Behind Closed Doors

It was overcast and rainy today.  So we stayed in like you do.  With even a couple of times venturing outside, things still got a little wacky today.  Folks were grumpy.  I might have overreacted to spilled water.  The dog barked way too much at the cat outside and anytime someone made a sudden move.  Folks couldn’t get along about what movie to watch or game to play and they couldn’t work together to get chores done.  Or respond to requests for action the first three times they were asked.  They We all got cranky.

Not our best day.

I blame it on being stir crazy.

That’s a thing, right?  When I worked in childcare, and we had days or weeks of inclement weather, we talked about the children (and others *ahem*) being stir crazy.  One summer when the temperature reached so high it was too hot for us to play outside, I remember Mama sending us outside in the dark after our baths to run around in our nightgowns just to burn some energy off.  Now I know that was as much for her as it was for us.

Last night I wrote about a man who was so thankful that because of his job he could afford to turn on the cable, so his children could stay indoors and be safe.  He lives in a neighborhood where it isn’t safe for them to be outside.  I cannot imagine what that life is like, y’all.

Today, in the middle of all of our crankiness, I sat with that for a bit.  If these children are staying inside as much as possible to protect them from violence and being susceptible to drugs and gang activity and worse, other bad things can happen.  Things that aren’t as immediately harmful, but the long-term effects could be devastating.

These children are more susceptible to obesity because they can’t get out and run around.  Sitting inside is necessary for survival, but their little feet need to run free as do their spirits.   When I think about the joy it brings me watching Cooter’s hair flying behind him as he rides his bike up and down the street, I grieve for these parents and children who cannot experience that.   For the ones in school, I cannot imagine that the limited amount of time spent in PE could completely satisfy their need to run around.  Limited physical activity combined with limited budget for purchasing healthy foods can contribute to even more health problems.  Many of these neighborhoods are food deserts as well, with few choices for shopping for foods other than snacks or highly processed foods.

My front porch is a “laboratory.”  Many of the children on our street come and pick leaves and grass and flower blossoms and concoct all sorts of things.  Later they might be running around with pool noodles, using them for goodness only knows, and running around between yards, laughing and chasing and teasing and hiding, and doing all the wonderful things their imaginations come up with.  (They also have disagreements, which they have to resolve among themselves for the most part, and that is really good for them too.)

This little neighborhood is where my children are learning about community.  About sharing each other’s ups and downs and sitting with each other when they are hurting…..physically and emotionally.  I am not saying that these children who are inside all day aren’t learning about community, but I worry about what they are learning about it.  I hope there is a community center or somewhere they can get out and learn that people really do care and that there is joy to be found in caring about others and sharing the journey.

Because, if today is any indication, what happens behind closed doors can escalate fast.  I cannot imagine what it is like for these parents who are working multiple jobs, fighting to pay bills and stay afloat, worrying over keeping their littles–and their teens–safe and in school.  I can only imagine the pressure they must feel.  Perhaps they are fighting monsters of their own.  And then they are stuck in this place with few choices, where their community is not safe.

Without community to support them or options to explore, things can turn for the worse.  People who feel that they have no options or anyone to turn to–I get how frustrating and devastating that can be.  All of that has to go somewhere.  All too often it goes to substance abuse or abuse to others.

I’m not saying these families are doomed.  What I am saying is that I am starting to realize how far-reaching the impact of growing up in unsafe neighborhoods can be.  It can affect everything from nutrition and health to social skills to self-esteem, focus, and the ability to dream about the future.  Imaginations can suffer, as can relationships.  Parents who are struggling and have no support can succumb to the darkness.  The youth without anywhere to go might look for any way out–even the one they know is not the wisest choice.  Many might find themselves in situations outside the law–our Youth Detention Centers and prisons are filled with people who made poor choices in desperate situations.  My own friend grew up in a home without many choices, which contributed to his addiction problems as he tried to numb the pain.  He has been in and out of jails and rehab facilities.  All because at one point as a young person, he felt he was out of choices.

