What Prayer Can Be

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

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

My heart was overwhelmed.

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

Bless him.  His words were just right.

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

He was looking for God.

Oh my heart.

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

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

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

Oh me.

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

Hamburger_sandwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not okay, y’all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love to all.

 

**************************

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

 

Goodness…..one Cup at a Time

You might remember me sharing about a coffee shop in our community where all kinds of good things are happening.  This is where my children have grown up playing and laughing and making good friends.  We have met some of our best friends in that space.  At one time or another I and my oldest have sought and found sanctuary there.  It’s a place of peace and a community of bright, vivid lives whose stories become intertwined once they walk through the door.

It’s a little bigger than most coffee shops, because it was never meant to be just a coffee shop.  It was designed to be a meeting place, a place to form and build relationships–ones that would celebrate your joys with you and hold you in times of sorrow.  I have experienced all of that with the people of Bare Bulb Coffee.

This past week the Board of Bare Bulb Coffee made a difficult decision.  If the folks who love and support this coffee shop are not able to raise $60,000 by January 31, the shop will close.

The expenses for running a coffee shop like this, with the missions and focus on relationships are a little higher than usual, because of the larger space.  Not everyone who enters its doors purchases a menu item, which is okay.  Some come to be with friends, study, learn to knit, play a game with their daughter, or just sit in the place that so many of us call home.  Some days the cash register reflects the good that has gone on.  Other days not so much. But good has happened nonetheless. The money that all are hoping to raise will go towards operating funds for the coming year and to hire a top-notch manager who will take the shop to another level businesswise.

This has been a big part of my week.  Working with other folks for whom this matters greatly.  Inviting our community into this project of saving the shop from closing.  Listening to precious stories of people who met their spouses at the shop, children who leave Mom a note thanking her for taking them to Bare Bulb, folks who have written or studied or created while sitting in the little shop on the corner.  Every one has been dear to me and has been imprinted on my heart.  My favorite little place is loved by so many for so many different reasons.

My Mama used to say, “If you don’t ask, you don’t know.”

And so we asked.  We told the story of our hardship to the Bare Bulb and local communities.  And we asked for help.

And oh my heart.

People have jumped to act.  So many have said NO, not on my watch–the light will not end.  People are offering to have benefit concerts, to donate portions of their sales towards keeping Bare Bulb open, to donating to a shop-saving fund, to giving items and services for a Silent Auction to raise money for the Bulb.

And we only announced this three days ago.

Incredible.

We’ve even had folks emailing us, offering their hearts and time to do whatever is necessary to keep the light of Bare Bulb Coffee open.

Y’all.  For the love.

In the midst of another hard week filled with hard stories, I have been amazed and thankful beyond words for the compassion and encouragement and unwavering faith of people I’ve never met for whom this place is just as important as it is to me.  The light of Bare Bulb Coffee has shone brightly and lives have been changed by the relationships and community there.

It’s a new model–this blend of mission and business and community and space and selling and making of the coffee and pastries and frozen hot chocolate.  We have learned as we have gone along.  There are things we can look back and say we should’ve or shouldn’t have and in the end, one thing stands–this place matters, it matters to a whole lot of folks.  And if the ones who are speaking up now with love and generosity and kindness and faith have anything to say about it, it will continue to touch and change lives for many more years to come.

If you are interested in following along, you can like our Save the Bulb page on Facebook or follow us on Instagram at savethebulb.  We have a Generosity.com crowdfunding campaign here.  There’s a great video there that tells more about all the light that shines out of our non-profit, missional coffeehouse…..one cup at a time.

Wishing you all a wonderful place to call home with a community who believes and empowers and loves.

Love to all.

IMG_0562

http://www.barebulbcoffee.org Great Coffee, Cool Mission

Spring Green

To paraphrase Eddie Rabbitt, “I love a rainy day.”

Today it rained and it poured and it did my soul good.

For, you see, when it rains like this, it seems as though things slow down.  My soul quiets, and I take a deep breath.  I even let myself pick up a book in the middle of the day on rainy days every now and then.

Besides they say the sun will be out tomorrow, so I know it’s not an indefinite flooding going on here.  I can enjoy a rainy day or two every now and then.  Especially on those rainy days where I don’t have to be anywhere or meet a deadline or anything like that.

