“When they see the love you have for each other…..”


My Mama had rules for living–she *ahem* shared them with us on a regular basis.  I think maybe her number one rule was this–

“Don’t leave anyone out.” 

I heard her say this so many times to us growing up.  When we driving up the dirt road that led to Granny’s house.  Sometimes we didn’t know if any of our cousins would be there, but she’d just about always turn around from the front seat and say, “Don’t y’all leave anyone out.  Play with everyone.  Y’all make space for everybody.”

Yes ma’am.  She’d say it when we had friends over.  Or when it was just the four of us.  With the dynamics of three girls and a baby boy, with nine years span between oldest and youngest, she probably said it way more than she cared to.  “Don’t leave anyone out.  Y’all play nice.”

I knew she was serious.

I was more afraid to be caught leaving someone out than to be caught in “telling a story (fib)” or not doing my chores.  I’m not kidding.  She didn’t play about this.

So much so that it was impressed upon me and became my rule too.  I’ve said the same thing to my own children many, many times.

Tonight I told them this again.  I looked my two littles–our Princess and Cooter–in the eyes and I told them I wanted them to remember something very important.

“Y’all, I want you always to remember not to leave other folks out.”

“Why, Mama?” our Princess asked.  “Did we do something?”

“No, baby,” I touched her hand.  “Y’all are fine.  Just please remember this is important to me.  It hurts other people if you don’t include them.  Now if they aren’t playing right, you can walk away and find me or Daddy or Baba, but don’t ever leave someone out on purpose.  It’s hurtful.”

“But Mama, we didn’t do that.  Why are you telling us this?”

Aub sat on the couch and listened.  She knew where I was coming from and where I was going.  And why.

“Well, some big people are leaving some folks out and that makes me very sad.  I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to do, is it?  I don’t think that that’s right.”

Out of nowhere Cooter said, with his booming voice and exaggerated waving arms, “Well, I’m just listening to God on this.”

Well, okay then buddy.  Sounds like a plan.

Because you know what?  I don’t get it.  I read the same Good Book that others do, and what seems to be pretty much the number one rule after loving the Artist who created us, is to love.  Love one another.  Our neighbors.  There’s no other specifications beyond those words.  No one listed not to love.  Love one another.  All.

Sounds kind of similar to my Mama’s rule–not leaving anyone out of the love and playing nice.

Umm, yeah.

My Mama used to quote that one about loving folks to us a lot too.  She loved the words in that Book. Dearly loved them.  And lived them too.

This afternoon Aub and I found out through a Facebook post that World Vision reversed their decision that was announced yesterday.  Because of the folks who threatened or did withdraw their support and sponsorships, they rethought their position and declared today that they were reversing their decision that allowed the hiring of Christians who are in same-sex marriages.

To be honest, call me naïve-gullible even, but I was shocked.  We’ve been a bit mournful around here.  Sad.  Yes, sad.  And feeling a bit betrayed.


what I wrote last night still stands.  This organization is doing great things for children in need in the world.  For that I am thankful.  And for those who decided in the past 24 hours to sponsor a child as a way to support World Vision’s decision to be more accepting, my fingers are crossed and I’m hoping that they will continue to sponsor these children in need.  Even though the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, another thing I said last night still stands–these children did nothing to deserve this.  Don’t make them suffer for any decisions that are being made.  We are called to love, and that’s what we should continue to do.

And yet, my heart aches for those who felt like they were finally being included, being invited to join in “Red Rover” or “Colored Ribbons” or freeze tag.  Or kickball.  Only to find themselves once again pushed off to the side, last ones picked for the team…..or never chosen at all.  Just kidding, y’all, we didn’t really mean to include you.


I hear my Mama telling us in “that” tone of voice to behave, mind our p’s and q’s, and be kind to each other.  I see Aub huddled on the couch, taking time from her studies to read the hurtful things people said in response to yesterday’s announcement and the comments from today of people proclaiming victory in the name of the Very One who embraced and loved and hung out with the broken and the lost and the cast aside.  Just no.  Please.  And I see, through tears that I am holding back, the faces of my littles wondering what other reasons there could be for leaving someone out besides them not sharing their bicycle or for going inside to eat supper early.  This is one of those hard things to talk to them about–like the death of good people we love or why folks went to Africa and took people away from their homes and made them work for nothing.

There’s just some things I can’t explain to them enough for it to make sense.

Because it. MAKES. NO. SENSE.

And that hurts.  And makes me mad.

