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As I am bumbling through this blog design process, I realize that this is no different than virtually every other area of my life: it’s not exactly how I planned it, I’m realizing half way through that I don’t really know what I’m doing,  I’m feeling out of my depth (but not too embarrassed to admit it), I’m wondering how everyone else does it and seems to make it look so effortless, and I’m thankful that people are kind enough to encourage me along the way. Technology is not always my friend, but WORDS are! And since I am nothing if not verbose, unmarried, and the parent of a male child who cannot possibly receive all the words I have to share, I am very grateful for this venue which allows me to share them with anyone who is interested. God bless you!

Uber Driving for Eighth Grade Boys

It was announced from the back seat of my car, tonight: “You’re like an Uber driver. I should like pay you.” There was much agreement and laughter from the other three 14 year old boys in the car. No surprise. There was no cash forthcoming.

It started with one boy who lived a few blocks from our house. He lived with his great grandmother who doesn’t drive. Hardly an inconvenience. Then we added the boy who lives on the other side of the tracks, (he actually lives on the other side of the rail road tracks) and I found out was walking a long, dark stretch of bridge over the rail yards into his own sketchy neighborhood to get home after football practice. Oh, HELL, no. Get in the car; I’m driving you home.

Over the last six months of the school year, I’ve learned the tell-tale signs as I pull up to the school to pick up my son after sports practice: a tight cluster of boys, a shy wave and a charming smile from a boy I may or may not know, my son approaching first to say, casually, “He needs a ride. That’s OK, right?” then with a reassuring shout, “Come on, get in!” Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s three. I’m getting better about keeping my back seat clear of junk. Two questions always come to mind as I’m driving to parts of the city I have never seen before, and all manner of abodes: why aren’t their parents picking them up and, what were they going to do if I hadn’t agreed to take them home?

I’ve learned that teenage boys are terrible at giving directions! I would ask for addresses and just use my GPS like any self respecting Uber driver, but a couple of them regularly ask me to drop them off at corner gas stations or mini-marts. The ones who are dropped off at a corner discuss it with each other with such normalcy; “I go to S&S.” or, “I get dropped off at “Goody’s”. If I ask myself why we have never been allowed to see their homes or why they are on such familiar terms with these drop off points it makes me want to cry. I’m pretty sure Uber drivers aren’t supposed to cry. I’m also sure that other drivers overhear some really enlightening conversations from their riders, like I do. As a person of many thoughts and words, not to mention, a MOM, my biggest challenge is to refrain from interjecting into the conversation unless invited, which is rare. Most of the time I just drive, ask for directions, ask an occasional question, listen and sometimes go through the McDonald’s drive through.

I love how grateful they all are, including my own son, as I make my rounds through the downtown alpha/numeric grid. Middleschoolers are, for the most part, an ungrateful lot, but a ride home on a cold, dark night in a car full of their laughing friends – this makes them grateful. I love to correct them when they swear with a “Hey, now, watch it!” and hear a voice from the back seat reply without skipping a beat, “My bad.” I love to hear them all call out as each boy bails out of the car at their respective stops, “Love you, Bro!” every time. I love watching them do a silly walk or a goofy dance on their way out of the car or up to their door, just to make each other (and me) laugh. And mostly, I love delivering them safely home. To what kind of home, I do not know, but at least they are not alone in the cold, dark city.

There are days and nights when I am tempted to feel annoyed and inconvenienced as my long day is made even longer driving other people’s children home, not to mention my gas tank dwindling. Then, I remember, the time is soon approaching when my Uber services will no longer be needed and these boys, these precious children, will be navigating the cold, dark streets, and their lives, on their own and I won’t be able to deliver them to their destinations.

Shut up and DRIVE!

 

~ Love is Risk

Cracking the Code

Reading my teenager’s texts is an exercise in code cracking. Last night, I texted my son, “Dude, it’s snowing!” He answered: Fr   (I placed spaces because, of course, there was no punctuation.) In a rare moment of insight, I actually knew what that meant: For real! I answered back, proudly, “Heck, yeah, Fr!” I got no further response. Sometimes it’s a brand that challenges me. A few weeks ago, he shared a photo on his phone of a pair of basketball shoes, the logo was, KD. “Mom, aren’t these cool?!” I’m pretty sure he didn’t say ‘cool’ but I don’t remember what the word/phrase du jour was, at the moment. It’s not ‘the bomb’ – that’s terribly out of date. I do know that. (I tried it. It didn’t go over well.) I pretended to intensely scrutinize the shoes wracking my brain for the handful of basketball players I know of for one with the initials KD. I suck at this game! And, come on, now, anyone who knows me, knows the NBA is not my thing. If I had a fighting chance, it would be NFL players. I launched a Hail Mary and said, casually, “Oh, Kevin Durant has a line of shoes, now?” He replied with his usual half syllable, “Y” Which means, affirmative. (I can’t really spell it phonetically; it’s not quite yeah; not ye, or ya, or yuh. Maybe it’s, yh?)