This afternoon I walked by the window in the living room a few times and had to do a double take.  The new green leaves on the tree right outside the window are such a bright green that they almost glow.  They made me think the sun was shining they were so vivid.

Bright green.

Spring green.

Ah.  I love that book.

Years ago I put together storytimes for the local library system and I traveled to different child care centers and read and shared stories, poems, and rhymes there and at the libraries.  One of my favorite books to share in March or April was “Spring Green” by Valrie M. Selkowe and Jeni Bassett.  It’s a simple and delightful story about Danny and his animal friends who are all invited to a party and need to bring something green with them.  Danny looks and looks and has such a hard time.

And in the end, it turns out it’s not so much what you have but who you have in your life that matters the most.

Amen.

It didn’t occur to me until tonight that this is why I love this story so much.  I expect that is why Mama loved having it on her shelf all those years–it’s something she’s known all along.

I’m a bit of a slow learner, but I know that truth now.

It’s all about the relationships.

If you have a few extra dollars and can order yourself a copy of this book or can find it at the library, I highly recommend it.  A sweet and quick read.  And the message can’t be beat.

All about the who, not the what.

Tonight I’m thankful for all of my who’s out there.  And for the us that the who’s in my life put time and love and energy into growing.

Love to all.  Wishing you all a day full of light tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

A Life Well Laughed and Loved

Twenty-one years ago, the world lost an amazing…..and an amazed man.  He loved life.  He was in love with living I think.  My Great Uncle, married to my Mama’s Mama’s sister, my dear Great Aunt.  I can honestly say he was one of the most joy-filled people I’ve ever met.

Family issues put him and my Aunt in a position to be our grandparent figures on Mama’s side of the family.  Mama and her brother moved in with them when she was in high school, though they’d already been stable and consistent people in their lives before.  Mama loved living with them, and when we came along, we loved them too.

Where my Aunt was,  for the most part, very ladylike and all about doing what was “proper,” my Uncle was full of fun and laughter.  I can remember from a very early age visiting them, and him motioning quietly for me to come over.  I’d lean over his recliner where he sat so I could hear his whisper.  “Shhh, go ask your Aunt when she’s going to get her hair done.”  Like an obedient puppy (is there such a thing?) I’d walk up to my Great Aunt and ask, completely unaware that she had been that morning, “Aunt W, when are you going to have your hair done?”  She’d snap her dishtowel at me and click her tongue.  “Go on with you.  And go tell your Uncle he’s full of trouble, getting you to ask me that.”  He would laugh and it was infectious.  Before I knew it we’d both be rolling in laughter.

That was life with him.  Rollicking and fun.

He was a CB ham radio operator.  He let me call Mama on it one time when I was spending the night with them.  From his radio to her phone.  And sometimes we’d talk to his Ham radio buddies.  They all treated me like I was royalty.  I learned to say “over” when I was done speaking.  I loved it.  He also loved clocks.  He had one whole wall in the wood-paneled den covered in clocks.  My Uncle was one of the first people I ever met with a computer.  He was fascinated by them, and he wanted to know everything.  I would often show my cell phone to my Great Aunt in the last couple of years of her life, and say, “Wouldn’t Uncle R love this?”  And he would have.  A mini-computer?  That takes pictures and fits in your pocket and you can talk on it–shut the front door.  He would have had the very latest, not to impress anyone, just because he loved technology.

He had a dune buggy for a while.  That was fun too.  And he had a metal detector that he found some of the coolest things with and he let us try it.  He and Aunt W loved going to Helen, Georgia to go panning for gold, but their very favorite place on earth?

Disney World.

Oh my.  They went several times.  I know they really loved Epcot too.  But Mickey Mouse was a favorite.  They had matching timepieces with Mickey Mouse on the face.

So full of joy and whimsy and love of life.

But he was no fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy.  He retired from Robins Air Force Base as a civil servant and worked in a doctor’s office in the later years.  He was a great cook and love my Aunt dearly.  He raised Mama and her brother and loved them like they were his own.  Just as he loved us.

