Behind Closed Doors

It was overcast and rainy today.  So we stayed in like you do.  With even a couple of times venturing outside, things still got a little wacky today.  Folks were grumpy.  I might have overreacted to spilled water.  The dog barked way too much at the cat outside and anytime someone made a sudden move.  Folks couldn’t get along about what movie to watch or game to play and they couldn’t work together to get chores done.  Or respond to requests for action the first three times they were asked.  They We all got cranky.

Not our best day.

I blame it on being stir crazy.

That’s a thing, right?  When I worked in childcare, and we had days or weeks of inclement weather, we talked about the children (and others *ahem*) being stir crazy.  One summer when the temperature reached so high it was too hot for us to play outside, I remember Mama sending us outside in the dark after our baths to run around in our nightgowns just to burn some energy off.  Now I know that was as much for her as it was for us.

Last night I wrote about a man who was so thankful that because of his job he could afford to turn on the cable, so his children could stay indoors and be safe.  He lives in a neighborhood where it isn’t safe for them to be outside.  I cannot imagine what that life is like, y’all.

Today, in the middle of all of our crankiness, I sat with that for a bit.  If these children are staying inside as much as possible to protect them from violence and being susceptible to drugs and gang activity and worse, other bad things can happen.  Things that aren’t as immediately harmful, but the long-term effects could be devastating.

These children are more susceptible to obesity because they can’t get out and run around.  Sitting inside is necessary for survival, but their little feet need to run free as do their spirits.   When I think about the joy it brings me watching Cooter’s hair flying behind him as he rides his bike up and down the street, I grieve for these parents and children who cannot experience that.   For the ones in school, I cannot imagine that the limited amount of time spent in PE could completely satisfy their need to run around.  Limited physical activity combined with limited budget for purchasing healthy foods can contribute to even more health problems.  Many of these neighborhoods are food deserts as well, with few choices for shopping for foods other than snacks or highly processed foods.

My front porch is a “laboratory.”  Many of the children on our street come and pick leaves and grass and flower blossoms and concoct all sorts of things.  Later they might be running around with pool noodles, using them for goodness only knows, and running around between yards, laughing and chasing and teasing and hiding, and doing all the wonderful things their imaginations come up with.  (They also have disagreements, which they have to resolve among themselves for the most part, and that is really good for them too.)

This little neighborhood is where my children are learning about community.  About sharing each other’s ups and downs and sitting with each other when they are hurting…..physically and emotionally.  I am not saying that these children who are inside all day aren’t learning about community, but I worry about what they are learning about it.  I hope there is a community center or somewhere they can get out and learn that people really do care and that there is joy to be found in caring about others and sharing the journey.

Because, if today is any indication, what happens behind closed doors can escalate fast.  I cannot imagine what it is like for these parents who are working multiple jobs, fighting to pay bills and stay afloat, worrying over keeping their littles–and their teens–safe and in school.  I can only imagine the pressure they must feel.  Perhaps they are fighting monsters of their own.  And then they are stuck in this place with few choices, where their community is not safe.

Without community to support them or options to explore, things can turn for the worse.  People who feel that they have no options or anyone to turn to–I get how frustrating and devastating that can be.  All of that has to go somewhere.  All too often it goes to substance abuse or abuse to others.

I’m not saying these families are doomed.  What I am saying is that I am starting to realize how far-reaching the impact of growing up in unsafe neighborhoods can be.  It can affect everything from nutrition and health to social skills to self-esteem, focus, and the ability to dream about the future.  Imaginations can suffer, as can relationships.  Parents who are struggling and have no support can succumb to the darkness.  The youth without anywhere to go might look for any way out–even the one they know is not the wisest choice.  Many might find themselves in situations outside the law–our Youth Detention Centers and prisons are filled with people who made poor choices in desperate situations.  My own friend grew up in a home without many choices, which contributed to his addiction problems as he tried to numb the pain.  He has been in and out of jails and rehab facilities.  All because at one point as a young person, he felt he was out of choices.

