Proof That There is Absolutely Zero Hope for America

I am a naturally positive person. I look for the best in people and affirm the good I discover. I try to cut those around me slack, believing that “there is always one fact more about someone that you do not know” which may explain their behavior.  We all have a tough road to hoe at times. 

I am very, very hard to discourage. While others see the sky falling, I see a horizon which is cloudy with a chance of meatballs. When tragedy strikes, I try to stay focused on The Lord and count my blessings. When Junior was late to a final his Senior Year because he was pulled over by a state trooper and couldn’t find his driver’s license, I rolled with it. I have always clung to the mantra “Things can always be worse.”

However, what I saw tonight challenges all the hope I have EVER held for our country and her people within. I scarcely could believe my eyes. My normal effervescence deflated when I beheld a grocery store produce bin teeming with bananas and a sign above the fruit which read as follows:

“Banana color guid (GUID) 

Worried about when your bananas will be ready to eat? Here’s a little help. 

Ready in 3.5 days- half green half yellow

Ready in a couple of days- more yellow than green

Ready to eat now- yellow with green tips and green necks 
This little display has left me with so very many questions. 

First off: how is the general population in need of a slick ad campaign to avoid eating green bananas?

Secondly, just who is confused by the lowly banana? It is hardly the mood ring of the fruit kingdom one needs an illustrated guide to interpret, she’s pretty straightforward. Now the cantaloupe? Heck’s yea, I’ll take a melon hack all day long, those guys can be tricky. Watermelon: a dice roll every time. But a banana? 

Thirdly, who devised this brilliant display and why do they not have spell check on their computers? Why is the first picture’s ripeness approximated with numeric accuracy when the second is stated in lazy generalities?  A few? Why was the passion for precision so quickly abandoned by, oh, I don’t know, the second example? 

Were the female banana models compensated equally to their male counterparts in this photo shoot? And if not would the males consider making up the difference out of their own pockets? Sadly,  we are only privy to is the masterful end result not the making of.

Lastly, I am dumbfounded by the fact that we in a single generation have become so unfamiliar with fruit that we need a tutorial to prevent such “worry.”

Signs like these make me believe the worst about us as a nation. We used to be smart enough not to eat green bananas. I remember growing up with the benefit of two parents mentoring me in the nuance of such weighty consumption decisions. I know, I was one of the lucky ones.

In summation: God save the Queen if we are this pathetic. And, if anyone in our country has the luxury of banana anxiety amid the current natural and man-made disasters, I am more than half green with envy. Far more than just my tips and stems. And I do not need any silly guid to tell me that.

Cousin Judy

When your Mothers are cheesy twins and you’re a child of the groovy 1970’s just assume that you will be dressed alike. At. All. Times. My Mom, Judy and her twin, Jinny, dressed alike until they graduated from L.S.U. In 1962. So despite my cousin Judy being two years older and a foot taller than me, where there’s a Butterick Pattern, there’s a way. 

Because one set of Judy and Jinny’s was not enough for the world, our Moms kept the fun rolling into the next generation. Having the unique spelling of Jinny in a sea of Jennifer/ Jenny/ Jens lead to a severe case of NFKASF Syndrome (Never Finding Keychains at Six Flags) within me as a child.  Every personalized ordered anything for me would arrive Jimmy Richardson. But now the quirky spelling fits and pencils be damned, I love my name. 

Our childhood Summers included a solid 2-4 week cousinfest; either our visit to Chicago’s Northern Suburb of Skokie or Jinny, Bill and Judy’s visit to Houston. Did I mention my Dad was named Bill?                  I can still taste the melted pimento cheese sandwiches from our day trip to NASA. Even the little plastic top shelf of an Igloo cooler had its thermodynamic limits. This is decades before The Yeti and the lower, iciest region was reserved for cans of Tab and Fresca. 

Cousin Bill had my two older brothers and I had Judy. We watched Grease in the movie theater together and choreographed dance sequences to John Denver that we felt were perfection. Later we sung the complete soundtrack to Best Little Whorehouse in Texas into my hand-held cassette recorder. Because cable t.v.  

When we grew older and less kidnappable, the five of us rode the Skokie Swift to the “L” eventually arriving at Water Tower Place and Marshall Fields; all while speaking Spanish. We were just so clever loudly rolling our R’s and discussing what Madre had sent us to purchase en la ciudad as if we were getting daily necessities from the Mercado. An afternoon Cubs game then a return to the Northern ‘burbs was Summer perfection. 