The other day I sent him a text at school since he hadn’t been feeling well. He responded stating he was OK and sent an emoji of a brown person head. (He’s black and I’m white, for those of you who don’t know.) I have yet to find a white person head that properly represents me, so, I have chosen to use a zombie woman head with a nice haircut. At some point the thread, taking place during school and work, mind you, resulted in a code I could not break. I showed it to my coworkers. I googled it. It was a mystery too deep to plumb. I typed, “What the… what?!” He responded only, “Exactly :-)” After much thoughtful consideration I sent a deceptively simple reply: “ZFLR! (white person emoji hands, raised)” Honestly, I’m not sure what the emoji hands raised is meant to symbolize, do you? “Woop, woop!” or, “Double high five!” or, “Hollah back, Girl!” or, “Thank you, Jesus!” I do, however, know what ZFLR stands for: absolutely nothing. Feel free to use it if you feel so lead. Maybe it can become a thing. When faced with a code you cannot break, simply respond ZFLR! I think choosing your own emoji will give it a personal touch.

Some abbreviated versions of words just look stupid and I refuse to acknowledge them, such as, ‘sum’ for some. Yeah, homey don’t play that. (Don’t try saying or texting that to a teen – hopelessly out of style.) But, SOME abbreviations are rather formally spelled out, such as, instead of alright, it’s simply shortened to, ‘ight’. Hey, I respect the g-h-t! I can get behind that. Then, there are the words that will probably be obsolete in the moments it takes me to publish this, so I won’t bother listing many, but maybe just a couple of my favorites. At the top of the list would be ‘extra’. Wait, I’ll use it in a sentence and maybe you’ll catch on. “Look at him standing there after the football game, acting all EXTRA.” as in, full of himself, over the top, too much! Then, there’s ‘low key’, which, when I first heard him say it, I thought he was referring to Loki, of Norse mythology. While I knew that was a Marvel character and the movies are wildly popular, I didn’t understand how anyone could manage to use the name in a coherent sentence. After a week of catching it on the fly (Nope. Can’t use that phrase with a teen, either – it’s an antique) I had to admit defeat and blurted out, “You keep saying, ‘loki, loki’, what does that mean?” Without the slightest trace of condescension he explained in a manner I will not even try to reproduce, that it meant something akin to ‘just between you and me’. “Ohhh… low key, I totally thought you were saying Loki, as in Thor’s brother.” (Probably shouldn’t have used ‘totally’ in that sentence. Dangit!)

Some trends have come back around, much to my delight. Very recently I responded to a teenage tale of woe appropriately, and most importantly, briefly, with, “Well, that sucks.” and heard in reply, “Word.” And, I confess I have become fond of using ‘BTW’ while texting. However, I stubbornly spell out S-E-E and Y-O-U, every time, and my commas, apostrophes and periods all appear in their rightful places, even though I have to navigate to a different screen to find them. I’m hoping I am sending a subliminal code to my son, “Dude, low key; it’s ‘you’re’ not ‘your’ if you are using it as a contraction. Fr. And if I text you ZFLR! (white person emoji hands, raised) don’t act all extra.”

Now that I think about it… it’s Bruh, not Dude, at least it was yesterday.

 

Love is Risk ~ ZFLR!

Equal Rights for ALL?

Do you think of yourself as a “social justice warrior”? Maybe you are uncomfortable with that term, or have even come to dislike it as I have. Perhaps you are a person of faith and identify with a particular religion, or a person of deep convictions without any religious affiliation. Quite possibly you are deeply conflicted about faith and religion and yet still care deeply about people, animals, the earth and doing right. Believe me when I tell you, I get that, and I respect it. As a person of religious affiliation, I have spent many years feeling conflicted about my faith, and at times I might reverse that and say, as a person of faith I have spent many years feeling conflicted about my religious affiliation. I am very secure in the struggle – God is big enough to handle it.

