and light, much like the fire I’m sitting by right now.  In much the same way as the sunlight danced on the water at the fishing pond this afternoon.  And just like the candles that lit the lovely old room where we shared stories and celebrated the life of St. Lucia this evening.

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Our folks out fishing, waiting on Santa to arrive.

The littles welcoming Santa and Mrs. Claus

The littles welcoming Santa and Mrs. Claus

Light in the darkness honoring St. Lucia--sharing stories and cookies to remember

Light in the darkness honoring St. Lucia–sharing stories and cookies to remember

Our girl as Santa Lucia

Our girl as Santa Lucia

 

A day filled with good things–visiting Santa at the Go Fish Education Center and fishing off the bridge while we waited for his arrival.  Listening to a precious conversation that Santa and Mrs. Claus had with our Princess and Cooter.  Reading the kind words my oldest’s godfather had to say about her.  Hugs and a visit with Mess Cat–those don’t come often enough.  The sun shining, the breeze just right.  Baking cookies from Maemae’s recipe for Swedish Ginger Cookies to share with people tonight at the St. Lucia Day service.  Putting together a wreath last minute from things around the house for our Princess to dress up as Santa Lucia.  Laughter and sharing stories over good food with great friends.

All of it–really, really good.

My heart is full to bustin’.

And yet I feel like weeping.

I feel…..sad.

Stories are overwhelming me–stories of families in need who can’t give their children the magic they would like to on Christmas morning, let alone put food on the table.  Stories of children in homes that aren’t theirs, being asked for the very first time to dream and wish and the list is oh so heartbreakingly long.  Imagine no one ever asking what you want under the tree–ever.  And then one day someone finally does ask.  Children.  They’re only little for just a little bit–we only have one chance to get it right, to make this world a safe place for them.  And I say we, because it’s up to all of us to care for the little ones of the world, whether we have little ones sleeping under our own roofs or not.

So much hope lost, so much brokenness, so many children without someone gazing on them with love and joy.

I was at the grocery store this morning (yes on a Saturday–but it was a quick in, quick out–it was SATURDAY after all), and I saw a Mama and daughter shopping together throughout the store.  The daughter wasn’t much older than our Princess.  At one point I saw the Mama throw her head back and laugh and then hug her daughter with a side embrace. As she looked down at her girl, love shining in her eyes, the Mama told her precious girl, “Oh you are so funny!”

It was enough to bring tears to my eyes.  The love in that Mama’s gaze.  I’ve seen that.  Every time my Mama looked at me.  Right up to the last time, when she wrinkled her nose in her “I love you” language, unable to say those three words out loud.

My Mama firmly believed that every child should be wanted and loved.  She loved each of hers so very much, and I don’t see how any of us could have ever doubted it.  Oh she fussed and she gave us one more chewing out on more than one occasion, but I never doubted my Mama loved me.  Ever.

And the fact that there are children who do have doubts–who cannot be sure that they are loved–and the fact that there are parents who love their children so very much but cannot provide the basic necessities…..

My heart and mind aches.

It’s like having the flu, but it’s in my soul.

And there doesn’t seem to be a cure for it.

I like to peruse the titles of books.  Sometimes I go to Doubleday’s website and just look at book covers and titles and wonder how the writers chose the design, the fonts, but mostly the words in their titles.  What about those words encompassed the meaning they were trying to convey?

Tonight I saw a title of a book that gave me pause.

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon.

I have no idea about the story, though I have read some of her books.

This is about what those words said to me.

Somewhere safe with somebody good

somewhere where there is enough food,

where love is plentiful, and there is enough so that just enough dreams

that float around through those little ones’ heads and hearts

can come true–

just enough so that hope is not lost forever.

Somewhere safe with somebody good,

someone who will fight tooth and nail and lion, tiger, or bear

to provide for and keep the little ones safe.

Somewhere safe with someone good

who will always gaze upon them with love,

so that even when the one who loved is gone,

the ones left behind will still feel the warmth

of that love.  Always.

