46 and the Naked Tree

46 is a weird age.  It is on the side closer to 50 and 40 seems like a while ago. I assume that, like me, everyone over 40 thought that they would have way more figured out by this time in their lives than they actually have. This Christmas I have been really trying to figure out what this stage is all about and I have gotten nowhere so hence…..the blog. Maybe by the end I will have some clarity.

For 18 years we have had our traditional Christmas tree decorating event. It was never a fancy shindig but the you-put-each-and-every-ornament-I-have-bought-you-each-year-of-your-life-and-enjoy-it kind of fiesta. Ok so it was never all that fun with at least 2 precious, sentimental, hand picked soccer balls or clarinets crashing to the ground and me not wanting to become even more crazy during forced family fun. This year? The tree….is naked. Yep. Bins of ornaments in the living room and nothing adorning the tree. And me? Not as crazy as I have been in the past! I  said I would not get the tree out this year but Cooper at 13 thought that was a little too Grinchish.

I have looked at the bin, looked at the tree and said to myself, “Oh well” and not been secretly angry and plotting my next guilt trip that if they loved me they would hang ornaments. My kids are at the ages where they are studying for finals, working extra shifts for Christmas money and preparing for concerts. The moments I do get with them are fleeting these days and I am learning to be ok with that. I have been through the worried mom holy-crap-they-are-driving stage and survived one car being totaled and another mirror knocked completely off the side of the car. By the same son, I might add. I have been the freaked out one when they go on the interstate without me. I have fretted through dating and curfews….and survived to tell about it. dsc_8026 dsc_8028

I have grown ok with no one being home at the same time to eat dinner and have enjoyed that I don’t have to cook all that often. Cooper can cook a mean quesadilla when he gets hungry enough and for the first time fast food and pizza are regular menu items. Evenings that were filled with family dinners, projects and homework have slowly waned and I am finding myself for the first time.

For a week I have been texting my kids to tell them I need to get them together for their Christmas picture. They are thankful I am over the matching plaid shirts and corduroy pants outfits and honestly I don’t even care what they wear anymore but no one is here at the same time. Solution? Separate pictures will make a great collage!

I never thought I could enjoy seeing my children become independent because it seemed like the “good mommies” cry and beg their children to invite them to do things together. The “good mommies” still make their lunches and stay on top of their every move.  Since I have a husband who was independent at a very young age, he has groomed the boys to do the same and at times it was hard but now I could not be more thankful.

As I watch one set his alarm for 6 am to get to work and one play guitar til his fingers are sore, I know we are where we are supposed to be.  The balance of school, work, life, and family is a lot for any teenager and as they figure themselves out I watch with fascination and anticipation for the men they are becoming.

I can choose to resent the life they are establishing for themselves or I can embrace that I have done my job the best I knew how. I can look at them and remember the footie pajamas and Buzz Lightyear costumes and know that those days are long gone and ok….start to cry. I am not going to lie. I miss it at times. The sippy cups and Cheerios seemed like it was a phase that would never end and now I just wish sometimes that we could curl up with One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. ….but as I look up to their handsome faces (literally- they are all taller than my 5’7 self) I am at peace knowing we did what we could with what we had at the time. Certainly not perfect parenting and sometimes probably pretty sucky parenting…..but we did it together and above all- they have always known how much we love them.

So as I enjoy my naked tree and the 2 other themed ones I put up for the first time ever, I am ok with where I am and the fact that no one has noticed the bare branches. If we get to it in between college finals and Chick-fil-A shifts then that is fine and if we take it down the same way we put it up, I will be ok with that too.

My address at Zoe’s Journey graduation

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To all the recovering addicts:

We are here tonight to honor all the graduates and also encourage those who are on their way to graduation. Addiction has taken almost everything from you but by the grace of God you are sitting here tonight. Most of you should not even be alive. You have fought hard to get where you are and the fight is far from over. Every day is a battle- I know because you tell me. The struggle to learn to live sober seems virtually impossible some days and far from worth it on others. You are some of the strongest women I have ever met. You have fought in the face of adversity for most of your lives. Most of you did not have an easy life prior to becoming an addict….but you know you cannot stay the victim of your circumstances. You need recovery and we need you to stay clean.

I have told many of you that the world needs you sober. Often I get blank stares. Why would the world need me, you ask. Because your life matters. You are capable of helping someone else change her life because of your sobriety. Look around this room…..who do you see who is affected by you being sober? And are those same people just as affected when you are using? Addiction does not affect just you. It impacts all of us. And most deeply it changes your children.

As I see each of you fight every day to stay clean, it makes me stronger. I have found a deeper part of me by knowing you. You challenge me to keep it real, be on my toes, and realize that my brokenness is just as messed up as yours. I need Jesus just like you. I need to surrender just like you. I need to stay humble just like you. And I need you just as much as you need me. I cannot imagine my life without you. Thank you for being you. Keep fighting. Don’t give in to the enemy of addiction. You have everything to lose. This life is fleeting. Go be awesome. Go impact the world for good. Go love those you have hurt. Make peace with your enemies. Be light.

