Working Out

It was June, I think, or maybe July.  I’m not sure.  I know it was very hot.  And that Daddy was still going for treatments at the Cancer Center.

This particular day Daddy’s physical therapist, Miss Ida, whom I loved and adored from my own visit to the PT office where she worked, had helped get Daddy situated in the passenger seat of Mama’s car.  Mama got in the back, and I drove the two of them down and over to Highway 96 where the Center is located about twenty minutes away from the house.

When we got there, I pulled up under the breezeway to let Daddy out as close to the door as possible.  Mama went in and came back with a wheelchair.  I helped Daddy turn his legs around, and then we wrapped his arms around my neck, and I lifted while he tried to help.

At this point the lymphoma was zapping his strength and his broken hip from a few months before, though healing, was hindering his physical abilities as well.  I lifted, but my efforts did little to get him from the car to the chair.  We tried again, and I got him up a few inches.  And then…..

I almost dropped him.

He almost fell onto the edge of the car and to the pavement below.

I was mortified.  Daddy was fine, but still.  WHAT IF?

A kind soul happened upon us then–no coincidence at all–and she came right over, enveloped my Daddy in her arms, gently placed him in the wheelchair, waved off our thanks, and went on her way cheerfully, wishing us a good day.

BLESS.

It was easier getting him into the car on the way home, and somehow we got him from the car to the house without another incident.

But that moment stuck with me.  My upper body strength was sorely lacking.  If I couldn’t take care of my Daddy, something would have to change.  Immediately.  I was broken over the fact that it had been a stranger who had come to his aid–that after all he’d done for me through all the years, I couldn’t help him–unfathomable.

And so I began working out back then.  Nothing too serious, just trying to build up my strength so that I could help lift him.  And when he was bedridden at the end and would slide down in the bed, I was able to move him back up in the bed.  I am thankful for that now.

A couple of days ago, I woke up thinking about how we work to build up muscles.  How we work and push them beyond their limits to be stronger and to be able to do more with them.  Almost completely recovered from a frozen shoulder, I am ready to start rebuilding my core and my ability to “lift and tote.”  Mostly for groceries, but still–it’s a good thing to work on.

Then I started thinking about our hearts.  And how we love.

That’s a good thing to work on too.

We don’t build up our arm muscles by continuing to do the same thing every day–by only lifting the laundry from the dryer or the groceries from the car.  We have to be consistent, and we have to go outside our comfort zones to be strong and stronger.  We have to lift things we wouldn’t normally lift.

I think it’s the same in building up our hearts–and our capacity to love.  We don’t do it by loving the same people all the time.  We do it by loving folks outside our comfort zones.  And by doing it consistently.  That’s the only way to build up our love muscles.  Loving those we wouldn’t normally love.  Going out of our way for them.  For others.

And that’s the only way to build up the kingdom too.

A kingdom where I’d really like to live.

Wishing you all a day of working out–and building up those muscles.  For the good of all of us.

Love to all.

Die_Frau_als_Hausärztin_(1911)_135_Bruststärker

“Die Frau als Hausärztin (1911) 135 Bruststärker” by Anna Fischer-Dückelmann – Die Frau als HausärztinLicensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 

On Being Asked, “What Are You Afraid of?”

Last week my friend Michelle who writes over at Correct and Continue posed the question–

What are you afraid of? 

In the moments of quiet that find their way into my days and rapidly disappear, I have thought about this question.

And I have worked on my answer to that.

Spiders.  Definitely.  No doubt.  I don’t play about that.

I have finally decided to find it quirky and embrace it rather than work through it.  Family lore has it that when I was maybe four and Sister was nearly one, I started losing it over a spider I saw on the floor.  Sister reached over and smashed it with her hand.  She may or may not have then licked said hand.  That bit’s a little fuzzy.  Needless to say, I spent all my years after that, when I was living at home, calling her to my rescue.  One of the reasons our front porch and front flower bed needs so much attention now is my arachnophobia.  I’m done.  My Fella knows, and he says we will do it together.  I’m good with that.  Spiders.  Just. No.

Boogie Man.  Well, who’s not, really?  Am I right?  The embodiment of all evil and darkness in the world.  Don’t need him around either.

Something bad happening to someone I love.  Been there, done that.  But I don’t think that exempts me from a future without any more of this.  When the littles get sick, like Cooter has been since last night, if I don’t block the door so Anxiety Girl can’t get in, I have to deal with her and all of her what if’s and panic-laden thoughts.  I’m trying though.  She and I really aren’t good for each other.  At all.

Oh I could go on and on.  Odd stuff.  Thanks to the Tylenol tampering and subsequent deaths of 1982, I have a moment of stress when I open a new bottle/bag/container of something.  I want to make sure that joker is SEALED.  I unplug things that my Daddy taught me could be fire hazards before I leave my house.  I double-check the locks at night.  And when I’m leaving.  I worry that I will lose my wallet.  Or my phone.  I’ve tried to do both a time or two.

But none of those can touch what I think is my greatest fear.

