Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thoughts on the Great Chicken Debacle

Frankly I am terrified to write about the Chick-fil-A situation. It has been a long time since I have seen people so divided about an issue and by and large not give a damn about whether they were upsetting or offending people whose opinions differed from their own. Actually it seems they have really enjoyed upsetting and offending those that disagreed with what they believed. I have seen both liberals and conservatives act extremely intolerant about a subject that is supposed to revolve around tolerating others and our right to express our opinions. There has been much written about whether same sex marriage is right or wrong so I am not going to address the specifics of that debate. Nor am I going to tackle how each side may or may not be exercising  their own free speech while trying to shame others for speaking about their own point of view. For the record I am a conservative Christian and many of my political opinions lean to the right, however the one thing I'd like to talk about is how we as a church might be perceived by the gay community.
Many gay people that I have known have felt shunned, hurt and rejected by the Church and I know how they feel. I am not gay, but my story is somewhat similar.
I was born in 1970 to a mother who was unmarried. Today that is seen as almost a complete non-issue, but in the early 1970's this was a HUGE deal. Growing up in New Orleans my entire family were devout Catholics and when all of my little friends were preparing for their first communion I wondered why I wasn't undergoing this rite of passage. I asked my mother why we didn't go to mass like every other person that I knew. It was then she told me the story of how as an infant she had taken me to the parish priest and requested that I be Christened. He told her that since my parents were unmarried he would under no circumstances allow me to participate in any rites or ceremonies of the church. In short, I didn't measure up. I developed a very deep and bitter distaste of the church and what it represented. It wasn't until I was 30 years old that I was able to see past the fallibility of man to the love of Jesus. 
We may wonder why the LGBT community in America are making such a big deal about Dan Cathy's remarks. I believe in part it has to do with years of "sin ranking" that has been prevalent for centuries. How many of us engage in gossip? Lust? Greed? Sloth? Wrath? Envy? Pride? How about gluttony? A pastor whose blog I follow hit the nail on the head when he said that "gluttony is way more of a problem in the church today than homosexuality!!! (Please see Proverbs 23:2…pretty intense!!!  ONLY in the church can people that are huge condemn people who are homosexual and somehow feel like that they are spiritually superior!) 
Whether I believe that same sex marriage is beautiful, evil, or whether I am completely apathetic I probably have a couple hundred planks to get out of my own eye first.
Please understand that you may be innocently posting a picture of your Chick-fil-A bag from dinner because you support free speech, but to some it may be considered a red flag. For years if I even heard someone use the word "bastard" to describe the guy who drove like an idiot or the receiver that dropped the ball during a big play, I died a little bit inside and I would feel ashamed. I may have been over sensitive but understandably so. Do I think the gay community might be overreacting? Probably, but when I consider my own story, I understand.  Jesus loved everyone and used compassion and love to win people to him. Unfortunately I haven't seen a lot of compassion or love today.

As a side note to any liberals whether gay or straight who may be reading this: When you allow D-list celebrities like Roseanne Barr to wish cancer on us for eating where we choose or Thomas Roberts, an msnbc anchor saying that if you are a liberal who eats at Chick-fil-A then you are a "chicken-eating Judas", your argument is harmed enormously. Please stand up and tell these freaks they need to hush before they embarrass your cause any further.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Encouragement Experiment

It seems lately that I have seen more of the underside of life. Stories I have heard from people that I know and on the news have seemed way more horrific than normal. As a Christian I have to conclude that Satan is on the move. I am sure there are many ways to fight back, but let me share with you my favorite.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
-Hebrews 3:13 NIV

It is simple, it is easy, and it is free, yet we so often fail to open up our mouths and genuinely encourage each other. One thing I have discovered is a universal truth is that we all need to be sincerely acknowledged and appreciated. Let's be honest; unless you wrap yourself and your family in bubble wrap and never leave your home you will encounter daily things that depress, discourage, and completely stress you out. The best way to counter this is to see and practice genuine kindness in order to remind yourself that there are many caring people left in the world. Imagine if your spouse and kids took everything you did for for granted. Imagine your boss constantly belittling your actions. Imagine your friends are always petty and condescending. It would be hard not to lapse into cynicism and despair pretty quickly. 
So here is my challenge for those of you who are brave enough to try:

The Encouragement Experiment

1.  Give honest and sincere praise to someone in your household.
Compliment the outfit your wife is wearing. Tell your husband how much you appreciate how hard he works. Let your child know that you think they are doing a great job at something.

