I Think Jesus Loves a Good Hootenanny

I don’t know exactly how to say this.  I do not intend to offend in any way, and yet I feel like it must be said.  This has been rolling around in my mind and heart for some time now, and now here we are.

‘Tis the season.

I had a call about three weeks ago from a friend of an acquaintance.  The acquaintance knew I had volunteered with the Sunday night suppers at the park and at Daybreak, and her friend was looking for a soup kitchen/food serving program to be a part of.  She called me and asked me to speak with her friend.  This woman, the friend, explained what she was looking for.  I told her we didn’t have the suppers on Sunday nights anymore.  I let her know about some of the programs that she could contact and see if they needed volunteers.  As we talked she asked me for numbers for the programs.  I sat down with my laptop and looked them up.  She was looking for something local, and we really don’t have regular daily soup kitchen programs here in town that I am aware of.  I found one with a contact number but they wouldn’t need volunteers for another couple of weeks.  When I shared this with the woman, she became very frustrated.  I got the sense that she needed to, for whatever reason, serve in a soup line sooner rather than later.  And she especially wanted to serve in that capacity–not with a food pantry or clothing closet or the like.  As she said goodbye I was sad and confused but not surprised.

This time of year folks want to serve food to folks in need.

I actually saw someone post on Facebook asking where would be a good place to help out now that it’s cold and folks are hungry.

Sigh.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, our friends without homes and those with homes who are living in extreme poverty are hungry when it’s hot in the summer, when the weather is kinder in the spring, when the leaves begin to change colors, and now–when the temperatures are dipping into the 20’s and 30’s overnight.  The hunger factor doesn’t change.  It’s just that the cold and the holidays, for whatever reason, make us think of them and remember that they are in need.  I don’t know what it is–maybe the story of this season of a young pregnant woman and her husband far from home and in need of a place to stay on a dark night?  In need of someone to say yes and offer them help?

That story is a part of ours all year long, just as are the stories of our friends in need.  None of these stories go away after the wrapping paper is in the can at the curb waiting to be hauled away.  They still remain after the “Auld Lang Syne” and toasting of the New Year.  Their stories and the one of the young mother with no place to go are with us, very real.  And we should be listening to their stories and figuring out what we are called to do in the midst of their poverty and need.  All.  Year.  Long.

When we spent our Sunday nights at the park serving the sweet tea and coffee and hot chocolate we toted up to Macon, I had several people ask me why I went, what was my reason for going.  After a lot of thought and processing what happened to me every time I was there, I finally had an answer.

I went to the park to see Jesus.

Unfortunately I was rarely asked to clarify my answer.  Folks just nodded, either figuring they knew what I meant or that I was as loony as they come, and that they didn’t need to know what I meant.  And so it was left out there.  And I’m afraid it might have been misleading.

When we gathered with our friends in the park under that grand old tree, there was laughter and conversation and quiet discussions about the hard work of living, and hugs and joyful celebrations of days and weeks of sobriety, jobs attained, applications accepted, families reunited, and commiserating over loss after loss-deaths of friends, jobs lost, succumbing to addictions, and being pushed out of a spot in a parking garage or by the river or in an old warehouse.  There were relationships happening and people joining together.  It was community and unity of people who might not have found themselves together in any other circumstance.  It was precious and unique, and it was beautiful.  And in the midst of it, I know Jesus was right there fellowshipping with us.  I didn’t see him in the eyes of my friends there, and I sure hope they didn’t try to see him in mine.  The thing is, none of us are perfect.  We’re all just living the life we have, traveling down the path in front of us.  I think if we try to “be Jesus” for our friends, the pressure is just too great.  And if we look to find Jesus in our friends we will find ourselves rudely awakened at some point. Again, the pressure is too great, and no one can live up to that.  All of us will wind up disappointed.  We are all just children looking for our way, full of imperfections and dreams and doubts and fears and hopes and hearts that want and need validation and love.  But we are not Jesus.

But I believe he is there.  When we are gathered together like that, he is among us.  The Light is there.  And it is good.

So what am I trying to say?

Not everyone is called to help by going out and meeting folks face to face–whether at a shelter, a place where meals are served, a food pantry, or a clothing closet.  Some are called to help in the background, maybe quietly maybe not, and passionately, by sharing the gifts and talents they’ve been given and supporting those programs with resources and prayer, for example.  But if you are one of the ones who feels called to meet people on the front-line, and you feel called to serve folks in need in a soup kitchen or church hall–

Don’t serve our friends a meal this year.

Not unless you have time to enjoy conversations and get to know people.  Not unless you are willing to make plans to do this again in January.  Or March.  Or July.  September.  It’s those forgotten months that are hard on the organizations and folks trying to help everyday.  It’s the forgotten months that are especially hard on our friends who are in dire need–of the spiritual food of relationships as well as food for their bodies–every single day.

And it’s the forgotten months, in my opinion, that are hard on Jesus too.  I think he loves a good hootenanny, a “happenin’,” as my Mama would call them.  A gathering where folks are full of love for each other, each one helping as he or she can…..a place where folks show respect for each other no matter their differences–I think those are some of Jesus’ very favorite places to be.