Though I am what most people would consider ‘conservative’ both in my politics and my lifestyle, my personal circumstances have given me a different perspective on the social issues of sexism and racism. Having lived most of my adult life as a single person, and having to navigate corporate America, society as a whole, and the Evangelical Church as a single woman, I would not have been able to support myself financially, maintain relationships, own property, serve in the church, and the biggest challenge of all – adopt a child, without finding my voice and fighting some battles along the way. Of course, I had no idea the battles I’d be waging as the mother of a son with learning challenges and who is a person of color. When he was little and cute, and believe me, he was adorable, the challenges were ours and ours alone (and his daycare providers). He was, and is, a challenging kid to raise. But, there were a few years when I almost felt as if race wasn’t even a factor in our family dynamic or in our community; as if we were living in a magical little pocket of the country where racism had been eradicated. Then he entered the public school system. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, chalk it up to personality conflicts and having a difficult child, by the third grade it was rearing it’s ugly head. Undeniable racism. By age 12 he looked like he was old enough to drive; he wasn’t little and cute anymore. He was a handsome, black, young man, and I was on high alert. What did that man say to you? What did you get written up for in school? That girl did what? At times it’s very subtle, something we call the creepy stares; when we walk into a store or restaurant and we both feel it immediately. “It’s like they’ve never seen a black person before.” is how he describes it. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, we remember and rarely return to that place. Let me be clear: we have never experienced a violent or criminal act against us, but the words and actions of others on a daily basis have, at times, left my son feeling defeated, angry and depressed… and this mother grieved, filled with rage and often fearful.

So many of you, I am very certain, given the chance to support me in my efforts to live life on my own terms as a independent woman, and to stand up for my precious son in the face of racism would do so in a heart beat – because you believe in equal rights, for all people, regardless of their gender or their race. You’ve been championing these causes, some of you, since before they became ‘official’ causes. You may even have taken it beyond a personal level and are involved in community activism. But the times, they are achangin’, and you may soon be called upon to reexamine your own values and convictions as to whether you really do believe in equal rights for ALL people. Are you open minded enough to explore that with me right now?

Let’s put my precious boy in front of the Lincoln Memorial, and on this day, along with his favorite Jordan shoes and Nike shirt he is wearing a MAGA hat and standing with a group of classmates who are being harassed by adults with vile racial and homophobic epithets. Would you stand with him there? Would you step up in the face of overt racism to protect my son from hateful people? And if you are willing to stand in the gap for my black boy, would you do it… if he was white? Does one child deserve protection and advocacy more than another simply because of his race, or do we fight for ALL children to have a voice, a choice, a future, and to grow and live in an environment of peace and tolerance?

I know you believe that a woman has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I do, too. I’m living, freely, and doing my best to be happy. We’re together on this, right? But, at what point does a woman NOT get the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? When she’s fourteen? When she’s four? When she’s four months? When she’s four hours? Four minutes before she’s about to be born, and a different woman, separate from her, quite possibly acting in response to something a man has done to her, or because a man has abandoned her, or because a man doctor who is either advising her or ready to do the deed himself, makes a decision that the younger woman does not have even the right to live. So, why do “Women’s Rights” support one woman in that situation, and not the other?

Are you still holding solid to your belief in Equal Rights for ALL, or is it just equal rights for people of color (who don’t wear MAGA hats) and women of a certain age?

Nowhere do the issues of sexism and racism become more connected than in the abortion debate. Let’s talk about Sex-Selection Abortion, The Real War on Women, which is an actual study done in 2016. What is the most effective way to kill “Women’s Rights”? Well, to kill the women, themselves, before they are even born, of course.  And, the fact that black women are having abortions five times more often than white women, and Hispanic women one and a half times more often than white women, makes it another diabolically effective way to repress people of color; kill them before they even have a chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, again, I’ll ask, at what point does a person of color not have rights? At fourteen? At four? At four months? At four hours? Four minutes before he or she is about to be born?

Who decides who is worthy of the cause (and our support)? The media? A political party? The social trend du jour? Or do we, as individuals of conscience and integrity decide that we believe in Equal Rights for ALL. Males and females of all ages and races; boys who are black or white (regardless of their choice of head wear), women from adulthood all the way down to infants, which includes those who are being disproportionately eliminated from population growth.