Somewhere safe with somebody good–

that’s my Christmas wish.

For my little ones and for all little ones, young and old,

who share this earth with me–

somewhere safe with somebody good.

So that the doubts and fears and hunger pains

and sorrow over dreams that never came to be

will dissipate and never be a part of this life for the

precious little ones again.

That’s it.

It is all so overwhelming that I don’t even know where to start.

And so I pick up the one starfish I see, and I throw it back in the ocean.

And I pray that on Christmas morning the little one will look around

and know that he is loved,

that she is treasured,

and the seed of hope will once again be planted

in their little hearts and souls.

I pray that there will

always be a caring someone there to tend that seed and

help it to continue blooming and growing.

May we all get a chance to plant a seed of hope for someone today.

Love to all.

 

 

The Number That I’m Most Afraid Of

Yes.  There is a number I’m afraid of.  You read that right.

Sometimes it just seems like too much.

Sometimes it just seems like too much.

It’s 70 x 7.

490 literally.

But I’m afraid it was symbolic, so it could be any number, infinity, or #asmanytimesasittakes.

None of them an easy pill to swallow.  Or anything I can or really want to wrap my brain around.  For sure, not my heart.

In the book of Matthew in the Good Book, that number is given.  In response to the question, “How many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me?  Seven?”

“Seven? Hardly.  Try seventy times seven.”

Oh my.

Y’all.  Imagine if someone hurt you.  Bad.  Knowingly.  Willingly.  Showing no remorse.  And hurt others too.  Ones you love.  What do you do with that?  How do you forgive that seventy times seven times?

I’ll tell you where I am at in this.  I’m still working on number one.

I have put it behind me.  Yes.  Moved on.  Yes.  Days go by I don’t think about it anymore.  But when my memory confronts my heart, my heart still folds its hypothetical arms and shakes its little head and walks off with a frown and a heavy weight bearing down.  Just.  No.

How am I supposed to do that?  How can I forgive someone who has never asked for my forgiveness?  Who has, with a great degree of arrogance and to any one who would listen, indicated that I was/am/always will be the problem.

I don’t even know.

It makes me very sad.

I know the words of the Lord’s prayer.  And how some folks say they can’t pray the words “Forgive me…..AS I forgive them” because they haven’t been able to forgive yet.

And I know the rest of that story from the Good Book about how often we are called to forgive.  How the King forgave his servant who owed him a great deal when the servant asked him to.  How the huge debt was erased.  And how almost immediately the forgiven one came across a fellow servant who owed him a relatively small amount, and even though his debtor begged for forgiveness, he did not grant it and had his fellow servant thrown in jail.

The end of the story is that the folks who saw all of this happen were appalled.  They went and told the King, who was furious.  He confronted the servant and asked why he couldn’t forgive someone when he had been forgiven such a great debt.  Then he made the servant pay back the great amount he owed.

I get it.

I am given grace beyond measure.  I am forgiven multiple times every day.  Always.  I am thankful.  Humbled.  Blown away even.  And appreciative–did I mention I was thankful? I know I didn’t earn it and don’t deserve it.  At all.

But 490? Or as many times as it takes?  Do You really know what that person did to me?  Have You been following this storyline closely?  Are You aware?  Because if You have, surely You wouldn’t be asking this of me.  You’d know it’s beyond forgiveness, right?  Right?  Rig–

*sigh*

I don’t have any answers tonight.  No ideas for how to get over this hurdle.  I’ve been hurt by folks before and was able to move right along, eventually forgiving, forgetting, even becoming good friends after all was said and done.  Thankful for them in my life.

But this one.  This One. Is. Very.  Difficult.

So if you struggle with a pain or hurt that you can’t get past, know you’re not alone.  I’m not saying we’re right in being where we are, just that we are in this boat together, floating around in the darkness looking for a  way out of the murkiness of hurt and frustration.

And if that number seems way too big for you like it does for me, maybe we should just break it down and work on forgiving in this moment right here.  Just this very one, not looking beyond it.  Not for them–the ones who hurt us–but for us.  So we can leave the darkness.

