What Prayer Can Be

Sunday evening at the end of Evening Prayer, a young man in our midst whom I respect and treasure very much offered to say the prayers for the night.  He asked if there were any prayer concerns.  Our Princess spoke up and looked over at me as if seeking approval for her request.  She shared about her upcoming piano recital and how nervous she was.  I realized this was important to her, but what really touched my heart is that she felt comfortable in this group of adults to share her innermost feelings.

A couple of minutes later Cooter raised his hand.  He shared that he had auditioned for a play and that he would be finding out about his part and beginning rehearsals the next day.  He too was nervous…..and very excited.

My heart was overwhelmed.

As the young man offered a heartfelt, beautiful prayer for illnesses and diagnoses and peace and healing, he also asked for calming of nerves and the ability to do what needed to be done to do a good job and feel comfortable playing the piano, standing on a stage.

Bless him.  His words were just right.

I will admit that I lifted my head just a little as our friend asked for peace for Cooter, who was sitting right in front of me.  What I saw was so precious it moved me to tears.  His countenance was turned to the sky and he was looking around, slowly, with a delighted look of anticipation.  And then it hit me.

He was looking for God.

Oh my heart.

Prayer can do beautiful things and open up eyes and hearts looking for God.

There’s a story that is being shared rampantly across social media.  The story of a daddy/daughter date at their local fast food restaurant.  While there, they saw a man come in whom the dad writing this assumed, based on appearance, was homeless.  The man went up to the counter and asked if they had any extra food.  He waited on a manager, and the man watching him noted his kindness and the way he smiled at folks around him.  When the manager came out, he offered a full meal, not just leftover scraps, to the hungry man who had asked for food, and the only thing he “required” was that the man let the manager pray with him.  The “homeless” man agreed, and the manager stopped what he was doing and prayed what was described as a beautiful prayer filled with love.  And at some point during this prayer, the daddy watching it all and writing about it snapped a photo of the hungry man and the manager.

At this writing, this has been shared over 109,000 times on social media.  People are praising this manager and this restaurant for their Christian ideals.

Oh me.

A hungry man was fed.  A good thing, right?

Hamburger_sandwich

Ericd at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t know if this man actually was homeless or not, because the person who wrote the about this didn’t share the man’s name or his story.  He didn’t mention asking about it.  The thing is I have friends who are homeless.  They have names like Mac and Rick and Donna and Travis and Roger and Tonya.  They have powerful and broken stories as to why they are without a home to find refuge in.  They have stories of how they have been treated and what they have had to do in the face of hunger.  They also have stories of kind people and people who have used them.  And that is why this story tears me up inside.

What they have had to do to get food when they are hungry breaks my heart.  That someone would require one of my friends to pray with them before getting food, not knowing how long it had been since he or she had last eaten…..that does more than break my heart; it makes me sick to my stomach.

In all fairness, I read some of the comments in the thread. I could hear how pleased folks were with what this manager had done.  I wondered if maybe I was missing something, so I wrote my wise friend and advocate for those in the margins, Hugh Hollowell from Love Wins Ministries in North Carolina.* What he had to share opened my eyes even more, and he put what I was struggling with into words.  Good words.

“The way to think about this is to replace ‘prayer’ with ‘whatever the helper wants to do.’  When seen that way, it is horribly offensive, and can be abusive. If Aub broke down, and asked for help, and some guy said he would give her a lift if she went out with him, that would be seen as creepy as hell. That is exactly the same scenario. Guy asks for help, the helper will only help if the recipient will do what makes the helper happy…..it is all about what the giver wants, and not at all about the recipient.”

My friends who are homeless will tell you they aren’t walking around with a lot of dignity.  Folks aren’t eager to hear their thoughts on much of anything.  They aren’t given the respect and consideration that other folks are given.

Think about it.  This man’s picture was taken.  It was shared OVER 109,000 times and, to my knowledge, no one asked his permission.  I’m not sure anyone bothered to ask his name.  Did anyone invite him to sit down and eat with them?  The man on the daddy/daughter date watched it all and took a picture of the actual prayer to put with his story.  While I don’t know what happened after the prayer was said, there is no mention of anyone reaching out to this man and taking the time to get to know him.  I sure hope it happened that way, but I have my doubts.

It makes me sick to my stomach that prayer was used as a bargaining tool for food.  A basic need.  I can’t even begin to imagine what I would do to get food for myself (let alone my children) if I were hungry and someone said, “Sure but first I require…..”  That this has been hailed as a beautiful Christian act makes me realize once again why my friend Mac once asked me, when he was trying to figure out why I was giving him a ride, “So what are you?  One of them…..Christians?”

