#christianfaith, #God's redemption, #grief, Grief, Hope, School Principal, Uncategorized

Wisdom from a Principal

I have not the foggiest idea why the story of Maggie Lee’s life and death has touched the souls it has. Truly, it makes absolutely no sense other than God’s eye toward and passion for redemption. Stories like those of Principal Smith’s helped me intuit that there were greater realities at play in all of this than I could begin to realize. In hindsight, it is easier to see God as a maker who will eventually take all of our broken crayons and melt them together into something amazingly beautiful like the cake I produced in my Easy Bake Oven 40 years ago… except cosmically better.

I am inspired by grace I cannot see bubbling up in those I can see. May you be moved as I certainly was. Here is an email exchange between my Baylor Room mate, Betsy Sone Jones and her former Principal, Alan Smith, as he contemplates retirement:

(used by permission)

FYI – I am preparing a list of things to do in my next life. One of those is to drive and actually visit Maggie Lee’s Closet in order to make a donation (a very small one since my income is going to take a hit).

I am so thankful that you brought Maggie Lee into my life and that she has stayed with me all of this time. Amazingly, I cannot imagine Maggie Lee being any more alive than she is right now.

You did a GREAT thing by helping to push this out to others and in convincing me that this was something we needed to do as a school. Truthfully – it was what I needed to do for me as it allowed me to realize that developing perfect schedules, preparing for state tests, etc. was not all we needed to accomplish with our boys and girls. We needed to foster compassion, care, giving, and love and Maggie Lee, more than anyone else, allowed me to see this. I have worked to compile a list of the people that truly impacted my life in education. Maggie Lee, even though we never officially met, is on my list.

I am proud of all that you have done for ABC. Maggie Lee would have loved your music class and would have been a great Dancing Drum student! Keep doing what you do.

###

 

#christianfaith, #holyspirit, Broadmoor Neighborhood, Butterflies, Christian Faith, God, home renovation, Hope, miracle

Rehab

It is time I came clean. It seems that no matter how hard I try to beat this on my own I just cannot. I. Love. Rehab. Adore it. Addicted to it. In each dilapidated space I see potential. I imagine that each ramshackle residence I pass could be beautiful with just a few gallons of paint and a new screened door. Or a new roof and a bulldozer for a precious few but I see original glory in those little places with overgrown grass and lazy gutters.

We have owned seven homes and our sixth was the newest we had ever purchased. The floors were pristine, the backsplash up to date, the deck wasn’t a demo. It was truly awful. It was perfect and did not need me. At all. In fact, I could only serve to mess it UP. It was a beautiful reno hiatus but I did not feel like it would be our forever home. It was an awesome address with incredible neighbors but then again we couldn’t park the bass boat out in the driveway like the true classless people we are.

I called Andy our realtor eighteen months ago because he knows my flair for the nomadic. I told him that we wanted something a little older with a few projects to keep me busy. I then threw the full force of my intermittent Adderall-Infused attention to realtor.com. I found a perfect looking house with serious internal issues so we walked away.  Then I saw The Patton House. The first time I did a drive-by was Halloween night and the scene of costumed children and neighborhood parties was something so HGTV, it confirmed that we needed to try for this one.

The grey brick  house had a large window which was circular at the top and I was in love. As I perused our honeymoon pictures months later, I realized why. My favorite photos from that week is in front of the main entrance to The Cloister on Sea Island which had an identical window, just grander.  I assume that is why it spoke to me. We got in to see the home the next day and to my great joy there was a dilapidated Butler’s quarters in the back yard. HOT DOG! A project! We made an offer and were moved in before Christmas. You know, the slowest time of the year.

We have moved a wall or two, gutted the kitchen and painted everything inside but patiently waiting in the backyard was the Butler, a perpetual burr under my saddle. So I began to tackle Rhett this week. My renovation is mainly cosmetic: ship-lapping walls, patching floors and opening him up a little. I’d love a light & airy she-shed. I guess that would make her a Rhetta. Yesterday as I was removing the solid wood front door, I had unscrewed seven of the eight screws on the door jam and the eighth wasn’t budging so I took a hammer to it. The solid door fell hard and brought with it part of the door frame. It was stuck.

