Complacent-see

Dear Kelly,

They say the way to a Mama’s heart is through her children.  Or maybe I’m the only one who says that.  Anyway, tonight I’m writing to you because you have made a powerful difference in my daughter’s life.

My oldest, now a junior in college, attended the vigil for your planned execution last March.  I’m not sure what either of us were expecting, but we left there changed people.  We arrived as people who believe in redemption not revenge, but when we left our stories had intertwined with yours.  As I stood under the bright lights out on that cold dark evening, I faced the prison where I had no idea what you were going through.  I had no idea what to pray, so I stood watching.  Waiting.  Letting my heart pour out everything it was feeling and watching.  Hoping that you could feel God with you.  And know that you are loved.  By God and so many of us whom you have never met.

While I stood there, focused, straining to catch a glimpse or an idea of what was going on in the building beyond the trees, my daughter sat in the camp chair we brought and she searched for information on her phone.  These smart phones are pretty amazing what they can do.  She dug and she was able to tell me what appeals were going on as we stood there.  And then…..

she kept clicking.

I asked her what she was doing.

“Looking up law schools.”

That night changed her, Kelly.  I saw an adult emerge that night.  She was decided as we left the prison grounds and she has not looked back.  She did what she had to and changed her majors to what law schools look for and what she is passionate about.  Psychology and–you should know–Religious Studies.  She is now an intern at a law firm and has been studying for the LSAT much of the summer.

She recently read that a disproportionate number of death penalty cases come from the county where she is in school and where a law school is also located.  That decided it.  She wants to study law there and then become a defense attorney there as well.

All because of you.

Thank you, Kelly.

Tonight my heart is heavy.  You are scheduled to be executed by the state tomorrow evening, September 29, at 7 p.m.  The Parole board has agreed to another clemency hearing at 11 in the morning.  I pray, I PRAY with my fingers crossed and my eyes closed and brow furrowed and with everything in me that they will commute your sentence to life in prison.  That is what I hope will happen.  My head and heart hurt too much when I contemplate what it means if they don’t.

See, I became complacent.  Right before your scheduled execution in March, I made calls and sent emails and shared posts and tweeted articles, and I was so overjoyed that the drugs were cloudy and there was an anti-death penalty movement growing very strong across our nation that I let it slide.  I shared a story or two every now and then.  I paid attention when there was an article about the cloudy drugs.  I listened and I read, but spring and then summer came and went, and I was not prepared for the news of your new execution date.

I’m sorry.

Kelly, I hope you can feel the energy from where you are–the furor and the drive of all the people who care for you and about you.  Those of us whom you’ve met and touched directly and those whom you have not.

You are loved.

You have made a difference.

It is my belief that you have so many more lives to touch, and that you will continue to make a difference in the lives of people who are broken and lost and just need someone to say, “I’m here.”

It is my belief that your children who love you so very much deserve to have you a part of their lives for many, many years to come.

It is my belief that one day we will see an end to the killing as punishment.  That the death penalty will be abolished for always.

I just hope I am right.

The thing that I remember so strongly from that day in March, your second execution date as the snow prevented your first one from happening as scheduled, was that the day held the promise of spring.  I had so hoped you were able to go out and feel the warm sun and the gentle breeze on your face.  That you knew that winter was fading and spring was coming.

And here we are again, on the precipice of seasons changing.  Only I hope that summer is not the only season ending.  I hope that the season of government executions and hatred and people standing divided will end as well.  I hope that you will be here to see the leaves change, to hear the Christmas carols sung by those with great voices and those with great spirit.  I hope you will ring in the New Year, knowing your season of fear and worry and time on death row is over.

I hope for all of the good things.

And I hope that one year in the near future, my daughter’s wish will come true.  That she will be able to meet you face to face and tell you about how you changed her life.  How your story being intertwined with hers for a moment set her on the path of fighting for fair trials and justice for all.  But mostly so she can smile and tell you, “Thank you.”  And you can see the light in her eyes that you helped put there.

