Christian Faith,, Maggie Lee for Good, Sharing God's Love

A Cake Walk

Gina Rhodes Carter is one of my Steel Magnolias. She was my roommate for two years at Baylor and two years at seminary. Beautiful and sweet beyond sweet, when John and I began dating and he would tell people that he was dating Jinny, they would say,”Oh, you mean Gina, the sweet one?”

For some reason sweet was preferable to stand-up comic for guys going into the pastorate….who knew? I completely agreed that Gina was indeed the sweet one and she has only become more so with age.

Gina is a wife, mom and works on staff at a church in Austin. Her MLfG project this past October was a cake walk. She rounded up her neighbors and church friends, collected brownies and cranked out cobblers. She raised money for a place where survivors of domestic violence can live until their children reach 18.

Pictured here is a friend of hers in front of her beautiful, safe home. What a wonderful ministry to the least of these.
Life is many times far from a cake walk but we have the time, energy and talent to help carry another’s burden. Will we?



Christian Faith, God

The Gospel According to St. Joe

“Birds have nests. Foxes gave dens.
But the hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man.”
-Rich Mullins

My path crossed with a gentleman we’ll call Joe. Affable fellow from up North, Joe is polite, hard-working and occasionally homeless.

When demons are beaten back, he is focused and resourceful, daily walking miles to his $4.50 an hour bus-boy job. When he succumbs to temptation, he is undependable and subsequently everything gets derailed as happened five weeks ago.

I guess the same is true to a degree with us all and our secret sin. Except his struggles are tougher to hide and since his life has the slightest margin for error, one binge destroys everything.

Fresh from rehab he returned to his former job but the owner was forced to replace him when he left. He realized that his own choices had caused the reality but he was still dismayed.

“I was so upset.” Joe said, “I was ready to go to CVS and buy something but I went to a meeting instead. It was hard, Ms. Jinny, but I made it.”

His eyes glimmered as he shared his victory. He held up the neon two-week sobriety keychain as if it were a Rolex given to him after 40 years of hard work. He was incredibly proud of himself and I was as well.

How liberating Joe’s honesty was. What he was really saying was that he wanted to get totally drunk to lessen his dire disappointment. That was probably the most honest thing I had heard in church. Ever.

The thing about seeing life from Joe’s perspective is that he is acutely aware of his human frailty. We’re all frail but just with varying degrees of insulation and correlating confidence in our comfort. When you take a closer glance at this man’s life, the colors become a bit brighter than first glance might reveal.

The only debt Joe has is $100 outstanding on a ticket. Possession-wise, his only belongings fit into the smallest storage unit rented before entrance into the latest treatment program. He lives day to day like those in many other parts of the world do, a far cry from our Western ideal of security.

The good news for St. Joe- he overcame his demons, stuck to his guns and as of Thursday he is again gainfully employed by his former boss.

Jack heard Joe tell John about his job and commented, “I have never seen anyone so happy in my life. He has to walk 2 miles to a $4.50 an hour job and he was ecstatic.”

Christian Faith, Maggie Lee for Good

Benjamin’s Life…Changed for Good

When Chick-fil-A owner John Roden of Bossier City, Louisiana, heard Maggie Lee’s story at his church in early October, 2010, he wanted his restaurant take part in Maggie Lee for Good Day.  He shared the story with his marketer, Renee Wilson, who contacted us and asked if we were open to his Chick-Fil-A Restaurant (and, eventually the other two in the Shreveport / Bossier Area) to join in the second annual event. Of course we were ecstatic to have Chick-fil-A on board.

A week later Julie Babboni approached Renee Wilson in hopes of doing a fundraiser to help cover the astronomical cost of a trained service dog for her son, Benjamin. 4 Paws for Ability is a non-profit organization whose dogs perform life-changing and even life-saving service for disabled children and adults. The timing seemed to be divinely inspired. Typically shying away from individual fundraisers, Renee still somehow felt like assisting in Benjamin’s quest for a service dog was the perfect project for this day. On October 29th, 2010, we met The Babboni family and was taken with this little guy whose life would be changed forever by a sweet, enormous canine named Hachi.

