Remember the Math

I miss my Mama.

She’s been on my mind and heart so much more than usual in the recent past. I suppose it could be because January is her month. Her birthday is Friday the 15th, forever etched in my mind and soul. The day I give thanks for her presence on this earth and her presence in our hearts since she left this world almost 8 years ago.

I think it also could be because I so miss her words of wisdom, her hugs, her loving my babies through all kinds of things, her being where they could go when they are mad at me. I struggle these days, just as I am sure many of you are. What sense would Mama make of all of this, I wonder. I more than wonder. I yearn for her and her way of looking at life.

I was thinking about this last night when the lights were out and only the whispers of the wind outside and the gentle snoring of my feline and canine babies could be heard. And I heard my Mama, almost as if she were right beside me.

I have two younger sisters and a little brother. My sisters are three and five years younger than me, and my baby brother is almost nine years younger. With all of our personalities and varied interests piled up together in our childhood home, we were bound to get into (ahem) disagreements. It happened. Always certain that we each were RIGHT and the other was WRONG, we toted tales to Mama, who was at home with us the most.

“She did this, he said that, why does she get to, tell him not to, she’s not, he’s bugging me” and so on. You get the idea. Inevitably, when Mama asked one of us about a transgression, the answer would pop out almost without thinking.

(or completely without thinking, because we KNEW what Mama thought of what we were about to say)

“Yes ma’am, I did, but she—“

Oh boy.

That “but” would get Mama’s goat more than anything. Using what someone else did to justify our wrongdoing–whoo whee. Mama had one and only one opinion on that.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

That was how math worked in our house. (That and a null set for leaving folks out, but that’s another story.)

Mama didn’t play when it came to us thinking “but he said, but she did” justified anything we might do. “If you know better, do better.” No matter what someone else did or said. So she nipped that in bud.

Over and over. We were a little slow picking things up sometimes.

One of our family traditions was going to see the children’s plays at Mama’s alma mater (and eventually mine and my daughter’s). It was always in the fall. I have fond memories of Mama and Daddy both loading us up and going to see the young performers who seemed so adult to me at the time. They were STARS, and I was starstruck. I remember one play in particular when a princess came out in a flurry of pink tulle, in the midst of much chaos and unpleasant exchanges between the other characters, exclaiming in her high pitched princessy voice, “I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.”

Oh my, how Mama loved that line and made it her own.

I loved my siblings then and still do. But we weren’t always on the same page when we were all in the same house. When we were “at cross purposes” as Mama called it and at odds with each other, we weren’t necessarily pleasant about it. Mama would say after encouraging us to bring it down to a “dull roar” those very words–“I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.”

I remember her tone didn’t always suggest that she was fully one hundred percent committed to her belief in that statement. It was more of a reminder for us to get to wonderful…..in rapid fashion.

Bless her.

So that’s it.

Two wrongs don’t make a right.

I’m sure you’re all really very wonderful.

That’s what I heard my Mama whisper that night. The week of her birthday, I got the gift of a reminder of her wisdom. In the dark of night, there was light.

While we are all out here in our day to dailies and posting things and speaking things and getting along (or not) with folks, let’s remember the math.

And please keep it down to a dull roar. I have a headache (and heartache) that won’t go away.

Love to all.

ps. What I’m not saying, because my Daddy had strict rules about what we could talk about in public, is this–bad and hard things have happened. Please don’t make light of them or justify making light of them because you feel that other hard or bad things have happened. We are all hurting. Let’s see if we can get to wonderful. And be light and love to each other. That’s all. Remember the math.

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.

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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.

 

“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.