More than a running buddy Judy would go absolutely anywhere I wanted to go. In 1998 she got tickets to The Oprah Show and when the producers asked if anyone had an impression from the Seinfeld Show for Oprah’s farewell to Seinfeld show, Judy raised my hand. Frozen in the moment she said, “Do The Elaine Dance!” So 6 months pregnant with Baby Jack, I let it rip. Judy went out with me for the micro audition, refused to do the dance with me then cheered me on for my 9 seconds of Oprah fame. 

 From Judy I learned from the art of kindness and support. I have often said that she is hands-down the nicest one in our family. When I dressed up like a maintenance man and surprised her on her birthday a few years ago, she kindly redirected me when I approached her acting psycho. Many times I have seen her preciousness but never in cognito like that. 

She was my Maid of Honor in 1994 and proudly I will be her Matron of Honor this July when she gets married to Jesse, her person. I am thrilled beyond measure that God has blessed Mi Primita with the love of a lifetime. No one deserves a life of love more than my Juju. 

I Am No Stranger to Yoga. I Have Worn The Pants for Decades

My husband and son have a term for when I trip and topple down a hiking path / stair (singular. Yes, I know) or random blade of grass. It is moniker I received while hiking  at the farm and I tripped: Blueberry. As in “Mom! You totally looked like a blueberry rolling down that hill.”

Blueberry also serves aptly as a verb: “Remember that time you blueberried at Science Fair and almost landed on me?” Apparently despite not wearing a large blue sweatshirt I still managed to resemble a bouncing blueberry as I toppled down the woody decline. I trip so frequently that I now tuck and roll reflexively. 

I could blame my tripping on enthusiastic perambulation or lack of self-awareness and surroundings, but truly it has to do more with balance. My balance is woefully poor. So to improve my flexibility, strengthen my core and blueberry less often I began practicing yoga. 

I’m no stranger to yoga, I have believed in the pants for decades. I quickly came to adore this form of exercise and here’s why:

1) Darkness: There are no Broadway floodlights here to intimidate. You cannot even really see yourself in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Especially if you commandeer the coveted back row. The group privacy encourages one to attempt an extremely awkward pose without fear. 

 2) Lack of competition: Because it is “my practice” comparison has no place. I cannot stick my hoof behind my head and that’s just fine. Beginners are welcomed and not expected to have a flawless “table,” “plank,” “downward dog”, or “resting gator.” Hey, it’s Shreveport, LA, we’re gonna make it our own. 

3) Moderation is encouraged: I have waited my whole life to hear the words, “If it hurts, stop.” What? The last time I listened to my body it whispered “do the whip” in The Starbuck’s line. In this relaxing, restorative environment there was no way to overdo. Yoga, you had me at “if it hurts, stop.”

It is so great to stretch, people. My right clavicle is not throbbing and I trip less taking the dogs out in the morning. It’s nice to no longer be met with the “she put Jim Beam in her Cheerios again” look from the neighbors. It just IS. More stretching, less blueberrying. 

Even if I am routinely singled-out for pose enhancement (read: your left hand makes an L when you stick both hands out) it just doesn’t matter. I am tickling 50 and have earned the right to take up mat space, try something new and get incrementally better at not falling down hills. 






Squid Goals in Spiritual Transformation

I saw this insane Dodo video of an octopus squeezing its’ gelatinous body through a small opening on a boat deck to return to sea. You probably did, too. This voluminous pink guy / girl (couldn’t tell with the suckers flying akimbo) was on a ship. Once the squid found a tiny opening and sent out a shooter of a limb, a transformation like nothing I have ever seen transpired. 

With elongated tentacle feeling the water, the creature miraculously pushed through an inches-wide opening like only Invertebrates can. They have all the best party tricks, don’t they? Watching this determined oozing looked like a gallon zip-lock bag of Slime willing itself through a keyhole. Which of course reminded me of Jesus. Obviously. 

My soul has been stirred lately by not only Dodo Animal Instagram Posts but the awe-inspiring thought of God involving us in His work in this World. I will never get over the thrill of that still, small voice in my gut prompting me to act. God could efficiently accomplish everything without us but all I can figure is that He must get inordinate joy  when we do things together. 

Honestly, saying yes to the whisper can feel both silly and invasive at times. Like when I stopped to offer my blanket scarf and pink stretch gloves to a man at the bus stop across from Church for The Highlands. I saw him in his short-sleeved shirt and the temperature was in the 30’s. He had a military hat on and I’m done. I love a veteran. So I grabbed my scarf and approached him. 

