If there’s one thing this “from the mind of M. Night Shamalan,” of a year has revealed to us as a people it is that there is no escaping reality. With a world-wide pandemic raging, record unemployment and seismic racial eruptions, we are chest-deep in our new reality. Stuff just got real. From Today Show anchor Savannah Guthrie getting flack over her “hair-do”-it-yourself-beauty efforts or just the piles of unadulterated crap shoved in bookcases as backdrops for tv interviews, there was no dodging the REALITY of this messy moment.
I usually pretty much love reality, particularly in juxtaposition with edited, face-tuned, sound-bitten, shellacky flawlessness our egos present to the world. I’ll take any day the two left feet verses the best foot forward. The outtakes over the seamlessly-edited final promo. The side-by-side of the idealized private, sugar-sanded beach next to the crowded, diaper-strewn sea weed patch of shoreline. The gritty reality, albeit not always preferable, is always far more interesting.
I love the mile-misses way better than the near-misses. So, here’s a photo from our 25th to celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary today. A glance back to last year pre-Pandemic. And kudos to the photog Jonathan in Paris I found on line for super cheap. His portfolio traditionally centered around uninhibited 20-year-olds not grey-haired men and good ol’ gals with maxi skirts and denim flamenco shirts. No traffic-stopping hotness here. We did manage to repulse some unkempt gentleman on his skateboard with our forced awkwardness. John was instructed in broken English, “take heir face into your hanns. Kees her. And you, look into hees eyes” The result looks like a domestic abuse chokehold poster which captured perfectly the goiter created by the bizarre angle of my head in hees hanns.
Happy 26th to my John. I am grateful beyond words for our health and life together during this time of pandemic and complete societal upheaval likened by historians to “If The Civil War and Yellow Fever had a baby.” Ok, so maybe that’s just my take on the reality of this moment we are walking through. I don’t know much but I do know that I adore this guy. He is kind, loving, cat- rescuing and even occasionally “watches” read: scrolls through Twitter paying zero attention a Jane Austen movie. Perhaps a successful marriage is sometimes more about enduring than enjoying the same things together. And this fella has endured a lot.
I love you forever, my John. You are the greatest gift I could ever imagine and I’m flat-out blessed beyond comprehension to get to share life with you. Even if getting that perfectly romantic 25th anniversary photo was not meant to be, I’m so glad that we are.
I walk to stop the spread of Covid-19. The way my pear has spread ten pounds during quarantine when I rediscovered baking again. Life lesson: comfort food makes for painful pants.
So I was lapping at A.C. Steere Park; an elementary walking track very similar to Herod in Houston where I am from. I caught in my periphery a young, fit guy running. Dreds swishing back and forth as he ran. I had to speak.
“Hey. You wanna tone it down a little? You’re making me look really bad here, buddy. Just slow it on down. You’re way too fast!” I heard him laugh and then he said, “You good!”
Then came the awkward part: the second lap. I’ve found that if you are EXTRA engaging with people that when they come around again you have to decide to either pick up the conversation where you left off or drop it altogether. The second lap’s a good 2025 in my mind when I launch out with the inaugural encounter; not even a thought that I’ll have to construct another witticism. Thankfully he not only did the fast running but the heavy-lifting conversationally this lap around.
“Come wit me,” he said.
“With YOU?” I laughed, verified that his CPR certification was up to date and sprung into action. I WENT. He slowed way down, I sped up and we ran. Together. He said that he came to clear his mind, that he was a therapist and with everything going on, running helped. We briefly commiserated about the challenges facing our county with the Corona Virus racial discord. We got deep for what I wanna say was a solid 30 yards. Not to brag.
I had to peel off, I had spent my bandwidth and was fading. I got his name, Chester, and gave him mine.
What possessed a totally cool, young athlete to ask a mature white woman to go anywhere with him I do not know. But I do know it made me so happy to be included. Happy to be seen as one who could even BEGIN to run anymore. Happy to be worthy of this gentleman’s company, if even for the briefest jog around the a tenth of the park.
