faith, life

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

There’s not much to do when the heat index is 105 degrees so we went to a movie, a documentary, actually, about Fred Rogers.  

I loved Mr. Rogers when I was a kid, I watched him everyday.  I credit him for shaping me into the kindhearted individual I am – or at least was. 

To quote Ouiser Boudreaux (Steel Magnolias), “I’m not as sweet as I used to be.”

I loved Mr. Rogers as a kid, but I didn’t realize his brilliance until I sat in that air conditioned movie theater on Saturday.

Mr. Rogers planted a seed deep in my heart which sprouted into a belief that God loves me,  even though he never mentioned God.  In fact, I didn’t know that he was an ordained minister until I was an adult.

All I knew as a kid was that a kind man who cared about kids, who cared about me, was out there and my little-kid brain extrapolated that into believing a kind God, who cares about kids, who cares about me, is out there, too.

We evangelicals of the 80’s and 90’s had it wrong.

Back when I was a fully indoctrinated evangelical, I was taught that God’s name had to be blatantly emblazoned upon a thing in order for it to be “Christian.”

Christian music had to mention His name, repeatedly.

Christian authors were suspect if their writings didn’t include doctrinally approved Christianese.

But then I started to listen to God more closely.  He said He is Love.  He said He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  My adult brain began to extrapolate that to all that is loving, true and life-giving.

A song about forgiveness is a song about God.

A writing that is noble, pure and true is a writing about God.

A movie that spurs me on toward love and good deeds is a movie about God.

On the way home my daughter said, “My favorite part of the movie was when the minister said Fred’s show preached a better sermon than anything you hear from a pulpit.”

Amen.

“Fred’s work,” he said, “was love your neighbor and love yourself. It was a communication right into their hearts.”

Right into my heart.

Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

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life

Masculinist Fiasco

The four-year-olds sat on the floor in a quiet, orderly cluster.  They each raised a hopeful hand in response to their teacher’s questions and then waited patiently to be called upon.

My three-soon-to-be-four-year-old sat at the outer edge.  She didn’t raise her hand.  We were only there to observe.

I hadn’t planned to send her to pre-school, figured 13 years of the five-day-a-week educational grind was years enough.

But the September before she was to begin kindergarten she suddenly wanted to go.  She WANTED to go.  Because her friends were going.

A fellow volunteer at the pregnancy center recommended the pre-school housed within the church at 11 Mile and Woodward.  The son of one of the center’s board members attends there, she said.

So I arranged for us to check it out before I signed on the dotted line, to make sure I liked it, and, more importantly, to make sure my daughter liked it.

The grandmotherly teacher asked a question.

All the clustered hands went up.

She called on a boy in the front.

The teacher asked another question.

All hands went up.

She called on a boy in the middle.

The teacher asked another question, and another and then another.

All hands went up, up, up.

She called on a boy, and then on another and then another.

On and on it went, one boy after another.

My spirit started to feel a little sick.

Those hopeful female hands kept going up, and those hopeful female hands kept coming silently back down.

The class moved on to their next activity, the same pattern developed.

“Would you like to stay all morning?,” the teacher asked.

I glanced toward my daughter.  Her heart did not appear set on staying.

“No thank you,” I smiled back.

And with that I took my daughter’s smart, sweet little hand and led us the heck out of there.

I had to drive quite a distance to get there, but I found an excellent pre-school – one where all the children were allowed to speak.  All of them were given a turn, all were allowed to know things. And since one of her best friends from church was in the class, my daughter, oblivious to the masculism she had witnessed at the corner of 11 Mile and Woodward, was happy with my choice – my Monday, Wednesday and Friday choice because a three-almost-four-year-old and her mama needed one more year of some sleeping in days.

I wondered, as we made our bee-line out of there, what would become of the girls in that unfortunate pre-school. I wondered what would become of the boys. I wondered what effect the subliminal message etched daily upon their young brains would have upon their futures.

That little class came to mind this morning as I sent my husband this text:

He’s not following our layout even after I asked him to follow the numbers. I’m not going to fight with him anymore. He just does what he wants no matter what I say.

We are remodeling our master bath.  It’s been a fiasco, but I’m not here to gripe.

I’ll just say it’s been one disappointment after another.

On the first day the tile guy came, he said he’d lay out the tile for my husband’s approval.

I just looked at him.

My husband reminded the project manager that the approval that’s needed is mine, not his.

I was concerned that first day about the measurements.  I had spent considerable time pre-project going over them in my genius head, knowing the placement of the shower tiles was going to have to be precise in order to get the look I was after.