Obviously, these aren’t just ‘issues’ for me. They have faces and names and have altered the course of my life forever. A woman who had every reason in the world to have an abortion chose life for her child. Her story is not mine to tell, but think of every sad example you’ve ever been given by pro-choice advocates – it will probably apply to her. She was not capable of being a parent, and her child was terribly neglected and abused as an infant and toddler till he was placed into foster care where he went through five placements before the age of three. I was his sixth, and final, placement. I had the greatest honor of becoming his mother. It took me seven years, three agencies and two home studies to become a mother, and I faced many of the same obstacles to adoption as a single parent on the secular side as I did on the religious side. If I introduced you to my strong, handsome, charming son, now at age 14, would you be able to deny that his life wasn’t worth fighting for? And, if he was white, or Hispanic, or a girl, would my fight for him or her have been any less fierce, and less worth the choice of life that a birth mother made?

At the beginning of this article, I stated that I dislike the term “social justice warrior”. It’s because I don’t believe in social justice. There is only justice; pure and blind – established by an authority greater than any of us. And when applied equally to every human, regardless of race or gender, it endows the greatest right – a life, to make of it what you will.  Are you prepared to defend Equal Rights for ALL?

 

Love is Risk ~ and worth it.

God’s Reboot

I have come to the conclusion that lives, like computers, require a reboot every now and again. Or, maybe it’s just me. I do not take to change willingly or particularly gracefully for that matter, so, God usually has to do the hard restart. It is in my nature to live with the status quo unless it becomes absolutely unbearable or I am forced out of it. Few times in my life have I made a conscious decision to seek out a life-altering change, but when I have, they have been the hardest and best things in my life, among them: living abroad, buying a house and adopting a child. Most other changes were not by choice, at least not my choice.

As I’ve watched the devastation of the wild fires, and thought again and again about how it would be to lose absolutely everything; to run for our lives and be left without a single earthly possession, I have been overwhelmingly grateful that I have had the opportunity for a very gentle reboot of my life. I am thankful each day for my tiny house and every single thing in it which provides comfort, convenience and meaningful memories. I am thankful for my vehicle, old and filthy as it is, which I love to drive and suits our family’s needs so well. I am thankful for my animals who comfort and amuse me every day. I am thankful that, although it is not always easy being the mother of my son, it is never boring, and we are together and growing as human beings and continue to make each other better people.

Within the last five months I lost a career and the friendships that went along with that working world that consumed so much of my life. I walked away from a church I had attended for more than 25 years and with it the social structure and fellowship that was an integral part of my existence. And the final, and trivial, yet, almost symbolic loss: my cell phone – and although I bought a new one it was if I had to rebuild my network, family member by family member, and friend by friend. I’m still working on that.

There have been illuminating, inspiring and humbling lessons in the process. Learning to give AND receive graciously while being unemployed and in transition were both equally challenging to me. I would like to share a simple yet powerful illustration: during the summer and into the fall I have been feeding not only my own ravenous, growing, teenage boy, but an extra boy we picked up – a friend of my son’s who needed a home base, a stand-in mom to offer him not only a safe environment but meals whenever he was at loose ends. This eventually extended to other boys who needed rides and, of course, needed to be fed. “Is this the time for me to be feeding other people’s children, when I don’t have a job and I have no idea how we are going to make ends meet?” I asked God. The answer was quiet and clear: “Trust me.” While attending a new church, I submitted a request for prayer for my job search, which lead to someone contacting me to ask if they could add me to their Thanksgiving Food list. I thought it would be a couple of bags of groceries, so I accepted. The day before I started my new job, a man and woman whom I’d never met arrived with a dolly stacked with five boxes loaded full of food! As soon as I closed the door, I laughed… and cried. I felt like God was teasing me in the most loving way. “Didn’t I tell you to trust me? Wasn’t there always enough to feed those boys? See, now, here’s a truckload of food, just in case you were wondering about the next few weeks.”

I don’t know why God chose to allow us to keep our house, while so many others lost theirs. I don’t know why we got to keep our car and our animals and all our things. He has seen fit to give me a new job; a better job. And we have been extended many gracious invitations to be part of a new-to-us fellowship of Believers; I think I can actually say I have faith that this will happen for us, eventually. Yes, changes for our better, but still… changes I would not have chosen for us, and that brought losses we are still mourning. Isn’t that how it is when you reboot? There are always files that you lose in the process; things that weren’t saved properly or were temporary in nature that you can’t retrieve.

