The Sanctity of Life and the Miracle of Grace

In September 2011 I heard a name I’d not heard before.  I heard it on the radio, saw it on Facebook.

Troy Davis.

This young man only three weeks older than I am was convicted for the August 19, 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, a police officer in Savannah, Georgia.  His execution was scheduled for September 21.  That day my heart was very heavy.  He had been denied clemency, but his execution did not happen at 7 p.m. as scheduled.  The Supreme Court was reviewing his case.

I sat on the edge of the bed in my dimly lit room.  My children were all asleep, the youngest piled in next to me.  The Fella was out of town for work and had been for quite some time.  I was alone, fervently praying for someone to save this man’s life, all the while fearing the worst.

In that moment, I realized that I did not, if I ever had before, have the stomach for capital punishment.

See, life and how very precious it is had just been impressed upon me greater than ever before.

My Daddy, my very much-loved Daddy, had just been admitted to Hospice only a few days earlier.

Life was precious.  And dwindling.

And in the quiet of the night, I begged God to step in, for someone to save a life that did not have to be ended.  Not like my Daddy’s.  His body had already given him a death sentence and clemency had been denied.

But for Troy Davis?  It could have been very different.

Only it was not to be.

The Supreme Court came back and denied a stay of execution.  And at 10:53 p.m. on September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was given a lethal injection.  Fifteen minutes later he was pronounced dead.

I can hardly type it without feeling sick.

I don’t want to argue the validity of capital punishment.  I don’t want to argue guilt or innocence.  I won’t even argue that if the function of prisons is to rehabilitate and change lives, why aren’t we rewarding those who do work towards that goal?

I am here to simply say, all lives matter.

If one says he or she is pro-life, doesn’t that mean pro-all life?

Earlier this past week, my sister-in-love shared the story of Kelly Gissendaner, who was scheduled to be executed on this past Wednesday night at 7 p.m. here in Georgia.  Kelly was convicted of plotting the murder of her husband.  The man who actually killed him is serving 25 years and will be up for parole in a few years.  I felt sick when I read the story my SIL shared for two reasons–the fact that I live here and this was the first I had heard of the story, and the fact that it was, once again, the willing ending of a life that didn’t have to be.

All that day my heart was heavy.  When the word came that the execution had been rescheduled for Monday, March 2, at 7 p.m. because of the inclement weather, I gave thanks.  I’ve never been so happy about snow in my life.

I’ve been piecing together Kelly’s story.  It is a heartbreaking and inspiring one, one of second chances and redemption.

I’m not going to talk about the certificate she earned while incarcerated.  You can read about that here.

I’m not going to talk about the women whose lives she touched and changed because of who she has become.  Her sisterfriends (and they call themselves that–oh my heart) do that so beautifully here.

I’m not going to share her words with you right now.  I hope you’ll watch this video and hear them for yourselves.

I’m not even going to talk about how unfair I think it is that the man who actually murdered Kelly’s husband, Doug, will be out of prison in 8 years because he took the plea deal first and testified against Kelly.  You can read about that here and find a link to copies of her request for clemency.

What I am going to say is that life is precious.  I know this.  For. A. Fact.  Like so many of us, I’ve had the lives of those I love taken away by disease and I. Am. Still. Heartbroken.   Because of that, I cannot be okay with inviting death in and ending a life like this.

I just can’t.

I was conversing with my wise writer friend, Lisa at My So Called Glamorous Life, about Kelly. Lisa lives out of state, and she shared this with me today:

“I had not heard of this case before I heard a radio dj mocking the prisoner because of her last meal order. I think that’s indicative of how people dismiss the value of a life.”

So tonight, as I stay up very late to finish this because time is of the essence, I’m not asking for anyone to do anything except–

PLEASE DO NOT DISMISS THE VALUE OF A LIFE.

All lives.  Yours.  Mine.  Kelly’s.  Everyone’s.

If you read her case, and think she deserves to die, then okay.  If you can be okay with it, then I have to respect that.  I hope you can respect that I cannot.

