What Prayer Can Be

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

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

My heart was overwhelmed.

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

Bless him.  His words were just right.

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

He was looking for God.

Oh my heart.

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

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

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

Oh me.

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

Hamburger_sandwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not okay, y’all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all.

 

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

 

Snow in September

This afternoon I needed a nap.

Badly.

It was not going to happen, but I did take a moment and stretched out on the little couch in the living room.  That was my mistake.

Because instead of closing my eyes and really napping, I looked up at the ceiling.  And the ceiling fan.

WHAT. ON. EARTH.
How in the world did the blades get THAT bad without me realizing it before now?

Details are not my forte, y’all.  Apparently.

It troubled me so much that I could not rest.  I got up in search of the thingy-how-ya-doin’ that we use to clean the blades.  It’s nice because it can stretch out whereas I cannot.  Our Princess found it and excitedly brought it in.  She went and called Cooter to come in and watch the fun.

Yeah.  I guess heavy cleaning around here is so rare it’s considered a party.  *sigh*

I used the brush and wiped off the dust from the bottom of the blades, and, shuddering to think how bad the tops were, I stretched out and wiped those too.

Snow in September!

At least that’s what the littles called it as all the dust fell to the floor.

What a mess.

As I was working, going from blade to blade, our Princess asked, “Mama, how on earth did they get that dirty?  Where did all that dust come from?”

I explained, through teeth gritted in determination to reach each and every spot, how dust is floating in the air and the blades catch it and it stays there and builds up to what we can see.

“That’s amazing,” she said.  “Because I can’t see dust in the air.  And yet, there’s so much on the blades!”

Yes.  There was.

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As I swept up the mess I made by cleaning the fan, it occurred to me that we are lot like those blades.  We go through our day to dailies, collecting bits and pieces of what is going on around us.  Somehow all of the energy and attitudes and things we see, read, and hear in a day collect on our spirits.

And eventually, if we aren’t careful, it changes who we are, and we need a good soul-searching spirit cleansing to get ourselves back in balance.

Back to a good place.  Sometimes, like with my floor, things can get even messier before we get to that place.

Don’t wander through the dust if you can help it, y’all.  Surround yourselves with good energy, people with good attitudes, and read all the good things.  Listen to music that feeds your soul, and look upon the beautiful.  Seek beauty in everything, and you will find it.  Don’t let the naysayers and negativity in this world latch on to you and bring you down or darken your heart.  Take time to soothe the hurts and give lots of hugs.

I tend to think hugs help knock the dust off myself.

The blades after I'd wiped most of the dust off.

The blades after I’d wiped most of the dust off. No way I was taking a picture of BEFORE.  

May we all find someone to help us dust ourselves off and begin again and to point out the beauty when we forget.

Love to all.

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If you need some pointers as you begin to seek beauty, follow my friend Hugh Hollowell’s weekly blog on just that.  Beauty.  And the relentless pursuit of it. Click here to check it out yourself.  (And here to sign up for it.)  It’s a good place to dust off.  

A New Heart

Tonight, as I sit writing, my role model, hero, and friend Hugh Hollowell sits with his sweet wife, Renee, waiting for her heart transplant.  She has been on the list for a while, and today they got the call.  It was time.

They are beautiful people.  Hugh heads up Love Wins Ministries in North Carolina. I have written about him and how what he believes and how he lives has changed my life–here and here, among many other times.  He works hard for and with people who are in the midst of chronic homelessness, and it’s not an easy job.  We people, housed and homeless, are not always easy to love.  When I had the honor of meeting him in person in January, I noticed when he spoke of Renee, there was a light in his eyes and in his voice.

And that is a precious gift.

There will be all kinds of changes and challenges ahead of them over the next few weeks.  So much excitement and anxiety in this day alone.  And yet, when Renee posted this afternoon, she said she has plenty of folks sending prayers, positive energy, and well wishes for her–but she asked for thoughts of peace and prayers and love for the donor, a 38-year-old male, and his family.

Tears, y’all.

My Mama wanted to be an organ donor.  I remember this vividly.  And I also remember the moment when the hospital told me she could not be a donor because of all of the circumstances surrounding the deterioration of her health.  I wept.  Because I had so hoped for something somehow good to come from our pain and loss.

Organ donation is important.  It’s the ultimate gift that can save a life.  Just as it’s saving a precious, treasured life tonight.

If you have a moment, will you please think of Hugh and Renee? Of the staff at Love Wins as they carry on with their mission without Hugh there for the next few weeks?  Of the family of the man whose loss is saving another?  Of the surgeons and nurses and staff who have a long night ahead of them?