Our friends hunger for more than just food.  And more than just food is necessary for survival.  Mother Teresa put this truth into these words:

20131125-220052.jpg

So as this season brings the needs of others to the forefront and you feel a stirring in your heart to go and “feed the homeless,” don’t.  Unless you are willing to bring food for the soul as well.  Good conversation, getting to know each other, respect, a listening ear.  I promise you the folks who come to share the meal won’t leave hungry.  And neither will you.

May this holiday season take you out of your comfort zone.  Whatever that may look like.  Love to all.

Why I Don’t Volunteer with Homeless People

It’s  pet peeve.  I know it.

Everyone has one, so I thought I’d share mine.  I mean, one of mine.

I have many.  Like lunch and dinner are at noon–depends on what it is as to whether it’s dinner or not.  (for example, sandwiches=lunch; chicken, peas, squash, biscuits=dinner) Supper is at night.  Done deal.

When I worked at the childcare center, I always said “children” not “kids.” Not sure why, but it mattered to me.

So yeah, I don’t volunteer with homeless people.

People who are homeless?  Sure. Some are close friends of mine.  Women who are in temporary housing?  Yes.

But homeless people?  No.

Some might think it’s a matter of semantics, but the distinction is important to me.

When we say homeless people, we’re labeling.  Using their homelessness as an adjective to describe them.   I prefer to say I have friends who are homeless. That describes their situation. People first.  Always.  Because that’s who they are.  Their status is not.

Many years ago I worked with Hospice as a social worker and grief therapist.  When I went to meet a patient for the first time, I would look at the patient information sheet to see the diagnosis one time.  After that I let myself forget it.  Their diagnosis did not define who they were, and I wanted to get to know the person and family outside of that diagnosis.

Just as I want to know the person outside of their living situation.  It does not define who they are–their personality, their dreams, their favorite foods, the things they love.  It is their situation for the time being.  And that’s it.

We are more alike than different.  And in the end, that’s what counts.  Relationships.  Without the labels. That really hit home with me last week as I sat in our Sister Circle and a young woman and I shared what it was like for each of us to lose our mothers recently.  The words, the labels, only serve to separate–the homeless and the housed, the working and the unemployed, the sick and the healthy, the haves and the have nots.  Separate, things are never going to get better for any of us.  As long as any one of us is homeless, enslaved, impoverished, hungry, lost, afraid, sick–it affects all of us.

In the past week there have been a lot of quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington on August 28th.  Here’s one that really spoke to me.

pic of mlk quote

Truth.  As long as any of us is without a home, sick with cancer, enslaved, lost–we all are.  As much as we’d like for these labels to separate us from the things that we fear most, we are all connected.  It’s time to rip off the labels and look deeper, invest in a relationship with the person in front of us, and get to know the person outside of the box our society tries to put them in.  When we do that, and we see with our eyes and hearts–that is the stuff that truly begins to free us all.

Golden Girls, Jazz, and the Artist Within

Tuesday again.

Another Sister Circle.

Today was a small group.  Just the three of us.  We sat close together at one end of the U-shaped table setup.  We are on Chapter 4 of Find Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart.  The topic of discussion was “Finding Your Place in the Circle.”

Lately I have found myself immersed in art and meeting wonderful new artist friends.  A couple of weeks ago one of them shared with the group I was in that we are all artists.  When someone expressed her doubt, the artist explained that as we are created in our Creator’s image–a Creator who is most definitely an artist–we all have a bit of artist in us.  With this in mind, last week I took markers and colored pencils and paper to our Sister Circle and we all “created” while we talked–some with words, some with drawing, some with abstract doodling.  It was beautiful–every bit of it.

Yesterday I had the chance to visit with one of my new favorite artists.  She teaches art lessons and often finds people in recovery sitting with her, discovering their inner artist. Healing.  Restorative.  As we talked she mentioned mandalas and how they can tap into one’s artistic and spiritual sides.  When I saw that we were talking about our own Circles today, I thought it would be perfect.

This morning I printed out several different mandalas for us each to choose and color.  When I arrived, there were not many women.  So it was that the three of us sat and talked.  Both had been before so we were able to jump right in.  When it came time to choose a mandala and medium, they both chose markers.  One chose the butterfly and another chose the circular pattern.  I really liked the butterfly myself, so I chose it.  I enjoy colored pencils so I used those.

I love the bold colors and the combining of areas to make a different and beautiful picture of the butterfly.

I love the bold colors and the combining of areas to make a different and beautiful picture of the butterfly.

I love that the circles are all flowing back into one.  Again the dark and bright and bold use of color and uncolored spaces combine to make a powerful work of art.  Love this one too.

I love that the circles are all flowing back into one. Again the dark and bright and bold use of color and uncolored spaces combine to make a powerful work of art. Love this one too.

We talked about all sorts of things.  Relationships.  Considering ourselves worthy of healthy relationships.  Respecting ourselves enough to require that our relationships be healthy.  Golden Girls, and how cool would that be to live with our best girlfriends.  Jazz music and whether we like it or not (two yes, one no).  I was very touched that both of these women said how much they liked having this time together.  Humbled.  It is just a time of conversation.  Nothing more really.  And yet, so much more.