That small train engine that stopped traffic yesterday as though it were a train engine pulling 100 cars gives me hope.  That’s why I had to find my voice.  I almost didn’t speak up.  I was worried about alienating or hurting my friends who believe differently.  The thing is I respect that folks can believe differently than I do.  I can still be friends and show respect, but I can no longer respect myself if I don’t say when I think something is wrong.  Which is why I couldn’t leave it to my eighteen year old to be the only one crying out “Not fair.”  I have to be able to look in all three of my children’s eyes and know I tried my best to change things for the better, that I didn’t just leave it for them to do.

We have a long way to go, and the past two days have proven that.  We have people–real people with names and faces and families and broken stories living on the streets and in the woods, in bus terminals and empty parking garages.  We have people who are turning their backs on their neighbors, the very ones they are called to love, because they are different.  And we are using words–words from the very same Book that tells us to love–to point fingers and draw lines of division and pain and hurt.

And it’s time to stop.

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other. –John 13:34-35 MSG 

This is how everyone will recognize you…..oh my.

Old, old words.

Calling us to a new way of living.

Even today.

Especially today.

This loving folks and living large is hard.

And yet, it’s all there is…..

Love.  To.  All.

On Mama’s Faith and Welcoming Santa Home

I went over to Mama’s this evening and picked up her Christmas decorations.  It made me sad to think about them not being put out for the first year ever.  Even when Daddy was so sick, we put something out, as best as I can remember.  So this year should be no different.  What made me saddest was thinking about Santa being stuck in his bag.

Oh Santa.

This Santa has watched over me every year of my life.  And now he has a new home.

This Santa has watched over me every year of my life. And now he has a new home.

I grew up with this Santa standing around the tree, on top of the piano, and next to the bookcase over the years.  As far back as I can remember.  I think Mama had it when she was small, but I can’t be sure now.  The story as I recall it is that her Daddy got it from a store display that was being taken down at a store that he worked for.  He’s a beautiful Santa.  Red velvety suit and those cheeks and that beard.  I was always a little bit in awe of him growing up.  He’s just perfect.  At least to me.

As I brought down the bins and bags from the top of the closet in my old bedroom, I wanted to cry.  If my littles hadn’t been with me, all happy and enthusiastic in the excitement of the season, I would have.  The last time these were moved was in January of this year.  My children had helped Mama spread her decorations around the house in early December last year.  She hadn’t had a tree in years, but she enjoyed having her other Christmas decorations around in December.  It was early January, a Tuesday before the littles had dance and gymnastics in town, that we played a game of how quickly and how many Christmas decorations can you find?  We laid them on the bed in that same room, and Mama put them away.  I lifted and put them on the shelf in the closet.  As we were getting the job done, I noticed Mama moving a little slower and realized all over again what a hit her health had taken since Daddy died in November of 2011.  As I zipped up the last bag, I said, “When we open these again, may they find us all in good health.”  Mama paused for moment and said, quietly, “Amen.”

Oh y’all.

I haven’t gone through all the decorations yet.  I don’t want to rush it.  Looking through these treasures and remembering is something to be savored.  I want to hear the stories of my children and their memories as we take each ornament or decoration out of its keeping place.  But Santa?  Oh he is already out.  It was time.

As I look and remember Mama’s hands carefully, and with a deftness that I think she might have been born with, placing each piece where it belonged and had always been placed, my heart breaks.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  We weren’t supposed to be without her right now.  She was supposed to get better.  She had plans.  She told her pastor the day the nightmare of the HospitalStay began that she was going to get better so she could help in the Food Pantry at Trinity UMC, her church.  Feeding folks was her love language, so yeah–she would have loved that.  She was going to get on a train and go to Virginia to see her grandsons, including the new little one who was born one week after she left us.  She was going to do so many things.  When she got stronger.  And she had faith that she would.

I don’t even know.

Except that life is so tragically fragile.

Tonight a young woman, who was one of the first to friend Aub at Wesleyan during a time when she was struggling, is lying in a hospital bed fighting for her life.  None of this makes sense.  She’s too young.  It shouldn’t happen this way.  She too has plans.  She should not be fighting for her life tonight.  She should be laughing with friends and worrying over finals.  She should be contemplating Christmas plans and anticipating next semester’s classes and dreaming about life after graduation in 18 months.  Anything but this.

