Peace

Today our family joined a dear friend who has a photography business and had her take our family pictures.  In the past week, this talented young woman and I have tossed around ideas about where would be best to take them. I was thinking I would love for us to go to Wesleyan, because there are so many beautiful places on the campus for pictures.  As we talked, she mentioned a place new to me, Amerson Water Works Park, where she has had shoots on more than one occasion.  She described it, saying there were many different beautiful spots there good for taking pictures.  I decided to try something new.  Nothing could have prepared me for the beauty I saw today.  The wooded areas, the trees, the pathways, the trails, and then there was this.

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In the words of my little friend from so many years ago, “Good job, God!”

And I felt peace within my soul.

Funny how that can happen when I step outside my comfort zone and try something new…..

May peace be with you.

Love to all.

On Being Asked, “What Are You Afraid of?”

Last week my friend Michelle who writes over at Correct and Continue posed the question–

What are you afraid of? 

In the moments of quiet that find their way into my days and rapidly disappear, I have thought about this question.

And I have worked on my answer to that.

Spiders.  Definitely.  No doubt.  I don’t play about that.

I have finally decided to find it quirky and embrace it rather than work through it.  Family lore has it that when I was maybe four and Sister was nearly one, I started losing it over a spider I saw on the floor.  Sister reached over and smashed it with her hand.  She may or may not have then licked said hand.  That bit’s a little fuzzy.  Needless to say, I spent all my years after that, when I was living at home, calling her to my rescue.  One of the reasons our front porch and front flower bed needs so much attention now is my arachnophobia.  I’m done.  My Fella knows, and he says we will do it together.  I’m good with that.  Spiders.  Just. No.

Boogie Man.  Well, who’s not, really?  Am I right?  The embodiment of all evil and darkness in the world.  Don’t need him around either.

Something bad happening to someone I love.  Been there, done that.  But I don’t think that exempts me from a future without any more of this.  When the littles get sick, like Cooter has been since last night, if I don’t block the door so Anxiety Girl can’t get in, I have to deal with her and all of her what if’s and panic-laden thoughts.  I’m trying though.  She and I really aren’t good for each other.  At all.

Oh I could go on and on.  Odd stuff.  Thanks to the Tylenol tampering and subsequent deaths of 1982, I have a moment of stress when I open a new bottle/bag/container of something.  I want to make sure that joker is SEALED.  I unplug things that my Daddy taught me could be fire hazards before I leave my house.  I double-check the locks at night.  And when I’m leaving.  I worry that I will lose my wallet.  Or my phone.  I’ve tried to do both a time or two.

But none of those can touch what I think is my greatest fear.

I am afraid of becoming comfortable.

I could, you know.  I have the potential to do just that.

I could stay at home and hang out in my little world of times tables, Harry Potter reading, Lego building, cleaning up, cooking and feeding, and teaching and healing and kissing boo boos.  I could do that, and it would be okay.  It would be comfortable and the right thing and I would be taking care of business in my home, in my own part of the world.

But here’s a thought.  One that speaks to my heart and calls me out.  Something that I saw today on the Facebook page of Love Wins Ministries, which “shares unconditional love and friendship with the homeless and poor population of Raleigh, North Carolina.”

Yep.  See, if I become comfortable in my own little world, oblivious and unaware and indifferent to the suffering and heartbreak and loneliness and brokenness of those who share this world with me, I’ve missed out.  That is my fear.  That I will become comfortable and unaware and indifferent.  And if I do, an important part of living, of being on this journey will be gone.

I’ve learned this, through watching my parents and the example they set:

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 

Fill in the blank with almost anything.

Just because you can–

eat the whole pizza at one sitting…..

get a new credit card…..

speak your mind to the one who cut you off in traffic…..

buy yourself a new purse, a new car, a new pair of boots……

doesn’t mean you should.

We are all connected.  I can become comfortable and indifferent and think that any one of those things won’t affect someone else.  In my own little world, I might think that what happens to “them” “elsewhere” doesn’t have one iota of anything to do with me.

And I’d be lying to myself, wouldn’t I?  Because, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”

What is my greatest fear?

