Sister

Over forty years ago today (and just how much over, I’m not telling) I was given a new role in life.

To be

a big sister.

I got two more chances to do this over the years, but this first one–the one I asked my parents for–she was the first, the one I learned and practiced on.

Some days I’ve done a better job than others of being a sister.

What being a sister means and looks like has changed over the years.  Sometimes drastically.  What, when we were little, meant whispering secrets after bedtime or fighting over who had to turn off the light (she didn’t even have to leave her bed–not really sure WHY we had that argument so often) turned into her being there to encourage me and stand up for me and even help me pack the night before my graduation.  Help?  No, she pretty much did it.  All of it.  As we both grew older and had our own families, what sisterhood looked like changed again.

It’s always changing.

Because relationships are fluid.

And I think that can be really beautiful.

Because, though it’s fluid and changing, it still is.  The relationship is still there.

And as long as it is there, no matter how hard times might be or how much we struggle to find time to be together, there is hope. There is possibility for our relationship to grow and become even more precious.  And there is grace.

Tonight I am thankful for my little sister, who all too often has been a big sister to me.  She has never been afraid of the dark and time was, she’d take on a giant to defend me.  She loves hard with a gentle voice and a passionate soul.  I don’t remember life without her, since I was three when she was born–it’s as though she has always been a part of my story.  She grounds me, she loves me, and she walks alongside me.  Even when things fall apart or we argue or have doubts and frustrations, she is my sister, and that will always be one of the things I’m most thankful for in this life.

That and grace and hope.

Love to all.

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“Little Julia tending the baby at home”  By Lewis Hine, 1874-1940, photographer. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Packing Up and the White Shoes

Twenty-five years ago today I graduated from college.  I don’t remember a lot of the particulars but there are a couple of things that stand out for me about that day.

The night before, Sister had come up to spend the night with me.  Though she is three years my junior there have been times in my life when she has taken over and helped me through a hard time.  This was one of those times.  We visited while we packed my things–something I had been putting off.  About midnight we ran over to Denny’s for some sustenance in the form of fried mozzarella sticks and nachos.  (Two of the basic food groups for us back then.) When we got back to the dorm, Sister told me to go on to bed, rest well for my big day, and she would keep packing.

Which she did.  I should probably call and tell her thank you for that again.

The next morning I woke up and hurriedly put on the special one piece dress/culottes outfit that I had splurged on from Karats and Keepsakes–the only way to describe it is to say it was completely and totally ’90’s.

And I loved it.

I threw on my white shoes, because they matched it best, and because well-it WAS after Easter.  As I ran out of my dorm heading towards Porter Auditorium, one of my classmates pointed out my white shoes (“yes, thank you, they are pretty awesome, aren’t they?”) and kindly “reminded” me that all graduates were supposed to wear black shoes.

Oops.  Did I miss that memo?

Nowadays all information at my alma mater seems to be disseminated by e-mail.  Back then I am sure this was announced in a meeting. I can pretty much guess which one it probably was.  Only my mind was in a million different places about that time…..my future plans, moving back home, saying goodbye to sisterfriends I would miss dearly, and how to leave this place I had begun to call home.

Two thoughts for the young women I know who are about to graduate soon–actually no, this is a message for all of us.

Pay attention.  Listen up.  Don’t get so bogged down in worrying about your future that you miss out on what’s going on in your present. You might miss out on something important.  And it might be more than a fashion faux pas.

And here’s the other, even more important thing:

Have each other’s backs.

No matter what.

See, my sisterfriend who called out to me about the shoes–she was in a hurry too.  She had her mind on the BIG THING about to happen.  But she took the time to notice and to help me out by pointing out my mistake.  Kindly, I might add.

It’s so easy in this world where pushing ahead and success are so valued to just focus on ourselves, isn’t it?  But I challenge each one of us to take the time to notice.  To make the time.  And to help.  Offer a kind word.  Let someone know something they might have missed before.  It doesn’t take anything at all away from me to take a minute and say, “Hey, those are cute, but today we’re all supposed to be wearing black shoes.”

