A Dented Door and An Empty Journal–On Gratitude and Grace

Tonight I had the privilege of going home–to my alma mater Wesleyan College–again and sharing in their chapel service.  It gave me such joy to be with those young women.  Tonight’s post is what I shared with them.  Thank you for the honor, my sisters. 

My Daddy used to say I would go around my elbow to get to my thumb when I told a story or tried to make a point. One of my favorite bosses told me my writing was too flowery. So if you’re up for a little bit of elbow floral-scented travelling, let’s go.

About a year ago, my oldest, Aub, went to grab a bite to eat with two of her friends from school after class. As they were leaving the parking lot, one motioned for her to back out. With a quick glance back she did—and backed into the other friend’s car. The first I knew of it was when she came in the front door in tears. I was upset—frightened that she’d driven home upset, worried that they hadn’t called the police to get a report, and concerned at how bad the damage was on her friend’s car. She had been driving my Mama’s car, left to my brother in Mama’s will. He later gave it to her for graduation, but this was before that happened. So that was another concern. She called her Uncle who was very gracious and kind. I tried to call her friend’s parents but was only able to leave a message. I was sick with anxiety over how to make this right.

The next day I was on campus, and I saw Aub’s friend’s Dad. Ollie Horne. I took a deep breath, told my littles to sit still, and I opened the door and walked toward where he was heading.

“Mr. Horne. Mr. Horne!” I called, trying to get his attention.

He turned, and had a welcoming smile that extended from his eyebrows to his chin. This was a man who enjoyed meeting new people and soon put everyone who crossed his path at ease.

“I’m Tara. Auburn’s Mama,” I started rambling. “I am so sorry about the car.” I looked back toward it. I had parked next to it and saw his dented back door. It was bad. BAD.

He walked toward the car with his hand extended. “Yes. Have you seen his car, Tara?”

Gulp. I was mortified. He was right.

“Yes, yes I did. I am soooo sorry. We will make this right. If you will get an estimate—“

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I mean, Tara, have you really looked at this car?” He laughed as he pointed and waved his hand at the whole length of the car. “It’s a dent magnet, isn’t it? This is certainly not the first dent he’s gotten in it.”

He turned to face me. “Now I won’t have you or Auburn worrying another second about this car. It’s a CAR, for goodness’ sake. Promise me you’ll let this go.”

Y’all. I was practically in tears. Bless him. This was a man who gets what and WHO is important in life.

In that moment, Ollie Horne preached a sermon on grace to me. And I held on to every word and smiled for dear life. And I give thanks for being the recipient of that gift.

Last Tuesday Ollie Horne left this world for a better one after fighting brain cancer for over two years. He was in remission when this happened last year I think. After he was diagnosed, he did not mope, he did not worry—that any of us knew. He had a motto: “Watch me live.” This is a man who decided to become a flight attendant so he could continue traveling, touching lives as he did when he was a missionary.

One of his friends quoted him:

“just love…it’s my answer to depression, bitterness, suicide…I sincerely believe there is a such thing as “following Christ” that isn’t built on religion, judgment and finger-pointing but on living life and changing the world.” -Ollie Horne, January 25, 2011

Watch me live.

My Mama lived that way too. She had every excuse in the book to let her life go down a different path than the one she chose. She was from a broken family, a broken home, full of addictions and hurt and few good examples. But she sought those examples out and lived and loved as they did. She married her best friend—oh I know some people say that’s who they are marrying, but she really did. She and Daddy were not just alike—actually they were quite different, and yet they admired and appreciated those things about each other. They were in sync. And it worked. When Daddy got sick, Mama didn’t give up. Each day he lived to fight the Giant that was Lymphoma, she fought right alongside him. And when he didn’t overcome it and could only be healed by heading on up to the Big House, she didn’t become angry or bitter. Like I did. She wanted me to find peace and love and have faith in things as they were.

Two weeks before Daddy died, Mama gave me this journal for my birthday. I didn’t say anything to her then, she raised me better than that, but all I could think of was, WHAT? Are you kidding me? A gratitude journal? My Daddy, one of my best friends in this world, is not getting better, no matter how many people are praying that he will, and you want me to be thankful? For What?

