The Ugly Pink Couch

Circa May 1989.

I was in the home stretch of my senior year in high school. There was a sense of childlike excitement in our small two bedroom apartment – me, because I was a few weeks away from graduating and my mom…..well.

Let me back up. I’m getting ahead of myself.

My mother was married three times. Her second marriage was to a very mean man (that’s the nicest way to say it). After ten years of verbal, mental and physical abuse to us both, we left. My mom found a small two bedroom apartment to rent. The only furniture we had was her bedroom suit and mine. We had a small window of time to move out on a Saturday afternoon in the sweltering July heat. We took those two rooms of furniture, dishes, our clothes, a tv, a microwave and two foldable lawn chaise chairs for the living room. We left behind so much else. My mother sobbed that Saturday when we weren’t strong enough to put the piano in the back of the moving truck.

Throughout the 88-89 school year, my mother took every opportunity to work extra shifts at the hospital or teach CPR classes. She was determined that we would make it. I worked two jobs – Baskin Robbins and Domino’s Pizza – to help out and kept up with my studies and extracurricular activities. We made the best of our situation. I think the peace of mind in knowing she was out of that marriage was worth it all to both of us.

Sometime in the early spring of 1989, she told me that she was going to start looking for some real furniture for the place. I was happy that she felt strong enough to do that and I knew she had been saving every extra cent to make that happen. She went to a furniture store outside of Louisville called The Cherry House. When recounting the trip, she was elated with her selections and couldn’t wait for the pieces to arrive.

Fast forward to that week in May.

My mom was attending a nurse’s conference in San Francisco that week. I was given strict orders to check the answering machine every day and clear my schedule for the arrival of her new cherry wood furniture. When the big day arrived, I was excited to see all that she chose for our place – a dining room table with four chairs, a low buffet, a roll top desk, media cabinet, one side table, an oval glass coffee table, an armchair, and a couch.

Not just any couch, mind you.

Because it was the crown jewel of the living room, it was unloaded last and covered in plastic. It was so covered, that I could barely see the color or design.

Wait a second. What?

Did I just see pink?

No….there’s no way that couch is pink. Hold on. Is that a huge hydrangea flower with a country blue ribbon on that cushion? No way. This has to be a mistake.

In my best 18 year old “grown up” voice, I said, “Uh, sorry. Excuse me. I think there is a mistake here. I don’t think this is the correct couch.”

To which the delivery man replied, “Uh, yes. Yes it is.”

My fear was turned into a nightmare when they slowly peeled away the plastic to reveal a pink couch with a hydrangea floral pattern accented with a country blue ribbon. It was hideous. Who orders a pink couch? With a hydrangea pattern? Who?

My mother.

The couch grew on me as time went by. When Grace came along and I would visit her and Mac in Charlotte, that couch was my napping space. That couch was situated in their basement family room and many a gatherings took place with people vying for a seat on that couch. When Mom was sick with cancer, we would sometimes retreat to the cool basement family room and snuggle on that couch  – her shrinking shoulders wrapped in her cashmere shawl. I held her small frame amid the pink background and hydrangea flowers patterned on the cushions. Several months later, I snuck down to the family room and sat on that couch after her funeral. Somehow, I imagined her sitting there next to me.

In the years since her passing, a lot has happened. Another daughter was born….Mac (her third husband) passed and that pink couch came back to Tennessee with me. That next year, I packed that pink couch on a truck and set off to start a new chapter as a divorced woman and single mom. On nights when the girls were at their dad’s house, I would often sleep on that couch and let the big pillow cushions surround me like my mother’s arms.

More recently, that ugly, pink couch found its place along a wall at Cate Cabana. The only creatures that sit on it are our dogs, Jake and Bella. Every couple of days, I vacuum the cushions to get the dog hair off. Dave will sit in the mornings on that couch and rub the dogs’ bellies. Other than that, it sits alone.

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I know it’s time. Everything has a shelf life….

The thought of parting with it brings me to tears. Not just tears, but sobbing. It’s not just an ugly, pink couch. It symbolizes the grit and tenacity that my mother mustered up from deep inside her to create a new life. It symbolizes her hope in that new life – hope for peace and love. It is so much more than a couch.

In a couple of days, some men will come and load my mom’s ugly pink couch onto their truck and take it away to a donation center. I will keep a swatch of fabric for myself and hope that someone out there can make something from it that I can keep as a reminder of its story in my life and the life of my mother. It is my hope that someone will walk into that donation center, sit down on its big cushions and dream of a better life for themselves.

No, it’s not just an ugly, pink couch.

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Life in Barren Places

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I am always amused when I stumble upon something that is a prime example of the impossible. It’s as if God is saying to me, “Watch this. See what I can do.”

Today, Dave and I walked along our favorite stretch of beach on Edisto – away from the homes and people and toward the barrenness of sand, discarded shells, and the surf. On the marshy side of the dune, we came upon vegetation growing in what seemed to be the most unlikely of places – sand. Yet, stretched before us for several hundred more yards, were patches of green seemingly growing from nothing.

This got me to thinking about how God works in our own lives.

We are meant (and often called) to do hard things. Hard things may come from our own hand or the doings of others. In this case, neither source is important. What is critical is how we open ourselves up to these times of struggle.

Will we see these moments as an enemy meant to trample us?

Or, will we allow ourselves to entertain the idea that such moments are friends sent to prepare us for what is coming next?

Is it possible to shift our mindset in order to grow into new life instead of shrinking into the barren landscape around us?

