Be the Light

When I was in grad school and had a class called “Spirituality and Family Therapy,” my mind was blown.  So many good books, so many great thinkers and powerful conversations.  One of the ideas I was introduced to was “soul of place.”

I think I had always known about it and felt it, but this was the first time having words put to the idea.

The Soul.  Of place.

I knew this when I said goodbye to my Granny’s farm.  It was even more real the first time I returned years later, to walk around and see the shadows of the stories of the past.  The day I locked the door to my Great Aunt’s house, the one she lived in my entire life, where so much laughter and games of Go Fish echoed in the air, just before signing the papers to sell it to a new family…..I felt the soul of place in every fiber of my being.  Each and every time I set foot at Blackberry Flats, I breathe a little easier. The air is richer and it fills my soul.  The pasture where I learned to ride and the little building where I curled up on top of the hay with my cats and a book are all still there.  The tree that I sat under while still in college has spread its branches just as our family tree has.

Memories.  Light.  Love.  All the stories.

This has happened one other time for me.  It actually happened the first time I walked through the doors.

About five and a half years ago, I walked into a coffee shop that I had heard about long before it had become a reality.  It was a non-profit venture by a group of churches in the Presbytery—churches and church people who realized that not everyone feels safe or comfortable in a church building.  They were looking for a different way to “do church,” to be a community.

And they found it.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the lightbulb etched into the cement floor.

Light.

And that was the second thing I noticed.  How the room glowed.  How it was lit up with more than just the energy from the bulbs overhead.  It was bright with a beautiful spirit.  A calming spirit of peace.

And my soul sighed.  Home.

My family and I have spent countless hours in that little coffee shop in Kathleen situated alongside the GW Boutique, Stevi B’s, and the movie theater.  For coffee, for conversations, for book groups, for art classes.  It’s where I learned to knit and to pray out loud.  It’s where people see the best in others and listen with their whole hearts.  It’s the place I last sat with my dear sisterfriend before she left this world, where we shared our hearts and stories over soup and salad.  It’s where I learned to love pimento cheese and was actually captured on film sharing how good it was, “It’s toasted!” This little coffee shop saw me transition from lattes to black coffee, and my friends the baristas made the very best of both.  This coffee shop is where I sat for hours, set up to sell Beads for Life just a week after my Daddy passed.  It was a sanctuary, and it held my heart gently.  In those hours, in that light, I made my first tiny steps toward healing.  Something I’m still working on.

Grief is an odd duck, isn’t it?  It’s not like this information is new to me.  I know that, and each and every time I’m thrown back on the wheel, I realize it anew.  This whole experience, since we got the word at the end of November that our precious coffee shop was hurting and might have to close, I’ve felt the sting of a terminal diagnosis all over again.  The hope that maybe, just maybe, something or someone can change all of this, the ups and downs and ups and downs and finally, the overwhelming realization, that no, there really is nothing more that can be done…..

yeah, I’ve done this a few times already.

And while it’s a place—yes, just a few square feet that we are losing, not a person—I still grieve.  I grieve for the soul of Bare Bulb Coffee.  I grieve because my littles have begged to sell lemonade or cupcakes or pictures they make to save the coffee shop they love.  I grieve because my oldest has found peace and comfort within the shop walls on more than one occasion when her world was falling apart.  Her love of playing music has been reignited sitting there on Sunday afternoons, or out on the patio in nice weather, just strumming and talking and doing life.  I grieve for all of the experiences my children will not have because the doors are closing.  It was our safe place, a place where we all felt “home,” and that’s not something that is easily found just anywhere.

Next Monday night the door will be locked for the last time, the last cup of coffee poured, the last smile shared as change is given, the last story told over the tables, the last hand held sitting on the couch in the corner.  The last backpack to fight hunger will have been packed, and the last book purchased for the literacy program that is a part of the mission of Bare Bulb Coffee.  These things might continue elsewhere, but it will not be the same.

I’m not sure if I will be there when the door is locked for the last time.  I’ve thought about it.  I have a week to decide.  I’m not sure if I can handle being present for one more passing.  It is precious and hard and beautiful and brutal and all of these things, and I treasure those moments in my heart.  But I know that the hardest moment will be when the Open sign is unplugged, and the lights are turned out.

That is when our work will truly begin.  For those of us who have loved her, who have found solace in her soul and light, we will have to become the light.  To welcome all as she did.  To offer a cup of water to the thirsty, just as she did.  To sit with those who cry, to celebrate with those who are joyful.  It will be up to us to light up the darkness and to show others the hope in the brokenness.  It is important for us to continue to do all of these things…..together…..or she will have been here in vain.