No, I never said that to her. But after Daddy died, and I was still hurting, she saw it and knew. And she pleaded with me to find something to be thankful for. To let some light in.

Mama spent the fifteen months after Daddy died, a time when she could have crawled in her bed and never gotten up—we all would have understood that—LIVING. She loved and she shared and she embraced what she had left in her life, and she reckoned, even without Daddy, she still had a whole lot. She gave thanks for her new grandson and then her grandson who was real close to arriving. She thought all of her grandchildren were the grandest gifts God ever gave her.

It wasn’t until she got sick and went in the hospital January of last year, that I found a little of what she was talking about. Each night I started posting little updates for friends and family who wanted to be kept apprised of how she was doing. She spent most of the 25 days in the hospital unconscious. I could still hear her voice though. I talked to her and could almost hear what she would reply. And each night, almost without thought, I found myself typing “Tonight I am thankful for—“ Some days it was a nurse. Others it was the good veggie burger in the cafeteria. My Fella taking care of home. My sister Mess Cat working from the hospital (sitting on a closed toilet) to stay there with us. My siblings. My children.  My Aunt. Mama smiling with her eyes as she did.

I finally got it. Just in time for Mama to leave and finally be with Daddy again.

It was almost two months after Mama died that I started writing. I sort of challenged myself to write something every day. To see something through. Everyday I was looking for a story, for something from my journey to share. Whether it was a silly thing my baby boy said or observing an earthworm crawling along the sidewalk and finding a lesson in it. Each day. The journal remains empty–I type faster than I can write by hand, but my heart is full, and I continue to find something to share everyday.

Last May I visited a church home of some dear friends. When it came time for the children’s sermon, the pastor asked someone to bring “the” box up. They did. Apparently each week someone took the box home, put something in it, and brought it back. When the time came he opened the box, and shared an impromptu lesson on whatever was in there.

Oh. My. Land.

That made such an impression on me. So much so that I can’t remember what his sermon was about that day, but I sure remember the tie-dyed paper napkins and his lesson he shared about them still to this day.

Y’all. Think about that for a minute. Isn’t that what we are called to do? Each day? Every day?

Take what comes along on this journey and make our life an example of love and light in the midst of it?

Today in the Christian tradition it is Palm Sunday. Which is in part, among other things, about a journey. A journey that leads to life and redemption and resurrection.

That’s what I want my journey to be about too. It’s about taking time to look in the rearview mirror at the stories from before—remembering and revisiting and loving and learning from our people in the past. It’s about looking ahead with hope in our hearts and kindness in our plans. And it’s about the now. The road we are on this very minute—and making time to appreciate, to share, to listen, and to help.

To give grace to strangers and kin alike.

And have gratitude in all of our days.

My Mama used to say to us quite often—“The Lord loves a cheerful giver, and so do I.”

I want to give grace and gratitude with a cheerful heart—just as Ollie and my Mama did. I think that’s what we are all here for. To love. Others.

Always.

 

The Cup of Coffee

I didn’t want to write about this tonight.

Seriously, I’ve spent much of today debating myself about it.  So much so that I have a headache (which could be non-related, but still).  I have other things to share.  80’s music at a skate rink and a turtle shell-inspired story. Good stuff, right?

But my heart says no.  Tomorrow those other stories will still be here.  This one has to be written.  Tonight.  So I can let it go.

And so I begin.

A year ago I spent the day at the hospital in Warner Robins with Mama.  There was all kind of discussion about moving her to Macon, that they had specialists there who could help her.  Once the decision was made (and Mama had to be convinced too y’all, not an easy task), we had to wait on transport.  All.  Day.  Long.  I understand, looking back at the big picture.  But in the moment, I hope you’ll understand when I say there was a bit of impatience on our part.  They told us she would be moved and then we waited for HOURS.  In the meantime, the Fella brought Aub to come get my car, so she could get to and from work the next day.  I waved at my children from the window.  Mama’s pastor came by and made Mama feel so much better with his presence and prayers.  He lit a fire under her faith with his gentle words and she felt much better, at least mentally and spiritually.  Physically she was still in a lot of pain.