I couldn’t help but to think of a dear friend who is in a season of barrenness in her work. For this friend, the work is just hard – daily it is hard. So hard that she questions whether she heard clearly the call to a new profession. Lately, her struggle has resulted in an anxiety and weariness that has been hard for me to watch her go through. Yet, I know that in these years when the work in hard, there is a time coming when the harvest will be plentiful. She will see that her care and love for others – even those who are difficult to love – will plant a seed in one of her students or colleagues. She will wake one day to see growth where she thought none was possible. I know.

I have been where she is and I know that the waiting is hard.

God invites us to sit with him in the spaces that are being carved out in our lives and to wait for Him. His timing is perfect and so we must wait. His way is wise and requires the faith to dream of the life that hides in the reality of barren ground around us. I believe that just our dreams and hopes are testaments to God’s creativity, commitment, and desire that we have life to the fullest.

I invite you to look around at the landscape surrounding your own journey. What do you see around you? Can you sit in your space with God and look deep into the seemingly barren landscape around you and dream of the life that He is preparing? Can you sit with others and offer them that same vision of hope?

Let’s dream and wait for life to come springing forth from unexpected things.

We can do hard things.

 

Mundane and Holy Days

It’s almost spring here….just two more calendar days, in fact. Between the weather whiplash of snow and sun, I am seeing evidence that holiness is emerging from the ground in the gardens here at Cate Cabana.

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Small reassuring pieces of evidence that the cold and dark are about to give way to the warmth and light. It can seem like forever after that first peeking of life pushes through the hard earth. Forever, it seems, as the life that was buried beneath the ground last fall struggles to break free.

Life can seem like that at times. It’s never easy when those monotonous , mundane moments coincide with winter’s cold and bleak days. Those days have stretched before us  until we all thought hope was lost – lost to the endless gray skies and constant rain.

But hope floats; or at my house, it comes forth on thick stems with long leaves and a bud of life ready to burst open and announce that something holy is about to happen. A miracle, really.

Miracles in the mundane.

Mundane days give way to Holy Days.

Seems a bit strange, but I’m beginning to believe that life – the real, honest-to-goodness type of life – happens in the mundane moments of everyday living. You know those days: the same drive to work, the endless loads of laundry, the shuffling of kids between activities, and the bills that need to be paid. All of those little pieces of life that seem to go unnoticed by us….the pieces of life that seem so repetitive and boring…..well, that’s where a life is made.

Piece by piece…minute by minute.

It’s where we are shaped and formed.

I’m thinking that God watches us in these small, mundane moments and holds His breath to see if we will notice the Holiness that exists in tandem. Will we give thanks for a life made up of packing lunches, tucking in little ones, and passing conversations with colleagues? Will we see the abundance in the stuffed lunch bag? Will we recognize the importance of speaking love and prayers over those in our care? Will we allow our hearts to minister to another in the kindness of a smile and exchange?

Little mundane moments packed with a heaping dose of Holiness.

I can’t speak to much except this deep desire to experience every single moment I am alive. To fall into a bed of cold, soft sheets after a long day. I live for the unexpected hug from one (or both) of my daughters, to hear their voice. I love when Dave holds my hand and how mine fits perfectly inside his. There is nothing better than sharing an unexpected funny moment with a friend until our sides hurt and tears run down our cheeks. The taste of chocolate and the smell of coffee in the morning. The coolness of morning and the dew sparkling in the sunlight. A chorus of frogs on a warm, almost-spring evening. The joy in being greeted after a long day at work by two adoring dogs.

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Consider the following quote by Yara Shahidi: ‘Oh, to live into your most authentic self – realizing that who you are is enough. Being grounded in your calling, in the “now”, and realizing that life is lived in the tiny moments of the mundane. Loving for the sake of love and sprinkling kindness like confetti at a surprise party.To be fully seen without feeling the need to “perpetuate a facade for the sake of love or support.”’

Oh Father….with each passing moment-even moments that seem routine and mundane- may we find in each one a Holiness, an invitation to live fully present, fully real, fully into who you have called each of us to be. Amen….

This is the human experience I strive for each day.

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Stuck on ‘Repeat’

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

― Maya Angelou

It happened.

Again.

Wednesday morning, families in Parkland, FL got ready for another day. A special day. The day we celebrate love…..love of all kinds.

Teenagers awoke and busied themselves for another day of learning. Parents and guardians said goodbye and I imagine they told them to ‘Have a great day.’ Most probably heard ‘I love you.’ Or so I hope they did. But seventeen families would not see their loved ones come back home.

Back in 1996, I was a 25 year old educator with just 3 years of teaching experience. I sat in a graduate level class and listened as my professor told us, ‘If you want to get a glimpse at our society, look inside any typical public education classroom.’

The funny thing is, I don’t remember the name of that professor, but I have never forgotten those words. They were as true then as they are today. After having spent the last 25 years as an educator, the picture of American society is often disturbing and sad. The 19 year old shooter from Wednesday’s latest tragedy, sat in a classroom once. I wonder what his teachers thought of him then; what red flags did he raise all of those years? Given the imprint of his internet steps, I’m going out on a limb to say he raised quite a few.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s shooting, I have read and heard statements of outrage from all sorts of people. It seems that once again, this country has polarized itself among extremes. We have girded up our bodies with the ‘all or nothing’ armor defense, as if that stance is productive and solution-oriented.

What I’m most sad about are the arguments of oversimplification.

‘This is a mental health issue.’

‘This is not a gun issue. It is a heart issue.’

‘Evil has been around since the beginning of time.’

‘This is a Republican issue.’

‘This is a Liberal issue.’

‘This is……’ Go ahead reader, fill in the blank with your own theory.

Are any of us willing to use one of these flimsy arguments in the face of a parent or family member who has just identified their child’s bloodied and destroyed body and now faces the horrific task of making funeral arrangements for a young person whose life was meant for more?

