Things We Carry

It has been a day. The night was long with sickness after battling aggravating symptoms for nearing a week and finally getting medicine that I knew would make me worse before making me better. I used to tell Heather when she was growing up that I needed mornings to be peaceful – mornings most of all, and that comes from way, way back – one of the things I carry. As I spend my days teaching the now familiar discipline of psychology, I often “feel” the truth of the words as I convey them, “everything psychological is simultaneously biological.” Sick so much in the mornings as a child – sick from worries and anxieties that translated into sick stomach, low-grade fevers, headaches, etc. and being told “it’s all in your mind.” 50+ years in and I’ve still not learned how to do sick very well. I especially don’t do sick stomach in the mornings well and it leaves me emotionally ragged, but I refuse to let it hinder me from what matters most.

Today I stayed home until my stomach settled enough to make it into work for my classes. I knew students had advising questions I needed to be there to answer, and there’s work to do that we are committed to doing together by semester’s end. So glad I made it as one class in particular brought students with much to share – pertinent to coursework and relevant to their present experience. Good work is accomplished when the time is right, and today was one of those days.

I love my job because I love students, and I love students because I love Jesus. He has given me the passion for encouraging young people as they journey toward adult life and into careers where they hope to use their gifts and talents to help, to heal, and to bless others. I believe teaching is one of the most rewarding of all careers because it gives opportunity to daily see progress toward worthy goals. To do it well requires sharing knowledge and sharing your heart. With every group, I’m aware each one brings past experiences, things they carry, that can sometimes feel heavy and burdensome. I am tasked to remember, to pay attention, to create and maintain emotional safety to the best of my ability, and to always extend compassion and care and a listening presence that offers hope when needed.

Maybe it is because of what I carry that uniquely equips me for this particular role. Maybe even days like today – the ones that start as hard mornings – are sometimes necessary to remind me to extend more love and kindness along with assignments and discussions and “work.” The papers will be written, the texts read, the tests taken, and all of that is necessary, but most importantly we will have gathered together and shared a journey and learned a bit more about what it means to grow together through challenges of many kinds.

No matter how alone a person can sometimes feel, this human experience is indeed shared – all of it -uniting us in ways too many to name…

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It’s Been Almost 30 Years: Time to Tell

Listening to the preaching this morning from Revelations and considering “after these things….” Scripture records history and it records prophesy. It details lives of individuals as well as nations and groups of people, and in it we find true words to guide us on our paths and to shed light on our journeys. Here’s a bit of mine.

It has been almost 30 years since my time of great shame and brokenness. Having had a struggle from early childhood throughout adolescence and into early adulthood, a complete breaking occurred. I was Mommy to a precious little angel-looking girl with eyes as blue as clear sky and hair like golden silk who looked to me to protect her, to love and teach her, to be strong for her, and I was not able. The innocence of childhood looking to me for what I did not have and seemingly could not find…it broke me.

I was working full time in a bank and trying to hold myself together but was finding each day harder than the one before, harder to cover the complete lack of peace; the overwhelming cloud of worry that would not abate. I did not know what to do. I finally got to the place of acknowledging something had to give or I simply could not continue to breathe. Sounds foreign to anyone who has not suffered in this way and all to familiar to those who have. There’s something here for everyone to learn. I know the journey continues to offer lessons to me just as it did this morning when memory took me back to a place I’ve not mentioned to many but find now it is time to tell.

It is time to tell that the breaking resulted in voluntary admission for psychiatric treatment for myself – a humiliating experience at the time, and one that came with reactions of every kind from those around me and those far from me. Everyone had their opinions…

Once admitted, I found others who were outwardly in far worse condition than I was in. Their lives had taken turns mine had not so we seemed very different. In many ways we were, but I soon learned that in other ways we were alike and that is where we would meet – around common suffering.

I saw grown men weep when they heard in the stories of others how strength wielded against one with lesser strength devastates the mind, heart, and soul of the victim. I heard those men give words to their life stories – connecting what they endured at one point to what they perpetuated against another later on. I saw forgiveness and healing and help in an unlikely place…

My first night there, I felt afraid and so very alone. Though I had checked myself in, I could not check myself out – not until I had spent at least 3 days, so I was stuck. The irony is that I went there to escape terror that existed inside myself only to find myself terrified of being in the place I went seeking relief. The first night, though, while lying there in silence and dark, the lady sharing the room spoke and asked, “honey, would it be alright if I prayed?” I had thought she was sleeping until her gentle voice broke the silence with the question. I welcomed her prayer. She lay there and began to call on The Lord. I will never forget what happened within me as her words rose to heaven from a place that felt so isolated – forgotten by the larger world – behind locked doors. The Holy Spirit’s sweet presence was palpable and I let the tears flow down my cheeks as I silently thanked Jesus for coming where no one else could come; for His attention to “the least of these” of which I knew I was one…

I’ve not shared with many this piece of my story. The lingering memory of words that still ring in my mind of what was said to and about me then has kept this all-important message locked away. One of the hardest was the “preacher” who said “all that is wrong is she has gotten away from The Lord.” Thinking about this today and my soul rejoices in this: The Lord did not ever get far away from me. I would never claim I didn’t make many errors and commit sin during this or other seasons of life, but I can testify to the faithfulness of my Savior despite my failures. Other things that contributed to my silence on this is the truth that much of what occurred in my mind and heart is still a mystery to me. When a person goes through such dark, disturbing, years’ long valleys, the effort to just keep breathing and hanging on clouds most everything else. The inner world consumes most of one’s energy making all else faded and dim in comparison. What others remember of me during those years would likely be quite different from what I remember because I was sucked into a dark place – one I tried to hide from others and one I longed to escape…