And it sure gives a lot to the one who hears those words.  (Seriously, what was I thinking? While the white shoes matched the outfit UNDERNEATH my graduation gown, they stuck out like a sore thumb with my black cap and gown.)

Two days ago I helped my rising junior finish packing up her things so we could move her back home.  Home from the same dorm where my journey at Wesleyan began.  As I moved around her room, consolidating and packing, I remembered Sister and gave thanks.  Paying it forward seems only right, you know?

Tonight I’m thankful for Sister and my sisterfriend, both of whom were interruptible.  Both of whom set aside what they had going on–for a minute, for a night–to help me.

That’s humbling right there.

May we all be so fortunate to have such a gift in our lives.

May we all strive to be that gift to someone else.

Love to all.

Touched by Random Words of Kindness

Remember that I was mistaken as the newest family member’s grandmother by not one but two nurses? Not even Sister grabbing my hand in the midst of her discomfort and worry and her whispering, “I just must be looking really, really young today” could console me. It only got worse. I was at the grocery store on Thursday morning stocking up. Our resources had gotten a little low, and it was go to the store or we’d be eating jelly on tortillas with a side of avocado and orange juice. And Cooter, my creature of habit, was already stressing that we had run out of milk and there was none for cereal for breakfast that morning.

I stocked up on the buy 5, get $5 off your bill sale. Suffice to say, our cart overfloweth from my bargain hunting. I had a good visit with our cashier. I’m pretty sure she was new; at least she had yet to become jaded. I apologized for having such a hefty order to ring up and she told me never to apologize–that they get bored when they don’t have enough to do. Ahem. Note to the Grocery Store–KEEP. HER. We had two baggers on the case, and when they finished loading up my bagged groceries, they asked if they could help me out. Y’all, that whole deal stresses me out. With the exception of the one store which does not allow tipping, I always worry if I should or not. Then there’s the arranging of the groceries in the car. If I’m tired or hungry or whatever, it might be that only the cold stuff comes out at first, I take care of business, and then I go back for the rest. Which requires that I pack the car a certain way. So I rarely accept their generous offer of assistance.

Thursday morning, when I declined, the sweet cashier said, “That’s a lot of groceries. You should let them help you.” She then started tilting her head and staring at the baggers in such a way as to say, “Go. Help her anyway. Insist. I mean, look at her.” Yes, a look can say all of that.

I again said I was fine, and she assured me they didn’t mind, again with the head tipping thing. A little more urgently. At this point, I had been having symptoms of vertigo for a week, and I was getting a little concerned. When this sweet girl kept insisting, I was really worried. Finally I asked, “Do I look bad or something? I mean, I think I can do it.” Sweet Girl assured me I looked fine, just that it would be good for them to help, that they didn’t mind. I pointed at my “help” checking out the folding Georgia Tech chairs against the window, and said, “Don’t worry, we’ve got it.” I pushed the cart out with a wave goodbye, a quizzical mind, and a thankful heart.

The next day, after we picked up our Aub, we all went to the GW Boutique. Our Princess is not satisfied with me making her a Princess Leia costume; she keeps insisting on looking for one. They are out now, y’all, if anyone is looking–new and much lower-priced than they were originally. So she looked for that, and we made a round of the toy aisle where we look for Legos and K’Nex and educational toys. Cooter is fascinated with all kinds of weaponry, and no matter what it is, he usually asks if he can get it. And usually I say no. Such was the case this time. While they continued to look, my eye was drawn to this vanity top organizer. It had a glass base with chrome accents and two glass jars with chrome lids sitting on it. It was around $8 I think, so that gave me pause. As Cooter checked out the assorted weapons and cars, and Princess looked for all things pink and purple, I asked Aub what she thought. She was nonchalant, and I finally said, after much thought, “Nah. It will have to be kept clean. I’ll have to clean under it and wipe it down regularly. Probably more trouble than it is worth.”