This is OUR problem. This has become the face of our  modern American society.

The solution isn’t as easy as policy, laws, Jesus, or metal health professionals. It is a combination of it all. ALL. Not an either/or issue. This is not the time to play the blame game. This isn’t the time to have a knee jerk reaction.

It is time to have some very hard conversations. Time to speak truth. Time to shut up and listen. Time to ask some very difficult questions.

Like…

What are we willing to concede as individuals in order to do what is best for the greater good? (Think of the anti-smoking in public campaign.)

Can we agree to look at the holes in our process for gun ownership with a more honest and discerning eye?

Can we agree to honor the Second Amendment in a way that allows for those on the entire spectrum of this issue to hold space with one another and make it harder to put guns in the hands of those who don’t need them?

Are all kinds of guns necessary for the private citizen to own?

Is the gaming and entertainment industry willing to look at their products and own their promotion and glorification of violence?

Is the public willing to speak up and get in the business of others who are saying, doing, and acting in a way that signals a red flag and a cry for help?

Will our houses of worship get into the trenches with our families and communities to bring a message of hope and love to all and not to only those who believe and live in the way they endorse in their pews?

Will we work in our communities to bring families together and help our young people find a sense of purpose and belonging?

See, I believe that we have a generation of young people walking through this world broken, starving for attention, belonging, and the hope that their life matters. They have grown up in a world where ‘likes’ define your worth and a text is considered an intimate relationship. They live in an era where social media makes it easy for people to say what they want without consequence or regard for the person receiving their message. They watch adults tune out. They sit in backseats with adults overdosed on drugs in the front seats of their cars. Many adults are too busy, too tired, too self-absorbed to interact, look at and speak to kids so they put a device in their hands.

Are we willing to push the pause button and reset?

We can no longer expect our under-funded, over-tested, underpaid educators to pick up the slack with our lessons, our initiatives, or our bodies when the bullets fly. How much more are we going to demand from our educators? I’m not sure where the boundary lies, but I can tell you that I believe our society to be way out of bounds.

I barely slept at all that night.

The next morning, I got up and readied myself for another day. With my office lights on, I poured a cup of coffee, grabbed my walkie-talkie and walked to the classroom of my friend, Ami. Waiting with her was Vickie, a new educator on this journey. The three of us formed a circle and laid hands on one another as Ami prayed. Minutes later, I positioned myself at the inner doors of our building like I do on most mornings. I greeted each sweet child as they entered and exclaimed with great enthusiasm that I was thrilled to see them. I called most by name and gave hugs to any and all who needed one before starting their day.

For those parents that chose to walk their precious child inside on Thursday morning, a remarkable thing happened.

A look passed between me and them. Subtle. It might have been missed on any other day. Not on this day.

A look of questioning from them….a look of promise from me.

 

 

 

Menopause, #metoo, Ancestry, and Goodbye to 2017….Hello 2018

Happy 2018 to my Readers.

Yes, it’s been a while since we shared a space together – almost a year in fact. My reasons are many and yet not easy to write about here. All I can say is that 2017 was an interesting year on many fronts. Each time I sat down to write, my words were not encouraging. They were angry and I gave away the feeling of being scared.

Of what?

Well, I’m not sure.

Last spring I discovered that I was feeling disconnected from all sorts of things. I would jump on Facebook and feel like that awkward adolescent girl from middle school – ugly, unsure, jealous, and insecure. No one wants to feel like you are in 7th grade again. Unless, of course, you were one of the shiny people of middle school. The people the rest of us looked up to and wished to be. For me, it was a girl named Heather (not her real name). Her hair was perfectly feathered back, straight teeth, Sperry Topsiders peeking from under her dark Jordache jeans and Izod shirt with the collar turned up.

Yes, Heather was my middle school style icon. In all those years, she never blemished, said anything remotely stupid, and seemed to float through social circles unscathed by any notion of rejection. Her side of the fence looked like the ideal – something to strive for with no notion of how to go about doing it.

That’s how I felt last spring. One of my closest friends just stopped texting me one day. No warning. Add to that the new challenges of raising teenage daughters with boyfriends, and I was a mess. Many times after watching my oldest daughter leave in a car with her beau, I would be on the floor trying to breathe while being overcome with emotions that I didn’t see coming nor could I stop.

What was going on?

The answer came a week after an appointment with my NP. Bloodwork revealed the answer. She sent me a text saying, “You are now in menopause.”

BAM!!!

I now understood why I felt like an adolescent girl multiplied by 1000. My uncontrollable tears over NBC’s Nightly News segment called “Inspiring America” now made sense.

In fact, a lot of things made more sense:

….my desire to be alone,

…..irrational mood swings.

…..the sudden weight gain,

…..bouts of insomnia,

…..hot flashes that were so severe I became nauseous.

Yes. It all made sense. With that new frontier came a lot of questions, fears, changes, and a host of medications and vitamins to take. Dave even joked about getting me a pill sorter that displayed each day of the week on the rainbow-colored flip top lids.

As you might guess, I did not find that funny.

Then came the #metoo movement. The courage displayed in each story, big or small, sent my mind reeling back to a time in my childhood when I was 11. The attempted assault from a cousin on my mother’s side was unexpected. My violent response took us both by surprise. He never tried to bother me again. Years later when I was pressed by my mother about why I bristled at the mere mention of his name, I told her about what he attempted to do. She cried and said that his father had molested her as a young girl. It was a sickness that was passed from father to son. It was an event that both my mother and I shared.

I suddenly saw my own daughters so differently when this movement/campaign sprang forth. How do I equip them with the fortitude to defend their bodies against any violation? How do I ensure their protection from the power and struggle that so many boys have learned?