2.  Tell someone you know how much you admire a particular quality they have.
Think about why you are happy that your friends are your friends and then share that reason with them. Tell a coworker something about themselves you admire.
The key here is sincerity. If someone were to praise my singing voice or cooking skills then I would know they were either mentally imbalanced or about to hit me up for a loan. 

3. Compliment a complete stranger.
OK, I know that some of you are shy and this may feel awkward, but just take a leap of faith. Think of times someone in the grocery store complimented your new haircut or while pumping gas admired your car. It made your day, didn't it? We all see people as we go through the motions of our day and think about how we like something about them. Next time this happens just open your mouth and say it. I promise people won't think you are weird. They will just feel happy to be flattered.

4.  An Encouragement Explosion
Post the following on Facebook:
"Like my status and I will tell you one thing I admire or appreciate about you." (Then write a short post on their wall.)
I have done this before and believe me you will be surprised how many people hit the "Like" button. You can tell by the responses you get that this genuinely makes people feel valued.

So who is up for the challenge? I would love to read your comments on what you think of this experiment. If you put all four steps into practice (or even just one) what were the results?
I can't wait to hear all about it!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Not-So-Happy Mother's Day

What images does Mother's Day conjure for you? Is it flowers picked by chubby little hands, breakfast in bed, or maybe a big multi-generational dinner at Grandma's house? Does your Mother's Day include a long wait for a table at Mom's favorite restaurant, or maybe its a cross country phone call?
Unfortunately for some, Mother's Day is a holiday that is equivalent to an emotional boot camp. People who fall into this category either spend the day hiding out, refusing to even acknowledge all the public reminders, or spend the day with a fake smile pinned so painfully in place that they fear their cheeks will fall off.
So who are these women that would shirk such a warm and fuzzy holiday?

The Mother who has lost

I remember the first Mother's Day after Leo died I told my husband that I didn't want a single mention of the stupid non-event. It had been only a few short weeks since we lost him and I felt like I didn't deserve to be honored on a day celebrating maternal love and skill. I felt like the most basic part of being a mom was keeping your children alive and look how badly I had botched that! It didn't matter that this thought was completely illogical. I was pissed and not afraid to show it. At least I had two other living children at that time. What about the mom who has lost her only child? Is she no longer a mother? What is she supposed to do on that holiday?

The woman with empty arms

I've had many friends who have struggled with infertility. It's not hard to imagine how a day celebrating what you feel is your greatest lack would really suck. I have heard of many churches and restaurants that pass out flowers to all the moms that walk through the doors. I imagine this must feel so incredibly isolating.

The woman without a mother

Death or abandonment can leave many motherless. How lonely to spend the day remembering what should have or can never be a true celebration.

What can I do?

I am sure there are many categories of women who have a legitimate reason to dread this particular Sunday. How then should we act? I think the best thing to do is to not let them suffer in silence or ignore their pain. Resolve this Mother's Day to reach out to a woman who may be struggling. Tell her you admire her, tell her you know today is hard, or just give her a hug. Just don't let her hurt alone.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Wedding That Wasn't