I am broken because tonight, as I wrote this, I was waiting to hear about the appeals that were in the U.S. Supreme Court to save the life of Joshua Bishop by giving him a stay of execution.  He was abused and neglected as a child, and when he was barely a legal adult, he and an older man murdered a friend with whom they’d been drinking and doing drugs.  The older man was sentenced to life in prison.  This young man was given the death sentence.  He is reformed and has been a good role model for others while in prison.  The families of the victims have asked that his sentence be commuted.  Seven out of the twelve jurors who sentenced him to death have asked for the sentence to be changed to life in prison.  Yet the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has said no, as did the Georgia Supreme Court.  And then, so did SCOTUS.  And so, tonight at 9:27 p.m. he was executed.

It’s all so broken.  I want to scream and yell–WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?!

I am left to wonder, as I ask for Grace and Mercy, what part his community or lack thereof played in all of this?

Tonight I’m holding all of this in my heart, and I ask what we–because it will take all of us as a COMMUNITY–can do to change things for these families, for these neighborhoods?  What are we missing out on because one of these children–and there are so many of them–didn’t reach his or her full potential because of the broken community they were raised in?   Because their community was unable to circle close around and provide guidance and safety and encouragement and rules and advice and resources and options…..

all the things I was raised with but took for granted every single day.


Y’all we need to grab these children and families up and wrap them in a big hug and then ask them how we can help them change their world as best as we are able in whatever way looks best for them. Because here’s the deal–their world is our world and our world is theirs.  There’s no us and them–it’s all we and us.  In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer:  “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

I’ll meet y’all outside.  Let’s make it safe for all, so no one has to be afraid behind a locked door.  And miss out when the good things come knocking at that door.

Love to all.


You can read more about Joshua Bishop’s case here.

This video is a powerful one, a message from a local Superior Court judge to young people.  YES.  I am thankful for her words and the fact that she cares.






The world has lost another beautiful soul.

Tonight I give thanks for this talented actor whose portrayal of Severus Snape as written by JK Rowling in the Harry Potter novels taught some, reminded others, that there is more to people than what meets the eye.  Professor Snape reaffirmed for us the truth in Mary Lou Kownacki’s words:

Engrave this upon your heart: there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you heard their story.

Many of us spent years until the release of the seventh book in the summer of 2007 disliking this man and his ways, distrusting him.   And then, in that book, the details of his loyalties are revealed, and we learn the story of who he was and how he was treated before and whom he really loved, and what he did for that love. And then…..we realized…..

this is not a world of easy black and white.  There is no all good or all bad.

It’s all grey.  The good with the bad.  The broken with the beautiful.  The light and the dark.


So can a talented artist like yourself.  Well done, sir.  

Thank you, Alan Rickman, for bringing this to life for us–for your part in teaching us to look beyond the story we see–to listen and hear what is not always easily seen or shared.  You shall be missed.




And Now, Only the Stories Remain…..and the Echoes of the Laughter

A phone call can change everything, you know?

It can change your plans, your evening, your thoughts, and your life.

I was just now sitting down to write about the bird we saw today, when I got a call that did just that.

My godfather, the man who is responsible for my existence (he introduced my parents), passed on from this world to the Next One yesterday evening.

Oh my heart.

I don’t ever remember him not being in my life.  He was like a refreshing summer breeze, blowing through and bringing all kinds of laughter and stories and sheer joy with him.

Uncle Chesh (short for Cheshire) attended college with my parents.  He was friends with both Mama and Daddy, who had never met.  He called Daddy “The Joyner.”  And he shared some of “The Joyner’s” writings with my Mama before she had even laid eyes on him.  I’m pretty sure Mama loved him before they ever met.  She was blown away by what she read, and Uncle Chesh knew it.  He arranged for their first meeting to be at the laundromat, but my memory might have failed me here.  I suppose I could skip over the part where Mama looked up (her 4’11” to his 6 feet) at Daddy at this first meeting, and said, “I believe I could fall madly in love with you, Mr. Joyner.”  But I won’t.