As we finished up, I looked over at what they had done.  Both had used big, vibrant colors.  Both had created something that was outside of what the lines were asking to be done.  They had created their own in the midst of what was there.  They were artists.

My butterfly--all pastels, all symmetrical, all planned and put together.  I said something about the hard part being choosing what color to use each time and K said, "Not for me."  I want to have that sense of freedom.  To be able to breathe.

My butterfly–all pastels, all symmetrical, all planned and put together. I said something about the hard part being choosing what color to use each time and K said, “Not for me.” I want to have that sense of freedom. To be able to breathe.

I looked back at my work.  I had stuck to the pastel colors.  Whenever I looked at the grays or browns, I just couldn’t bring myself to use them.  I had made sure it was symmetrical and stayed inside every line, literal and figurative, there was.  I sighed.  This is where I want to step out of the box–to create.

I smiled and touched each picture.  “See,” I said softly.  “Look.  You’re artists.  You’ve done such a great job of creating something new.”

I paused. “I want to be an artist too.”

K nodded her head at me, shrugged, and said, “Well, hey, at least you is tryin’.”

Y’all.

Love.  Her.

I love both of them.  They’ve known each other for a long time.  In their world of people using other people for a means to an end, they have each other to depend on and trust.  At times today it was like they were speaking their own language.  I listened and smiled and envied them their friendship with laughs that spoke volumes more and thoughts that were so in sync that they could finish each other’s sentences.  That’s the stuff the Golden Girls were made of right there.  It was an honor to sit and be a part of it for a little while.

And then, the encouragement from one whom I’ve only just begun to get to know.

Better. Than. Gold.

Okay, truthfully, I’ve never been a big fan of gold.  Let’s see, it was better than a big ol’ King sized sweet tea over flaky ice from Nu-Way.  Yes, it felt that good.  And even more refreshing.

She’s right too.  I am trying.  To tap that inner artist.  To refuse to let my fear of not being perfect or worry over what others will say inhibit me from creating what is on my heart, what lies in my soul–whether with words or paint or colored pencils.  Or maybe even markers.  It’s just that today I fell back into that “let’s keep it lovely” mode.  Perhaps it’s time for me to go back to finger painting and playing with playdough for a while.  Time to get a little messy and see what beauty can be found in that.  There’s the real challenge–finding beauty in the mess and brokenness.  Because it is there to be found. 

Yesterday when I was visiting my new artist friend, she said, “I don’t believe in throwing anything away.”  She laughed.  “I think you can find beauty in anything.”  As I walked around her yard, I could see that it was true.  It reminded me of my visit to the farm and thinking about redemption.  Nothing was wasted.  There was redemption in everything.

Today one of my sweet friends called to check in and asked about our Sister Circle.  I laughed and said I was enjoying it, “Though if you asked for a mission statement, I don’t know what it would be.  I’m not sure we have one.”  As we talked for a few more minutes, it hit me.  “We do have a mission statement actually–‘to build relationships.’  That’s what we want to do.  Build healthy relationships in a safe space.”

And there it is.  In a nutshell.

And I think we might just be getting there.  When K, my new friend who initially said she had no artist in her and shared she just doesn’t like jazz music, took the time to stop and encourage me, I felt the tears prickling, crowding in ready for release.  To have someone see inside you and name it and let it out.  Well.  Ahem. Such a tender moment.  Perhaps one of the most loving, grace-filled, and precious gifts. 

She’s right.  I am trying.  In the meantime I am thankful for women like these two beautiful young women who honored me with their company today.  They teach me what real strength looks like.  And real friendship.  And love.  Bless ’em and I hope they sleep safe and sound tonight.  And every night.  They are my sisters and I love them.

The Haves and the Have Nots–Thoughts on a Saturday Afternoon

Money cash

Money cash (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I had a bank errand to run this morning.  I prefer to pull up to the window itself instead of going to a middle lane and sending my papers flying through the air over me and into the hands of the teller inside.  I’m a bit odd like that.  So I chose the longer line and settled in to wait.  It was the rare occasion of being in the car by myself, so I was listening to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me,” and I was laughing my head off.  In the car.  By myself.  This is what crazy looks like people.

When I pulled up and placed my paperwork in the open drawer, I saw that there was one teller who was alternating between the two lines.  She looked at my transaction and then walked over to the indoor counter for a couple of minutes.  When she returned I really thought she was talking to me.  It came out over my speaker, and it’s hard to see where they are looking anyway.

“I’m sorry but we can’t cash this check.”  What?  I didn’t give you a check to cash.  “There’s insufficient funds to cover it if it’s returned so we can’t cash it. I’m sorry.”

Oh bless them.  She was talking to the people in the old truck next to me.  It broke my heart, and the wheels in my mind tuned out the game show on the radio and started turning.  How could I help?  Should I?  For goodness’ sake, they had a check written to them, and they can’t cash it because they don’t have enough money in the bank?  Shouldn’t the issue be whether or not the folks that wrote it had enough in the bank?  So what I’m hearing is that you have to have money to get more money–is that right?