I tried to lift the girthy door to no avail. At least it was angled so that I could slide down out the front. After the initial thud and numerous attempts to move the front door I noticed a petite, beautiful butterfly floating around the scene. I then began to laugh. Butterflies find me wherever I go. I think of the thin veil between heaven and earth and since Maggie Lee’s  passing I think of her whenever a butterfly comes around. Their whimsy comforts me and I feel visited by these little beauties in an intentional way.

“Ok, little doodle. I guess you are here to help me lift this door? I am SURE that we can do this together. Maybe you could fly under here and give it a good push?” I just grinned and tried to hoist the wooden beast again and could not. I slid down the plank and approached the door from the left side. To my shock, with a modicum of effort, I raised the door.  Then I really started to laugh. “Thank you for the help little butterfly. Who knew you were so strong?”

The orange and black visitor never came particularly close. I cleared the front doorway and instantly the butterfly was gone. Do I think my daughter was reincarnated as a butterfly to help me lift a heavy door? Do I think the butterfly’s presence brought with it insane strength? No and no. Other than owning four dogs I am not crazy. But I am aware of the whisperings of God in my still, small moments and invite those moments with open spirit.

I love to see the dilapidated be reclaimed. Especially when that structure is me.

 

 

 

Christian Faith, Hope, Maggie Lee for Good, Overcoming loss, Uncategorized

Meridian, MS

In best selling author Wm. Paul Young’s 2007 book The Shack, God invites the main character, Mack, back to the place which he describes as “the vortex of his pain,” the spot where his kidnapped daughter Missy’s body is found.  Mack eventually accepts the unconventional invitation which results in tremendous healing as each member of The Trinity work with him to gently reveal the unquenchable love The Father, despite Mack’s circumstances, has for Mack.

I first read The Shack in June of 2009 and heard Young speak in Shreveport in an event sponsored by local golf legend Hal Sutton. Sutton, who was deeply impacted by The Shack, wanted others to hear author in person. I was asked by my friends Jenny and Brian to attend. John, Maggie Lee and Jack were in North Carolina for Camp (Crestridge and Ridgecrest) while I stayed behind working.

Little could I have known the groundwork God was laying in my spiritual thought patterns as I devoured the story of a grieving parent learning to accept the loss of his daughter which he described as ‘The Great Sadness.’ How Young reconciled personal tragedy with God’s love was a beautiful, poetic picture which remained my mental screensaver as we sat with our daughter whose prayed-for miraculous recovery was simply not to be.

The FBC Shreveport bus left for youth camp in Georgia on July 12th a little after five a.m. A tire failed not long after 10 am just past Meridian, MS. The vehicle flipped and came to rest on Lauren and Maggie Lee. Brandon Ugarte was killed at the scene. An Alabama National Guard unit returning from training on up-righting overturned vehicles was traveling behind the bus, saw everything, and miraculously the Guardsmen lifted the wreckage off of our daughters.

To say that the town of Meridian, Mississippi was where our lives changed forever would be accurate. In the ensuing years since 2009 I have never had anything but sadness upon my hearing of the city’s name. Apparently it was time for all of that to change. My college roommate Betsy Sone Jones lives in Tifton, GA and always leads the Maggie Lee for Good charge this time of year. I love Tifton and wanted to be a part of their altruistic day of kindness which traditionally occurs on October 29th, Maggie Lee’s birthday.

Since Annie Bell Clark Elementary’s MLFG Day was not until mid-November I decided to go. Heading Eastward on 20 to get to Georgia would mean a trip through Meridian, MS. I had never in seven years driven past the accident site and it was time to face the music. I prayed and had others pray for me. I strangely felt like all would be well. As I approached Meridian I felt something tremendous in my spirit: the words, “God was with me the entire time.” It was an urging from Maggie Lee’s perspective.

The sentiment echoed again and again as I located the exact spot of the accident, slowed down, pulled over far into the grass and exited on the passenger side of my car. Down the embankment I walked and heard again, “God was with me the entire time.” Which I completely believe to be true. Meridian, as it turns out, is not scary after all. Perhaps I stopped to tell her so. Like so many unpredictable days in this unplanned journey, God’s ridiculous grace splashes upon me and simply makes my days doable when there is no reason at all why they should be.

Hope, humor, miracle, motherhood, Survival

When Ducks Bentley Imprints on You

Ducks BentleyJack’s Spring Break happened this week. While my men worked at the family farm in Troup, TX, I kicked some dust up of my own. I cleaned my 17 year old son’s room. The debris from the cleanup warranted machinery which, instead of returning to the garage, I crammed atop the dryer and shut the door. When John returned home and began his laundry I grabbed my crap pile of tools to return to their rightful spot.