I can’t be sure of any of those things. All I could do was share what someone tried to do to me and give them permission to protect themselves however they must. Give them permission? Seemed ludicrous to me.

I then thought back to a relationship I found myself in as an adult. A relationship where a man used his own position and ‘power’ to prey on women – hurting women. Women that he knew stood more to lose by their outcries than by their silence. It all just hurt my heart – for me and for those other women.

As 2017 was drawing to a close, I found myself in the midst of another surprise. For my birthday, Dave bought me an ancestry kit from 23 and Me. What a great gift. I was eager to explore my heritage; especially the Native American blood that I knew was coursing through my veins. See, my mother’s father, Jack, was a quarter Cherokee. To look at photographs of him and his sister, Kathryn, it was unmistakable. In the succeeding generations, I was the one on my mother’s side who most favored those traits – olive skin and dark hair…high and defined cheekbones.

Imagine my surprise (shock, really) when my results came back to show zero percent of Native American genes in my chromosomes. Surely it was a mistake.

Dave (bless his heart), bought a second test from Ancestry.com. Anxious and eager to amend the mistake the other company made, I opened the email only to find the exact same results. Native American? Nope.

The results did echo some of what I already knew about portions of my ancestors: Welsh/Irish- 50%, Northern European – French/German 20%.

But the real shockers came in the rest of the results: Scandinavian -9%, Iberian Peninsula – Spain/Portugal – 7%, British 4%, Southern European – Italy/Greece – 4%, Eastern European – Baltic Peninsula – 3%, and Finnish/Russian – 3%.

Even my father was stunned to hear the news. The mystery lay within the DNA of my deceased mother, maternal grandmother, and maternal grandfather. Whatever secret is hidden in death. Imagine going your whole life – 47 years, in fact – believing and being proud of your heritage, only to discover that what you thought you were was wrong.

A secret? A scandal?

I will never know.

It shook the earth out from under me. It has left me with more questions than answers; feeling unsure of the stories that I heard all of my life about my mother’s family.

To say that I was glad to see 2017 go is an understatement.

So as I ushered in 2018, I resolved to write again. I decided that my season of silence was needed for many changes to occur in my world. I’m not sure my writing about those changes would have benefited me or my Readers. I never want my platform to be anything other than a place of encouragement to others who need to know that our journey through this world is never one we take alone. I hope each of you forgive my time away and I promise to make our time together in 2018, one of hope and the reminder that we are all bent, but never broken

Blessings.

On Being a Political Party Refugee

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“Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. At the edge of perception, weird things dance and howl.”
M.H. Boroson, The Girl with Ghost Eyes

In recent years, I have wandered further and further from any interest in political topics. Yet, I found myself paying particular attention to the rhetoric of this realm around the spring of 2016.

Things were shaping up in ways that I never expected. Division lines were drawn. The landscape on either side was assured and the agendas were clear. Interestingly, I watched as family and friends chose which side they would set up camp. All were unapologetic in their decisions.

I stood in an interesting place.

I wanted to find a home in the middle but there was no room. Therefore, I began to feel like a political refugee; unable to choose a side. I stayed on the edge and looked to  the right and left. I found cliques in both camps that were comfortable; yet, I knew that I had to be all in or eventually I would be asked to leave.

I even sought out opinions and gathered people around in the hopes that their reasoning for choosing a side would better help me to clarify which team jersey I would wear. But their explanations only further reinforced what I began to suspect: there was no longer a place for me.

So, I perched on the ledge.

Watching.

Deliberating.

Waiting.

I was raised in a family comprised primarily of Conservatives. Family values….less government intrusion….fiscal frugality…..strong military. For years, I felt fine to vote and pontificate about such topics and would be the first to draw a hard political line in the sand; deeming one side right and the other side unfortunately lacking in sensibility. I used my staunch Evangelical Christianity as a battle flag for the Far Right.

I had plenty of friends who saw the world from a more Liberal vantage point. I loved them but always avoided any type of discussion that might force me to listen to their viewpoints and find arguments to defend mine. I even fell head over heels in love with and married such a man. Suddenly, the conversations I was looking to avoid were sleeping next to me at night.

Then a series of events seemed to tilt the planet on which I had set up camp. Those events aren’t necessarily important as much as the shift I felt inside of my heart.

In an effort to more clearly define which political side I might identify with, I did the most logical thing that my brain could think of: I made a list. Yes, you read that correctly. I divided a sheet of paper down the middle and listed both parties – one on each side. I then tore apart my particular viewpoints on the most predominant issues: military, immigration, fiscal responsibility, the environment, social justice, abortion, foreign policy, public education, gun control, and subsidized social programs.

I can do anything you can do better - Democrats vs. Republicans

After many days of getting real with myself, I realized that I was in a political refugee camp with no place to call my home. Literally….I was split almost equally down the middle.

I began to panic.

People would ask me and then I would be forced to say which side I was for….

Social Media only made my predicament worse. I watched in horror as people I respected threw out insults to anyone who didn’t see the world the same way they did. I had family members call out others for being Liberal. I read FB posts that said if you voted for the Far Left, then you supported Satan’s agenda. What? I was disheartened when those on the Far Right used language that was exclusionary in nature. Social media brought the worst out in people during this presidential election cycle. People used public forums to post or comment what I doubt they had the guts to say in real life.

Then came mid-October.

After listening to and reading the works of others, I heard a message that as a Christian, I had a moral obligation to vote Conservative. Local and State elections? Well, they weren’t as important. But be it Presidential and the moral  imperative was presented to  me. So, I staked my claim. Conservative would be my vote. I made it clear that it wasn’t a vote for a particular party but a way of viewing the world, instead.