I am broken because tonight, as I wrote this, I was waiting to hear about the appeals that were in the U.S. Supreme Court to save the life of Joshua Bishop by giving him a stay of execution.  He was abused and neglected as a child, and when he was barely a legal adult, he and an older man murdered a friend with whom they’d been drinking and doing drugs.  The older man was sentenced to life in prison.  This young man was given the death sentence.  He is reformed and has been a good role model for others while in prison.  The families of the victims have asked that his sentence be commuted.  Seven out of the twelve jurors who sentenced him to death have asked for the sentence to be changed to life in prison.  Yet the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles has said no, as did the Georgia Supreme Court.  And then, so did SCOTUS.  And so, tonight at 9:27 p.m. he was executed.

It’s all so broken.  I want to scream and yell–WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?!

I am left to wonder, as I ask for Grace and Mercy, what part his community or lack thereof played in all of this?

Tonight I’m holding all of this in my heart, and I ask what we–because it will take all of us as a COMMUNITY–can do to change things for these families, for these neighborhoods?  What are we missing out on because one of these children–and there are so many of them–didn’t reach his or her full potential because of the broken community they were raised in?   Because their community was unable to circle close around and provide guidance and safety and encouragement and rules and advice and resources and options…..

all the things I was raised with but took for granted every single day.

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Y’all we need to grab these children and families up and wrap them in a big hug and then ask them how we can help them change their world as best as we are able in whatever way looks best for them. Because here’s the deal–their world is our world and our world is theirs.  There’s no us and them–it’s all we and us.  In the words of Fannie Lou Hamer:  “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

I’ll meet y’all outside.  Let’s make it safe for all, so no one has to be afraid behind a locked door.  And miss out when the good things come knocking at that door.

Love to all.

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You can read more about Joshua Bishop’s case here.

This video is a powerful one, a message from a local Superior Court judge to young people.  YES.  I am thankful for her words and the fact that she cares.

http://www.13wmaz.com/news/local/macon/watch-bibb-county-judge-lays-in-on-wayward-teens/112000603

 

 

 

 

She’s Been Listening

This evening on the way from one place to the next on our list of day to dailies, our Princess spoke up with a question, completely out of the blue.

“Mama, our family from way back on your side and Daddy’s sides of the family–they weren’t always from here, right?  I mean, at some point they moved here, right?”

Wondering where it was going, I answered her. “Yes.  Someone even traced our family tree back to the first ones who came over from England in the 1700s.  Thomas and Faithful Carse.”  (I’ve always loved their names so they stuck with me.)

“Wow,” she said, thinking.  “So then, aren’t we all in some way–aren’t we all immigrants?”

Oh baby.  Yes.  Yes we are.

I share this tonight, not to start a political discussion, because I will walk away from that in a heartbeat.  I can no more convince anyone to change their beliefs to resemble mine than anyone can change my mind.

No, I share this simply to say:

Y’all.  Please be careful.  Our children–and they are all of ours, whether we gave birth to them or not–all of our children are listening and watching.  They will call us out on all of this chaos and hatred and all the misunderstandings eventually.  It might not be until much later when they truly comprehend what is going on in our world right now, but they will call us out.

Guard your words and your heart.  These little ones are growing up watching and becoming what they see, despite our best efforts otherwise.

Teach them with your actions as well as your words.

It’s not easy, but I made a vow tonight to start doing better.

Join me?

Love to all.

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“Cobh – Annie Moore” by Marcus Kircher MKir 13; sculpture by Jeanne Rynhart – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons   

“Annie Moore (January 1, 1877 – 1923) was the first immigrant to the United States to pass through the Ellis Island facility in New York Harbor.”

Cam, Cooter, and the Reason I’m a Fan

It all started when we found out the Broncos were going to the Super Bowl.

Or maybe it started last fall when the boys on the street started playing front yard football.  It looks a lot like wrestling but there’s a football involved, so they call it football.

They talk a lot of smack about different teams, too, so somewhere along the line–I’m not really sure when or how–my baby boy became a Carolina Panthers/Cam Newton fan.

…..you try to raise em right…..

See, I can smack talk with the best of them.

Last week at our dental appointments, my hygienist friend told Cooter a funny story involving Cam Newton and someone who was a huge Alabama fan.  Cooter started talking about Cam even more.  His birthday is this week, so I thought it would be fun to get him a t-shirt/jersey.  Come to find out there was no such thing anywhere in our town.  Each store told me that Corporate hadn’t sent them anything.  Well, they just missed out on a huge business opportunity, let me tell you.