When I graduated from high school, he and Aunt W drove up from their small town south of here in time to come to the house first for a visit before the ceremony.  A couple of my friends from school were coming over to help me type my speech.  They arrived and said they’d seen a couple stopped just up the road from our dirt road, putting something on their car.  We all were puzzled, but shrugged and went on.  The mystery was solved a few minutes later when my Great Aunt and Uncle pulled into our yard.  There were cardboard signs stuck all over their Very. Nice. Car.  “Follow us to Graduation.”  “Tara is Tops.”  “Tara is “MY” niece.”  The last two lines he had also had printed on fancy plastic name badges they wore to graduation.  Very swanky.  I was laughing and crying at the same time.  I was so loved.

When I married, they were listed in the announcement as my maternal grandparents.  That’s who they had always been.

It was cold and rainy on a Sunday afternoon in February 1993.  I went by my Granny’s after church to visit for a few minutes.  I was heading to Macon to see my Great Uncle who had been pre-admitted to the Medical Center for surgery on an aneurysm near his heart.  Granny was worried about the weather, but I assured her I would be okay.  I drove up and spent a wonderful afternoon–laughing of course.  My Uncle was full of stories and they always made us laugh.  It was with a reluctant heart that I said goodbye to the party that included him, my Great Aunt, and my Mama.  At the time I remember I wish I could have stayed longer, but I told him I’d see him again in a day or two after the surgery.

The surgery was scheduled for Monday, and as far as I remember it went okay.  But Tuesday morning, very early, brought me the phone call I will never forget.  It was my Daddy’s voice.  “Tara, I need to tell you something.”  That was never good.

My Great Uncle died in the wee hours of that Tuesday morning.  Mama drove my Aunt in the dark hours before dawn back to her home over an hour away.  I drove Daddy up to the hospital to get Mama’s car, and then I followed him down to my Aunt’s house.  We spent the day making coffee for folks who dropped by–in small towns news travels fast.  That was where I got my “making coffee for other folks” phobia.  One lady made a face and nearly spat her coffee out.  “Who made this coffee?” she asked.  “It’s horrible.”  I wanted to tell her I did, and she was welcome to make it herself.  In her own home.  But I didn’t.  That wouldn’t have been proper and neither my Aunt nor my Mama would have been pleased.  Still.

During the ride with Daddy and then the ride down south by myself, my mind kept turning.  It had happened so quickly.  I had had no worries over this surgery.  What had happened?  I was so glad for the gift of that Sunday.  I treasure the memory of that visit still.  But as I thought about it then, my hands gripped the steering wheel tightly, and I asked myself a question that I still wonder about from time to time now.

If I had known it was our last visit, how much longer would I have stayed?  Would I have been able to leave at all?

This is where my mind goes when folks start talking about wanting to know the future.  Not me.  It would just be too hard to LIVE if I did.

My Great-Granddaddy, Aunt W’s Daddy, used to give me a dollar to spend at the TG&Y on occasion.  One time he gave me one and my Uncle took me to the store.  I bought a little Tweety Bird.  My Uncle was delighted.  He spent the rest of my visit “fussing” about that bird and all the mess he was making.  I would find him in the trashcan sometimes.  I can remember hearing a toilet flush, and then my Uncle walked in the den, wiping his hands, and said, “Well we won’t be bothered by that bird anymore!” Once I figured out the game, I was all in.  I made sure I took Tweety Bird every time we went.  Somehow over the seventeen years after Uncle R passed, Tweety Bird became my thing with my Great Aunt.  Our way of continuing the laughter and remembering.  I found everything from Tweety Bird socks and hand towels to sheets and tea seats and shirts.  Well, what else do you give a prim and proper lady from south Georgia?

Tonight I am thankful for a man who loved my Mama through some dark times as though she were his, and then who loved me and all of us like we were the greatest treasures he’d ever found.  He, in fact, was the treasure.  He brought laughter and joy and whimsy into our lives and chased the darkness in the corners away.  He was patient with our questions and curiosity and instead of telling us “don’t touch,” he seemed to love showing us new things on each visit, as though he’d been saving it up just for us.

As for that question I have wondered about all these years, I’m glad I didn’t know what was going to happen when I sat in the hospital room that Sunday afternoon.  If I had, the visit would have been a lot different.  Instead it was nearly as fun as if we’d been sitting in his den back home, listening to another tale from Mama’s childhood or the story of his new favorite attraction at Disney.  It was a visit filled with hope and fun and a love of life and others, just as his whole life was.  And for that, I give thanks.