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To the friends and family of the graduates from Zoes Journey:

I am sure if we added up the hurt in this room it would be overwhelming. Disappointment, frustration, regret, fear, hurt, etc. I can imagine that there are very deep wounds. But what I can tell you is this….today is one more step in the direction of a healthy, productive life for these women. They have worked so hard to get where they are. Some have fallen hard and picked up and carried on. Some have really found themselves through this journey. Others are still seeking but I see great progress.

I know your pain from the past is real but i hope that after tonight you will either start or continue to forgive. Your loved ones need you. You can ask any one of these women- I am all about boundaries….I fully believe that you should use them when you need to…..but to the one sitting here who can’t let the past go and is holding onto the hurt. Maybe today is when you lay it down and move on…..and then you will be able to give second chances and make peace. I pray that for you.

To the family and friends who are here today….you are a testimony to me of your commitment to one or more of these beautiful women. I know their hearts grieve for what you have been through as a result of their actions. They share that part of their heart freely because it is a burden they have carried for a very long time. But you are here today. Maybe fully engaged or maybe as a skeptic. Not knowing if this time it is for good. All I can say is that the one in your life who you are here to support needs you. Needs to hear you say “well done.” Needs you to listen and not judge. Needs you to be present even when you want to be in denial. I pray that there are many years ahead of healthy memories. I pray that you will allow God to mend the broken places. I pray that tonight you can hug your loved one and tell her how proud you are of her. Her recovery has been really difficult. It has meant so much change so fast. She needs you desperately now more than ever. Thank you for being here for her. I know how much she appreciates it.

Maybe you are graduating and your family isn’t here because they could not make it. Call them up and thank them for being there for you. Then some of you don’t have family who is supportive because they have their own issues or the road has been too hard. For you that is where God brings people into your life to be that family. He brings friends, mentors, sponsors, and then people like us sitting here who just want to walk beside you. With no strings attached. No agenda. Just to love you. Because love is an action and love does.

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To the church at large: 

The moms in this room who are graduating need you. And they need you to love them and not judge them. Maybe they don’t have it “all together” and they yell too much or they aren’t “pulling their weight with the PTO”. Maybe they bring their kids to school in the same uniform shirt 3 days in a row and never make it to parent nights with all you “good mommies.”

Well, maybe just maybe those moms you were just judging need someone to show them. Someone to model parenting for them. Someone to be compassionate and understanding.

We take for granted that we have cars. Most moms don’t and the bus stops running at 5:15. No bus to go to the open house.

We take for granted that we have washing machines. Without cars, most moms have to load up the kids and the laundry and get on the bus. Oh that’s right….the bus does not run after 5:15 so she will walk to the laundromat.

We take for granted that adults in our lives did not introduce us to drugs as children. Most addicts I know were giving drugs at a very young age.  Usually starting at the age of 12. If you don’t believe me, I have many women who can tell you their stories.

We take for granted that we can get jobs. When someone gives a kid a joint at 12, grades probably start to slip so by high school they are dropouts. Ever tried to get a job with a 9th grade education?

When a child gets into cocaine at 14 because it is all over the house, she will probably be a full blown addict by 15 and start to steal to support the habit. Ever tried to get a house or apartment to rent with drug charges?

Many moms like the ones sitting in this room are scared to reach out to you. They feel that their mess is worse than yours. But they need your support. They want someone to share their victories with  (first place of their own, first legitimate driver’s license, first month clean). And to share their heartbreaks (bad news at court, relationship problems, not getting to see their children).

Why is it our nature to judge and reject? Because to have compassion might require something of us. It might make us tender and make us feel….and God will call us to rise up and be THE CHURCH.

A little girl explained to me recently that she worries that her mommy won’t have enough money to take care of them and they will go to foster care. Her eyes widened as I explained to her the early church  in the book of Acts. They sold all their possessions to give to those in need. In that moment, I think she got it. My dining room table could be gone next week to help them pay their rent.

But when are WE going to get it? That our lives are not our own and that there is a desperately dying world out there crying out for help? You might not hear their cries because they are not chatting in the carline (because they don’t have a car) or sitting next to you at Outback (most of them cannot afford it).  Or darkening the door of your churches (they have been led to believe that your sin is much cleaner than theirs and they would not be welcome in your pew or your gym).

We can’t do it all but we can do something. At any season of life and at any level of our own maturity we can make a meal, listen to a discouraged mom, or drive a mom to an appointment so she can get to work on time. We can all do that.

We fear what we don’t know….and we don’t know because we don’t want to.

If we are really honest, we want to shy away from poverty, brokenness, addiction, and prostitution because it is ugly and it messes up our day. It requires us to take our eyes off our dirty clothes piles and our need for order in our lives and forces us to go deep. Who wakes up one day and wishes that upon themselves? Well, if I am reading Jesus the right way….we all should.

We are a generation who has something to offer and it was not intended to be only poured out on our own offspring. We were given this nurturing ability to share it.  To pass it on. To break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

The day we decide to invest our lives in someone else’s  two lives will change and I promise that the first one to change will be yours.

