Thin Places and the People There

My life.  Some days.

I’ve been in some very thin places today.

I held a sweet baby, smaller than any of mine ever were, and was once again amazed at the miracle of life.  As I looked into his eyes, my soul was touched by something inexplicable, something so dear.  A love beyond understanding.

I stood and held on to a brother who watched his friend get hit by a car as he was crossing the street four days ago, and I was saddened by the frailty of life.

I listened as one of my sisterfriends said that the step that was most influential in her recovery was the first one–accepting that you have an addiction–and I was moved by the spirit and resiliency of a life choosing between the comfort of brokenness and the scariness of healing.

The sweet baby, the one who came early, seems so fragile and yet he is a living, breathing body of strength and a sign of hope.  He is growing and taking it all in, and all who are around love him more each day.

My friend Mac held back the tears as he told me about the accident.  He had no idea what was happening until it did.  He hasn’t slept since then, he says.  His friend camped with him a lot of nights, and now I think he feels even more alone.  He can’t get information about his friend–today as he choked up, Mac told me he didn’t even know if he was still alive.  We checked the obituaries and did not find him there.   So there’s that.  But Mac seemed resigned to the not knowing.  He has a lot that happens that he just has to accept in his life, being in the situation he’s in.  He’s used to being invisible.  But he would like to know how his friend is.  And I wish I could help him.  He became more visibly upset as he talked about the accident.  Finally he said, “I gotta go.” And he hugged me and told me that if nobody had told me that they loved me today, he did.  And he held on for an extra second.  Bless him.  He’s lost so much in life.  Things he could have changed, but even more he could not.

As my sisterfriend talked about that first step in recovery, she said, “You can say you have an addiction all day long, but until you accept that you do, you’re not going anywhere.  That’s a major step.”  As we talked some more, I asked her, “Is that something like accepting you aren’t in charge?”  She smiled her big, beautiful smile and all but winked.  She pointed at me and nodded.  “Yep.”

Life and death and the beauty and brokenness of life.  All in about a two-hour time span.  I felt shaken this afternoon and unsure of my steps and really quite small all of a sudden.  Those of you who know me might chuckle over that–but I said small, not short. Overwhelmed even. As I stood in my kitchen, about to make our supper, I felt as though I were Alice as she shrunk to a very tiny size.  (Didn’t she do that?  I haven’t watched it in ages–it really troubles me, that one.)  As I moved around with this new perspective, all I felt was humbled.

Humbled and touched beyond words that I was blessed to be a part of these three stories today.  It is no small thing to be invited into to someone else’s story.  And tonight I’m thankful for the precious people, these people I’ve grown to love and call my own, who let me in and shared their pain and heartache, strength, wisdom, and joy.

All tucked away in my heart for safekeeping.  A treasure for sure.

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.

 

 

 

 

Reverent, Rambunctious Moments and What Benjamin Franklin Said

This afternoon at our Sister Circle we had to close the door.

It was that kind of afternoon.  The kind that has sisters sharing intimate stories of body aches and pains and female stuff and of heartbreak and family betrayals and the pain of grief.

We were busy y’all.

No reverent moments of quiet today.

Reverent moments of conversation and compassion and comfort–yes.

It had us all laughing as we talked about aging and what women still have to deal with even as they age.  We compared aches and symptoms and found once again that we all have more in common than different.  At one point two others pulled out their bifocals and we were all looking “intelligent-ish” and talking about how important it is not to limit yourself to one point of view.  Yeah, we find meaning in almost anything.  That and laughter.  That’s how we roll.

We were loud and boisterous, and there were tears over lost relationships.  There were conversations about sisters and family and how important it is to have good boundaries.  Each one of us has been touched by at least one death that devastated us.  One of my sisters shared that it had been three years since her Daddy died, and each day he used to be so thankful for another day.  She misses that.  I understand.

We talked about injustice, about people judging others based on skin color or their body shape or how they live.  And how that’s just not right.  We shared how hard it is not to judge even when we know it’s not right.

Earlier today I had a “notification” that one of my great writer friends had just posted on Facebook.  Only the beginning of her post was showing–“I have no idea what God will do with it…..”