To find out more about my friend, Hugh, and Renee’s story, you can read here.  There are links to the backstory and ways to help if you are so moved.  These beautiful souls have given so selflessly to others in need over the years, it’s time for the community to support them.

That’s kind of how it goes, isn’t it?  We love and are loved.  We care and we are cared for.  We give and we will one day need to be on the receiving end.  It’s the yin and yang, ebb and flow of this journey, I think.

Also, if you are interested in learning more about organ donation and how to sign up to be a donor, click here.

Tonight I am thankful for those who give selflessly–both with their bodies and their souls.  I give thanks for the call Renee got today and for the gift she’s receiving tonight.  Most of all, I give thanks that we are not on this journey alone.

Others.

What a beautiful word.

Love to all.  Thanks for listening.

fighting fire with fire

My hero and friend, Hugh Hollowell, shared this on his Facebook page yesterday. It troubles, motivates, moves me. And scares the mess out of me, to be perfectly honest. I’m still wrapping my brain and heart around it. But it’s not going anywhere. It sits patiently, staring, unblinking waiting on me to get it. And to STAND UP.

“Few are guilty. All are responsible.” – Abraham Herschel

People are burning down churches. Black churches. Houses of God. For a moment I wondered if the person or people responsible really think they are accomplishing what they are setting out to do. I also have struggled with my responsibility in this. I didn’t burn those churches. But on some level, I am responsible. What do I do with that? How do I go about rebuilding those churches?

I’m not sure. But I want to talk about it. About the reparations. Of buildings, spirits, and hearts. And relationships. Now is not the time to be pointing fingers and drawing lines in the sand. Now is not the time to divide and attack each other. History says “divide and conquer” works. We shall not be conquered and bow down before hatred. No. Never.

And so this image has been going through my mind today. The one that I learned about when I was young–of how forest fires are often fought. They light a backfire to burn all of the brush. One that they can control. So that when the raging fire gets there, there is nothing there for it to consume, and it will die out. And it was that image that brought these words to mind.

fighting fire with fire

the gas was poured and the match lit
seeking to burn down the building
and the spirits of those who gathered there

it was done in hatred and loathing
and brokenness and pain
a lashing out at others
in an attempt to trample the spirits
of those who are different
than the one who sought to burn

but the backfire was already lit
long, long ago
in the passion and love of those who once gathered
in that holy hall
and sang to the rafters their praises
these flames of love had already been burning
long before hate came to destroy

and those flames will keep burning
high and mighty
licking the sky
quelling the fire of hate
as it approaches
the sound of voices raised in love
and grace
and forgiveness
will drown out the roar
of the flames of prejudice

love will rebuild
and restore
and regroup

love will put the flames
of hurt and destruction out
and every time that match is lit
the eternal flame of love
will burn it out

each and every time

love will recreate
love will use what was meant for evil
and shine through the ashes of all
that was lost

like the rays of the morning sun
gently stirring the souls awake
love will awaken the flames of
all that is good
in each person, one by one,

until in the end,
love wins

By 4028mdk09 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By 4028mdk09 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Did You Have Bacon?”

Aub went out for lunch today.  When she came back she mentioned a rash on her arm that had come up while she was gone.  By the time she returned home, it was gone.

She and Cooter were sitting at the counter while I was loading the dishwasher.  We started trying to come up with reasons she might have broken out.  She has had reactions before and best we could figure, one food was usually involved.

Bacon.

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I know, right?

Sad.

It was Cooter who asked first.  “Did you have bacon?”

“No.”

He thought for a minute.  “Did you eat anything that had been near bacon? Maybe processed with bacon?”

She smiled.  “I don’t think so.”

“Hmmmm.  What about anything that had anything to do with pigs?”

And so on.

He’s an interesting 8-year-old.  But since before he could talk, food allergies have been a part of our world and way of life.  With one sister with nut allergies and another whose sensitivities haven’t all been determined, he knows.  The language–“may contain,” “processed in a plant,” “nut free”–and the worry.  He knows there are restaurants we will never go to, and he knows which ones we can.

As we were talking, and I listened to his line of questioning, it occurred to me.  “You’re going to be an allergist when you grow up, aren’t you, buddy?”

He laughed.  “Well maybe. I just want you to be okay.”  And he leaned in for a hug.

Bless him.

