Last night with the Christmas tree sparkling, I watched “Anne With an E” on Netflix. In the Netflix show the pastoral beauty of Prince Edward Island pops in juxtaposition against the cold Nova Scotian orphanage. Jumping off from L.M. Montgomery’s 1908 book and numerous cinematic adaptations, the series details Anne’s indomitable spirit in the face of perpetual misery.
As the novel goes, The Cutberths (an agrarian brother and sister pair in advancing years) request a male child-laborer from the asylum. Asylum being an earlier moniker for orphanage. Instead of a male, our siblings receive a loquacious little red-haired girl. Sensible Ms. Cuthbert, not given to shenanigous folly, sets out to return Anne to her wretched situation.
On the previous journey from orphanage to beautiful Green Gables, Anne developed a bruise from pinching herself. She was in disbelief that her life could be that good. Sadly before the bruise even yellows, her good fortune is reversed. Anne’s words as she leaves paradise and returns to hell made me weep. Our persevering protagonist says this: “I will enjoy my ride back to the orphanage because I have already determined to do so.”
With that phrase the tears erupted and the river of my maternal heart spilled forth. Child actress Amybeth McNulty’s brilliant portrayal did me in. Do not fear, there are twists and turns,” my friend Lynne (with an e) who recommended the show to me was quick to text back when I told her I was totally gutted not 30 minutes in. “Many twists and turns,” she said, but I was already sunk.
I continued to watch as the character chose to keep it on the sunny side through many dangers, toils and snares. She is brave, brilliant and determined to steel herself against the life of rejection dealt her. I adore Anne with an e. I admire the way that she determines herself into positivity. Like another e-Anne, Anne Frank, who wrote about the beauty of life while hiding out in the Secret Annex as World War Two raged on.
Perhaps our heroine’s positivity is phenomenally unrealistic; that no one in her position in life would make things better by sheer force of her will. Maybe our troubles won’t be defeated by the choice of our minds. But perhaps more is in our control than we’ve dared to admit. What IF life could be transformed by our determining in advance to enjoy the ride?
Something truly extraordinary happened in 2020 for me. I had a pivot. That’s what my career coach Maureen called it anyway.
Pivot. What a beautiful way to describe one turning 50 and launching into a vocation never before attempted. For me it was venturing into the world of real estate which I had long desired to attempt.
Since even a ramshackle shotgun speaks to me, there was no doubt that I would enjoy my subject matter. I love a house, be they big ones, tiny ones, brand new, Yellow Fever-era. No matter the style I envision a tweak or two and picture a soul thriving in that very space; both bringing to life and being brought to life symbiotically.
John and I had the honor of meeting Habitat for Humanity and Fuller Center for Housing founder Millard Fuller on a few occasions. He explained succinctly the power of home:
“What Habitat does is much more than just sheltering people. It’s what it does for people on the inside. It’s that intangible quality of hope.”
Hope and home. Yes. Houses are not merely the mirror of their inhabitants but the frame inside which a life story unfolds; an entity whose square footage, kitchen and backyard serve as co-conspirators alongside those of us actually doing the living. These structures we call home not only shelter us but rejoice in celebrations, grieve in losses and ultimately provide a safe place to fall.
I had the honor of listing a home just two doors down this summer. A precious family bought it and this holiday adorned their home like a gingerbread house in the best way. The family has a toddler and I cannot fathom what magical stirring he feels when he sees the celebration on his roof each night. I highly recommend having as many toddlers in your life as possible, especially as neighbors.
As I walked this cold morning (more to gaze at the beautiful moon than to exercise) I was struck by the joy that their house emitted. There was no missing the much-needed joyful message in this very challenging year.
I read the lights of home as a little love notes to one another even if that is not the owner’s intention. The sparkles reach out to me in cheer and even hope like the star which guided people to the Christ child. Obviously the inflatable, Santa-capped Minion may not be a deep conveyance of the nativity mystery, yet it still brings tremendous hope and joy as I walk down Patton Avenue.
Your 24th birthday is next Thursday and it is still an outlandish thought that you are in Heaven and not here with us. Time marches on and even the movie Legally Blonde turned twenty this year! Speaking of which, Elle Woods Henson was particularly excited by her prominent placement in this year’s T-shirt graphic. She’s so extra, just like her mommy.