As seen in the video, Renee is explaining that at lunch on Maggie Lee for Good Day, every 29th meal was free, given in honor of Maggie Lee’s birthday and every customer who was given a free meal donated to the fundraiser for Benjamin. Donations included an anonymous gift in the whopping amount of $5,000, practically 1/3 of the cost of a trained service dog.

For three Octobers, Maggie Lee for Good has been a great rallying point around which generous enthusiasm is drawn.  Whether it be a fun run benefitting North Carolina Organ Donation,  a food drive in San Angelo, TX or even a service-dog fundraiser in Bossier City, LA., it is a tremendous phenomenon to watch. We are thrilled by the divine orchestration which led our lives to cross with so many of you and we are also happy that Benjamin has a faithful companion and protector in Hachi.  Here are a few remarkable stories from Julie:

  “We met Hachi for the first time on Aug 2, 2011.  We had just been emailed  a photo of him a week prior!  When Hachi and Benjamin met it was an immediate bond and Hachi also began alerting to the Electrical status (seizure discharges) that Benjamin constantly has going on in his brain.  It was amazing.  Since then the two have slept together every night, and lately Benjamin has taken to Hachi’s bed so they both sleep on a huge dog bed! But at least he’s sleeping.
A month after having Hachi we no longer took Benjamin’s wheelchair to school.  Hachi is trained in tethering/mobility, which means he wears a sturdy leather harness that has a handle for Benjamin to hold on to, and then we use a padded dog collar around Benjamin’s waist and tie them to each other with a bungee type leash.  Hachi walks slowly next to Benjamin and bears his weight when needed (ie stairs) but mostly helps Benjamin keep his balance and use his leg muscles by walking.  It is also a godsend because now out in public we do not have to confine Benjamin to his wheelchair for safety because he would always take off.  Hachi is trained to stay down or standing no matter how much hard Benjamin is pulling on the leash trying to get away.
He is also trained in tracking!  Hachi is amazing at finding Benjamin, it is his favorite game.  We’ve practiced in parks, woods, around the house, stores, in the house, and even the underground tunnels up at the mayo clinic!  We spent 2 straight weeks training with Hachi and his trainers, and he it was one of the best trackers of his class!  So if Benjamin ever does get away from us at home or in public then Hachi will be able to “hunt” him down!!!
As I mentioned before Hachi also does seizure alert.  Benjamin’s has had 3 physical seizures since we got Hachi, and Hachi alerted about 6-8 minutes before each seizure.  Since Benjamin usually doesn’t have physical seizures we were very surprised.  Hachi is used to Benjamin’s constant electrical activity in his brain,  ( he has ESES epilepsy as one of his diagnosis’) but Hachi will alert a few times a day, and that is when Benjamin is having a full seizure in his brain and we are only aware of it because of Hachi, Benjamin may be sleeping or playing at the time and shows no physical signs of it.
His last two things he is trained in are Behavior Disruption, and Emotional Support.  We have Hachi “give kisses” or lay on Benjamin’s lap as distractions when he is starting a tantrum and it works about 85% of the time and then Hachi is just Benjamin’s best friend. 
Having Hachi is like having another child to get ready and feed and tend to, so it is not always so easy for me, but seeing what he does for my son everyday makes every second worth it. 
We did go to Disney and Sea World this past November, and the first day at the park Benjamin walked tethered to Hachi for 3 straight hours, he’s never walked for more than 20 minutes straight before.  Having Hachi is building muscle, increasing his independence while keeping him safe, and giving him a sense of belonging.”
So if you ever wondered about Benjamin and if he ever got his service dog, there’s the rest of the story.
Benjamin and Hachi at Disney
Christian Faith, Loss, Overcoming loss, Uncategorized

Why? God Understands Your Suffering or Why God Understands Your Suffering

My friend, Robin, is on my mind and heart today as she attends the funeral of her husband, Kevin. They have two children; Harold and Henry. Harold was one of Maggie Lee’s favorite little people at school. The feeling was mutual as Harold bestowed the highest honor upon Maggie Lee posthumously: naming his cat after her.

There are no words to say at times like these, really. Nor will there be for a long, long time. There is, however, hope to be found in the wisdom of those who have walked the unenviable path of loss, a road we will all journey on sooner or later.

