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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Alabama: When Walls Speak…

Still waiting to close on the sell of the Alabama house. Rode there with Erick yesterday – was out of work sick, but could tell how hard it was for him to go there alone so I loaded myself into the old truck beside him, and we started our journey to there. Within minutes of leaving home, the dread fell deep and the quiet spoke between us – so much history we’ve made, and some of it is still just about too painful to bear…

We got there and I went inside – swept the wood floors again in the empty place. Allowed my eyes to fall on every wall I painted, the curtains I chose for each room, the sweet little porch outside the kitchen where I painted and planned and built dreams of days we would spend there, and then I walked out to the tree where I had planted daffodils as a ring all the way around it. They are peeking through, still there, doing what God designed them to do. If only humans were so reliable and obedient…

I remember conversations no one else heard. When I spoke to Keylon about the future. He was SO excited when we were buying that house – a home we would never have bought if not for him coming to us. We made room for him, and as I told him more than once, we made room in our hearts, not just in our home, and that is where the real commitments are made…

Taking in another’s 14 year-old as one’s own is risky. You know it before you take the plunge, and I’ll admit, had it not been for the Holy Spirit’s persistent nudge, we wouldn’t have, but Erick and I both felt Him speak “make room; set another place at the table.” And so we did…

There were azaleas there when we bought the place and he was fascinated by the colors. He would listen as I named the different plants and he was very interested in my nesting, both inside and out. He watched as I climbed the ladder to stencil above the front door. “That’s cool” he said when I removed the template to reveal the design underneath. He said it would be cool to stencil all our names on the walls in big letters since it was “our home”…

The yard was/is huge, and he and I would talk about the future on drives to school. When I would tell him that big yard would one day be filled with children and family – that he would marry and have “little Keylons” and Noah would marry and have “little Noahs” and they would all come to Pa and Granny’s farmhouse and there would be flowers to pick and bring inside and good food on the table around which we would all gather. I can still see in memory his cheeks pulling the corners of his mouth into a shy smile, and then we would ride in silence to the school where I would wish him a good day and promise to see him after…

It wasn’t easy. Not at all. Noah was young, too – just boys trying to learn to be men while also trying to learn how to be family; brothers. Keylon would sometimes get rowdy and challenge me, especially if he had an audience of other teens. Noah would become angry, never thinking I did enough to rein Keylon in. Noah could not understand that building relationship would take time and to expect Keylon to live such a drastically different life than what he had ever known without time to process and adjust wasn’t fair or reasonable. Most of the time I would take Keylon to privacy to deal with him. I knew we were up against a lot and my hope was that love and care would win in time. Erick and I had rules and limits for both boys, but the two were from different worlds and we were walking a path brand new to us with no real help – no one else around knew any better than we did how to make it work, so we did our best – at least knowing that is a comfort…

I’ve often considered how and why so many kids who need good homes can’t be placed. I understand better than I did before. You can, and we did, assume complete responsibility for someone else’s child, but her “rights” were not terminated so she still had access. I get that he felt pulled apart at times. I saw his tears. I saw her texts. I read his actions after visits with her, and I ached for the unfairness to him and to us…

Things you take for granted until you are “raising” someone who hasn’t been taught: littering (it is a legal matter and huge fines go with it for people like us – people who have cars, insurance, jobs). He did not know. When summer came and Erick was still going to work every day he asked why Erick was working in summer. He didn’t know that being off during summers was a teacher thing, not an everybody else thing. I explained a two week vacation was what most folks got (after earning a second week for a certain number of years of service to an employer). Taxes: He didn’t know that taxes were a thing working people paid – he thought it was money that you get at the end of the year from the government. When I explained how our paychecks are taxed before we get what’s left over, he said, “man, that stinks!” He also told me after many months of watching Erick work long hours that he never intended to work like that. I explained that Erick “working like that” is what provided ease of access to the shoes and clothes and dinners and movies out that we all enjoyed. He pondered…

Teaching scripture and prayer as daily bread was met with some respect but led to a conversation that informed me “young people want to be young people and find that Jesus stuff out when we are older.” Not long after, a teenage peer lost his life in an auto accident. I offered, “we aren’t guaranteed getting older.”