A couple of weeks later, my father and stepmom came to visit. Around that time, one candidate in particular was caught on an audio tape to make some very degrading and sexist remarks about females. I was shocked and mortified, especially as I faced my two teenage daughters. Suddenly, I had a deeper moral obligation to them. Somehow I had to explain how wrong it was for a man to speak that way about women and defend my decision to elect him to the highest seat in our government. When asked by Grace and Anna if this meant a vote for the other candidate, I weighed in and said that her particular track record as a politician would leave me with a hard “no” on that side as well. While I wanted them to understand the historical significance that had been achieved by the female candidate, I didn’t want them to board the train of novelty and allow it to sweep them away.

So, I was left wondering what this new revelation about my Conservative choice would leave me.

I looked to the Christian community for answers or at the very least, direction. What I found was dismissal of his words as inappropriate “locker room talk” that  many men participated in.

I felt betrayed.

One evening, I watched my father and husband with great interest. Here before me, were two extraordinary men of faith. They loved and respected their wives, sisters, mothers and my daughters with every ounce of being. I tried to envision both of them having juvenile locker room talk about female genitalia. Then I looked at my 2 daughters.

No.

At that precise moment I knew….my identity was not wrapped up neatly in a donkey or an elephant.

I could no longer identify myself on which side my perspectives fell on the D vs. R sheet of paper:

Pro-Life (R)

Pro Public Education (D)

Fiscal Conservatism (R)

Gun Control (D)

Strong Military & Foreign Policy (R)

Social Justice (D)

Death Penalty (R)

Immigration (D)

Anti-Government Subsidized Programs (R)

Environment (D)

No….there was no party, no camp that I could belong to.

So, I made a very different decision, instead.

In the months since November, a new President has been named.

I have watched both sides continue to fill the space that surrounds us all with arguments and accusations.

There is a faction that feels they have finally been heard and that this man will “Make America Great Again”. Another side seems to feel that if they protest enough, whine enough, or threaten to blow up the White House enough, then they will be heard and be happy. Hollywood has even used their celebrity status to weigh in. So, the Far Right cries “FOUL” on such folks for being out of touch with the American public. Here’s the irony in that: Hollywood actors/actresses are no more out of touch with common American folk as professional ball players, CEOs or billionaire-reality-TV-stars-turned-politicians-who-sit-in-gold-chairs.

Let’s get real, folks….good grief.

Now, I realize  that my transparency makes me a vulnerable target. Putting my thoughts and viewpoints out there for others to read means that I have opened myself up for criticism, exclusion, and the customary school yard “fight”. Here’s the great thing about being purely and wholly honest and willing to put myself out there: this is just where I sit right now and I have no need to defend it. I haven’t asked others to defend their positions. Such defensiveness and opinion-babysitting are an unnecessary requirement from me. Regardless of how anyone feels, I will love and respect them all the same.

I value the individual’s basic human right to be as alike or different from me as they choose to be.

So, as we move forward (and as a nation of individuals in a democratic society we MUST move forward), it is my profound prayer that in each person we acknowledge and respect the Divine living within them. I suppose I am looking more towards Jesus in all of this civil unrest, realizing that when He came to live among us, He most likely didn’t look a thing like myself. His traditional values were rooted in a religion that I don’t practice (Judaism) and while staunch in His position about who He was and why He was here, He loved all that He encountered – whether they chose to believe, accept and love Him back.

And when He died?

Well, He didn’t pick and choose who He loved and was willing to lay His life down for. He loved and died for the mocking thief on one side and the redeemed thief on the other….the Conservative and Liberal…..the homeless refugees in our city slums or in war torn countries afar….for those in the LGBT community and those who are straight….for the woman in the abortion clinic and the one who chooses life…..for the marginalized…the generalized….and all others in-between. In His heart, ALL means ALL.

So, as I live my life “On the Edge”, I hope to keep a few simple things in mind:

First, America is a beacon of light for all the world to look to. We are the country whose revolutionary idea of a democratic government was seen as a great cultural, societal and political experiment. So far, it has worked; and while it seems that we are teetering on some civil disaster, our common good as individuals banded in a national unity, will prevail. Growth can’t happen unless we are all tested and made a bit uncomfortable.

Second, I will continue to just love people. Each day I have the privilege of entering a public school. Here, in each classroom, I am given a glimpse into the general makeup of our American society. I am excited by what I see. I view all students – regardless of color, religious beliefs, citizenship, economic lack or wealth, abilities, home environment, etc. – being given the opportunity to fulfill their God-given purpose and then join our communities as productive citizens. They all have the same opportunity and ultimately the same responsibility to grab hold of that gift or turn it away. Regardless, I will be there each morning to greet them all with love and open arms.

Third, it is my moral imperative to love others….to respect their individuality and honor their Spirit. For the same God who breathed life into me, breathed life into them. I won’t construct a personal world where only those who think and look like me are welcome.

Reader, lay down the words that divide us. Let’s work together with our likeness and differences to make this a country that we can all be proud of.

 

A Public Lynching….Bullets Instead of Rope

At dinner tonight, David asked if I had viewed the latest reports on the news. 

Only a little – is how I responded. 

I haven’t been able to watch a lot of the coverage without bile rising into my throat. A deep grief. A sickening feeling that doesn’t match the hurting of those families. 

David, in response to me, said it best, “It was a public lynching.”