Finally the crew arrived to take her to Macon.  I had been asking all afternoon if I would be allowed to ride with her.  I had only heard from one source that I would be able to, so I had been a bit nervous about letting my only means of transportation go.  When the male and female ambulance EMT’s arrived, I asked once again.  I was told it would be okay.  (insert huge sigh of relief here)  They moved Mama to a stretcher which caused her to tense up and pinch her mouth to keep from crying out.  We went down hallways and through doors with special admission only and around to the back of the hospital.  The man led me to the ambulance, and they loaded Mama in the back.  The woman sat in the back with her.  When I thought we were about to leave, the man said he’d be right back, and he went back in the hospital.  I sat there, listening to the movement of the EMT in the back as she hooked up the necessary equipment.  I heard Mama’s muffled voice.  I couldn’t really see what was going on through the opening, so I chose to trust that Mama was okay.  Anything else would have made me crazy.

Finally, the EMT came out with a Styrofoam cup.  He placed it in his cupholder and cranked up.  The radio station blared music from a classic rock station.  Oh.  My.  Word.  When I say “blared,” I am not exaggerating.  If I weren’t already so far over my stress threshold, that would have sent me there in one drum beat.  LOUD.  He said, “I just wanted a cup of coffee before we leave.”  Umm.  Okay?  I mean, I guess he’s allowed.  I don’t want to tell him he can’t have a cup of coffee, but I hope you will understand that this whole thing had us wishing for a sense of urgency on EVERYONE’s part.

We left the hospital, heading west on Watson to pick up 247.  An interesting choice of route.  (I don’t know why, I guess because I have my Daddy’s sense of direction–a good one thankfully–but I find myself constantly calculating the best route or re-routing in my head.)  When he turned on 247 and passed the base, I decided to try for conversation.  I can’t help it, it’s what I do.  (That, I got from my Mama.)

Somehow the subject of coffee came up.  I asked him if he’d ever been to our favorite coffeehouse.

“Um yeah, once,” he said.  “I don’t like all that fancy coffee.  I just like it simple.”

Okay. Strike two.

Please forgive me, but I had already cut him some slack when we had to wait for them to arrive to begin with, and then again when he went back in for coffee.  But then he blares music that there was NO WAY my Mama was enjoying, and he slams my favorite coffeehouse that specializes in sharing light in the world?

Puh-lease.

We talked a little about his recipe for chicken salad, his family, I think, and the fact that he also works at a firehouse part-time.  This I learned when he rolled down the window and talked/hollered with the guy in the firetruck next to us at the light.  Um, no I’m not kidding.

He did swing me back in his favor just a little when he explained his choice of route without me asking.  “We’re going to take Broadway in. The interstate bumps too much and will be more uncomfortable for her.”

Okay.  We’ll take it.

When we got to the hospital, I saw Mama’s face.  She was in pain and holding it in.  We parked in what I think must have been UNDER the hospital, barely eking out a place for the ambulance.  It was packed on that Friday around six in the evening.  They wheeled Mama around the other ambulances, exhaust blowing from the still running engines, and all I could think was, “How sanitary is this?”  But I guess, at that point, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

We wound through the patients in the hallway of the emergency room.  Bless all those poor sick souls.  They all looked miserable.  Yet several gazed upon us with sympathy in their eyes.  We went through more secret special doors and headed up to the fourth floor.  A room with a couch (oh thank you Lord!).  Mama had to be moved once more from the stretcher to the bed.  The two EMT’s were more gentle this time.  Mama couldn’t help it.  She moaned a little.  The female EMT stepped back to the door, as the man paused.  He looked at Mama.  “I hope you feel better soon, Mrs. Joyner.”  He nodded, looked over at me, and headed out the door.

The whole thing was very surreal.  Mama was literally slipped in through the back door.  She didn’t get admission papers taken care of until much later.  As we sat wondering if anyone even knew she was in the room, we wondered where the bathroom was.  And we eventually decided, as we laughed nervously, that this must be one of the special rooms without one.  (We did see it later–it was behind the door to the hallway that had been open the whole time.)