This has been the most exhausting, exhilirating, disappointing, and wonderful weekend that I can remember in ages. Let me explain:
Last week I heard about a group of college students that go to my church that were planning a wedding for a homeless couple. WHAT???? Talk about right up my alley! I have been really focused on learning to serve the homeless community here in Mobile for the past few months and I am obsessively head over heels crazy about weddings!!! You throw the two together and I was in a mission minded girly frenzy! I met last Wednesday with a few of the students planning the wedding and heard all about what they had already done to get this nuptial show on the road.
You ever have one of those moments when words leave your mouth at the same instant that the thought forms in your brain? I think those moments are Divinely inspired. Others probably call them crazy. In any case, "Hey, let's have the wedding at my house!" flew out before really thinking about it. Thank you, Jesus, that I have an understanding husband who doesn't mind rolling with my wacky ideas. Now that I was on board we had only a few days until the wedding on Sunday. Word spread about what these college kids were doing; and many people donated items for decorating, donated food, and donated cash. It was beyond words watching all of this unfold. A group of six students even came to my house and volunteered hours of yard work to make sure my back yard was in perfect shape for the ceremony.
Let me tell you about these young men and women. These students bought the bride a wedding dress and many decorations with money out of their own pockets. They solicited donations and coordinated with a local restaurant who generously donated food. They scrounged up tables, chairs, and a hundred other items that go into an event like this. In short, they were AMAZING! Did I mention that all of this was during finals week????  I know when I was in college the only thing I was focused on during finals week was passing my classes and keeping a steady stream of caffeine coursing through my veins. Yup, these kids are my new heroes!
The day before the wedding had me and my 14 year old daughter spending the morning at Tent City (a homeless community in Mobile). It was her first time going to Tent City and I was curious what her reaction might be, but she dived right in and just loved on them totally with no fear or awkwardness at all. Here is a pic showing her sitting outside one of the camps:
The rest of Saturday found me and my girls getting our house ready, and the college kids finalizing all of the other arrangements. We even paused to snap a few pictures as my 17 year old went off to a dance. As you can see her little brother wanted to chaperone.

Sunday came with the same flurry of activity that accompanies any wedding. The college kids showed up at my house in the morning and began decorating, setting out tables and chairs, and stringing hundreds of fairy lights.
When it all was done my backyard and patio looked like it could have been the site for even the most proper society wedding. Yet again, these students' skill, creativity, and hard work blew me away.
At around 12:30 I took two of the girls to go pick up the bride at a predetermined spot where she had been spending time with a husband and wife ministry team. When we pulled up, the atmosphere seemed tense. The minister's wife asked for us to just hang around for awhile because they needed to talk to the bride and groom about some things. We watched from my car as they sat in a tight circle about twenty feet away in deep conversation. Our hearts sank as we realized something was very wrong. Finally about twenty minutes later the minister's wife came over and said that "some things had come to light over the weekend" and they "no longer felt comfortable participating in or officiating the wedding." They asked us to hang around for awhile longer and resumed their talk with the homeless couple. A few minutes later the groom approached my car and explained that they had a call in to another minister that they hoped would agree to conduct the ceremony. The girls and I sat just staring shocked at each other hardly believing this turn of events. Finally I suggested that the girls and I return to my house where we would await word from the bride and groom about whether the wedding would go forward. Frankly, having to explain to the rest of the group, who were putting the finishing touches on the decorations, that the wedding didn't look like it would take place completely sucked. These kids worked harder than you can possibly imagine and spent way more of their own money on an event that they believed that God had led them to do. Shortly after, we received the call that the wedding would not happen that day.  They were angry, they were hurt, they felt that they had completely been let down. I'm not going to lie, I was totally pissed. Why weren't we given some kind of clue even the night before that this wedding might not happen? We could have put a halt to the food preparation, the Wedding Arch delivery, all the last minute purchases and the countless hours cleaning and decorating. Why were we only clued in at the last minute???
Thankfully I received a call from their College Group Leader with wise words that I needed to hear in that moment:
"Those kids did exactly what they were supposed to do. They were obedient to what they felt God called them for in all of this. In all types of ministry, people will let you down; but we aren't ultimately doing this for other people or ourselves. We are doing this because we love Jesus. These kids will be blessed."
I realized then in one of those "Sucker Punch from the Holy Spirit" moments of insight that God's picture is way bigger than ours. We only get to see a small part of the backside of life's tapestry with all of its snarls and knotted thread. God sees the completed side with its perfection of design. Am I still irritated? Sure, but I know it will all work out for these students because they are dedicated, hard working, and are willing to totally make themselves vulnerable to love those that society regularly ignores.
It was too late to stop the food preparation so we decided that, though the wedding was cancelled, we were still going to have an amazing party! The ironic thing is that an unexpected thunderstorm flared up right at the time the wedding was supposed to take place. All of the tables, chairs and decorations were quickly stowed under my carport and everyone found a spot indoors. Ransom Cafe brought an incredible spread of food and my den was turned into a dance club. It was one of the best parties I've ever been to and how blessed was I that it was in my own home?
Here is a blurry cell phone pic of my den turned dance club:

I was so proud of the way they shucked off their disappointment and just decided to be the awesome, goofy kids that I grew to love this weekend.

So I think the best lesson that I learned all through this is that if this next generation will one day be in charge of the world, I know we are all going to be just fine.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"I'll pray for you."

Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:16)

I've been rolling around in my head for days which topic to write about. I have warm and fuzzy topics, deep contemplative topics, sarcastic and mildly amusing topics. Today however, I am feeling pretty feisty so I am going to discuss a topic that has been firing me up lately: the modern Christian's concept of service.

When Christians hear of a tragedy or hardship, what is the #1 phrase most often spoken?

"I'll pray for you (or them)."

OK, let me make it abundantly clear: Prayer is awesome, prayer is important, we should all pray. What gripes me however is the tossing around of that cliched phrase with very little thought and absolutely no action. I'd even wager that a large number of people who promise prayers get too distracted to offer them up at all.

When Jesus prayed he took it really seriously. Heck, he even sweat blood at one point. (see Luke 22:44) I've offered up some big, anxiety ridden prayers, but I don't think I've ever come close to getting bloody for my efforts.

What bothers me is that prayer seems to be the stopping point for many Christians. Great, so you have prayed for the homeless, Great Aunt Edna's kidney stones and world peace. You're done, right? You can pat yourself on the back for being a pillar of the modern church and get on with what you were doing. Hold it just a second...

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

But what can I do?

Now let's be realistic. If you see your BFF from middle school asking for prayers for her 3rd cousin's gall bladder surgery on Facebook, am I suggesting you get in the car and drive two states over to deliver a casserole? No, and in that kind of situation a sincere prayer is an appropriate response.

But what about the lady next door whose husband died last year? Do you think she might be struggling to take care of things around her house? Should you just pray that her gutters get supernaturally cleaned out? Or how about the family who is dealing with a special needs infant that requires 24 hour care? Do you think they need real tangible help, or are a few prayers enough?
I think we get so afraid to get involved because we feel that we have nothing to contribute. Wouldn't you agree that we all have at least one gift or talent? Personally, you will never see me volunteer to bring anyone a home cooked meal. Trust me, my cooking is more of a curse than a blessing. Know what your gifts are and aren't and follow your prayers with practical actions. 

Can't I just write a check?

Absolutely! There are TONS of great organizations that are financially stretched to the breaking point who would do cartwheels over your donations.   (If suddenly you feel like contributing to a worthwhile cause I can clue you in on some wonderful choices.) But how about this? Write a check AND get involved. If you really want to grow your character and compassion get out there and spend some hands on time helping in your community. My advice is to pick a group that would never occur to you to spend time with and then watch how God will blow your mind. 

What do you mean they still need help?

Another trend I've noticed is that we all are pretty good about showing up for an emergency. The reality however is that when a person is knocked down by sickness, grief, or economic hardship the need for help lingers. People need your support more after the initial crisis, because all too quickly the crowd of "helpers" vanishes. I'll be honest, though I was extremely touched at the large turnout we had at my son's funeral, I was so out of it I really can only remember maybe half of the people who were there. What I will never forget are the people who called or wrote in the months that followed, or the people who showed their support during that first Christmas eight months later.

Now before I get too comfy on my high horse let me admit that I have been extra guilty of this in the past and will probably be guilty of this in the future as well. It just occurs to me that if we are all trying to be more like Christ then as a whole we could do a little better. Didn't Jesus first pray and then follow with action? I'm thinking he is really hoping that we would do the same.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

So here goes nothin'...