‘Tis the Season

Today at our Sister Circle, we gathered and read the seventeenth principle from Find Your Way Home, a compilation of stories surrounding the twenty-four principles for living in the grace-filled community of Magdalene, a place for women to rebuild their lives after living on the streets.

Remember you have been in the ditch. 

Truth, yes?

We all know what being in the ditch is like, right?  That horrible place where one feels trapped and covered up with life stuff that is hard to deal with?  It’s important that we remember we’ve been there, so we can walk with the people around us who are there now.

As we went around the table, the stories poured out.  Especially those of Miss G, who has been hurt by folks and shares her stories with passion and frustration.  The stories of jobs lost because of injury, of being overwhelmed financially, of feeling lost and alone.

Because that is what being in the ditch feels like–being thrown away, in a pit, hopeless, feeling hurt or fearful, like there’s no way out, not seeing anything beyond the problems, being in draining relationships.  People in the ditch make bad decisions, they are tired, and they can’t see beyond the darkness.

People in the ditch are lost.

And the only way out is to ask for help and then being willing to accept it.  A person in the ditch has to learn to let it go  and to share his or her stories.  They have to be open and learn to trust to be able to take those steps out of the ditch.

This is so easy to type or say.

But not so easy to actually do.  It’s hard to trust when you feel like people are judging you and your story.  The only way to help people out of the ditch or to be helped out is to build relationships.   If you and I have a relationship, it’s not so odd for me to call and check on you everyday–see how you’re doing, how you are feeling.  But if we don’t, that just becomes a little creepy, right?

Relationships–the difference between caring…..and creepy.

My Sisters today talked about how to build relationships with others.  Here’s what we came up with:

**Listening to others and hearing their stories

**Not judging

**Honesty

**Finding what we have in common with others

**Being a safe place for them to land

Cooter's cup of yogurt he ate this morning with a great big slotted serving spoon.  I think he ate it all in two spoonfuls.  Too bad we can't get through the hard stuff in life just as easily.

Cooter’s cup of yogurt he ate this morning with a great big slotted serving spoon. Good grief, the spoon is almost as big as the cup!  I think he ate it all in two spoonfuls. Too bad we can’t get through the hard stuff in life just as easily.

It is only through taking these slow steps that relationships are built, little bit by little bit.  And it is only after the relationship reaches a certain level that enough trust is built so that one can help another begin to wind her way out of the ditch.  All so painstakingly slow.  When we’d like to just make it happen all in one large leap.  Unfortuntately we can’t take it all in one large spoonful as my little guy did this morning with his yogurt.

No quick fixes when it comes to the ditches of life, I’m afraid.

And those ditches are tricky little boogers.  They grow tendrils like those creepy trees from “The Wizard of Oz.”  They grasp your ankles and try to pull you back down.  They whisper that you’re not ready, that you don’t have the energy or worth to leave all the ditch stuff.  And sometimes you are so tired that you just give up and sink back into the muck, the stuff that makes it hard to take even a single step.

One of my Sisters mentioned that therapy might help but she couldn’t afford it.  Bless her.  I shared with her that therapy has its place in getting out the ditches of life, but that the very best ditch diggers I’ve known were friends, sisterfriends.  Folks who helped me out of the ditch with their kindness and compassion because they had been in a ditch before–once or twice or twenty-seven times.   And because we had a relationship that was more precious than gold.

It’s the Christmas season.  A time when folks around us are cheery and it feels like the whole world is happy, except for those who are in the ditches.  As Miss G mentioned today, that makes things extra hard.

Here’s the thing.  The main point of this season is RELATIONSHIP.  It’s the reason it happened at all.  Because God no longer wanted the kind of relationship that had existed prior to the birth of Jesus.  God wanted a one on one, look you in the eye, wipe your tears, laugh together over silly jokes, break bread together, and sit with you in the dark kind of relationship.  That’s why Jesus was born.  To build a relationship better than had ever been before.