What.  On.  Earth.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the gas station up the road.  While I pump, I tend to people-watch.  I saw an old, rather beat up vehicle parked near the fast food side of the gas station.  A woman walked over to the car and a man got out of the driver’s seat.  She slid across and he got in as well.  And they sat there.

I wondered if the car wouldn’t crank or if they needed gas money or if they were just meeting someone there.  It got me to thinking of the days years ago when I had car trouble and wondered how on earth we would get by.  When one of my cousins called saying she didn’t need my Granny’s Mercury Grand Marquis anymore and would I want it, I got down on my knees and cried my eyes out.  So fortunate.

I was talking with my Cousin the evening after seeing the folks at the gas station, and we struck up a conversation about the haves and have nots.

“Isn’t it ironic that the folks who most need transportation to get to and from jobs to make a living, to survive, are the ones who can’t always afford dependable transportation? ”  It’s a crazy, broken world for sure.

The concept of haves and have nots is not a fixed idea.  Compared to some, like those folks in Hollywood or some of our elected officials, I’m probably considered a have not.  But I know better.  I’m definitely a have.  And I feel very lucky to be that.  There’s no rhyme or reason why I was born in the country, state, area, family I was born in with the skill set I have.  It just is.  Oh I know it’s been up to me and my parents to make something out of what I’ve been given–believe me, I grew up with the whole “To whom much is given, much is expected” idea.  And I’m raising mine the same way.  But how to help those who are in need?

I’ve been there.  Never without a roof, but in my previous life, when it was just me and my oldest, we ate a lot of spaghetti and I mapped out where and when we went places based on the gas in my tank.  I remember one cold December my dear sweet landlord walked in the house and said, “Tara turn the heat up.  I can’t stand y’all living like this.”  And he said he’d charge less in rent that month if I would use the heat a little more.  It was an old house with really high ceilings and it was hard to keep warm.  I appreciated his kindness then and I still do now.   We had a great friendship and his offer was borne from that–it was a beautiful gift.

It’s not that I didn’t have family who would have helped.  I did and I do.  It’s that it wasn’t their place, so I didn’t ask.  They were already helping so much with my child.  I couldn’t have them doing more.  And besides, I still didn’t consider myself a have not.  Just maybe a doesn’t have as much.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but it’s been on my mind a lot lately.  Especially since I’ve been spending time with my Sister Circle friends.  When I hear their stories, I am almost embarrassed to get in my roomy, running vehicle with AC and a radio and drive back to my pretty nice house.  Much has been given to me, what am I expected to do?

One of the people I respect and admire most, especially in the world of building relationships with and loving on people who are chronically homeless talked with me about this.  She cautions us against giving that $10 for the room at the boarding house.  Or the $5 for a burger.  Or $3 for cigarettes.  Once that money changes hands, we have changed our relationship–its has become one of have and have not.  It becomes a relationship based on need.  She’s right, you know.  I’ve realized this in my years of building relationships with people who have such basic unmet needs.

Again, I ask, what should we do?  What do I do?  How can we help?  In the case of someone being hungry, I know the best thing to do is not to give money for food, but instead, get two burgers and sit and eat with them–make it relational.  I read a great post about “What I should have done” here about a year or so ago.   In it Caleb Wilde writes and poses the idea that it’s easier to learn about what Jesus did than actually do it–orthodoxy being easier than orthopraxy.  I’m thinking he’s on to something.  I can sit and ponder all day what would be the right thing to do in a situation, just as committees and groups can meet themselves coming and going, discussing plans to make things better; but that doesn’t feed a soul or put a roof over anyone’s head or fix a blame thing.

Tonight I’m thankful for what I have, okay with what I have not, and wondering how to pull it all together and help someone else based on relationship without it becoming another case of the haves and the have nots.

Any thoughts?  How do you live “To whom much is given, much is expected?” in your life?

Thanks for thinking about this with me.

“Our Liberation is Bound Up in Each Other”

I first “met” Hugh Hollowell as “The Marine” Karen Spears Zacharias writes about in Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?: (‘Cause I Need More Room For My Plasma TV).  He is the founder of Love Wins Ministry in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Their mission statement is:

We feed people…

But we are not a feeding ministry.

Sometimes, we help people get jobs…

But we are not a job training program.

Maybe 10-12 times a year, someone leaves homelessness with our help…

But we are not a housing ministry.

Yet, at any given moment, we may be doing any of those things.

But what we really are is a ministry of presence and pastoral care for the homeless and at-risk population of Raleigh, NC.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, friends and volunteers of Love Wins meet at the park (on the sidewalk at the edge–it would require a permit to meet within the park itself, which would cost $1600 per weekend!) and share biscuits and coffee with folks in need.  There are no other feeding ministries in Raleigh on the weekends.  If you are in need, THIS IS IT.  Nothing else all weekend long.  Unless you panhandle.  Which is illegal.

Picture from http://lovewins.info/2013/08/feeding-homeless-apparently-illegal-in-raleigh-nc/

Picture from http://lovewins.info/2013/08/feeding-homeless-apparently-illegal-in-raleigh-nc/    Hugh Hollowell and staff and volunteers of Love Wins ministry speak with police Saturday morning.