My mind immediately put a “but” after that and I was very curious to see where she was going with it.  Before I could click the link, my mind finished it out–“I’m tired of trying to handle it myself, so I’m going to give it all over to God to handle.”

Whoa.  Wow.  Where did that come from?

I decided to wrap up our session with this phrase and see what each one was thinking and how she would finish it out.  This was seriously the only quiet time the whole afternoon.

As each one of my sisterfriends shared her thoughts, I was once again in awe of their faith and strength.  It blew me away.

I have no idea what God will do with it but…..

–I always keep Him first no matter what.

–I know He will make the right choice for me. 

–God woke me up for another day.  And that’s good. 

–It’s a gift. 

–I will be grateful, good or bad. 

After that last thought was shared, this beautiful and compassionate woman said, “It was never said there wouldn’t be rain.  There’s rain and sun.  It won’t ever be all sun.”

That made me think of a quote from Benjamin Franklin I heard on “Liberty’s Kids” the other day.  I believe it was on the final episode.

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Today I am thankful for a room full of sisterfriends who love and laugh and think and share, all with passion and a boisterous energy.  I am thankful for our kind words for each other and for our being able to gently call each other out on things that are hard.  I give thanks for the opportunity to be a part of this safe place where they feel comfortable sharing and forming friendships that last long after Tuesday is over.  Each week I am touched by our time together, and I appreciate my sweet friend who first created this opportunity for me.  And for the women who keep coming back.

I am humbled by the faith of these women.  Each one has had a “hard row to hoe,” as Daddy would say.  But not a single one of them lets that slow her down or become her excuse for giving up.  I am learning so much from our time together.  Today my heart was full to bustin’ seeing how they cared for a tearful sister who just needed to be heard.  An amazing group.  They not only comprehend the truth in Mr. Franklin’s statement, but they are living it out.  Not a single one of them is sitting around waiting for her heaping helping of “happiness” to be handed out.   Instead each of my sisterfriends is reaching out and taking a chance, dreaming big, working hard, laughing lots, and loving her Creator–and pursuing the happiness she is seeking.  Happiness doesn’t come in a bottle or bank account or briefcase.

Turns out it comes from within.

And it was with you all along.  You just had to catch up to it.

Loving the laughter…..love to all.

Fingerpainting, Pulling Weeds, and Getting Our Hands Dirty

Today as we pulled up to Daybreak for Sister Circle, there were two young men pulling up weeds in the yard. I sat there a moment and watched, lost in thought. This was timely, as I thought about their hands and what we were going to talk about today.  As we walked the path to the entrance, I heard them talking to each other. It seemed almost effortless, their bending over to pull a weed and moving across the yard. As they worked in tandem they talked and kidded around and laughed. We waved hello and went inside.

Today I found some fingerpaint to share with my Sisters. It wasn’t what I was looking for but it turns out it was exactly what I needed. Life is messy. If we are doing it right, we are going to get our hands dirty. A lot. And that is what will bring beauty to this world. Getting our hands dirty. Just like those young men. I can only imagine the dirt and the green grass stains of those reaching-for-spring purple flower weeds on their hands. And yet what is the result? A beautiful yard and the satisfaction that can only come from hard work and a job well done.

So we talked. About messy lives. About broken relationships and utility bills being so high they just can’t be paid and worries over illness and children and parents and friends and the world. And we painted. With our fingers and hands. They got dirty. It was interesting to see the different levels of discomfort with actually touching the paint.

Cooter painted his paper and then continued to paint the plate his paints had been on.  His hands were covered.  It took a little while and a bit of scrubbing to get them clean again.

Cooter painted his paper and then continued to paint the plate his paints had been on. His hands were covered. It took a little while and a bit of scrubbing to get them clean again.

And then there was Cooter. Who put his whole hands in and even painted his paint plate after he had finished his painting. He does not mind getting his hands or any part of him dirty. At all. And I think that’s pretty cool.  This is the same child who, when he found out that they are going to put housing in that cleared area beyond the woods behind our house, blew out a huge puff of air, threw his hands up, and said, “Well good! Maybe now our friends with no houses can move in there. FINALLY!!” Precious. Rambunctious perhaps too. But precious. I hope he never loses his love of getting his hands and his life dirty.