But if you read her case, and your heart cries out for things to be different, here are a couple of places you can go.  There is a Facebook page I just found that has a list of suggestions for helping here.  If you are a member of the clergy or know someone who is, you can sign this petition here.  (Out of state clergy are also encouraged to sign.)  At this point, it is my understanding that Governor Deal is the one who can step in and stop the execution.  I have emailed him twice, only to get no response, and I tried calling the number listed “in case of time sensitive matters,” and not only did I not get an answer but there also was no option to leave a message.  Simply no answer at all.  Here is the place to send him messages or call.  The video above also gives more contact information and ways to tag the Governor and the Parole Board if you are active on Social Media.

Thank you for reading this.  I am ashamed I was hesitant to write this at first.  I respect folks’ rights to their own opinions.  I don’t like to get into political rants, which is why I haven’t taken this to Facebook.  But my heart has been heavy about this–this is about life, the life of a woman who is my age.  Whose childhood and past led her to make some really bad choices and do some really, really bad things.  This evening I saw this on Love Wins Ministries‘ Facebook page, and I knew I had to write this.  Now.

IMG_7065

Because if I believe in redemption and grace, I have to believe in it for everyone.  And that’s why I’m writing tonight.  Because I do believe in grace.  And love.  And the sanctity of life.  Oh bless it, I know how precious it is.  That is why my thoughts and heavy heart have led me to write what I have the past two nights.

And I decided that I could not go to bed Monday night, whether the execution happens or not, if I didn’t speak up and ask for help.  Help in sending out the message that dismissing the value of a life, any life, is NOT OKAY.

Kelly Gissendaner after finishing her Theology degree through courses offered at the prison

Kelly Gissendaner in 2011 after graduating from the Theology program offered at the prison

May we all find ourselves filled with the peace that Kelly has found, and may a miracle come and give this story of redemption what it really deserves–grace.

Love to all.

 

My Daughter is Also My Sister

Yesterday was one of the biggest days of the year.

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

Huge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all about the sisterhood.

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

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

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

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

It’s tradition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then, weren’t we all?

Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

Long story short.  (or maybe a little shorter)

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

I.  Can’t.  Even.

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

I.  Can’t.  Even.

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

Well.   She didn’t have to.

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

It’s forever.

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

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

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

Oh, my heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah, my daughter is also my sister.

It’s a Wesleyan thing, y’all.

And I’m a Wesleyanne for life.

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

Love to all.

 

To Me, Age 22

A tearful and joy-filled day of remembering someone who loved life.  Loved cooking.  Loved people.  Loved his family.

And loved my sisterfriend.

As I sat there watching the slide show of pictures of him throughout his life, including the wedding pictures–the wedding I had the joy of being a part of, in the same building where I sat today with the tears flowing–

I found myself face to face with my 22-year-old self.

I saw her and my sisterfriend, sitting side by side in the little office with the cinderblock and wood top desk.  I saw them working together to get the job done, but also they laughed.  And they listened to music.

And they talked.

And in those moments between payroll and accounts payable and making signs and calculating timecards,

a friendship was born.

As I looked at my much younger self, I wanted to whisper–

That one sitting right there?  The one you just met and are getting to know?  The one who is funny and vivacious and kind and smart and is putting up with you right now at this very minute?

She is your sisterfriend.  She is going to continue putting up with you.

One day, you will be able to say, “I’ve known her for over half my life.”

One day, you will hug each other and hold on tight and whether the tears are yours or hers, whether it’s her sadness or yours, it won’t matter.

Because you will share the journey.

You will be there to laugh over the crazy things people do, the choices they make.

You will be there to stand up for each other, to say, “hey, this girl right here–you’d better treat her right.  Or else.”

You will be there to stand off to the side and bring comfort merely because you are there.

There will be periods of time, years maybe even, when you won’t hear from each other,

but when it all boils down to it,

when things get hard or wonderful or life finds you in need,

that one, she will be there for you.  Just as you better be for her.

Life doesn’t always deal you a friend like that one.

The one with the bat.

The one with the smile and laugh.  The one with the stories.

The one who will carry your stories with her to the grave.

The one who will let you into her family, who will share love with you just as she does.

Hey!  You!  The 22-year-old me who thinks she’s got it all together, who thinks life is rolling along pretty well–engaged, new job, college degree…..

Yeah, you do have it pretty good

but not because of any of those things.

It’s because of that girl right there.

Your sisterfriend.

And all of the women like her.

Who stand strong and love their friends fiercely.