I greeted the gentleman and asked if I could put my scarf on him. He paused and finally nodded yes. I tucked the plaid scarf around his shoulders and then tried to secure it into his wheelchair between his leg and the chair’s right side. 

“Ouch!” He squealed and I instantly stopped. 

“I am SO SORRY!” I exclaimed. 

He replied with what I thought was the phrase, “I’ve got macerated flesh”

Feeling like I just successfully executed the worst good deed EVER, I quickly moved onto gloves. I asked him if it was ok to put the pink gloves on him. He had no reply. Beat. Beat. Crickets. Barely audible, he finally mumbled, “Do you have…..anything…….manly?” 

I said that I would sure go back to the car and look. I ran back and thankfully found a new pair of black stretchy gloves I was donating to Maggie Lee’s Closet. I returned, presented the manlier gloves to him and finally got the nod. With his permission I began pulling the gloves onto his wind-chapped hands. 

Like that stellar example, collaboration with an invisible entity can be tricky at times. Leave it to me to make things weird.  Yet it was holy ground where God urged me to do what I could with what I had to notice another person. Who knows if my blanket scarf warmed him or his red cheeks were merely a soldier’s humiliation but his face stayed with me.  I still think about him constantly and how difficult his life must be. 

In the end analysis, as God uses encounters to change us we won’t always feel like Ellen donating libraries to grateful schools amid dropping balloons. Transformation can pinch. Sometimes we just feel like a clumsy boob. But the fact that God cares enough about my soul to invite me to join Him, knowing full well my clumsy, indelicate nature to try and warm this one person both moved and changed me. 

In my enthusiastically awkward attempts at being the hands and feet of Christ, I have not only God’s word as my guide and inspiration and Jesus’ life for imitation but God’s Spirit for collaboration. In my experience, faith is that tiny opening to another world which requires struggle and adaptation to get through. As Jesus called it “the narrow way; the path of Spanx when others obliviously eat dip in their fat pants on deck. 

So, what if proximity to God actually trumps performance for God?  I try to leave my soul open to eternity and give The Spirit free reign to squish me however is needed for any given day. I am not making resolutions. They depend far too heavily on my emotional resolve. I am praying for change which only God can bring and will get in a position to be changed. That’s all we can do: to humbly throw out a tentacle and reach for home. 






Kindness Outlives Us

ML in 1998

***obviously a repost from this day in 2009***

3months ago today, Maggie Lee died. 10 months ago, she gave some of her Christmas money to our World Vision Friend in India, Rinky, to use for something extra. Today, I got the most radiant picture of Rinky in her school uniform and backpack: proof that our good deeds DO matter and DO live on beyond our years on earth. I love you, Maggie Lee! 




Find Someone Who Will Give You The Socks Off Their Feet

See this guy in the middle? Holding the red chicken-flapper doohickey of me & my Mom? Yea- that one. He did something extraordinary a decade ago that still touches me to this day; he loaned me his socks. 

The venue: First Baptist Church School Carnival. Per my style I just asked the coordinator to put me anywhere I was needed. I rushed to the school straight from work on Louisiana “Fall” Day of 80 degrees. I checked in and got my assignment: the 40 climbing wall inside a jumpy thing. Wrapped in bacon. Stuffed in a taco shell.

I was in charge of crowd control and could not wear my loafers inside the bounce house. I flung them off and dove into my position. Literally. The crowd subsided and to my shock, I glanced down to notice that only half of my toenails were painted while the balance did some creepy vintage horror nail show in the shade of ruby red neglect. 

I searched the crowd of beautiful moms who planned stuff and didn’t have janky feet and finally landed on the visage of my knight in shining khakis. My demure voice boomed like a can opener and my John tracked it to my post. I motioned a “cone here” and my eyes the exclamation mark.

When just close outside of the net to hear me I asked a biggie.  “Can I have your socks?”

“My socks? What?  Right now?”

“Shhh! Yes. My toes are crazy and I need to cover them up right now.”

He took off and moments later slipped me the navy shame-shields which saved my dignity. It is indeed the little things. The small sacrifices and shouldering the big burdens. He is an unselfish person and I am still amazed that he gave me his socks that day. 

John and I just celebrated our 9th Maggie Lee for Good Day. A day of kindness in our daughter’s memory. I am so crazy blessed to share all of life’s joys and sorrow with this person who has bettered me. I was told in my first counseling session after losing ML that most couples don’t make it after a child is lost. I totally understand why but am grateful to God for sustaining us and giving us grace to give to each other. 