It’s a hard season to feel thrown away.  It’s hard to think that anyone, even God, would want a relationship with me when I’m bogged down in the yuckiness of the ditch. And yet, God does.  In the midst of the season’s busyness and shopping and celebrating, let’s remember ’tis the season for reaching out and getting to know people–to meet them where they are and accept them there, to become a safe place for them to share their stories and to rest.  And one day, when they are ready and trusting, we can reach a hand out and help them lift themselves out of that ditch that threatened to overcome them.  One day, it can happen.

‘Tis the Season for relationships.  They are the greatest gift of all.  Go out and put your heart into one.  And take your time.  Good things come to those who are patient.  I know it’s true.  My Mama said so.

After the Pink Ribbons Have Faded…..

White House decorated pink in honor of Nationa...

White House decorated pink in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last day of October is upon us.  Pink month is almost over.

Last Wednesday we gathered to say goodbye and remember a sweet lady whose fight with breast cancer had ended.  Last night I thought about a sweet young mama whose fight also was over, ending a life so full way too soon.  I sat with her younger son as he talked about getting in a car and driving up to Heaven to see his Mama.  Way.  Too.  Soon.  I have an aunt and a cousin who have both fought and won (for lack of a better word) against this Giant.  I have one friend who fought and is cancer free and another who has just been diagnosed.  I’m guessing there are few of us if any who don’t know someone who has been devastated by this Giant of a disease.

This is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  The month when car wash fountains turn pink and people take their poodles to the groomers to be dyed pink for the Race for the Cure.  All in the name of awareness and support.  You can buy everything from soup to bread to paper towels to saltines and cheese carrying the pink ribbon of support.  It wasn’t until I read this article by a young woman fighting breast cancer that I began thinking through this whole pink thing.  All of those products we proudly add to our cart and generously pay a little extra for, knowing that the extra is going towards the fight?  What would it be like if we gave that whole amount towards research and prevention?

It seems that October 13 was National No Bra Day in support of women who are fighting or who have lost the battle to breast cancer.  In the words of my high school algebra teacher when she’d hear an answer that made no sense–“Do what?!” I mean, really?  What good is that supposed to serve?  Did people look at me and say, Oh she doesn’t support breast cancer awareness because she…..well, ahem, she didn’t forgo her own support?

No.  Just no.

Awareness only goes so far.  I am aware.  I’ve been “up close and personal” aware of what breast cancer could do to your body for over ten years, metastasizing and affecting other organs and it’s just AWFUL.  RAVAGING.  This awareness didn’t make me do what I should have done at least four years ago–be tested.  I was afraid.  Of so many things.  When you have autoimmune issues, it’s hard to trust that your body won’t betray you at every turn.  So fear was the motivating factor for NOT being checked.  I know, it makes no sense, but that’s the irrational way my mind was working.  It has only been in the past three weeks that I found an alternative test and had it done.  I’m very lucky.  And thankful.  All is well.

So what happens after the soup is all sold? When the pink beribboned bread is out of date?  The paper towels have all be used?  Where does all this support and cheering our sisters on through the fight go after October is over?  I know it doesn’t all go away, but it seems almost like a party in October, doesn’t it?  I wonder if the women fighting this have what equates to the January blues come November?  Breast cancer, check.  Moving on to the next cause du jour.

I had a call the other day from someone in the community who knows I volunteer with Daybreak and folks in need. She had a co-worker who is interested in doing something “to feed the homeless.”  She put her friend on the phone.  I asked her what she was interested in.  “I want to feed the homeless,” she said. “You know, now that it’s cold?  They must be hungry.”  Yes ma’am.  I’m sure they are.  Just like they were in July and September and will be in March and April.  No, I didn’t say that to her.  Instead I shared with her about the different soup kitchens and food pantries and clothing closets that I knew about who were seeking support and volunteers.  “Okay,” she said, “but is this where people stand in line and you fix their plates?”  Sigh.  I’m not sure what she was looking for, but I don’t think I was helping.  She seemed frustrated that the soup kitchen opportunity in our town wasn’t until next month.

The thing is I think we have this perception that certain folks are in need only when they are on our minds.  Of course it is natural for us to think of women (and men) with breast cancer during October.  But unfortunately, their fight doesn’t end when the pumpkin turns into a turkey at the strike of twelve on the 31st.  It is natural to think of folks without shelter when the weather turns cold.  But they are out there in the spring rains and the summer heat and when the mosquitoes swarm at sunset.  Who is there to feed them and hand out mosquito repellant and rain jackets then?