Because it can be scary. And hard. And exhausting. We talked today about how we have to pull the weeds in our own lives before we can even thinking about helping someone else. Truth. We are all works in progress.

Tonight I’m remembering my Mama’s hands.  She was never afraid of getting them dirty.  Those little hands were strong, even in the later years, suffering with arthritis in the cold as she did.  She fileted chicken herself from a whole hen.  She snapped and peeled and shelled and shucked and kneaded and patted so many meals’ worth over the years.  She dug in the dirt and planted and helped many plants and children to bloom.  Mama’s hands were full of taking care of others.  It seemed to be her life’s work.  In a broken world where special needs adults need guardians and elderly family members need someone to look after and stand up for them, Mama’s hands were there–for signing paperwork, holding hands, changing mussed clothes and bedlinens, and for sharing love.

I have a writer friend who uses her hands to care, to inspire–she writes her words by hand, words that touch hearts and souls, impart wisdom, and carry us back in time.  She also uses her hands to find little rays of sunshine in fields and woods and give them a new home–sharing light with the world.  Today her hands and arms are covered in a reaction to one of the plants in the “poison” family.  My heart and arms ache for her.  My fingers are crossed and prayers are said for her discomfort to be eased and her body to heal quickly.  And that’s how it goes, isn’t it?  We are in the midst of the brokenness, trying to make things better, to help others who are there, and we often wind up hurt and broken ourselves.  With our hands dirty.

And that’s where the beauty can be seen.  In the darkness.  In the midst of pain and sadness and hurt and feeling lost.  The beauty is that despite all those dirty hands out there pulling weeds, finger painting, touching hearts, holding hands with the sick and the tender-hearted–despite all of that pain–each one would do it again.  My Mama would care for her aunts and her cousin and my Daddy and so many others all over again.  Because of love.  I’m guessing here but I suspect my writer friend would go and rescue those little flowers again tomorrow.  Those young men will pull weeds again, possibly before the grass stains from this time have faded completely.

Beauty is in the strength and courage to walk into a mess and come out with dirty hands and hearts that will never be the same again.

Our Princess loved the finger painting too, but she didn't get quite as messy.

Our Princess loved the finger painting too, but she didn’t get quite as messy.

Miss N's paintings.  The top one is of her and her Mama, who is one of her heroes.

Miss N’s paintings. The top one is of her and her Mama, who is one of her heroes.

Tonight I am thankful for our Sister Circle, for women who share their stories with each other in the hopes of letting others know they are not alone.  I give thanks for the enthusiasm of my littles who were quite thrilled to be included in the finger painting.  I pray they will always be so joyful about getting their hands dirty.  And I give thanks for women like my Mama and my writer friend and so many others, who inspire me to throw off my cloak of fear and walk into unknown territory to dig, to plant, to guide, and to love.  And to get dirty.

May it always be so.

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Please, if you have a few minutes, click on the link above to my writer friend’s blog.  This story is a special one.  She gives us a way for us to walk into heartbreak and shed some light.  Many thanks to my friend for sharing Robin’s story.  Love to all.

Crying over Charlotte

When I was in the third grade, Mrs. Turner, one of my very favorite teachers of all time, read aloud “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White.  It was after lunch.  She would turn the lights off and we could put our heads down and listen.  I was thankful for that, because when it got to the end, I cried and cried under the cover of my arms.  I think it was the first time a book touched me so deeply.

Earlier this month we had the privilege of taking the littles to see the very same story at the Grand Opera House in Macon.  It was well done, and we all enjoyed it.  And yes, I cried.  Over so much.

Charlotte's Web, written by E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams from http://www.thegrandmacon.com/web/

Charlotte’s Web, written by E. B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams from http://www.thegrandmacon.com/web/

Today at Sister Circle we talked about webs.  About connectedness.  We had a ball of yarn, and we passed it around.  What if someone is kind to me, and then I’m kind to you, and you’re kind to the lady in line at the grocery store who goes home and helps her son with his homework instead of fussing at him for not having it done.  Each person held on to the string.  And with just a few passes of kindness we had a web.  And then we did the same thing with grumpiness and anger and hurtful words.  Also a web.  Just not a good one to be a part of.