Well a shirt sale anyway.

One $2.97 teal blue shirt and a jersey iron-on number and a printable iron-on sheet later, and we were set.  I found out that Cam Newton’s jersey number is 1, and we made it happen.  I might not be a Panthers fan, but I am a Cooter fan, and I like to make him smile.

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Aub and I stayed up late Saturday night creating the shirt, and Cooter was quite happy with it on Sunday.  We had a good day, teasing each other back and forth–him in his Cam Newton shirt and me in the Manning jersey the Fella got me a couple of years back.

The game was fun for me, not so much for my little heartbroken guy which made it not so fun for me in the end.  The outcome made me happy in the moment, but seeing my son heartbroken and melting down–I would have done anything to change that.  That kind of thing stays with you.

Today there has been all kinds of drama on social media about an interview Cam Newton gave after the game.  People have pointed fingers and said what a bad sport and example he is for his young fans.  A bad sport.

Sigh.

Who does that?  Who sticks a microphone in front of someone whose heart has just been broken?  Whose dream has been crushed?  Who gave it his all and it still wasn’t enough?  WHO EVEN WANTS TO SEE SUCH AN INTERVIEW?

Please, people.

I watched the little clip of him walking out.  The first thing that came to mind was my Mama’s words she said to us over and over through the years:

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  

The truth of the matter is that I teach my children to do exactly what Cam did.  If you can’t say something kind–and I do not fault Cam Newton for not having any “It was an honor just being nominated” words–then WALK AWAY.  Don’t let it escalate to where you are really out of control.

Just a little while ago, I saw a story that apparently a Broncos player was being interviewed within earshot of Cam Newton, and Cam overheard the things he was saying disparaging the Panthers.

Y’all, my Mama said…..

I would’ve walked away too.

And I’m a Manning fan.

But grace abounds.  He’s young, his heart was broken, dreams dashed, and he had believed in himself and his team.  Let’s cut him some slack.

To my children if you are reading this–especially Cooter who is probably going to hear some of the folks trashing Cam Newton:

He did the right thing.  Instead of blowing up, yelling, throwing things, fussing and saying things he might regret later, he WALKED AWAY.  And that is okay.  Do that.  When things are more than you can handle, walk away and get help.  

No one is perfect.  Would it have made a lovely story if he’d been very cordial and laughing on this major loss in his career?  If he’d been singing the praises of the Broncos and been full of the “we’ll get ’em next year” bravado?

Maybe.

But two thoughts.

First, that would not have been real.  Or authentic.  I would have called Face Mask on him.  Because no way that would have been anything other than putting on a front to cover up all the pain and hurt.  He’s a football player, and a good one at that, but he’s not a trained orator, and to expect him to be otherwise is very unfair and unrealistic.

Second, it’s a story we wouldn’t have heard, because the media loves drama.  They wouldn’t have commented much on a congenial Cam Newton, because that’s not how they roll.  Or they would have because he’s derned if he does, derned if he doesn’t.  It’s what they thrive on.

And we encourage it by buying in to the drama and making all the negative comments.

These little people we love, they aren’t just watching Cam Newton and his reaction.  They’re also watching us and ours.

Let’s show them what grace and love really look like.

Thanks for listening.  And Peyton, if you’re reading, congratulations.  I’m happy for you.  And Cam, I’m happy for you, too.  You have a good career ahead of you, and you didn’t show out in the face of adversity.  You walked away from creating a scene and from letting all that mixed up, pent up emotion out in a really bad way.  Well done.  Thanks for keeping your cool, because, well, Cooter’s a fan.

And I think I am too.

Love to all.

 

 

Car Conversations

For whatever reason, some of the best conversations I’ve had with my children have been in the car.  Or truck.  Or whatever.

Tonight Cooter and I were on the way home from Evening Prayer together, just the two of us, when he suddenly asked one of THOSE questions.

You know, the ones where you gulp and feel yourself floundering for just the right words because you know, YOU KNOW, that he’s likely to remember your answer for a long, long time.

“Mama, why was there segregation?”

Oh my heart.