There are people who walk the walk all year long and for them I am thankful.  There are people who work for cancer prevention and awareness all year long.  And yes, I see the importance of taking time each year to share stories and ways to help.  But I think we need to be real careful what that support looks like.  And we also need to be aware that, for way too many people, cancer and being without a home, just two examples, are like a tv channel that nothing good is on.  Only they can’t turn it off or change to a better one.  For them, that is the only channel available.  A poor metaphor perhaps, but I hope you get my point.  After October is over, after the winter cold defrosts in spring, there are still people in need.  Of support.  And love.

I love these guys, but I  think it's really sad that this shirt will probably be on clearance by the middle of next month?  Why not offer them year-round?

I love these guys, but I think it’s really sad that this shirt will probably be on clearance by the weekend and off the shelves by the middle of next month.  Why not offer them year-round?

I mostly wanted to share what I learned this October.  At the beginning of November last year there was a cart of reduced and clearance items at our grocery store.  Among the things were dishtowels and aprons and potholders, all with the beautiful bright pink ribbons.  50% off.  Underneath there were even breast cancer awareness t-shirts and water bottles and socks.  75% off.  Awesome!  And yet, I’m realizing this year, not so much.  I didn’t need any of that.  Instead I should have come home and figured out how to support folks with cancer directly.  And I guess that’s my point.  Relationships.  I appreciate the folks that fund raise for cancer research and resources for people in need.  We need them and what they do.  But sometimes I think they might make it a little too easy for us to feel like “I’ve done good.”  I know the folks I volunteer with would rather have folks show up every week to build a relationship than just about anything else.  That’s what we all really want, isn’t it?  To have someone walking alongside us.  With love and respect, an ear to listen and a shoulder to lean on.  I think yes.

In the end it wasn’t awareness or education that made me get checked.  It was relationships.  As Sister put it recently, “I’ve got to take care of ME so I can take care of THEM.”  It was that and my sisterfriends who encouraged and nagged me, and it was my Aunt who guided me as well.  I did what I did because of the people I know and love who love me right back.  The people in my life helped me take care of my life.

If I meet someone in need, I hope to have the courage to reach out and change their life and mine for the better.  Wear pink if that’s your color but also brighten someone’s life by walking in and sitting with them, listening to their stories and promising to whoop them if they don’t take care of themselves.  Knowing someone cares can make all the difference.

20131030-225305.jpg

31 Ways to Help A Friend With Breast Cancer:  http://sarahthebarge.com/2013/10/31-ways-to-help-a-friend-with-breast-cancer/

National No Bra Day and Breast Cancer Awareness Month — OR — Please Put That Pink Can of Soup Down & Put Your Bra Back On: http://cancerinmythirties.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/national-no-bra-day-and-breast-cancer-awareness-month-or-please-put-that-pink-can-of-soup-down-put-your-bra-back-on/

The Color Pink: http://sarahthebarge.com/2013/10/the-color-pink/#more-605

I Won’t Tell You How to Help the Homeless: http://hughlh.com/help-homeless/

Love Wins: A Conversation with Hugh Hollowell http://homelessincarolina.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/love-wins-a-conversation-with-hugh-hollowell/

Maemae’s Special Ingredient

English: Own Camera

Mama could even add her special ingredient to frozen macaroni and cheese.  She was just that good.  English: Own Camera (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every third Saturday the men of Trinity UMC have a Men’s Breakfast.  What a great group of folks, so welcoming, and you can tell they really, really enjoy being together.  As a matter of fact, if you are male of any age, you should head on out and join them next month.  I know you’d be welcome, because this morning they were so gracious to me.

I suppose I was already a bit sentimental.  This was Mama’s church.  She went every Sunday she was felt up to it and attended two Sunday services and Sunday School in between.  She loved her Sundays at Trinity.  The good people there took her under their wings and gave her sanctuary, a place to mourn and heal in the fifteen months after Daddy died.  They were there for us, her children, after she died and we started our own journeys of mourning and healing all over again.  Good people, I tell you what.

I parked and went into the building where Mama attended the second service each Sunday.  I was greeted by one gentleman who welcomed me in and took me to meet the person who had invited me to speak.  I had been asked to come and share about one of my favorite places ever–Bare Bulb Coffee.