So I kept bringing it up.  I brought it up to the project manager and he brushed me off.

Each time I tried to discuss it with the tile guy he’d grab his measuring tape, extend the little silver tab, waive the erect tape in the air and throw out numbers that were proof positive he hadn’t thought it through.

The project manager assured me that the tile guy has thirty years of experience.

I chose to shut up and trust.

Even though I knew better.

Needless to say, his measurements were off and my shower tile will forever have the look of an amateur.

At professional prices.

The hub had a talk with the project manager, said we weren’t confident in the tile guy’s ability.  The hub told him if we were to proceed I was to be included in all problem-solving discussions and I was to sign off on the decisions.

“Did you tell him I’m good at problem solving?,” I asked the hub. “Did you tell him I’m a genius?”

“No, but I could have,” the hub replied.

The PM assured the hub I would have a say.  He talked to the tile guy and assured me the rest of the bathroom would be done properly.

Gave me his word.

The hub and I didn’t want to leave it to chance.  So last night, at midnight, after discovering that the marble floor tiles appear to be mismatched (as I said, disappointments at every turn and at every opening of a box) we stayed up and laid them out in a pattern that minimized the problem.  I know the beauty of natural stone is the variations, and I love variations, but this looked like leftovers of the three different types of tile the tile shop sells were all bundled up and unloaded on us.  I’m not saying that’s what happened, I’m just saying that’s how it looked.

So the hub and I stayed up beyond tired and laid them out, closed the door and went to bed.

This morning I got up early and numbered them in such a way that the tile guy would know the order and orientation of each one.

When he arrived I pointed it out and asked him to follow the numbers.

“Got it,” he said in his typically friendly voice.

Late night, early morning time well spent, I thought, as I went about my chores.

Mid-morning I peeked in to see how it was coming.

The stickers were off the tiles and stuck to the subfloor. Half the tiles had already been cemented down in no where near the pattern we had laid out.

“You didn’t like our layout?,” I asked when he returned from the garage and came up behind me.

“It was fine,” he replied.

“You didn’t follow it.”

He said he did.

“That tile was there,” I said, pointing out one example.

That’s when I texted to the hub.

He just does what he wants no matter what I say.

As I loaded the dishwasher, my thoughts drifted back to that unfortunate little pre-school class and to the little boys in the cluster.

And I knew what had become of them.

I was going to end the post with that sentence, I was just putting the period on it when friendly tile guy told me he was done for the day.

I left my laptop and ran upstairs while he was cleaning up in the garage.

There was a whole monochromatic section that looked horrible.

I knew the hub and my eye-for-such-things daughter would think so, too.

I rushed outside to catch him before he left.

“Is it too late to move some tiles?,” I asked.

“Why, which one?,” he asked, with a slight exasperation in his voice.

“There’s a whole monochromatic section and monochromatic is the look we were trying to avoid.”

The look we stayed up past midnight to avoid, I didn’t say out loud.

We went up stairs.  I showed him where. He replaced a tile.  Then another. Then there was one he thought looked out of place, so he scraped that one up, too.  In all we rearranged four or five tiles.  He’ll cement them down tomorrow.

“Good thing we got that resolved,” he said as he was heading back downstairs, “tomorrow they would have come out in pieces.”

“I thought it might already be too late,” I said, “but I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.”

“We were right on the edge,” he said, “it was almost dry.”

I’m kind of proud of myself for speaking up after having been brushed off so many times.

For hopefully raising my hand once more.

The hub and I were discussing the previous fiasco on the way to church last week.

“When a man speaks up,” I remarked, “he’s just being a man. But when a woman speaks up she’s being a b-i-t-c-h.”

“Speak up anyway,” he said.

Thank God for the pre-school we chose, where when a little boy speaks up he’s just being a boy and when a little girl speaks up she’s just being a girl.  And that’s what’s being etched into their young brains.

And thank God I didn’t go to pre-school.

P.S.  As the tile guy and I were rearranging, I said, “It looks like leftovers of the three types of marble the shop sells were all bundled together, it doesn’t match, which is why making the the layout look good is so difficult.

“It was on backorder and then it wasn’t?,” he asked.  “The boxes had plastic straps around them?”

“Yes,” I said.

“When I’m doing a job from start to finish and not the subcontractor,” he said, “I reject the boxes with the white straps and wait for a new shipment. When guys return leftover tiles to the shop, the shop has them bundle them together to resell.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that before you laid it?,” I asked.  “Before it was too late.  I would have waited.”

“I didn’t want to get in the middle. The PM won’t be happy that I’m telling a customer this.” (Confirming it ‘cuz I already knew.  It doesn’t take a genius.)