I found comfort in the faith and wisdom of Jerry Sittser in his book, A Grace Disguised. In those pages are his honest wrestling with God over losing his wife, mother and child in one car accident.  Here are his thoughts on God’s suffering;

“The Incarnation means that God came into the world as a vulnerable human being. God was born to a woman, Mary. He was given a name, Jesus. He learned to walk and talk, swing a hammer and wash dishes. God embraced human experience and lived with all of the ambiguities and struggles that characterize life on earth. In the end he became a victim of injustice and hatred, suffered horribly on the cross, and died an ignominious death. The sovereign God came in Jesus Christ  to suffer with us and suffer for us. He descended deeper into the pit than we will ever know. His sovereignty did not protect him from loss. If anything, it led him to suffer loss for our sake. God is therefore not some distant being who controls the world by a mysterious power. God came all the way to us and lived among us.

The God I know has experienced pain and therefore understands my pain. In Jesus I have felt God’s tears, trembled before his death on the cross and witnessed the redemptive power of suffering. The Incarnation means that God cares so much that he chose to become human and suffer loss, though he never had to. I have grieved long and hard and intensely. But I have found comfort knowing that the sovereign God, who is in control of everything, is the same God who has experienced the pain I live with every day. No matter how deep the pit into which I descend, I keep finding God there. “

Christian Faith, friendship, God, Maggie Lee for Good, Overcoming loss

Therapy by Food Drive

This is my friend, Gina’s Maggie Lee for Good story…what’s yours?

Maggie Lee For Good (North Texas Food Bank)

Why was my 11-year-old so driven to organize a canned food drive at her school?  I think it was a way for her to have action or maybe control over a situation that left her feeling so helpless and so insecure about how she saw her world.  When your best friend dies when you’re in elementary school it certainly doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t even make sense when you’re 40.  How can all your dreams of your future be taken away from you when you haven’t even lived long enough to have much of a past?

Just a few weeks before Maggie Lee’s accident the girls discussed and daydreamed endlessly about their future and the role each of them would play in it.  They engaged in sweet little girl fantasies that included living in an apartment together in New York City, working in musical theater together, being on Broadway, being famous in L.A. , working with the Jonas Brothers, walking down the red carpet hand in hand, and encouraging each other through every glorious success.  They believed the fantasy…I believed their fantasy.

I could picture Maggie Lee by my girl’s side being her cheerleader.  Why wouldn’t I believe the fantasy, she had always been a positive force in her life since she was two years old.  She was an unselfish encourager even then.  I don’t think she had a jealous bone in her little body.  I would often shake my head in amazement at what an unusual child Maggie Lee was.  We were surely blessed by this gale of wind, filled with sunshine, which would blow through our house when she would visit.

So how does a little girl tie down this pervasive feeling of insecurity along with a feeling of emptiness that only a deep sense of loss can create?  She gets busy.  She focused on a goal.  Maggie Lee for Good was created on Maggie Lee’s birthday, October 29th.  With a new goal in mind she was able to channel her grief and somehow make purpose of a tragedy that made no sense to her.  It also helped her t be able to share with all the kids in her school how even as a child you can affect and help others.  You can change them or create change for them.

She got the permission from the principal at Grace Academy of Dallas to have a Maggie Lee for Good cannedFood Drivebenefitting North Texas Food Bank.  Along with the student council, they made posters asking families to donate food, either bringing it to school or doing online shopping at the North Texas Food bank website.  They stood in carline with posters asking for donations and advertised in the school newpaper.  In the end they collected enough canned goods to change the lives of 100’s of families…for good.

Christian Faith, God, Loss, Maggie Lee for Good, Sharing God's Love

SO a God Thing!

When Maggie Lee was in Second Grade at Lakeview Elementary, I remember her rushing into my car at carpool line, bursting with excitement to share an amazing story. Eyes wide and face dancing with animation, she exclaimed, “Listen to THIS, Mommy….This is SO a God thing!”

Well, today, on the second anniversary of the bus wreck, SO a God thing happened that I could not keep this to myself.