Yes, girl, you have it good.  Now reach over and hug that girl next to you.  Both so young, both have so much wonderful adventures and heartache in front of you.  And it will be okay.  Not because it won’t hurt, not because you will get over it, but because you have a friend to share the journey with.

And to sit in the dark with you when the lights go out.

Because, my sweet self, they will go out.

No, don’t worry about a flashlight.  That’s only temporary.

Grab your sisterfriends.  That’s what light eternal is made of.

Friends.

 

Wishing you all a friend who will spend the next twenty-four plus years putting up with you.  (And a small warning, once you offer to use your bat “as necessary,” there are some folks who are hard to get rid of after that.)

 

Love to all.  Especially my sisterfriends.

 

sisters, light, and hope

she leans in close and lights the candle

as the world grows dim

but she is there

to shed light

and hold my hand

her words and her silence,

they both comfort me,

as she knows which is needed when

because

she knows

me

 

she claps her hands and

then grabs mine

she dances a jig,

leading me in a happy dance,

in celebration of the news

she is happy for me

because

she knows

me

 

she looks me in the eyes

and tells me not the words

that I so long to hear

but instead

the words

I need to hear

the ones that challenge me

to head out in the direction

I’m meant to–

not to stay here and rest

on my laurels and the couch

You can do it, she tells me,

because

she knows

me

 

she weeps alongside me

my pain is hers

she shares in my heartbreak,

my brokenness,

my loss

her tears mingle with mine

as she wraps her arms around me

and I lean in close,

comforted,

because

she knows

me

 

our days of riding bicycles

and writing plays,

playing softball

and making up games to play for hours

on end

are gone with the ticking of the clock,

the flipping of the calendar page

no more do we dream as we once did

our hearts know the true endings

and they aren’t always happy ones

and she wishes she could change

it all

because

she knows

me

 

 

and still

though we know the sadness sometimes wins,

that darkness has triumphed and can again

still

we light the candle

with the Hope that somewhere in the world

a sister will see it and find the strength to light

hers too

and then another and another

until the light shines through us all

and the darkness in our hearts is no more

 

she wants that for me, for her, for us

all of us

she loves and she is a treasure

far beyond

gold and rubies

and chocolate chip cookies

because

she knows

me

 

and being known

and loved

through everything

is the

greatest gift of all

 

Last night we lit the first candle on our Advent wreath–a precious tradition.  This week the candle represents Hope.  It is my hope that when one of us is hurting, another sister will turn to her and share her light until the one who is hurting is able to light her own.  And no one will have to struggle in the darkness alone again.  

Love and light to all.  

 

 

Our Advent wreaths.....waiting for us to share the light.

Our Advent wreaths…..waiting to share the light.

 

 

 

Overwhelmed

I have been a bit teary today.

Overwhelmed.

That’s what I’ve felt for a little bit now.

Teary because I’m overwhelmed.

Maybe not how you think though.

Overwhelmed by what people can do.  What their hearts and sweet souls lead them to do that touches the lives of those around them.  Sometimes people they know, and sometimes the lives of complete strangers.

Either way.  It is a sight to behold and amazing to experience.

I have wonderful friends who know that we homeschool and who thought of us when they came across book treasures.  My littles love books almost as much as I do, and they have been busy digging into the new additions to our library.  The idea that people who didn’t have to would take the time not just to see the books and think, “Oh Tara and her zany crew might enjoy these…..” but also make the time and effort to see that those books are put in our hands.

Humbled.  Thrilled.  Grateful.  Teary.

I know of a woman starting out her photography business.  Instead of asking folks on Facebook to help her get clients, she asked about high school seniors in our community who might not otherwise be able to have the excitement of having senior pictures made.  She wanted to get some experience and help someone out at the same time.  What a beautiful way of giving back!  I know how much it meant to my own senior almost two years ago to have that time blocked out where she was the center of attention.  It’s a huge deal and another one of those “traditions” that children from lower-income households might miss out on.  Can you imagine if all of our photographer friends made such an offer to one or two young teens in their community?  That message of “I care” and “you matter to me” is so important for a young person to hear.  I can only imagine the difference that could make in the life of a young person about to embark on a new journey in life.

Really good stuff.