What was transforming for me there was that I was able to give voice to all of what consumed my mind. I found people who could listen without judgment and with deep compassion. And I met the very best friend I’ve ever had. She is still my dearest friend. There was a 1 year period wherein I received lots of inpatient and outpatient care. People invested their time, wisdom, energy, and love in my life. They kept me engaged in therapy until they had built within me some hope and belief that I could get well; that I could live without the sense of doom and terror that had been ever too close all the years of my life. I was asked one evening sitting there in the hallway of the hospital, “if you could do anything with your life when you leave here, what would it be?” I remember my answer with clarity, “I would go to school and get an education so I could be a teacher.” To which the person responded, “well, do it.” And hope took root that day in this, then, GED holding drop-out. Within a few months, I was enrolled at Kennesaw State University…

Two scriptures keep coming to mind this morning as they relate to my experience. Psalm 40 says of The Lord, “He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock…And He has put a new song in my mouth, even praise to our God…” And psalm 139 speaks to that lonesome time all those years ago when feeling so dejected – when in process of trying to heal from what I did not understand: “Where shall I go from Thy Spirit? or where shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea: even there shall Thy Hand hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me: even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hides not from Thee; but the night shines as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee.” I love how Jesus sees all need the same. Humans stumble at “mental illness,” because most do not realize it is just another result of the fall – no more or less real and in need of compassion and help – than any other affliction. It is time for all who, like me, personally know this journey through mental and emotional anguish, to speak up without unnecessary shame. When I got up to come to the computer to write this all down, I felt as if I was undoing a cloak of pride and laying it aside for a needful cause. Everything, everything is always about more than me; more than you or me. Unless I’m willing to risk a bit of harm or loss for another, my love is simply not enough. So I offer this today in hopes of reaching another with life-giving breath to believe healing is possible…

Many of you know much of my story but haven’t known this part until now. No doubt, you’ve noticed my peculiarities, my deeply held convictions, and my obvious sensitivity to human suffering. Some know my educational story of having been a drop-out and then getting opportunity to get a degree and go on to earn a graduate degree. My passion for teaching is soul-deep. My love for students and for those they will serve is rooted in my own lived-experience of need, met need, and healing that comes through Godly love. I want to give the best I have to give, and I cannot do that without offering honesty, authenticity, and transparency. This life…it has been one rugged and amazing journey. I wouldn’t trade it for one of lesser suffering. I wouldn’t trade it for one absent of the unique experience through the valley of the shadow. No one will appreciate peace and the Joy of The Lord more than the ones who have known the opposite. No one will go to the lengths necessary to reach the broken other than the ones who were once broken and are now healed…

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Remembering and More Tired Ramblings:

It’s been a bit of a hard day. Coming off of five good days with boys visiting – filling the house with their happy noise, and then the quiet that fell when they left yesterday evening gave way to a fitful night. So thankful things are as well as they are; Noah is learning and growing and we have good visits and talks; all things considered I’m grateful. But that does not stop the ache in the heart when we find ourselves minus one at every gathering, and when we can’t seem to shake the knowing that time is passing by – days apart that cannot be recovered. I take comfort in scripture’s teaching that though time cannot be recovered it can be restored…

We’ve come a long way since December when Noah went to boarding school. Erick needed people around, and I honestly didn’t want to see a soul. I just wanted to grieve in solitude and let my heart grapple with all the loss and hurt for which there were no adequate words to describe. I went to a football game at the high school Friday night – took Riley and another and I made it with no tears. Erick had readied to go and backed out last minute, but he went with us to the cross-country meet at Berry Saturday morning. The weather was perfect like the first time we went there for Noah to run when he was 10. I asked Erick while there how he was holding up and he answered, “I feel like I’m missing a limb.” That’s it – the missing for which no one has words…Makes me think deeply and ever-so-tenderly about others with far greater sorrows than ours; so many whose sons and daughters are not just away to heal and grow but have passed from this life not to return. Their grief is unimaginable to me and my heart is mindful of them in ways it was not before…

I remember when; when we took in the boy who was different from us and someone said to me, “I hope he doesn’t lead Noah astray.” This was not from a family member and I knew the person meant well, but it still stung, and in truth, it still does. I could have said, “I hope you don’t lead me astray and that I don’t lead you astray! Mercy! Seems we are blind to each human’s inclination to error including our own. What we do to one another with our words…

I’m not sure I’ll ever stop learning from the experiences we’ve had and continue to as a result of our journey with our other boy – the one we were blessed to borrow for a time. That cannot be taken way either – the time we had, we had, and it is now written into our stories and into our hearts where it will remain for eternity, fixed there, forever family in a sort of way few could ever understand.

I won’t forget when the Lord spoke to me saying, “love him.” I felt the words in my heart. I was certain from where the message came. I didn’t resist, but I didn’t understand what that would entail until later. The dawning became clear when on Christmas morning The Spirit spoke in my heart again and said, “set another place at the table. Make room.” And so we did. We made room…

What I’ve learned, in part, from the experiences of recent years coupled together with learning from way earlier on is that there are no “good people” and “bad people.” We are all just people, and every single one of us makes many errors – we sin – every single one. It’s when we are awakened to our own error that we are being given the great grace offered – repentance and change. What a gift, indeed. And what responsibility comes with it when we step over the threshold into His Lordship. From then on, we are no longer our own. We are His. Our lives are offered for His service to be used in whatever way He chooses – come what may. That’s where I’m learning to rest- in His will.

I never had any assurance that the journey with the boy would result in a particular way. I just had the inner knowing that it was meant for us to offer open hands. Erick had the same. I’ll never forget what he said to me: “there are plenty of reasons I can come up with not to do this, but not a one of them is justifiable to The Lord.” I knew what he meant. To those whom much (grace) has been given, much is required.

There’s an old saying, “anything worthwhile is seldom easy.” Isn’t that true? It has proved so in my life so I’ve come to expect challenge and struggle and also the benefits produced by it. To say we are changed people as a result of the last 3 years is an understatement. Mostly, it has changed how I view all people, myself included. It has changed my expectations, and it has increased sensitivity to personal need. Need is something we all have. Seems few are willing to love and give when it is costly or troublesome. The word love is thrown around like it is all about cozy feelings and warm attachments. That is not what love is. Love is the costliest of all human experiences. It holds on tight when necessary and lets go when necessary despite how it feels. It casts a broad net and draws close whatever it touches. Love is patient and kind. It never harms. It isn’t rude, proud, or boastful and it takes no pleasure at all in evil. It rejoices in truth and it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. I guess more than anything else, I’ve come to realize getting this one thing right is what life is all about. I want to see each person as The Lord sees them. I want to see them as worthy of pursuit – worthy of having a shepherd who leaves the 99 to come retrieve any one of the lost back into the fold. Every life is worth the time it takes to save it.