For six years they’ve been doing this.  Just sharing goodness and food and relationships with folks in need in Raleigh–folks who are homeless or otherwise in need.  But yesterday morning, August 24, the Raleigh PD came up as folks were gathering and said that there would be no feeding of folks happening–that if anyone handed out a biscuit he or she would be arrested.

*sound of crickets*

Say what?

Let me get this straight.  The good folks who prepared the coffee and breakfast sandwiches and showed up on a Saturday morning will NOT be allowed to share what they have with the good folks who showed up for both physical and spiritual nourishment?  Is that what you’re saying?  ‘Cause I’m not sure I’m picking up what you are laying down.

I don’t even know, y’all.

(Does anyone else see the dilemma here?  Hungry people who cannot be fed as they usually are on the weekend and cannot panhandle to get what they need–ummm, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out this equation.  Hurting people hurt people, but so do hungry ones.)

Apparently the mayor did meet with Hugh Hollowell today and said that no one would be arrested for the feeding ministry until this is all straightened out.  There will be a meeting or a hearing to follow.  I am hopeful this can all be straightened out.  Soon.  In the meantime, there are people who went hungry this weekend because someone was administering the law without looking at the spirit of the law.  And the names and faces behind it.

In writing about what happened yesterday, Hugh said, “…..our liberation is bound up in each other.”

So true.

My friend Mac is back on the streets.  He lasted the ten days of detox/rehab and about six in the transitional housing before he walked.  So some could say it’s his choice.  And it is.  But it’s also his disease and how he’s programmed himself over the years I guess.  The alcoholism has a powerful hold on him.  He doesn’t want to want to drink, to need the drink, but the desire doesn’t ever completely leave him.  And so he’s back.

He came to see me last week right before my Sister Circle.  We visited a little before and a lot after.  It was good to see him.  He is still laughing and teasing.  I’m trying to love him where he is and not put expectations on him.  Like he go back into Rehab.  That I won’t care about him unless he does.  I just can’t do that.  But it’s hard.  Hugh Hollowell is right.  My heart is tied up in knots as long as my friend suffers and is on the street.  And y’all, there is always a name and a face on the streets.  Someone’s child, sister, brother, friend.  Whether we know him or her or not.  Always.  And as long as there are, none of us are free.

Tuesday night after our visit, Mac called me from a friend’s cell phone and asked if I were close by.  I was not.  Seems that he wanted to see if I could get him a room–“so I can get a shower and get cleaned up.”  Mac.  This friend, this brother of mine, who has never begged around me before.   When he realized I wasn’t in town, he said, “Oh well, that’s all right.”

Frustrated I said goodbye.  They have showers and washers and dryers at the Day Center.  I don’t understand exactly why he didn’t partake of those things earlier that day. And he has told me many times he prefers sleeping outside, so I’m not sure what that was about.  But I got the same call again today.  A room.  For the night.  To get cleaned up.

My heart is breaking.  I had to say no.

It’s not about the money.  It’s about the relationship.  It’s about what his disease is doing to him.  It’s about codependency and enabling and addictions.  It’s about choices–his and mine.  And it’s about transitioning from a friendship to the haves and have-nots.  I have the resources to get a room, he does not.

And still I said no.

Yesterday I got angry because the powers that be said no to hot biscuits and coffee for folks in need.  Today I tell my friend no to a room that would get him in out of the elements for a night.

I make no sense even to myself.  And yet, I’d do it again if asked.  And I’m pretty sure I will be.  Mac knows I love him, and he even said, when I apologized, “Yeah, I know, it would be enabling me.”  Oh yeah, he knows all the key words and phrases.  It’s not his first rodeo either.

My little guy has taken to asking “how old were you” questions.  “Mama, how old were you when I was born?”  “Mama how old were you when you got your first puppy?” “Mama how old were you when you first watched Star Wars?”

If tonight he asked me, “Mama, how old were you when you finally had it all figured out?”  I’d have to answer, “I don’t know, baby, I’ll let you know when I do.”

It’s a confusing thing, this loving on all kinds of kinds.  All I hope is, as Mr. Hollowell’s ministry says, that in the end “Love wins.”  I’m counting on it.

If you’d like to help and support Love Wins, Hugh Hollowell lists names and numbers to call and share your thoughts–even for those of us out of town–at the end of this post.  You can like Love Wins on Facebook or subscribe to their blog by e-mail to stay informed. 

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.

Running Lines

This evening as I was doing the “finishing up the day” tasks, I was running back over lines from today.  And giggling.  And that’s a good thing.  Laughter over misread words and losing track of time and general silliness–I’ll take it.

This morning the littles and I were out together.  Cooter, my little guy, was taking the few minutes we were waiting on his sister to play with a new friend of his.  As they climbed in and out and under, Cooter’s friend’s Dad called out to his son, “Hey, be careful, know where your head is.”

That. Right. There.

I think that’s good advice for all of us.  Know where your head is before you take your next step.  You really don’t want to get bonked in the head.  That hurts.  Bad.  And sometimes worse than others.

Later in the day, after taking care of business with the crew Plus Three, I completely lost track of time.  I am usually so time conscious, so that was a very strange sensation.  I decided I could stress over it or laugh over it.  Taking my friend’s lead, I decided to laugh it off.  Stress wouldn’t have turned back time, but it could take minutes off my clock.  Laughter it is.