I am afraid of becoming comfortable.

I could, you know.  I have the potential to do just that.

I could stay at home and hang out in my little world of times tables, Harry Potter reading, Lego building, cleaning up, cooking and feeding, and teaching and healing and kissing boo boos.  I could do that, and it would be okay.  It would be comfortable and the right thing and I would be taking care of business in my home, in my own part of the world.

But here’s a thought.  One that speaks to my heart and calls me out.  Something that I saw today on the Facebook page of Love Wins Ministries, which “shares unconditional love and friendship with the homeless and poor population of Raleigh, North Carolina.”

Yep.  See, if I become comfortable in my own little world, oblivious and unaware and indifferent to the suffering and heartbreak and loneliness and brokenness of those who share this world with me, I’ve missed out.  That is my fear.  That I will become comfortable and unaware and indifferent.  And if I do, an important part of living, of being on this journey will be gone.

I’ve learned this, through watching my parents and the example they set:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 

Fill in the blank with almost anything.

Just because you can–

eat the whole pizza at one sitting…..

get a new credit card…..

speak your mind to the one who cut you off in traffic…..

buy yourself a new purse, a new car, a new pair of boots……

doesn’t mean you should.

We are all connected.  I can become comfortable and indifferent and think that any one of those things won’t affect someone else.  In my own little world, I might think that what happens to “them” “elsewhere” doesn’t have one iota of anything to do with me.

And I’d be lying to myself, wouldn’t I?  Because, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

What is my greatest fear?

Losing that sense of connectedness, however painful as it may be to be aware, connected.  And living in my own little world, unaware and indifferent to the stories of those around me.

It could happen.  It would be so easy to go there.

But for me, I can’t let it.

Because while I’d be comfortable, I wouldn’t be living the life I was meant to live.

And that’s what I’m most afraid of.  Not living as I was meant to.  Made to.

Love and a beautiful, uncomfortable moment or two to all.

 

The Day I Went To Prison

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

Sigh.

But this story began a few months before.

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

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

Wow.

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

At the risk of being redundant, Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only I couldn’t hear him.

At all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you?  Was that good?”

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

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

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

 

Love to all.

 

All In My Chili

So today, I was toodling along, minding my very own business, and this happened.

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That’s what I get for looking at Facebook.

*sigh*

All in my chili…..

It’s true, isn’t it?

If I can’t or don’t try to stop something from happening, how can I depend on someone else to change it? And get angry when they don’t?

I can’t.

Mama used to have a rule about us not asking someone to do something for us that we weren’t willing to do ourselves.  It was probably to prevent sibling abuse, but yeah, it’s a good rule for life, I think.

I can’t sit back and see an injustice happening, do nothing, and then get angry over and over that it continues to exist, frustrated that “someone” isn’t stopping it. Not when I’m not making a move to stop it myself.

What I allow will continue to happen.

I can’t put up with someone mistreating me, ignoring my feelings, or disrespecting me–all the while shaking my head and hoping it will stop.

What I allow will continue to happen.

I can’t bury my head in the sand, continue homeschooling my littles, and ignore the woes of the children who are in the public school system and hope that the world will be a better place someday.  What is happening now won’t affect just those children in the schools, it does and will affect all of us.

What I allow will continue to happen.

Now that I know better about things like modern-day industrial slavery and fair trade, I cannot make purchases of certain things, turning a blind-eye to how they were made.

For if I do, the slavery will continue to happen.

The decline of our educational system will continue.

The abuse and wear and tear on my soul will continue to eat away at who I am.

The injustices, so many of them in this world, will continue, and those suffering at the hands of another, will be right that their voices aren’t being heard, feeling that their lives maybe just don’t count as much.  Not if I’m not willing to speak up for them.

The things in this world that can be lost if we allow it–

love, kindness, innocence, peace, freedom, wisdom, knowledge

a soul,

a life

Mama also had another quote she’d toss at us from time to time.  I dug around and couldn’t find the source of the quote, but that doesn’t detract from its truth.

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If I don’t like the way things are–the situation in the world, in this country, in my community and even in my own home–then I have to accept that if it is to be–if change is to happen–it must begin with me.  If I don’t make an effort to change what I see that isn’t right, it will continue.  And I also have to realize that if it continues…..

and I have been too busy or afraid or lost to take a step…..

it continues because I have allowed it to.

A tough pill to swallow tonight.

Like I said, they’re all in my chili, stirring me up tonight.

What is it that you are being called to change–to stop allowing?  To keep from continuing to happen?

Whether it’s fighting social injustice or a taking a stand to end bullying or making a request that clothes be turned right side out before being put in the laundry–it all matters.  If it brings peace to the world, go for it.

One step at a time, one person at a time, we can make a difference.

I know it’s a cliche’, but there is truth rolling around in there as well.

Reminds me of lyrics from  the song our teachers worked so hard to teach us to sing when we were practicing for our Eighth Grade Graduation.

“Let there be peace on earth

And let it begin with me…..”

Amen.