That last word was said with disdain.  Since reading this story, my heart has been heavy wondering just what all has happened to my friend at the hand of well-intentioned Christians that has him saying the word in such a tone.

It’s not okay, y’all.

We are supposed to love.  Without conditions.  Or demands.  Or requirements.  Just love.

Or, in the face of hunger, feed.  That’s a form of love.  No tests, no hoops to jump through, no questionnaires.

Prayer can be a beautiful thing.  It is relational, something that makes it very holy to me.  What happened on Sunday night, when Cooter and our Princess were prayed for, that was sacred.  It was beautiful and it touched my children deep in their souls.  Our Princess hasn’t blinked an eye of worry over the recital and has practiced intently ever since that prayer was offered for her.  Cooter took it to heart and felt only anticipation and joy as Monday afternoon rolled around.

Prayer is beautiful.  Those prayers were heartfelt.  Because my children asked for them, specifically sharing their needs, in a room where they felt safe with people they felt connected to.  And the prayers were offered by a young man who knows their names and listens to their stories and has a relationship with them.

And that to me, makes all the difference in the world.  When prayer is asked for, and it is freely given, that is a beautiful, precious, and holy thing.

Tonight I’m thankful for the people in that room Sunday night who seek and build and nurture relationships and who try to love each other just as we were commanded to do.  I’m thankful for a young man with a giving heart, one that listens for the whispers of grace and talks to God with unfaltering trust and faith.  I give thanks for my friend Hugh and people like him who teach the rest of us about loving folks, all folks, and giving them the respect we all deserve and the love we all yearn for.  I am thankful for folks who ask others their names, hear their stories, and build community such that when one needs a friend or guidance or peace, they feel safe asking for what they need and for prayer.

Prayer can be a beautiful thing.  But it should never be currency.  Or required.  It should connect us, not separate.

Love to all.

 

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*It is interesting that I went to Hugh for his input on this story.  It was Hugh’s writing about prayer that first stirred my heart years ago and led me to work through some hard questions I had about prayer.  If you’d like to learn more about or support his mission, please click here.  You can subscribe to his weekly newsletter about the pursuit of beauty here.

 

Q-Tips, Art, and How the Little Moments Matter

A couple of weeks ago at Evening Prayer we talked about the little moments.  The little moments of kindness, of opening a door, offering a smile, saying hello, picking up a piece of trash and disposing of it, giving a hug, carrying a sack of groceries for someone, calling a friend–all of these little moments add up to one good story.  Sarah Thebarge compared the idea to pointillism–all those little moments create something beautiful.

So to bring the idea home with our folks there that night, we painted.

Pointillism.

My artist friend recommended we use q-tips.  I love q-tips–so versatile and easy to find at the store.  And I love my artist friend for suggesting them, because I had the paints and the canvas, but I hadn’t been able to find the right sort of brushes.

BINGO.

One of my samples--idea from Pinterest

One of my samples–idea from Pinterest

I enjoyed this one. Just colors all over the place.

I enjoyed this one. Just colors all over the place.

This was Aub's somewhat abstract turtles. One of my favorites of the night.

This was Aub’s somewhat abstract turtles. One of my favorites of the night.

And so we painted.  There were all kinds of wonderful variations on the ones that I showed as examples.  (Hello, Pinterest, you are my friend.)  Not one single person complained or threw their hands up in frustration.  There was good conversation and laughter and I heard more than one person say how much fun it was.

Must have been the q-tips.  They do make a party fun.

IMG_0175

I had bought some paper shapes for the children to paint, if they wanted, or if they finished a canvas and wanted to continue creating.  It was Cooter who came over and asked to paint, sitting in my lap.  He is eight, and I know this won’t last much longer.  Sure, buddy, pull up a q-tip.

I pulled out a paper cutout of a person.  He went to town on it.  Painting with many q-tips and all kinds of colors, I think he had finished three people by the time we left.

And since then?  When I can’t find him during our school days or on the weekends, I can usually go to the back porch and find him painting away.

How many characters can you spot?  There's Harry, Fred and George (see their "sweaters"), He Who Must Not Be Named, and SOOOO many others.

How many characters can you spot? There’s Harry, Fred and George (see their “sweaters”), He Who Must Not Be Named, and SOOOO many others.

You see, he’s working on painting all of the characters from the Harry Potter books. I think he’s up to Book 4.

All the characters, y’all.  Some obscure, some not so much.  But for painting with a q-tip, I think he’s doing quite well.  It’s been funny to me that he has yet to ask to use one of the brushes sitting back there, right there with the paints.