It is always so amazing to see the kindness people perform in your name by many who knew you and even more who never did. I cannot wait to see you again and watch you watch the video roll of all of the good deeds your spirit inspired in people. Who knows but that the box of groceries in Detroit or the simple hand-written note in Phoenix was just the touch God used to restore someone’s broken soul. As you know, kindness is not wimpy and sentimental but rather a force both fierce and transformative.
What began as a simple seed to carry on your legacy of love has grown and next Thursday photos will pour in from different parts of the country where your spirit has spread. Four West Point Grads are having a golf scramble in Las Vegas to raise money for Wounded Warriors, crossing guards in Frisco are being assaulted with showers of Little Debbie’s and children in Jackson, MS are being treated at Batson Hospital because of donations someone made in your name. How wonderful is that?
Amid the celebration, however, there will always be an empty seat at our table. Time forever demarcated before 2009 and after. I suppose this is the frightening risk of loving a soul; the possibility that one day it will be gone. Our insides swell at the thought of love, enlarged by the fulfilled presence of another, but desperately deflated should it be taken away. How miraculous to feel the flat disappointment of grief eventually give way to the infilling of God’s grace? Life can almost kill us and then we least expect, catch it being beautiful once more.
I treasure what we had in you, Maggie Lee. Your sparkle remains like glitter found in the baseboards of an old house years after the craft project has wrapped. Your essence is both impossible to remove and ever present. You will always be the undercurrent in my soul when I react out of love and patience when I have the choice to be selfish. You will always be my inspiration to pull up a chair at the lunch table to make room for one more. You will always be one-half of the best things I ever did in my life on Earth and I cannot waitto celebrate you next week!!!
To join the world wide wave of kindness on October 29, simply go to fb group
2020. It sounded so beautifully round, didn’t it? The 2020 sunglasses on New Year’s Eve fashioned from the two 0’s were flawless, not some 2017 with the contorted 7 wrapped around the second circle. No, this was 2020, baby. Whole. Repetitive. Catchy. We came in hot, zip-lining into the Roaring 20’s with zero indication that a Prickly Pear awaited to break our fall.
This year has held melt-downs on so many fronts; the CV-19 word has slain over 150,000 Americans and taken down Neiman Marcus. The molten underground flow of racial unrest erupted over the horrific death of George Floyd, a tipping point for a country plagued with systemic mistreatment of black and brown people. Moreover, our economy continues to struggle:
The economy contracted at a record rate last quarter and July setbacks for the jobs market added to signs of a slowing recovery as the country faces a summer surge in coronavirus infections.” Harriet Torry wrote in The Wall Street Journal on July 30, 2020.
Because we have story- shaped minds, I gain strength from a good, sturdy overcomer; souls like Harriet Tubman, Hamilton, and Job. Not Steve Jobs but rather Job. Old Testament Job. You may recall that he’s the one known for sitting catatonically atop the literal ash heap of his life. His grief brought questions and so might yours.
The book of Job is a brief one in the Old Testament right before Psalms. The title character is killing it in Chapter one: rich yet humble, blessed with 10 children, a wife, a huge livestock operation and a reputation as “the greatest in the East.” -Job 1:3. Basically Chip Gaines with 5 extra kids. He makes sacrifices to God on behalf of his kids just in case they accidentally sin. I like this guy, he holds on loosely and doesn’t assume his kids are perfect.
As the story goes, one day when heavenly beings & Satan come to present themselves before the Lord (quite a bizarre squad…so many questions about this receiving line) God asks Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” Which comes as a challenge to God about how generally crappy humanity has turned out.
As the scene unfolds, God then throws this question out to the enemy, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him in all the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil?” Satan laughs at the confidence placed in a mortal, cynically explaining that Job is good only because Job’s life is good. Remove the blessings and Job will curse. The Almighty disagrees.
So, shockingly undeservedly the devastation is unleashed. In a calamitous one-after-another set of announcements, servants enter to proclaim successive tragedies which take all of his flocks, culminating in the news that all of his ten children are dead. All. Ten. Children. Dead. He arose, tore his robe, shaved his head and extraordinarily enough, honored God:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.”