In his Ted Talk, Hugh Hollowell of Love Wins Ministries talks about relationships, about how your mother won’t be homeless because she has YOU.  He also talks about the advancement of gay marriage.  In this 2010 video, he talks about how fifteen years before there was no place that a couple could be gay and married.  And in 2010, there were nine states and a district.  The difference, Hugh says, is relationships.  People who had friends who were gay were twice as likely to be accepting of gay marriage.

I’m not here today to debate the existence or legalization of gay marriage.  I just want to think about what Hugh said–

the difference is relationships.

I saw that today.  My little guy would consider becoming an allergist because his sisters suffer from allergies that can be life-threatening.

And I think that’s pretty cool.

I look around at the people in my life.  How they shape who I am.  The people whom I am in relationship with have a lot to do with what I believe and how I want to live my life.  I am thankful for this diverse group who challenge me to step outside my comfort zone and with whom I can have great conversations, even when we disagree on a matter.

That’s what this life is all about.  Being our best selves, and not only allowing but also empowering others to do that as well.

May you all have someone around you whom you love enough to make life decisions around, and may you encourage and empower those who are in your circle.

Love to all.

 

***** I’m pretty sure “Did you have bacon?” was Cooter’s way of saying “I love you” this evening.  That whole being known and mattering to someone else–yeah.  Love. 

Making Room for What Is Coming

So it’s Lent.

A season which is confusing at best.

For me, anyway.

My first exposure to Lent and the longest lasting impression of the season for me is one of giving something up.

That was in college when I had a friend who was Catholic.  So we all gave up something. (Ummm, in most cases, I think it was chocolate.)  It was interesting too, because there was the debate of whether or not Sundays counted as part of Lent.

After college, I found my way back to the Episcopal church, where Lenten traditions were observed, and yes, we gave up something, and Sundays did not count.  I gave up sweet tea (clutch my pearls and gasp), which was VERY significant and a challenge for me.  Rather than keeping the tea in the house, on Saturday afternoons, I would ride to town and pick up an extra-large (read half-gallon or some ridiculous amount like that) of sweet tea from Dairy Queen (closed on Sundays) and tote it back home and keep it in the frigidaire until Sunday.  It lasted me all day.  Oh my land,, with all that sugar it should have lasted me a week.

Then there were years I gave up chewing gum.  Another nail biter.  But I made it.  Then there were years that I gave up eating meat during the daylight hours.  That was interesting, especially when I’d go to Mama’s and she made her “green pizza”–spinach quiche with bacon on top.  She would either make me one without the bacon or she’d pick the pieces off my slice.  Mama was like that.  Supporting whatever I had going on.

It was important that I did something each day to focus on the season.  In more recent years, I’ve struggled with healthy eating.  I found out during a book study where we limited what we ate that, while I do not have an eating disorder, it’s best not to mess too much with my eating habits.  It’s a rocky slope.

And so I don’t.  I enjoyed reading the thoughts of a friend about Lent (it’s a must read–you’re welcome), as in we need to create space for what is coming, much like a bird does with a nest.  That I can get on board with.  That is exactly what I need this year.  Creating space.  Quieting my spirit.  My mind and my heart open.  Yes.

A work  in progress, but I’m embracing it.

Some folks are taking the forty days of Lent to get rid of 40 bags of stuff.  That’s ambitious, and I’m impressed.  It terrifies my pack rat, semi-hoarding sentimental self, but for those of you attempting it, you go!  I’m proud for you.  A couple of weeks ago, I finished emptying out a storage unit of things from Mama’s, and then we cleaned up a LOT of stuff (read “we only had a path from the door of the garage to the door of the house” *ack!*) from our garage.  So Imma have to rest on my laurels from that one for a little while, realize I’m okay without all of that stuff, and then I’ll be ready to tackle another pile or closet.  But it  probably won’t happen during Lent.

And I’m okay with that.

The thing about cleaning out our homes and our souls is that a lot of it is trash, isn’t it?  So often it’s not really anything anyone else can use, even though we surely want to recycle it and pass it on.  Sometimes deliberately (with a sad, tired pair of shoes or that Chia pet we never opened) and sometimes not so much (passing on the ugliness and hurt we’ve been feeling).  But it’s still trash.

Nobody wants that Chia pet.

I’m just saying.

Or that hurt and pain either.

Let it go, folks.

Hugh Hollowell shared about some things that had been “donated” to Love Wins, “a ministry of presence and pastoral care for the homeless and at-risk population of Raleigh, NC.”  (Chia pet included.  I can’t even.)  His friends and folks who cared commented, sharing things that well-intentioned people had donated to their missions–expired food items, used bars of soap, used underwear, torn up furniture.