I remember the day he got off the bus with a tooth ache and how he had to have it pulled the next day (the day I had my hernia surgery ). He later told me that lying on the electric throw while he recovered was the most comfortable thing he had ever felt. I remember everything. I remember every struggle, every triumph, every insight that I got into a life so unlike my own in so many ways yet so familiar in others. I tried so hard to tell him, to show him, that the love of Jesus is the very best thing on this earth; that it compels a surrendered heart do do hard and holy things; that life is about this great love, but that even with this love the world is a hard place…I tried…

He shared a lot of stories with us, stories very painful to hear. He shared even more stories with Noah. Many know and others sort of know that we had this young boy with us for a year and a half. We signed up for the remainder of his growing up years, but when he went home to Mama there was nothing we could do other than let him go just as willingly as we had let him come…Open hands…that is what I’m learning to offer…

I don’t think I’ll ever understand this side of heaven what all this journey was about for Keylon, for Noah, for Erick and for me, but I’m trying to stay open to whatever The Lord will teach me from it so that I can better honor and serve Him with the days I have left. I saw a lot of miracles during our time with Keylon. I was broken and healed by his presence all at the same time. I am sure that had I not had my own turbulent early years I would not have been so ready to offer home to him especially with the inner-knowing that the emotional cost to us all would be substantial. I am trying to live what I teach – that my life really isn’t my life. My life belongs to The Potter, my Heavenly Father. I am only the clay…May His will be done, and may our boys find Him their soul’s safety and life…
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I think I’ll Take the Long Way Home…

The extra time and the slow drive there invites clear thoughts to speak. Both mothering and teaching require words for others, but this life, too – mine – needs their own space to breathe. Words are important. Nothing is more important than true words other than believing them – believing them is necessary for well-lived lives to unfold, for love to be understood, and for souls to find their worth…

When I lose the ability to reach another with true words, I’ve lost my means of connection, and I feel it – the loss – as if what held us together has been cut. And now, you there, somewhere beyond my reach, and I, here, just waiting for a miracle. These hands – empty – powerless, and my heart’s only hope – The One who holds the world…

I’ve taken to driving the back way home, slow – up the one narrow lane that is shared by travelers going both ways – looking with sad wonder at the brilliant beauty of the season; guessing as to how many are missing it – eyes downcast instead of feasting on autumn’s beauty. Sunroof open, golden light spills inside – warms my hands on the familiar wheel. I hear dry leaves rustle, falling through air.

What a world…as leaves fall to make ready for rest that will bring new growth in spring, camellias open their soft, broad petals in welcome of cold nights and bright days. If only we humans could be as compliant, accepting, and radiant as the rest of nature, the suffering would be given an honorable nod equal to that which we give to joy. We would count it all part of God’s good design and not resist the gifts of every season.

I think I’ll take the long way home again, and give thanks for all the glory that I can see…the bronze and gold, red, green, gray, brown, and silver hues all hint of varieties of blessings awaiting those who have eyes to see…