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Days to Remember

We mark time’s passing with celebrations and remembrances, and as we do we take stock of where we’ve been, what’s been gained and lost, and what we hope for in the future.

Spent time this morning with Riley and Heather. Riley turns 12 today. He’s such a precious, sensitive, strong and gentle soul. He is my only biological grandchild, and we share a special bond. I can’t say that I feel any less connected to Riley than to Noah and Heather. They all have my heart in its entirety. I spend lots of time pondering this life of mine and how so much of it I wouldn’t have chosen, yet I can sing with complete sincerity of The Lord’s goodness recognizing that without every step of this journey I wouldn’t know His love and mercy and grace so intimately. So many times I’ve prayed for my kids to be shielded from what hurts, yet I am reminded that hurt sometimes yields necessary growth and humility. How to even begin to find words for all of my thoughts and feelings about the last 12 years makes me tired and reveals the truth: words are inadequate.

Shopped for new school shoes for Riley today. Leaving the store we saw a teenage boy who looked so much like Keylon. The already gaping hole from Noah’s absence today was looming large and then the reminder of the other one gone just now a year, and I could just sit down and cry. Grief takes my energy away quicker than anything else – grief and loss; unchosen. Reminds of older griefs and losses still sore when revisited…

Makes me think back to times we had rather not remember when things went the opposite of what we had hoped for; when unnecessary and unimaginable harm broke in and broke us all. I did not know the kind of faith I was going to need to survive the days, weeks, and months to follow until there we were in the day-to-day battle for peace. It still astounds me that a heart that desires peace above all else can encounter so much strife, but we can’t live inside a bubble. By design and necessity, we are connected to so many people, and when we open our hearts to loving others we are opening to share whatever life brings to them.

Hurt has taught me compassion. It has taught me humility. It has taught me forgiveness. It has taught me resilience. It has taught me the depths of genuine love. It has strengthened me in my resolve to keep moving through the days with hope despite criticism, gossip, or accusations. It has caused me to account for what is unknown in any given situation. It has also taught me there is only one truth.

The good part of looking back is finding God’s Hand of loving-kindness making a way for a better life for each of us. He has given us laughter and play and lots of growth. He has healed so much of what was broken. He is faithful, and we are His.

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Unwelcome at the Table

I’ve been out pulling weeds with a million thoughts swirling. I found myself humming and singing an old hymn as I pondered who I am and how I came to be this way. I often hold back from sharing things for fear of sounding unkind or bitter when, in truth, I’m really not either, at least I’m not anymore. I am, though, most certainly, forever carved into the person I am by the experiences I’ve had, and maybe it is necessary to lay it all out for benefit of others who have walked their own hard roads and need encouragement. If for no other reason, maybe my own children and their children can better understand MamaGranny by reading the words that define a life and have made me the kind of mother and grandmother that I am.

Those early years of loss cannot be overstated. Devastation from family grief – the unspeakable already happened and everyone left to pick up the pieces, dividing up blame and living wounds that scar the young the most. When children see their caregivers broken, there’s a natural anxiety reaction that takes root and underpins each day, and the roots of that anxiety grow with the child – ultimately branching and leafing into all sorts of thoughts and feelings that color their world in shades of grays and blues and bleak. They need more sunshine than the rest just to give enough light to see any hope at all. It’s true.

I stumbled right through school – first through eighth grades provided two years that weren’t a mess, just two of the eight approached anything akin to “normal.” The rest was a blur of awkward interactions with teachers, administrators, and peers that left me knowing for sure that I was different and my kind of different was not the kind anyone sought out. It was, instead, the kind to avoid, and I knew it – they had no idea what to do with me and I was a bother better ignored…

The train wreck of my teenage marriage was not doomed by age alone. Many have made a successful go of young marriage, but I was not a typical teen. I had not walked on sure footing all the way to that early marriage – far from it, and everyone knew. They knew of all the years of chaos and grief and inability to achieve well-being, and yet I was launched like a rocket into a world I could never accommodate. And from there ground gave way to a freefall many years’ steep.

Divorcing early-to-mid twenties (I say it this way because there are a few years of upheaval that leave little by way of memory other than a blur), I dug my way out of difficulties one shaky choice after another until I felt I was beginning again as much as this life allows. I had to. I cannot explain it nor do I have the energy or desire to in this format given the complexity and personal nature of what I endured. As I write this and remember, I whisper, “only Jesus” because He alone knows it all…

During that awful time, I had opportunity to learn the truth of God’s faithfulness. Though “in the wrong” from everything I had ever been taught, His Spirit and presence comforted me. I puzzled at His love that didn’t let go. See, in our church the divorced and remarried cannot be a “member” of the church. What this means is that you cannot take part in communion, and you can come and will be treated well except for the fact that you cannot “belong.” Confusing, but…it is the rules. Interestingly, many who can and do “belong” choose not to take part in communion. It is not like many churches have it. In our church communion is part of the foot-washing service – a solemn remembrance of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet at the last supper. It is one of the most humbling experiences when the ladies gather on one side of the church and men on the other and they take turns washing their brothers’ and sisters’ feet. This is done after scripture is read of when Jesus gave the example and said, “as oft as you do this, do it in remembrance of Me.” I loved getting so close to Jesus by bowing low to wash a sister’s feet knowing this is how tenderly He held those in His presence, how He proved His intimate care…

In the altar at the front of the church, a table is set with the bread, wine, pans, and towels. Only those in good standing with church rules are welcome to take part. I’ve visited church many times since remarrying after my divorce. People are kind enough, but I always know, and they know, too, that I am not welcome at the table. I love them. I do. But I know that Jesus has not vacated my temple (my body.) His Word says He engraved my name, an old sinner, a needy child, on the palm of His Hand and promised to never forsake me. So I did not continue to go. I cannot. I can pray for them, oh and I do. But I cannot go knowing the contradiction between Christ Himself and the keepers of what they would say is “His” table.