There is a pet trainer who loves what she does–she truly loves animals and their people and gets joy out of making their lives smoother, helping them understand each other better.  She loves what she does so much that she offered her time to help a puppy that was uncomfortable in the bigger classroom setting.  She set aside time to work with the family and taught them things they can do to help the puppy work through what stresses her.  To love your job, your calling so much that you give of yourself, your knowledge, your heart, and your time so freely–that is someone who has a beautiful heart.

Overwhelmed by the kindness.  By the passion for a calling.

I found myself watching a show “Kim of Queens.”  Kim Gravel is a former Miss Georgia who is a pageant coach.  Her style of coaching fascinates me, and it’s a great study in psychology, which I enjoy in lieu of going back to school and taking classes and reading case studies.  It takes less time, and I don’t have to write research papers.  On a recent episode she auditioned for new clients.  A young girl came in whose mother had lost her job, and they had lost their home.  The girl sang for Kim, her Mom, and her sister, and they all fell in love with this girl’s spirit.  Kim offered to coach her for an upcoming pageant.  The show went through all that occurred to get Adia and the rest of the girls ready for the competition.  Though Adia didn’t place, she triumphed.  She did well and overcame her fears, and Kim went to her and her mother at the end of the episode and offered Adia a full scholarship  for her coaching.  To paraphrase the former Miss Georgia, “I run this business to make money.  I like money.  But I don’t love money.  I love changing lives and building strong women.”

Weeping.  Overwhelmed.  By the giving spirit of someone whom folks are lining up to give their money to so she’ll coach their daughters.

Just yes.  This.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the good in the world, and this past week has been a particularly hard one.

Tonight my heart is lifted.  By the laughter and wisdom shared during an unexpected visit with three strong and beautiful women this afternoon, by the sound of joy and laughter in the voice of my oldest whom I miss when she’s away, and by the kindness of those around me who overwhelm me with their generosity, love, and encouragement.

May we all take time today to think of someone else, to let our passion for what we do, no matter what that is, shine through and brighten someone else’s life.

If we have something, may we share it.

If we have something to give, let us not wait another moment to pass it along.

If we see someone who needs a listening ear, a kind word, or just someone to sit and be quiet with, may we run, not walk, to be right there beside them.

If there is change needed, let us be first in line to get it started.

It only takes one moment of thinking outside the box and making it about someone else to change a life, to change our world.

Tonight I’m most thankful for the tears that flow freely and for being overwhelmed.  To the life changers out there, thank you.

 

Love to all.

#whyteal…..the one where we need to get LOUD

I first met her twenty-eight years ago last month.  We were all just getting to know each other, and I remember thinking how lovely and graceful and grace-filled this dear lady was.

She was my roommate’s mother.  I met her at the beginning of our freshman year.  She was beautiful inside and out.

And she fought a battle no one should have to fight.

Ovarian cancer.

Last night my dear friend shared this information on her Facebook page.  This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

pic of ovarian cancer info

After I posted this on my own page, another friend shared that her Mama had also battled this giant.  She too fought a valiant fight, only it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t detected early enough in either case.

My friend, in describing her mother’s experience, called ovarian cancer, “the silent cancer.”

Really?

How many women, do you think, go in for their annual physicals right on schedule, put their feet in the stirrups, do what we do, get the call a few days later that all is clear, and think “Well, everything’s all right then”?

(It’s okay.  Stick around, fellas.  You need to know this too.  Whether it’s your Mama, your sister, your best friend, your girlfriend, your wife, your daughter–you need to know too.)

Note to self.  Pap smears test for cervical cancer.  Not ovarian.  Not uterine.  Cervical–that’s it.  It is my understanding that there’s not really a test to detect ovarian cancer.  According to the American Cancer Society, “The 2 tests used most often to screen for ovarian cancer are transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and the CA-125 blood test,” but no medical professionals recommend routine use of these tests for screening.  They are not definitive enough apparently.

Really?

Do we have people working on this?  Please tell me yes.

As I thought about this today, I remembered a book I read years ago.  “Cancer Schmancer” by Fran Drescher.  I loved her in “The Nanny” and thought she was a comic genius–her timing and facial expressions and that accent.  Love her.  I read the book because of her, not because it was about her battle with uterine cancer.  But it struck such a chord in me that it is still in my library.  Without pulling it down to quote her, I can tell you the one thing that has stuck with me all these years–

Take care of you.

Be a good advocate.