I wish he had gotten in the middle.

“I’ve learned something today,” I told the tile guy.  “Never accept boxes of tiles wrapped in straps.”

I wish I’d known it yesterday.

Wish I’d known it before it was too late.

At least it’s not too late for you, dear reader.

Now, should I raise my hand again and ask for a refund on the tile I actually ordered and have them charge me instead for three boxes of mismatched leftovers?

Should I try not to be bummed?

#theblogismightierthanthesword

 

 

 

 

 

 

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life

How can my heart not be filled with hope?

Christina was the only black girl in my elementary school.

I didn’t notice that she was the only black girl, I only noticed that she was a nice girl.

So we ran around together at recess – swinging on swings, playing four square and tetherball.

I had no inkling that being friends with her was any different than being friends with anyone else.

Until a holiday gathering at my aunt’s house.

I didn’t hear what my grandma said, but I heard my mom reply, “Julie has a friend who is black.”

As if it were unusual.

As if my small, ordinary friendship with Christina was part of a large debate.

As if it were something for which to be proud?

That overheard, twenty-second interaction between my mom and her mom sowed a seed.

A subtle notion that befriending a black person was a charitable thing to do.

I’m listening to the talks from the MLK50 Conference in Memphis held earlier this month, which marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The one I listened to this morning is excellent:

“How could my heart not be filled with hope?”

I thought about the subtle insidiousness of open-hearted seeds sown benignly that are not benign at all.  

I thought about how impossible it would be to root out every pretty weed that springs from them.

Every pretty weed that looks like it could be a flower.

Impossible if not for Christ.

A friend from my distant past – so distant that he didn’t know I am a Christian and it’s been over 35 years – recently sent me a message.  In it he wrote, “…white Christians are done on this planet…they can flail against the wind all they want…no avail regardless or your politics.”

God’s aim is to restore everything back to the way He created it to be. Acts 3

He’s been setting mankind straight ever since He sent Jesus to show us what He’s really like, what He really cares about.

He’s setting us all straight and He’s started with His own house.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17

Christians – no matter our color – are not done on this planet, but we are undergoing a transformation.  So I guess it would be accurate to say white Christianity as it currently thinks and acts is done on this planet. And I hope so.

But Christians aren’t done.

And thank God, because if we were, what hope would there be for my message writing old friend?

#bestow

 

 

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life, Michigan

This wasn’t supposed to happen.

“I know great minds discuss ideas and small minds discuss people,” she said over her margherita flatbread and my fish tacos, “but I find people FASCINATING.”

Her eyes and her voice grew big.

Perhaps it was her fascination with people that caused her to notice what I completely missed earlier in the evening, or perhaps it was the fact that I was looking for a parking space.

I took my daughter out to celebrate the 17th anniversary of my wedding.

Shouldn’t your husband have taken you out to celebrate your anniversary?, you might be thinking.

Yes, that is what one would expect, but this year, this April 6th, he took me out to breakfast and then promptly headed up north to go fly fishing for the weekend.

Seventeen years ago he turned down an invitation to The Masters to marry me on April 6, big golfer that he was, his love for me was even bigger.

But now, seventeen years later….  No really, I’m okay with it.  Our brother-in-law invited him and I said, “Of course, go ahead.”

So I took my daughter out to dinner.

And though it might certainly be a memorable anniversary dinner, there was nothing romantic or magical about it.

We thought we’d take a chance on the Roadside B & G, even though they don’t take reservations.

45 – 60 minute wait.  Nope.

We headed south while we racked our brains for plan B.

“What about Mex?,” my daughter offered.  It was five miles straight down the road.  

I was hungry and it was close, so Mex it was going to be.

We hit a traffic jam two miles down. In the distance we saw the flashing lights of multiple emergency vehicles, just in time to bail and take the long way around.

Upon arriving at Mex, I circled around the back of the restaurant looking for a parking space.

My peripheral vision noticed two men talking near the “employee only” back door and assumed they were on a break.

We parked, walked around to the front door and were greeted by a friendly host and hostess.  The hostess picked up two menus, things looked promising.

For a second.

Just as she picked up the menus there was a LARGE, jolting bang.

My first thought was a gunshot.  In this day and age it’s probably everyone’s first thought.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the spray of shattered glass, a stool tipped and crashed to the floor.  Oh no! Was someone sitting in it?

Looking up from the stool, draped only with a coat, I saw the mangled fender of a car ten feet from where my daughter and I were standing.

A woman came running from the back of the restaurant yelling, “Call an ambulance!,” as she ran out the front door.