Hatred and Hope…..Haiti and Here

Haiti: Port au Prince

Dusty, desperate

Crowded, pungent

Rich getting richer. Poor can’t get any poorer

A day feels like a week

Everyone selling a little something just to make a few gourdes

A rat race to nowhere

……Depressing and exhausting to be a spectator

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Haiti: Chauffard

Mountains, cool air

Farmland stretched for miles

More desperate and yet more alive

Beauty and extreme poverty living on the same land

Do I let myself off the hook by settling for contentment because of the beauty of their souls and

the purity of their soil?

Or do I allow myself to feel their cry for help about their life threatening conditions?

Do I look them in the eye and let my heart feel their pain and their fear for the  future?

How do I reconcile this  as I sit on my fancy mattress, fan blowing, tv blasting, lights illuminating…..

I don’t.

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America

Hatred, animosity

Entitlement

Political nightmare

My stomach turns with each of the ads, the debates, the million dollar mailings

Waste everywhere- drugs, drinking, indulgence

13 million dollar sorority houses? Aren’t we ashamed of ourselves?

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But…..

Generosity exists in our cities, our neighborhoods

Heroes of the faith who give even when they do not have

Kindred spirits of grace and mercy for the forgotten, the lost, the oppressed

I choose joy. I choose my tribe who understand hatred never works. Advocating does.

I choose to stop talking and start doing.

I choose to focus on what I can change and not be angry about what I cannot.

I choose God’s way of the narrow road….and I know who is on it with me.

No time for competition.  Time to enlarge our territory. Reaching beyond our own capabilities. We do it together. No credit needed.

We must be the CHURCH. The one Jesus talked about. Not the one we have created.

Ou dwe brav.

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I AM NOT AN OBJECT- ONE GIRL’S STORY

I learned a lot by going to a strip club every week for over a year.  So much about my view of people and faith changed because of what I saw there. I was no longer able to label strippers as throw aways because of their choices and I learned as  much about my brokenness as they shared theirs.  Instead of being disgusted by the women in the sex industry, I became more compassionate and more determined to get to know them and hear their stories. I say that not to reveal my deeply loving heart but to expose that if a judgmental and  sheltered (by choice) person like me could become aware and eventually an activist then anyone could.

In the midst of going to the strip club, “sex trafficking” became a buzz word. Because I am a skeptic and refuse to jump on the newest and latest social justice train (because they are all equally important), I was not affected much by the new headlines about the industry. Wasn’t it just as serious before we started talking about it and wasn’t third world poverty still an important social issue? During this time I became more determined that I was not called to join a committee to talk about it or go to a banquet to acquire awareness. I felt like I knew enough about the tragedy to go out and do something about it so to the club we went.

All the clubs have their own unique atmospheres but there is one common theme- darkness.

Walking in the door I could  feel the oppression. The greed and the lust. But mysteriously at the same time I felt the presence of God’s light in a mighty way.  It was as if  the room was begging for the light but rebuking it all at the same time.

Within the first hour I spent at a strip club, I began to see a calling….and it was just so simple. Love these women. Show them that there was hope and that they had options. Just BE PRESENT. Listening and encouraging. And for the next year that is what we did.

I did not go in to the club to shut the place down. I never was looking for illegal activity to bring in the police. That was not my job. I was there to look at women in the eye and tell them they were important and their lives mattered. From there I knew God would take care of the rest.

During the time we were going we had some amazing conversations with women about worth and value. We also talked about our families and our struggles. I did not only see their brokenness. I also saw my own….my  insecurities that lead me to destructive behavior. It might not be taking off my clothes for money but I had my own pile of shattered pieces. Over the loud music, the lights and the pole, we had some sacred times sharing our hearts.

One of the women at the club intrigued me. Her name was Jasmine and everyone said that was her real name, not her stage name. There was a softness about her spirit and a humility that baffled me.  Since we went during the day and she often worked nights I did not see her often but her name came up a lot with the women and it always seemed positive.

Here she is on her first day at the club.

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Then a year ago, Jasmine (who is actually Ashley)  showed up at my house, scared, broken and seeking advice. When she came in the door I immediately felt that all those years in the club had led me to this conversation. She wanted out of the industry and was willing  to do what it would take. I have heard this story a lot so we set some goals to see if she was really serious.

She stayed at the club for several more months and was planning her exit strategy. What struck me about her was that she had a plan- cosmetology school, joining an in home business, and getting by on less cash flow. It really caught my attention that she was taking action to get where she wanted to be.

At the time she left the club,  she was pregnant so getting a job was difficult. We spent time together brainstorming money making strategies. We started having yard sales and at 8 months pregnant she would be out in the blazing heat sorting clothes and making deals. She started collecting people’s yard sale leftovers and selling them in Facebook groups. She would walk across town to deliver something and  it would be for $10. Soon people I know started to see her posts and donate more.

Then a realtor friend of mine let us go into homes she had on the market and sell what the previous owners did not take with them. Our first house Ashley helped me clean out was an all day endeavor and she insisted on helping. Her baby was 4 days old. Then the next house she got a cleaning job. They offered her $100. She said she would have done it for $20 because it was so much better than what she had to do at the club.