Redemption is a beautiful story, Kelly.  And our people are fighting to choose redemption over revenge.

I can only imagine what tonight is like for you.  For your children.  This is inhumane, in my opinion, this torture of not knowing.

Oh, all the not knowing.  Neither you nor the people who love you deserve the reality and fear and worry and waiting of this night.

I’m sorry, Kelly.  I became complacent.  I’ve spent the past ten days trying to remedy that, and make up for all the days I didn’t speak up and say, “This is NOT okay.  Not in my name.”

I am asking God once again to be with you this night.  That perhaps you will get some rest and have peace in your heart.  And the same for your children and your Sisters and all of those who care.  May the peace that passes all understanding be with all of you and all of us, who join you in the worry and the waiting.

Thank you, Kelly.  For not letting who you were define who you were to become.  For letting your story bring so much hope and heart to all of us.

And for reminding us that grace abounds and love ultimately wins.

Holding you in the light,

Tara

IMG_7066

If anyone would like to speak out against the scheduled execution, please read below about the ways you can still make a difference:  

(from the #Kellyonmymind Facebook page)

CALL the GA Board of Pardons and Paroles and ask for mercy for Kelly. They’re considering Kelly’s petition and a call will make a big difference. Call, tweet, post. please! Less than 20 hours to save Kelly’s life so please call and ask others to call. Then tweet and post them too! Let’s do whatever we can to stand with Kelly! 

GA Board of Pardons & Paroles
CALL TODAY (404) 656-4661 (press “0” then “4”)
Clemency_Info@pap.state.ga.us
www.facebook.com/GAParoleBoard
Twitter: @GA_ParoleBoard

Riding Shotgun

Some of my fondest memories from when I was little are riding shotgun with my Daddy.  We played this game until he would finally have enough and stop it–bless him, I’m sure it went on way longer than he could have possibly wanted it to:

Me:  What’d you say?
Him:  What’d you say I said?
Me:  What’d you say I said you said?
Him:  What’d you say I said you said I said?
Me:  What’d you say I said you said I said you said?

…..and so on until we’d get tongue-tied in fits of laughter or Daddy would kindly indicate that was enough.  Being a parent now, remembering how much he did play it with me, it endears him to me even more.  BLESS.  HIM.

We’d also sing crazy versions of “Yellow submarine.”  We all live in an orange jellybean, a blue tambourine, grass that’s really green…..

Or “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Cage.”  Yeah, that was a good one.

I enjoyed our times together when he taught me to drive.  There were life lessons going on in that vehicle as well.  All kinds of wisdom imparted on those drives.

As I got older I enjoyed when Mama would let me join her on trips to see my Great Aunt.  Or to town.  Sometimes I’d drive, sometimes she would.  The fun times were great.  The hard ones were scary, like the time I drove her to the ER when she was running such a high fever.  Even then, she kept her sass I loved and her sense of humor I loved even more.  We were bonding across that dashboard.

This is a “thing” I am passing on to my crew too.  We have some light-hearted, joyful, funny, deep, and hard conversations as we travel down the road.  I remember it was on one road trip that the impending arrival of Cooter was announced to his sisters.

Yesterday my Cuz’n helped us move the big things up to my oldest’s dorm room.  He had helped us move her out back in May.  The rule around our house (or so I told him) is you bring it in, you’re responsible for getting it back out.  He’s a good sport.  Willing and able, two qualities not to be taken for granted.  He met us at the house to load up her mini-frigidaire, rug, and papasan chair.  I commented that it seemed like she had brought back way more at the end of her last school year.

He reminded me, “Don’t you remember, Tara? You keep taking things up all year long, get it just like you want it about April, and then move it all back in May.”

Yep. Sounds about right.