All of this was before they moved her to the CVICU around 10 that night–a room that would be her home for the next two weeks (after which they moved her to the STICU).  It was before the doctor came in, complaining that she had been calling the Warner Robins hospital all day long wanting to know when Mama would arrive.  Before we comprehended the sense of urgency that Mama’s condition caused amongst the hospital staff.  It was before the doctor said that she didn’t have the really bad life-threatening condition (just a highly contagious one), an opinion that was reversed just twenty-four hours later, followed quickly by the first of three emergency surgeries. This was before all that.  A day that began with me feeding my children breakfast and heading out the door ended with me sitting in an ICU waiting area, waiting to hear if Mama was okay and to ask why the rush to move her to ICU.

And when I’ve thought back on that day today, all day long the thing that pops into my head immediately and stays there is that cup of coffee sitting in the cupholder.

It was such a simple, mundane thing for him to do.  Get a cup of coffee before he hits the road again.  Just as a businessperson might grab one before tackling the next report.  Or a student might grab an espresso before beginning work on a ten-page paper.  We all do it, right?  Take a moment before the next thing.

Only in this case, the next thing was my Mama.  The situation and she herself were at the top of my priority list.  In those moments I couldn’t care less if he were as thirsty as a man crossing the desert.  Getting my Mama well was all I had on my mind.

It’s a wonder all I did was think ugly things.  I’m surprised I didn’t say them.  But then again, that was before Mama died, and I still had a little bit of a filter.  He wouldn’t be so lucky these days, I’m afraid.

As I rode in the car home from a birthday party this afternoon, I thought about how many times I “stop for a cup of coffee,” not appreciating the situation those around me might be in.  I stand daydreaming in the line at the grocery store, not aware that the woman behind me might be in a rush because she’s been at work all day and has a sick child at home.  Or that the cashier might just need to hear a kind word from somebody because she had her heart broken the night before.  So many times each day, I just keep on going to the next thing. 

For me that cup of coffee stands for more than a thirst or even a caffeine addiction.  It represents the importance of being aware of what’s going on around me and shifting my priorities as needed.  If he had taken the time to turn off the radio or ask if the station was okay or just turned it down, what a difference that would have made in my attitude.  As it was, I felt like Mama was “just another body” to carry up the road to him.  One more checkmark on the list until he could get off and go home later that night.  And no one, not on my watch, was allowed to treat my Mama any way other than the special person she was.  Especially in the hospital.  She was so sick, the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen her in my whole life.  To treat her as someone who could wait on a cup of coffee or not even have a choice about the music or volume…..that broke my heart.

And maybe he got it.  I saw something shift in him as he left us in that room that evening.  Maybe he finally saw her as a woman, a person, a Mama.  And maybe, just maybe, he realized that no one’s life is worth putting on the back burner…..not even for a cup of coffee.

A good lesson for us all to remember, I think.  Especially me.

Dear God, please don’t let me get so bogged down in my own needs and wants and grief that I don’t even see that there are those around me hurting and needing to be loved and respected and heard.  Amen. 

Amen.

On journeys, memories, and finding peace

Journeys.

We begin them.  We come to the end of them.

One year ago tonight, the Fella was flying a night sortie.  He wouldn’t be home until after midnight.  I had a sick young’un who was on the upswing of the bug, and my oldest was supposed to go to a Wesleyan College information night at Bare Bulb Coffee.  It had been a week of rearranging plans and cancelling get-togethers.  Like you do when one of your babies is sick.

It wasn’t ideal, but we made it work.  Aub and I took turns watching the littles in the Blazer in the Bare Bulb Coffee parking lot, sitting and playing games on my cell phone with the heat on.  Somehow we got questions answered, met the Provost, found out about Scholarship weekend, and made a refundable deposit to hold her spot in the Class of 2017.  When we were all back in the car together, I took my phone back from the littles, and prepared to drive us home.  A notification on my phone caught my eye.

A missed call.

From my Aunt’s cell phone.

This did not bode well.

I called her back.  And my churning guts were right.  Mama was at the ER.  In severe pain.  In her quiet way, made even quieter by Mama’s presence, my Aunt shared with me that Mama had called her and asked her to take her to the hospital late that afternoon.

If Mama was hurting badly enough to return to the hospital, she was not doing well at all.  She had been in the hospital for eight days the previous August, and she did not ever want to return.  But nobody really does, do they?