A Long Day Everyday of the Year

Today was a very long day.

We had all kinds of grand plans and things to check off, little room for error, leaving our house early in the day and not returning until late.

As I sat with the littles at lunch in the midst of our activities, I told them to eat plenty.  “And let’s refill your drinks.  It’s going to be a really long day.”

Cooter, age six, piped up, “Is it the summer solstice?”

Well, that one caught me off guard.  He cracks me up and amazes me with the random stuff he knows.

“Well, no it’s not, but you are right—that is the longest day of the year.  Umm, where did you learn about the summer solstice?”

Without looking up from the chip he was carefully dipping in queso, he said, “Oh, Phineas and Ferb.”

Well, thank you, Disney Channel.

I decided to jump on that teachable moment. I checked the clock.  I had a few minutes before we had to leave for our next destination.

“So if the summer solstice is the longest day of the year, what is the winter solstice?”

They said in unison, “The shortest day of the year.”

School, check.

And that’s how we get things done in homeschoolin’.

(just kidding)

(maybe)

As I drove to meet with my Sister Circle, a group of women who are either homeless or in  transition, I thought about what would have been my longest day.  Everyday of the year is long for them, it doesn’t matter how much sunlight there is—trying to stay safe from the elements and the people who would harm them or use them for their personal gain.  I just don’t even know y’all.  The things we do to each other.  Breaks.  My.  Heart.

I sat with these women, from the age of my oldest child to old enough to be my mother, and we talked about grace.  And how, for some of them, the people in their lives who should have had their best interests in mind, just don’t.  Or how they immediately feel judged when they go in someplace…..one sweet girl mentioned the church she attends.  Oh.  Just no.  Please tell me that you feel accepted there, of all places, but no.   I asked her what she does with the pain from that.  “I just give it to God ’cause I sure can’t handle it myself.”  For the love of God, what is happening?  I guess that’s it.  Sometimes we forget that loving God means loving all.  That’s a scary thing.  And a sweet lady whom I remember from our Sunday night suppers…..she said she just doesn’t talk to anybody, stays to herself, so that way no one has anything to give her a hard time about or to judge.  Oh, the brokenness.  We are driving people away from God’s church, from our community, from being with folks in relationships at all…..all because we perceive them to be different and don’t mind them knowing it.

Bob Goff, author of "Love Does" gets it.  This is where we should be.

Bob Goff, author of “Love Does” gets it. This is where we should be.

I love Bob Goff, author of Love Does.  If you haven’t read it, you should.  If you have, then you know what I’m talking about.  He gets it.  Today I heard story after story of how these women depend on God or how Jesus will get them through it.  One really, really needs housing.  A place she can lay her head and be SAFE.  When I mentioned talking to one of the administrators at the shelter, she said, “Naw, it’ll be okay.  I know God’s got this.”

Oh my.

I don’t mean to say that God doesn’t have it, but maybe, just maybe, we are the answer He has in mind. Or a part of the answer.   And maybe talking with the administrators would be part of His plan.  I get why she is leaning solely on God though.  Because those of us who should be “Jesus with skin on” for her have let her down.  By judging, by looking away, by thinking God or the government or the churches or the folks who volunteer every week GOT THIS.  I don’t have to…..

Let me say this.  This problem is bigger than that. Truth. This problem of the unhoused and the unfed and the unheard and the unsafe–this problem of all this brokenness is so big it will take all of us to change it.  We have to change our attitudes and look outside our four walls and comfort zones and reach out to the folks in need.

If only with a hug, that’s a start.

pic of comfort quote

My daughter shared this quote with me last week.  Ain’t it the truth?  Boy I wish I could just sit back and “rest on my laurels,” as Mama used to put it.  But I don’t have any to rest on.  So it’s time for me to get uncomfortable.  And do more than just sit and listen to these stories.  I want to make it possible for their stories to have chapters on healing and on acceptance and love.  And to ban the stories of rejection and judgment, pain and hurt from ever happening again.  Not on my watch.

pic of goff quote go love someoneIt’s time we all get a little or maybe even a lot uncomfortable and explain our faith through our actions.

courtesy of Project Meet Me Halfway, Shared via CASA of Cumberland, Gloucester & Salem Counties

courtesy of Project Meet Me Halfway, Shared via CASA of Cumberland, Gloucester & Salem Counties

To start, let’s begin by looking and seeing and hearing and loving, and make the long days for these beautiful women and all those without homes or in transition a little shorter by walking alongside them, a little brighter, a lot safer, and filled with love and grace.  There are so many programs and different ways to make a positive change–local Salvation Army programs, spouse abuse shelters, after school youth programs.  Donations and volunteers are needed in food pantries and clothing closets.  Tutors and storytellers are needed in schools.  Day shelters need folks to help with laundry and showers.  They too need donations of supplies and snacks.  Most importantly, each person you meet in your day wants–NEEDS–to feel worthy and to be seen as such.

How are you being called out of your comfort zone?

We’re all in this together.  WE GOT THIS.