The discount movie theater was showing “Epic” this afternoon.  Throwing our fun meter into high gear, we Plus Three decided it was just the thing to do after an afternoon of taking care of business.  We crept into the dark theater (the results of losing track of time) and found some seats.  The movie had a really interesting premise.  The fact that the daughter and her father found a way to communicate despite being in different “worlds”–well I liked that just fine.  It warmed my heart and made me smile.  If only.  One of the most beautiful and poignant lines in the movie was, “Many leaves, one tree.”  The idea that no one is ever alone.  I like that too.  I couldn’t help but think of our friends who have no roof over their head, no way of knowing for sure where their next meal will come from.  I especially thought about my friend Mac, who often panhandles with his buddies to get enough to eat.  What would happen if the next person they asked went and bought four burgers and sat and ate with them?  Just pondering on that this evening too.

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

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

Another line from the day came from Cooter Himself.  He told me this evening, as I was stirring the homemade vegetable soup (thank you summer), “Mama, you know what the only good thing about Darth Maul getting cut in half is?”  Wait. What?  “No, what Buddy?”  (It’s been nothing but Star Wars around here for days, my friends.)  “That he was a bad guy.  And that’s the only good thing.”  I breathed a sigh of relief.  There for a while I thought we were going to be in big trouble because his favorites in any story were the “bad” guys.  Now I’m seeing a turn.  Thank you Star Wars.  And our friends who loaned us Episodes 4 and 5.  Apparently you’ll get no sympathy for being cut in half from my guy if you have been up to no good.  I’m just sayin’.

Today was a good one.  A busy one.  And in true typical Tara fashion I closed out our adventures by thinking I had misplaced my keys.  Perception is everything, so I headed back into the empty theater with my cell phone lit up to search the floor for them.  (Oh people, please don’t throw that stuff on the floor–act like you are somebody!) I kept hitting the “wake up” button on my phone for light and searching under the four or five rows I figured were probably ours.  (I had already lost my bearings on where we sat.)  When it was painfully obvious that they weren’t there, I went back out to my friend whom I’d left holding my bag.  And then it hit me, the outside pockets.  About the same time my friend pointed and asked, “Outside pockets maybe?”  She’s a genius and she was right.  And she laughed with me over my forgetfulness, and for that–that grace–I am thankful.

Laughter and lines echoing in my head tonight.  I’m thinking I shall sleep quite well.

What Do I Do Now?

Yesterday in the midst of the joy of family and all the good stuff, I got some bad news.

My friend, whom I have had the privilege to walk with for a couple of years, let go of eight months of sobriety and all that hard work.  He gave it up to return to his life on the streets.  And drinking.

My heart is breaking.  Again.

It was February of last year that my friend Mac* turned himself in for probation violation.  He was on probation for arrests for things like public drunkenness and loitering.  Nothing violent, all charges related to his alcoholism or his state of homelessness.  He was tired of it all, so he found a cop he knew and turned himself in.  He detoxed at the jail.  It was a few days later that I saw his picture on the LEC website and started writing him.  We had been building a relationship over the past year or so, off and on, when he would come to the Sunday night suppers.  Even drunk his mind worked well.  Even sober his legs did not.  He is witty and expresses himself through the written word very well.  But above all else he is an artist.

Mac's butterfly.  We were so hoping for his own transformation, leaving behind his old life.

Mac’s butterfly. We were so hoping for his own transformation, leaving behind his old life for a new beautiful, healthy one.

He especially loves tribal art.  He also does pencil drawings that have taken my breath away.  When he came for my oldest’s graduation in May, he had a beautiful cane that he had carved and inked and put a glass eye in at the top.  I asked him where he got the wood, and he replied, “The woods.”  And he laughed.  Well of course.  It was gorgeous.  He has a gift.

I have celebrated his successes.  I have been with him in court, speaking on his behalf, about the good in him, and the future I could see.  Another friend and I drove him to the treatment center that accepted him as a patient.  When we arrived, he felt so out of his element.  He pointed to a bench in some azaleas and said, “Well, there’s a spot for me.”  When we got to the door and knocked (we had arrived after hours), a sweet lady came to the door and said, “You must be Mac.  We been waitin’ on you.”  He replied, “I’ve been waiting on y’all all my life.”

When a friend and I visited him for Family Day eight weeks later, it was obvious he had made friends and was well-liked and respected.   He done good, as we would say growing up.  The next day he moved to a transitional program in another town, about three hours from here.  He hit the ground running.  He went to the scheduled meetings, he made friends, and he took on the job of cleaning the main office and taking care of the roses.  He was so proud of those roses.

He had some bumps in the road.  He had times that dealing with authority was a little hard for him.  He came home last November and decided he just couldn’t go back.  The power of the alcohol was stronger than his desire to get better and have a home.  He spent a week on the streets, and I spent a week vacillating between worry and anger.  The following Sunday he showed up at the supper at the day shelter and said, “Please take me back.”  The people in charge at his place up north had said he could come back.  However he had to detox before he got there.  Mac spent another ten days doing just that, and then we found someone to drive him back.  He was back on the right track.

