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?

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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.

 

‘Tis Always the Season

Six months from now many of us will be menu planning.  Or mapping out the mother of all shopping experiences.  Or listing things we are thankful for.  Planning holiday gatherings and wondering if it’s a good time to start shopping for Christmas.

This is not one of those “y’all get ready, Christmas is so many days away” posts.

This is quite different actually.

We are six months from the start of the holiday season.

Inevitably hearts and minds, reflecting what they are thankful for, will turn to those who have less. Those who are in need.  Without enough food.  Without shelter.  Without a home.

Many people reach out and offer their resources and time to those agencies and people whose mission it is to feed the hungry and support the people who are homeless.

Which is absolutely wonderful.  And resources wisely invested.

Unfortunately, these missions and folks helping people in need are in desperate need of these resources all year long.  While we hate to think of folks being out in the cold of winter with no place to go, imagine not being able to escape the oppressive heat, or the torrential thunderstorms, or the incessant attack of gnats and mosquitoes.

I once met a woman who had been living by the river to escape some of the worst of the heat.  She came to the meal that we all shared on Sunday nights covered in mosquito bites.  It was heartbreaking that something like a can of bug spray would have made all the difference in the world for her.  Something that would have been cheaper than a pair of gloves and a hat in the cold of winter, but just as important for survival.

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So this is not a “Hey Christmas is coming–feel the pressure–and dread it already.”  This is a reminder to drop by your local shelter with those travel soaps and shampoos.  Take a few cans of bug spray with you.  Or call the soup kitchen and offer help with a meal.  Everyone loves the idea of serving the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, but folks need feeding all year long.  Maybe check and see if a program in your community helps provide food on the weekends for children who are on the free meal program at school.  The school year is coming to a close, and these littles ones will be home…..and hungry…..more than they have been all year.

There are as many needs that need attending to as there are people in our world.  My point is not to make anyone feel guilty or to tell folks what they need to do.  We can get both of those from any number of other places–we don’t need to make each other feel bad.

My point is–the need is always there.  If you felt moved to help at Thanksgiving or Christmas, please think about helping out now.  Right now is when the giving to these helping agencies goes way down.  Your help is needed more than ever.

Let’s all make tomorrow a day to help another.  With our gifts, talents, and resources.

Giving and sharing never go out of season.

Love to all.

 

 

 

If you don’t know where to start in helping folks, here are a few places to start.  You can do a search for your own local agencies.

Love Wins Ministry  Raleigh, North Carolina

Daybreak Shelter Macon, Georgia

Backpack Buddies, Bare Bulb Coffee  Kathleen, Georgia

Macon Outreach at Mulberry UMC  Macon, Georgia

Family Promise of Greater Houston County  Warner Robins, Georgia

Macon Rescue Mission, Macon, Georgia

 

Again, this list is just a start and by no means exhaustive of all the great folks who are helping others.  If you have any to add, please do in the comments so we can all learn more about these missions.   Thanks.

 

The One About a Phone Call, Cardboard, and Loving While Letting Go

The number wasn’t one I recognized.  It was a local number so there were any number of folks it could have been.

When I answered and heard that voice, oh my heart.  Relief flooded in.  A smile covered my face.  I do love that voice.

And the one it belongs to.

Mac.

My friend.  I haven’t heard from him in several months.  The last I knew he was in a transitional home, sober for a few months, doing what it took to stay there and work the program.  To keep a roof over his head.  And then the communication stopped.

I feared then what I now know happened.

Mac got fed up.  He was tired of following the rules.  This is not the first time he’s left this home or another like it.  But it might be the last.  I don’t know where else there is for him to go if he wants to get off the streets again and fight the disease of addiction that is wearing him down.

But for today, hearing his voice was wonderful.  He was calling to check in.  To see how we were doing.  We talked about piano lessons and math books–he guessed correctly which of the littles wasn’t happy with their math today.  The rain has run him off from his usual “camp.”  We talked about how nice the weather was today and how his best friend JJ is doing.

But there was more.

“I just wanted you to know that wasn’t me they pulled out of the river yesterday.”

ummmmm, what?

“Yeah, they pulled some guy out of the river, and I didn’t want you worrying.”

I don’t keep up with the news as much as I should, so I hadn’t heard about this.  Mac went on to say that yeah, he was some white guy and none of them knew who he was.

Bless him.  Bless all of them.