As the Fella loaded up in his vehicle with a few smaller things inside, I decided to ride with Cuz’n.  We don’t get to visit that often, and when we do, it’s always a happenin’, as my Mama would put it.  We packed up our mini-convoy and headed up the road to Macon.

What we talked about isn’t nearly as important as the laughter and the shared memories that allow for really, really good conversations between folks who are each other’s people.  Folks who get the quirks and hardly see them anymore. Or at least when they point them out, they still love you and will go off on anybody ELSE who points them out.

Yes. A good time riding shotgun.  It didn’t hurt that we were in his old truck taking the backroads as far up as we could.

It was Sunday, after all.

Sunday drives are the stuff some of our best stories are made of.  Yesterday, I added another chapter.

Tonight I’m thankful for the folks whom I get to call mine.  They really are the best.  I’m thankful for the willingness of good guys to spend their Sunday making sure my girl had her niceties to make this year and her room extra homey.  (The littles and I helped her move the necessities–clothes and bedding–up last Wednesday.)  I’m thankful that no one mentioned, not even once, that maybe next year she could ask to finally be on any floor other than the top one.  And that no one complained we didn’t get to use the elevator.  Good guys, I tell you.  They were smiling and laughing the whole time.  Most of all, I’m thankful for a good day of riding shotgun, laughing over old memories, and making new ones to laugh over in years to come.

Wishing you all someone fun to ride shotgun with–it’s always a good day for a Sunday drive.

Love to all.

My Daughter is Also My Sister

Yesterday was one of the biggest days of the year.

Right up there with Christmas and Easter and birthdays in our family.

Huge.

It was STUNT weekend at Wesleyan College, my alma mater.

My second home.  The place of many joyful and wonderful memories.  The place where I figured out what I believed and tried it on for size for the first time.

Where I became a Psychology major and experienced great internships at places like the Methodist Children’s Home and Macon Outreach at Mulberry UMC.

Where I made friends for life and promised to be loyal and true to this place that built me.

And where I had the great privilege and honor and pure-tee fun of being a part of this great tradition, STUNT.

This is the 119th year of this event, which was begun to raise scholarship money for a sister who couldn’t afford to return to campus by a group of students all those years ago.  They would not let that happen, so they started this competition between the classes where each class writes and produces their own comedy musical.  The winner gets the coveted STUNT Cup.

That’s what the sisterhood at Wesleyan is all about.  It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since we’ve last seen each other or talked, if one of us needs something, we are there.  I’ve had my sisters sit with me in darkness–be there when I was grieving, show up at my Mama’s funeral, send me messages of encouragement, and challenge me to step outside my comfort zone.  I’ve had my sisters remind me to give myself grace, and show up to cheer on my daughter and her class.  They’ve even been known to wear a class color other than their own, just to encourage another.

And that’s huge, y’all.  Once you enter as a Purple Knight, Golden Heart, Green Knight, or Red Pirate, you spend the next four years and the rest of your life pretty much embracing that color.

It’s all about the sisterhood.

And so was yesterday.  I took our Princess up for the day, as this is her favorite day of the whole year–when alumnae bring prospective students to campus for fun and friendship–some are their own daughters, some are not.  But all enjoy and have the time of their lives, which might explain why our Princess had her bag packed to go since she got back from last year’s STUNT.

It was a day spent with people I have known and loved for a long time.  Familiar faces etched onto my heart, almost as though they are a part of me.  My PirateFriend and her OnlyFriend, who shared the story of their friendship that began the first day of their freshman year, with the comment, “Hey, I like your pants.”  Y’all this is the friendship of a lifetime–I’m going to start telling people I like their pants.  If that’s the kind of lifelong sisterhood and love that comes of it, we should ALL be telling someone we like their pants.  They played a trivia game with the young girls visiting, and we laughed and had such fun.  We even sang and danced to the original number written by the group, “Rosie had a little puppy, and it’s okay to love puppies.” (sung to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”–a future hit, I’m telling you)

I loved hearing the years the daughters of my friends will be there.  I look at my baby girl and know she will be there on campus with some of these other legacies, and I smile.  We will be attending STUNT for many, many years, and I like the sound of that.