Just a moment later I heard laughing. I turned around to see a beautiful white-haired lady pushing her cart past us. She said, “You’re too young to be talking like that.” Oh dear. I wondered what Cooter had been re-enacting with what weapon. I said, “Ma’am?” And she looked straight at me, pointed at the item I had been looking at and repeated, “You are too young to be worried about something like that, about cleaning it. But you are right, you know. It will be a bear to keep clean.” Well I declare. I placed my hand on her arm, and looked in her eyes, “Thank you. Thank you. You don’t know what that means to me.” I told her about my escapades at the hospital, and she clucked her disdain. (Yes, I will talk to anybody–I get it from my Mama.) “Pshaw, you do NOT look old enough to be anybody’s grandma, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.” I looked over at Aub. “You heard her right? What she said? You’re my witness!” We all laughed, and I left with a lighter heart. (and a less light head, as the vertigo finally seemed to be going away)

I am thankful for the random words of kindness from this sweet woman. She could have just laughed to herself at what I said and later called her BFF Forevuh and told her the story. And they could have shaken their heads together at how silly I was to be worried about such as that. Instead her kind words touched me and healed a wound for me–albeit a superficial, silly, and perhaps vain wound, but a hurt nonetheless. With words, she lifted me out of a funk. Isn’t it amazing what we can do when we are intentional about what we say?

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This is from one of my favorite songs ever, “Hey Jude.” Turns out it was the number one song the year I was born. I love what it says, because it is true–we can take a sad song and make it better–with a look, a touch, a smile, kind words, listening, or even just our presence. And these words come later in the song:

And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders

Good advice for all of us. Not easy, but good. And perhaps it is through the kindness of others–their words, their acts, their presence–that we can begin to let go of some of that weight.

And in the spirit of that, my friends, I leave you with this video. I love the Beatles, as Daddy enjoyed their music almost as much as he did Elvis’. He would make me laugh by calling them the Be-at-les. While I enjoy seeing recordings of their performances, this is my favorite version of this song. Because you see, it makes me very, very happy. Let me know if the surprise that comes in lifts your spirits as it did mine. And let’s go and scatter words and acts of kindness and laughter together, shall we? You never know when it could make someone’s day.

 

The Three Gifts

Twenty-four hours into the HospitalStay with Mama, she and I rode in an ambulance from Warner Robins to Macon, a very painful ride for Mama, only made more so by the driver blasting Q106–Classic Rock.  Yeah, there’s another letter to write.  I’ll add it to my to-do list.

Forty-eight hours in, I had spent a night in the CVICU waiting room, been home the next morning for a few hours, and then returned mid-afternoon to hang out with Mama again.  The game plan was for me to stay until visiting hours were over for the night at 9 p.m.  Mama and I talked some, she dozed some, and we sat in companionable silence too.  One of the care techs came in and shared her story with Mama, while holding her hand and trying to take her mind off the pain.  Mama was like that–folks were always sharing their stories with her.  She was a great listener.

As the evening wore on, Mama was getting tired, but the pain kept her from getting good rest.  It was about 8:15 when she said, “Why don’t you head on home? It’s almost time, and I’ll be fine.”  I told her no.  I just didn’t feel like I could leave yet.  I am thankful for that still, small voice that told me to stay.  It was only a few minutes later when I noticed a flurry of activity at the nurses’ station.  Doctors and other staff were gathered and looking towards our room and then moving with purpose towards us.  I knew something big was about to happen.

There was a very kind doctor who had a great smile–remember Enos from Dukes of Hazzard?  Yeah, that kind of smile.  He came in and explained that the latest MRI confirmed what they had suspected, and that Mama would need emergency surgery within the hour.  We were both in shock.  Mama did not want to have surgery.  When my brain started functioning again, I thought about Sandy, my sister who had been there earlier that day for several hours.  She had probably only been home for a couple of hours actually.  I called her and put her on speaker phone.  She talked to Mama about the surgery and listened to what the doctor had to say.  She told Mama, “I don’t think we have a choice.  I’m coming Mama.  I’m leaving now.”

I looked at Mama and she looked at me.  I knew her fears on this, but we really had no choice.  She finally nodded and said, “Go ahead.  Sign it.”  She was in so much pain she hadn’t been able to sign anything for herself since being admitted.  “If it will make this pain go away…..I’ll do anything.”