But every once in a while something turns up that you thought you’d lost in the reboot.

I still have hope.

~ Love is Risk, and so is a reboot

When Church Hurts

On a Sunday morning, I sat in a church that was new to me, feeling alone, adrift, and aching with tears which were threatening to well up to the surface at any moment. Oh, that would be a great first impression, now, wouldn’t it? My first visit to a church and crying through the service? No. Just, don’t. Even when I don’t know the songs I can usually pick them up by the second verse, but, honestly, my heart wasn’t in it and I just didn’t want to sing. Me, not wanting to sing?! That’s like me not wanting to eat! Something was seriously wrong. I looked at the bulletin, pulled out the message outline, opened my Bible, put on my reading glasses, found the scripture, and prepared myself… for what? A sermon; the millionth I’ve heard in my life, from someone I know nothing about in a room full of strangers. My mind began to wander, and I began a not so reverend conversation with Almighty God. “What am I doing here? What is the point of this if it’s so painful and hard?” His answer, quiet and clear: “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Fine. Whatever.

I stood for the reading of scripture and my hand rested on the back of the pew in front of me; a warm wave of childhood memories washed over me, comforting me with the solid familiarity of the ancient wood worn glossy by thousands of hands over so many years. When I sat down, I almost felt as if my legs would be tiny enough to swing free like they did when I was a little girl in the church where my dad was pastor. I gazed up at the beautiful stained glass windows and the words at the top which read, FEAR NOT. Am I afraid? I asked God. Yes, I suppose I am. Afraid that I will never feel like I belong, find my place, find another ‘home’. FEAR NOT. Alright, I guess that’s going to have to be enough for now. The sermon was good. Not mind altering, life changing good; let’s be honest – so few of them are. But, I talked to God and He talked to me, and more importantly, I heard Him. I faced one of my fears and God kind of spoke to that as well.

For the past 25 years, my solace in Church has been in normalcy, the familiarity of a building, knowing and being known by a group of people, of knowing my place (not necessarily always in a positive way) and understanding the established order of things. But, when the time comes to leave, the question of Church changes from what and where, to who. Who, is the Church? If it is in THAT building and only THOSE people, then it has all but ceased to exist for me. I walked away with only a hand full of friends who continue to fellowship with me. Is that enough? Do five or six or a dozen constitute Church? Turns out, all you really need is two or three gathering together, according to Scripture. But, of course, there are more than that, and entire congregations waiting to be discovered, each with their own unique dynamics… and flaws.

I have always loved church! I loved almost everything about it. I loved the richness of the tradition, the transcendence of the music, the warmth of the fellowship, the challenge of the Bible teaching. And when casual dress and bringing coffee into the sanctuary became a thing (at least in the Pacific Northwest), there was just nowhere I’d rather be on a Sunday morning. It was my second home. I was born in the baptistery, as they say, being the daughter of a baptist pastor, and having attended faithfully all my life, there has never been a time when being a part of a church community wasn’t a part of the fabric of who I am. As a young military wife far from home, newly divorced, or the single mother of an adopted child, I have always defied demographic norms of the mainstream American Evangelical church, but, as much of a challenge as it may have been trying to find my place at times, it was still where I wanted to be. Until I didn’t.

“Do not forsake the assembly as some are in the habit of doing.” Now I know why that verse is in there. Because, right now, it would be so much easier for me not to be part of an organized Church, at all, and just embrace my Church in my two’s and three’s. But, of course, there’s not just me to consider; there’s my son, who is not only my spiritual responsibility as my child, but also as a ‘weaker brother’. Isn’t that how it is in God’s economy? It can never be just about you. And there’s also the CHURCH, the worldwide Body of believers in Jesus Christ that I have seen in action and I’m not ready to give up being a part of that bigger picture. There’s so much we can accomplish together!

In a couple weeks there may be another new church to visit and perhaps this one will have padded chairs and cloth banners hanging on the walls and bring another wave of memories from another era of my life, and another conversation with Almighty God. I’d better be ready to listen. And maybe I’ll sing some new songs.

~ Love is Risk

 

 

 

 

Mom’s Antidote for Depression

I have not been prone to depression and for this, I am very grateful. But, that is not to say that I haven’t had times in my life when I have struggled with what was probably more serious than ‘the blues’. Most of the time it’s been centered around a legitimate reason for deep sadness; a divorce, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one. The first time, however, it was completely undefined and I had no idea how to deal with it. So I called my mom.

