Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Memorial Service

We walked into the beautiful church. It was smaller than mine. Then again, most churches are smaller than mine. It was also older. And more traditional. A beautiful stained glass window depicting Jesus kneeling in prayer was over the pulpit. The organ played softly. A woman greeted me warmly, handed me a funeral home fan and guided me to an empty seat in the pew. My youngest son looked around expectantly. He had never been here before. Neither had I.

It was the first time either of us had set foot in Cumberland AME Church. And had it not been for the horrific event of Wednesday, June 17, 2015, we would still be strangers to the sanctuary.

But it did happen. And I read about tonight's memorial service on Facebook. I told Jackson that we were going (my oldest son is out of town), and another friend of mine was joining us. I told him that he might not get why it was important for us to be there, but he would later.

The sanctuary was full - almost equal black and white. But I still felt a little like an outsider. Not that any of the others there caused my apprehension. At all. It was all me - because I was not affected in the same way as they were. Of course, as a South Carolinian, I was deeply saddened, horrified and pained. I cried many times over the past few days. But never had anyone in my family been murdered in cold blood because of what they looked like. What did I know about any of their experiences?

But it was important that I be there.

It was lovely and somber and appropriate. The organizers and staff of the church had made it a beautiful memorial. And then people were invited to come forward to share. And what words. What strength. What hope. The faith of these men and women of God, young and old. As their words poured out, I furiously scribbled notes on an envelope I found in my purse:

~ "We must love this young man. We must pray for him that the evil will leave him."

~ "It's not easy to understand what God does or why He lets things happen. But I know this: God will make a miracle out of this mess."

~ "Do not hate. We are all brothers and sisters."

~ "We forgive. For God forgives us every day."

~ "It is not about skin color. It's not!  It is about the evil presence that is trying to take over. But God and His love will prevail!"

~ "Let us love one another for we serve the same God."

~ "Some of my friends want to start 'packing' (a gun) when they go to church. Not me! I am going to be packing something much stronger: the Word of God!"

And finally, a woman stood up and started singing "It is Well with My Soul". The entire congregation stood up, clasped hands and joined her.

It's one thing to hear people say all these things on news reports and interviews. It's an entirely different emotion to hear it in person a few feet away. And I left feeling not as an outsider. I left feeling as a true member of God's family, as a sister in His larger community. And although we know there is such evil out there in our sinful world, I left feeling hopeful - and in a sense, emboldened and empowered by my time with my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Birthday...

I woke up this morning to my younger son bringing in me breakfast in bed. He made me a double coffee, cut up strawberries "real fancy", and picked a flower bud from our yard. What a great way to start my 46th birthday. I took my dog for a walk and came back to wonderful birthday texts from my dearest friends. It started our so much better than last year - which really s*****, because it seemed to kind of fall by the wayside. I felt pretty special this morning!

And then I turned on the news.

The horrific murder of nine African-American Christians, who were praying in their church. In my state. One block away from where my family was staying this past weekend for the joyous celebration of my cousin's wedding. These adults were studying The Word and digging deeper in their relationship with their Savior. Worshiping with their families. In a safe place. A church. A place which has institutionally and historically been a sanctuary for all - the faithful or not. Why? Why? Why?

I wish I had the energy to find words of comfort or understandingly this TRAGEDY. But I can't. I am overwhelmed with grief for my fellow South Carolinians. I am numb. I lift up those families and their children who are weeping. And again, why? Why? Why?

So on a day that celebrates my birth, I am crying over the heinous death of the innocent. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

White Knight

And yet another YouTube video has surfaced about hateful people. No, I'm not writing about the horrible ESPN reporter. I read on the Huffington Post (which I read selectively) about a young woman from Australia defending an elderly Muslim couple as another elderly woman harasses and berates them for her headscarf and their religion. The altercation was also apparently filmed by the Australian woman.

The young woman has been hailed as a hero. And I wholeheartedly concur with everything she said. How hateful the harasser was. Do I agree with or even begin to understand many of the tenants of the Muslim religion? No. And this is not even considering the crazy, sadistic ISIS beliefs. But what happened to this couple would be like someone coming up to me asking why I am wearing a cross or reading my Bible, considering the horrific and unbelievable actions of Westborough Baptist Church or the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. That is wrong to categorize me with them. It was wrong to categorize this couple as well.