OK,  I have decided to write a blog. In our culture that makes me probably the most un-unique person you know. Everyone and their third cousin's nephew's hairdresser has a blog these days. Still, I found after writing my first blog entry I thought it was pretty nifty. However, I feel that it is only fair to give potential readers a heads up as to what they can expect:

I will sometimes write about grief and loss.

Losing my son five years ago was one of the biggest turning points in my life. It has colored so much of my perspective and I tend to get fired up when I feel like the general public needs to be educated on how to not inflict further trauma on someone just doing the best they can in the midst of grief.

I will sometimes write about God.

Being a Christian is another huge part of my life and since daily I am trying to figure out what path God wants me on you will probably read words like "Jesus", "Bible", and "Prayer". If the occasional verse bothers you then this probably isn't the blog for you.

On the other hand I will probably offend my overly churchy readers.

Here is the deal: I fail a lot, my sense of humor tends to go to the twisted frequently, and the occasional curse word will more than likely find its way into a post or two. If you are easily bothered by content that will more than likely fall into the PG-13 range then this may not be the blog for you.

So if you think reading my random thoughts won't send you running and screaming into the streets then I'd love to have you on board. There is a handy box on the right side of the page where you can also sign up to be notified of future posts by email.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thoughts on Five Years

Today is the anniversary of the worst day of my life and like all anniversaries good or bad I feel like I have to look back and reflect. Before I lost a child I admit that I had no idea about the devastation and emotional chaos that you are thrust into. I feel like most "normal" people are thinking, "Geez woman, it has been five years! Get over it already!" Still I feel that five years on this crappy road have yielded some wisdom.

Get a sense of humor because you never know when you will really need it.

Life is brutal. Need some examples? Turn on the news and hear about teenagers being gunned down because of the color of their skin, children starving around the world, mass murders and human trafficking. Examples are all around us. People cut you off in traffic, neighbors can be rude and family members can be the cruelest of all. Material for a comedy routine? Probably not, but if you can find even the smallest ways that life though brutal can be absolutely hilarious you will be far more psychologically healthy than most people you meet. People said some of the rudest things after we lost Leo. I choose to believe that they were being ignorant and not intentionally cruel, but if I hadn't found ways to chuckle at their stupidity then you probably would have read about a crazed grief stricken mother slapping someone into the next zip code. Life is hard. Bad things will happen and learning to laugh at the ridiculous that surrounds us can save you from doing 10-20 at the state penitentiary. That leads me to my next discovery...

If you think you might say something stupid just shut up and give a hug instead.

People say dumb things all the time. Normally this isn't too big of a deal, but if you are dealing with someone who just lost a child you could be inflicting serious damage.
   "I know just how you feel." Nope, not unless you also lost a child. The death of your 95 year old grandmother doesn't compare. Nor your third cousin, nor your next door neighbor, nor your goldfish. Parents will probably die before you. Spouses could possibly die before you, but a child??? This goes against everything normal and natural in the world. We have words like "orphan" and "widow", but is there a word in our enormous dictionary for parents who lose a child? None. It defies description.
"God took your child because they were too perfect/beautiful/sweet." Whoa, whoa whoa!!! The God that I believe in is not so cruel or heartless that he would kill off a child because they were apparently an awesome example of babyhood. Countless scholars and theologians have spent centuries debating the nature of God without firm answers, so unless you have a personal hotline where God gives you answers to questions that have puzzled man since the dawn of time then its best to just be quiet.

You aren't Houdini so don't pull a disappearing act.

One of the most amazing phenomena I have seen after the death of a child is how people who you thought would be there for you no matter what suddenly vanish from your lives after you lose a child. Or maybe they see you from a distance and they suddenly avoid contact or reverse direction. What is probably happening in their mind are thoughts like "I just don't know what to say." Perhaps they figure a phone call would be too intrusive or bothersome so they never dial your number again. I think deep down many feel like that level of sadness and despair could be catching so they avoid it at all costs.
Conversely, people that you barely knew, had little contact with or you suspected were schmucks will step up and show a depth of caring and compassion that you didn't know was possible. These sweethearts will genuinely restore your faith in humanity. Decide now before tragedy hits someone you know, are you going to be a schmuck or a sweetheart?