Hands full, I hipped-open the door knob (they don’t lie) and was stunned by the sight of our Lab chasing a baby wood duck. With his teeth. I screamed bloody murder and in my nightgown and morning hair a-blazing I slung my load, snatched the baby and nestled it protectively to my chest. John came running and as usual said something about the neighbors calling the Police about domestic abuse, blah, blah, blah.

Since I’ve seen that Dawn commercial like a 1,000 times I consider myself a waterfowl-recovery expert. John told me to Google proper procedure for duckling care and agencies who would help so I immediately introduced my chihuahuas to the orphan because that was way more fun. Realizing that my duck-whispering dreams were temporarily coming true he gave me my moment and did the due diligence himself.

John looked outside and thought he saw the mother in search of her baby. We kenneled the dogs and let Ducks Bentley out back to see if she would come get him. No sign. He wandered to the front yard with that heartbreakingly displaced cry and no luck. He hopped down the street and I absolutely could not just leave the hatchling to chance with all of the cats and dogs on our street. I continued to walk Eastward but lost sight of him. Eyes closed, I honed in on a faint cheep and kept walking until I saw him.

My friend knew a Veterinarian who rehabs ducklings for the state and said he would take care of it. My heart was satisfied that I had done my duty as a foster parent and he was in good hands. That afternoon when I called to see how the re-homing was going, I got some alarming news. The Vet could not take Ducks and so my friend set him free on a nearby lake. He checked on him later that day and said he looked ok but that if he did not find ducks of his own kind soon that he wouldn’t make it for long. Oh no.

I dropped the phone and headed for the Elks Lodge Lake a few blocks from our home where Ducks had been released. Not letting the “Members and Friends of Members” sign dissuade me, I blazed up the entrance. To my shock this was no pond. It was a LAKE lake. My heart sank. I walked down the boat ramp and called for Ducks Bentley. Looking high and low I spent 15 minutes calling for him. No duckling anywhere.

Walking along the wooded shore I prayed and came to peace with the fact that if I could not find Ducks Bentley that God was just going to have to look out for him. I am a hopelessly optimistic realist I guess. I returned to my car and drove further down the shore. I did not see another entry point for the lake and a foreboding  chain link fence blocked entry to the rest of the lakefront. I did see a jon boat but I didn’t want to push my luck with trespassing and theft. One misdemeanor at a time is my mantra.

In the distance I spotted a pier and parked my car. Getting out, I sloshed through the saturated grass toward the clearing, calling for Ducks Bentley all the while. I scanned the watery horizon for a bright yellow and black wood duckling yet saw nothing.  As I called, the mature ducks swam farther and farther away from me. It dawned on me what an absurd a needle-in-a-haystack endeavor this was and I did not even know why I felt so compelled to find him. Looking for the positives, I reminded myself that at least I had tried.

I spent 10 more minutes alternately calling and listening near the pier. I thought I heard a faint cheeping amid the throngs of other dusky nature sounds. The cheep was weak yet  growing stronger. I set my glance in the cry’s direction but I saw nothing. West to East, North to South I searched for what my ears believed to be the echo of my orphaned acquaintance.  There was no duckling in sight but the ever-amplified cheep fueled my hope that there would be.

Then like a winning lottery ticket I saw a tiny yellow and black speck round a bend across the water and paddle straight for me. This was crazy! I got louder and louder and screamed “Grammy’s here for you! Come to Grammy!” Grammy is my self-designation for all the creatures of the world form dogs to fish and now expanding to the world of waterfowl. Ducks paddled closer and closer and my shock increased.

Maneuvering awkwardly through the lily pads, up came my foster-duckling. He ambled on shore shaking beads of water off and I stood still as not to scare him. He promptly sat on my foot and lifting him, I began to cry at the completely bizarre chain of events. I texted John a picture of my ugly-cry reunion and understandably John was ecstatic over my good fortune. “So, what are you going to do with him?” He asked. I answered that I would find an agency to raise him with his species but we have to stabilize the little guy at least for the night.