You know your body.  Don’t take “no” for an answer.  Or “it will be okay.”  Or “you’re just…..”

You know when something’s off.  Push until someone hears you.

She so believes in empowering women to educate themselves and be good advocates for their health that she started the Cancer Schmancer Movement, whose mission is to “…..shift the nation’s focus from just searching for a cure to prevention and early detection of cancer in order to save lives.”  You can read her story here.  It took two years and eight doctors before she was finally diagnosed.  She is thankful to be a survivor and wants there to be more.

Shortly after our Princess was born almost ten years ago, I could tell something was wrong.  I wasn’t sure what, but I just knew.  I went to the doctor where we were stationed at the time.  I remember going in, worried, anxious, hoping he could tell me something–anything–that would let me know it was going to be okay.

Which he did. Tell me something, that is.  This doctor and his wife had six children.  (It was a small community–you knew things.)  I had just given birth to my second child a few months earlier.  He listened, looked at my chart, and turned to me and said, “Oh now, you’re just new Mama tired.  It will pass.  You’ll see.”

Patronize me, will you?

I pity his wife, I’ll just tell you that right now.

This was not new Mama tired, and my body kept telling me that.  I pushed through and we moved and shortly after we got settled, I scheduled another appointment.  Again, I told my story. A new doctor.  A young one.  I don’t know how many children he had, if any, but he didn’t say I was new mama tired.  (Smart man, I’d had enough by this time.)  After running different tests-he was more persistent, thank goodness–he discovered I had a thyroid issue.  He prescribed some medication, and I was on my way to feeling better.  That part was almost immediate–I had been heard and I wasn’t crazy.  There was something wrong.  It had just taken several months and me being “pushy” to find that out.

Something beautiful happened when my friend shared the information above last night.  I shared it on my Facebook page in memory of her sweet Mom, not knowing if anyone would even read it.  It was late, and you just never know who reads what.  Today some of my friends–none of whom know each other–commented, encouraging each other to take care of themselves…..to seek information and push until they get it.  Friends reached out with loving sympathy and with gratitude for facts and stories shared.

That right there.  That’s what we need more of in this world.  Sisters looking after sisters (because we all are, you know–color and class and nationality and religion and state of our kitchen sinks all aside–we are all sisters).  Sisters empowering each other.  Holding each other accountable to take care of ourselves.  To celebrate with when the numbers come back really good, and to hold hands or offer a shoulder or listen and make soup or milkshakes or cry with when the numbers are not.

Tonight I’m thankful for brave women who gave it their all in the face of giants like ovarian cancer.  I’m thankful for their daughters, who carry their stories and encourage others by educating and listening.  I give thanks for women like Fran Drescher who pave the way for us to have the courage to speak and not worry about being called “pushy” or “bothersome” or whatever.  Speak out.  Be loud.  Take care of you.  If you even think something is off or wrong, get thee to a medical professional.  Now.  Keep going until you find one you trust.  Who listens and hears you.  And stand tight and strong with your sisters.

Most of all, tonight I am thankful for all of my sisters.  Who are always there when they are needed most.

Y’all take care of yourselves.  You men too.  And take care of each other.

Love to all.

 

 

 

An Inspired Change of Heart

Sunday afternoon we took Mess Cat’s, Bubba’s, and my littles to go swimming.  As I walked back to the gomobile to get my sunglasses I overheard three men talking “golf” talk.

They sounded like high school teenagers, arguing about a person who wasn’t there.  Apparently the fourth guy (not present) was not going to be happy because they wanted to play at this golf course again instead of another one, which apparently was where the fourth guy wanted to play.  Now.

One guy looked something up on his phone. “The last time we played there was July 10th.  So yeah, not quite a month.  We’re okay.”

Another said, “Well, you know what he’s going to say if we put him off another week…..” and then he proceeded to mock the other guy like I have seen my little people do.

Y’all.

For real?

It’s been a long week.  A lot of brokenness in this world coming to the forefront.

When I walked by these guys, whose greatest worries were where to play their next golf game, and who were a bit less than compassionate to their alleged friend and golf buddy, I just shook my head.

Way to share the light, guys.

There’s a whole lot more valid and important things to be stressing over in this life, my friends.