I was thinking about all of this today, and I thought about my Aunt and how it seems like she’s always been there for us whenever Mama was in the hospital.  All the way back to when we were all young.  I remember us staying with her family when Mama was in for several days (I think) following surgery.   If I remember correctly, she took us back to our house to shower and change for bed, and then we went back to her house for the night.  I don’t have all that real clear, but what I do remember clearly is knowing it would all be okay.  Because of her.  My Aunt has a way of making me feel that way.  Even when the world is falling apart.

On the phone that night, January 17, 2013, I asked her if she wanted me to come on to the hospital so she could go home.  She hadn’t planned on them admitting Mama when she left her home, but it certainly looked like that was what was going to happen then.  We talked about options, and she finally said, “No, I’m fine.  Even if we stay the night, I’ll be okay.  You stay there with the children tonight.  In the morning will be soon enough, and I’ll head on home when you can get here.  Get some sleep tonight.  We don’t know how long it will be before you can again.”

What wasn’t said.  That.

I love her so much for that conversation right there.  For two reasons.

She knew I needed my sleep, and she gave me the gift of one more night at home in my bed.  Neither of us were to know it, but the next night I would spend sitting up in a brightly lit ICU waiting room with the TV blaring TNT “car chase” movies, getting exactly twenty minutes of shut-eye.  I am thankful for that gift.

But even more so, I am thankful that it just went without saying that we, none of us, would be leaving Mama by herself.  There was no discussion to be had.  It was an assumption, and I love her for that.  She stayed until I arrived the next morning, having gotten things in some semblance of order (such as it is around here) at my house and having packed a bag.  Just in case.  A good thing, it turns out.

One year ago tonight, my Wesleyan Pirate began her journey towards attending Wesleyan.  And we began the journey of–well, how do I phrase that–“losing Mama?” No I know where she is.  She’s still very much with me.  “Letting go?”  We didn’t.  I hung on tooth and nail, worrying every doctor I knew in that hospital right up until one finally said, “It’s time.”  I don’t know what that night began except that I can tell folks that it was as close to hell as I ever want to be.  It was hard.  And for now that’s enough said about that.

I’m trying to make the point of remembering over the next few weeks to be one of redemption, of finding what I can be thankful for in the middle of all of this.  Each night that I sent out an update from the hospital last year, I tried to end with “Tonight I am thankful for…..”

I think Mama would have liked that.  I also wrote things I wanted to remember to share with her, things I thought she’d laugh at.  Like the time she was still sedated but bit the doctor when he put his finger in her mouth.  After letting her be shocked and feel bad for a minute, I was going to tell her that he deserved it. (He did.) Oh, and the story about one nurse’s little baby and how I took her a copy of Mama’s favorite book from the trunk of the car (where she kept extras) for the baby.  Mess Cat and I were going to share a veggie burger with her from the cafeteria–it was so delicious!  So many stories not shared or told.

After Daddy died, Mama told me something that was hard for me to hear.

“Tara,” she said, on the phone late one night. “If you call over here and you don’t get an answer, and you find that I’ve left this world in my sleep one night, I don’t want you worrying over it.  I’ve had a good life.  And I’ll be okay.”

“Mama it sounds like you want to go.  I don’t want to talk about this.”

“No, I don’t.  I’ve got a lot of things left to do.  But if I go, I just want you to know that I’m at peace. And I want you to be too.  You got that?”  For a person of such diminutive stature, she could sound quite forceful at times.

She did have things that she still wanted to do.  She told her pastor and sweet friend the afternoon after she was admitted, “I have to get well.  I want to come work in the food pantry at the church as soon as I get out of here.”  She had plans to go see her new grandson after he was born.  As they wheeled her down to surgery, she told her nurse who was assuring her everything would be okay, “It has to be.  I’ve got a new grandson coming any day now.”  And she smiled a big ol’ beautiful smile through all that pain and discomfort and fear.

And that’s what I want to do.  Throughout the next few weeks, through the pain of remembering and grief, I want to find and remember something to be thankful for in our days and weeks on the journey, some form of joy to be found.  I don’t want to just plant a smile on my face, I want it to radiate from my whole being.

Because Mama told me she would be at peace, and I think she’s telling me it’s time I found myself at peace too.