I learned so much from this life journey I am on. And I admit I am SO tired. I am wrung out and worn out and grieving over so much loss and so much wrong and so much more… At this point, I could care less what anyone thinks of me other than hoping they might listen to the lessons learned that need to be heeded for the sake of many who will come after me. I trust almost no one. I didn’t as a child, and then for a short time as an adult I did only to find out people will let you down. It is human nature for people to draw their swords in battle, to choose up sides, to gossip and slander and to find ways to elevate themselves in their own minds by denigrating others. But the presence of The Holy Spirit convicts us and corrects us; humbles us and changes us, right?

I can mark time by the many sit downs I’ve had with people in positions of authority who live one thing and preach/teach another. I’ve borne the wounds of those kinds and watched my children endure and then bear the same. I’ve pleaded, prayed with, and tried reasoning through all kinds of things with so many, and now I just pull weeds by myself and sing of Jesus. I draw near to Him in the garden and He graciously communes in this old worn out Mama’s heart with His gentle blessings. He reminds me of how He was cast out, too, and He was and is perfect. The truth of the matter is – no one is worthy to sit at His table except for His righteousness that He gives. See that? No one is worthy – no not one. And yet…

The song I was singing this morning when all of this came to mind to write is this:

“I’m so glad I’ve learned to trust Him; precious Jesus – Savior, Friend.

And I know that Thou art with me – will be with me to the end.”

And that is enough for me.

Maybe I had to hurt all the way til now to speak the truth that hurts so many hearts and lives. I’ve read and pondered the scriptures and wept and repented over my very real sins, but I see there where scriptures says for “Each one to examine himself” before taking part in communion. It is there for a purpose. Like everything Jesus did, there is grace to be found in His handling of all things; His way is the way of grace and truth.

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Thoughts…

Been here almost a year, just almost, and the previous homeowner who owns some lots next to us said through his realtor that the lots go with this home, but he wouldn’t discuss selling them to us until after we completed the purchase of the home. Now…that makes no sense, but we were in a hurry, trying to do the next right thing for our family. If only we had known what all was ahead on that front we might not have bought here anyway, but we didn’t know and this seemed the best place at the time.

We were offered first right of refusal if/when they were ready to talk of selling the land. We had a letter left in our box (not mailed) just dropped in by the previous owners a few weeks ago offering us the land at quite a high price, much higher than other lots recently sold on the mountain. Erick has done his research and knows what the lots were purchased for previously and what all the ones nearby have sold for along with what others are currently priced, so we have said we can’t offer what is not in line with these.

Today I came home from my parents’ house – a day they needed a visit. There were little orange flags placed along our drive and there are for sale by owner signs on the adjoining property. Erick was home when the gentleman came and did his thing with the flags but he didn’t come to the door. Imagine it’s a bit easier to keep business business when we don’t face the humans affected by our decisions. I don’t necessarily think that is a good thing, but it is a real thing – don’t I know it!

I well remember when Erick and I were young, 25 years ago and had just purchased our brand new home. We were so thrilled – just loved the view out the back over the ridge thick with trees. A neighbor came over upset saying he got a letter from the DOT saying they were going to build a bypass and would be taking their property. We investigated and found out they would be taking the neighbor’s, but they would not take ours. Instead, the bypass would run right behind our house. We would then overlook a bridge. Oh, the disappointment for a while. Indeed the neighbors’ home was bought and demolished and then, we waited. 25 years later, there is still no bypass and no bridge behind that house. We’ve sold that home and moved on, and here we are again with angst over what is to be beside, behind (whatever) our home.

For me, I am no longer too worried about any of that. I’m sorry for my sweet man, though, who works so hard and tries to make good decisions for his family only to bump up against things that make for heaviness on his shoulders. I’m reading a book about a displaced family in South Sudan who spent time in a refugee camp where food and clean water were scarce after having been driven from their village by ruthless forces who had no compassion. That makes any of what we face or have faced seem mighty small…

I often think of scripture’s lessons, too, that remind us again and again that all in this world is temporary. It is not sinful to enjoy home and to build a life where we are so long as we remember Who provides and not to hold too tightly to anything that is meant to be temporary. I surely can say that it would be a better world if we all treated others as we want to be treated. Business is typically not handled that way. I hate that, but it is true. We end up with each party hoping for the best outcome for themselves even at the expense (loss) of the other fellow. I don’t want to be that way.

I had such a pleasant drive to Mama and Daddy’s house early in the day. I got there and saw Daddy’s garden thriving and marveled at all the years The Lord has provided, and He continues, for my elderly parents and for all our family. I hope I hold loosely to all else and hold firmly to gratitude and grace. I often find myself wanting to hand faith over to another who needs firming up. Though mine sometimes is a bit wobbly, The Holy Spirit is faithful to correct me pretty quickly and have me look at what all has already been given in great grace and mercy. Maybe if this land sells, it will be to neighbors that we can bless and will bless us, too. Maybe, just maybe, if it doesn’t sell anytime soon, the price will fall to an amount Erick is happy to pay. Regardless, I’m so very thankful to have a pleasant place to lay my head, food for my belly, clean water to drink, and a place where peace rests gently in my heart despite what may trouble outside the door…

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Concern

I remember when the video first appeared showing a police officer with his knee on the back of a man who was begging for air. I remember the horror I felt, the anger, and the despair. I watched most of the trial and was sobered a bit by the amount of video that I had never seen before that showed what led up to the 9 minutes of video that our nation and much of the world had memorized from the incessant airing of it over days, weeks, and months following the event.