Chester is a good guy. I am thrilled that I met him and grateful for the invitation just to go with him. It makes me eager to take a stranger into my hula hoop of personal space and dignify them the way I was granted dignity. Maybe the answer to much of what ails us is just this simple invitation: come with me.
I remember the last Mother’s Day that I was a mother of two. The idyllic breakfast in bed scene devolved into a fist fight. As I recall, everyone had big feelings about carrying the tray. I stripped the bed and threw my comforter in the wash. Fuming that MY DAY began this way; with laundry. Aughh! I then barked at everyone to get ready for church. In our pew, the ruckus reignited and after church my Mother’s Day gift to myself was a closed bedroom door, a good cry and a nap. I wanted a refund.
Now I remember that day whimsically as I do so many of the moments which at the time horrified, befuddled, angered and disappointed me. Most of the worries which used to steal my sleep and twist my stomach into knots are now utterly irrelevant. Hindsight shows them for the lavish misappropriation of my time and energy they were all along. Had I been more patient and determined to see the bigger picture, I would have taken a beat before reacting. I may have chosen to count the thousands of ways I was blessed before I chose to adorn myself with the mumu of disappointment, seeing only the ways in which MY ONE DAY OF THE YEAR could have been more serene.
What perspective would we assume if we treated these beautiful souls in our family as the gifts loaned to us that they are? I probably should have had my kids climb into bed with me, (separated of course,) take a moment to calm down and breathe deeply. I would have called the dogs to lick the strawberry jam off of my comforter instead of storming off for the Spray & Wash like they had sullied the Shroud of Turin. What I realize now is that if we are smiled upon enough to ever have the gift of parenting, that is the reward. They are ours. And we wish away those days, even the tough ones, to our own detriment.
Tomorrow may be a day of government cheese for you or a feast of prime rib. You may be showered with homemade cards or scalded with spilled coffee. You may be sick with this horrible COVID-19 Virus or have lost your business because of it. You may have realized that you have less control about more aspects of life than ever before. Your stomach may very well feel like a Wetzel’s Pretzel but what if you chose to take a breath and simply be grateful for the life you have…just as it is? Don’t miss the mark like I did by squandering the imperfect reality which is your messy, beautiful life.
Please share how you can treasure those around you tomorrow on Mother’s Day.
God continues to send a squad of precious volunteers to prepare our new Maggie Lee’s Closet location within The Highland Center. On the left are church members of ours and 3 other beauties from Byrd High School. With Mimi rounding out the group.
Our youth are enamored of the older girls and the girls are so kind and pay them special attention.
It is honestly the sweetest thing to see girls from completely different backgrounds with nothing in common collaborate on something so near to my heart.
Today Church for The Highlands said good-bye to one of our own. She was not a civic leader, a household name or even a quietly successful young lady by any conventional standards. She was just our sweet and troubled Joslyn.
She found our church family like so many others, from a simple invite of a friend who was catching the church van. A chance invitation to join a random group of people on Sunday morning to learn more about a God she already knew and loved. The way she accepted others and was accepted is a beautiful thing to me.
It was not uncommon for J to quietly mumble and gesture with her hands in Bible Study or the church service. She was a soft-spoken, understated personality with lots in her mind and a desire to belong. She sounds exactly like every other human I know.
During the Christmas Eve Service at church, I noticed frenzied activity in the row behind Jack, Aunt Holly and Mimi. Joslyn slumped over and was trapped between the pews. With a forcible shove from a church member, the EMT’s freed her and began CPR while the band continued on with “Jesus, What a Beautiful Child.” Later on we were told that Joslyn had a blood clot and died instantly.
I sat across from her at our book exchange Christmas party on December 17th. In looking for photos of her, I was struck to discover that the book Joslyn drew was Mitch Album’s “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” As awful a thing it was to watch unfold, I struggle to imagine a sweeter send off than the soulful sounds of a church on Christmas Eve. The thought of magnifying a child’s birth, the very child who left Heaven for Earth for us.
Totally healed, utterly free, we love you, Joslyn.