This is a child who doesn’t see himself as an artist or artistic at all.  Yet this project has struck a chord with him.  He enjoys it, and I love that it resets his brain–he comes away from painting with paint all over all the things *sigh*, his hands included, and with a smile on his face and a lift in his spirit.

I love that so much.  Who would’ve thought it?

Best purchase ever.  So much so, that yes, when I get back over to that store, we are picking up more of those.

After all, he has three more books to get through.

I’ve told him that I thought we would string them up across his wall or something to display them.  He’s thinking about putting them in a book.  We really haven’t decided, but whatever we do, I hope they always bring a smile to his face as much as they do now.

May we all find something that brings us so much joy.  And may we do all the little things we can to live a good story and paint a lovely picture.

Love to all.

I Can Rock Some Home Decor, and Other Fashion Faux Pas

Many days I am a walking billboard for “What Not to Wear.”

I know this.  I accept it.

The way I know this is because apparently I gave birth to a fashion expert.  She KNOWS what is fashionable and what looks good, and what DOESN’T.

And she loves me enough to tell me.  Each and every time.  Quickly.  Without hesitation.

And with, at times, extreme disgust.

Like today we were shopping at the GW Boutique where Cooter found a Halloween costume (already, yes, he’s only been talking about it for a month).  It’s just about hoodie weather here now (any day now, please), and I like to look and see what fantastic hoodies they might have.  It’s like a game.  A treasure hunt.

We were walking through the men’s section (you can find the best hoodies there), and I saw an Oxford shirt that reminded me of one I used to sleep in–it had belonged to one of Mess Cat’s old boyfriends and thus, she had passed it along to me. (Hand-me-downs for the win.) I wore that thing until it fell to pieces.  Literally.

When I pulled the shirt out to show Aub and see what she thought of it, she got “the” look on her face and said, “Why you want to go around looking like Bill Cosby?” referring to his unique tastes in clothes on the Cosby show.  Y’all remember the “Cosby sweaters?”

I laughed.  She was right.  But I still got the shirt.  It was on sale (hello!) and I think it will be comfortable to sleep in.  And it might just be fun to get “the look” from her every now and then.

So yes, I love my clothing bargains.  I found a cool website, ThredUp, which is an online clothing consignment store.  We found Aub several dresses at very good prices for her law internship.  One day on a whim I typed crocheted top or something like that in the search box, as I found myself in something of a bohemian style mood.

And I found this top.

My tablecloth top.  I love it so much.

                                                            One of my favorite tops. I love it so much.

I was in love.  The color, a light cream, and the crocheted details and the asymmetry of it.  LOVE.  Because, if you haven’t picked up on it before, I’m a bit wonky and asymmetrical myself.

I wore it last Sunday to Evening Prayer with jean capris and a coral colored tank underneath.  Most days I dress for myself.  I don’t mean that I dress myself (which I do) but, barring a glare from my girl, I wear what I enjoy.

And I really enjoy that top.

As we were setting up and milling about, talking and catching up before the service started, one of my friends came up and said, “Hey!  I made it tonight!”  I was so glad she did.  Her spirit is fun and sweet and calming, a really rare and welcome combination.  I smiled.  Then she continued, “And you are really rocking that tablecloth you are wearing, I have to tell ya.”

Y’all.

For the love.

I burst out laughing.  My friend totally caught me off guard.  But she was so right.  It did look like one of those doily type tablecloths from way back when.  And with the asymmetry making it rounded, if it hadn’t had a brand tag at the back of the neck, I might have thought it was the best repurposed sweater EVER.

Alas, though, it was just made that way.

My sweet sisterfriend immediately backpedaled because she’s sweet like that and started apologizing.  But I reassured her then and I am reassuring you now, girl, I love you.  Thank you for that belly-busting laugh.  The kind that erupts from you before you even know it’s happening.  I LOVE THOSE KINDS OF LAUGHS.  And I’m thankful when they happen and for the person who inspired them.

The thing about my daughter and my friend commenting on my fashion choices is this.  It doesn’t bother me that they had something less than flattering (I don’t know, could being compared to a tablecloth be considered flattering?  Mayhap)  to say about my clothing, because their commenting means they noticed.  Me.  They saw me, and they noticed what I had on.  It also means they care enough and are comfortable enough in our relationship to say what’s on their minds.  They aren’t being unkind pointing out my fashion faux pas–their sharing comes from love.

And that’s a gift to be sure.  To be known, to be loved anyway, and to be close enough that someone is comfortable sharing their truest thoughts.