Because that’s how it all began.  Thanks to Uncle Chesh.

With a wedding planned, he wanted to get them something nice as a wedding gift.  And he did.  A real classy gift.

A set of dishes to start them out in their new home.  Perfect.

But this wouldn’t be an Uncle Chesh story if the backstory weren’t even better.

See, he was a college student.  So he found a way to get them dishes on his limited income.  The gas station had a deal where with every fill-up you could get another dish.

One fill-up at a time, Uncle Chesh got them that set of dishes.

I love that man.

He was right tickled with himself when, at my brother’s wedding back in ’05, he brought his gift.  A set of dishes.  This time not from the gas station, but the story goes that he did have to visit a few different Targets to get enough place settings.

Oh me.

I was the one who first told Uncle Chesh that his dear friend was sick with lymphoma.  The heartbreak in his voice was more than I could take.  He made sure he went over to visit Mama and Daddy when they had to stay in Atlanta while Daddy had his treatments.  And it was Uncle Chesh who came into town less than a week before Daddy left this world, planning a fried catfish dinner because he knew that was something that Mama and Daddy would both like.  He filled the house with laughter and regaled us with tales of his past adventures.  Some stories we knew, some we didn’t.  But it didn’t matter.  That he was there and that, one more time, the sound of his and Daddy’s laughter echoed off the walls were the greatest gifts he could have given us.

I was the one who called to tell him that Mama was gone.  He cried.  He loved them both so much, just like family because he is family.  He wanted to come to the services, just as he had with Daddy, but his own health wasn’t good.

And now–

too soon.

My heart is breaking.

But I did get one good laugh in tonight, when I realized the timing of everything.  Yesterday evening, I found myself wanting to paint–and a picture of the Cheshire Cat came to my mind for no good reason.  Only now I know it was for a very good reason.  I’d like to think that was my Uncle Chesh popping in with his big ol’ grin to say goodbye.  For now.

Because he was on his way.  To someplace better.

And then there’s this.

Yesterday, the day Uncle Chesh passed on, was my Daddy’s birthday.  And if that ain’t just like Uncle Chesh, showing up to surprise my Daddy for his birthday! Because that was his way–on many occasions over the years we’d get a call out of the blue: “Hey, I’m at the Waffle House about two hours down the road, I’ll be by there in a couple.  Can’t wait to see y’all.”

I bet that was a humdinger of a hootenanny my Daddy had for his 73rd birthday yesterday.

I just hope somebody was serving some Waffle House coffee.  Because I have a feeling they were gonna be up a while catching up, and well, it was my understanding that’s where Uncle Chesh told some of his greatest stories.  Over a cup of Waffle House’s best.

To the man who stole my heart from the moment I first met him, and without whom I would not be here–

thanks for the laughter, the hugs, the encouragement, the stories, and the love.

Until then…..

I miss you.

love always,



My Uncle Chesh doing what he did best–making me laugh and sharing his love of life with all around him.


where were you?

some are going to ask you, “Where were you?,” you know

and others will claim you were never absent

that all things work to the good

and words like that


I won’t ask you

I’m not sure I’m ready for the answer

but I do wonder why all the brokenness

in the midst of a day where my little boy

is beaming because he built his first

Lego model from start to finish

all by himself

and on a day that found my girl

dancing and singing and making up stories

while her big sister beamed and found joy in the

silly and yet important things


in the midst of all of that

why this brokenness?

the sun was shining, for goodness’ sake

so many had spoken to you and asked for help


my heart aches because they were after a dream,

but because someone was hurting and lost

they are no longer here

to dream

to laugh

to love


and I want to know why

but I am hesitant to ask

because I’m afraid of what the answer might be

was it me?

did I fail him?

or another like him?

did I fail to stop and smile,

pay attention, take up time,

give away the love you so freely give

just for the sake of giving it?


some will ask where you were

but I think I know–

weeping with the rest of us,

tears streaming down your face,

wishing it could have all been different


and it could have


if only

there were no brokenness


and that, you’ve left up to us, haven’t you?