“Betsy and Jinny are Alpha-Chi’s, doo-dah, doo-dah!!!” my room mate Betsy and I sang as the bid cards slid under our door, last door on the 4th floor of Collins Dorm closest to the South stair well. We sprinted with our cards to a drawing room in the Student Union Building and were embraced by some of the best people I have ever met.
Both Houstonians, (Betsy from Memorial High and me from Bellaire) we were set up to room together by our mutual friend, Ricky Fram. Our dorm room had a barnyard theme with Spiegel comforters and corresponding bulletin boards with hot-glued sheep on them for that “decorator” touch. We were self-impressed until we spied a room with fully-covered Laura Ashley-padded walls and Dallas Moms in the throes of elevating beds with cinderblocks. Bets and I may have required padded walls that year but not the floral chintz variety.
But, I digress. Back to bid day. After the new class assembled, we went out to dinner and were seated at tables with other “sisters.” To my right was Stork as she was known. Andrea Stork from St. Louis. The model. The girl who took a professional hockey player to prom. The shy, beautiful girl who wondered what 5th level of Hell she had fallen into to be seated next to me. It turned out that AXO was a second choice for both of us but I knew and adored the girls in there while Andrea knew no one. She was a shy out-of-stater which was a definite negative in those days while I was an extroverted, Baptist, Texan legacy, so I had no excuse.
None the less, I was ecstatic. And it showed as I ecstatically shared my enthusiasm with all around me. Unfortunately, Andrea was around me. I blithely soaked in all things red and green: girls who had rushed me came by with hugs and sweet words and I felt so grateful and happy. Looking back on my Freshman Fall transcript, I am inordinately blessed that any sorority would have me in its 50-member pledge class. While I took it all in, reserved Stork excused herself to come up for air in the women’s restroom.
As fate would have it, I wore Storker down. I was mainly so in awe of her 6 feet tall / size two beauty and grace that I truly never anticipated her wanting to be actual friends with me; she was The Stork. Somehow mere repeated exposure lead to acceptance and before long I was using her and St. Louis room mate Jen Paige’s window to access the deck to lay out on the Collins roof that Spring. I had to be tan to catch one of those Baylor guys.
We both settled in and learned that there was more to each other than met the eye. Under my thick layer of loud was a spiritual core and beyond her intimidating beauty there was a deep and spiritual core as well. Stork was a thoughtful note-writer, a noticer of other’s beauty. When you received a note of affirmation from her, it was pure GOLD. She was pure gold. Senior Year, we lived together: Stork and Jen in one room and sweet Arkansan Gina Rhodes and me in the other. Gina and I were bound for Seminary the next year, Stork would graduate in fashion design and Jen in Business.
After graduation we kept in close touch. Those girls were in my wedding, I in theirs. I was into my 2nd trimester with Maggie Lee as I walked down the aisle in Andrea’s wedding. We had children, saw each other and as life has a way of doing slowly drifted apart. Fast forward to July 2009. The first week at Batson Children’s Hospital with Maggie Lee. Gina R. Was coming, Gina Rhodes Carter who was en route with Colleen and Kathy Carlisle said that Jen and Stork wanted to know if they should come. I said of course. I wanted them there. Cousin Judy and Mo rounding out my girl squad.
A friend loves at all times. And kinfolk are born to share adversity (Proverbs 17:17, best original language translation.) I never would’ve imagined that the beautiful Stork would also have a spine of steel strong enough for me to lean on in my darkest hour. That same beautiful heart leads her to love kindergarteners who need a little Mother Love each week, serve in 5-year-old kindergarten and foster abandoned Lab puppies. She intently cares for those who often have messy medical prognosis and do not live. She’s the brown-eyed girl with the heart of love who lives to spread joy.
Professionally she works in admissions for TCU. Having her Whitney and Laney in from college is her favorite thing. She loves her family fiercely, serves through her church gladly and dang it if she is not aging backwards. She is one of the deeper believers I know, able to let go of the outcome when life gets brutal and terrifying: of great instruct to me. I still feel honored to be loved by this incredible friend. All of us blessed enough to move in her orbit do. She appreciates life and her people, and although she hated me on day one, somehow she loves me now. And I, her.