A gift I am so thankful for.

Later last Sunday evening, the fact that I’ve been known to pick up one or ten crocheted or knitted afghans from the GW came up.  As we were talking, it was as though a lightbulb came on over my head.  “Y’all.  I have passed by a round blanket or two at the GW, simply because it didn’t really appeal to me.  But now, NOW, I know what I can do with one.  I’ll repurpose it and make one of these tops!”

Now that will be something worth talking about, don’t you think?

May we all have someone who loves us and loves us well and keeps us on our toes, with sharing ideas, opinions, and lots of laughter.  Because laughter really is the best.

Love to all.

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

Giving Thanks for the Soup Maker

Tonight I sat and listened to the wise words of a woman, my friend, who is moving on to the next chapter in her life in the next few weeks.  As the people around the tables sat and talked about how she had led/let us, as a community, try new things–to work for the benefit of others, she waved us off.  “It was never about me.  This was about all of you and the amazing things you can and will do.”

As she talked, I had a vision of a big pot of soup and a bowl of broth.

When one person handles everything on his or her own, it is like a bowl of broth.  There’s nothing wrong with it, it can be quite good, but in the end the flavor can be a bit one-dimensional.

However, when many are encouraged to take part and contribute, it becomes a richer concoction, much like my Granny’s pot of vegetable soup with all those homegrown goodies from her garden.  Mouth-watering.  Delicious.  Satisfying.  Filling.  Complete.

In this life, there is a place for bowls of broth.  Absolutely.  But when every day, day in and day out, one person is handling everything, broth just doesn’t provide the sustenance and enthusiasm that a pot of soup can.  Broth can be the basis for a delicious pot of soup, but it is not filling on its own.

It takes all of us, y’all.  When each of us puts in what we have to offer, we can change things.  We can make this world, this country, our town, our community a better place–IF we are willing to be a part.

Tonight I’m thankful for walking alongside a fabulous soup-maker.  She could have spent all these years making broth, doing it all on her own, and it would have been incredibly good.  But because she said “yes” or “let’s talk” or “we can give that a try,” so many more good things came to be.  Good things that came from many hands making light work, joyful work, as my Mama used to remind me.

“We” is a beautiful word.  Thankful to be a part of that with her and so many wonderful people.

May you all have the chance to make soup with the good folks around you.

Love to all.

By Michael W. Kolton (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Michael W. Kolton (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A Good Story About One Who Is Growing Up

And speaking of a good story…..

we were, last night.  About big stories and good stories.

Last night at Evening Prayer we discussed a program that our local coffeehouse has–Backpack Buddies.  Each weekend, children who might otherwise go hungry receive non-perishable healthy snacks to help them have enough to eat when they are away from their schools or child care centers.  We discussed sharing this program with others outside our group to increase awareness and donations so we can provide enough food for 35 children during the remainder of the summer.  (The program provides for a lot more children during the school year.)

While the adults discussed the kinds of foods that work best, it turns out the littles were listening.  As we said our goodbyes and prepared to leave, Cooter came up and tugged my shirt.  “Mama, I have some ideas about some things to put in the backpacks.”

“Really?  What’s that?”

“Well, toothbrushes and toothpaste.  They might not have them and this way, they can take care of their teeth.”

Huh.  That’s not a bad idea.  I was impressed, not only that he’d been listening and thinking, but also that he had come up with a really good idea.  I told him to go talk to our friend who is in charge of the packing of the bags right now.

And he did.

He’s growing up right before my very eyes.  Sometimes I get growing pains it is happening so fast.

Today in the car, Cooter and his sister had a long discussion about what would be good to put in the backpacks along with the food.

Princess, our swimmer, thought that swimsuits would be a good idea.  Cooter nayed it, but she defended it by saying, “Well, it’s really hot this summer, and they can at least run in the sprinklers.”

Cooter was thinking coats, hats, and gloves in the winter.

And then he floored me.  “Well what if we get them some presents to put in there during Christmas?  I mean, they might not get as much as we do, so maybe we could share with them.”

Bless him.  Bless them both.

This isn’t a big story.  We haven’t solved world hunger.  Or even hunger in our own community.  We haven’t even been to the store yet to pick up food for the backpacks this week.

But I think it’s a good story.  One that I will hold close to my heart–especially when I am tempted to forget how giving and loving and thoughtful my children can be.  Oh, like all of us, they have their moments when they most definitely are not.  But this, their minds and hearts working in sync to see a need and try to address it?

Priceless.  Good.  Joy-filled.