Everything we do is a part of the web of feelings that get passed around one to another each day.  We do not live in a vacuum.  Our emotions are not self-contained.  They leak out and touch everyone around us and eventually even those who aren’t around us.

As we talked about webs, the conversation moved to a synopsis of “Charlotte’s Web.”  We all had heard the story, but not everyone remembered it well.  Miss N said, “I know it’s about a girl…..and a pig.”  Yes.  Fern. And Wilbur.

And then there’s Charlotte.  The spider.  Who shows up when Wilbur is lonely and really wants a friend.  When he is really in need.  And then, she announces herself.  I remember this scene because it was when I first learned the word “salutations.”  What a fabulous word.

And then, just as Wilbur was settling down for his morning nap, he heard again the thin voice that had addressed him the night before.
“Salutations!” said the voice.
Wilbur jumped to his feet.  “Salu-what?” he cried.
“Salutations!” repeated the voice.
“What are they, and where are you?” screamed Wilbur.  “Please, please, tell me where you are.  And what are salutations?”
“Salutations are greetings,” said the voice.  “When I say ‘salutations,’ it’s just my fancy way of saying hello or good morning.”                 –E. B. White, “Charlotte’s Web”
Charlotte saves Wilbur’s life by writing words in her web about how fantastic he is.  She assures him that the plan will work, saying “Most people will believe almost anything they see in print.”  And so she weaves.
“But we have received a sign, Edith – a mysterious sign. A miracle has happened on this farm… in the middle of the web there were the words ‘Some Pig’… we have no ordinary pig.”
“Well,” said Mrs. Zuckerman, “it seems to me you’re a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider.”                      –E. B. White, “Charlotte’s Web”
In the end, Charlotte does save Wilbur’s life with her weaving of beautiful words to describe Wilbur’s character–“Some Pig,” “Radiant,” “Terrific,” and “Humble.”    Wilbur is thankful, but he doesn’t understand why Charlotte would do all of this.
“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”  
                                 –E. B. White, “Charlotte’s Web”
Beautiful.  Words that have stuck with me all these years.  The true gift of friendship.
As we talked about webs today, I asked each woman what word would she like to see above her door–what word could give her the strength to get out of bed on a hard day?  What word could fill in the blank here:  “I can make today happen because someone thinks I am __________.”
special
beautiful
a good listener
a good friend
caring
a treasure
loved
a giver
appreciated
empathetic
All of these and a few more wove their way into our conversation.  All traits that we would like others to see in each of us.  We also talked about how we can be a “word web weaver” for others.  Sharing a smile, a kind word, a hug.  “Yeah, ’cause you can’t fake a hug,” said Miss P.  Well, ain’t that the truth.
I thought about what we shared on the way home this afternoon.  About the words being woven by others for us.  And I realized that Mama was my Charlotte.  She gave and encouraged and loved, asking for nothing in return.  I used to talk to Mama on the phone at least twice a day.  She never failed to call me out when I was self-disparaging OR misbehaving.  But she was the quickest to praise and to remind me I was a gift from God.  She could make me believe I was all of those things above, and so very much more.  I rarely had to ask her to help me feel better.  Somehow she intuited that I needed a lift and she found just the right words.  Even when I didn’t want to hear them, when I wanted to wallow for a moment or two longer, she was having none of it.  She made me feel irreplaceable and treasured.
I miss her.
This morning I woke up tired and knew that didn’t bode well for my day.   I’ve been trying to put a finger on why my heart is heavier than usual, and why I am floundering in trying to decide what my “next adventure” should be.  Not even.  Let’s back up to trying to garner up the energy to even begin thinking about a “next adventure.”  And then it hit me this afternoon.  As I drove down I-75 on the route to Byron, one I have travelled so many times from the time I was very small, with the sun hitting my windshield just so and the beautiful and haunting, “Say Something” playing on the radio, I realized.   I miss my Charlotte.  She saved my life on more than one occasion with her words and her wisdom and her letting me and anyone else who would listen know that she thought I was pretty wonderful.  Selfish, yes.  But I miss her encouragement.  And her wrinkled nose smile that said, “I love you.”  And her hugs.  Miss P was right, there’s no faking those.  Over the years I went from reaching up to bending down to hug her, but that didn’t make any one of them any less precious to me.
In missing my Mama, I don’t mean to negate the love of my family and friends, and I hope I don’t hurt or offend.  Just as Charlotte left hundreds of little eggs-soon-to-be-spiders with Wilbur when she left this world, Mama left me a great gathering of beautiful people who love and support and encourage.  But they are not my Charlotte.  The one who saw the need even before I realized.  The one who cut off any chance of my being hurt that she could prevent.  The one who told me to go rest while she took care of me.  The one who lived her life loving others with every fiber of her being.
In the words of E. B. White:
“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself.”
As was Mama.  A rare combination of grace, sass, spunkiness, and love.  Anytime I mentioned that I owed her for something, she’d quote from the TV show, “Facts of Life.”  (And I’m paraphrasing here.)  “You owe the gas company, you owe the electric company.  You don’t owe your friends.  You love them.”
Yes ma’am.
Tonight I’m thankful for the time I had my Charlotte in my life.  I miss her labels she put on me, and the way she never let me forget whose baby I was and always will be.  I know I’m lucky, some folks never have that.  I’m thankful for our Sister Circle, where we can share and learn to be Charlottes for each other.  Most of all, I’m thankful for the tears.  As I heard a physical therapist say today, “Pain is good.  It means all the nerves are waking up, and the pain can be dispersed.”  One day, maybe, it won’t hurt so much.  But today it does.  And that’s okay.  It has to be.
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And so today, for a bit, I weep over the loss of Charlotte, just as I did in 1977 in the classroom at the old school down the hall from the auditorium.  I bury my face and I cry, and one day, Mr. Shakespeare, I hope to find that you speak the truth.
Wishing for a Charlotte in each one of your lives.  Love to all.