I saw a strength in her I knew I did not have. It was a fight in her to stay the course and integrate into a different way of life. Even though she had adapted for 8 years  into the lifestyle  in the club, she had come to the conclusion that she did not fit there and there had to be something more for her and her family. I watched as each week she got a little stronger and a little more comfortable in her own skin.

As I got to know her she told me her story. She was 19, working at Zaxby’s, with a 2 year old baby, living with her parents, and a friend from her childhood told her how she could make more money. She went to the club and as she looks back she not only appreciated the money but she said it “was fun.” Hanging out with the other women during day shift and drinking was a whole lot more intriguing than chicken tenders at $8 an hour. For a girl who struggled with anxiety and shame, she suddenly felt like “somebody.”   The club became a “second home.”  She did not have any friends outside the club so her social life revolved around the friends she made there and the excessive partying that took place each day and night.

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The money was great in the beginning because she was the “new girl.”  The older men are often drawn to young  girls who could be their granddaughters. Sad but true. Meanwhile Ashley became an alcoholic and could not raise the 2 children she  had so her parents stepped in and raised them. This lifestyle went on for the next 8 years.

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Last year there was a shift in her. She decided she could not stomach it anymore and began to disconnect. She was pregnant but she could have stayed working there- she worked throughout her last pregnancy.  “It is very dark. Dark world. It’s a whole other world inside those buildings and it starts to feel normal.” Then in February 2016 she walked out the door and has not gone back.

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I always wonder what keeps her from going back when the cupboards are bare and the bills are due and she simply says,  “I see there are better ways. I don’t want to live that lifestyle anymore. For the first time in my adult life I feel  respected.  When you work in a club, you never expect anyone to treat you nice because you feel so low about yourself.”  Her favorite verse which is tattooed on her foot is

2 Corinthians 5:7 “For we live by faith, not by sight.”

 

Ashley often quoted “I am not an object” when she was working in the club but her job required her to be an object for someone else to take advantage of….. but now she says, “I don’t feel like an object anymore. When you are in that industry you are not a person. You are not a girl. Just an object.”

It has not been easy. She has humbled herself to get food from church pantries and sell other people’s throw away stuff to make enough to help pay the bills. She can’t spoil her children anymore or buy expensive make up. But she is doing it. One yard sale item at a time she is  taking care of her children with the help of her boyfriend and parents, who are very supportive of her.  After being in an industry that is all about money, sex and drugs she has discovered that giving back has a much bigger impact on her than anything else ever did. In the midst of her own struggle I have seen her become one of the most generous and giving people I know. She attributes it all to how God has changed her because she could not have done this on her own. He rescued her from darkness and brought her into light.

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I have told Ashley several times that although I keep a healthy distance between me and the women I help, she is different. She and her family have moved from being a friend to someone I consider a part of my own family. Her tenacity and her endurance amaze me and I often think she is teaching me way more than I am her. People like Ashley change those of us who are willing to give them a chance. Our lives are richer because we see a strength that we have never known in ourselves.  It is turning pain into purpose. Shifting from surviving to truly living. You can see it in her face, the way she carries herself, but most of all you can see it in her eyes. She has come alive again.

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Moms, it is time…..

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As moms, we need each other.

We need each other when our kids are sitting quietly eating their ice cream while we talk to the insurance company for the 20th time in a day. We also need each other when our kids are running the aisles at Marshall’s farting and burping, calling each other butt faces. Either way….we need each other.

Today I watched a phenomenon….a mom giving birth to kittens. A feral mom we picked up last night and delivered her litter this morning. Hmmmm…..talk about not being ready for the delivery. I hadn’t even named her and she had now blessed my favorite blanket with afterbirth. That experience will bond a human and a cat very quickly. I have witnessed my share of kitty births but today’s was a huge awakening for me.

The mama kitty ( who my 5th grade vet techs named Amber)  had her first baby under my bed while I was in the other room drinking my morning coffee this morning. She did not pick the cozy nest I had made for her and she certainly was not deterred by the wads of dust bunnies in her newly made birthing center. As I dragged her out from under the bed with placentas and umbilical cords still hanging on, there was a kitten in a sack that she had not opened.  The kitten was struggling to breathe on his own but Amber was not tending to him. I broke open the sack, called my fellow doula, Kim, and rubbed it vigorously to try to revive him. Meanwhile, Amber was not eating the placentas or licking the other babies the way I know she was supposed to. My other new found doula friend, Mary Lucia, proceeded to suction one of the babies’ mouths because Amber was not able to keep up with the eating, nursing, licking, and birthing. No judgement here- I just pushed mine out and it did not require I eat something that looks like someone’s liver….and do it 4 times. Ewwwww…..

In my panic, I was frustrated with Amber that she was not doing what “all the other kitty moms were doing.” Didn’t she take childbirth classes? Didn’t she know it’s unacceptable to give birth under a dusty bed? Didn’t she know that neglecting the sick baby and not give it a chance was inexcusable?

Well, Amber came from a home of cat hoarders and lived outside in a neighborhood for a long time before a sweet lady decided to feed her and care for her until she found a home. Amber did not have a place to relax until 5:00 yesterday. She probably was plain tired of running from coyotes and male cats trying to hit her up and giving birth to these babies just felt like one more exhausting task. So after she had them all she curled up on the bookshelf and fell asleep. She needed a nap and she needed me to put them on her to nurse because she wasn’t ready for that part quite yet.