I know young parents who are worn out from parenting and do not have nearly enough emotional support in raising their children.  They need a friendly ear and a big hug.  And lots of backup.  A young man in our community took his own life and left folks with all kinds of what ifs and wondering why.  A friend is struggling with the diagnosis her mother recently received–terminal.  A young woman in college has nowhere to go when the semesters are over, and so she does the best that she can to have a place to sleep when the dorms are closed.  Each day children age out of the foster care system and are dropped off on the street corners with their backpacks full of belongings and little else.  Single mothers go through cancer treatments and do their best to parent the ones in their care with little to no help from others.  People are arguing with each other over children coming to our country in need and whether or not we should help them.  Folks fight over whether or not we should be treating people with frightening diseases in this country.  People are hurting and hiding their stories behind masks and hoping no one sees what threatens to come to the surface.

All the while there are folks who have no greater worries than where to play golf next weekend.

Or do they?

When I first set out to write this post two days ago, it would have ended after the sentence ending “next weekend” just two lines above here.    But tonight, after an evening of great discussion with caring and compassionate and beautiful people, I am compelled to extend the grace I so need myself and say, I have no idea their real stories.  I don’t know what those men are facing when they head home.  What the golf game might be a respite from, or how much weighs on them as they turn out the lights and close their eyes at night.  I have no idea the depths of their real worries and if maybe it’s a relief to stress over something as minute as where to play the next golf game.  I don’t know.

And that’s the lesson in this I guess.  I was so quick to judge on Sunday.  So ready to turn my head haughtily and give them the stare I’ve worked years to perfect.

Sigh.

It’s really never that simple, is it?  Those shades of gray showing up again–and the knowledge that folks aren’t all good or all bad.  We are all just making it the best we can.  The other lesson I’ve learned in this is surround yourself with good and compassionate and thinking people.  The unexpected treat of an impromptu visit with just such folks tonight changed me.  It changed my heart, my attitude.  The grace, the love, the laughter that they shared with me made it easy for me to pass on the same to the golf buddies in retrospect and to the people I encountered after I said goodbye tonight.

Listen to folks’ stories.  To quote Taylor Swift, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  Don’t assume anything about someone else’s story.  And surround yourself with folks who make you want to be a better person and then expect it from you…..and love you anyway when you don’t quite hit the mark.

(You getting all this, Tara?  You writing it down?  Yep.  Got it.  Now to live it out.)

Wishing you all someone to hear your stories with a grace-filled ear and good folks to share the  whole journey–the joys and the heartbreaks.

 

Love to all.

 

 

 

A GW Boutique Tale of Transformation and Appreciation

It had been a while since I’d been to the GW Boutique before my visit last Monday.  A long while.  As in, if I sat down and thought about it, I’d probably find myself in the middle of withdrawals.  I’m not making light of withdrawals, y’all.  It is a serious need I have.  To find great bargains and bring them home or give them to folks I love.  It makes me happy.

So last Monday, I looked around and found a dress that I really, really liked.  The Fella looked at it and asked, “Isn’t it too short?”

Well, without trying it on, ummm, well…..yes, it probably is.  But you know what?  I brought it home anyway.  And I tried it on and wouldn’t you know it, it was too short. I spent the morning of our Alumnae weekend festivities back in April in a dress that hit my knees when I was standing, but when I sat down, well…..I was raised to know better.  Now that I’m a girl of a “certain age” I just don’t think I can pull it off.  (Actually, I should pull it off…..that would solve the whole problem.)  I was so relieved to change into my shorts and shirt for the afternoon events.  I came home and told my Fella not to let me walk out of the house EVER AGAIN with a dress that short.  (It was okay ten years ago, but no more.)  And he didn’t let me down.

I was sad though.  The dress felt good and I loved the way the top was made.  After thinking on it for a bit, I decided to take the leap.  It was from the GW Boutique after all.  If I messed it up, I wouldn’t be out too much.  But if I succeeded…..well, a girl can dream.  Even one of a certain age.

A call to my Aunt, who is a talented seamstress, and a trip to get the right needle, and I was set.  With a pounding headache, I cut, I pinned, I wound a bobbin, and I was set.  Five minutes later, the hem was done.

From a dress hanging at the GW Boutique to my new favorite summer top.

From a dress hanging at the GW Boutique to my new favorite summer top.