Mac confirmed what I thought, that he had left the home back in August, and that he was sticking close to one particular area of his hometown.  He isn’t able to get around as easily as he did before, and even back then he was very limited.

Now he has a walker.  It’s one that someone donated.  He can take breaks, walking, and sit on this walker he has, and that makes getting around a little better.  He still isn’t able to make the long trek to the church where lunch is served on weekdays very easily.  Most days not at all.  So he sticks close to the convenience store.

“Yeah, a few days ago, the cops come along, and I was panhandling there.  I told ’em just go ahead and arrest me.  But they didn’t.”  He told me this very matter of factly.

“Did you want to be arrested?”  He’s wanted it before.  To get out of the weather and fight his addiction.

“No, not really. But I figured they were there, they saw me doing it. Might as well.”

Ah.

“But they didn’t.  They went and pulled some cardboard out of the dumpster and made a bed for me to lay on behind the store.  I’d had a little bit to drink, so they walked me around there and told me to go rest.”

I listened, waiting.  He laughed.
I finally asked my question–“Well was that a good thing?  I mean, you were glad?”

“Heck, yeah!” he said, laughing again.  “I mean they went digging in the dumpster for that cardboard for me.  They didn’t have to do that.”

No.  No, they didn’t.  Bless them too.

Tonight I am thankful for a phone call that reconnected me with my friend, my brother.  I am learning how to do this thing called life just as he is–as we go along.  One day, one moment at the time.  And I’m learning it’s not about helping him get where I want him to be, but more about loving him right where he is and not asking him to be any different.  It’s hard, but I know now it’s what I’m supposed to do.

Just love him.

I think it’s okay for me to want something better for him, but it’s not okay for me to define what that is for him.

I can’t help but worry though.  Convenience stores are high on temptations and low on nutrition.  There’s him falling down and breaking something.  Falling down and no one knowing.  All of this rain.  Mosquitoes.  Unkind people.  Hunger.  Addiction.

But for tonight I turn to the warmth in my heart of knowing where he is, and that for this moment, he is okay.  He is my brother, and I love him.

And for a Monday, as hard as it is to leave it there, that will have to be enough.

Love to all.

It Started Sprinkling

The phone rang last Friday.  Actually it chirped.  Like a cricket.  I guess phones really don’t ring anymore, do they?

But I digress.

It looked like a local call but I didn’t recognize the number.  I was relieved when I heard Mac’s voice.  He hadn’t been at Daybreak when I was there for Sister Circle the previous Tuesday, and I hadn’t heard from him since the week before.  I had been worried.

“Hey, where are you?  This is a new number.  You borrowing someone’s phone?” I asked.

“Naw.  I’m at the hospital.”

Oh NO.  What had happened this time?  He’d been having some bad falls due to his balance not being good, even stone cold sober.

“I’m detoxing.”

Okay.

Wait.  What?!?

“You are.”  I paused.  “Ummm, that’s good.  Really good.  What brought this on?”  Last I knew he was thinking about it, but he didn’t seem in a big hurry to make it happen.

“It started sprinkling.”

I laughed.  “What?”

“Well see, me and J and some of them were all hanging out in the parking lot at the convenience store, and everybody got ready to head out.  It started sprinkling, and I just decided I was tired of this, I couldn’t live like that no more, so I called an ambulance.”

Ah.  Sprinkling.  *shrugging*  Whatever it takes.

He was in good spirits.  He was dreaming again.  About where to go after detoxing.  About what he could do with his life.  He wants to work, he wants to get a job–a real job.  One that he CAN do, despite his balance issues.

My heart soared.  As he talked, I bowed my head and said a silent word of “thanks.”  And I was grinning really big.

Over the weekend we talked a couple of times.  He was in the zone.  He was attending meetings and eating good cooked food and sleeping in air conditioning and on a real mattress.  For the first time in ten months.  All because of his choices.

On Monday, while I was in the middle of dealing with Mr. A.A. Law, Mac called me again.

“Hey.  Guess what?  I called Mr. J and asked him for the numbers for that place he said might could take me for rehab, and he told me to wait a minute.  Then he came back on the line and asked me if I could get up there.  They’re going to let me come back!”

I said the first thing that came to my mind.  “I’m gonna kiss Mr. J when I see him!  Whoo hoo!!!!!”