Ambiguity and Winter–I’m done with you both

I do not like ambiguity.  And we’ve had a lot of it.

The weather here in middle Georgia.  Are we on the line above the freeze zone or below it?  Need to be prepared or not?  Will it snow?  Should I have made one more trip to the grocery store?

We don’t know what we don’t know.

My little guy’s well-being.  When we got home from our Tuesday adventures tonight, he was suddenly stricken with tummy pain and yes, he’s got something.  But is it just a simple tummy bug?  Or something worse?  Should I wait it out?  Take him to the doctor?  Should I let him sleep in a bed or should we stay crashed out on the couch–which can be more easily cleaned?

We don’t know what we don’t know.

There are so many of these situations that I cross paths with each day.  Should I do this?  Does this warrant me getting upset?  I just don’t ever know.  For sure.

Today in our Sister Circle, which I have really missed the past two weeks (ice one week and then sick Princess the next), we were talking about courage.  What that looks like.  What we need it for.  When and where we can find it.

One of my sweet and spunky sisters Miss P saw our life journeys like this:  “It’s like we have this GPS that tells us how to get where we are going.  But it can’t tell us if there’s going to be a delay because of an accident or a roadblock or a tree down in the road or whatever.  It can only give us directions, not prepare us for what might come along.”

Wow.  Yes.  That is exactly the truth.  On this journey we come across all kinds of things we didn’t know about and weren’t prepared for.   We just have to keep on going anyway.

I think the point of much of life and a sign of courage is to keep on going even when we don’t know.  Even in the ambiguity.  When my little fella Cooter was screaming (yes at the top of his lungs) from his stomach pain a little while ago, I was really close to having a panic attack.  How bad was this?  What could be causing him this much pain?  Instead I breathed, suggested he do the same, and we both got “okay.”  His stomach still hurt, and I was still worried, but it was all a little more manageable.

I guess that’s what I need to remember to do.  Accept the ambiguities and do the best I can with what I do know at the time.

But I really do hate not knowing if the winter storm is going to hit here or not.  Winter, I suggest you straighten yourself out and start behaving a little better.  Your sister Summer doesn’t misbehave like this.  She’s hot, she might have a storm or two, but it comes when expected and leaves fairly quickly.  No, I don’t want to hear about 1994 and all that rain. Or tornadoes.  Let it go.  We’re talking about you and these crazy ice and snowstorms right now.  Get it together and pack your bags, Winter.  No ambiguity about this, I want it to be perfectly clear–it is time for you to go.