Where were you?

pleading with us to look

and see

and love


and love



What Do I Do Now? Part II

pic of words

So tonight I was on the phone with my sister when my cell phone rang.  It was a number I didn’t recognize, but since it was a Macon number I asked my sister to hold on and I answered.

It was Mac.

My friend who just three weeks ago told me he was done with his recovery and that he’d rather drink.  And that I could forget him and he’d do the same.

My brother.  The man whom my family loved as one of us.  The man who shut the door, and I didn’t know where he was or how he was.

He is in a rehabilitation/detox program.  Again.  He’s been there since Monday.  Before that he was staying by the river.  They tell him they’re going to put him in a halfway house in town soon.  He didn’t want to talk too much or answer any questions as he was in a public room and wasn’t being allowed to talk very long.

Okay.  I just sat back and listened.

Visiting hours are Saturday.  From three to four.  He wanted to see if I wanted to come.

The same time that is already spoken for.  Something else entirely but it’s something that I have to do; others are involved, and I can’t change the time.  I don’t know if I would have been able to go see Mac had I not already had this obligation, but I like to think I would have.  Could have.

I just don’t know.

He said he understood.  That he’d call me when he knew more about the wheres and whens of them moving him.  And he gave me his ID number so I can get information about his case.

I am thankful he’s getting help.  I am extremely grateful he is off the streets and not drinking.  The thing is I didn’t roll my eyes as he said, “I just can’t live out there anymore.  I can’t make it.  It’s not for me.”  But I did listen unemotionally.  There was no joy or “yay, way to go” in my mind or my heart.  I’ve already heard these EXACT. SAME. WORDS.  Last November to be exact.  I’m just not sure I’m ready to get back on this roller coaster.

I’ve told my children, especially my teenager, that there’s no story you can’t bring home with you.  No matter what, you can tell me.  I will always love you.  ALWAYS.  There may be consequences and repercussions, but I will love you.

And Mac?  He’s family too now.  So does that apply to him?  Can I listen to his stories and support him?  I told him I would always love him, and I will.  But can I do it at close range again?  Can I watch him walk this path again?  Can I support him as he does?  Cheer him on?  Can I put my heart out there?  Again?

I wish I could say without question, Yes!  I wish I could say I will.  As many times as it takes.  Yes.  But I’ve seen the damage and destruction that comes from addiction–on more than one occasion–and I just don’t know.  I’m tired and I’m scared for him, and I just do not know.

But I do love him and I always will, and for tonight, that will have to be enough.

Staring Disappointment in the Face

The past few weeks our Princess has been working toward a goal.  A goal she set for herself.  She wanted to make the swim team.  She’s worked hard and practiced, but I just didn’t know if it would be enough this time around.  She can try again throughout the year or wait until next summer and really go for it again.  I called myself preparing her for all outcomes, but especially the one where she didn’t quite reach her goal.

Our Princess in the water, giving it her all

Our Princess in the water, giving it her all

It was Thursday morning when she realized it wasn’t going to happen.  It took her a moment.  As I was gathering the littles and their things and getting ready to leave, she sat down.

“Mama, wait.”

I asked her why, saying that the class was over.

She looked around and asked, “Aren’t they going to give out the papers this time?” The paper.  The one that said you’d finished the lessons and if a particular box was checked you were eligible to try out for the team.

“No baby, not this time.”

She looked around again, and realization dawned on her face.  I pulled her close to me and walked quickly to our vehicle, not wanting the sobs to start out in the open.