I was so hopeful.

He came back again in May for graduation.  He looked better and seemed happier than I had ever seen him.  He seemed…..not as restless.  I told him I thought he was in a good place.  He agreed.  When we said goodbye after that Sunday lunch, that was the last time I saw him.  I hugged him bye and told him, as I always did, “Love you brother.”

He had a court date yesterday.  Apparently he was picked up during that week in November for some kind of loitering or other similar charge.  They would not accept that he was living out of town and back in a program.  They insisted he show up.  (Note to self–Write a letter to the court about how well that all turned out.  Angry letter.)  I planned to go and pick him up on Monday from his home up there, but he told me last week that he’d already gotten a bus ticket.  After talking with my friend who works with a ministry for the homeless about how to process this, I praised him for taking care of his business himself.  I was a little sad though because I had looked forward to visiting on the ride back.

We planned to have supper on Monday night to celebrate his birthday later this month.  It never happened.  Late in the day he cancelled, apologizing that he’d already told his friend from AA that he was staying with that he’d go to a celebration at the fellowship hall.  He didn’t want me to be upset.  I wasn’t, but I didn’t know when else I’d get to see him.  He promised me he’d have his Mama drive him down to see us on Tuesday.

He texted yesterday morning that they had no record of his required court appearance at the courthouse.  I heard nothing else until yesterday evening when I asked him if he was okay.  Long story short, he decided he’s not returning to the transitional program and his roses and his disability hearing he worked so hard to make happen–that other people worked so hard to make happen.  He was drunk with his AA friend he’d been staying with.

And so it goes.

I should have known.  And maybe I did.  I was very worried last week when he planned the trip for himself.  Back in May he was so careful not to be by himself.  This time he kept me in the dark about so many of his plans.  I’m not sure when or if he was by himself and what exactly happened.  But I should have been more prepared.  This is not my first rodeo with an alcoholic.  In my “previous life,” I was married to one, and I learned then that trust is not something to give easily to someone with this disease.  Yeah, I’m a codependent from way back.

Today I was lucky enough to enjoy impromptu fun with a dear friend and her toomuchfun children.  What a crew we had in the back of the van.  Big time fun with allergy shots en masse, a lunch together at a new restaurant for us (always nice to add a new “food allergy safe” one to our list), and all kinds of pre-teen drama going on in the soft play at the fun center.  We laughed so hard, sharing stories and more stories.  I thought about Mama’s rainbow last night, and I refused to let Mac’s choices steal the joy of the day.  If I had to mope, I was “saving it for the plane,” as my friend Baddest Mother Ever was once advised.  A joy and laughter-filled day.  I’d do it again if asked.

When I got home, I called Jay, the man in charge of the transitional program, to see if he knew anything.  Yes, someone drove Mac up to get his things and then he left.  “Tara,” said this compassionate man whom I’ve been talking with for about a year, “you do what you want, but I really think you need to let him go.  He’s going back to what is familiar and you can’t change that.  I’ve been doing this a long time and we can’t understand this choice, but we can let him go and pray he finds the peace he’s looking for.”  Good advice I guess.  But easier said than done.  I guess I have to switch off the “care” valve.  I don’t know how to do that.  Instead I will worry and wonder and crane my neck looking for glimpses of him as we drive through downtown.  I will grieve.  Again.

I am thankful for another sweet friend who shared her story of addiction with me late last night.  She laid it out there for me–this was his choice, and it has nothing to do with me.  He has to accept responsibility for his actions.  It means so much that she would share her story, and that she absolved me from my guilt over this.  Why don’t I feel better?

Tonight I am thankful for a joy-filled day that I didn’t let Mac’s choices steal.  I give thanks for friends who listen and care and for a friend who loves and trusts enough to share her story so it could help me understand a little better, so I could maybe gain a little perspective.  That is true courage.  But I am also angry.  Angry that alcoholism has taken another person I care about.  This isn’t just being mad at a friend who made a choice I don’t agree with, this is someone’s life at stake.  He has nearly died out there before.  I’m angry with the court system that couldn’t leave well enough alone, accept documentation that he was in a legitimate program and write off the minor infraction in deference to what was best for him.  I’m angry with the people in the town where he was–that no one reached out and said let me be a friend to someone who could use one.  He so needed to start building a life with people there, making friends and becoming vested in that community, building a new life.  I’m angry and sad that it’s likely I may never see him or hear his laugh or put up with his teasing me again.  And I’m angry with myself.  That I let myself get to this place again, despite all that my past experiences have taught me.  That I can’t let go of the idea that maybe I wasn’t or didn’t do enough.  If we are God’s plan for helping others, then what on earth just happened here?

As all these thoughts march through my brain tonight when I lay my head on my pillow, I hope I will also hear Mama’s voice:  “It’s okay to feel angry.  Now you just have to be careful what you do with that.”  And that’s what it boils down to, isn’t it?  Okay, now what?  What do I do now?  How do I let go?

 

*not his real name

We Are All One

So I saw this video today…..

Hugh Hollowell, who runs Love Wins Ministry in Raleigh, North Carolina, shared it and his thoughts along with it.  You can read what he wrote here.