As the day went on, we were joined by more friends–sweet faces that haven’t changed one bit since graduation.  We took pictures and hugged and laughed that we had become those “old” alumnae who show up for things.  And we loved every moment of it.  One of the most precious moments was when my oldest, a sophomore at Wesleyan–more importantly, a Red Pirate–came up and met members of my class.  They embraced her as one of their own.  My favorite photo is one I’m not in–it’s my girl with my Purple Knight sisters.  Who stepped out of their knighthood for the night and cheered on the Pirates.  Auburn was the chair of her class’ STUNT committee for the second year in a row.  She and a committee of three other women from her class wrote the 30 minute comedy musical–they wrote the script, the songs, cast and directed it.  They have only been rehearsing for the past two weeks.

It’s tradition.

As the classes marched in one by one, each class sang their cheers.  “Night of the Screaming Women” is a well deserved moniker.  We’re loud and we’re proud.

Yes. We.  All of us alumnae were cheering along too.

And when the lights went down, my last glance back behind me showed me faces I have known for almost thirty years.

I was glad the room was dark.  I may or may not have teared up.  Ahem.

There were Purple Knights, Green Knights, Golden Hearts, and Red Pirates there, all with anticipation and beauty and joy etched into their faces.

And my girl’s 84-year-old grandmother was in the audience too.  There because of love.

But then, weren’t we all?

Yes.

The night was a good one.  The STUNTS were all good, and the Pirates won.

Well, in my book they did, but the judges saw it differently.  The Golden Hearts won the STUNT Cup and the Spirit Cup.  As seniors that was especially poignant.  They were thrilled and the night ended with lots of laughter and hugs and encouragement. With goodbyes and promises to see each other soon.

Before the Cups were announced though, there was a passing of the hats.  The Co-Chairs of the different committees will be Chairs next year.  It was time for them to name their Co-Chairs who will be the Chairs in 2017.

Since shortly after Aub set foot on campus, my girl has hoped to be tapped for this.  She’s spent years poring over my yearbooks and looking at the pictures.  She knew I loved STUNT and that I served as Executive STUNT chair my senior year.  “Mama, I want to do that too.  Wouldn’t that be cool?”

Well, only if you really want to.  I wanted her to do what she wanted to do at Wesleyan and not relive my years.

Long story short.  (or maybe a little shorter)

Last night her dream came true.  Auburn was named Co-Chair for 2015-2016.  Her junior year.  In the words of my daughter:

I.  Can’t.  Even.

As the announcement was being made, my classmate who is now an amazing member of the faculty at Wesleyan came up behind me and wrapped her arms around me.  She held on tight, and–

I.  Can’t.  Even.

See, she’s not one of my daughter’s professors.  It’s likely my girl won’t ever take a class from her.  But my friend has found her and loved her and–

Well.   She didn’t have to.

But that’s what the sisterhood is about.  And it lasts beyond the four years.  It lasts through generations.  And beyond.

It’s forever.

My friend whispered in my ear, “I’m so proud of our girl.” And she hugged me again.

Through my tears, I said, “Thank you for loving her.”

She waved her hand, “Don’t thank me for doing something that easy.”

Oh, my heart.

Today there have been so many pictures and posts on social media from my friends sharing their joy and happiness over being together yesterday.  One GreenKnight friend has said on more than one occasion, “It’s like going home.”

Amen.  And yesterday I sat upstairs in our “house,” and watched my girl and her sisterfriends SHINE like the stars they are.  I stood on stage with my sisterfriends and sang a song that another professor wrote, “Wesleyan is my school, Wesleyan is your school…..”  And my own daughter said she bawled.

She once told me that her friend who was STUNT chair last year was my special sister because we had a lineage between us of women who were tapped by the one before her, and it eventually was traced back to me.  And the one who tapped me and so on.