And, oh y’all. My new favorite summer top. Seriously.  I’m ready to raid my closet and attack the rest of the dresses from my twenties and thirties…..well the ones that have survived the cut so far.  I love the transformation here.

Another great find that day sent me on a trip down memory lane.   This cute little number right here–

Miss Sophie photobombing the picture of my cute little bag.  I didn't retake it, so you can see just how little it is.

Miss Sophie photobombing the picture of my cute little bag. I didn’t retake it, so you can see just how little it is.

It is a fun shade of green, one of my favorites.  And it is tiny.  My friends, for those of you whom I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting up with in “real life,” I must confess–I am not a “tiny toter.”

If anyone has watched Anita Renfroe’s Purse-onality performance, you know the different kinds of folks–from those who are tiny toters to those whose cars serve as their purses.  Ahem.  *looks away* And I, alas, am not a tiny toter.  Remember Justin Case?  He requires that I carry a massive bag with smaller bags inside full of all sorts of things.  Justin Case we need them.  Unfortunately, Anxiety Girl concurs.  She also thinks I need to carry everything but the kitchen sink with me whenever I leave the house.

I so aspire to be a tiny toter, y’all.

It’s nothing new.  Many years ago, maybe fourteen or fifteen, Aub was taking dance as was her friend, whose Mama was my dear Joyful friend.  We were supposed to meet them there on Saturday morning. But they never arrived.  I was on my way home when I got a call that they had been in an accident and were at the hospital.  Before I could get there, another friend called me and said she’d seen the vehicle being towed through town.  Totaled.  A mess.  My heart was pounding.

When Aub and I got to the hospital, I saw her girls.  They were both okay, thank goodness.  I was told my friend was back in the ER room, and that I should go back to see her.  I left Aub with the family in the waiting room and went back.  I walked in that room, and what I saw filled me with gratitude.  My friend was sitting up on the bed/table.  She looked okay.  She was very sore, and I can’t remember what other injuries she had, but she was okay overall.  So thankful.  It could have been so much worse.

I went over to hug her.  I asked her how she was feeling.  She was in pain and told me so, and then she looked at the tiny toter I was carrying very unsuccessfully with things hanging all out of it and over the sides, and said, “I’m really hurting but I’ll be okay.” She paused and pointed.  “And YOU need a bigger bag.”

Y’all.

That’s the kind of friendship I have always loved.  The one where she loves you so much she calls you out on your junk and you love and respect her enough that you say, “I know, right?  I’ll try to do better.”

Which is pretty much what I said.

I think that’s the last time I really tried to be a tiny toter as an everyday thing.  I graduated on to diaper bags, twice more, and wound up embracing it as my style.  I carry the convenience store around in my bag–baby wipes, pain reliever, homeopathic remedies, bandaids, gum, fruit snacks, crayons, paper, keys, matchbox car or two, extraneous Legos, Polly Pocket clothes, extra clothes, tissues, gloves, a book or two ALWAYS, and all kinds of electronic chargers.  I’m ready y’all.  Until I’m not.  And then I reassess and sometimes get a bigger bag. To carry.  More.  Stuff.

But I love that little green bag.  I carried it for some business we had to handle last week.  I tucked in just what I really needed for those few hours.  (I was on this little venture without my littles, so that made a difference too.)  I have to tell you I felt rather chic carrying my tiny toter, dropping my keys and phone inside and being able to see them–right there–anytime I glanced over.  Sometimes during the meeting I just glanced over.  Hello over there, keys and phone, I see you in there.  I like seeing you. Aren’t y’all just too precious, right there waiting so patiently for me in this cute little bag? 

*sigh*  I wish I were a tiny toter all the time.

But it’s not to be.  As Mama said, to everything there is a season. And right now is not the season for me to tote tiny bags.  Everyday, anyway.

But I’m going to hang on to this little cutie.  I think from time to time I will find it appropriate to carry.  And one day, it might just become an everyday bag for me.

In the meantime, I am thankful for my new summer top and for the ways that we can find beauty and usefulness in transformation.  I appreciate my Aunt who empowered and encouraged me to go for it.  The courage to transform anything, including ourselves, takes bravery and encouragement from those we love.

I’m also thankful for the great friends who have joined me on this Journey–who, like my Joyful friend, see my “stuff,” call me out on it, and never stop loving me through it all.  That’s a treasure beyond compare right there.