Colleen Gibbs has been my bff since 7th grade. She was there for my first comedic performance at Camp Tejas. She worked in meeting planning for 12 years until I finally convinced her to book my events since both halves of her brain actually work. For her precious family’s Maggie Lee for Good project last October 29th, they held an art show at their home. This was no ordinary art show, there was a prayer station for my family, a build-your-own snack station and a fabulous display of Kathleen and Meredith’s art work.

Incredibly, The Doucettes raised $305.00 with this project and decided to donate the entire amount to our World Vision Child in East Khasi Hills, India; a girl named Rinky. Amazingly, just today when we returned from our trip to Houston, (Mimi got a new knee, LOOK OUT WORLD!) we received a letter dated 16/Feb/2011, thanking us for the donation. On October 29th, 2010, three precious curly-haired girls took on an art show as their Maggie Lee for Good Labor of Love. July 12th, 2011, their kindness boomerang-ed and fell into our laps at a most opportune time.

And, without a doubt, that is SO a God thing.

East Khasi Hills Area Development Program

“Greeting from me and my Family. Once again thank you very much for your love and your support to me and my family. I have received the gift you send me through World Vision. With this money we have spent school fees, school uniform, school bags, Gass Chulaspot, text books, exercise book and trousercloth. These items are very useful for me and my brother and my sister. It has helped the burden of my father. We do not have anything to give you in return but only my gratefulnessand gratitude and prayers for you. God bless you.”

Christian Faith, Overcoming loss, Uncategorized

Where Have YOU Been?

I violated the Cardinal Rule of Web log posting: be present. Please forgive me for going dark.

The last post I wrote about our dear friend, Jay. From there we had Father’s Day and Vacation and our 17th Wedding Anniversary (can I get a WOO-HOO?) I could’ve posted about my incredble father, the great dad and husband John has been and how even the tame Hogwart’s Ride in Universal Orlando nearly made me vomit. Oh…so many ways to go there.

Sprinkled in-between those events were some really awful happenings: the discovery of a brain tumor one of my friend’s 4-year-old daughter (surgery is this Wednesday,) my newly-widowed friend, Aprile’s loss of her Father, and the diagnosis of cancer in two parents of other dear friends. It’s as if the tragedy fairy has been hopped up on Mountain Dew, wielding her two by four with a vengeance, happily head-smacking unsuspecting friends with life-altering circumstances. It’s been terrible.

Now today, two years removed from my own worst nightmare, I see from spectator’s perspective how faith in God and His ultimate resolution is the secret sustaining my bludgeoned friends. I see something larger than mere determination pulling them through the worst of times because humanly speaking they should not be prone at this point. What is there is more than optimism, good will or wishful thinking; it is acceptance of their portion of pain with a deep confidence that things will somehow work out.

As comfortable as we can make it, as beautiful as it can be and as perfect fleeting moments of our lives certainly are, I have crawled inside and worn this truth: this world is not my home. It does not mean that we stop living when hit by that two by four, no, I still have to live my life and make the most of my days, but at the end of the day, at the end of this life, no measure of what I have accrued, built or collected, (including a pain-free life) is important. “The best is indeed, Elizabeth Browning, yet to be.”

Christian Faith, Loss, Sharing God's Love

Our Dear Jay

Jay Greenleaf died Tuesday Night.

At 49, this loving Christian husband and  father was on the golf course when lightning struck close enough to him to usher him away from those who love him most.

I thought I was un-shockable. I was wrong.  As I glanced down at his picture on the front of his program on Saturday, I thought, “Great picture of Jay. What in the world are we doing celebrating his life? How can his be?”

An instrumental force in launching Church for The Highlands less than a year ago, Jay was a master at showing people Jesus’ love and compassion, not just content with knowing of it himself.

Besides delivering Meals on Wheels and serving on a myriad of boards, Jay invested his life in his precious wife, Aprile, children Sam, Dylan and Maddie, their friends and so many other people.

John and Jay became fast friends when Jay asked John to coach Upwards Basketball with him 4 years ago. Our girls were in the same grade and John thought it would be fun. Little did he know when he agreed that Jay was the Bobby Knight of Upwards Basketball.

A guy whom he coached spoke at his service Saturday. He said of Jay, “I was clumsy, I’d fall down. A lot. But, Coach always encouraged me to get up.”

I think that’s a pretty amazing epitaph, don’t you?