Mac was going back “home.”  The place three hours to the northeast, where he lived for about a year–minus the two weeks he spent in town here because he took a drink and then many more on his visit back home for Thanksgiving.  When he went back for a second chance and then did not return, after a visit back to town last July, he was told that was it.  And fair enough, right?  There are consequences to one’s actions.  And that was it.

The beautiful thing about this change of heart by Mr. J is that it’s because of one thing.

Relationships.

Mac has called Mr. J off and on over the last few months when he’s been at Daybreak, the day shelter in town.  From what Mac has shared, I gather they’ve visited, caught up on folks who were there when Mac was and those who still are.  I believe that those conversations, the thoughts and struggles shared through the phone line–that’s why Mr. J is willing to take a chance with Mac again.  He’s heard what I’ve heard.  That, for now, in this moment, Mac is ready.

I don’t kid myself, y’all.  I’ve done it before.  Been all happy, happy, happy–saying Oh THIS is the time.  THIS time he is going to make it.

Now I dream and hope smaller.  Today this is it.  In this moment he’s making good choices.  One moment at a time–that’s the true journey for an addict–no, wait–for all of us, isn’t it?

I spent a lot of Wednesday and much of yesterday trying to find a kind soul to drive Mac up to his new/old home today–his discharge date.  I found myself getting frustrated.

Frustrated that I couldn’t do it without getting out of prior obligations.

Mad that no one seemed to be able to make the trip.  Whether lack of dependable transportation, scheduling conflicts, or whatever–no one was able to do it.
I was feeling lost and very sad, and a little like no one could sense what a special person he is and that taking him and getting to know him on this trip would be more rewarding than anything else.

And then as messages from friends I’d asked for help from came pouring in, I saw the opportunity–the possibility for really good things that was coming from this–from me not finding someone right away.

Friends were regretful that they couldn’t do it, but they would be praying.  Friends wanting to support him however they could.  Folks who wanted to write him, send him encouragement.  People who have never met this man, reaching out, lifting him up, taking his journey and making it important in their hearts and thoughts.  Folks were looking to give comfort and refuge any way they could–folks were “being the feathers” for Mac, and it made me cry.

Tonight I’m thankful for the young man who did step up and agree to drive a complete stranger in his vehicle for over three hours.  He was the epitome of Kindness and Compassion.  You might know this young man–look up those words in the dictionary–I’ll bet his picture is there beside both of them.  He smiled and looked down at his shoes when I asked him to let me know when he’d made it home safely.  “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to do that with anyone,” he said.  “I’m a Mama, indulge me, please,” I smiled back.  And so he did.  Journey there and back–safe and sound.  Thankful for that.  And so much more.

I give thanks for the change in how I saw things–that moment when I shifted from being frustrated to amazed–realizing that even though this friend or that friend couldn’t drive Mac, they were lifting him up–that was a freeing moment.  It gave me pause, and I was quiet and felt the hush of my anxious spirit almost immediately as the realization hit.  People care.  They really do.  And then they do what they can with that caring spirit.

If you have a moment tonight, as you lay your head on your own pillow or tomorrow as you sit in a familiar place and find comfort in your routine or enjoy your freedom not to have a schedule, please think about Mac.  Cross your fingers, say a prayer, lift him up–any and all appreciated.  Even though he’s going back “home,” Mac knows things will be different than they were before he left.  He told me yesterday he didn’t sleep at all Wednesday night for thinking about this next big step.  He also knows something else–

he’s not coming back to town.  This town that he has called home most of his life–he realizes he can’t come back, for that is where temptation to take a drink with old buddies is the strongest.  He’s sad about that–he loves his Mama and will miss her.  She loves him too, and she says she will visit him when she can.  Fingers crossed for that too.

As you think about Mac tonight, tomorrow, next week, please let’s also think about relationships.  I love my brother.  I will write and be here to talk when he calls.  But it’s not the same as seeing him each week.  Being a friendly face for each other in the midst of all the other faces that might not be quite as friendly.  I am hopeful that someone in town there will feel moved to reach out.  He needs a friend, one who understands, is supportive, and loves him outside of the programs and the steps and just loves him as is.  Someone who will visit him and take him out once or twice a month.  Someone he can trust and call friend there, in his new town.  He needs to be known.  I think that will be a huge part in how this goes this time around.