Love and Light to all.

 

 

Still afraid of the dark

Growing up I was afraid of the dark.

It was bad.

If it was my turn to feed the cats after dark, I was a nervous wreck, certain that someONE or someTHING was out there waiting to “get” me.  Even the flashlight did not ease my worries.  As I got a little older I grew to appreciate the moon and stars and enjoyed gazing, but I still didn’t venture too far from the back stoop, within an easy dash to safety.  And my Daddy, whom I was sure could take care of anything that came along.

So it was ironic that I roomed with my sister who loved the dark.  We’re talking pitch black.  If I even tried reading with a flashlight under the covers, she was not happy.  I could not relax in the dark enough to go to sleep, so I would beg her to let me leave the hall light on and crack our door.  Mama and Daddy would turn off the lights when they went to bed anyway.  She usually put her foot down, but there were nights she’d be so tired, she’d acquiesce and I could fall asleep in peace.

Oh the nights when Mama and Daddy turned in early and they turned off all the lights in the house.  Those were hard.  The darkness held an unknown factor in it, and that is what I was afraid of.  What I didn’t know.  What could be out there. What might be.  My mind would crank up, and some nights it was hard to shut it down.

I don’t remember when things changed, but now I find it hard to sleep if there are any lights on in my room.  There can be an extraneous light from the kitchen or living room that might send a ray or two into the room and I will probably  be okay.  But if there is a lamp or booklight or phone lit up, I find it difficult to sleep.  Wouldn’t Sister find that poetic justice?  I haven’t had the nerve to tell her, after the hard time I gave her all those years.

So yes, I like to sleep in a dark room.  Winter or summer, air conditioning or heat, it seems to me  if a light is on in a room, it is hot.  I find comfort sleeping in the dark.

But I am still afraid of the dark.

This occurred to me early in the wee hours of this morning.  Miss Sophie had her “female” surgery yesterday, and I stayed up with her making sure she was comfortable and could sleep.  While we cuddled, I read a few stories on the internet, and it hit me as I settled down for the night about 2:00 a.m., I am still very much afraid of the darkness.

First I read the article about the shooting in the FedEx in Atlanta yesterday morning.  And I did what I do when faced with the Darkness.  It’s automatically what I do for comfort, like my nephew who rubs a corner of his shirt or my niece who sucks her thumb.

I immediately went through a checklist in my mind–how can I be sure not to be caught in this Darkness?  How can I keep this from happening to me?  How far removed am I from what happened?

I know.  Sad, right?

I mean, my heart goes out to those affected.  And I want to cry.  But then those old anxieties at the unknown and uncertainties kick in and I’m trying to make sure somehow that I won’t be caught out in the dark.

Then later I came across this article.

“After Two Weeks, 234 Nigerian Schoolgirls Are Still Missing: A terrorist group opposed to education is thought to be behind the kidnappings”

What?!  Two weeks?  How had I missed this story?  Was it not getting coverage?  Or was I just in my own little world?

Oh the tears.  Those poor young women.  Seeking an education.  A different way of life.

And it hit me–

How is it possible that we, these young women and I, are living on the same planet?  This past Saturday while I celebrated with other women who attended our all women’s college and honored our heritage–one that began in 1836–these young women were going through unknown terrors at the hands of their enemies in a land far away.

And yet not so far away really.

It makes me think again, wondering how I wound up here and they wound up there.  There are no words, no explanations.

And through my tears, I realized that I am still very much afraid of the Dark.  The Darkness in this world that is responsible for things like this happening.

As I went to my old soothing standby to calm my anxiety–my running through my checklist of–can this happen to me?  Or, am I safe from this?–I realized it has happened to me.  All of these things of the darkness, they are happening to me. To all of us.

I’ve shared this one before, but it came to my mind and heart again this morning.

Another version of the "Many leaves, one tree" line that's been running through my mind.  So true--we're all in this together, aren't we?

And the words of Tayari A. Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and other novels, also spoke to me:

This is very important.