Yes it was. Only it was carried out with a spray of bullets instead of a course rope. 
Evil….disguised as a 21 year old boy, walked into a church, sat among members who were vulnerable and exposed as they prayed to God. The Spirit of God was among them and they showed kindness to a stranger. 
None of the members present seemed alarmed at the marked differences between him and them. They saw an opportunity to love and disciple. 
Evil used the opportunity to separate and bring about a sense of fear.  
Charleston, South Carolina. 
One of my favorite cities. Its nearby town, Folly Beach, the place I love to visit, the place where I visit and dig my toes in the sand. A town with a rich, but dark history of America’s Antebellum time – a time of grandeur, made possible by the toiling hands of men, women and children brought to her harbors in crowded and disease-filled boats. 
A state who still flies the Confederate flag with a sense of Southern “pride”. 
Pride?
Whose pride?
It is a relic of history that deserves space in a museum, in the context of a by-gone era, but not worthy of public display. 
It seems lately that sentiments from generations long since passed, have resurfaced and made the fabric of our democratic society rough, edgy and hard to understand. 
As we look at this young man with his sparse images dotting social media, we see a disconnected, perhaps a coldness that seems other-worldly.
Research has proven that babies in all cultural settings are born with only six emotions hard-wired by the brain. Prejudice and hate are not on that list of six.
Where?
 Where did he learn such contempt for his fellow man? Contempt that drove him to sit among the innocent and open fire?
When did the people closest to him perceive a problem? 
Did they take his “jokes” lightly? 
As if they were deemed appropriate by his audience for the mere fact of his geographical location and the twisted history that lies within its courthouses, jail houses and the minds of some of its residents.  
To assign a mental disorder or diagnosis is only a convenience.
Truth?
The truth is….the actions of this disturbed young man are nothing less than terrorism. 

Not terrorism of religion. Terrorism based on skin color. 
His actions are no different than if ISIS landed on our shores and had taken arms against the people of America. 
Terrorism. Plain and simple. 
So, where was God last Wednesday?
He was moving among those in attendance who were gathered in His name. 
He was pouring out His love on those who were praying for His will…His love….his peace….and His blessing on this country and those around the world.
And at the moment of indescribable violence, He was waiting to usher in the next batch of saints into their eternal home….next to Him. 
See, it was easy for them. 
Their work was done. 
It is much harder for those of us who remain. We must find a way to forgive. We must find a way to seek love instead of revenge. We must find peace through the wounds that are bleeding among our brothers and sisters. 
Let love win. Every. Single. Time. 

Boat Rockers

Good Monday morning, Readers!

Many months ago, I asked a few people if they would be willing to share some of their thoughts with the Readers of “Bent, Not Broken”.

I am happy to bring to the table, my friend, Chip Connor. His message to us today is heart-felt and passionate. It is my prayer that you will take away something that will cause you to pause and think about the things of this world that you are allowing to skew your perceptions.

A little about Chip…..

Chip Connor is a former worship leader and ordained minister. He currently is the C.E.O. Of A Thousand Hills Music (Athousandhillsmusic.com) and is in the process of finalizing their debut album “Our Love Resounds, a Collaboration of Praise,” set to release in late July. Chip has been married to his wife Sarah for 16 years and ha three children (Tate, Reilly, and Bella.) The family resides in Louisville, KY. Chip can be reached by email at athousandhillsmusicllc@gmail.com
__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Boat Rockers!

“P.C.” (Political Correctness) and “Social Tolerance” are modern day plagues which have invaded our nation over the past few decades. These plagues have sadly infected our families, our workplaces, our school systems, our government, our society, and yes even the Church itself. In many ways, this plague has spread more rapidly and affected no other organization as negatively as it has within the walls of the church.

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” Sun Tzu said in his classic, “The Art of War.” This famous quote has been used for centuries in war and in life. It simply means to know your enemy, his weapons, his wiles, his schemes. In doing so you enable yourself with the ability to prepare and arm yourself with that which you will need to be victorious against your adversary. Christians and non Christians alike have a fierce adversary, one who “roams about as a roaring lion,” “seeking to steal, to kill, and to destroy” all he comes in contact with. Our enemy, the devil, wants nothing more than to keep people from having a personal relationship with Christ and to disrupt the relationships of those who do, keeping them from being effective in sharing the Gospel. As stated, we must know our enemy. We must be keen to his ploys.

One of the enemies greatest weapons used against the body of Christ today sadly is unseen, and not felt. The church is being purposely blinded, deliberately desensitized to the things of this world. And we don’t even recognize it is happening. Desensitization’s affect and impact on people is great. By definition, it yields us incapable of perceiving and unresponsive to external conditions. It renders us impotent. This is exactly the state of being, in which, the enemy wants to find us. Easily caught off guard, dulled and numb to the things of the world, this is what the enemy wants of the church, The Bride of Christ.

To what do we attribute this Deliberate Desensitization? Look back 60 years. Would programming such as “Jersey Shore “or “Sex Change Hospital” have been seen on TV? Would the Church have allowed these programs to be broadcast at all? Would a churchgoing parent allow his or her children to watch this programming? Would they themselves? A probable no to all of the above. TV programming, movies, commercials, print and billboard ads, all scream the things of the world. These things are in your face, all day, every day. Everywhere you turn around you see it. As you drive into work today, from the time you leave home, look to see how long it is before you see a scantly clad woman on a billboard. I say look back 60 years. Society says, “But we have progressed, we have evolved.” Evolved into what??? A world where on primetime TV our children watch “Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy?” Yet this programming is embraced and applauded. A movie whose plot revolves around the romance between two homosexual cowboys is given rave reviews from most mainstream film critics and is nominated for a variety of awards while movies such as “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” are ostracized for being both “Religious” and for having “Religious overtones,” and are said not to have any place in the “mainstream.” All the while, the church sits idly by watching, allowing, and taking part in the hypocrisy. 60 years ago there was prayer in schools. 60 years ago, abortion was against the law. The Ten Commandments were in no danger of being taken down from our public buildings. 60 years ago the church was sensitive. 60 years ago the church was bold! Over the past 60 years desensitization’s effect has seemingly lulled the Church to sleep. It now appears as if the American Church is nothing more than a gentle giant fearful of crossing the line of “Political Correctness” and “Social Tolerance.”  This giant chooses instead to hide its head under the warm covers of indifference, and pull the shades of unbelief over it’s stained glass windows. With its unwillingness to let its light shine, the American church has effectively become not just a willing accomplice to, but an incubator of the “P.C., S.T.” movements.