However, I then read this article, and what Ashitha Nagesh, the young woman who wrote this, said hit home. As a white woman, is it my place to be the (no pun intended) "white knight in shining armor"? Do I feel the need to be the savior in such a situation? Am I doing it solely because of my strong beliefs? I want to believe it is. Or is there also just a teeny, tiny tinge of wanting to show the world that "Although I am a white woman who exudes WASP-iness and a bit of privilege, I need to show you that I really am a champion of the persecuted and descriminated". Am I alone in wondering this? I hardly think so. But in today's culture, it's a very slippery slope. Because I believe standing up against what I think is wrong and I am pretty passionate about it. 

Just something to think about...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Good Kids

Yesterday was the Aiken Steeplechase. We decked ourselves in our brightest togs and hats and celebrated a beautiful day of horse racing. Under our tent, we sat sipping cocktails and eating delicious food. We bet on the horses and had a marvelous time. 

My husband and I 

Our teenage children checked in every once in a while and then went off to visit friends and "see and be seen". Sumter spent most of the day at the Young Life spot, so I was only able to catch Jackson for a picture.

We are lucky. Our kids don't drink.

I say this because social events such as Steeplechase are havens for pretty girls in Lilly dresses and boys in seersucker pants and Vineyard Vines ties to get completely fall down drunk. Most of these are college students, but you may see a high schooler as well. And it's never really bothered me as much as it did this year. I guess it's because we - and all our friends - have teenagers.

But by the end of the afternoon, we saw a precious girl trip and fall down on the ground.  She just lay there for a few seconds until one of the boys she was with pulled her up.  We saw a young man with an almost empty handle of Jack Daniels just standing there, staring off in space. Later, another girl saw her date storm off and immediately burst into tears. She stumbled around with her girlfriends as if lost.

And this year also provided us with an event we have never experienced before. Towards the end of the day, our pastor and his family stopped by to visit us. It was not ten minutes later, and not fifty feet away, that we saw around ten uniformed police and sheriff deputies bust up a party and arrest seven people. It was quite a spectacle. Some of them were underage, some legal - but all were incredibly drunk and physically confrontational.

We all stood, watching and commenting among ourselves at the stupidity and blatantly belligerent behavior. And then, our pastor said something that - at the time - I thought was almost a little too saccarine and optimistic.  He said, "How sad. They're good kids." I looked at him next to me and smiled at his kind remark. But what I was really thinking was, "Really??? No, they're not. Our kids are good kids. Those guys are punks with no respect for themselves or anyone else."

It was not until today at church that I got a deeper understanding of what he meant. I don't know whether it was the songs we sang, his message, or God's voice. But I was drawn back to what our pastor had said the day before: "They're good kids." Maybe not to me. But they are to God. Because He created them. He brought them into life. He loves them. And we know that God loves what is good.

So it was then and there that I prayed for those who were loaded into those paddy wagons the day before. I prayed for His precious children who I don't even know. I prayed that if they didn't know God, that they would open their hearts to Him. I prayed that if they did know God, they would come to Him and listen to Him lovingly tell them to turn away from behavior that could destroy them.

Because just like you and me, they're good kids. They're God's kids.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I've Been Zapped

The upside is that I've had no appetite since this past Wednesday morning, so I've barely eaten anything since then. (And I'm now down 25 pounds - that's exciting!)

But I don't "do sick" very well. Yesterday, I finally went to the doctor and was diagnosed with some "weird strain of bronchitis", and I have been forbidden by the PA to leave my house until Tuesday. She is concerned that it might develop into pneumonia. So now I am the proud user of an inhaler and some intense black market cough medicine. Sadly, the cough medicine hasn't done squat and I've sent Sumter out for some industrial strength Mucinex.

Earlier today, I posted on Facebook:

So I am here. At home. Inside. On a beautiful day. 