And finally, I give thanks for an ordinary extraordinary trip to the GW Boutique.  One that had me transforming and appreciating where I am all at the same time.  See, one day I know I’ll be back to the tiny toter.  The last one I carried with any success I put away on September 19, 1995, the day my first baby was born.  And one day, I know, when I’m carrying this little green bag or another cutie like it, I will look back wistfully and wish I had a reason to carry my big ol’ convenience store bag again.

Or maybe I won’t.  Who knows?  Life’s an adventure, and I’m thankful I’m not just standing in line waiting to get on.  No matter what bag you carry, it’s all about where you are, where you’ve been, where you’re headed, and most importantly, who’s along for the ride.

Love to all.

 

 

“…..a star in the dark is thy glorious past…..”

Today I went back home to my Alma Mater for our Alumnae weekend events.  As I headed north and got on I-475, I was faced with a choice.  Take the exit that I used to take when I was a student there, the same one Mama took when she was a Wesleyanne, or I could go further north, take the next exit, and use the main road to get there.  I deliberated on this longer than you might think.  I am a backroads kind of girl, but the “old” way would take me past many ghosts from the past, and I wasn’t sure if I could handle that today or not. 

But I decided why not.  And so I went in the back way. 

 

I drove along the road

the same one I had traveled many

many times before

The ponds that are harder to see now,

that’s how my little brother learned to count

one pond, two ponds…..five ponds

on his way with Mama to her classes

While she learned he stayed at the little school

that is still there

The same road I drove back and forth for four years

with a heart filled with angst and dreams of love

(it seems to go with that age, doesn’t it?)

and a glimpse of a future beyond the campus where I learned

and grew and laughed and found

sisters

Sisters whom only grow more dear

to me

as I grow older

Before,

back then

I worried over this and that,

a bit uncomfortable with letting

anyone close enough

to know all I carried inside,

what must be so different

that they wouldn’t want to see

So I lived and loved but that isn’t me anymore,

not all me anyway

Maybe that’s why I worried over

going back and squeezing back into

who I was

back then

The thing I learned today

and I keep learning

with life and years and time

is that we all felt that way

about something

but the older we get

the more beautiful we all are

because we let the light from within

shine brightly

not hidden under a bushel of insecurities

and worries over being different

The light shines

and the laughter is a beautiful melodious song

as we share stories on the porches,

in the rocking chairs

that hold those stories dear

The stories we share and those of our sisters before us

and we hold close the knowing

that we are more alike than different–

and it doesn’t even matter anymore

We love, we listen, we laugh over

children and spouses and times gone by

and in the whisper of the breeze there is a

promise that the ghosts are gone now

and it is time to start again,

a mid-life adventure of sorts

Giving the grace that we offer others

so freely

we give also to ourselves

And as all the voices were raised in song,

singing the words sung by many before

and many after me

“Hail Wesleyan, thy emblem of all that is grand…..”

I looked up and the ceiling faded away

and there was a dark night sky

filled with stars and the voices lifted in song

Echoing in the cool night air

at my last time around the fountain

with those sisters

and I cried then over saying goodbye

and the not knowing what would come

Today there were tears

But different

Tears from laughter

of joy

of saying hello to my sisters

and hello to this peace in me

It was dark when I set out on the road

for the home where I lay my head

The stars were the same ones who

have watched over us from the beginning

And their light was bright

Just like mine

 

 

Love to all–go and let your light shine brightly.

One pond two ponds.....

One pond two ponds…..

The little school where my brother went while Mama was in class.

The little school where my brother went while Mama was in class.

 

Pulling into back campus.....

Pulling into back campus…..

Where we gather--here.....

Where we gather–here…..

and here.

and here.

The fountain where we cheered loudly and sang sweetly, late in the evenings after the twinkling stars came out to watch.

The fountain where we cheered loudly and sang sweetly, late in the evenings after the twinkling stars came out to watch.

Big hugs and many thanks to my friend Ashley who had us sing "This Little Light of Mine" and told us to let our light shine bright.  She shares her light at www.baddestmotherever.com Go love her.

Big hugs and many thanks to my friend Ashley who had all of us at the Alumnae meeting sing “This Little Light of Mine” and told us to let our light shine bright. She shares her light at http://www.baddestmotherever.com
Go love her.

 

“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.