One of my closest chosen sisters is walking through a challenging spot right now. Isn’t it so odd how we follow the recipe for the good life to the letter yet come up with a cookie sheet of heartache sometimes? I hate when life is so lifey: wild, unpredictably unfair and gut-punching.
Last night I was trying to sit with her in her darkness (via text message as she lives hours away.) I felt the powerlessness to offer real help so many probablybk felt toward me in my rough patches. I sought to explain how things would look better in the morning and so much different five years from now without being trite.
The image I had as I humbly sought to imbue hope was to remember past this season. By that I meant to remember the huge bag of faithfulness God has shown you, hover above your current circumstances below and project yourself into the future where all is well.
Easier said than done when your life unravels, but at times the most vital, self- preserving thing we can do is dial our brain’s Red Bull anxiety and tragedy-predictors down a notch and remember past a situation.
Don’t panic until you have all the details. Instead of imagining horrible outcomes as we are all so great at doing, what if we forcibly wrestled our minds to think of the beautiful way that our situation might resolve? When we assume the worst and are wrong we are relieved. When we assume the best and are wrong we are livid. Since when did disappointment become the scariest emotion we could encounter? Why is disappointment so fraught with shame, revealing that we are foolish, simple and naive?
I get that life is disappointing at times but when we live in dread for weeks and months only to meet a more positive outcome than assumed why is that brilliantly desirable? What about the days and hours squandered fearing the worst? Who will stick up for them?
I would say that is a rather wasteful way to live. Today is what we are given, just the breath in our lungs. The life-robbing worry we suffer under is a bad investment in which we throw good life after bad. When we assume that life will be beautiful and our issue will resolve and it does not, we have from then forward to be obsessed with and devastated by it. And it has cost us peace of mind leading up to whatever the dreaded thing is.
Today? Remember past.
*not advocating that anyone is to blame for a racing mind or that not being anxious is a simple fix. It is not. It is a heavy burden to lift. What I have found is a few hacks to help with mine.
If Christ has set us free we are free indeed. -John 8:36
What if today I lived free?
Free from my desperate need to be right about all things at all times.
Free from the policing role of those with whom I disagree. Waiting, just waiting for the chance for them to reveal something which offends me.
Free from the burden of unanswered questions.
Free of past entanglements I hide in my deepest heart-part.
Free of anger which it turns out is actually hurt. (Tricky, right?)
Free of comparison, blissfully ignorant of the purported perfections of others lives, spouses, alma maters, vacations and super-human, over-achieving children/ grandchildren/ pets. (Dogs expressly excluded)
Free to see what lies before me. Not tomorrow or in five years. Before my very eyes right now.
Free to simply care for those trusted to me. To guide gently, leaving the outcome to God who loves them more than we can fathom.
Free to hold my tongue.
Free to let loose of a grudge.
Free to live Heaven on earth.
Free to intervene in other’s Hell on earth without worrying about what it will cost us financially, reputationally or chronologically. (I know I’m taking poetic license here Aunt Holly, but just go w me)
Free to breathe in and out and know that the God who wove us together in our mother’s womb surrounds us with utter love, peace and joy.
I will give this a whirl today. How about you?
MLFG this time last week a day of joy kicked off and I am still glowing! I know I look sleepily ecstatic here in this one.
Rich is the woman who lives in a community who will trudge out in a thunderstorm to donate Christmas toys by the hundreds to bless children they’ve never met.
Rich is the woman with a family, church & biological who loves remember their child who lives in Heaven now.
Rich is the woman with friends who will try to bring to life her vision of a balloon Christmas Tree from a crazy brain with zero actual instructions and only a hunch that it will work and blow up 200 balloons using a CAR INFLATOR and a butt load of tenacity.
Rich is she to be surrounded by women of every station, color, age and personality bent who love God and others as a daily course, just as naturally as they breathe.
Rich is the woman who sees far and wide the love and goodness which is still alive and well in our world. I am the wealthiest woman I know!