There was a rush of getting things together and then wheeling Mama down.  One of the last things she told me was, “Don’t let Sandy do anything foolish.”  Meaning what, Mama?  Mama was worried about her making the two hour drive late at night by herself and wasn’t sure Sandy should come.  I tried to reassure her, but I knew it was on her mind.

After meeting the surgeons and anesthesiologist, I was led out to a waiting area.  To sit by myself.  And wait.  I had called my other sister and my brother and let them know.  I talked to my aunt again.  While I was talking to her, she said to be sure to check my cell phone, that my cousin had texted me.  I told her I would, and we said goodbye.

And there was the first gift of the night.

The gift of presence

The gift of presence

My cousin and his wife had come down to stay with his folks for the weekend.  When they heard what was happening, they decided to come and sit with me.  When I read this I shed the first tears of the night.  That they would make their lives interruptible, travel a half hour up that late in the evening, that they didn’t want me to be alone–have I mentioned how incredible my people are?  And they brought me a bottle of water and homemade peach cobbler.  There is that too.

In the meantime I had texted my dear friend and minister, who also said she was coming.  Bless her heart, I was tucked away in a waiting area that no one knew about apparently, so she wound up wandering the hallways of this enormous hospital complex, until she was rescued by a kind soul who led her to where we were.  And then I got the second gift:

The gift of comfort

The gift of comfort

My sweet friend had heard all about my experience of spending the night in the waiting area the night before without the comfort of pillow and blanket.  On her way out her door, she grabbed these blankets and a pillow for me and my sister to have as we sat through the night in the surgery waiting area.  Bless her.  Yes, they were as cuddly as they look.

What a gift she is! Wouldn't you be happy to see that face too?  Here she is saying, "Are you serious?" when a dear friend offered to bring us the Best.  Coffee.  Ever.  (She was, thank goodness.)

What a gift she is! Wouldn’t you be happy to see that face too? Here she is saying, “Are you serious?” when a dear friend offered to bring us the Best. Coffee. Ever. (She was, thank goodness.)

My third gift arrived in a bit of comic relief.  My sister was trying to figure out how to get to the right parking deck.  We could SEE her from the windows in the waiting area.  It was pitch black out, but there she was, trying to get around one way and closed streets to where I was telling her to go.  Finally my sweet cousin pulled out her phone and used the GPS to lead Sandy in.  I was so relieved and thankful when she was finally sitting next to me.  And I looked around.  Sitting around us were people who loved us, who made time to be with us during a very dark and scary time.  And there were so many more who were holding us in their hearts who couldn’t be physically present.  So thankful for them all.

One of my heroes, Hugh Hollowell, who runs Love Wins Ministry in North Carolina tells the story of one of his friends in need asking him for help with her utilities.  She became quite upset when he told her he just didn’t have it.  “I thought you were my friend,” she said.  And Hugh told her he was.  And that though he couldn’t keep her lights from going off, he would come and sit with her in the dark…..because that’s what he thinks Jesus does.  Sits with us in the dark.*

Tonight I am thankful for family and friends who sit with us in the dark.  Who hold our hands and tell us it’s okay to be afraid, it’s okay not to want to do this again.  So soon.  And who bring us comfort in the form of warmth and a most delicious peach cobbler.  Most of all, I am thankful for folks who show up.  They may not be able to fix things–things may not even be fixable.  But in the midst of the darkness, they show up.  In whatever way they are able to–bringing meals, sending messages, making phone calls, dropping off goody bags, delivering cups of coffee, offering hugs in a hallway, listening,  sharing muffins on a Wednesday aftenoon, through all of this–sitting with us in the dark.  And that is one of the greatest things any of us can do for each other.

*This story can be read in the chapter “The Marine,” in Karen Spears Zacharias’ book “Will Jesus Buy Me a Doublewide?: ‘Cause I Need More Room for my Plasma TV“.  Or you can meet Hugh Hollowell here http://lovewins.info/ or here (yes, it’s 18 minutes long, but I’m pretty sure you will love him):