I have been cautioning students for years to “account for what you don’t know” and I realize that even with intent and effort to do so I sometimes fail. In other words, I form an opinion based on part and not the whole…

I still suffer when I watch the unfolding of the scene that ends with a dead man being lifted onto a stretcher, but I also suffer when I hear people say he sacrificed his life for justice. That did not happen. He had no idea he was going to die that day. He absolutely did not wish to be arrested by police when they approached him after being called for assistance – to deal with Mr. Floyd after he passed what a store clerk believed to be a counterfeit $20 bill. I suffer when I watch 3 police officers struggle to get Mr. Floyd into the back of the police car – when I hear him plead with them and watch him flail about as they try to do their job. It is their job to handcuff and place citizens in the back of a patrol car and take them into the station for further processing. For many reasons, he would not cooperate for that to happen. It was and is painful to watch. Was he panicked? Frightened? High? Mentally ill? They did not know, but they did have reason to take him into custody, and he did not go willingly, and then the unraveling that we all watched in horror ended in tragedy.

I worry what we are teaching our children and young adults when we herald someone a hero in cases like these. There was nothing heroic about what Mr. Floyd did. There is tragedy all around because “excessive force” resulted in death, but less force resulted in him throwing himself out of the car. When I first watched Mr. Chauvin with his knee on Mr. Floyd’s back – hands in pockets – appearing smug, I wanted to throttle him. When I watched it in the context of a prolonged struggle that did not subside until Mr. Floyd was on the ground, I wondered what was truly going on inside the mind of the officer. I cannot make that call. I so wish he had not put his knee on the gentleman’s back. I wish Mr. Floyd had been kept on his side. I wish he were still alive, and I wish both men’s lives were free. Now, one is dead and one is locked away, and we are left with the lessons to learn from it all. I’m just concerned we aren’t learning the best lessons – that a false narrative is being spun and rightful accountability is not being dealt to all deserving parties.

Was the arrest mishandled? Of course. But, the question no one seems willing to address is one I have ask myself after experiencing something distressing in my own life: what could I have done differently that would have resulted in a better outcome? Who, besides Mr. Chauvin, made errors on that fateful day? Is it important to at the very least acknowledge that this all began with breaking the law and then refusing to cooperate with a simple request to get into the back of a car?

For real peace to be achieved, all of truth must be acknowledged and honored. The death of George Floyd is a tragedy and the fate of Mr. Chauvin is a tragedy, and heralding either a hero from their behaviors on that day is a mark of foolishness and ignorance that furthers the demise of our nation.
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The Journey

The vote of “no confidence” was earned by a world of others who chose to look the other way when care and attention was needed. Of all the things I’ve battled in this life, this one lies at the root. And it’s the place to where I return again and again – a difficult place I must face in order to remember what matters most and why I am the way I am – different.

I listened yesterday to a researcher speak on “twice exceptional” individuals. He described those whose gifts are counterbalanced by deficiencies or difficulties and how this paradox poses incredible challenges for them and for those with whom they interact. Frustrations build within twice exceptional individuals and with their teachers, peers, and families. An example of a twice exceptional person is someone with superior intellect or significant gifting who also has a learning disability or a psychological disorder. These individuals are complex and thus perplexing to those who do not share this unique composition – oftentimes those who do not share are the ones tasked with teaching, managing, or raising these unique characters. Even when the responsible party dose share a similar composition, challenges remain.

Self-concept is formed through interactions with others. No matter how bright or capable a person is, no matter their potential, if treated as if they are a bother, ignorant, annoying, or less-than, they will believe it. Consider the significant growth and development that naturally occurs in an imaginative, creative, uniquely complex mind in the first 12 years of life. Then consider the impact of incessant correction, criticism, and negative emotion directed at the child for expressing enthusiasm, questions, and comments that, by nature, press to be shared – all occurring in the context of a peer group. Just consider the cost… By the 12th year, puberty has either set in or it is about to, and with puberty comes the deep desire to fit in, to be liked, to be valued and seen as worthy…

I can’t untangle Noah’s experience from my own, nor can I imagine how different this journey might be if I did not share so much in common with my boy. I guess part of my grief is that I feel I should have been able to spare him, to protect him, to prevent the pitfalls that entrapped me, and yet I did not succeed in my efforts to do so. And…in all honesty, I trip over the truth that I trusted where I should not have. I knew better, but I did it anyway. Apparently, I still held a deep-seated belief that I somehow deserved at least a portion of what I had received as a kid. I did not believe Noah deserved it and I somehow psychologically and emotionally surmised his outcome would be better and his suffering less. I was wrong.

That 5th grade year in the hall would be bad enough if only the one teacher who sent me there had known where I was, but he was not alone. Every teacher in the school knew. Every parent that visited knew. Every administrator knew. Even the visiting counselor knew, and no one did a thing. That year all adults in my life who in any way had dealings with the school earned my vote of “no confidence.” How could I ever forget that the vast majority of people look the other way unless it is them or their own who suffer? I won’t forget again.

I remember the tenderness and sensitivity Noah exhibited early on. He would pat us gently on the shoulders when he lay his head there as a baby – so gentle, loving, and affectionate by nature. Then his natural exuberance that he, my niece Grace, and I all share for nature and for life that was there from the very first of his interaction with the world. I was delighted. But then at age 4, the first sign of trouble, Noah said to me with a sad countenance, “Mommy, I wish I could go on up to heaven now.” I asked, “why, Noah?” He replied, “because sometimes I have very bad thoughts that I can’t make go away, and I know in heaven the bad thoughts won’t be able to come.” I had to hold a response until I had time to get away and let my tears fall. I knew then he had it, too.