Though utterly laid low, Job’s knee- jerk reaction is praise. He admirably takes this complete reversal in stride. After humbly proving his fidelity, he then suffers a round of attacks on his body. In Job Chapter 2, he is covered with loathesome sores from head to toe. Praising God from his ash heap only proves to trigger his wife. She suggests he do the only sensible thing and “Curse God and DIE.”
But Job is hell-bent on keeping his heavenly perspective. Eschewing her suggestion, he calls her foolish for the mere idea, reasoning, “Should we receive good at the hand of God and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. His perspective powered his perception. His gratitude granted him grace. Grace to accept the unthinkable reality that his life is completely ruined.
In an effort to encourage Job in his grief, his friends come from afar. They do not recognize him at first but when the coin drops, they gasp and tear their clothes. Nothing like your gasping friends ripping their clothes at your appearance communicates “sucks to be you,” quite as colorfully. Scripture says they sat quietly with Job for seven days lending support. When Job begins verbally processing his grief, his tribe begins finding just cause for his ruination. They shoulda kept quiet.
Job’s friends are at their most helpful when they simply love and listen. It is fruitless to proffer explanations as to why afflictions happen because as we see, Job is never granted one. Job’s friends sought to find an explanation for his suffering as a prescription for avoiding it themselves. The human mind seeks to explain tragedy to restore the false sense of control. Herein lies the the baseline of blame: control. That is why every parent who has ever lost a child replays every scenario for a missed cue as to how they allowed this to occur to prevent it from repeating itself, which is a foolish exercise.
Eventually after heated debates with his support staff and God, Job circles back to acceptance. He puts God on trial for allowing his many trials. God does not shrink back but rather reminds Job of his place in creation. Citing Behemoth and Leviathan created, God reminds our protagonist of the microscopic vision which he has. This is a reminder of the perspective to which we humans can only aspire. Not an answer to our burning questions of why? but a way to open our minds. Once still and yielding, the spirit can blow in acceptance of the truth that there are some questions for we will never have answers.
God eventually restores double what our friend has lost. His sores eventually heal but it is likely his scalp always looked wonky and his hair patchy. I imagine he bore the scars of living as you may as well. I still have a scar on my left eye from where my ridiculously uncoordinated daughter smacked me with a tennis racket and one on my chin from Jack armed with a hockey stick. They are beautiful to me because they represent a full life well lived. That is the bargain I reckon.
What handles on truth can be learned from the story of Job’s devastation? What possible takeaway can bring peace to our terrified minds? How can we wisely face the uncertainty of life? Probably none of us will lose as much as Job did but we may lose a business, our loved-ones, our dignity or our mental health during this unprecedented crisis. What shred of hope can we grasp from this ancient tale?
Change and loss are normal. As completely abnormal as Job’s loss was, life for all of us means change. As audaciously as we assume the blessings of the food on and family around our table, all could be gone in just a moment. Any fortune, friendship or family we assume will be there at days’ end may not be. This is life. To take for granted that the good life will go on forever is a foolish assumption. This is a lesson driven home as we have been thrown into quarantine, unable to procure basic staples and unable to be physically present with loved ones. As deeply as it chainsaws against our death-grip on control, the truth is that we will experience change and grieve those we love.
As lame a consolation as it may appear at first blush, I do think one gets points for survival and bonus points for love. This is my take-away from Job. He survived loss of wealth and children, financial ruin and even well-intentioned friends. I only wish Job’s friends could have shared a modicum of the empathy and love I have received from mine. Despite being conditioned to always grope for more and better, may we bear in mind that we are not promised tomorrow, good health or even those we hold so dear. So let us see through eyes of fierce gratitude which seeks to appreciate what we have this day.
So here’s to Job who shunned the suggestion that he curse God and die. He debated God and lived. And I am richer for his example. May our preoccupation with ourselves drop away like chaff and with it take our expectations of what we are owed by life or by God. If the breath in our lungs is all we have, may we breathe out beautiful hope for others with every exhalation.
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.