See, just a week or so before she’d been in that position.  Only it was because they had moved her up to the top group in the classes.  She had a breakdown over her PROMOTION.  She loved her instructor and change does not come easy for that one.  Wonder where she got that from.  Ahem.  Moving along…..

The day of her promotion she started crying as soon as she came to me.  I thought she might have been corrected about something, as she’s really a sensitive child and that would have torn her up.  But no, she was devastated over changing teachers–she really, really loved Ms. G.

We worked through that one, and she did quite well.  So last Thursday as we buckled up and pulled forward to leave, I kept glancing back in the rearview mirror, waiting for the sobs that were sure to come over the heartbreak of not making it.

Only they didn’t.

When I came to the stop sign a couple of minutes later, I looked back again.  She was staring stoically out her window.  She didn’t want to talk about it, I had asked.  So she sat.  No tears, just sadness exuding from every pore.  Disappointment.  My heart broke.

It was one of those life transition moments.

Because in that moment I knew she knew.  That life wasn’t always going to turn out like she’d hoped.  In all honesty I guess she already knew that as she’s lost two of the people she loved most in the world over the past twenty months.  She cried her eyes out over both of them.  This was different.  Not a tear was shed.  To watch my baby be sad, and to see her hold it in, and not be able to do anything to fix it.

Yeah, that.  I don’t really know what to do with that.

I mean, adversity, I get it.  When one of my children complains about life not being fair, I’m the one who says (trying not to roll my eyes), “Fair is where we look at RV’s, see the cows and horses and pigs, and ride the Agri-Lift; life is most definitely NOT fair.”  It’s good that they not get a trophy for every little thing, or a reward for every time they help someone, or recognized every time they make a wise choice.  But that day I stared disappointment in her face, and I knew something had broken in her.  And that broke me.

Oh, she will try again.  For her sensitive spirit and sunshiny soul, she is also very strong-willed at times.  So I know that one day, if she continues to want it, she will make the team.  Because she will have worked hard and earned it.  And one day this will be but a blip in her memory.  But for me, it will always be the day that, as my sweet friend put it, “sunshine was sad.”  And that’s just hard.

The One About Chopped Up Plants and Brokenness and Hope

In her book and I shall have some peace there, Margaret Roach tells a story of self-awareness when she took a week off to garden at her then weekend home in upstate New York.  Her two friends from Seattle, fabulous gardeners–Charles and Glenn, were there to help her.  As she was working in one part of the yard, she looked over and saw Charles whacking away at her Hylemecon Japonicum, a plant she had nurtured and watched over for ten years, an unusual find at a Wildflower Society Sale in New England.  She was DEVASTATED, which probably showed in the volume of her voice and the things she said to Charles at the time.  She just could not imagine her plant not being right there where she’d planted it, growing back each spring after curling up and lying dormant underground each winter.  It looks dead each winter, but really it’s not.

Devastated.  Lost.

But there’s a happy ending.  The next April, and each spring after, Ms. Roach’s yard was literally blanketed in this precious plant.  There is great joy and reminder in the sight of all that has come from the chopping up of her plant.

I thought about this a couple of days ago when I planted our new butterfly bushes.  I remember the first time I pulled up at Mama and Daddy’s house and saw the butterfly bushes I’d given Daddy–the ones that had been THRIVING–were cut back to almost nothingness.  Oh my word, who had lost their mind and WHY?  Daddy explained to me that this was so they would grow even stronger the next spring.  And he was right.  I grew up around peaches, and they were a big part of my life at one point.  It was so hard to watch the trees being pruned and to fear that the ones who wielded the pruning shears would not be careful enough.  But it was for the better growth of the trees.  The Lantana Daddy kept by the air conditioner unit outside is the same way.  Roses too.  Cut them back in winter, they’ll grow back in the spring.