Tonight I’m thankful for the dreamers, for the ones who took a spark and created a bright light for our community, for the world.  It was so much more than a coffeeshop, so much more than its tagline—“hot coffee, cool mission.”  It’s where I grew up, where I asked hard questions and wrestled with them with folks who thought differently and who challenged me to do so as well.  It’s where I said so many hellos and a few heartbreaking goodbyes, this place where strangers became friends, and friends became family.  I am thankful for all of them, and my life is richer for this place, for her soul, and for the community she leaves behind.

Thank you, Bare Bulb Coffee, and all of your beautiful people.  Thank you for the ones we knew and loved and for the ones who taught us what being different was like.  Thank you for the books and the stories and the hugs and the tangled knots and the hands that helped each other with knitting and painting and life.  Thank you for being open to all of us, no matter what we looked like or what stories we carried in our hearts.

Thank you, Bare Bulb Coffee, for the Light.

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My last painting at Bare Bulb Coffee, and her task for all of us she leaves behind. (The class was taught by Terri Siegel, a talented artist friend–one of many gifts the Bulb has given me.)

The Puzzle of Prayer

pic of walk

Tonight after supper the littles asked to take a walk.

It surprised me.

I’m used to them asking for dessert, or to play some kind of electronics, or to watch a tv show.  But to take a walk? It’s been a while.  And the irony of them asking on this day.  It just about made me cry.

Four years ago exactly, in the evening, I was taking my second walk of the day.  It was a luxury I didn’t take lightly.  Walking through the neighborhood by myself, letting the breeze blow out the cobwebs.  My husband was home doing prep for a procedure, so when I saw him walking towards me through the shadows of dusk, I knew something was wrong.  It was Daddy.  He was in the hospital ER and it wasn’t good.

Tonight as the littles and I walked, off and on Cooter would reach up and take my hand.  So sweet.  And our Princess would lean over and hug me happily as we walked side by side by side.  The sound of thunder rumbling sped us along, as I didn’t want it to find us before we were able to get inside safely.  The dark was closing in on us as the clouds grew darker and closer.  Just as it did four years ago.  That blasted darkness.

Just the day before we’d gathered at Mama’s and Daddy’s to celebrate my nephew’s fourth birthday.  In the midst of the laughter and merry-making I sat next to Daddy on the brown couch in the big room.  He was unusually quiet.  I don’t claim to know something was going to happen but there must have been some kind of prescience as I remember wanting to hug him close and not let go.

We’d had at least six months of symptoms to seek explanations for, but it was when Daddy’s hand wobbled and he couldn’t get his glass to his mouth that day that Mama noticed and said, “It’s time to do something.  Now.” And so they went to the ER.

I was relayed the message that I was NOT to go to the hospital that night.  So I didn’t.  I did what I was supposed to do which was make calls and share the situation with family.

That night was the beginning of the change in my relationship with prayer.  Before this I really thought that if I prayed hard enough or believed enough…..

One family member asked what could be done.  I said, “Hit your knees and start praying.”  I was so convinced we could ward off the Giant with prayers.

The next morning I called to tell Daddy’s sisters and brother.  My Aunt and I cried together as I recall.  Her big sister, the one in the middle between her and Daddy, offered to pray with me, for me, for all of us.  I remember being comforted and some of her words have stayed with me–words about how much I loved and needed my Daddy.  And how much his grandchildren needed him too.  She knew, she got it–her Daddy died when she was in her twenties.  Her words covered me and held me tight as I knelt in the dark inside my closet, weeping where my children hopefully couldn’t hear me.

Prayer is a hard thing, you know.  Or maybe it isn’t for most folks.  But for me, I don’t get it.  I read part of a book where a man walked around the property he hoped would be his community’s church one day, praying around it.  And it “worked.”  They got the property and have grown since then.  I know people who say that their prayers have been answered in one way or another.  And I’m not saying they haven’t been.  I just know that when someone is sick or hurting or they ask for prayers……all I can say is “I’ll keep you in my thoughts” or “I will be thinking about you” or “You are in my heart and on my mind.”  Which is all true.  I cannot say “I will pray for you” because I don’t know what that is supposed to look like.

And here is why.

Starting very shortly after this date in 2009, when my children fully grasped that their loving grandfather, their “Cap,” was very sick, they ended their table blessings ALWAYS with “And make Cap better. Amen.” It was so much a part of their prayers that they even said it at his table with him sitting there after he came home from the hospital several weeks later.  Loving friends and family let us know they were praying.  Friends in Japan and Germany and young women in Ghana whom we never met were praying for us, for Daddy.  If ever anyone was covered in prayer, it was my Daddy.  And yet….

On a cold morning in November of 2011 I was driving as quickly as I safely could to my parents’ house, my three babies in tow.  When our Princess realized we weren’t taking her big sister to school and that it was still rather dark out, she asked, “What are we doing?  Where are we going?”  I waited until we were on the backroads in case I had to pull over I guess.  I told her, “Baby, God is coming to get Cap today.  Sometimes He has to take folks to Heaven to heal them all the way.”  Or something like that.  And that’s when she started crying and said,

“Oh no, we didn’t pray hard enough.”