It was my first year of college, I was living on campus and it was back in the day before cell phones, when there were two pay phones at the end of the dorm hall. You had to use a couple of the quarters you were saving for laundry, hope someone was at home to answer the phone (no answering machines) and ask them to call you back (it was long distance – too many quarters). Then, you sat in the little booth until the phone rang. What was Mom’s advice after I told her I wasn’t feeling like myself? After the standard, “Get some sleep. Things will look better in the morning.” she spoke these words into my life, and they truly were, and are, words to live by: “Do something nice for someone else.” She went on to say, in the kindest way possible, “You are spending too much time focused on yourself and your own problems. You need to think of a way to do something kind for someone else. It will make you feel better. You’ll see.”

It wasn’t hard to find something I could do, even though I had no money and I was overwhelmed; leaving notes of encouragement in people’s mail cubbies (nobody gets mail during spring quarter!), folding a random person’s clothes in the laundry room, sharing the treats in the care package I got from my grandma, french braiding a friend’s hair. It really did make me feel better. It was the turn around I needed to get me out of the dark place I was in and through to the end of the quarter. In the last few months I’ve found a much deeper meaning to those simple words of advice from my mom; a way of life that focuses on gratitude and kindness when self-pity and depression begin to saturate my thought processes.

For reasons I can’t explain, about four or five months ago I became gradually more aware that there was a rapidly growing population of people in my community who were experiencing homelessness. Of course this has been going on since the beginning of civilization, but I began to SEE it, see THEM as if for the first time. I began to ask questions in earnest. Why is this happening? What is the root cause? What do we do about it? What can I do about it?

Then, I lost my job and suddenly I didn’t feel so far removed from ‘it’, from ‘them’. Although I was far from destitute, I was painfully aware of how precarious my financial situation was. The first time I went grocery shopping during the day, when I should have been at work, a person outside the store asked me if I had spare change and for the first time in my life I answered truthfully. I had always lied, flat-out lied, in front of friends, in front of my son. Lied. “No, I don’t have any change.” But I did. I had change and chose not to give it to them. And this time and from then on, when asked, I gave it. I don’t know if it was out of some sense of kinship, being unemployed myself, but I decided that I would take people at their word. If they said they were hungry, they were. If they said they needed money for gas, they did. If they said they were buying a bus ticket, they would. I got in the habit of putting a dollar’s worth of change in my pocket before I left the house, having my son drop his pocket change in the cup holder in the car, and making sure I had back up in a coin pouch in the bottom of my purse. I didn’t have any delusions that my dollar’s worth of change was going to change anyone’s life, I just didn’t want to lie, dismiss and ignore. I wanted to see, acknowledge and connect. And I did.

I began to hear people, look them in the eye, speak to them and shake their hands. One of the first was a woman outside the grocery store who asked me if I had spare change. “Actually, I do.” When I placed it in her hand I felt her palm was callused, and all the way home I wondered what kind of hard work she had been doing to have such rough hands. Another was a man wandering up and down the grocery check stands with a package of hot dogs. I assumed he was looking for the shortest line and they were all long. I asked him if he wanted to go ahead of me because he only had one item. He hung his head in shame and said, “I’m just trying to figure out what to do. I need ninety seven cents to buy these and all got is thirty seven cents.” He pulled his change out of his pocket to show me. I pulled the change out of my pocket and said, “Well, I can spot you a dollar if you want to get in line ahead of me.” He said, “Really? Well, thank you!” and got in line with his hot dogs. He pulled out his wallet and showed me his ID and said, “I’m 57 years old. You’d think I’d be doing better by now.” We visited while we waited in line and he told me he thought if he went to Alaska he’d have a better chance of finding work. I didn’t ask him how he planned to get there. I bought him a bag of chips, too, and he left with a smile and a handshake. Then, there was Jack, who introduced himself because I was walking my dog, also named Jack. He knew that since my dog was a rescue from Maui that his particular mix of mutt was bred for hunting feral pigs in the Hawaiian islands. He didn’t ask me for money, but we walked together, the three of us, for about a quarter mile and he shook my hand and patted Jack’s head before we parted ways. He was camping in a park near my house. I thought about Jack the Human for many days and was haunted by his words. In referring to the dog, I had said, “Jack is a happy guy.” Jack the Human responded, referring to himself, “He used to be.”