I did not know until I was 18 years old that there was a name for what I suffered – OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by disturbing, intrusive thoughts that lead to repetitive, compulsive behaviors. A common example is fear of germs and contamination and then washing or sanitizing behaviors in attempt to alleviate the fear. OCD can take many forms, but in all cases the intrusive thoughts torment the mind of the sufferer. The thoughts are almost always those most abhorrent to the person and leave the person feeling and believing they are dirty, bad, or evil. Imagine suffering with this and then having others treat you as if you are bad. Just imagine how that evolves in the developing mind of a child. Try sharing this with teachers and administrators who are clueless about psychological disorders. Pride is an ugly thing and you know it when you see it. So many in authority had rather keep it simple and look the other way than to take the time and patience necessary to save that one life. Just a note: when we save one life, we are never saving just one life; we are saving every other life that that one life influences for good. We need more who understand complexity and who are willing to invest in every life equally…

This weight I carry is both a blessing and a curse. Each day I wake knowing there are many out there suffering while the masses look the other way. I often feel like I’m “a voice crying in the wilderness” on behalf of “the least of these.” My mission field is comprised of those who will go out and be responsible for shaping culture – parents, teachers, administrators, healthcare workers, etc. It is our duty to know and understand the impact we have on one another. It is our duty to listen sensitively to those we do not understand and to care enough to do hard and holy things that others did not do for us. I am trying. Today, effort has to be enough.

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A Few Things That Shaped Me

First of all, I believe in miracles because I’ve seen them. I’ve been the recipient of blessings beyond what I would have thought to ask for. That will make a believer out of a person. It did me.

I used to be embarrassed by many of the experiences I have had – especially decisions I made as a young person that I would not make as an older person, but then I became a teacher and learned compassion for myself as I was able to see the young me in the faces of the dear students who have made their way to my office to share broken hearts and regrets.

When healing is the goal, we have to lay aside a bit of pride and be willing to share what we’ve learned from mistakes, sin, and failure. I’ve learned much the hard way. Maybe I can spare others by sharing.

The early years of my life offered difficult challenges that laid the foundation for the work I would do as an adult. I just didn’t know it at the time. I would never have guessed it, but I’m grateful that I can see the merciful Hand of The Lord at work from the beginning when I look back. He was always there.

The early loss of my aunt to suicide and the resulting family grief of which I’ve written already cannot be overstated. Another experience that had profound impact was Daddy’s rheumatoid arthritis that became debilitating for a time forcing him into temporary retirement. I well remember Mama having to help him dress himself when he came off the long-haul trucking so swollen and stiff he could scarcely move. Our family lost our health insurance and the pre-existing condition made it a battle from then on to obtain decent coverage at an affordable price. We just went without it for years. Getting sick or injured took on a whole new stress for all of us, and I was just a young kid. I’ve never forgotten nor have I taken health insurance for granted…

Personality is strongly influenced by genetics. I’ve learned that studying psychology. We all come into this world with a temperament that we do not choose. I was sensitive from the start, and I’m still sensitive 50 years into this experiment. My disposition readied me to absorb the emotions of the family, and I did. I took everything right to the heart. I still do…

I never seemed to have too many relationships with those my age growing up. I was more comfortable either taking care of children younger than me or having conversation and friendship with those much older than me. I was, as some would say, “an old soul.” I loved laughter and play, but there was a serious side to me that was easily distracted from lighthearted interaction and drawn toward the heavy, and I always wanted to be able to lessen the hurt in the world; never seemed to be able to accomplish that as a child.

I never should have, but I did. I started dating at 14, and I married at barely 15. I had not been 15 for a whole month when I took the plunge (over in Alabama because it was illegal in GA even with a parent’s signature). That should have been a clue! Pregnant at 16 and a mother at 17 – life had taken on wheels and I was on a mountain headed south. What a ride…

I had quite a dose of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and becoming such a young mother seemed to rev that up. Though young and ignorant, I was able to recognize the potential for negatively impacting my child as a result of my persistent and intense anxiety so at 18 I sought help from a psychologist. That decision eventually led to me furthering my education. The psychologist strongly encouraged me to get back to school. The first thing I did was get a GED. Then, I decided to take typing classes. I went once and realized all I needed was the book and a typewriter so I borrowed a typewriter, bought the book, and taught myself at home to save the money that taking an actual class was going to cost.

Soon after, I was hired to work at a bank and going to work proved helpful to me not just financially (and there was a serious need for that). I enjoyed working with the public and having a job that kept my mind and hands busy. Marriage was hard. I was woefully unprepared for it, and yet, there I was. I’ll never forget the overwhelming weight I felt from responsibility and life-long commitment both to marriage and to motherhood, and with the heaviness was added guilt over the feelings and no way to make them go away. I never wanted that for my own kids or for anyone else. That is why I offer caution about early dating. A person needs to know who they are and have emotional as well as mental maturity before they can offer themselves in marriage in a healthy way. I had neither, but there I was…

When my daughter started to kindergarten, I started to college. I had dropped out of high school at the end of 9th grade so I was very concerned that I might not do well. The admissions folks at Kennesaw State offered their vote of confidence following entrance exams that they said I did well on. The folks at the GED testing center had also encouraged me to go to college when they gave me the results of my scores. I had to try. I knew I would never get over the embarrassment of being a drop out if I didn’t.

About a year into college, I divorced. We had struggled and were both miserable. I was the one who initiated divorce. That is one long story I’ll not tell as it involves other folks, other perspectives, and lives I wish no harm. I will only share about my emotions and struggles around it. Seemed everyone had an opinion. That is always the case… I stopped going to church, but I learned that the church building does not house my Lord, nor does He leave us when we need Him most. He taught me more through the years out of church than I could ever pen. I’ll never forget the Sundays I spent in quiet – feeling His loving presence and marveling at His grace. I am NOT suggesting people shouldn’t go to church. I am simply acknowledging that The Good Lord continued to draw me to Himself when I felt unwanted by many and misunderstood by all. He is faithful even when we are not, and for that I give Him praise…

Erick and I married and I moved to Rome. I finished my core classes at GA Highlands and then transferred to University of West GA where I completed a BA in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. I was invited into the Honor’s Program which allowed me to study in small groups with dedicated students and with much more professor-student interaction. This, along with taking graduate courses as independent studies while still an undergraduate, laid the foundation for success in graduate level coursework. I had an amazing advisor who recommended I take graduate courses while still an undergraduate. He explained I couldn’t yet get graduate credit for them, but I was ready for the challenge and would learn more. He knew that learning was my goal and His suggestion worked well for me.