But I’m trying not to let worry take over. As I learned yesterday, if I do what I can do, and then sit back and wait, good can come.  There was a young man here who put Other ahead of himself and did a great thing today; I am sure there is a feather there who will land with his arms around my brother right where he is now.  We just have to wait.

Tonight I leave you with the words of Mac, whom I am so proud of right now:

“If ain’t nobody told you they love you today, well, I do.”

Love to all.  #beafeather

The Day I Went To Prison

It occurred to me yesterday after my visit with Mac that it has been about two years since he took the first step on his journey to recovery.  Once again. It began with a long ride after being released from prison in Macon to a town about three hours away, to a beautiful rehabilitation facility where he made good choices and friends and dreamed dreams again.

Sigh.

But this story began a few months before.

He had turned himself in to an officer that had stopped by the gas station store that he frequented.  I think that had been in January.  He was tired of running, tired of that way of living, and he knew there were warrants out for him for probation violation.  Probation for things like panhandling, loitering, you know–the major crimes.  Anyway, turning himself in got him a bed and three meals a day.  And had me worried he wasn’t showing up on Sundays until I saw his name on the sheriff’s website.  We started writing letters back and forth.  I loved hearing his stories and dreams and the jokes he liked to tell.  In those letters we got to know each other pretty well.  He knew the way my littles preferred play over learning, that I loved to bake better than cook, and that the Fella loves old classic cars.  He sent notes and drawings to all of us, and we sent back pictures he could draw, stories to read, and letters sharing the ins and outs of our days.

And then, in one letter, he mentioned the visiting hours.  And asked if I could come.

Wow.

I had never been to prison before.  I wanted to see this man whom I grew to call my brother.  I wanted to give him all the support he needed to make wise choices once he took that first step out of his cell as a free man.  He needed a good network of folks to walk with him, and I intended to be one of those folks.  But prison?

At the risk of being redundant, Wow.

As it turns out, different folks are assigned different visiting hours.  His was 1 p.m. on Sunday, along with several others.  He had to put my name and anyone else who might come on a list.  If you weren’t on the list, you weren’t getting in.  We decided that I would visit on this one particular Sunday, barring anything unforeseen happening.  All of this was communicated by letters, so there was a lot of room for miscommunication or total lack of.  That Sunday morning I got up, took care of the tea and coffee for the park’s Sunday night supper, and got ready to go.  What does one wear to visit prison?  A strange question, I know, but I was second guessing EVERYTHING.  I chose regular, casual clothes and worried over the shoes.  I had heard something about not wearing open-toed shoes, but I wasn’t sure.  I wore my flip flops and carried Aub’s boat shoes with me just in case.  I drove to downtown and found the tree-lined street on the back side of the jail where I’d be entering.  I parked the car on the street, and checked my clock.  12:45.  I was early.  I sat and took it all in for a few minutes.  Normal looking brick building with the exception of the painful looking wires at the top of the fence. And across the street?  A convenience store with “Lottery, Beer, Cigarettes” painted on the side.  Oh y’all, I nearly cried.  If Mac were released with no one to pick him up, I could be fairly certain that’s where he’d head.  After all, there was a phone outside there, if it even worked.  And the nearly three months of detoxing and not drinking he’d done would all  be for naught.  My heart broke, and I knew something had to be done.  How many leave that facility with no one to go home to and find themselves over at that store?  Its location was no coincidence, I felt sure.

I took a sip of water, rallied my spirit, grabbed my license and my keys, and headed in.  I had no idea what to do.  Everyone else waiting seemed to know exactly what they were doing.  I realize in hindsight that may not have been true, but at the time, I felt like I had a huge sticker on my head that screamed, “First Timer.”

I approached an officer who, it was obvious, was bored and didn’t have any warm fuzzies about folks coming to visit folks they cared about.  She looked on the card–the one that had my name and Mac’s Mama’s name and one other on it.  I almost wanted his Mama to come, so I could meet her and maybe there wouldn’t be a lull in the conversation.

Because it occurred to me–this would be the first time we’d talk in person with him sober.

I gave her my keys and license and prayed I wouldn’t set off any alarms with my belt or any metal pins I’d forgotten I had.  (One time in an MRI, I had a moment of panic–had nothing to do with claustrophobia and everything to do with worrying whether or not I had a pin put in when I broke my ankle.  In that moment, I forgot.  And I did again at the jail. FYI–No pin.)