Tonight I’m thankful to be the Mama of a Wesleyanne.  When I was a student there, just yesterday I think it was, I never imagined the joy it would give me to be a part of the traditions with my own daughter.  I give thanks for my Aunt who has been with us every step of the way ever since we were little.  And that she still lets me walk with her today, that I can pick up a phone, just as I used to reach up my hand on our walks, and find her there.  I’m thankful for the gift of being on the journey with my Mama, for the gift of seeing that smile and hearing the hope she had.  I don’t understand, but that’s where that peace that Mama talked about, the peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7) comes in.  As I journey through the memories of the past and press forward to the future, that’s what I seek and hope to find.  Peace.

Love to all.

On Mama’s Faith and Welcoming Santa Home

I went over to Mama’s this evening and picked up her Christmas decorations.  It made me sad to think about them not being put out for the first year ever.  Even when Daddy was so sick, we put something out, as best as I can remember.  So this year should be no different.  What made me saddest was thinking about Santa being stuck in his bag.

Oh Santa.

This Santa has watched over me every year of my life.  And now he has a new home.

This Santa has watched over me every year of my life. And now he has a new home.

I grew up with this Santa standing around the tree, on top of the piano, and next to the bookcase over the years.  As far back as I can remember.  I think Mama had it when she was small, but I can’t be sure now.  The story as I recall it is that her Daddy got it from a store display that was being taken down at a store that he worked for.  He’s a beautiful Santa.  Red velvety suit and those cheeks and that beard.  I was always a little bit in awe of him growing up.  He’s just perfect.  At least to me.

As I brought down the bins and bags from the top of the closet in my old bedroom, I wanted to cry.  If my littles hadn’t been with me, all happy and enthusiastic in the excitement of the season, I would have.  The last time these were moved was in January of this year.  My children had helped Mama spread her decorations around the house in early December last year.  She hadn’t had a tree in years, but she enjoyed having her other Christmas decorations around in December.  It was early January, a Tuesday before the littles had dance and gymnastics in town, that we played a game of how quickly and how many Christmas decorations can you find?  We laid them on the bed in that same room, and Mama put them away.  I lifted and put them on the shelf in the closet.  As we were getting the job done, I noticed Mama moving a little slower and realized all over again what a hit her health had taken since Daddy died in November of 2011.  As I zipped up the last bag, I said, “When we open these again, may they find us all in good health.”  Mama paused for moment and said, quietly, “Amen.”

Oh y’all.

I haven’t gone through all the decorations yet.  I don’t want to rush it.  Looking through these treasures and remembering is something to be savored.  I want to hear the stories of my children and their memories as we take each ornament or decoration out of its keeping place.  But Santa?  Oh he is already out.  It was time.

As I look and remember Mama’s hands carefully, and with a deftness that I think she might have been born with, placing each piece where it belonged and had always been placed, my heart breaks.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  We weren’t supposed to be without her right now.  She was supposed to get better.  She had plans.  She told her pastor the day the nightmare of the HospitalStay began that she was going to get better so she could help in the Food Pantry at Trinity UMC, her church.  Feeding folks was her love language, so yeah–she would have loved that.  She was going to get on a train and go to Virginia to see her grandsons, including the new little one who was born one week after she left us.  She was going to do so many things.  When she got stronger.  And she had faith that she would.

I don’t even know.

Except that life is so tragically fragile.

Tonight a young woman, who was one of the first to friend Aub at Wesleyan during a time when she was struggling, is lying in a hospital bed fighting for her life.  None of this makes sense.  She’s too young.  It shouldn’t happen this way.  She too has plans.  She should not be fighting for her life tonight.  She should be laughing with friends and worrying over finals.  She should be contemplating Christmas plans and anticipating next semester’s classes and dreaming about life after graduation in 18 months.  Anything but this.

I can’t make sense of it.   I don’t know this young woman except through the encouragement she gave my daughter in messages and the stories my Aub has told me.  But I know with a Mama’s heart that she is someone special.  You love my baby, you got my heart.  And she has it.

I don’t know if my faith can take this.  I don’t know what to do with the sheer craziness of it.  There’s no way to make this make sense.