After graduation, I received the invitation from Harvard to apply there. I did, and then I went. That experience taught me how to learn in a competitive environment. I learned how to articulate my thoughts in debate and how to listen to those from vastly different backgrounds. There were people from all over the world, and we got along despite differences. In fact, we found we had so much to learn from one another. Many Americans who were in graduate school there had gone to private schools their whole lives. I had never been to private school. I didn’t even go to kindergarten! I didn’t find another high school drop out the whole time I was there, and I didn’t find many southerners either 🙂 Though I suspected I would feel like a real outsider there, I did not. I found people interested in the journey that led me there and in what inspired me to study and learn. I had the same interest in them. We learned as much from one another as we learned from our studies. I also learned I could go to a completely unfamiliar place and be fine. I could make friends, do meaningful work, and enjoy it. In many ways, I grew up while there – away for the first time from what was familiar.

The 5 years following my return home after graduating with my masters also helped shape and solidify my worldview. I had studied the Bible from childhood. Then I studied psychology, sociology, and education. Working at the hospital with mental health and substance abusing patients gave me insight into suffering, coping, faith, and compassion that I could not have obtained any other way. The truth of scripture was revealed from one life story to another to another as I listened to people pour out their hearts when they were on the bottom. Remember, I’m a sensitive soul, and I absorbed much of what they shared – both the positive and the negative. Once in a while, not often, I would go home and weep. I would just let it all come pouring out in tears and would pray for healing and peace everywhere it was needed. It was good for me to listen. It was good for me to be touched deeply, and it was good for me to be able to offer care – even if that is all I could give. Caring matters…

I took four years off from work to be home with Noah when he was little. When he started to PreK, I started teaching at Shorter University. I have found great joy in teaching, but I wouldn’t be nearly as prepared to teach had I not spent 5 years working in the hospital. It amazes me that I can still remember faces and details of many of the patients I saw. That is what happens when you are able to enter fully into the present moment with others in crucial times. Seemed I was able to forget about most everything else when with a patient in crisis. I knew I was being trusted with hearts and that is a trust worth honoring. The result is that they taught me lessons learned in the deepest places of human suffering and it changed me – it grew me.

So, I look back and see a little kid from the country who learned early of life’s sorrows. We had everything we needed, but we had common lives. There was nothing to indicate early on that I would have such vast and unique experiences, and that though I made some terrible choices, The Good Lord was able to use it all for a good purpose. I didn’t even know where Harvard was when they sent me that letter inviting me to apply. How can anyone explain me getting that letter when thousands who seek Harvard out are rejected every year. It wasn’t even on my radar screen, yet that is where I ended up, and I did just fine – even short 3 years of high school. Yep, I believe in miracles. I believe God wills and purposes His plans to come to pass and He blesses beyond measure. I believe it because I’ve lived it. Looking into my Noah’s eyes on our recent visit with him, I said, “Son, I know things you don’t yet know.” Those are some weighty and honest words. I have full confidence in The Lord’s ability to make beauty from ashes, to give life in place of death, and to make all things new. I’m waiting for it…

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There was a Boy

The boy was an only child. He had divorced parents – twice from each other and many times from others. He recalls just wanting to grow up and find a wife and create his own family and never hear the word divorce again. He was thirty when he married – a woman divorced who had a little girl already. He took the little girl on and loved her – with her he learned to be a parent. They sized each other up, both being only children, they had a bit of rivalry for the attention of the lady of the house and it did not escaper her notice nor her amusement. There was much laughter in the house over the years along with struggles and heartaches unlike any other family learning to live and love together…

The all-grown up boy still longed for a biological child. I’ll just say it as it was – he wanted a son. He wanted a son to love, and he wanted to somehow right the wrongs of his own growing up years – not an uncommon desire by adults who had a hard time of it as a kid. Nine years into marriage, he got his wish. He learned a baby boy was on the way. The three, Mom, Dad & Sister, agreed to name the boy a name they could all agree on. They named him Noah before he was ever born. His name was chosen as the three were on a drive in the car on a sunny day, and all were pleased and quiet after agreement – anticipating the life to come…

The boy was born on his original due date, May 11. He was small and wiry and noisy, and oh, so adored. He had blond hair and blue eyes like his sister – the biggest blue eyes that gave you the sense he already had questions to ask – a thinker, I was sure of it.

The first year of life was tough – the bat getting in the house and spending the night there which led to all of us, including the newborn, having to have rabies shots. He was the only child on record anywhere near that young to receive these vaccines. He was dreadfully ill and we were terrified for him. Then at 5 months he had a bad case of RSV requiring breathing treatments, steroids, antibiotics, etc. High fevers from eight weeks on, and we always wondered, still do, how much of his struggles could be attributed to the rabies vaccines. Asthma came on the heels of RSV and the attacks were always worse in the night. He would wake unable to get a good breath. The sounds he made were frightening and he would be reaching and grabbing for me, holding tightly as he struggled for breath. We would open the freezer for the cold air to give relief or take him out into the night air (as instructed by doctors). Breathing treatments would quickly be readied and we would put the mask on while we held him close and promised it would soon be better. And we wonder where the anxiety started…

Sister left home when he was still a toddler. She was 17 when he was born and he adored her, calling her Sidder and trailing around after her every chance he got. Mama didn’t do well with Sidder leaving the nest. The circumstances could have been better, but anytime and any circumstance can be hard for a mother when a child leaves the nest – especially when that mother was just a girl when she became a mother. It’s a different experience – a different bond…

The little boy was full of life and love of nature. He was as inquisitive as any ever has been or ever will be. For everything he encountered that he did not understand, he asked for explanation. I did not squelch that because I understood it. I had been much the same way as a kid, and I well remembered my daddy becoming so exasperated with me that he finally said, on what must have been a particularly challenging day, “if you ask me why one more time, I’m going to whip you.” And without pause and in my own exasperation, I exclaimed, “but why?!” Nothing could have been more unfair in my estimation than being whipped for needing to know, for needing to understand, for wanting to learn…I’m still there.