And in the 24 hours we have had her, she screeched all last night when she could not see me so I slept on the floor beside her so she felt safe. Since the babies have been born, when I reach out to pet her she puts her paw on top of my hand and falls asleep- she can rest knowing someone is there. She has needy moments of wanting her belly rubbed and head scratched, while my other cats were all too busy being moms to want attention for themselves. She still wants to be held and loved so she knows it is going to be ok.

How many moms do you know like Amber? Maybe they don’t have it “all together” and they yell too much or they aren’t “pulling their weight with the PTO”. Maybe they bring their kids to school in the same uniform shirt 3 days in a row and never make it to parent nights with all you “good mommies.”

Well, maybe just maybe those moms you were just judging need someone to show them. Someone to model parenting for them. Someone to be compassionate and understanding.

We take for granted that we have cars. Most moms don’t and the bus stops running at 5:15. No bus to go to the open house.

We take for granted that we have washing machines. Without cars, most moms have to load up the kids and the laundry and get on the bus. Oh that’s right….the bus does not run after 5:15 so she will walk to the laundromat.

We take for granted that our parents did not introduce us to drugs as children. Most addicts I know were giving drugs BY THEIR PARENTS.  Usually starting at the age of 12. If you don’t believe me, I have many women who can tell you their stories.

We take for granted that we can get jobs. When a mom gives a kid a joint at 12, grades probably start to slip so by high school they are dropouts. Ever tried to get a job with a 9th grade education?

When a child gets into her mom’s cocaine supply at 14 because they are dealers and it is all over the house, she will probably be a full blown addict by 15 and start to steal to support the habit. Ever tried to get a house or apartment to rent with drug charges?

Many moms, like my cat Amber, are children themselves. Desperate for attention and acceptance. They want someone to share their victories with  (first place of their own, first legitimate driver’s license, first month clean). And to share their heartbreaks (bad news at court, relationship problems, not getting to see their children).

Why is it our nature to judge and reject? Because to have compassion might require something of us. It might make us tender and make us feel….and God will call us to rise up and be THE CHURCH.

A little girl explained to me recently that she worries that her mommy won’t have enough money to take care of them and they will go to foster care. Her eyes widened as I explained to her the early church  in the book of Acts. They sold all their possessions to give to those in need. In that moment, I think she got it. My dining room table could be gone next week to help them pay their rent.

But when are WE going to get it? That our lives are not our own and that there is a desperately dying world out there crying out for help? You might not hear their cries because they are not chatting in the carline (because they don’t have a car) or sitting next to you at Outback (most of them have never eaten at a restaurant where the menu is not on the wall).  Or darkening the door of your churches (they have been led to believe that your sin is much cleaner than theirs and they would not be welcome in your pew or your gym). Or at the gym  or Target (no explanation needed).

We can’t do it all but we can do something. At any season of life and at any level of our own maturity we can make a meal, listen to a discouraged mom, or drive a mom to an appointment so she can get to work on time. We can all do that.

We fear what we don’t know….and we don’t know because we don’t want to.

If we are really honest, we want to shy away from poverty, brokenness, addicition, and prostitution because it is ugly and it messes up our day. It requires us to take our eyes off our dirty clothes piles and our need for order in our lives and forces us to go deep. Who wakes up one day and wishes that upon themselves? Well, if I am reading Jesus the right way….we all should.

So many moms out there never had a mom and if they did she sucked really bad. We are a generation of moms who have something to offer and it was not intended to be only poured out on our own offspring. We were given this nurturing ability to share it.  To pass it on. To break the cycle of abuse and neglect.

The day we decide to invest our lives in someone else’s  two lives will change and I promise that the first one to change will be yours.

Pain, Purpose, and Compassion

 

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Today I have struggled. Struggled with my own insecurities.  Struggled with mean, insensitive remarks from a stranger. Struggled with missing my best friend because we are always busy. Struggled with watching my friends deal with deep pain and hurts. Struggled with a friend who lost her dad. Struggled with feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. So what did I do? Cry all afternoon. Cried by myself and cried with four different people.  I was only awake for 14 hours. How so much pain and suffering?

Why tears?

I am one of those people who often cries at the sight of someone else’s tears. I guess it does not do wonders to make the person feel better when they have to offer ME a tissue. Now keep in mind I live in the land of boys and men….who don’t cry often. We do have the occasional moments of emotion but not like my estrogen infested self.

One of my sons literally walked in my room today while I was curled up in the fetal position boohooing, carried on an entire conversation with me about where one of the cats was, and walked out. REALLY?? No clue.  The others just look at me with a glazed over, what-do-I-do-now expression of helplessness. As baffled as they are about me, I am not sure what to do with dry ice exploding, lizard torturing, snake handling slobs so I guess we are even. Somehow in the crazy world, we make it work. I decided that when they are being crazy I can hide in the bathroom and pretend I know nothing and they can eat a cheeseburger when I am crying at a commercial and we can carry on. Disclaimer: I have very sensitive boys when I let them in on something  sad and tragic and they are very compassionate…but when it is a case of I-am-crying-because-of-the-state-of-the-world they really don’t have a category and I would rather cry into my blanket than explain what I don’t even understand for myself.