As the seconds ticked by the best I could come up with–and this is not a new conversation for us–was to remind him that sometimes people are afraid of people who are different and how some folks with light skin thought they were better than people with darker skin and even, at one point, thought they could own these people.

Once again, he was indignant over this injustice.

“We are all equal, we just have different gifts! Folks need to know that.  We all have different things we are good at, but we are all equal.”

Bless that heart.  Out of the mouths of babes…..

As he continued sharing his thoughts, it was heart-wrenching to hear him say, “Well, I’m glad that doesn’t happen anymore.”  Oh baby boy, how I wish.  Then he asked, “Mama, what should I do if someone is being unkind to someone else or is wanting to segregate people?  What should I do?  Should I just step away from the situation?”

How I wish I didn’t need to have these conversations with my child, but I’m so grateful he wants to have them.  That he’s genuinely asking me what is right.  I’m treading carefully here though.  This is way more important than multiplication or grammar or learning how a bill becomes a law.

So we talked about how the first thing you do when you know something is wrong is you stand up and say so.  Stand up for what you believe is right.

“Like you do?”

I searched my memory for what on earth he was referring to.  He continued, “So my friends and I should make signs and stand up to let folks know what is right?”

Oh bless. He’s thinking of the vigils for the people on death row.  He’s really been paying attention.  (Both wonderful and frightening, that.)

“Sure, buddy.  That’s a start.”

He talked about his friends and then, “You know, sometimes when I’m with my friends, and I hold back the way I’m feeling, sometimes it feels heavy on my shoulders.”

I know that feeling too, bud.

So we talked about the best way to share our thoughts and feelings with other people.  It was a good talk.  Hard, because I didn’t know he felt like he had to do that when he was with his friends, but a good one.

Good because he wanted to talk to me.

My little guy and I shared some really important things on the ride home tonight.

And it only takes us fifteen minutes to get home, y’all.

He’s a deep thinker for such a young fella.  But it didn’t take him long to swing it back around and start singing, “It was a Sunday morning and I ate four doughnuts, doughnuts, doughnuts, and it felt great…..until it didn’t…..”

And…..he’s back.  My class clown.  My self-proclaimed future comedian.

Tonight I’m thankful for rides home in the dark when hearts are open and shared.  I’m thankful for the one who talks, and that I can listen.  I love the deep conversations and the silly songs.  Because they are both very much a part of this journey we are on.  And it takes both to make it beautiful.

Love to all.

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By Pink Sherbet Photography from Utah, USA [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Fiction or Non-Fiction?

It amazes me how our children pick up on things that are on our minds and hearts, without us even speaking them.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m tying what they’re asking into what’s weighing on me.

Either way, Cooter and I had some interesting conversation today, while he was trying to distract me from the fact he was NOT doing his math.

“Mama, why did they execute people back when they did all that?”  (We’ve been studying some Elizabethan history.  Henry VIII, his wives, Lady Jane Grey–oh how I love her)

Oh me.  If only that were a thing of the past.

“Well, I guess they were using it as a way to punish them for committing a crime.”

He thought for a minute.  “Must have been a pretty bad thing they did, if that was the punishment.”

What do I even do with that?  I chickened out.

“Well yeah, I mean, I guess they thought so at the time.”

“Why did they wear masks?  The ones who were doing it?”

“I think it was to protect their identity, so no one knew who was actually doing the executing.”

“Oh.”

A few minutes later, after he had sat daydreaming, he dropped the real bomb on me.

“Mama.”  I looked up.  “Do you believe in God?”

Oh.  Okay.  I got this one.

“Yeah.  Yes.  I do.”

He stared out the window.  “Huh.”

What?  “Well, do you, buddy?”

He shrugged.

Really?

“Do you not believe in God?” I asked him.

He shrugged again.  “I guess.”

Then he asked me the biggest question of all.  Oh, to think I thought I had this.

“So is God fiction?  Or non-fiction?”

Wow.

“Ummm, well, since God is real, then I would have to say non-fiction.  True story.”

He nodded his head.

“What about you?”

Cooter thought for a minute.  Then he answered with a gentle nod and looked away, “Both.”

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As I thought back over his words and all I see and read and hear and thought about all of the brokenness, I think Cooter might have this exactly absolutely 100% right.

God, in our world today, is both fiction and non-fiction.