We didn’t know for the longest that most of the boys in Noah’s grade were about a year older than him. Many parents had chosen to hold their boys back a year in the very beginning. Had I only known the wisdom of this practice and that it was common, I believe we could have saved Noah and ourselves much grief. We did not know, and we were not spared the grief. It was never suggested to us to hold him back by any of his teachers over the years, and so we didn’t. I believe the cost has been significant.

Noah had gross motor delay, especially the left side. We tried swimming lessons at 4 and he could not do it. So…at the end of lessons, he didn’t get a treat from the swim teacher. She never mentioned the left-sided issue. Four years later, we found a different swim teacher. She said in her fifteen years of teaching swim lessons she had not seen what she was seeing in Noah – his left side significantly lacked coordination and strength of the right. She was AMAZING with Noah. She kept at it, patiently, until the boy could swim. And swim he did! She told me to watch as he began making progress. She pointed out how he was compensating for the left-sided weakness in creative ways. We celebrated his success.The next year he mastered riding a bike. Soon after, he decided he would develop enough skill in basketball to compete without humiliation. The two years he homeschooled he spent countless hours outside with the basketball working that left side, battling through the frustration until he had some control. And then he just kept on working.

When you are a boy who has physical deficits (maybe more so when they are not obvious and profound), PE and recess can be brutal. When you have ADHD and your name is called more than anyone else’s because you are simply doing what you are wired to do, it has an impact. In his words, “when I was still a little kid, I was made to feel like I was bad, and then I became bad.” I know he has been no more “bad” than I have been nor that I am , but in his experience, it was deeply hurtful to be made to feel that you are, and his self-concept was shaped by peers and others who conveyed negative opinions of him – many based on things that were beyond his control. He fought back, and the fighting back only made matters worse…

Do not read this as blame from me toward anyone. Kids are kids and are limited in experience and understanding. Adults working with large numbers of kids are imperfect beings with lots of challenges and most are well-intentioned. I do, however, hope that my words are a reminder of the profound impact our handling of kids has on their lives beyond the classroom or whatever/wherever we act in a role of authority over them. They are astute at spotting favoritism, rejection, and hypocrisy and it shapes their worldview, and that is a very big deal…

So, we did some private schooling and some homeschooling and some public schooling. In the midst of all the rest, our family suffered a terrible trauma from an in-law who brought (in the words of the law) domestic violence and cruelty to a child for us to deal with. Noah was 4 when he came along and 8 by the time The Good Lord removed him, but he wasn’t removed before instilling in Noah a horrible distrust that also ignited more panic attacks. The asthma had abated, but the tyrant made it hard for any of us to breathe…

By eighth grade, Noah was ready to get back to “normal schooling” so we enrolled him at a new place. He had some great teachers, but he struggled with peers and with culture shock – for real. Within 6 months of starting to the new school we were faced with the request to take in another boy who needed immediate and ongoing care. We said yes. Was it an opportune time for us to make such a commitment? No. Was it the “right thing to do?” Yes. Apart from belief in and faith in God, my answer would be different. In fact, we would not have even considered it apart from belief in God’s purpose and plan that we do what we could, the best we could, despite the cost and despite the timing.

We learned more in the following year and a half than we could have learned in any PhD program studying race relations, culture, Christian studies, social psychology, and blended families. We learned about ourselves and others things that we could never have known had we not walked that hard and uncommon road. We are still learning.

New Brother was soon moved, upon his request, to a new school due to perpetual harassment for moving in with a “white family.’ Noah wanted to stay where he had started given he had just started to get the hang of the new curriculum and he loved his teachers. But by the next year, we noticed changes in Noah that were worrisome. He later told us, after he was assaulted by a group of boys at school, what he had been up against. We wept for him, with him, and then started the process of trying to help him heal. The assault opened all the old wounds and the boy was tired of trying again. I had noted when he was six and had been told at school on a regular basis that he “sucked” because he wasn’t good at sports, how he would regularly cry himself to sleep at night but then would rise with his little sideways smile and say, “it’ll be alright. I’ll try again.” He would also tell me of the kids who mistreated him, “but I love them, Mama.” And he did. For a very long time, he did.

We did all the things. The evaluations, doctors appointments, counseling, medication trials, everything suggested to us, and Noah continued to suffer and unravel. What had been his characteristic way of being in the world was no more. He was, at many times, unreachable. I thought after we went through all that we went through with the former in-law and resulting harm to my kids that I could never cry that much again. Well…I was wrong. I had thousands more teardrops to shed, and I’m still working on letting them go…

We consulted with specialists for PTSD – that is what Noah was diagnosed with after extensive, objective tests (brain scans included). It was explained to me as “the perfect storm.” Having endured many hard things early on and persevering with impressive amounts of hope and resilience, to then find himself at the age of 14 – puberty – being made sport of by a group of peers while trying to accommodate for all the pressures of high school and a new family structure was a breaking point that would have broke anyone. What to do??? A young specialist and a well-seasoned, older specialist gave the same recommendation. A rebuilding of self-esteem through structured, disciplined environment away from the cultural influences that are so destructive to all young people – particularly those who are already hurting.

Noah is in a teen challenge program in a Christian Boarding School for boys where he is completing school work, caring for his own clothing and chores, contributing to the maintenance of the school along with all of his peers, participating in rigorous exercise, and being taught leadership skills. There are no “name brands” there. All the guys have crew cuts. Everyone learns that he has necessary skills for self and other care. They have movie night once per week for everyone who has accomplished their weekly tasks and goals. They have game nights and lots of recreation. The boys are given opportunity to learn from Christian men how to be his brother’s keeper; how to encourage one another to be the best he can be, and how to prepare to be a man of honor that is not dependent on other people for his self-worth. We have no guarantees what the outcome will be for any of the boys, but we have great confidence that God is able to use this time and these people to help shape and mold and make disciples of the young men in their charge. For this we pray daily and in great hope of God’s answer to our prayers…

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Mama hoeerPri

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