She ran back in to make sure everyone inside the restaurant was okay.

No one seemed to be injured, not even the diners whose table was displaced by the car, not the diners at several tables near the window upon whose meals shattered glass rained.

The quick responding woman, perhaps she as the front of the house manager, ran back outside, by then several other employees were out there, too.

“We better leave,” I said to my daughter.

We headed out the chaotic front door just as the woman was yelling for someone to get towels.

We looked to our right.  The driver of the car was sitting against the wall of the restaurant with blood pouring out of both nostrils, agonized look on his face.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen, this wasn’t supposed to happen,” he kept repeating as attenders tried to calm him.

We sat in my car for a minute processing what we just saw.

“The driver was that young man who was arguing with the manager by the back door.”

“What, they were arguing?”

“Yes,” my daughter said, “I was watching them intently and I could see by their body language that they were arguing.  And then the young man walked away looking dissatisfied.”

“We better hurry and go before the emergency vehicles get here and block the driveways.”

As it was I had to wait to pull out of the parking lot while 4 firetrucks and 6 police cars pulled in.

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My daughter snapped a picture as we drove past. You can’t see anything but a couple of police cars, but this story needs a picture or two.

“Now where?,” I asked.

“Just head into Birmingham,” she said.

There are a lot of restaurants in Birmingham, and lots of long waits since B’ham is a popular date night destination. But what the heck.

Foiled again.

The hip restaurant we thought we might try is on Old Woodward, upon which I was going to turn left.  But the road was gone. Completely torn up in both directions.

“This is turning out to be the anniversary dinner from h-e-double-hockey sticks,” I sighed.

A little out of town is an upscale grocery store which has an upstairs bistro.  

“Do you have a reservation?,” the young, pleasant hostess asked.

“Do I need one?,” I asked in return.

“No, but it will be about a 15 minute wait, you can browse in the store and I’ll text you when a table is available.”

As we browsed the bakery section we spotted a wonderful selection of individual trifles.

“Let’s get a couple of those after we eat and take them home for dessert,” I said.

My daughter nodded enthusiastically.

After 30 minutes of browsing and still no text, I had my daughter climb the stairs to check our status.

“We’re next,” she reported back.

It was another 15 minutes before we were seated at a table next to a window with drafty plexiglass seams.  I wrapped my winter coat around my shoulders.

A long and hungry forty-five minutes later we were finally sharing her flatbread and my tacos.

The only truly enjoyable part of the evening was the conversation during our hungry forty-five minute wait.  She told me about her day, careful to guard the privacy of her patients, as she sipped a glass of wine and I sipped a cup of hot tea.

Dissociative identity disorder. Fascinating.

I looked out the window, it was blizzarding.

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“Snow is coming in,” I said.”  My daughter looked at me in disbelief.  “Feel” I said.

She hovered her hand over the seam. Sure enough.

“It’s better than a car coming in,” she quipped, putting my misery in perspective.

“I’m still thinking about that young man,” I said. “He probably didn’t make a lot of money working there, and his car didn’t look that nice, I doubt he can afford to get it fixed.”

“He was wearing street clothes,” she said, a detail I completely missed, “so he probably wasn’t working that day.”

“Maybe he was there to pick up his check,” I guessed, “and got fired…”

My daughter wondered whether he had driven into the restaurant intentionally.

I didn’t think so, since he kept saying, “This wasn’t supposed to happen…”  I thought maybe he was upset and distracted and wasn’t paying attention.  Or perhaps he meant to angrily squeal his tires in front of the restaurant and lost control.  Or perhaps he was looking in the window as he drove past and his steering followed his gaze.

All we knew for sure was that his bad day got really bad.  And we hoped he’s going to be okay.

I asked for the check as soon as our plates were cleared.  We had been there two hours and I was ready to go home.

As we descended the stairs to the store I said, “Let’s go get those trifles before we go…”

There was a large, thick black curtain blocking the entrance to the store.

“Oh shoot, are they closed?”

“It’s 9:10,” my daughter said, “they probably closed at 9.”

Missed our desserts by ten minutes, of course we did.

“It’s just as well, I want to get home” I said, as I pulled onto the main road, “I’ve had to pee since we arrived two hours ago.”

“This really isn’t your night,” my daughter chuckled.

“I hope Maxy* hasn’t pooped on the floor.”

This morning I received a text from the hub:

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Happy Spring!!??!! from Pere Marquette Rod and Gun Club, 12” in spots

Guessing his will be a memorable, but not magical, fishing trip.