So as I try to make some kind of sense about my highly emotional self,  I seek Scripture.

“Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.”

Romans 12:15-16

First God says to embrace our friends’ happiness. That is the easy part. We all want to be around the people whose lives are going well. But what about the friends struggling, wandering, falling, and grieving? The friends who needs love from us when we don’t know if we have it to give? God says, “Share tears when they’re down.” Sometimes we have to engage in a cry fest together and we can’t even determine what are tears for us and what are for the other person.  That is the heart of God-sharing our burdens one to another and to Him.

The next part of that verse that tells us to get along with each other and “don’t be stuck-up.” What is worse than sharing your burdens with someone who acts as if she has it all together? It is horrible! And if I make the mistake of doing it once I certainly don’t do it twice. If we are not in tune with our own brokenness people avoid us and are fake around us. And a lot of people are good with that. Let’s face it- most people don’t want to hear other people’s problems because it might actually remind them that they have problems too. So relationships are then shallow and superficial so that emotions are not felt and both people lose out in that “friendship.”

“Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” That sounds like my new tattoo. But seriously. It is such good, rich words! I am not a theologian and I don’t know any of the Bible in Greek (except the Greek alphabet from being in a sorority) but I do know this:

Make friends with nobodies. Don’t be the great somebody.

Now that I can do. Don’t need a concordance or a theology class to go love somebody who is broken and hurting. I know how to do that because I am broken and hurting.  A lot. If I don’t know my own pain how can I know someone else’s? And the part about not being the great somebody….I think that means we need to stop thinking that we are the answer to people’s problems.  Jesus is. As we lead people to the cross, we lead them to healing. Divine healing.

So this week I may be a slobbering, hot mess and if you are too….call me. We can be real and honest together. If you want a put together friend with all the answers….don’t call me. You will just be disappointed. When we all realize we are broken and learn to love because of it, NOT in spite of it…we will share kindness like we are made of it. I think I stole that from Bob Goff but it’s ok because LOVE DOES.

Pain into purpose and then always comes compassion.

 

Will Anyone Want Me?

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My name is Tippy. I am 3 months old and I am a kitten. They say I am a FOSTER kitten and that means I am waiting for my forever home. I did not know I was a foster kitten until Miss Jennie told me. I just thought I was a kitten who got moved all the time because no one wanted me. Last Tuesday, Miss Jennie put me in her lap, gave me a few yummy treats, and started to tell me the story and here is how it went…..

My mom was named Bella and she was a cat called a “stray”- that means she did not have a family. She grew up on the streets and got scraps of food wherever she could. Every night she tried to find a dry, safe place to sleep under bushes or bridges. Sometimes she would find bowls of food on people’s porches and she would try to eat a little bit but the owners always chased her off. Miss Jennie said my mom always wondered why the other cats had warm beds and owners who loved them and all the food they wanted. My mom always felt like maybe her colors weren’t pretty enough or she was too skinny or she meowed too loudly. She could never understand how those other cats could get people to love them and take care of them and she couldn’t.

One day my mom started to feel funny and she curled up in the back of an old barn on a farm with lots of horses, pigs, and cows and laid very still. Suddenly she realized she was having BABIES! That is when I was born. I came out first and then  my 2 sisters and 2 brothers. There were 5 of us in all. We were all black and white. I bet my mom had a hard time telling us apart!

Miss Jennie said my mom was really young when she had us and maybe she was not ready to be a mom. Momma cats are supposed to feed their babies and lick them clean every few hours, but the farmer, Mr. Ted, who found us told Miss Jennie what happened. When we were 5 days old our mom left us because she “couldn’t take care of us anymore.”  I asked Miss Jennie to tell me the truth of why she took off.  With a very sad look on her face, Miss Jennie told me that she left to go play with the other cats and have fun with her friends. I asked Miss Jennie why she would  choose her friends over us and this is what she said:

“Your mom loved you the way she knew how. She was never taken care of by her mom growing up so she never learned what  a good mommy did. When your mom was very young, she was left on the streets to take care of herself and when the animal control people tried to catch her she always ran very fast and hid under cars and in sheds.  She got pregnant with you when she was just a kitten herself and she wasn’t ready to have babies. After 5 days of taking care of you,  she got scared of the responsibility and she ran away.  Leaving you was not right but she did just what her mom did to her.  It was what she knew.  I hope you can forgive her someday. I promise she did not mean to hurt you. I know she loved you all very much and I bet she misses you a lot.”

When my mom left us, my brothers and sisters and I had no way to get food or stay clean. The farmer and his wife, Nelda,  were nice enough to take us into their home for 25 days and feed us with a bottle. She rocked us and smoothed our fur. When Miss Jennie was telling me this story, she pulled out a little book with my name TIPPY written across the front of it. When I saw my name, I jumped up and started leaping toward the book.  “Is that about me?” I asked, stuttering as I spoke because I was so excited. “Yes,” Miss Jennie answered. For the first time I saw a picture of me and my brothers and sisters!