May we all take a moment to see how we can fill a hungry body, heart, or soul today.  It can be as simple as a smile or picking up an extra can of healthy food or a bag of apples.

Wishing you all good stories.  Love to all.

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The closet where the Backpack Buddies magic happens.  Thanks for helping fill it up.

The closet where the Backpack Buddies magic happens. Thanks for helping fill it up.

If you are one of my local friends and you have an extra minute and dollar or two, please consider dropping a non-perishable item in the purple bucket at Bare Bulb Coffee in Kathleen.  (And get yourself a cup of coffee while you’re at it–it is literally the best coffee ever.  And seriously, I know what I’m talking about.)  Some of the things they can use are granola bars, instant mac’n’cheese, crackers, 100% fruit juice, fresh apples, fruit cups, and canned goods like Chef Boyardee or tuna.  (They try to stay away from gummy snacks and sugary drinks and chips.)  They are packing for 35 children every week right now, and your help will make a huge impact.  Thanks y’all.  

Mock Pecan Pie and Making Do

It was covered dish night at Evening Prayer.  Because of the food allergies in our family, I try to prepare (okay, or purchase) food so my people can eat and be satisfied.  I was taking a crockpot of macaroni and cheese, so after I got that started I began thinking about what dessert to take.

Desserts are pretty important, because I don’t ever want my girl to feel slighted or left out.  And let’s face it, when you can’t have dessert, that can make you pretty sad.

I pulled out one of my Mama’s cookbooks–the last one she got,  I’m pretty sure.  I flipped through.  I thought about a cake and then about cookies.  I love to bake, but nothing was suiting me.  Then I flipped through and came to pies.

Pies.

I haven’t made one in quite a while.  I like to make pies, and if I wasn’t mistaken, I had two pie crusts in the freezer.

WIN.

Then one recipe caught my eye–“Mock Pecan Pie.”

Wow.  What?

Since the advent of food allergies, we haven’t had one of those.  IN YEARS.

I read through and was pretty sure I had all of the ingredients.  The story behind it was what reeled me in and sealed the deal though.

It usually is.

I found a story that told how during the Civil War folks were short on pecans.  Since their families loved pecans and pecan pie, the women did something that I grew up watching my Mama do.

They made do.

And improvised.

Beautiful.

I love stories of people who make incredible things happen even when maybe they don’t–at first glance–have all they need to have to bring it to fruition.  Those are the best stories.

As I began to mix the ingredients, I realized I didn’t have white Karo syrup.  Actually, in all honesty, maybe I shouldn’t say I didn’t have it–the truth would be that I couldn’t find it in my pantry.

Rather than give up the plan, inspired by the ingenuity of my foremothers and my own Mama, I looked up alternatives and used the right proportions of water and sugar and voila!  We had a pie mixed up and in the oven.

I usually don’t do that–take something I’ve never made before to a public gathering.  The fact that I did is a testament to the spirit of the people I sit with on Sunday nights.  They are adventurous and gracious and loving.  And I hope truthful.

Because they said it was wonderful.

The best part was the look on my girl’s face when I put a slice on her plate.  Dessert?  Yes, please.

I will make the extra effort every single time, just for that look on her face.

Tonight I’m thankful for the women and men on this journey who might be slowed down by the situation or by what they don’t have, but who are rarely stopped.  And never for very long. They make do and create beautiful things despite their hardships or lack of the traditional set of “tools” in their kit bag.  Most of all I’m thankful for a recipe found at just the right time and for the smile that pie put on my girl’s face.

May we all have a “make do/can do” spirit that makes this world a better, happier place for all of us.

“Pecan” pie from oatmeal?  Who’d a thunk it?  And, as my dear friend pointed out, add a few banana slices–it can make a pretty wholesome breakfast too. (Bread, oatmeal, eggs, fruit…..right?) Delicious and versatile.  It doesn’t get better than that.

And because I love y’all, here’s the recipe for you to give a try.

Oatmeal Pie (Mock Pecan)

2 eggs, beaten
2/3 c. sugar
2/3 c. melted margarine (1 1/4 sticks) *I used butter
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2/3 c. white Karo syrup
2/3 c. oatmeal (not instant)
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix well. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake about an hour at 350 degrees.

Doris Jackson, Gracewood Baptist, Memphis, TN, from “Simply Southern” for the The Vashti Center in Thomasville, Georgia

(I doubled this and made two because #whynot. This is a case of more is better. Also I saw a recipe on-line that suggested adding coconut.  Oh my stars.  That’s next on the agenda–because I found two more pie crusts!  Life is good.)

Love to all.

FullSizeRender-2