Something caught my eye at Mama’s this evening as I was getting ready to go.  On the chair next to where she sat at her counter to do her crossword puzzles were her devotionals.  The past two years I got her the Guideposts (large print–I’m so there myself) daily devotions book for Christmas.  She enjoyed it in 2012 and told me so–I was glad, as I’d just taken a chance with that gift.  So last Christmas it was a repeat.  She had both on her stool and her Upper Room devotional from church.  The thing that I noticed for the first time in ten months is that both of the current books were open to January 18.  Mama went in the hospital on the afternoon of the 17th.  She was so very sick and in tremendous pain, yet she found the wherewithal to sit and read the day’s words in each book.

The page marked with one of Mama's Mary Engelbreit page-a-day calendar pages.  January 18.

The page marked with one of Mama’s Mary Engelbreit page-a-day calendar pages. January 18.

Oh Mama.

Thank you for that reminder.  That when the world doesn’t make sense, you still keep on keeping on.  Keeping the faith.  Even in the midst of pain and heartbreak.  Run the race.  Do the do.

But still.

I’m just not sure if I can.  She was one of the strongest people I know.  And she left some strong ones here to look after me and all of us young’uns, but I just don’t know how strong I can be.

It frustrated her when I was so angry after Daddy died.  She wanted me to find my way back to faith and hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love…..

And in a lot of ways I did.  Until she had to suffer as she did, when she had such great plans.  And not for her own selfish needs but for others.  And then my friend lost his battle with the demon alcohol and still struggles everyday, living wherever he can until the police give him a ticket and “shoo” him away.  And then another person we cared about lost his battle and his life to that same demon.  And a sweet woman, a new friend, is in and out of the hospital with seizures and heart problems and she has no insurance and she too is struggling.  And now a young woman with the best of life yet to come lies fighting what some have already said is a losing battle.

I’m tired of lost battles.  Seriously.  Enough is enough.

So tonight as I seek comfort and reassurance, I look over at my old friend, our Santa from my days of growing up, his first time in thirty-six years away from Blackberry Flats.  I wish I could write a letter to Santa and have faith he would respond.  Or say a prayer to God and know it all would all be better, be fixed.

Unfortunately, I know better.  I know that prayers don’t always get answered the way we hope, despite people all over praying for the same thing.  I know that good people have horrible things happen to them, and it makes no sense.  I know that some people who do wrong are never held accountable.  And I know that good people struggle and sometimes they die too soon and it just makes no sense.

Mama knew all of that too.  I don’t know anything that she wasn’t already aware of.  And yet, a marker is in her devotional for January 18.

She never got to read it.

If that’s not faith, I don’t know what is.

Hey Santa.  It’s been a while.  A lot has changed while you were sleeping.  Welcome to your new home.  I hope you like this spot.  Doesn’t have to be permanent, we can work something else out if you’d prefer.   So yessir, here’s the thing.  This year, I’d like for healing to happen for these folks I care about and the ones I don’t even know.  But if that’s not possible, could you please give me faith like my Mama’s?  You know what?  That’s something else that doesn’t make sense.  Her faith.  She was hurt by people who should have fought anyone who tried to hurt her, but they didn’t.  And yet, she kept the faith.  And just about threatened to send me to find my own switch if I didn’t get mine back in order.  Well, Santa, here we are, and I’m trying to find my way without her.  And I’m hurting.  My faith has taken a baseball bat up the middle and it’s shattered.  I got little to nothing.  So please, please, could you send me some?  I don’t really know what it will look like or what to expect, I just know I will know it when I have it, when I see it, when I feel it.  When I see through it, with it.  To look through the eyes of faith like my Mama did.  That’s what I wish for.  Thank you, Santa, for always listening to my wants and wishes.  I hope you’ll be happy here.  Love always, Tara

January 18.  My Mama had faith. It’s all I can hold on to for now.  And wrap my heart around it and hold on tight.

 

Dear friends and readers, if you have a moment and you are a praying person, could you please pray for sweet K, my daughter’s friend, and her family?  If you are not, would you please keep them in your thoughts and hearts?  We don’t know what the future holds, but peace and comfort are pretty good things to wish for no matter what.  Thank you and love to all.