I began to refer to this as my Change Experiment and I looked forward to leaving the house each day with a dollar’s worth of change in my pocket. Sometimes I came up with a reason to get out and about, just so I could look for an opportunity to give away my change. Oddly enough I never ran out of change. I still haven’t.

As days turned into weeks and I still didn’t have a job, I was losing momentum. After years of working myself into exhaustion, I was completely rested up. I had used my initial surge of enthusiasm about free time to get several projects done, but now depression began to set in. It was not an unreasonable response to my circumstances; I was a single parent, the sole provider for my family, unemployed and with a very uncertain future for myself and my child. But, what was the appropriate action? I continued to do what I could humanly do to get a job; the rest was in God’s hands. What did God require of me to be accountable for the rest of my life during this time? I knew the answer, of course. I needed to take my Change Experiment to the next level. And I couldn’t do it alone.

With another heatwave in the immediate forecast, I put out the call on social media: I wanted to invite people to join me in handing out supplies to people living outside – Gatorade, juice, nutritious snacks, treats, personal items and Bibles. Within 24 hours supplies began pouring in and my little living room was filled with bags and boxes and within two days I had a motley crew of people from the odd corners of my life, some brand new friends, some I had known for over 30 years, and my 13 year old son, gathered at my house, ready with loaded backpacks and open minds to head out on foot. That first expedition was the most humbling because the people we found, camping in tents and hanging out in parks, were no more than a few blocks from my house.

The following day, my mom and I went out in the car scouting for where I might return on foot but I ended up bailing out of the car with a backpack and handing out more supplies. We drove around town to the places where I handed out my change and found some folks in the outer corner of the grocery store parking lot and when we got out to talk to them, a man said, “I sure appreciate this! Things is gettin’ so hard.” I thought he meant the heat and I commented on it. He said, “No, the heat don’t bother me. But they keep kicking us out. There’s just no place left for us to go.”

A few days later a former coworker contacted me and asked if she could help. She came over, we loaded backpacks, parked downtown and walked around looking for people who had shopping carts or sleeping bags. That day, nearly everyone we gave supplies to had alcohol, which lead to some thought provoking conversation. A week later, I was scheduled to get together with a friend and instead of the outing we had planned, she asked if we could drive around and distribute supplies. I had barely two full packs left, so we pooled our resources (two single mothers, struggling financially) packed a couple of simple sack lunches and headed out. Again, as with my mom, she parked and waited with the car (it was hot and she had a baby in a car seat) while I bailed out of the car with a backpack and looked for people. My last two packs handed out in the downtown park, we decided to loop around through the ‘hood. At an intersection, we handed a man who was asking for money a sack lunch. He was thrilled and began eating it immediately. With one lunch left, we were heading home, looking for a need, and my friend spotted an infant seat, sitting in front of a dumpster. After making a pact to raise the baby together, she made a U-turn, pulled in, I jumped out of the car and with a pounding heart, discovered… an empty infant seat. (We were relieved, and, both admitted, a little disappointed.) It’s funny what you notice when you are truly looking.

One sack lunch left, which I kept in my car, and I felt that I was done with my project, when I received a card in the mail that brought me to tears. A thank you note from my aunt and uncle who were inspired by my attempts to do something, anything, in my little corner of the world, and in the envelope, fifty dollars; seed money towards my next round. I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I needed some time to regroup, re-evaluate and come up with a plan for the next phase. A week ago, a man was standing at the corner by the grocery store with a cardboard sign with only a smiley face drawn on it. He was on the passenger side, and I was alone in the car, so I was unable to give him change, and he wasn’t asking for it. But, I remembered, I had the last lunch buried somewhere in the back seat. I pulled over, got out, found it and ran across the street. “I have this little lunch if you want it.” He smiled really big and said, “Yes! Thank you so much!” I ran back to my car and looked back at him as I pulled away and he was holding a pudding cup up in my direction, as if to say, “Cheers!”. I remembered the man who received the other lunch, pulling out the banana and peeling and eating it immediately as if he’d been craving one for days. It brought me back to the simplicity of my mom’s advice: Do something nice for someone else. I can’t run a food bank, or a head up a charity organization, or work in a rehabilitation facility, but I can do something, SOME LITTLE THING nice for someone when I’m looking for the opportunity. And when I do, it makes me grateful for what I have and kinder to everyone around me.