It doesn't get better, but it does change.

Let's pretend for a minute that you are driving down the road listening to some awesome tunes on the radio. The weather is perfect...nothing but clear skies ahead. In a split second without any warning a huge semi broadsides you and your life is changed forever. You wake up in the hospital surprised to be alive, but then discover that you have been permanently paralyzed and will spend the rest of your life in a wheelchair. You spend months and years just learning how to navigate in a world that looks familiar but is now filled with challenges at every turn. Five years later is it better? Well, yes and no. At this point you have learned how to get around. You have learned how to integrate the pain into your life. You have accepted that your life will never be "normal" again.
Much like someone who suddenly loses the ability to walk, I have discovered how to get around, how to function and how to let the pain be a part of my life, but not consume my life. It certainly isn't better, but I am thankful that it is different.

My marriage is amazing!!!

One of the other things the schmucks liked to bring to my attention after Leo died was how often couples who lose a child wind up divorced. From personally getting to know hundreds of families whose marriages remained intact after the death of a child I find this statistic inaccurate. However, let's review what Darrin and I have been through in the past five years:

  • losing a child unexpectedly before we even celebrated our first anniversary
  • losing our business
  • subsequent extreme financial hardship
  • continued legal battles with my ex-husband
  • raising two teenage girls
  • all the inherent bumps, bruises and difficulties that go along with a second marriage.    
And through it all we have stood strong! Pardon me while I do a victory lap for that one. I am really proud of us!

God doesn't mind the tough questions.

Ok, here comes the big, ugly confession. Are you ready? After Leo died I was really angry at God. I don't mean slightly peeved. I am talking about deep down gutwrenchingly pissed. I had been through one of the worst divorces ever and had just managed to meet a decent guy and was all ready to enjoy a little of the good life. For what? To get the rug yanked out from under me in the cruelest possible way. Why would God do this? Haven't we all heard stories of people near death that were somehow saved in ways that could only be termed miraculous? OK, so where was my miracle? Wasn't Leo destined for great things? Give me one good reason why a seemingly healthy baby could go down for a nap and with no explanation just never wake up???
I spent quite awhile furious at the Almighty. I stopped reading my Bible and stopped going to church. There was however one thing I didn't stop doing. I never stopped talking to God. Often the conversations were pretty one sided with a lot of demanding on my part. ("How could you? Why did you? Explain yourself!") Sometimes they were pleading. ("Please, please, please give me back my son. I'll do anything, give you anything, be anything") Did I then or do I now think that I was being sacrilegious in any of these prayers? Not even a little. God understands my pain and I discovered that he loves me more than I can even grasp. For now that is enough. The final and most important thing I have learned is the answer to the request I asked of God the night that Leo died....

"Lord, where are you in all of this?"

I should have buckled my seat belt for the answer to this one. God answered me that night and has answered me continuously over the past five years. So where is God in all this?
He is in the people who rushed down to be with us in the ER that awful night. In the many practical good deeds that people did in the months after we were consumed with just trying to get from one day to the next. He is in all the friendships I have made with other "Angel Moms" who are always ready to listen and truly understand. He is in the sweethearts who have made Darrin and I feel surrounded by love on this awful day. Need proof? Take a peek at my Facebook wall today. See a glimpse of God, yet? How about the generosity of all the texts, voicemails, and prayers that we have been on the receiving end of today? And yes, my personal favorite....a box of cupcakes and cookies left by my front door. Is God in a cupcake? You bet He is when it is given out of love and compassion. God has shown me that I am blessed beyond comprehension because I am surrounded by people who want to make it just a tiny bit better.
Isn't that where God is for all of us? We can all agree that the world can be horrible, unfair and cruel, but if we allow God to use us to show His love and compassion we can help make the world a little less hard to get through. Really, that is the secret for us all whether we have lost a child or not. Healing from any pain can come, but only to the extent that we are willing to reach out and love others.