I am not sure what we can do to help, but you have to at least care.

234 girls, stolen from their families, all because they went to school.

She is right.  We have to care.  I may be afraid of the dark, but I cannot continue separating myself from what is happening to cope, to soothe my anxieties.  The truth is that the shooting in Atlanta, the young women kidnapped and reportedly being married off to their captors, my friends who are sleeping on the dock to stay out of the terrible storms of the past two days, the children across town who are hungry, the college student who doesn’t have a stable family to go home to over summer break–they all matter and it all affects me.  Affects all of us.  In this world so filled with darkness, even if we are unsure of what to do, we can begin by caring.

I remember a book I read years ago.  I ordered it off my Scholastic book order form.  I was allowed to spend a dollar occasionally on those book forms, so when I found a 95 cent book, I was excited.  It was Light a Single Candle by Beverly Butler.  I remember how much I loved that book.  But tonight I’m remembering a quote from the beginning of the book–the first time I ever heard these words (which have been attributed to Adlai Stevenson, Eleanor Roosevelt, W. L. Watkinson and a Chinese proverb):

It is better to light a single candle

than to sit and curse the darkness. 

Words that have stayed with me all these years and came home to roost this afternoon.

I am still afraid of the Darkness.  After all the years.  Of that someTHING or someONE who might be out there full of evil intent.

But I can no longer sit and figure out my six or twelve or twenty degrees of separation to bring me comfort.  Life is too short and the world is too small.  What is happening right now affects us all, no matter how scary it is.

And so tonight, as I tuck Miss Sophie in for a good night’s rest and I crawl into my bed on clean sheets in my home where the sidewalks seem safe and the birds sing in the trees behind my house, I will cry over a part of me that is broken.  The part that is connected to those immediately in the line of the Darkness.  The river flows and touches all of us.  Their brokenness is a part of me and always will be.  I cannot live in peace until we are all at peace.

And for tonight, that’s where I’m at.  Tearful, broken, but caring and hopeful.

A veritable paradox.

Love and caring to all.  It’s a start.

After Two Weeks, 234 Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls Are Still Missing

A terrorist group opposed to western education is thought to be behind the kidnappings

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/two-weeks-234-abducted-nigerian-schoolgirls-are-still-missing-180951236/#0dBcu2vogr1T2shs.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

After Two Weeks, 234 Abducted Nigerian Schoolgirls Are Still Missing

A terrorist group opposed to western education is thought to be behind the kidnappings

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/two-weeks-234-abducted-nigerian-schoolgirls-are-still-missing-180951236/#0dBcu2vogr1T2shs.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

Don’t Stop Believing…..Faithfully

We’re running a little late tonight, as we usually do on Sunday nights.  My oldest is in the shower, and she has her music playing in the background as she always does.

Only tonight it’s different.  Tonight it’s special music playing.  The same music she’s been playing all day.  Music from the Glee soundtracks.

Aub is sad and lost today.  My girl has had a lot of loss  in her young life–her Papa, her Cap, her Maemae, and her two great-grandmothers.  She knows life isn’t always about answered prayers and happy endings.  She’s way too young to know these things, but she knows them anyway.

But tonight her heart is breaking in a different way.  A young actor, someone she never met, has died.  She didn’t know him personally, but she felt as though she did, as he was a star in a show she’s only recently found and watched–Glee.  This has broken my girl in ways that I can only imagine.  It’s the first time someone young that she felt a connection to has died, and it’s just hard.

I remember very well August 16, 1977.  For whatever reason I was the one to hear the breaking news about the death of Elvis Presley.  I went in the kitchen where Mama was cooking supper and told her.  She thought I was kidding.  When I assured her I was not, a hush came over both of us.  I was sad.  While Elvis was not related to us, it sure felt like he was.  Daddy had so many of his albums and we watched his movies when they came on TV.  After I told Mama, it was time for me to go out and prepare the bottle for my calf and go feed him.  I remember how dark and unsafe the world suddenly felt when I went to the shed for the bottle and formula.  My world was shattered in a strange way.