Well, huh.  I never thought of it that way.

And so now my oldest and much loved girl is a part of that lineage.  And I couldn’t be more tickled–because she’s happy.

My girl and me as the evening came to a close.

My girl and me as the evening came to a close.

So yeah, my daughter is also my sister.

It’s a Wesleyan thing, y’all.

And I’m a Wesleyanne for life.

I’m thankful for that and for all the treasures which that has brought and continues to bring me.

Love to all.

 

“The will to make it so”

A year or two ago someone who knew we were helping serve at the Sunday night suppers for folks in need asked me, “Yeah, so all those folks y’all are feeding–they are all either drug addicts or alcoholics, right?”

Ummm, no.  No more than all of us with houses are NOT addicts or alcoholics.  Not everyone.  Not all.

I didn’t say it exactly like that, but I did tell him that if I were on the streets day in and day out, I’d have to be on drugs or drinking just to cope.  I don’t think I could get through the fear and uncertainty and hard things that happen without some kind of mind altering substance.  I just don’t.

Today at our Sister Circle we had a new sisterfriend join us.  I remember her from the Sunday night suppers, but this is the first time I’ve seen her since then.  She said she’s been around there a lot, so I guess we’ve just been passing each other.  I invited her to join our group, and she did.

Once again our sisterfriends who have been coming for a while were gracious and patient listeners.  Once again we heard stories about how often it is one’s own family who can be the most hurtful.  Once again, the tears and the unknowns and the sense of being overwhelmed.  And once again, I got mad.

This young woman is on the streets.  She was kicked out of the last place she was staying.  The reasons don’t matter and I’m not sure how true they were anyway.  Suffice to say, it’s going down to at least 30 tonight and one more soul is on the streets.  One of my sisters.

Breaks my heart.

She’s tried the local shelter.  There are no spaces available.  She told the story of a night they put her out at 11 p.m. because her urine test showed drug use.  She had admitted it upon admission earlier that evening.  Said she’d been clean for a day or two, but it was still showing up in her system.  I asked her if Rehab was a possibility.  She said she’d tried to go last night.  She wants to be clean.  She wants to be off the streets.  She’s scared and it showed.  Her only family said no, you can’t come here–maybe because of her prior drug use.  She shrugged and said she didn’t know for sure.  She was tearful.  As we continued our conversation in the group, she put her head down on the table and fell asleep.  Bless her.  It was warm and it was safe.  Two things I take for granted just about every single night.  But not this one.

It doesn’t make sense.  The shelter is full, but even if it’s not, you have to be sober to be there?  To get sober, most of the people I know need help–they need rehab.  But rehab’s full.  So there’s no way to get off the streets?  A young woman who is at risk for so much to happen?  And there are church buildings, God’s houses, sitting empty all over town.

Oh me.  I can hardly believe what we are doing to each other.

And today there was more that didn’t make sense.

Yesterday World Vision made an announcement. They are changing their employment policy.  Because they employ folks from all different Christian backgrounds and because some denominations have begun sanctioning same-sex marriages in the past few years, they decided to defer to the authority of the churches and allow Christians in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.  No other changes to their otherwise fairly rigid code of morality for their employees. That’s it.

I’m not opening up a discussion about same-sex marriages here.  My Daddy raised me that you don’t discuss religion or politics with folks, and I’m already really close to stepping over the line, so we’re going to leave that subject for another day.

Here’s where I am headed with this.

Do you know about World Vision?  I knew in general, but not the particulars.

Here’s just a small bit from their website.

Our Impact

Poverty is complex, and so are our solutions.

With 44,000 staff members worldwide, we bring sponsors and donors alongside children and communities in nearly 100 countries. The map below shows our work across issues — from health to disaster response — integrating lasting solutions to the root causes of poverty and sharing God’s hope for a brighter future. And we stretched donations with grants and corporate gifts-in-kind to make every dollar donated achieve $1.15 in impact.