Love to all.  And wishes for happy tummies and ice-free days for all too.

 

Wanted: A Grateful Heart and a Satisfied Soul

This afternoon after our Sister Circle was over at Daybreak, I saw my friend Mr. B sitting in one of the comfortable chairs in the gathering area.  He waved me over.  I was glad to see him.  He had heart surgery before Christmas and wasn’t able to get his medicine filled until January 1.  (Oh the things we take for granted.)  He smiled his wonderful smile and asked about my Fella.  They became good friends when the Sunday night suppers were being served each week.

The last time I saw him he was staying at one of the overnight shelters.  I asked him how he was doing, and he said he was still staying there.

“I’m okay, though.  I don’t mind it at all.  You know, I was thinking about this the other day.  You know how when Jesus was here?  Walking around on this earth?”

“Yessir.”  I nodded.

“Well, think about this.  Everything around him was His, belonged to Him.  EveryONE around him belonged to Him really.  But the Son of Man had no—”

“place to lay his head.”  We finished together.

We both nodded.

Mr. B continued.  “So then, who am I to want stuff?  When God’s son Jesus didn’t even have anything to his name, why should I spend my life wanting stuff?  Why shouldn’t I be okay where I am?”

Preach.

It was more than a good sermon.  What he didn’t realize was he was calling me out.  Me, who does love her GW Boutique bargains and who spends way too much energy mooning over pretty scarves and cool handmade jewelry and things I have no real need for.  Who has a hard time letting go of “stuff” that has a story behind it.  I stood there looking him in his precious face and thinking of how I have failed and how much I want to have the heart this man has.  A heart not weighted down by stuff.

It was a surreal afternoon.  When some of my friends who live in their “camp” close by asked what the weather is expected to do the next few days, I looked it up on the Weather Channel App.  My heart sank as they groaned at the lows the next couple of nights.  As we said goodbye, we waved once more, and then headed across town.

But it might as well have been to another world.  So much of my life is filled with this grotesque contrast between the world of the “haves and the have nots.”  I found myself sitting in a lovely office with amazing chairs listening to someone who knows how to handle finances and all of that “stuff.”  As we visited, the word “stuff” came up.  He laughed and asked if we had heard George Carlin talk about “stuff.”  I have.  This comedian described our houses as piles of stuff with tops on them.  That we have to lock so no one will come in and get our “stuff.”  And when we run out of space for our “stuff,” we have to buy a bigger place to hold our “stuff.”  The funniest part to me is when he mentions that there is a whole industry devoted to taking care of our “stuff.”  *sigh*  Funny but sad.  Because it’s true.

Tonight I’m thankful for a friend who knows what it is like to be satisfied where he is.  He is not wanting more stuff.  I want his focus and faith and heart.  And I want to share it with my children.  Christmas is not even a month gone, and I’ve already heard a want or two.   I am ashamed to share that.  It breaks my heart.  Did they learn that from me?

I want to raise children who are thankful and satisfied–to be adults who are thankful and satisfied…..and not always wanting “the next big thing” or “more stuff.”  I could blame it on the commercial and advertising we are exposed to, but in reality, I know it’s not completely their fault. I need to set an example of a grateful heart and a satisfied soul.  Like my parents did before me.  Live simply within my means and be thankful and take care of what I do have.  That’s what I want for my children as well.

Tonight I am thankful for those around me who show me what it’s like to be satisfied, and I’m thankful for the stuff I do have…..but I really want to let go of the wants and focus on the good of where I am right now.  Wherever that might be.

 

Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. Luke 9:58 NIV

All I Want for Christmas is a Beautiful Mess

One of our Rising Bloggers, Deanna at The Long Run, is hosting our group this week, and she asked “What would be the best gift someone could give you this year?” 

Last week at our Sister Circle we talked about the season we are in, the season of Christmas.

The season I have newly dubbed the “Season of With.”  The celebration of the time that God decided to be “with” us in every sense of the word and sent a baby to be with and grow and live as we do.  With.

It’s also the season of being with each other.  That kind of gets lost in the hustle and rush of shopping and struggling to find just the right gift for each person on our list–a list that seems to get longer and longer–and to stay out of debt.  It seems to get harder and harder each year, doesn’t it?  Add to that the stress of events and parties and entertainment that is at this time only or you “miss out,” and it’s almost too much to bear.