I can sympathize with Ms. Roach.  Last fall we were cleaning up the flower beds and preparing to put out more pinestraw.  I had walked away for a moment to catch up with my sweet neighborfriend.  When I turned around I saw my husband using a shovel to dig up what he thought was a weed.  I couldn’t breathe.  Tears were ready to flow.  He was digging and chopping up my Hairy Wandering Jew that my gardening friend had not only given me but planted in the bed herself, showing me that it would grow better outside of the pot she had brought it over in.  (And that’s another lesson my friends–for another time.)

More Hairy Wandering Jew and purple behind it--all gifts from my gardening friend and waiting to be put in the ground to grow and thrive.

My Hairy Wandering Jew and the purple behind it–all gifts from my gardening friend and waiting to be put in the ground to grow and thrive.

Devastated doesn’t even begin to cut it.  Mad.  Upset.  Hurt.  Check, check, and check.  As I stood over the delicate tendrils of my little plant–all whacked to pieces and lying limply in the soil, I cried and reached down.  I didn’t have it in me to throw the pieces out.  I covered them in pinestraw and walked away.  Heartbroken.  I know, it’s just a plant, but it meant something to me because of the love and care of a friend that it represented.  And because it was something I was helping to live.  That was huge.

I had no idea that these plants have the amazing ability to come back, like roses and butterfly bushes and peaches.  And so much else in our world.  Maybe even–me?

Today I was out repotting some of my herbs and cacti, and I looked over at that flower bed and smiled.  Because instead of the one little cluster of Hairy Wandering Jew, there is a great spread of them.  Growing and thriving.  Determined.  Beautiful.

My little plant, before all broken apart, now growing and spreading and thriving.

My little plant, before all broken apart, now growing and spreading and thriving.

It is mind-blowing to me that what looks like death, like THE END, only serves to strengthen the growth when the dormant period is over.  The idea that brokenness can not only be mended but actually fosters more growth than before.  Mind.  Blown.  It defies logic.  C’mon, this is amazing stuff, right?

Last year I gave Mama a pink geranium for Mother’s Day.  She loved it.  Unfortunately between her HospitalStay last August and then the horrible one in January-February, we didn’t take very good care of it.  I’ll just say it–we let it die.  Our minds were on other things besides watering and pruning and the like.

At the beginning of spring, I was over at the house taking care of a few things, and I noticed a tiny bit of green in the abandoned pot sitting over by the edge of the back porch steps.  Surely not.  But I moved it to sit against Daddy’s building–it would get sun but not a lot, and maybe a little more rain than normal from what would run off the roof.  I was not going to be able to water it regularly.  Taking her from her home did not enter my mind, oddly enough.  And look at her go now!

Mama's geranium coming back full force after a winter of me thinking it was gone.

Mama’s geranium coming back full force after a winter of me thinking it was gone.

I may be oversimplifying things, but I find comfort in knowing that that which is broken, that which appears to be without life can actually be getting ready to grow better than ever before.  I know what brokenness feels like from the inside out.  Most of us do.  I know what dormancy is like.  I often have those days now.  Call me silly, but I look at these plants, these flowers, and knowing what they looked like just a few months ago, I find a bit of peace and some hope to cling to.  Maybe, just maybe, all the raw brokenness inside and all that which seems dead will, after a time of dormancy, be ready to grow again.  Ready to grow and spread all that was planted inside of me by my Mama and Daddy–seeds of loving unconditionally, seeking justice, fighting for what’s right, walking away from what’s not, and just being there for each other.

I found this quote today.  It speaks to what I’ve been thinking a lot lately.

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with Spring —-  George Santayana

I have always savored the anticipation of the next season coming along, while being fairly content in the current season.   The point is, without the quiet and death-like dormancy of Winter in our lives, there would be no Spring and all that beautiful growth.  And that fills me with hope.  And as I just wrote to a friend, “Always.  Always hold onto hope.  It’s free.  So why not?”