Losing that sense of connectedness, however painful as it may be to be aware, connected.  And living in my own little world, unaware and indifferent to the stories of those around me.

It could happen.  It would be so easy to go there.

But for me, I can’t let it.

Because while I’d be comfortable, I wouldn’t be living the life I was meant to live.

And that’s what I’m most afraid of.  Not living as I was meant to.  Made to.

Love and a beautiful, uncomfortable moment or two to all.

 

The Day I Went To Prison

It occurred to me yesterday after my visit with Mac that it has been about two years since he took the first step on his journey to recovery.  Once again. It began with a long ride after being released from prison in Macon to a town about three hours away, to a beautiful rehabilitation facility where he made good choices and friends and dreamed dreams again.

Sigh.

But this story began a few months before.

He had turned himself in to an officer that had stopped by the gas station store that he frequented.  I think that had been in January.  He was tired of running, tired of that way of living, and he knew there were warrants out for him for probation violation.  Probation for things like panhandling, loitering, you know–the major crimes.  Anyway, turning himself in got him a bed and three meals a day.  And had me worried he wasn’t showing up on Sundays until I saw his name on the sheriff’s website.  We started writing letters back and forth.  I loved hearing his stories and dreams and the jokes he liked to tell.  In those letters we got to know each other pretty well.  He knew the way my littles preferred play over learning, that I loved to bake better than cook, and that the Fella loves old classic cars.  He sent notes and drawings to all of us, and we sent back pictures he could draw, stories to read, and letters sharing the ins and outs of our days.

And then, in one letter, he mentioned the visiting hours.  And asked if I could come.

Wow.

I had never been to prison before.  I wanted to see this man whom I grew to call my brother.  I wanted to give him all the support he needed to make wise choices once he took that first step out of his cell as a free man.  He needed a good network of folks to walk with him, and I intended to be one of those folks.  But prison?

At the risk of being redundant, Wow.

As it turns out, different folks are assigned different visiting hours.  His was 1 p.m. on Sunday, along with several others.  He had to put my name and anyone else who might come on a list.  If you weren’t on the list, you weren’t getting in.  We decided that I would visit on this one particular Sunday, barring anything unforeseen happening.  All of this was communicated by letters, so there was a lot of room for miscommunication or total lack of.  That Sunday morning I got up, took care of the tea and coffee for the park’s Sunday night supper, and got ready to go.  What does one wear to visit prison?  A strange question, I know, but I was second guessing EVERYTHING.  I chose regular, casual clothes and worried over the shoes.  I had heard something about not wearing open-toed shoes, but I wasn’t sure.  I wore my flip flops and carried Aub’s boat shoes with me just in case.  I drove to downtown and found the tree-lined street on the back side of the jail where I’d be entering.  I parked the car on the street, and checked my clock.  12:45.  I was early.  I sat and took it all in for a few minutes.  Normal looking brick building with the exception of the painful looking wires at the top of the fence. And across the street?  A convenience store with “Lottery, Beer, Cigarettes” painted on the side.  Oh y’all, I nearly cried.  If Mac were released with no one to pick him up, I could be fairly certain that’s where he’d head.  After all, there was a phone outside there, if it even worked.  And the nearly three months of detoxing and not drinking he’d done would all  be for naught.  My heart broke, and I knew something had to be done.  How many leave that facility with no one to go home to and find themselves over at that store?  Its location was no coincidence, I felt sure.

I took a sip of water, rallied my spirit, grabbed my license and my keys, and headed in.  I had no idea what to do.  Everyone else waiting seemed to know exactly what they were doing.  I realize in hindsight that may not have been true, but at the time, I felt like I had a huge sticker on my head that screamed, “First Timer.”

I approached an officer who, it was obvious, was bored and didn’t have any warm fuzzies about folks coming to visit folks they cared about.  She looked on the card–the one that had my name and Mac’s Mama’s name and one other on it.  I almost wanted his Mama to come, so I could meet her and maybe there wouldn’t be a lull in the conversation.

Because it occurred to me–this would be the first time we’d talk in person with him sober.