But y’all, what if we’ve got it all wrong?  What if it’s not about Christmas presents, but instead about Christmas presence?  Being present, really being with someone, much in the way that God was and has been ever since.  Walking alongside some, ahead of others leading the way, and clearing the path for those to come.  Christmas presence.  The kind of being present that we should aim for all year long.

The other day the question came up: “What would be the best gift someone could give you this year?”

Ahem.  Really? Well, since you asked.

I thought about the closet upstairs I’d love to have converted into a small library.  Fleeting visions of my back porch becoming my haven, my own little spot, came and went.  Books?  Always.  Just sign me up for a book of the week club from any bookstore you choose (but I choose the book!).  Boots?  You can never have too many, can you? A new bag from ABAN?  Candles from Prosperity Candles?  Anything at all from Lisa Leonard–oh my YES!

But…..

all of these fall flat when I sit and think about them.  What I really want and crave this year, the time of year filled with darkness, very different this year yet again–what I want most is with.

It seems so selfish.  More so than the library upstairs or the back porch nook.  It is so hard to admit this is what I want because we live in a world where we are encouraged to be “strong” on our own, not to need anyone.  Vulnerability is a mess, isn’t it?

But yes, I want with.  I want to sit over a cup of coffee or hot cider or ice water and visit and laugh and be in that moment.  I want to listen to someone else’s stories and have them listen to mine.  I want to share my dreams and be encouraged and encourage another’s dreams.  I want to laugh until my sides hurt and cry until I think I have no more tears.  I want to talk about the pain and the brokenness and grief and the joy and the happiness and the crazy mixed-up life of living betwixt and between the two.  Or sometimes both at the same time.  I want to ignore all of the clocks and demands of everyday life and act as if we have all the time in the world to just be.

I garnered the courage to be honest with myself when I sat with my sisters yesterday at our Sister Circle.  We were talking about living this life with others.  How we cope, how we get past our disappointments, how we love and get through the holiday season, how we celebrate it and find joy in our days.  P shared that it’s hard for her, because her grown children automatically expect things of her.  That she will be the one to cook.  That she will buy them all a gift.  That she will always be around.  She said that what she would treasure most this Christmas or any time of the year would be for her daughter or son or grandchildren to say, “Hey, let’s meet for lunch tomorrow.”  She quickly said that she didn’t even want them to pay for the meal.  Just show her she mattered by inviting her, by wanting to spend time with her.  WITH.

I get it.  Bless her heart.

I asked Miss N how she copes with all of the seasonal events and pressures and expectations.  She shrugged and in her wise, quiet way that I’ve grown accustomed to, she said, “I just keep on working on being the person I say that I am.”

Wow.  That is a beautiful goal.  For every single person. Every single day.

And so it was that the words of these precious women I love reinforced in my heart that the best gift we can give someone else is to be with them.  Invite someone to join us for something–anything–it doesn’t have to cost money.  Ask a friend to join me for a walk.  Or lunch.  Or whatever.  The important thing is the WITH and letting them know they matter.  That we choose to be with them.  That is the greatest gift we can give anyone.

And the thing is, there are a lot of anyones, someones who need to hear they matter and that we choose to be with them.  My friend Mac who is camping out in the rain and cold in the woods each night.  Miss N who has family she could visit but chooses not to–haven’t gotten to that part of the story yet.  T who came back the other day and shared that she is trying to get custody of her son again.  The manager at the local restaurant, who works long hours and rarely gets told she’s appreciated.  P who just wants her children to want to be with her. The student preparing for finals next week.  The young woman who drives by the hospital after work to see her Mama and then drives home to her babies with worry on her mind.  The man trying to make ends meet with each paycheck he brings home.  There are too many to list.  Because it’s all of us.  All of us want to be chosen, to know we matter, to feel that someone WANTS to be with us.

So the greatest gift someone could give me this year is the gift of with.  And at the risk of giving something that I’d like to get for Christmas, I daresay it’s the greatest gift I can give as well.  I know that it brings my heart a great big burst of joy when my sisterfriends choose to come to Sister Circle and be with each other.  It makes me sad that they might not have this outside of our group.