I’ve had this on my mind a lot today.

I get what this young man is trying to do.  I respect that he has a problem with how A&F feels and what they are doing.  Being outside their desired demographic (I have never been nor will I ever be one of the “cool kids,” and we won’t even talk about their sizing), I don’t like what they are trying to do either.  I really cannot fathom burning clothes.  Especially ones that don’t have rips or broken zippers.  Ahem.  (I mean, I have a Repurposing board on Pinterest, for goodness’ sake–we just don’t throw clothes away.)

I have only been in one of their stores once.  It was dark, and the music was way too loud, and we were stared down as we walked through.  We were there to exchange a gift that was the wrong size.  I left there with a headache and a general lack of being impressed at all.  I won’t ever go back in there.  I don’t need that kind of stress again.

Here’s the deal.  I don’t know why their clothes are “The Thing.”  I don’t get it.  Just like I don’t get why other brands of jeans without the comfort waistband or the ones that ride so low that when I bend over that I could get arrested are considered hip.  But whatever.  It’s his company, he can do as he pleases, as can I.  I vote with my dollar.  I can refuse to give him any of my money.  Which I do.  For many reasons, not the least of which is that his merchandise is way over-priced and they have had questionable labor practices.  (Do NOT get me started on fair trade issues tonight.)

So I guess I get that this young man is protesting.  He is asking us to vote with our actions.  I don’t think he meant any harm.  I just think he picked the wrong action.  Did you notice in the video that the people he is handing the clothes to are not sure of what is going on?  They seem hesitant?  I wonder if he got permission to share their faces all across the internet.  Because here’s the important thing to remember–

They are people.  Just like me.  And you.  There is no us and them.  We are all one.

If someone videoed me and showed it all over the place without checking with me first, I’d be really ticked off.  It feels like he is using them as props in his video and that really makes me sad.

In the past three years, I have had the opportunity to build relationships with folks, some of whom I call family, who have found themselves homeless at one point or another.  The reasons why vary as much as they themselves.  It is not a situation anyone chooses for him/herself.   And usually it’s not something that happens overnight.  But there it is.  And they have to live with it.  No, wait.  We all have to live with it.

I have learned a lot during these three years.  I have learned, among other things, that handing out “stuff” creates a have/have not relationship–and that’s not a healthy basis for any relationship.  I’m ashamed to say I know this from experience.

The director of the program we volunteer with has taught me a lot, and the stories I’ve heard would curl your hair.  There is one sweet lady who wanders around downtown with a shopping cart loaded down with full suitcases and other items.  One day when I was leaving the hospital from seeing Mama, the lady was trying to cross the street.  She started to push her cart ahead of her and then realized the light had changed.  She tried to stop it, but the cart was so heavy it pulled her into the street a few feet.  The last thing she needs is an A&F sweater to add to her load.   There was another lady who had a chance to stay in a shelter.  She was offered a ride there, but she insisted that she had to go back to the park and get her bags of stuff first.  She wouldn’t hear of anything else.  In doing so, she lost her spot at the shelter.  And the “stuff?”  Turns out much of it was baby or children’s clothing–and she has no children.  For quite a few of our friends in these circumstances, it is difficult for them to let go of things.

I guess some of what troubles me about the video is the nonchalance in his handing out the clothes…..there is no assessing need.  I mean, the man with the guitar on his back?  Did he really seem like he was going to hang on to it beyond the next corner?  It just hit me.  What hurts the most here is that there is NO RELATIONSHIP.  He is walking around handing out A&F clothes to people willy-nilly.  In trying to make a point to the A&F CEO, he’s making a point to the people he’s walking among.  If YOU wear this, it will really upset them.  Because you are not cool, you are not important, you are not good enough–not even good enough for me to do more than pull something out of my stack here and hand over whatever my hand touches to the next person I come across.

It’s based on his message, not the needs of those he’s “reaching out” to.

Ouch.

I heard the story about someone driving through the park tossing sandwiches out of their car at the folks sitting scattered through the park.  People, this breaks my heart.  We are called to feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, clothe those who are in need.  These are active verbs.  As in action.  As in, engaging the other person and assessing.  Are they hungry?  Thirsty?  In need?  THE ONLY WAY to know this is to know the person.  Talk to them.  Build a relationship.  If we just hand out STUFF, we are only meeting one person’s need–our own.

I don’t mean to suggest that donating food and clothes to missions is wrong.  Not at all.  Missions have game plans and procedures for assessing needs and distributing accordingly.  Most of them do this well.  What I am saying is that when we come across people who are different, people without homes, from different faiths, from different cultures, with different beliefs–we need to see that we are one.  All differences aside–One people.  If even one is suffering, we are all suffering.  If one is objectified, we all are.  If one is downtrodden…..well, you get my point.  It’s simply not an us-them.

pic of liberation quote

So if the information shared in the video and the policies of A&F trouble you, think about it.  Consider how your voice can be heard.   And then Act.  That’s important.  But consider, before you act, whom your actions are affecting.   For in the end, we are all one, and what we do to one of us, we are doing to all of us.  And if even one of us is hurt by it…..it’s just not worth it.