I opened the car and sat Ducks Bentley on my lap. He hiked up into my elbow pit and rested, exhausted form his wearisome day. I got an aquarium, a light, grass and meal worms for Ducks which I floated atop the water to teach him to hunt. John engineered the heat lamp and we arranged his habitat carefully. I set a clock next to the duckling to simulate a mother’s heartbeat and turned on the radio for some white noise. The song that came on? “The Dance,” by Garth Brooks. And, no, I did not dance with Ducks.

Today I am looking for a wood duck habitat / agency to take him and reunite him with his people. He needs to learn how to be a duck and I am of no help there. He is precious but he deserves to live happy and free. While I have loved living out a Modern Family episode, Ducks belongs somewhere else. Still, I will never forget this teeny tiny little Ducks Bentley who swam a lake to get back to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#holyspirit, Christian Faith, God, Hope, Overcoming, Perseverance, Survival, Uncategorized, wisdom

You Do Get Points for Surviving


I don’t know much at all but as I hugged my friend who lost her daughter 18 months ago, I relayed those words: You do get points for surviving. I did not tell her to cheer up. I did not tell her that her Grandson’s graduation would be a snap and I did not tell her that I knew how she felt even though I have buried a daughter.

That simple statement has echoed in my mind so many times. God knows how it feels to be in the weeds, devastated and angry. Jesus felt these emotions. And it is not just my opinion that we get survival points,  the Bible flat out tells me we do. This verse in James celebrates the fact that if we can simply stand we get everything. Psst…here’s the thing- He HELPS us to stand. When we have nothing left, He pours into our spirit with His Spirit and enables us to stand.

Whatever the test, whatever the devastation, disappointment or dismal diagnosis- you can stand! Persevere because you do, after all,  get points for surviving.

Christian Faith, God's redemption of our worst-case scenario, Hope, Maggie Lee for Good, Uncategorized

When God Sets You Up

There are rare and magical moments in life where God sets us up for the easy win. Like a Father positioning the tee ball tee at the perfect level for home run success, I feel God sets us up for beautiful-swing-for-the-fence moments as well. I am convinced that at times God gives us all we need and gleefully watches us stumble on the holy ground of divine preparation. Let me tell you why. 

Three Sundays ago was the anniversary of the bus accident which took my 12-year-old’s life. I felt prayed-up and ready to roll through the day, determined that it was going to be a thankful day. Just before our church service began I noticed a lady brushing her teeth in the ladies room. The collection of fauxbric Target bags indicated that she was homeless. Her name tag read Treva and as she brushed I greeted her and took note of her bright blue eyes.

Church was a sweet refreshment to my soul and as I was leaving, Charlene caught me to tell me that Treva needed ladies clothes. Maggie Lee’s Closet clothing was too small for her and I apologized for not being able to help. I ran through options as I walked to my car. When I opened my car door a large white bag in the back seat caught my eye. I had totally forgotten about my recent closet purge. 

I lifted the heavy bag and realized that my donation this lady would facilitate the need to give her a ride. I handed the bag to her and asked where I could take her. The shelter? The Salvation Army? No. Instead she wanted a ride to the place where she had been living: a park.  I asked if she was sure that was where she wanted to go and she insisted it was. 

I dropped her off and glanced back to see her dump the contents of the sack onto the cement table. Such a basic need clothing and rediculously easy on my end because God had arranged it all.  

In the six years to the day since I have lived life without Maggie Lee here with me, I have felt a million moments of divine set up – the relentless good deeds on her birthday, October 29th, the cast of Broadway’s Wicked becoming a part of Maggie Lee for Good Day and even just this past week Khaki Fest which provided new school uniforms to 147 Shreveport kids. Had I tried to conjure up this goodness on my own it would have been a sweet disaster, I am certain.

God, however, stoops to meet us where we are in our toddler tantrum: face down in the dirt with huge neon bat long-since thrown and whispers, “How bout we give this one more try?” 

Hope, maggieleeforgood, motherhood, Uncategorized

Treasure the Perfect Imperfection This Mother’s Day

I pray for a Teflon heart on major holidays but on this day I ask for a double coating of it. I know many of you as well have gotten very proficient in quickly switching channels when the Mother’s Day commercials appear. Thankfully I still have my Mother but nearly six years ago I lost the twelve-year-old who first made me one.

The Mother’s Day of 2009 was a disaster including vitriolic fights over who would hold the breakfast tray, spilled coffee and dog vomit. And that was all before 7:30 a.m. Then came church which resulted in another squabble when I allowed our fourth-grader, Jack, to lean on me in the pew but would not allow Maggie Lee to do the same. She wanted to sprawl out in a skirt with legs balled up toddler style. Luckily John was preaching that day we were right up front.