I know this today has shaken the sense of immortality for more than just my girl.  There is a family and a young woman who loved this young man and whom he loved.  There are friends and co-workers and people who knew him in passing.  And there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, who “knew” him through his show, who will miss him and grieve this loss in their own way.

He played a fictional character.  I know that.  But this grief is real, not disenfranchised.  Tears have been cried under my very own roof.  And as police and investigators try to make sense of what seems to be a senseless death, the grief will continue.

I’m sorry, baby girl.  It’s a broken world.  Not much makes sense anymore, especially not Death and who it claims when.  I don’t know how to help you through this except to say, I love you and I will listen.  And maybe, just maybe, I will sit and watch a marathon of these shows with you.  In memory of a talented young actor and to do what we all do when Death creeps in and reminds us of how fragile it all is–to huddle close and love each other.

Hoping that light and peace beyond all understanding will reach those who are grieving and mourning tonight.  Tonight I leave you with something my girl sent me with this message: “Indulge me, I’m grieving.”  A talented young man is gone, may he rest in peace.

Just One Thing

When I was deciding whether or not to join Facebook three years ago, I went to the one whom I knew would shoot straight with me.  My Daddy.  As we sat together, I told him that I was thinking about signing up, but I wondered what kind of Pandora’s box I was opening.  I felt more compelled to join as my oldest was involved in activities that used Facebook as its main way of communicating.

Daddy sat for a minute and then answered, “Well, as long as you make it work for you, and you don’t work for it…..it should be all right.”

From the beginning I have kept his words in mind.  They apply to all sorts of situations.  But regarding Facebook, I’ve worked to keep myself from sitting in front of the computer for hours, keeping up with my friends’ and acquaintances’ comings, goings, breakfast menus, and all kinds of drama. I’ve learned not to obsess over what the vaguebookers are talking about.  I’ve tried to be conscientious about my “likes.”  I have to admit that because of Facebook I have found out about and been touched by all sorts of organizations and people who are doing amazing things to make this world a better place.  It has opened my eyes to so many ways to serve our world and be a good steward of all around us.  There’s so much brokenness in our world, but there are so many folks trying to help.  That gives me hope.

So this evening when I sat down for a few minutes and logged in, this was waiting on me:

pic of becca stevens quote

Rev. Becca Stevens is the founder of Thistle Farms and Magdalene.  From their Facebook page, here is their mission, beautifully put:

Magdalene is a two-year residential community founded in Nashville, TN in 1997 for women with a history of prostitution and drug addiction. Magdalene was founded not just to help a sub-culture of women, but to help change the culture itself. We stand in solidarity with women who are recovering from sexual abuse, violence, and life on the streets, and who have paid dearly for a culture that buys and sells women like commodities.

Thistle Farms is a non-profit business operated by the women of Magdalene. By hand, the women create natural bath and body products that are as kind to the environment as they are to the body. All sales proceeds go back into the program.

Rev. Stevens knows these women.  She’s talked with them, cried with them, and most importantly, she’s listened.  She KNOWS why these women are on the streets.  When she says a community has failed them, I know she is right.  And I find myself tearful, because I am one of that community.  I am one of the many reasons these women are on the streets.  “…..a culture that buys and sells women like commodities.”  That.  Breaks.  My.  Heart.  We have to stop this.

And there are so many other heartbreaking ways that we, as a community, have failed.  There are children who are hungry every weekend, when their weekday programs are closed.  Too often I shop for my own groceries and forget to pick up something for their weekend backpacks until I am home and it’s too late.  *whispering* I am so ashamed.  There are programs that take care of the hard stuff.  All I have to do is throw some extra groceries in my cart.  And I can’t even do that as often as I should.