As we go through our days during this season and the one coming up next, may we make the extra effort and take the extra time to be with the people in our lives and those on the fringes.  May we go out of our way to let people know they matter and that they are loved.  And may we step outside our comfort zones and be with folks we might not otherwise have known.  I am convinced that the “with” of this season and of all of our days is the greatest legacy we can leave behind.

I think Rev. Becca Stevens of Thistle Farms, whose products should be added to my list of favorite things, put it best this morning with these words:

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May we all get messy as all get out today, and this whole holiday season, and everyday–loving on folks.  I can’t think of a better mess to be in.  And what better way to share Christmas everyday?  Merry Mess-Making! Go be with.

Love to all.

Thank you, Deanna, for a great question.  To read more stories about what others want the most this year, hop over to her blog and check out the links. 

what season are you in?

Yesterday in the midst of a lively conversation at our Sister Circle at Daybreak, we were on a roll.  I was at the dry erase board with marker in hand jotting down the things being shared about hitting roadblocks on our journeys and how we can help others.  I just about couldn’t write fast enough, the thoughts were pouring so quickly from my Sisters’ hearts and minds.

A question came to mind in the middle of the discussion.  When there was a break, I asked, “What season are we in?”

Miss G answered, patting her hand on the table in front of her emphatically, “This one.  Right.  Now.”

Wow.

I was looking for Christmas as an answer, but okay.

Yes.

This is just about the most perfect answer I’ve heard in a while.

Shouldn’t we all be in the season we are in now?

Let me rephrase this.

Shouldn’t I be (be present, let it be, be okay) in the season I am in now?  Without looking back and losing myself in the memories of the seasons past?  There’s a difference between remembering and dwelling.  Or without worrying over the seasons to come?  *patting the table for emphasis* Just be.  In this one.  Right. Now.

The season I am in right now is one of always having a little shadow and conversations constantly going and people following me into the bathroom, of running the dishwasher at least twice a day, and of mounds of clean laundry taking over the loveseat.  Pretty much permanently.  It is one of lessonbooks and storybooks flowing across the supper table and into chairs and stacks upon stacks on bookcases.  It is a season of goodbyes, as I’ve had to say more than a couple of those in the past three years.  It is also a season of saying hello to the new little ones who have come into our midst.  The season I am in now is one of transitions–of learning to be Mama to a near adult and finding out what it’s like to go on without the love and wisdom of those who knew me first and best.  In this season I am learning to embrace the color gray and I’m learning that the indignation of my youth has given way to a little more tolerance and a whole lot more perspective on what is really important in this world.  This is a season of celebrating on a whim and making myself more interruptible and realizing that the good guys don’t always win.  It is a season of grace–and I am thankful for the grace offered to me daily by those I love and by complete strangers on the street.  It’s a season of being “with” and realizing that sometimes the only answer is there is no answer.  And that I don’t always deserve what happens or comes at me in this life–both the good and the bad.  I think my favorite thing about this season is the people whom I do still have with me–the folks who love me in spite of my meltdowns and tears, my frustrations and quirks.  Those family and friends are what I love most about where I am right now.

One day the season will come where I will have more space than I want to myself.  I will stop finding cars and Star Wars figures on my kitchen counter or in my purse.  No one will call out asking me where something is or how to spell something.  There will be no more Lalaloopsy versus Mighty World adventures.  I won’t have extra clothes to fold or littles to pick up after.  I will be able to sit with a cup of coffee at my leisure at ten o’clock or two in the afternoon and write to my heart’s content, instead of typing until my eyes are drooping way past midnight.  I won’t have to maneuver around the teenager’s car in the driveway.  It will be a straight shot to the road when I’m headed out–not on a “taxiing someone around” mission.  I am thinking of all of these things not because I’m worrying over the season to come, but so I can put this season in perspective.  This one is not forever.  It is only fleeting, these moments of wiping noses on sleeves, correcting manners, and cuddling as we watch a show together.  Life is too short, though the heartbreak and brokenness can make it seem long. Way too long sometimes.

The best season to be in is the one I am in now.  I want to learn to embrace that.

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This is where I am.  And that’ll do for a Wednesday.

 

‘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.