It was a humdinger of a day where my offspring’s negativity typically amortized over a three-month period was distilled into ONE single day. Somehow my Hallmark holiday like the fleeting melody of an ice cream truck in Summer proved beyond even my most desirous reach. Maggie Lee, sensing my disappointment (by sensing I mean hearing me say, “It is Mother’s Day! Everyone is supposed to be happy today.) illustrated a book of her favorite moments with me and it is one of my prized possessions. The disappointing day birthed an absolute treasure.

So let’s pinky-swear we’ll enjoy every unscripted moment today. The sibling throw-downs and the spilled coffee. You don’t have to enjoy the dog vomit, just make someone else clean it up. You may be shouldering the burden of parenthood by yourself or discouraged about the child which has yet to come. You may be missing your beloved mother or grandmother. With all we could grieve let us look around at what we have left. And revel in the perfect imperfection of it all.

Hope, Survival

Always Room for Hope

Monty Python's Holy Grail
Monty Python’s Holy Grail

You remember the feeling. Whether from a cheap shot on the football field, a sweaty-handed monkey bar slip or an unfortunate double dog dare involving a roof and flying, most know the sensation of getting the wind knocked out of us. A forceful blow to the solar plexus brings the dome-shaped diaphragm muscle to a halt while simultaneously emptying our lungs of air. We cannot breathe and that is terrifying.

It has been a season of sucker-punches for those I call friends. A freak jet ski accident claimed the life of my friend, Lynne’s son-in-law. Another friend, Kevin, lost a custody battle which leaves his youngest in a neglectful situation and him in tremendous debt. Even more grave is the report from a McAfee classmate of John’s, Jessy, in Liberia where the Ebola virus is rampant. He writes, “People are dying day by day. Please pray for the people of Liberia.”

Because of instances like these and hundreds more, hope seems in short supply. Who can begin to forge an answer for the unexplainable tragedy, life-loss and just plain struggle to survive so many face? Not me. In fact, anyone who claims to have life completely and confidently figured out scares the fool out of me. While I cannot claim to begin to have the answers,what I do know is that Christ is my best example of how to do life, my survival of any trial is a gift meant to be given to other people and there is always room for hope.

1. Guess what? Jesus was o.k. with not knowing everything so I should be, too

In Mark 13:32 with the cross not far in the distance, Jesus admonishes his disciples to be alert for his return and claims that no one but the Father knows the day or hour that will be, not angels in heaven, nor even the son. Did you catch that? Jesus, who is headed to lay down his life out of obedience to his father in utter selflessness acknowledges that even he does not need to know when his return is scheduled. You may think he’d be curious about such things, right? This boldly exemplifies Jesus’ trust in God. If Jesus did not demand answers before he obeyed perhaps we can learn something here.

2. We are not responsible for what befalls us but we are responsible for what we make of it

Dallas Cowboy’s Jason Witten, who has been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times, grew up with an abusive father. At 11, his mom and brothers fled and moved in with his Grandfather. The Boys and Girls Clubs in Elizabethtown, Tenn., helped him, “It was a challenging childhood for me and that was a place where it seemed like you go in those doors and there were people who truly cared about me.”

In turn, Jason has taken his experience and reached out to encourage others.  The polar opposite of some NFL players, he created a mentoring program for the children of women in domestic abuse shelters called The SCORE Foundation. Jason Witten is inspiring because instead of hiding the abusive past he survived, he seeks to give a hand up to those in the midst of their pain.

Whatever you have survived, there is someone in your life who needs to know that they can make it, too.

3. There is always, always, always room for hope

In the Summer of 2009, we had the wind knocked out of us. An accident left Maggie Lee in the Pediatric ICU. Sweet Dr. Travis Stork (Host of The Doctors,) sent a simple phrase through a friend of mine: there is always room for hope. Though our hope of her miraculous recovery was not meant to be, God has used that truth in my life to fill the expansive chasm of grief and lift me in a way which only he could.

When tragedy hits hard, dare to hope that despite all appearances your life is not over, your prayers are still heard and that one day you will feel normal again.  Even if doing so makes you feel as deluded as The Black Knight in The Holy Grail, dare to hope. There is always room for it.