We have this writing, these stories, these words–this truth–in the Good Book that tell us who God is.  How God is.  That God is.

Then there are our hearts and our thoughts and what we say and what we do that tell a whole ‘nother story of what and who we think God is, but sometimes–much of the time–I think we might just be wayyyyyy off base.

As someone I love dearly has said, “I think we’re all going to be real surprised.”

Just like I’m surprised by the deep thinkers my children are sometimes.  One minute they’re arguing over who forgot to flush and the next minute we’re talking theology and philosophy and the ramifications of the death penalty.

May today be a day of living the truth and not the stories that we tell ourselves to make things a little easier.

It might be hard, but the little ones and the not so little ones–they are paying close attention and taking notes.

Love to all.

Wealth or Health?

Today our lessons took us to Istanbul in the 1500’s, and we learned about Suleyman the Magnificent.  What a fascinating person!  He conquered many lands (read-people) and was the longest-ruling Sultan–46 years–of what is known as the Ottoman Empire.  He ruled during the height of the Empire’s military, economic, and political power.  He was a patron of the arts and architecture.  He was also known as a poet, and many of his writings are regarded as Turkish proverbs now.

 

Suleyman the Magnificent

Suleyman the Magnificent

I dug a little deeper after we finished reading, and I found a few of Suleyman the Magnificent’s writings.  One of them I read aloud to my littles.

 

The people think of wealth and power as the greatest fate,

But in this world a spell of health is the best state.

What men call sovereignty is a worldly strife and constant war;

Worship of God is the highest throne, the happiest of all estates

 

I read it to them twice, and then I thought, what the hey–let me see if they grasp any of this at all.  “Do you understand what he’s saying here?”

Stares.  Crickets.

So I decided to focus on the first two lines.  We read them again.

“So what do you think he’s saying is best to have in life?  Wealth and power or health?”

Our Princess piped up almost immediately.  “Health!  Good health!”

I nodded.  Okay, now we were getting somewhere.  “Do you agree?  Is having good health better than having wealth and power?”

My girl thought he was right.  And then Cooter, Mr. Contrary, decided to share his thoughts.

“Nope, it’s better to have wealth.  Money!”  Of course he does.  This is, after all, the little guy who wants real estate as a present.

“Really?  I mean, what can you do with all of that money if you are sick?  Not well?”

“Well, see,” he started, “if you have money you can buy the good food that will keep you healthy.”  He stopped for a minute as I sat there thinking I might be in trouble.  He was absolutely right. “And, if you have money you can get plumbing.”

Plumbing?  I wondered where he had heard about sewage issues.  Or how he equated money with indoor plumbing.

“Plumbing, buddy? How will that keep you healthy?”

“Mama, if you have money, you can get plumbing, and the plumbing will give you clean water.  And you have to have clean water to stay healthy.”

*jaw hits the floor*

That moment when you realize your child has been taking it all in, and some of it actually stuck.

Yeah.  THAT one.

Thankful.

We talked a little more about folks who don’t have clean water, and how that changes the world, and I gave thanks in my heart as we talked.  They get it.  They realize that there are people in this world who have to walk long distances to get water in a bucket and carry it all the way back to their homes, missing school and other opportunities that would help their lives–all because they don’t have access to clean water.

Clean water can make you healthy.  Cooter said so.

Tonight I’m thankful, once again, for the opportunity I have to learn with my children.  It is a fascinating journey and a privilege.  I am teary-eyed with gratitude that my children have been listening to my conversations about justice and the world’s needs.  And that they are getting it.  The fact that my almost eight year old knows that you need clean water to be healthy, and that you need plumbing which requires money–that has me feeling rather emotional.  These little people we are raising or helping others raise–they are the ones who will be taking care of us one day.  It is my hope that they will do it with compassion, love, and laughter.  I saw a glimmer of hope for that day in our conversations this morning.

Because yeah, we did laugh.  As usually happens, our lesson ended with one or the other sending all of us into fits of giggles.  And oh,  how I love their laughter.

Wishing for all good health and the wealth needed to stay that way, with just enough extra to help someone else have clean water too.

Love to all.

 

Living Water International and Advent Conspiracy are where me and mine learned about the world’s clean water supply–and the lack thereof.  You can learn more by clicking on their names.