The men there made me feel right at home and shared their breakfast of sausage and biscuits and coffee and orange juice with me.  I sat and we talked about volunteering and life after retirement and grandchildren.  It seems that this is the first month they haven’t had a full-on breakfast buffet of sorts.  They are trying to be responsible with what funds they have, and they hope to get to a point where they have enough to provide breakfasts and contribute to missions.

Wow.  That touched my heart.

That’s good stuff.

They get it.  They realize that what is bringing folks to the breakfast is not really the food.  What keeps folks coming are the camaraderie, the friendships that are being built, the relationships that are already there.  That is what really matters.  The sausage biscuit or whatever else they decide to serve is just icing on the cake, so to speak. (And it was quite good “icing” I must say.)

It made me think about Mama and her love language.  That woman could put a hurting on a kitchen.  She could prepare a huge dinner with all kinds of vegetables and fried chicken or pork roast and gravy and biscuits and have a homemade dessert to chase it down with.  And don’t even get me started about Thanksgiving.  There just about wasn’t room for us to sit down and eat after we put all the food on the table.  It’s a wonder that table is still standing.   Oh me.  My mouth is watering just remembering.

On your birthday she would ask what you wanted for your special supper and she made it happen.  I dearly loved her pork roast and gravy over biscuits, but I am sure I asked for other things over the years.  Her homemade pizza was the best pizza ever.  Each year she made a Swedish version of Gingersnaps for me and used the Happy Birthday cake cookie cutter.  I miss all the little things she did to make the day extra special.  And she always said we had to celebrate for at least a week, so there were other times you could request your favorites too.  Oh how she loved us.

After Daddy was diagnosed with lymphoma four years ago, Mama wasn’t able to cook like she had been.  As it should be, her top priority was taking care of Daddy and making sure he was okay. If there was something he was hungry for, she started preparing it almost before her feet hit the kitchen.  But it wasn’t often that he was.  I can remember a few times that she cooked like before, but quite frankly she was exhausted and scared and worn out.  We encouraged her to let us cook or pick things up.  Picking up Stevi B’s was a special treat.  Daddy always teased me that I couldn’t just get a couple of pizzas–I had to bring the whole buffet to him.  Well, yeah, he was my Daddy and he deserved every bit of it.

After Daddy died, Mama so wanted to cook for us all again, but she was still so tired and, as we later realized, very sick.  Always a bargain shopper, she expanded her shopping list to include some already prepared things.  When Publix put their Stouffer’s meals on buy one, get one free, she was so excited she would call to let me know.  Our meals together when Mess Cat and her family came down from Atlanta would often be a Stouffer’s Lasagna, a Macaroni and Cheese, broccoli put in the oven to roast (y’all that is the BEST way to fix it!) and sometimes she’d feel up to frying okra.  She’d add applesauce or some kind of fruit in bowls and carrots and we’d have us a feast.  She always apologized, but we all had a good time, and that’s what we remember the most.  The joy of being together, the laughter at all of the stories we shared.  I remember the food being pretty good and how we’d all say how far those freezer meals had come over the years.  The macaroni and cheese mixed with the broccoli was really quite good.  It was time together and because Mama wasn’t spending all her time in the kitchen cooking, we had more time to visit with her.

And that’s what the men of Trinity UMC have figured out.  They have a good time, those Iron Chefs in the kitchen in the wee hours preparing all the food for their brothers.  But they realize that it’s the relationships that count the most, not what’s on the menu.

Don’t get me wrong.  I miss my Mama’s good cooking.  Something.  Fierce.  But as thankful as I am for her good cooking all those years, I realize now that what really fed us, filled our souls as well as our bellies, was her most special ingredient.

As our Princess tells it, one day she asked her Maemae why everything she made was the best thing ever. She asked Maemae what she added to make everything so good.  My Mama hugged her and laughed and said it was her special ingredient.

“Do you know what she said her special ingredient was?”

No, what?

“Love.  That’s what she added to everything she fixed.  That’s what made it extra good.”

And that’s what really feeds us, isn’t it?  I am thankful to the Men of Trinity UMC for their hospitality and for reminding me of something very important today–that special ingredient that we should add to everything we do.