A couple of days ago I was talking with my friend who works with a ministry that helps people who are homeless and in need with all kinds of resources–health, education, emotional support, job training and so much more.  We were lamenting about our friend who is now in a transitional program a couple of hours away.  He needs friends there.  Who are NOT in his program.  Who can visit him and take him to lunch and just let him know he’s important to them.  It’s a little hard to do from three hours away.  Phone calls can only do so much.  He needs to be looked in the eyes and to see that he’s Someone in the eyes of others.   My friend sighed and said she sees the same thing locally.  So many people come to her and want to “help,” but unfortunately, this means they have well-intentioned suggestions about how to do things or they come once and never come back.  There have been far too few who have wanted to offer what is needed most.  Relationships.  These people who have been failed already by the system, their families, their communities, by us–what they need most is a relationship.  To matter to someone.  To have someone to cheer them along.  To care for someone and be cared for in return  To have someone to love them when they fall.  Because they will at some point.  We all do.  This is what Jesus of the Good Book was all about.  Why aren’t more folks, especially those who follow him, jumping at the chance to be a part of something like this?

Some kind people offer prayers for these kinds of situations–these people without homes, these women who can barely eke out an existence on the streets, these hungry children and so many other broken and raw circumstances.  They ask God for an answer, for healing, for a solution.

Well, just a couple of posts behind Rev. Stevens’, I saw this one from a wonderful program that serves folks in need in North Carolina:

pic of love wins quote

Oh dear.  I was afraid it was something like that.

Because if God’s plan is us, that means I have to do more than read a Facebook post and think good thoughts for those folks.  I have to do more than be sad.  I have to get mad and get busy.  I have to find my passion and work for change.  And this is the kind of change I can actually get on board with.  And today, I did get mad.  Again.

My seventeen year old was looking at something that shows big sales on different websites.  She had clicked on a website that sold purses.  She has a thing for bags, and as most of hers come from the GW Boutique, therefore helping folks, I’ve decided to find it endearing.  (And it might be genetic.  Ahem.)  As she looked on the site, “window shopping”, I heard her sharp intake of breath.

“One of these purses is $10,000,” she said quite indignantly.  “Now that makes me wanna just slap somebody.”

Amen.

Y’all, I am not perfect.  My cup (and my closet and my pantry) overfloweth and much of it is my own fault, and I know I need to cut back.  So much of this frustration is with myself too. That I have so much when there are folks with less than nothing…..it feels so wrong.  When we live in a world, in a country, where women and men are living on the streets, subjecting themselves to all kinds of abuse and non-human ways of existing, no matter if it’s because of addiction or loss of income or what–IT. IS. WRONG.  Their voices were silenced along the way.  We don’t know their story before they became addicted, so how can we possibly condemn them for it?  All I know is I am so lucky that I had a home and family to go to when my world fell apart many years ago.  Not everyone has that.  We should not be in the business of pointing fingers but rather about the business of opening our arms.  In love.  In welcome.  In acceptance.

To all.

That means to those who are low in spirit, whether in jail, on the streets, or living next door.  It also means to the children who are ahead of us in line at the grocery store as well as the children who never see a grocery store…..or enough food in their own homes. It means taking time to figure out what makes us mad.  And working to change it.  No single person can fix it all or can even help in every broken situation.  But if each one of us did just one thing–built a relationship with just one person who was in need–I don’t know that it would fix everything, but I do know that we’d be able to see a difference.  And offer hope and set an example for those behind us.  To do just one thing.

I don’t pretend to know what your one thing is.  I’m not even sure what mine is yet.  But I do know that we need to start living like we mean it, and that we each need to have that one thing, that one relational thing.  Maybe it’s checking on a friend who’s having a hard time, offering to help a new mom who is overwhelmed, maybe it’s talking with someone in a doctor’s waiting room or using your gifts and talents to create something for someone in need.  I have no idea what your “one thing” could be.  But I do know this–it will feel right.  It might take you outside of your comfort zone for a bit, but it won’t be painful.  As the great theologian and writer Frederick Buechner wrote:  “Your vocation in life is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”  It will look different for each one of us.

I also know that when you and I each do our one thing, it will not end there.  We must be brave and intent in our mission, giving generously and loving fiercely.  For as Mr. Buechner also wrote, “The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.”

Just one thing.  It’s a start.