I gave her my keys and license and prayed I wouldn’t set off any alarms with my belt or any metal pins I’d forgotten I had.  (One time in an MRI, I had a moment of panic–had nothing to do with claustrophobia and everything to do with worrying whether or not I had a pin put in when I broke my ankle.  In that moment, I forgot.  And I did again at the jail. FYI–No pin.)

At 1 p.m. on the dot, I was told which window to go to.  There were stools of sorts in front of the windows, but someone had blocked the bottom half of the window so you couldn’t see your friend unless you were standing up.  There was a phone to pick up and speak into and that was how we were to communicate.  After a couple of minutes of standing there, I saw a group of men in orange jumpsuits heading towards us.  I scanned the group, and there he was.  He grinned that grin of his, and I grinned back.  It was good to see him.  He had showered and looked well fed and well rested.  I was thankful.  He picked up the phone, and said hello.  Ah.

Only I couldn’t hear him.

At all.

I spoke and looked at him questioningly.  He shrugged and shook his head.  He nodded at the window two spots down.  Someone had come in, said two words to their person and left from that window.  I looked around for someone, anyone, to ask if that was okay.

Because let me tell you this.  If there is a place where one does not want to do ANYTHING wrong or upset ANYONE or cross ANY lines, it would be in prison.  They wouldn’t have far to haul me if they decided they didn’t like what I was doing.  Seriously.  I was worried.

But Mac had already moved down.  Why wasn’t there an officer supervising this?  What was I going to say–He made me do it?

After a moment of hesitation, I moved down and picked up the phone.  We could hear each other.  Finally.

Eventually I relaxed a little, once it became apparent no one cared that we had changed windows.  We visited and caught up from our latest letters.  He told me about his attorney visiting the day before.  About how sometimes he didn’t want to go to the meals, just wanted to rest.  I asked about him working on his novel, a western, and he said, no not right now.  Maybe later on he would.  We passed the time with stories and jokes and I can say for sure, an hour is a long time, when you are speaking into a phone and trying to find a comfortable way to lean/stand and staring through “glass” that has something running through it that makes focusing on the person on the other side really hard.

I loved the visit but as we hit the forty-five and fifty minute mark, I could tell that Mac was getting tired.  He has never had good balance, even stone cold sober, so this was wearing him out too.  We talked for a few more minutes and then said our goodbyes, with promises of writing and wishes for safety and good health.

I gathered my license and keys and thanked the bored officer and headed out into the fresh air of that overcast Sunday.  As I walked down the street to my car, free to drink the water in my own cup waiting for me in the vehicle I owned, I felt like I had a fresh pair of glasses to see through.  I had only spent an hour inside the facility, but it was enough to make me see and appreciate things a little differently.

Little did I know that day where life was taking us. That in less than a month I’d be walking back in that building to speak at Mac’s hearing, a suitcase full of what he needed in my car, waiting to take him to a place where he could heal and be with folks who could put tools in his kit for his journey ahead.  That just over a year later, he’d be sitting at the graduation for my oldest, having gotten permission to come back home for it from his transitional program.  That just two years later, he’d be sitting in almost the exact same spot he was the week before he went to prison, and he’d be grieving over his friend who died after being hit by a car while crossing the street, mad over his tent that was stolen from his “camp,” and worrying over another friend who “drinks 24/7.”

As I left him yesterday, I felt a push to give him two numbers I had in my purse in the car.  Two numbers of possible rehabilitation or transitional places.  I sat in the driver’s seat and copied them down.  When I walked back around to the opening in the gate, he had left his seat outside.  I went in and looked around.  I hoped I could find him.  And there he was.  In the technology room.  He came out when he saw me.

“Here,” I said.  “I think I’m supposed to give you these numbers.  They might not be the right places, but maybe they can lead you to one that is.”

He took the folded paper and started to tuck it in his pocket.  “Thank you.”

I looked him in the eyes. “And it’s okay, you know.  It’s okay.  No pressure.  Just for whenever you want to, you know, take that step.  Your decision.”

He was quiet for a second.  “I’m almost there.”  He nodded and looked at the paper again. “I am.  I called Joe the other day.”  Joe, who had run the transitional home he’d been in until last July.

“Did you?  Was that good?”