At 1 p.m. on the dot, I was told which window to go to.  There were stools of sorts in front of the windows, but someone had blocked the bottom half of the window so you couldn’t see your friend unless you were standing up.  There was a phone to pick up and speak into and that was how we were to communicate.  After a couple of minutes of standing there, I saw a group of men in orange jumpsuits heading towards us.  I scanned the group, and there he was.  He grinned that grin of his, and I grinned back.  It was good to see him.  He had showered and looked well fed and well rested.  I was thankful.  He picked up the phone, and said hello.  Ah.

Only I couldn’t hear him.

At all.

I spoke and looked at him questioningly.  He shrugged and shook his head.  He nodded at the window two spots down.  Someone had come in, said two words to their person and left from that window.  I looked around for someone, anyone, to ask if that was okay.

Because let me tell you this.  If there is a place where one does not want to do ANYTHING wrong or upset ANYONE or cross ANY lines, it would be in prison.  They wouldn’t have far to haul me if they decided they didn’t like what I was doing.  Seriously.  I was worried.

But Mac had already moved down.  Why wasn’t there an officer supervising this?  What was I going to say–He made me do it?

After a moment of hesitation, I moved down and picked up the phone.  We could hear each other.  Finally.

Eventually I relaxed a little, once it became apparent no one cared that we had changed windows.  We visited and caught up from our latest letters.  He told me about his attorney visiting the day before.  About how sometimes he didn’t want to go to the meals, just wanted to rest.  I asked about him working on his novel, a western, and he said, no not right now.  Maybe later on he would.  We passed the time with stories and jokes and I can say for sure, an hour is a long time, when you are speaking into a phone and trying to find a comfortable way to lean/stand and staring through “glass” that has something running through it that makes focusing on the person on the other side really hard.

I loved the visit but as we hit the forty-five and fifty minute mark, I could tell that Mac was getting tired.  He has never had good balance, even stone cold sober, so this was wearing him out too.  We talked for a few more minutes and then said our goodbyes, with promises of writing and wishes for safety and good health.

I gathered my license and keys and thanked the bored officer and headed out into the fresh air of that overcast Sunday.  As I walked down the street to my car, free to drink the water in my own cup waiting for me in the vehicle I owned, I felt like I had a fresh pair of glasses to see through.  I had only spent an hour inside the facility, but it was enough to make me see and appreciate things a little differently.

Little did I know that day where life was taking us. That in less than a month I’d be walking back in that building to speak at Mac’s hearing, a suitcase full of what he needed in my car, waiting to take him to a place where he could heal and be with folks who could put tools in his kit for his journey ahead.  That just over a year later, he’d be sitting at the graduation for my oldest, having gotten permission to come back home for it from his transitional program.  That just two years later, he’d be sitting in almost the exact same spot he was the week before he went to prison, and he’d be grieving over his friend who died after being hit by a car while crossing the street, mad over his tent that was stolen from his “camp,” and worrying over another friend who “drinks 24/7.”

As I left him yesterday, I felt a push to give him two numbers I had in my purse in the car.  Two numbers of possible rehabilitation or transitional places.  I sat in the driver’s seat and copied them down.  When I walked back around to the opening in the gate, he had left his seat outside.  I went in and looked around.  I hoped I could find him.  And there he was.  In the technology room.  He came out when he saw me.

“Here,” I said.  “I think I’m supposed to give you these numbers.  They might not be the right places, but maybe they can lead you to one that is.”

He took the folded paper and started to tuck it in his pocket.  “Thank you.”

I looked him in the eyes. “And it’s okay, you know.  It’s okay.  No pressure.  Just for whenever you want to, you know, take that step.  Your decision.”

He was quiet for a second.  “I’m almost there.”  He nodded and looked at the paper again. “I am.  I called Joe the other day.”  Joe, who had run the transitional home he’d been in until last July.

“Did you?  Was that good?”

He nodded.  And he reached to give me a hug.  “Thank you.  I’ll be calling you.”

Tonight I’m thankful for this life that takes me outside my comfort zones and into places where I have to step up and love someone else.  It’s not easy, and I’m not always a willing participant.  But when I go, the rewards are phenomenal.  I meet folks whom I would never have met otherwise–people who bring richness and laughter into my life and stories that touch my heart.  I am thankful for the folks who raised me to listen and love all–it’s not easy but they set a good example to follow.  And a tough one.