And sometimes grace comes in the form of socks. 

What I Know Six Months Out

On October 29th Maggie Lee would have been 21 years old. Schools are gearing up for Maggie Lee for Good Day and the promotion of kindness which will ensue. Candy sales are happening to benefit Maggie Lee’s Closet and sororities are planning events for this annual initiative. It is GREAT news amid all of the tragedy and poignant reminder that God’s wheelhouse is redemption.

Several people have referenced “What I Know Six Months Out,” and asked about it which struck me as really bizarre so I decided to repost. So much has changed, so many millions of prayers of mine have been answered while just as many monstrous fears have fallen by the wayside. Our ten-year-old in his tiny suit who wanted to speak at his sister’s funeral is a college freshman fearful of exactly NOTHING which is God’s grace. He has the 1p.m. Monday DJ slot for Texas Tech Radio KTXT and adores West Texas. I believe we’ve lost him forever to West Texas and I could not be more thrilled! It is a gift to watch his life unfold, even the challenging days.

John and I have found the love of God an enormous sea where drowning is impossible. The only proper response is to relax long enough to float. We are still polar opposites with aligned hearts and shared purpose. He is a good man to his core and prizes the practice of, in Jen Hatmaker’s words, “Pulling up another chair to God’s table,” inviting everyone to God’s redemptive grace while helping them find daily bread, jobs and purpose. He’s aged well although his hair is now more salt than pepper. Still a stone-cold fox- just a silver one.

Here’s the post from what seems a lifetime ago:

Jinny Henson

I have often reassured myself in the six months since Maggie Lee’s death that although I have no idea what I will do without her, I honestly didn’t know what to do with her when she first arrived, either. Somehow this gives me room to breathe and by the grace of God, I sense that I will adapt to my new life in some measure as I did before.

Of course, birthing a child and burying a child are two radically different prospects. On the one hand you deliver a bundle of dreams wrapped in possibility oozing potential and conversely, in the other unnatural scenario, you lower those most treasured dreams into the ground…forever.

It is a disorienting experience and frankly I am shocked to still wake up every morning. “A Broken Heart Still Beats,” is the title of a grief book for parents and, alas, mine still does. I remember reading a about a friend’s 4-year-old daughter who had cancer two years ago. As I clicked out of the email, I sighed with relief that God had not laid that burden on me because He knew full well that I could never take anything so awful.

And then in a moment, despite the diligent love that you have and the protective eye you naturally cast, a freak accident comes calling and is unaware that your family is supposed to be exempt. As soon as you’re told that your child will die, you begin to ratchet down expectations. You see a child in a wheelchair and breathe a hasty,”I’ll take it,” or one with a contracted little body, but still able to communicate and think,”I would gladly spend my life taking care of her” But, alas, the ultimate bargain isn’t yours to make.

I remember painting Maggie Lee’s toenails crazy colors while she was comatose and massaging her legs when the nurses would let me take the pressure cuffs off. I told everyone that she always wanted to be famous and wouldn’t she be irked that she slept right through it? I distinctly remember the kindness of a nurse preparing her body for burial as it were by bathing her when the end was near; detaching the monitor from her head to wash her blood-matted hair so that I could braid it one final time. I also remember most of all longing to explain to them just who was lying in that bed covered with tubes and monitors, but that proved to be impossible.
It still is impossible, but the urge remains to remind the world that although she only had 12 years, she was truly a phenomenal little person.

I have learned a few things in my first 6 months of new-born grief. Certainly, many more lessons are to follow as I will contend with this ever-present absence as long as I shall live. I have learned that it is impossible to shake a good friend. Most people are lucky to have one true friend when it is all said and done. I have an embarrassing wealth of amazing friends and family who have shouldered the burden of loss with me. Souls who have sincerely attempted to put themselves in our unenviable shoes, anticipate our needs and keep us supplied with books and Starbucks cards.

I have learned to treasure every imperfect day and those who remain. Life is hard and will not for the vast majority of us ever turn out in the way we would choose. I guess that’s why we’re all so cranky. Since Maggie Lee’s death, I have tried to suck the marrow out of life even more than I did before; enjoying my family as they they are, not as they should be. We often unwrap the presents of the people around us with a conditional bent of dissatisfaction; we love our children but try to exact better performances from them. We appreciate our parents but our dad dresses funny and mom has a goatee. We are committed to our spouse but he sets the thermostat too low and never remembers how we like our coffee. Losing someone I love has helped me to step back and be grateful for what and whom I have left.