The disciples and the early church boldly stood in the face of religious, social, and political persecution and opposition in almost every way far more severe than we undergo today, yet without waver they remained undaunted, unashamed, and unafraid. They were undaunted in their zeal to impact the world for the Kingdom of God and in their obedience. They were committedly unashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in their sharing it to the world. And the disciples were compellingly unafraid of the religious, social, and political machines of the day. They were truly unafraid of “labels” or stereotypes, persecution or imprisonment, even death if necessary, all for the sake of their call. They knew who they were, unquestionably. They were d.i.s.c.i.p.l.e.s. His d.i.s.c.i.p.l.e.s. They wore their mantles proudly for all to see. Admiringly, the d.i.s.c.i.p.l.e.s. were not afraid to “rock the boat” if necessary, caring more about obedience than the approval of men.

Truly one of the most moving scenes I have ever seen on screen or T.V. came from James Earl Jones in his portrayal of the eccentric Dr. Vernon Johns in the movie “The road to Freedom; the Vernon Johns Story.”  Nearly a decade and a half before the Civil Rights movement fully took shape; Dr. Johns was given the pastorate of the then black-elite congregation of Montgomery, Alabama’s Dexter Avenue Baptist church. Known for both his fire in the pulpit and in his ability to make waves, it did not take long before Dr. Johns made a lasting mark against the racial instability of Montgomery. He often quoted his father of saying, “If you see a good fight, get in it.” Dr. Johns saw one in Montgomery, and he did.

Amidst recent increases of brutality and murder within both the black community and his own congregation, Dr. Johns was dissuaded by one of his deacons not to “Rock the Boat” in light of the racial indifference of the time. To the deacon’s discomfort, Dr. Johns addressed his congregation one Sunday morning, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know that, I, am, a Boat Rocker!”… He then questioned them, “What do these murders have in common besides their brutality? They have in common that the perpetrators acted with impunity knowing that not one of you would dare come forward and say, this, will, not, stand!” He concluded, “That in your silence, you have become accessories to murder.”

My brothers and sisters, our society has acted with impunity knowing of the Church’s fear to come forward; of our fear to rise in the face of that which is ungodly, and it is in this failure to act, that we too have become accessories to wickedness, to perversion, to lust, to pornography, to greed, to adultery, to rampant homosexuality, to witchcraft, to all forms of unrighteousness and every evil that sets itself up against our God. We have become accessories to the plagues of “Political Correctness” and “Social Tolerance.” However, let there be no mistake or room for the previous statements to be misconstrued, the d.i.s.c.i.p.l.e. is first called to love. Galatians 6:1 says “Brothers if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself that you also may be tempted.”  NIV  The d.i.s.c.i.p.l.e., in his or her stand against unrighteousness is not only charged with hating the evident sin, but also in showing love through restoration. Christ came into the world, not to save the righteous, but to save the sinners. And he did this through love.

The D.i.s.c.i.p.l.e. has a responsibility to speak the truth (The Gospel), regardless of whether it is received or not. We must be obedient in this. Society, along with the P.C. / S.T. consciousness of the day, has the church shell shocked and silent. Fear of offense has been the greatest deterrent of today’s church. Let me be both clear and candid, truth offends. The church must come to this realization and no longer allow “Political Correctness” and “Social Tolerance” to stand in the way of our mission. The truth offends because it brings to light the err of self, and if truly embraced, will be the catalyst of change. And that is it plainly; our society is offended by the truth because of its unwillingness to admit to its unrighteousness and its equal unwillingness to change. It is long past time that the Church again embrace its zeal in speaking the whole truth without fear of offending.

In the spirit of the disciples and of Dr. Johns it is time that the Church wakes up, regains its voice, and dares to unitedly stand and say “these things will not stand in the name of Jesus!” It is time to “Rock the Boat!”

**As a side note, in 1952 Dr. Johns offered his resignation to the Deacons of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church after their increasing level of discomfort due to his boldness in “Rocking the Boat” within the Montgomery community. The congregation searched for nearly two years for a more “conservative” preacher. In 1954, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the pastorate of Dexter Avenue.