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“Ms. Nelda started a Lifebook for you and when Ms. Donna dropped you off she gave it to me. It has pictures and stories about you and that is where I got some of the information I am telling you now. Unfortunately, I only got 3 life books from the shelter for you and your brothers and sisters. I guess 2 of them got lost. That makes me sad but I am glad we got a few of them at least. A lot of kitties don’t have anyone to make a Lifebook for them.” When Miss Jennie showed me the picture of Ms. Nelda rocking and feeding me, I remembered feeling all warm and full and I was happy I had a picture so I would never forget.

Miss Jennie put down the book and continued telling me my story.  She said that one day Miss Nelda  got really sick and had to go to the hospital. Mr. Ted wanted to keep us but he had to take care of Miss Nelda when she came home from the hospital hooked up to a lot of machines. They cried as they put us in the big box and took us to a place called an “animal shelter.” Mr. Tom told the shelter that I had been so worried about Ms. Nelda that I had stopped eating for 3 days. He was very concerned about me and asked the shelter to watch me very closely.

At the shelter, there were cats EVERYWHERE! Big cats, little cats, black ones, gray ones, and it was scary!! My brothers and sisters and I got separated into different rooms. Miss Jennie said I must have been very scared because I did not know if my brothers and sisters  were ok and I was the oldest kitten so I probably felt like it was my job to make sure we were all safe. As she said these words, I did remember feeling responsible for them and trying to sleep all the time just to forget how difficult it was.

 

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Miss Jennie said that someone came in and fed us with a bottle like they did on the farm and stroked our fur like Miss Nelda did, but it was so crowded and loud that she thought it probably wasn’t the same. As soon as Miss Jennie told me that part I suddenly remembered how I had felt for those long weeks at the shelter… I just wanted my mom to come back and get me.  But she never came. I sat and waited and looked at the door but she never showed up. Was she worried about me and my brothers and sisters? I thought maybe I wasn’t a good kitty and she had to leave to get away from me. Or maybe someone took her into one of those big houses with the warm beds and loving people so she forgot about us. No matter what anyone told me I was sure of one thing…..She was coming back. I knew it. When I started to think about it, I felt like I was going to cry. It made me feel really sad inside so I quickly asked Miss Jennie to continue with the story so I would not think about it anymore.

Miss Jennie opened my Lifebook again and it said:  “Tippy and his brothers and sisters had been at the shelter for 28 days and they really needed a family to come adopt them.” She showed me a picture of when I was in the cage waiting for someone to take me and I looked really nervous about what was going to happen to us. I remembered how other kittens were getting taken away from the shelter and no one ever picked me or my brothers and sisters. I had tried to sit up straight and meow really softly but the people always kept walking past my cage and did not even notice me. Maybe that was how my mom felt when she was a stray. Did that mean I was a stray too?

 

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Mr. Tom came back to check on us and the people at the shelter were on the phone talking about the 5 of us and how we needed to be rescued before it was too late. “Too late for what?” asked Mr. Tom. He waited at the shelter all day to make sure nothing bad happened to us. At 4:00 that afternoon, a lady came in, rushing and trying to catch her breath. She told the shelter that  she was there for me and my brothers and sisters. She said she was with a rescue and she was there to save us.

“STOP!!” I interrupted Miss Jennie. “I can tell you what happened during this part.  Ms. Donna was the lady’s name and she was very kind and sweet to us but I was super nervous about where we was going. Maybe we were going to be dropped off under a bridge somewhere and I would live like my mom did. I was ok with that though because maybe I would find her! I missed my mom so much.  I knew it would be hard to take care of the 5 of us but I had been looking after them since my mom left and I was getting pretty good at it. Even at the shelter I would listen to what the volunteers were saying to each other and was able to hear updates on my brothers and sisters.”

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I continued, “Ms. Donna took us to her house and there were other kittens there too but not nearly as many as the shelter. What a relief! She had big cats and little cats and they were friendly to us but I could tell they were wondering who we were. They had been there longer so they ate first and knew where to go to the litter box. I was confused about everything because it was all so new and I didn’t want to make a mistake and then I knew I would be a stray forever.”

“I tried to keep myself very clean and only eat a little bit so the other cats at Ms. Donna’s would not get mad at me and try to get me kicked out. I thought that I would stay at Ms. Donna’s for a long time but after 3 days she put us back in the big box and we left in the car. This time I knew I would be dropped off under the bridge. How many times could I move before they just dumped me somewhere?”

“You remember all that, Tippy?” Miss Jennie asked. “You were so young then! But research tells us that when young kittens experience a lot of loss and sadness when they are little those memories stay with them. They call what you went through “trauma” which means it was very difficult and you had a hard time understanding why it happened.”

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I replied, “Miss Jennie, will I always remember all the bad things that happened to me and not be able to remember the good?” Miss Jennie rubbed my head and said, “Maybe we will find someone you can talk to. They have people who let you come to their offices and play and talk. I think you would like it. It is called therapy. We can talk more about that later.”

I continued telling Miss Jennie the rest of the story. “Ms. Donna stopped the car in the parking lot at Target and we waited. A few minutes later a lady in a silver car pulled up and told Ms. Susan that she would take good care of us.