*Maxy is our fifteen-year-old, incontinent hound dog

 

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life, Light

My Heart Melts Like Butter

“Nobody’s ideals form them like their loves form them.” – Ann Voskamp

I paused on page 117 of The Broken Way, the morning sun streaming through my bedroom window and across my bed, putting a spotlight on my slumbering, gently snoring beagle.

I thought of an old friend, who turned down open-hearted friendship in favor of fellowship with close-minded ideals.

I felt something stir.

Hope.

Longing.

Love.

Maybe Love would one day draw him.

Maybe, in the end, Love would form.

I read on to a new chapter.  Mean girls and devouring women.

Unexpected tears rolled.

Not sobs, not even a cry, just a few stray tears churned up by a benign sorrow.

p. 189: “I’ve made wide berths around women for years and skirted the communion of community because who knew when smiles could turn into fangs if you turned your back?”

You and me both, Ann.

I closed the book and put in a load of laundry. Socks and underwear.

I love any piece of writing that churns a memory, an emotion, a “me, too.” I love writing that keeps me pondering long after I’ve put it down.

I’ve had far more male friends than female friends in my life.

I thought about my friendships in general, about how I was able to keep my heart wide open, how I was able to turn the other cheek and expect good things as a non-Christian child, yet watched my heart increasingly close as a Christian adult.

We Christians often think that our children’s hearts are in danger of being corrupted, wooed, enticed away from God by the world, but I think it’s much more likely that they will be pushed, shoved away from Him by members of His church.

Waiting for the dryer to dry I jot down that thought.

I love writing that inspires a thought, even a post.

It’s what God called “worthwhile, not worthless words.”

It’s what I hope to someday write.

Good job, Ann.

#churn

 

 

 

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life

Rejoice with those who wear jeans.

“I hope I’m not dressed too casually,” I remarked, as I pulled my black, three-tiered Minnetonkas up over my black skinny jeans.

I was heading to my daughter’s alma mater to speak.

“It is Friday, though,” I reasoned, “and the students probably have a jeans day today, what with basketball and all.”

“What with basketball and all” = the boys bball team won the state semi-final game last night and they’ll be back at the Breslin Center in East Lansing in the morning for the final.

So the kids would most likely have a jeans day.

“Yeah,” my daughter said, “they probably do have a jeans day.”

Nowadays the students at that school wear uniforms, but my daughter was a student there before uniforms, back when they had to follow a very strict dress code.

Back then jeans days were granted on select Fridays and they were a huge, happy deal.

“I remember earning a special jeans day once,” she mused. “I think I got to wear them on a Wednesday.

It was a glorious morning, as all jeans day mornings were, dressing without the pressure of the code and looking cute for a change.

So I went to school in my jeans and a t-shirt while everyone else didn’t.

And that’s the moment I discovered that happiness is only real when it’s shared.

“That’s such a touching little story,” I said, as I clasped my necklace, “I think I’ll jot it down.”

I love my girl’s heart.  I love that she couldn’t enjoy the privilege of jeans while her friends suffered in khakis and collared shirts.

Not everyone is like that.

Go Eagles!

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life

Compassion is as compassion does.

Back in 2005 the hub loaded his table saw, planer and a bunch of other heavy woodworking equipment into a small u-haul.  We were headed to Vero Beach, Florida with a group from the church we attended to help repair a church that had been damaged by a hurricane.  Since the hub had major carpentry skills – and major equipment – he was in charge of that aspect of the trip.

I was in charge of activities for the church’s children.

While we were there we hosted nightly cookouts at a park near the Vero Beach church and invited its members to come, relax, eat and share their hurricane stories.

Because I thought sharing their stories might help.

Turns out it did.  Turns out listening to their stories, hearing what they had been through was the best, most restorative thing we did all week.

It helps to know someone cares.

It was hallowed ground in a Lansing courtroom when Larry Nassar faced his victims.  God bless Judge Aquilina for patiently giving each one of them the opportunity to tell their stories.  God bless her for giving us the opportunity to listen compassionately.

It helps to be heard.

The White House recently invited community members and victims from Parkland, Florida as well as victims from the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings to a listening session.

God bless our President for giving them a chance to speak and for giving us a chance to hear their hearts.

There are those who hate our President no matter what, who would refuse to give him a nod of credit for an act of compassion, who would refuse him the opportunity to speak and the opportunity to be heard with compassionate ears.

In their minds he is morally “less than” they and therefore he isn’t worthy of their compassion.  They just want to see him destroyed.

Actions speak louder than words.

If we want our country to heal, and it’s looking like the collective “we” don’t, we’ll have to put down our self-righteous hate and pick up an olive branch.  Or at least a hearing aid.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

#branch

 

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