Even though I never was much of a control freak, I now know that even the appearance of control over my circumstances is nothing but a facade. It is with infinite wisdom that the writer of Ecclesiastes compares our earthly existence with a fleeting vapor. I have learned that even if life would’ve obediently followed my plans, that I would have at some juncture encountered a traumatic blow or two. Time wounds all heels, and many more graphically than mine, just consider Haiti. No purpose is served by pridefully thinking that no ones loss can ever rival mine. If I wear my disaster like a orchid on Mother’s Day, it will only serve to frighten people. Every human being will be confronted by unwanted circumstances to which they can accept, or wander down main street in a nightgown like Mary Todd Lincoln. As for myself, I never looked too hot in a nightie.

I have learned that t-shirt fronts serve as great Kleenex if you suddenly get an unexpected gusher. Gut-wrenching grief is sneaky and will typically ambush you at the most inappropriate moments such as the carpool line, Sunday School or the deli counter over cold-cuts. Some times, emotions are brought on by well-intentioned small-talk such as, “How many children do you have?” or, “Is he an only child?” I have found it best to answer the question as my life is now rather than to thrust my emotional baggage on an unsuspecting Wal-Mart Employee. People by and large are unprepared for the flood of toxic emotions a grieving person is capable of producing.

I have learned that people do indeed want good to have the last word. When our three week ordeal ended, over 250,000 visits had been made to Maggie Lee’s Caring Bridge Site. On October 29th, what would’ve been her 13th birthday, over 18,000 people signed up to do a good deed. On “Maggie Lee For Good,” Day, Lawyers took on cases pro-bono, an American passed out baguettes to the homeless French in the Eiffel Tower’s shadow and one man installed a hot water heater for a disabled man in Louisiana who previously showered on his back porch. Schools had canned-food drives, friends had lemonade stands benefiting Children’s Hospitals and a Pediatrician in Texas forgave the medical debt of a newly-unemployed father, just to name a few. I have learned that when you are determined to wrist good out of tragedy, God and many other people will hustle to help you.

I have learned that although I struggle with God and miss my daughter desperately that I am not prepared to go it alone. I know intrinsically that God is the only path to true healing of which I can conceive. Although there are days that the searing pain wins over me, I have learned that my Heavenly is indeed close to the brokenhearted, and that hope in Christ will sustain me until I see my precious child again.

I have learned that of all the things I have failed to prioritize, that mothering is not one of them. Not that I was or will ever be perfect, but that I was dead-on in living with my family as my priority. I am devastated to have placed so much import on loving my children only to have had one of them die, but grateful that for a brief period of time that I did what mattered most. When Maggie Lee told me that I was the best mother in the world, I would tell her that I was sure she would grow up and need counseling for something I had done or failed to do but that she would know that I loved her with all of my heart. And, she did.



A New Dress for Picture Day

Maggie Lee’s Closet is an awesome responsibility. How ironic that in Maggie Lee’s 12 years of life her closet was a wreck and now the closet which bares her name is a beautiful, organized island of joyful fashion. This organization is owed to the brilliant volunteers who, unlike myself, have the faculty of both brain hemispheres compared with my one. 

This week Debbie, Aprile and Beth spent their days washing and ironing tubs of donations because they’re incredible. Lisa and Sharon joined me in the closet yesterday. Lisa has a law degree and is meticulously organized. Sharon is also degreed but more on the party-starter end of the spectrum. Lisa collected extra hangers and color-coded them while Sharon had the kids she assisted run a relay race to see if the new tennies “made them go faster.” The race shot the distance of our hall and the turn-around spot was the glass display case. Why is Lisa friends with us?

Soon after we opened a lady came by with a referral from Catholic Charities. She filled out the application and I asked if her child was with her. She was not but returned with her in an hour. Denise was so precious and when we three learned that she had Picture Day tomorrow we were the freaking Cinderella mice. We all brought dresses, Lisa found shoes and Sharon had the perfect finishing touch- a fringy bag from her daughter she had brought that day. 

Denise was a beautiful soul as was her grandmother. They had just moved from California and had nothing but a California Drivers Licence. They were lit up from the inside such lovely people. 

“I thought I would have to wear my uniform on Picture Day. I am so happy I came here.  I never want to leave!”

So that is what you have created my beautiful tribe. All of you who donate time, talent and treasure to Maggie Lee’s Closet. You create a moment in time where we get to whisper to these young souls that they are amazing and loved and that God has a great plan for their lives.