Here’s a few things I have learned in talking and interacting with people in various stages of need: When people don’t want or need help, they will tell you – just move on.  If you’re going to offer something, you have to give it freely, regardless of your own biases – if the woman smoking a joint says she really wants a Bible, you give her one, and if the happy drunk sitting in the sweltering sun with a case of Coors says he could really use a Gatorade, you give it to him. Tent dwellers might appreciate some supplies, but might not want to meet face to face – ask permission to approach, leave it at the zipper door, and beat a hasty retreat (the disembodied hand will appear to collect what you leave). Some people just really want to speak to another human being, to tell you their name, to know yours, to shake your hand and to tell you a little about themselves – this has been the best part of this experience!

I still have fifty dollars in my wallet for the next project. I’m waiting to be inspired. It may come with the next harsh season; ponchos and tarps when the constant rains set in, or gloves and socks when the first cold snap comes. My own future, and my child’s, is still very uncertain and our situation, precarious. But, I’m continuing to be challenged to focus on gratitude and kindness. Whatever your circumstance may be, whenever you feel yourself begin to circle into that downward spiral I offer Mom’s simple advice: Do something nice for someone else.

~ Love is Risk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty from Disaster

I made a pilgrimage to Mount Saint Helens with my son, recently. It’s an easy day trip from where we live; I don’t know why we haven’t done it sooner. It was a perfect summer day in late July, a gorgeous drive, wildflowers in bloom, a blazing blue sky and a ring of white, puffy clouds hovering over the rim of the crater like a saintly halo. As we were repeatedly shown the dramatic before and after photos of the mountain pre-eruption and post-eruption side by side, my son asked me an odd question: “Which do you like better?” I shrugged and said, “It’s beautiful both ways.” But he pressed me. “No! Which do you like better?” and he stopped and waited. I searched for a truthful and thoughtful answer and said, “The way it is now. Because it’s the mountain I know and love. I was there in Vancouver when it happened and it was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever experienced in my life. It changed me. So, I like it better the way it is now.”

On the drive down out of the mountains I saw, tucked into the trees on the side of the road in the beautiful forests that line the mountainsides, what I wasn’t able to see on the way up: signs that read “Planted in 1983”, and “Planted in 1986”. I pointed them out to my son, reminding him that that was just three and six years after the devastation of the eruption. “Look at all the growth! Look how gorgeous these trees are!” And all the way down out of the mountains I kept thinking about his question: which do you like better?

It called to mind another time in my life when I felt like I was shaken to the core, blasted away, stripped bare and taken down to the bare essence of who I was apart from any construct of society; no marriage, no career, no status of any kind. Simply me and my willingness to open myself up to God’s call upon my life and my basic ability to connect with the world around me. I remember singing the lyrics of a Switchfoot song while driving in my car: “This is your life. Are you who you want to be?” And shouting the answer to myself: YES! Yes, I was the person I wanted to be! And yes, I am the person I want to be, now, even while showing the obvious damage left behind from the disasters of my life.

How many of us look at our dearly loved ones who show the damage of their own physical and emotional disasters and say, “Yes, I know how painful they were. I see the scars they left behind, but they made you the person you are, and I LOVE that person! And, they brought you to me, and I will not even imagine my life without you.

Perhaps my son’s question wasn’t so odd, for him. He has often asked me a series of “Do you ever wish…?” questions about my life. Do you ever wish you were married? Do you ever wish you would have finished college? Do you ever wish I was… different? Which leads to a deep, if brief, spiritual discussion: “Then, I wouldn’t be me, you wouldn’t be you, and we wouldn’t be a family. And, you know this, but I’ll keep telling you: apart from Jesus’ finished work on the cross, you are the best thing that has ever happened to me!”

You, like me, may have had some considerable disasters in your life. Failed relationships, career setbacks, chronic illnesses or sudden, tragic losses.  Some may be your own decisions, some were completely out of your control, and you came away from the destruction looking, feeling and acting NOTHING like you did before. Allow me to ask you: Which YOU do you like better? I have asked and answered that question at several times in my life. I didn’t enjoy the process, but those disasters have made me who I am, and I wouldn’t go back to the person I was before. Do I want to stay this way? Heck no! There’s always room for more growth, more healing, and good company along the way.

~Love is Risk, and there is growth in the blast zone!