Dear God, what had I taught her about prayer?  And what do I teach her now?

It’s a hard thing.  And so I think about it more than I should probably.  And I worry over it.  Not so much for God’s sake as I figure I’m not the first to ask hard questions, but for those I love.  Those I love enough to want things to be better but not really understanding the process enough to commit–“I’ll pray for you.” How can I if I don’t know what I’m doing?

After Daddy died,  I spent fourteen months trying to get my faith and my prayers back on track. Then Mama went in the hospital. So many people praying, saying to us that they were praying for the surgeons, for us, for Mama. Three weeks later, after suffering more than anyone ever should, she too passed on from this world. My friend Mac has told me he has sat in the park and cried and prayed and asked God to take away the taste of alcohol. He’s prayed for strength. I’ve told God how much he means to me and asked God to help him through the constant battle of addiction. And still…..here we are.

I’ve talked with some folks about prayer. Told them that I don’t get it. I don’t understand exactly what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Expectation management as my husband would call it. If I’m praying, believing God can or will heal my Daddy, my Mama, Mac…..then is it any wonder that my faith is shattered and my heart broken when they aren’t healed? And if I’m praying, knowing it could go the other way, then why bother at all? That would be praying, having no faith that it could help. I’ve heard some folks say, “Well you must not have prayed hard enough.” NO. I can’t take that upon myself, nor can I believe in a God that would punish for prayers said wrong or not at all. Somehow I think we’re missing a piece of the puzzle here. I pray and…..? And what? There has to be another part of it.

I don’t know what the answer is and may not know in this world.  For now I borrow from a wise Mennonite minister, Hugh Hollowell, who shared in an old post that his prayers evolved into telling God how much someone meant to him and asking Him/Her to be with that person.  That I can do.  That doesn’t set expectations or requests–just puts someone in the Light for a few minutes. And I’m hoping that in the midst of the dark and brokenness that can be overwhelming, that if I talk to God and share how much I love that person, maybe for a moment the Light will shine through the darkness.  And shine a bit of peace through it all.  For that person I care about and for all of us.

Amen.

Don’t Stop Believing…..Faithfully

We’re running a little late tonight, as we usually do on Sunday nights.  My oldest is in the shower, and she has her music playing in the background as she always does.

Only tonight it’s different.  Tonight it’s special music playing.  The same music she’s been playing all day.  Music from the Glee soundtracks.

Aub is sad and lost today.  My girl has had a lot of loss  in her young life–her Papa, her Cap, her Maemae, and her two great-grandmothers.  She knows life isn’t always about answered prayers and happy endings.  She’s way too young to know these things, but she knows them anyway.

But tonight her heart is breaking in a different way.  A young actor, someone she never met, has died.  She didn’t know him personally, but she felt as though she did, as he was a star in a show she’s only recently found and watched–Glee.  This has broken my girl in ways that I can only imagine.  It’s the first time someone young that she felt a connection to has died, and it’s just hard.

I remember very well August 16, 1977.  For whatever reason I was the one to hear the breaking news about the death of Elvis Presley.  I went in the kitchen where Mama was cooking supper and told her.  She thought I was kidding.  When I assured her I was not, a hush came over both of us.  I was sad.  While Elvis was not related to us, it sure felt like he was.  Daddy had so many of his albums and we watched his movies when they came on TV.  After I told Mama, it was time for me to go out and prepare the bottle for my calf and go feed him.  I remember how dark and unsafe the world suddenly felt when I went to the shed for the bottle and formula.  My world was shattered in a strange way.

I know this today has shaken the sense of immortality for more than just my girl.  There is a family and a young woman who loved this young man and whom he loved.  There are friends and co-workers and people who knew him in passing.  And there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, who “knew” him through his show, who will miss him and grieve this loss in their own way.

He played a fictional character.  I know that.  But this grief is real, not disenfranchised.  Tears have been cried under my very own roof.  And as police and investigators try to make sense of what seems to be a senseless death, the grief will continue.

I’m sorry, baby girl.  It’s a broken world.  Not much makes sense anymore, especially not Death and who it claims when.  I don’t know how to help you through this except to say, I love you and I will listen.  And maybe, just maybe, I will sit and watch a marathon of these shows with you.  In memory of a talented young actor and to do what we all do when Death creeps in and reminds us of how fragile it all is–to huddle close and love each other.

Hoping that light and peace beyond all understanding will reach those who are grieving and mourning tonight.  Tonight I leave you with something my girl sent me with this message: “Indulge me, I’m grieving.”  A talented young man is gone, may he rest in peace.