And tonight I ask for us all to keep Mac and all of our brothers and sisters like him in our thoughts, prayers, hearts, and minds.  The ones who need someone to see them and hear them and love them through choices, good and bad. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that what we all need?

 

Love to all.

 

and so I love

I scan the room for him

no sign of his face, those eyes, that smile

I walk to the door and peer outside

someone is lying in the grass, in the sun

napping

or so it seems

It is my friend, my brother

and I am glad he is resting

The rain has poured for days

and his camp was flooded

So now he sleeps

under the sun that for today is a friend

but will soon, in a month or so, become

the enemy

making the out-of-doors unbearable

all over again

I walk over and tease him

He looks up and grins

always in good spirits when he’s had a drink

or a few

He went to church he says

and he is pleased with himself

with the church, the pastor

with the words he heard and sang

They mean something to him

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

these words from Matthew 6:25 he hears and agrees with

“you know,” he says to me, looking me in the eyes, squinting in the sun, ” I am like that.  I don’t worry where my food is coming from”

and then his words break my heart

“I know which dumpsters to look in if I’m hungry”

the pain shows on my face

“Don’t look like that–it’s okay–some friends, they put food there, in separate bags”

the image stops me cold

my friend doesn’t worry

he takes life in stride

he finds his food in bags in dumpsters

put there by friends, by kind souls, who know

who anticipate

someone might come along and need the leftovers

the cast-off food,

what can no longer be served?

“oh ye of little faith” echoes in my head

and volleys back and forth

with “the Lord helps those who help themselves”

I don’t know which says what anymore

about my journey and where I am

I no longer know how to help my friend

and so I listen, and I tell him I’m glad

he can find food so easily

though this is so foreign to me

and just beyond my comprehension

I live in a bubble, I think to myself sometimes

I am not strong or aware or making a difference

and so I listen, and I tell him to take care, be careful

He says he is, asks me the time

the time is 3:30 and that only marks for him how much longer

he will be able to lie in the sun

before the gate will be locked for another day

He tells me he will nap

and then head back into the woods, hoping the sun and wind

have been his friend

and dried his tent and blankets

and other things of his

I wish I could take him home with me, or put him in a room

somewhere dry and safe and warm when the night winds blow

but we tried finding him a place, a place of help and

sanctuary and refuge and challenge

and he did well for a while

but in the end, the wind called him back

the bottle sang her alluring song

and, in the words of my Daddy, who had the same blue eyes

and wrinkles when he laughed

“You can want it for them,

but you can’t make them do it”

I can’t make him want sobriety

or a home or to be any different than he is

and I won’t ask him to be anyway

And so I listen

and I love

I love on days that the laughter is slurred

and on days the words are clear

on days my friend is clean and fresh

and on days he misses the sign up for a shower

or doing laundry

I love my friend when he laughs and I love him

when the sadness rolls in

like a heavy fog following an afternoon storm

I love him when the dreams are big and beautiful

and when the nightmares are scary and dark

I don’t have much left to give him

but love

and hope

and acceptance

and

wonder–wondering about that faith of his, is it strength of faith

or foolhardiness

that gives him peace about food and the next day and life

as he lies in the afternoon sun?

God spoke to my friend, this man I call brother

and brought him peace,

peace for today

and for that

tonight

I give thanks

 

Seeing past the circumstances–that’s a human in there

I got to see my friend Mac today.

This made me very happy.

He looks really good.  He seemed sober and well-rested.  I give thanks for that.  It can’t be easy to get good rest when you don’t know exactly how cold it’s going to get or if your tent will hold during the next rain or if a policeman or someone else is going to come and make you move along.

We had time to sit and visit today–a rare gift.  He shared the discouraging news he had about something that could have changed his future.  We shook our heads, and I asked him what he was going to do.  He shrugged and said, “What I need to do.” And I laughed and said, “You’re going to do what comes next.”  He nodded.

I told him the story of my friend years ago who moved to a new town.  He wrote me that on his way in to his new job, he got a flat tire.  On a very long bridge.  Oh my land.  I asked him what he did.  He wrote back, “I did what came next…..I changed the tire.”

Today I listened to Mac’s game plan, his “what comes next,” I was proud of him.  Proud that he had done his own research and asked questions and had come up with a plan.  This is huge.