Chip Connor, John 15:8

Being Brave

Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’  “That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him. (George R. R. Martin)
I hate flying….
Seems rather odd for a traveler like me to confess such an absurdity, but it is true. I don’t understand the physics of flying – how something so large can acquire and maintain lift and speEd at staggering altitudes. I’ve read about it – still don’t get it. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that I don’t trust it. 
However deep my fear, I recognize two things. 1. It is the fastest and safest mode of transportation. 2. It is necessary if one is to see the world.
These two important points do nothing to eliminate that fear. 
But my desire to travel along with my sheer stubborn nature, propels me to keep going. 
This week my family boarded a plane to Tampa. This marked the 2nd plane ride for Grace and Anna. Both were very nervous and Anna even cried a bit when we boarded. 
As we settled in, she looked over at me and innocently asked, “Are you afraid, Mom?”
Two possible thought bubbles instantly appeared before me. “No” – a lie. “Yes”  – authentic, transparent self. 
I could have lied and said, “No”, but beyond the obvious deception in that statement, I didn’t want her to feel as though her fears were silly and not worth something. Saying “Yes” would afford me the opportunity to use the moment as a life lesson. 
“Sure I’m afraid. Flying scares me. I have a habit of focusing on all the things that could go wrong instead of where I’m headed.”
“Then why do you fly?”
“Well, we can’t let our fears stop us from living. If we do that, we aren’t living at all. ”
As the plane taxied down the runway, picked up speed and lifted off the ground, I had to choose to be brave in the midst of fear. Brave, so that my daughters could understand how important faith and trust are, what it means to really live, and how to do so in spite of our fears. 
I think of all the people who demonstrate amazing amount of courage in spite of their circumstances. How they resolve to get up and live each day to the fullest….to push through whatever obstacle they face….and to stare down their fears. 
When I consider Christ’s words to us about worry- I know that He is right. In fact, I trust that He knows each and every outcome- His presence in all situations is sure. As I held Anna’s hands, I wanted her to find peace in the heart’s knowledge that He never leaves us and will carry us on through. 
Reader, what obstacles are you facing today?
Is fear blocking your view to something greater that is waiting?
Let me encourage you to face it head on, even while you’re shaking in your fear. Choose, today, this moment, to be brave. 
Live well and with courage. 

Painting the Living Room or The Metamorphosis of a Life Well-Lived

As many of you may know, I adopted a specific word for 2015 instead of focusing on a list of resolutions.

So, I chose the word “open”.

For me, this was the perfect and most significant word to describe the state of my life right now. A lot has changed in my world – both on the outside and on the inside. In fact, I celebrated this new mindset by venturing to paint my living room and giving it a complete make-over. What does a living room remodel have to do with transforming your life?

Well, not hing really. But it was a very important and visible sign  of the work that has been going on.

When I bought this house 6 1/2 years ago, I needed to warm and secure, especially on those nights when my daughters would be away from me at their father’s house. So, I took to the hottest trend in colors for a living space – brown. I painted and painted. I felt reasonably satisfied and cozy in my rather large open living space. And so it stayed this way until last month. Below is a picture of my mantle from Christmas 2014.

I remember walking into this same living room last month and feeling much different about the space. It seemed closed off. The curtains were a deep blue and their fabric felt “heavy” hanging from the rods. The configuration of the room was split and not cohesive. This room is the only gathering space in the home and I never wanted to spend time there. It was time for an overhaul. This home, especially this living area, needed to reflect who I was today  – open, light-hearted.

So….I began to paint again.

Every evening when I came home from work, I was committed to painting one complete wall until the project was finished. Below is the “After” photo of that same mantle.

It seemed only fitting that my home – this space I love – reflect this new life I love and enjoy getting up to live every single day.

As many of you know, my life has taken pathways that I never expected to experience ever again.

The first big change was marrying David last October.

While I couldn’t and didn’t want to envision my life without him, the very thought of marrying him or anyone for that matter, was not on my radar. I felt beat up, worn down and like a complete failure after the demise of my first marriage in 2008. No one can prepare you for the barrage of self-worth put-downs your brain will automatically generate as a result of such an action. Yet, it happens. As a result, I couldn’t fathom that this smart, handsome, funny and sweet man would want to call me his wife.

And yet, he asked.

I said, “Yes!”

Here we are today.

I also started to change a lot on the inside.

I stopped living in the past where all of my mistakes were waiting to beat me up. Today instead, I focus on how amazing my God is for taking the mess of a life I had made, and has turned it into something worth celebrating and sharing with the world around me.

I am real about who I am.

I faced my childhood head on and told my story to the whole world (or the world around me). I opened up my life and risked vulnerability in order to let my story be a healing balm to others who might need a reminder that all we have been through is being used to make us into a finely tuned instrument in the Grand Orchestra of Life. In opening my life to others with the aspiration of giving hope to others, I was healed in the process.

I now spend a lot of free time attention towards writing. I also decided it was time to list “writer” as my secondary “profession” – although not one thing I have written has yielded a penny I could count.

I decided that the worst thing I could ever do was to let the stories I have die inside of me. It was time to get serious about my secondary passion. I want the end of my life to express how I gave everything God blessed me with to contribute to something much greater than myself.

Erma Bombeck Quote

Now, I realize that no matter how I spin my life’s tale, there will always be people who will be “nay-sayers”. They will always look for ways to remind me of my past, throw stones to see how tough I really am and generally try to drag me back down to some pit they have created. There are people in my town who still will cross to the other side of a hallway or purposefully ignore my presence when I am around.

So be it.

My worth isn’t wrapped up in their opinion of me. I am too busy living to let someone else slow me down.

You know, life is just like this at times. I used to take these attacks personally until I realized that it was a reflection of them and where they were at on their own journey and it had nothing to do with me.

So, I am learning to bloom where I have been planted. Setting my roots deep in the hopes of finding the most fertile soil to sustain me and help me grow. My life may not blossom for everyone to see, but it will be seen by those who truly matter and that is good enough for me.

So, this idea of openness that I have embraced has been an interesting journey.

It means that I am willing to be taken wherever life can use me up next. It doesn’t mean that I will get whatever I think I want, but I will get whatever I need in order to move forward. I also recognize that such a life is pliable and will bend to accommodate the force of the winds. Change is necessary for growth and anything less is a stagnant life that produces little or no fruit.

I am open to whatever life has in store for me next.

What about you, Reader?

Are you willing to make the changes necessary inside and out that will usher in the most your most authentic self?

Are you willing to  be used up for the sake of contributing something of value to this world or to a person long after you’re gone?

Are you brave? Brave enough to live life on your own terms and not by the hands of others and their narrow opinion of what you should be willing to accept?

Are you willing to bend in the wind and let life take you places that you dreamed of before?

Life is short, Reader. Live well. Be transformed.

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