Thinking about all the things I'd love to do - if I had the energy. But to be honest, even writing this is zapping any creativity and insightful musings. And I guess that's what really bugs me about being sick: the exhaustion of even getting up to get some water from the kitchen or just moving from my bed to the sofa in my sitting room. I am superwoman.  Doesn't bronchitis know that? To tweak Sweet Brown's quote, "ain't nobody got time for this!" 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Failure to Submit

Just this afternoon, I was reading Finding Hope in the Mess, a blog by Brooke McGlothlin. She began: "Do you struggle to control your emotions? Ever feel like they're doing a better job of controlling you?" As a mom of boys, she spoke of how she just loses it sometimes when the circumstances (in other words: her sons) overwhelm her (in other words: make her mad as hell). She also wisely pointed out that like her, "there are millions of moms who need help submitting their emotions to God.  They're in an unforgiving cycle, and need to get out."

I was actually reading this while waiting for my Starbucks Skinny Grande Whatever-it's-called. I had just finished my hour long expedition through the grocery store and needed a little treat. How insightful this Brooke was. How wise. And how true. We've all been there. Once... or more.

And then I arrived home. Drained. With about fifteen bags of groceries. To a son who had been playing basketball and/or his xbox for most of the day. And "did not hear" me when I called out for his help to unload the SUV. But proceeded to complain and argue why he had to carry most of the bags. Because he was too tired. And he had to make three trips. And these bags are horrible. And there are too many bags. And why wasn't I helping him?

And right then and there, I FAILED to submit my emotions to God. Instead, I owned them and exploited them. I yelled. I screamed. I said quite a few choice words. I got in my thirteen-year-old's face. And then made him go somewhere else in the house because I couldn't even be in the same room with him.

I thought I would have felt so empowered. So much better. So vindicated.

But I didn't. 

For although my anger was justified, I was disheartened by how I reacted. I had been consumed with unrighteous anger, not righteous. I was not using my anger to teach, train and reprimand my son. I was using it in a scathing, vindictive and sarcastic manner. 

My son came in about twenty minutes later. He apologized for what he said and did and talked about how he knows how much I do for the family. It was from the heart and of course I accepted it.

I wish I could say I also apologized. But I didn't. (I still had just enough pride and stubbornness to tell me that I had every right to have been angry.) I will - both to my son and God.  Because I have been given the gift and privilege of being a mother.  And moreover, I am called to be a Godly mother. One who submits those hurtful and caustic emotions to One who is bigger... so much bigger. And both my sons deserve that.

"God, help me when I am so frustrated and overwhelmed with my emotions. Convict me to release and submit my UNRIGHTEOUS anger. Instead, fill me with Your Holy Spirit and place on my heart a calmness and gentleness that is only from You. Amen"

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Power On

When my husband and I were building our house, we were not yet married and I was living a little over an hour away. I would travel every weekend with anticipation to see what had been accomplished the past seven days.  At the beginning, it was quite eventful. First, the foundation...then, studs... next, subflooring... roof... brick. Wow! What progress! How exciting! This was going to be our dream house! Yippee!

And then I arrived one week to NOTHING. Damn. The next week we saw a little electrical wiring, but all in all, NOTHING. Damn, again. The next week, just a little more wiring. And Damn to the third power. What happened? What is going on? We were still paying them. Had they lost their momentum? We were still communicating with them. I want some results... NOW.

Fast forward to today. Most of you know of my Renewing Myself weight loss plan. I am really working the Weight Watchers program. And boy, have I seen results! Until today. Here is what I posted on Facebook this morning.

WTH? I was committed to this. I was empowered. I was woman, hear me roar! So... WTH? I really am a bit depressed about it. Part of me wants to eat the chocolate chip cookie dough that is in the fridge. The other part just wants to starve myself. Yeah, I know, such healthy talk.

But I've just received a comment from a high school friend I haven't seen in over twenty years. In many ways, Hilary and I were as different as night and day - but were so extremely close. And then life happens, and people drift apart to the places and events that will shape who they will become. Her wise words spoke to me in the sweet, lyrical voice that was quintessential Hilary:

"...your greatest push over the plateau is your BRAIN - believe in the image you are moving to and your brain will make it so. Spend time thinking about the shape you are making so your brain knows what shape to make. Also you're gorgeous and deeply loving, so this is just extra perfection :)"

Isn't that neat and empowering? I just love what she wrote. I can believe in that. And because the image I see is much healthier, happier, and prettier, it must take time. It's also the same image God has for me too. He promises "...I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

So thank you Hilary - and God. I'm ready to power on...