We sat and talked about Aub and the littles.  How they were all doing and the propensity for two out of the three of them to lose textbooks and pencils and socks.

Then he shared a story with me.

“Hey, the other day me and J and a couple of the other guys were sitting down yonder under the bridge near the store, and this lady pulls up beside us.  She asked, ‘Hey are you guys homeless?’  We looked at each other and said, ‘Well yeah.’ Then she said, ‘Okay, well can I drop my son off with y’all?  He keeps on acting up and not listening to me.  I want him to know what it’s like to live like y’all.”

What.  The.  French.  Toast.

My jaw hit the floor.  She asked him WHAT?!

Mac said the teenage boy in the car with her looked scared.  “We told her ‘naw’ he couldn’t stay with us, but maybe she could check down at the shelter and see if they’d let him hang out there.  Then we told him he didn’t want to be like us, that he needed to do right.”

Bless him.

Can you imagine being asked to be an example to a young person of who not to be?  How not to turn out?  What was this woman thinking?

I understand the frustrations and challenges of raising children.  I know what it feels like to worry over their choices and their actions and their friends and what they are doing every hour of every day.  I don’t know exactly what this woman was having to deal with, but what I do know is this.

Mac is a human being.

So are his friends.

They are more than the sum of where they live or how they live or when they had their last meal and where it came from.

They are stories of families and choices and choices taken away.  Of lost jobs and injuries and friends who took advantage of them.  They are people who need the same basic things we all do–to feel loved and respected and valued simply for who we are.

Not to be asked to be an example of a life gone wrong.

On any given day, we fluctuate where we live, how we live.

On any given day, we fluctuate where we live, how we live.

All of us live on a continuum.  None of us are completely on either side of it.  We all float somewhere in the middle–about where poor choices, luck of the draw, and grace abounds all meet.

My friend was seen as a two-dimensional character–“what not to become”, not as the beautiful person he is.

And that breaks my heart.

Not all people who are overweight have a problem saying no to food.  Not all people with lung cancer smoked all of their lives.  Not all people who are out of work failed to apply themselves and get an education.  Not all people who are homeless are lazy and don’t have any ambition or dreams.  People should not be defined by their circumstances.  If we don’t know their stories, we shouldn’t assume the reason why their situation is as it is.   What this lady was asking my friend and the others to do was to scare her son into behaving.  We don’t ask this of other folks–what is it about not having a roof over their heads makes my friends any less human?

Mac laughed it off.  He’s used to shrugging off the insensitivities and downright rudeness (my words) of folks.  He sees it a lot.  And he didn’t mind telling the young man to stay in school and behave.  He tells my children the same thing quite often–that and to keep up with their textbooks.  Ahem.  The difference here is I didn’t ask him to, but the biggest difference is we have a relationship.  I know some of his story and he knows some of mine.  The reason he says this to my children is because he KNOWS them, he knows how they roll, and that they’d rather be playing on the hill at Daybreak than doing math any day.  And because they love him, they listen to what he says.  He doesn’t finish out his sentence about staying in school and behaving with “or you’ll end up like me” because that would make no sense to them–all they see is a wonderful guy, “Uncle Mac,” who fell into our lives and became my brother–a friend who makes them laugh and who draws great pictures.  He makes all efforts to be sober when he’s around them, and for that I give thanks.  Because we are close, he knows that is very important to me.

Today I told Mac how much I admire him because he is a strong person.  I could not face the challenges he does even for half a day.  He looked at me and said, “But I’m getting weaker.”

I know, my friend.

He wants sobriety.  He wants to have a home, friends, family he can be with anytime he decides to go see them.  He has tasted it and it tasted pretty good to him.  But the taste of the alcohol is stronger.  And for now, it’s winning.

But I have hope.  This beautiful soul, this talented artist, and this quick-witted friend and poet–he has a lot going for him.  And when he makes the decision to do something different, I’ll be right there beside him.

Just as I am now.

His choices don’t affect my love for him.  They only affect my worry for my friend, my brother.

We all need to know we matter, that someone cares for us.  As a person, not as a cause or an example or a lesson.  As a living, breathing child born into this crazy, messed up world and left to eke out a life for ourselves.  Without an instruction manual.

We all need to know we are human.  And that others see that in us.

And we all need to be careful of the lens we use when we look at other people.

Go love somebody and let them know how much they matter.

It’s a good day for that…..any day, don’t you think?