He nodded.  And he reached to give me a hug.  “Thank you.  I’ll be calling you.”

Tonight I’m thankful for this life that takes me outside my comfort zones and into places where I have to step up and love someone else.  It’s not easy, and I’m not always a willing participant.  But when I go, the rewards are phenomenal.  I meet folks whom I would never have met otherwise–people who bring richness and laughter into my life and stories that touch my heart.  I am thankful for the folks who raised me to listen and love all–it’s not easy but they set a good example to follow.  And a tough one.

And tonight I ask for us all to keep Mac and all of our brothers and sisters like him in our thoughts, prayers, hearts, and minds.  The ones who need someone to see them and hear them and love them through choices, good and bad. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that what we all need?

 

Love to all.

 

Paying Attention to Who’s Paying Attention

While watching the Britcoms last night, a rare but much loved treat, something caught my eye.  On New Year’s Eve at 9:30 p.m. EST on Georgia Public Broadcasting, they are showing “Oklahoma.”  What made me really take notice was the actor playing Cowboy Curly.

Hugh Jackman.

I know, right?  Who knew?

“Wolferina” as my little guy calls him.

Hugh Jackman as Curly in "Oklahoma."  From http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/11/08/hugh-jackman-oklahoma/

Hugh Jackman as Curly in “Oklahoma.” From http://popwatch.ew.com/2013/11/08/hugh-jackman-oklahoma/

Only this is the role that gave him his start and caused him to be noticed back in 1998.  A year later he took on the role for which he’s most known for the first time.

Wow.

Even if I had made big partying plans for New Year’s Eve (I haven’t), I would still make sure I got to see this by recording it.  I like “Oklahoma,” though it’s not my favorite.  Still, I am intrigued at the thought of seeing Hugh Jackman in this role, so yes, I will make every effort to watch it.  I love to see someone step outside of the expected box they’ve been put in.  I have all kinds of respect for the actors and actresses I’ve seen take time to speak out for St. Jude’s, for example–Jennifer Anniston and Robin Williams are the first two who come to mind.  I also love it when well-known performers make decent family films that can be watched by all around the holidays (or anytime).  I appreciate their choice in that.

Isn’t it interesting?  These famous people we watch from afar can have us learning about something new, watching something new, reading and discussing new issues–or old ones in a different way.  Just because they take part in it.  Or speak their minds.  Or share their own personal opinions.  I remember trying a genre of show I never would have before because Dougray Scott was going to star in it–you know, he’s the Prince from Ever After with Drew Barrymore, one of my very favorite movies.  I couldn’t stick with the show, but the fact that he played the lead had me trying it.

Mama and Daddy used to say, “With great privilege comes great responsibility.”  That’s what I had on my mind as I thought about Hugh Jackman having a role in this musical.  And how some actors and actresses get involved in political or social justice issues as well.  They influence us, don’t they? Sometimes we even give them to power to influence how we think, what we watch, what our opinions are.

That’s something I wish many of them would keep in mind.  That people are watching.  And taking notice.  It’s like when Oprah chose her favorite things every year.  She had so much power to educate people about fair trade and gifts that make a difference.  But no.  When these “stars” share their personal opinions and their “fans” take them to heart, they can have friends arguing and family members divided.  It’s a fine line they walk, isn’t it?

And then my conscience started talking to me.  Or maybe it was my Mama.  Either way, it occurred to me that while there may not be millions watching or listening or taking notice of my beliefs and lifestyle and thoughts on this and that, there are a few.  Three at least.  In my very own home.  And I need to watch what I say and do and how I act and what I support just as much as those stars in the movies and on TV do.  We all have the potential to influence and guide someone–for the worse or the better.  It’s our choice really.

I am looking forward to seeing Hugh Jackman in the role that gave him his start.  But I am also thankful to him and to PBS for the chance to think about whom I’m influencing and for the reminder that I have a chance to set an example and teach, with my actions matching my words and beliefs.  It’s a good thing for all of us to remember, isn’t it?  And what better time to start than right now, for as they say in the beginning lyrics to Oklahoma:

There’s never been a better time to start in life-
It ain’t too early and it aint too late!