Opening the Lifebook I saw a selfie of Miss Jennie and the 5 of us in the parking lot getting ready to leave for her house. All that was going through my head was…..We were going to another home? I guessed that was better than the bridge but why did we have to keep moving? Did nobody want us?

 

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From here Miss Jennie and I were both reminiscing about how we met. She would talk and I would interrupt. Together our stories went like this….

Miss Jennie brought us all home and we got to meet her other cats- Brady, Ollie, Gracie, Noodle, and her dog, Tucker. She had 3 sons and a husband at home and again I was very confused. Would these people like me? Would they treat me well and feed me? Gracie’s kitten, Noodle, was busy drinking her mother’s milk when we got there. I tried to remember drinking my mom’s milk and I was sad that I was starting to forget even what my mom looked like, how she smelled, and what she sounded like when she purred. When I saw Noodle drinking her mom’s milk I got really jealous for a minute because I thought Noodle must be a better kitty than me because his mom did not leave him all alone. It made me wonder again what I had done wrong.

We watched the other cats and figured out where the litter box was and when Miss Jennie put down that yummy food from the can for us. After a few days, I started to learn the routine but I was way too scared to let the people hold me and if they even looked at me I ran away. I thought if they did not see me they might forget I was there and let me stay. I did not want them to think I was too much trouble so I hid most of the time under the couch until I had to go to the bathroom or get some water.

Then one day my sister went up to Gracie and started to drink her milk. Wasn’t Noodle going to be mad? Nope! Noodle moved over and let my sister drink the milk too. The next day all my brothers and sisters and I drank Gracie’s milk and it was the first time I could remember another cat showing me love like a mom does!  Gracie also licked us and watched to make sure she knew where we were and that we were safe. I was so happy! I wanted her to be my momma cat but I think she already had her own babies and probably did not need more but I was so relieved that she accepted us.

After we  were there for 4 weeks, Miss Jennie started talking to Mr. Kenny about finding us new homes. What??  Move again? No way. I was running away or I was going to be such a bad cat that no one else would take me and they would have to keep me here. I decided to start scratching everywhere, running around crazy and pooping in the middle of the floor so none of Miss Jennie’s friends would want to take me away.

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Miss Jennie could tell that I was not acting like myself and sat me down to explain. She said her job as a foster mom is to take kittens like me and clean them up, love on them, take them to the doctor, and then find them FOREVER homes. Is that how all the cats with people owners got to their homes? She said this big word- ADOPTION. I had never heard that word before! Miss Jennie said adoption means you to go to your forever family. WOW! Did that mean I could go to a family and never, ever have to move again? It sounded way too good to be true. I thought Mr. Tom was going to take me forever, then the shelter, Ms. Susan, and Miss Jennie…..if they did not want me who would?

Ms. Jennie tied these crazy bows around our necks and started taking LOTS of pictures. I almost fell asleep she took so many. When I saw them I was surprised at how handsome I looked!!

 

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Afterwards, she told me she was very, very careful about who would take us. She would not let bad people adopt us and she would check to make sure our new home was safe, they had food for us and would love us. I still was not sure any of them would want me. I had that funny white spot on the tip of my tail which may be the reason no one had wanted me before.

Miss Jennie told me again that I would get the perfect family and that they would come get me soon. I thanked her for telling me everything and I jumped down to play with my brothers and sisters.

The next day, Miss Jennie brought in a box with 2 really little kittens who kept crying and crying. I could tell they were hungry and I felt very sad for them. While Miss Jennie was getting their bottle ready, I started to wonder if I was sad like that when my mom left and I did not have her to feed me. I imagined that I was just as scared. So I jumped right in the box with the little kittens and licked them and helped them get warm and cozy. Miss Jennie kept taking pictures of me and I am not sure why- I was just doing what Gracie had done for me.

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I am writing my life story today, August 6, 2016 and I am waiting for my forever family. I am not sure who it will be but I think I am starting to trust Miss Jennie. If she says she will find a family for me, maybe I can believe her. When she talks to me about being adopted, I get a little excited. I don’t want to think about it too much just in case it never happens but I think it would be amazing to have my own family. All I can do is wait. I hope someone picks me. I would be a really good pet. I promise.

 

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The Photographs that Changed Me

domestic violence is never ok

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the gift of a son

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truth

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total acceptance

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I want to be a Marine like you, Dad…..

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The poorest of the poor and she wants to be a missionary

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I can do it too, Grandpa….

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life is complicated

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the beauty of age

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proud mama

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the pain of feeling emotion for the first time

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recognition for being a dreamer

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art brings life

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i will not fear voodoo

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buddy ball might be the best sports event ever

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showing mom what she missed while                                         he was in foster care

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Gifted

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a bond that cannot be broken

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courage to be a Dad….a true Dad

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the mountains are calling and I must go

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losing a 17 year old son will change you forever

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growth can happen in the most unlikely places

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beauty never ceases to be amazing

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you can never have too many sons

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when you cannot afford school you sell potatoes

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needs no explanation….

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a good coach is a one of the truest blessings

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the beauty of a cat thrown away

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leaving the old ways and returning back to them

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