Y’all.  For the love.

So as we clean out our hearts and minds and spirits and closets, let’s remember to let the trash go.  All the brokenness and broken things we’ve tucked away and can do without, so can everyone else.  I’m all about sharing the joy and hugs and encouragement and items in gently-used condition (I love me some thrift shops, y’all know), but sometimes folks are better off if we just toss it in a bag and take it to the dump.  Literally and figuratively.

Others, especially those hurting from their own stories, shouldn’t have to deal with our rubbish.

May we all find something wonderful–joy, a smile, kind words, a pair of gloves, or a much-loved, still lovely blanket–to share with another today.  It’s all about building that nest.  To have room for what’s coming.

Love to all.

Letting go of the rubbish, to make room for something better.

Letting go of the rubbish, to make room for something better.

 

Watching and Waiting

My little guy Cooter has been under the weather for a few days.  He started off complaining of a sore throat and then the sniffles hit.  It all came to a head (his head) yesterday with coughing and sneezing that had us all running to get out of the spray zone.

Ahem.

He is a little more willing to cuddle when he’s like this.  While this cold hasn’t knocked him out completely (thankful for that), he has wanted to sit right next to me as he worked on his math or read his book.  He and Miss Sophie have gotten quite territorial over who gets to sit curled up on my right side.  It’s been downright comical at times.

Yesterday evening the Fella was a little later getting home from work.  I was scrambling to get Miss Sophie’s evening constitutional walk in before someone had to take our Princess to swim practice.  It was cold, and my goal was that Cooter not have to get out in the weather or be left alone inside while I took Miss Sophie out.

So I quickly took our canine companion down the street while the Fella gathered up what he needed to head out the door a few minutes later.  And while I was walking her, he took this picture.

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Besides the boy himself, this is one of my most favorite things the Fella has given me.

This picture.

Oh those bare toes and the mismatched pajamas and the shirt on backwards and the toting of Wicket the Ewok everywhere he goes–that’s enough to love it with my whole heart right there.  This is Cooter’s childhood in one photograph.

And I love him so.

But what really fills my heart to bustin’ is what he’s doing.

Peering out from behind the curtain.  Watching.  Waiting.  On Me.

As my oldest would say: all the feels, y’all.

That precious little guy.  This little person who changed my world forever when he came into being–he was waiting on me.

I’m so not worthy.

Yesterday parts of our country saw some very harsh weather.  Hugh Hollowell, the Director of Love Wins Ministries in North Carolina, wrote yesterday morning that he was walking in the snow from his house to open up the Hospitality House at Love Wins.  He posted pictures, and this Georgia girl was impressed.  Snow like that here and we’d be battening down the hatches and going nowhere.  (Well, we’re doing that anyway based on temperatures alone, but still, SNOW.  It’s been a while, and I’m not a big fan.)

A  little while later he shared that he had been there twenty minutes and had already gotten a couple of phone calls.

Folks wanting to know if they were open.  All day.

Yep.

“Thank God.”

Hugh had folks waiting for him.  Watching for him.  Depending on him and his folks to be there.

To provide friendship, comfort, warmth, shelter, and food–for the body and soul.  And he didn’t want to let them down.

I wonder if he feels worthy.

(I happen to think he is, just for the record.)

The thing that touched my heart last night as I went in and covered up my sleeping, sniffly boy was how humbling it is to be the one he was waiting on.  And not just waiting, but actively watching and waiting for.  Seeking.

I want to be worthy of that.  I want to be the one he and his siblings can depend on like Hugh’s friends can depend on him.  I don’t want to get caught up in the world and its expectations and busy-ness and not be there when one of them is looking for me.  I don’t want to let any of them down.

I am honored to be the one.

For now.

I know it might not always be so.  Eventually they will head out on their own paths and have other people to whom they might turn first.  And that’s okay (I guess, thankful I have time to get adjusted to that thought), but for now, I’m working really hard to be worthy of those eyes and those toes and the mismatched pajamas–worthy of that heart looking to me to help guide the way.

Tonight I’m thankful for cuddles and for noses that are much better today.  I am thankful there are people like Hugh who are there for those in need who are waiting and watching, so that right now I can be that person for my children at home.  One day I want to be like him–helping where I can–but for now, this is where I belong.  Coming home.  To the ones who are waiting.

Love to all.

 

To support Hugh Hollowell and his staff helping those in need, please visit their website and find out what they need most this time of year.  Click here to check it out.