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The Window

She sat there by the window, still and pale with tears rippling down her soft skin, dripping onto her pocketed top. No sound came from her parted lips nor movement stirred aside from her falling tears. I, there on the couch, sat watching. Round faced and young, feet dangling, wondering if the tears ever stopped and where they started, but I knew why they were there. We all knew, and there was nothing that could make the sadness go away. Sadness replaced a person, and so, Mama cried.
I can’t be sure how long she stayed like that. Seemed like hours, but I was young, only six, and minutes at that age can seem like hours so maybe just for a bit, but for me, the time etched memory deep where it lingers, still, almost a half-century past.
I wondered how much she could see through the curtain sheers that hung between her and the window pane and the falling of the tears that no doubt dimmed her sight as well. She didn’t seem to be seeing, though eyes open, the stare was cloaked in sorrow that seemed to notice nothing else.
Her words barely broke the silence. I heard them though, the words clearly uttered, “I shouldn’t have had any children.” The knowing dawned, “I’m one of those children that shouldn’t be. I wonder what I’ve done wrong.” Isn’t it always the question the child asks? It echoes a haunting refrain, “What did I do wrong.”
Time, as it does, moved us through that day and into others. Some were similar, but that one stands out. I hated that I had heard it. I hated how it felt. I hated worse that she was hurt and I could not make it stop.
I did not know then that grief has a language of its own. It often speaks words it does not mean as there are no words for the depths of sudden sorrow, unanswered questions, and the hole left by one so precious, so dear.
It wasn’t until many years later, when I was the Mama in the chair, still and silent, spilling my own grief-laden tears that I understood it never had been about me, nor had it been that we were unwanted. It was the opposite. It was that the best of life, with all its joy and richness, beauty and light, was what she most wanted for us. Because she was weighted with the burden that would not lift, she wished for us a freedom from her sorrows in the only way her weary mind could fathom. Love…the most often misunderstood of all human gifts. If only our language could carry the truer message of the heart, brokenness would lessen and peace would be easier found.

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And then there was the other shoe that dropped…

Just when you think your little tide might be turning and all is gonna settle, the adversary says, “not so fast. Let me see how I can steal a little more.”

Trying hard to trust and to believe the best of folks, you know there’s always a chance of heartbreak. You never open your heart by my stage of life without that inner knowing, but you open it anyway. Why? Because we are commanded to love. and when Christ indwells a heart, love is what the heart does…

Wisdom literally beckons to human kind. Here in America, though far from a perfect place, we have ample access to God’s Word and most have encountered a true follower of Jesus who offered help to the hurting and His Words of life for the seeking. Problem is, though many don’t say it openly, you cannot serve two masters; “you’ll love the one and hate the other.” The old human flesh likes having its own way. It wants to figure out how to circumvent the necessary surrender; how to get God’s favor while also indulging the flesh. I think it is high time humanity as a whole humbles down and admits we are all slaves to something or someone; slaves to sin or slaves to Christ. The good news is that being a slave to Christ means simply you are saved from all that harms; freed from sin (the only thing that ever really leads to harm.) You can have life and peace but it will cost you dabbling in darkness. The same mouth can’t render praises to God and also enjoy the perversion of music and song that dishonors all that is holy without cost. It does not work that way. God is not mocked. What we sow, we reap. 

I’m trying to wrap my mind and heart around one of the hardest things I’ve ever faced. I’m trying to do it with a teachable spirit holding firmly to The Good Lord and relying on His strength because this latest development has knocked the wind right out of me; a swift kick to the gut this is, but as I just said to Erick, “seems most of the grief I’ve carried in this life has been the kind you just have to bear alone, away from a supportive, understanding crowd. It’s always far too complicated and private for all of that.” I don’t know why, but I know it’s so…

This whole faith journey is an uphill climb. I’m learning that surrendering to God’s will means having only the expectation that the surrender itself is honorable and any outcome beyond that is out of your hands. He opens doors and bids you walk through. What’s on the other side of the door is only revealed later, and even then, we see only in part; God alone knows the end from the beginning, what kind of ground the seeds He gave you to sow fell on. Eternity will reveal that. We just stay the course of surrender and the road will lead wherever it leads…

Love is sacrifice. Love is often painful. Love is not selfish and doesn’t insist on its own way. Love does not manipulate or deceive. Love hopes. Love does not demand. Real love, it does no harm…I’m reminded of gifts of grief’s long journey; depth and strength found in the encircling arms of Christ who hears the groans of the heart for which no words can convey. He holds me now, and I rest in His promises of the glory that is to be revealed at His coming. This life a vapor. Eternity is forever.

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