I can’t make sense of it.   I don’t know this young woman except through the encouragement she gave my daughter in messages and the stories my Aub has told me.  But I know with a Mama’s heart that she is someone special.  You love my baby, you got my heart.  And she has it.

I don’t know if my faith can take this.  I don’t know what to do with the sheer craziness of it.  There’s no way to make this make sense.

Something caught my eye at Mama’s this evening as I was getting ready to go.  On the chair next to where she sat at her counter to do her crossword puzzles were her devotionals.  The past two years I got her the Guideposts (large print–I’m so there myself) daily devotions book for Christmas.  She enjoyed it in 2012 and told me so–I was glad, as I’d just taken a chance with that gift.  So last Christmas it was a repeat.  She had both on her stool and her Upper Room devotional from church.  The thing that I noticed for the first time in ten months is that both of the current books were open to January 18.  Mama went in the hospital on the afternoon of the 17th.  She was so very sick and in tremendous pain, yet she found the wherewithal to sit and read the day’s words in each book.

The page marked with one of Mama's Mary Engelbreit page-a-day calendar pages.  January 18.

The page marked with one of Mama’s Mary Engelbreit page-a-day calendar pages. January 18.

Oh Mama.

Thank you for that reminder.  That when the world doesn’t make sense, you still keep on keeping on.  Keeping the faith.  Even in the midst of pain and heartbreak.  Run the race.  Do the do.

But still.

I’m just not sure if I can.  She was one of the strongest people I know.  And she left some strong ones here to look after me and all of us young’uns, but I just don’t know how strong I can be.

It frustrated her when I was so angry after Daddy died.  She wanted me to find my way back to faith and hope and love.  And the greatest of these is love…..

And in a lot of ways I did.  Until she had to suffer as she did, when she had such great plans.  And not for her own selfish needs but for others.  And then my friend lost his battle with the demon alcohol and still struggles everyday, living wherever he can until the police give him a ticket and “shoo” him away.  And then another person we cared about lost his battle and his life to that same demon.  And a sweet woman, a new friend, is in and out of the hospital with seizures and heart problems and she has no insurance and she too is struggling.  And now a young woman with the best of life yet to come lies fighting what some have already said is a losing battle.

I’m tired of lost battles.  Seriously.  Enough is enough.

So tonight as I seek comfort and reassurance, I look over at my old friend, our Santa from my days of growing up, his first time in thirty-six years away from Blackberry Flats.  I wish I could write a letter to Santa and have faith he would respond.  Or say a prayer to God and know it all would all be better, be fixed.

Unfortunately, I know better.  I know that prayers don’t always get answered the way we hope, despite people all over praying for the same thing.  I know that good people have horrible things happen to them, and it makes no sense.  I know that some people who do wrong are never held accountable.  And I know that good people struggle and sometimes they die too soon and it just makes no sense.

Mama knew all of that too.  I don’t know anything that she wasn’t already aware of.  And yet, a marker is in her devotional for January 18.

She never got to read it.

If that’s not faith, I don’t know what is.

Hey Santa.  It’s been a while.  A lot has changed while you were sleeping.  Welcome to your new home.  I hope you like this spot.  Doesn’t have to be permanent, we can work something else out if you’d prefer.   So yessir, here’s the thing.  This year, I’d like for healing to happen for these folks I care about and the ones I don’t even know.  But if that’s not possible, could you please give me faith like my Mama’s?  You know what?  That’s something else that doesn’t make sense.  Her faith.  She was hurt by people who should have fought anyone who tried to hurt her, but they didn’t.  And yet, she kept the faith.  And just about threatened to send me to find my own switch if I didn’t get mine back in order.  Well, Santa, here we are, and I’m trying to find my way without her.  And I’m hurting.  My faith has taken a baseball bat up the middle and it’s shattered.  I got little to nothing.  So please, please, could you send me some?  I don’t really know what it will look like or what to expect, I just know I will know it when I have it, when I see it, when I feel it.  When I see through it, with it.  To look through the eyes of faith like my Mama did.  That’s what I wish for.  Thank you, Santa, for always listening to my wants and wishes.  I hope you’ll be happy here.  Love always, Tara

January 18.  My Mama had faith. It’s all I can hold on to for now.  And wrap my heart around it and hold on tight.


Dear friends and readers, if you have a moment and you are a praying person, could you please pray for sweet K, my daughter’s friend, and her family?  If you are not, would you please keep them in your thoughts and hearts?  We don’t know what the future holds, but peace and comfort are pretty good things to wish for no matter what.  Thank you and love to all.