Here’s another number to throw at y’all.

4.3 million–the number of children World Vision has who are benefitting from the sponsorship program.  These children come from all over the world in 1,650 communities.

Wow.

That’s some serious impact right there.  4.3 million children whose lives are affected by this program.  This program which states:

Our vision for every child, life in all its fullness.

Our prayer for every heart, the will to make it so.

So now because of their new policy change, folks are, to quote my oldest, “losing their minds” and calling them out, threatening to and actually cancelling their sponsorships.  Of these sweet children.  Who have NOTHING do to with this at all.

Are you kidding me?

When all of this hit the fan yesterday, my oldest stepped up and let the world know that she thought this was ridiculous.  She wrote:

“It is so sad to me to watch people quit sponsoring children through World Vision because of their stance on same-sex marriage.  You’re going to end a relationship with a child in need because you disagree with a company?  Get your priorities straight.  Jesus said to love.  Through ending your sponsorship you are letting your prejudices overwhelm your calling to love.”

Yes.  Yes ma’am.  One of my prouder moments as a Mama.  I’m so thankful. She gets it.  Priorities–choose relationship above all else.   Her Maemae would be so proud.  Mama didn’t play when it came to children and taking care of them.  Daddy either.

My girl wrote me later today, very upset, and I wound up using the “I” word.  “Someone just commented that the kids sponsored through World Vision are going to hell because they hire gay employees.”  Her hurt and frustration was obvious.  Wanna get me upset?  Do something that I can’t make sense of for my children.  I told her I was sorry that there are idiots in the world.

And apparently Dr. Bill Cosby agrees.

Well enough of that attitude.  That just pours fuel on their fire, doesn’t it?

Still, I agree with the author of Rage Against the Minivan when she says:

 “If we want to serve people, we should not make distinctions about who we serve, and we should not deny those we serve out of disunity or division. It’s astounding to me that Christians would take food from starving children because a gay person might have helped in getting it there.”

This evening I was sitting in a little storefront near the railroad tracks.  I heard the train before I saw it.  It was LOUD.  Blowing its whistle for all it was worth.  It was working it.  And then I saw it.  I was expecting a long train with all that racket.  And instead?  Just an engine.  One.  All by itself.

But you know what?  The tracks didn’t pull up and go, “Nope, you’re not enough for us to stay here for.”  The rails still lowered.  Traffic still stopped.  And we all sure heard it.

The fact that it was only one really did not affect very much at all.

I’m mad.  I’m mad that a sisterfriend is on the streets tonight, scared and worried, because she’s caught between a rock and a hard place.  She must be clean to get a spot in one place, and to get clean she must go to Rehab, which is also full.  And so she will probably continue to use.  I am pretty sure I would as well.  There’s only so much you can close your eyes to and still be okay.

I’m mad that people are choosing to tell the world their indignation over another’s sexuality is more important than helping a child–a child they were already helping.  The child is suffering through no fault of his or her own–which is what the sponsorship was all about ending–the needless suffering.  Right back to square one.

But what my oldest is teaching me, and what that little train showed me this evening, is that even if I am the only one who feels this way, I have a voice.  I can speak up.  And I should.  Someone will hear.  I can start the ball rolling.  I can stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.  How can I choose to do otherwise?

And in the midst of all the controversy and bashing and fussing and pointing fingers, I can do what we were first called to do, what we were created to do.  I can love.  Love others, love those who are like me and those who are different.  Love those who agree with me and those who frustrate me to no end.  Love.

Tonight, as I remember not to take for granted a place to lay my head in out of  the cold, I also want to hold in my heart the words of World Vision–“the will to make it so.”

Changes are needed.  Love and understanding are needed more.  May we all be set afire with the “will to make it so.”  Even one little train car can stop traffic for a moment.  All by itself.

Amen.  Love to ALL.