Memorial for a Daughter 11 Years Later

Olinda is a mother, grandmother and spiritual giant. Like so often when humble people just keep moving in faith through brutal storms and arrive safely on the other side, one would never know the entirety of their struggle. That is where the power of story comes in. I love the map of hope which God reveals through the stories of other people. It awakens empathy for the individual but more than that a holy confidence in God. 

New Orleans was Olinda’s birthplace. She had few resources, many siblings, a parent with a quick temper and a neighbor who brought her to church. She grew up, worked, married and began a family. She kept the faith and instilled love for God and others to her children. One day, her adult son was tragically killed at an ATM machine in The Big Easy. A few years later her daughter died. Just days after losing her daughter, Hurricane Katrina wiped out her neighborhood. She lost everything. In the profound devastation of the flood, she never even had a memorial service for Arneker Denise. 

John interviewed Olinda and one Sunday played the video for our congregation. He is doing his Doctoral Thesis on the power of story within faith communities. That morning as The transplant’s account unfolded, the tears flowed. Not from the teller so much but rather from those of us hearing this for the first time. As if reading from a script, she recounted matter-of-factly the major events of her life. The compounded loss was just unthinkable to me. We remained quiet as the video came to completion. A holy hush of surreality descended upon the chapel. Against all odds and in the face of grief of Biblical proportion, Olinda still loved God. I was completely astounded. 

When The Spirit moves, amazing things happen. Ralph, an Elder in our church, was touched by Olinda’s story and approached John about having a long-awaited memorial service for Arneker Denise. What a brilliant idea. That service is happening tonight. This evening we honor someone most of us never knew who died more than a decade ago in a city at the opposite end of our state. We memorialize this child and stand amazed at her mother whose story has impacted us all. She is a flesh and bone example that God can enable a soul to enlarge when all circumstances would dictate it shrivel and disappear. That’s faith. That’s love. That’s one amazing story.

The Price You Pay

The price you pay for amazing light is your soul’s darkness when that light is gone. In a year or two or five when your grief quiets down you will hear your loved one’s voice and you will wonder how you were ever so blessed to have that light in your life. 

@jinnyhenson

Seven Year Itch

Seven years ago today my family gathered around Maggie Lee’s bedside and John commended her spirit to The Lord. Test results concluded beyond a doubt that she was already gone. The beautiful, creative brain which produced hilarity and song lyrics showed no activity. We said our initial farewells, signed organ-donor consents  and updated thousands of faithful petitioners that we had not received our miracle. 

I remember so vividly our seventh anniversary in Dallas in 2001. The card John gave me as we ate dinner in some Irish restaurant on Knox Street had the words, “The only thing I’m itching for is more of you.” I know, I got a keeper. At that point seven years seemed a lifetime. 

Reflecting on those building years brings an ooze of blissful gratitutude; not only because we were all together but because those training-wheel trials of parental cancer readied our marriage and souls for the biggie which was to come. Silly me, I thought those were the biggies. Without such warm-up, though, I could have easily now be living out of a shopping cart with five dogs. Rather than four. 

Earthly life as the book of James reminds us is a vapor. A mist quickly fading.  A pan flash of 12 or 82 years. All comparatively nano-seconds to an eternal God. But even if it’s just a vapor, I long to have my vapor matter.  If we are mere vapes then may we vape well. I only want the power of God’s grace to make its way through me. I long for the everlasting to abide and energize me because time is indeed so short.

 The thought hit me as I taxied Jack and three of his squad home from Six Flags last week. The weather was stormy and there was lots of mist to drive through. Maybe it was the amalgamation of rain, perspiration and netflix in that cab but I swear it was a holy insight. I know life is short and I want my time to matter. I have found the bird’s eye view of connecting those in need to those who have a little extra to give intoxicating. Like setting up two friends who desperately need one another. 

To that end Khaki Fair will happen tomorrow. Maggie Lee’s Closet along with a slew of community partners will provide uniforms, education and books to some of NW Louisiana’s most vulnerable little people. Hair dressers and barbers on hand to spiff them up for their first day of school. 

Step Forward, a group which is combating root causes of our cities’ poverty has brought to our attention the 30 million word gap issue. Essentially kids who succeed in our schools have been exposed to 30 million more words by age three than those who will fail. 

Get this: the brain actually feeds on words as our kids bodies feed on food it turns out. The interaction between parent / guardian and child sets up kids for success or failure. Now that we’re aware of this, we can bring this information to parents seeking uniforms to equip them to change their lives while meeting the emergent need of clothing for those in crisis.

Maggie Lee’s brain and soul I shall never be able to duplicate or describe but I am inspired by her memorable spirit to nurture these beautiful kids in some small way. And in uniform form help them to know that immense, amazing love I have by God’s grace discovered. Which does not by the way make me a good detective. It’s everywhere.

Vape well.

Three Easy Steps to The Perfect Marriage…Buahhhh


Today John and I have been married 22 years. Our marriage is so old that it could’ve ordered a beer last year. That’s old. The great truth I have learned is that the longer you are married the less you expect of your spouse and the more you expect of yourself. I have learned much from this opposite I married.

In the infancy of our dating period, John cooked dinner for me. In his deadpan humor he teased me about my utensil usage. Manners being of paramount importance to me, I was devastated. I wept on the phone to my Mom and Dad that night. “Mother, he criticized me for not using a knife on his chicken. It was a free-standing chicken breast. Very. Tender.  He. Thinks. I do. Not. Have. Mannnnnerss.”

I could literally hear my Southern Mother’s neck hair stand up through the phone. “It is completely acceptable to use a fork to cut ANY poultry which is not on the bone.” Miss Manners replied. My Father had more pedestrian words to offer,  “Reel him into the boat and if you get him in there and don’t want him, you can always throw him back” My bruised feelings over his imagined criticism quickly faded but my romantic feelings did not.

I couldn’t throw him back. I was smitten from the first time I saw him walk across campus with his monogrammed L.L.Bean book bag.  He had me at the monogrammed L.L.Bean book bag. In a sea of Divinity students who not only exegeted Hebrew passages about Noah’s flood but appeared by their pant length to be anticipating a second one, John was a stand-out.

We actually first met six years prior to seminary when my high school choir sang at his home church in Tyler. They were one of our “concert” stops. Such the Baptist love story. I briefly dated one of his high school buddies and after college in Seminary this guy kept telling me that I looked familiar. He connected the dots before I did and we have been together ever since.

The first time John came home to Houston, my Father greeted him with a huge bear hug. The look on John’s face was reminiscent of the picture of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby. He comes from a long line of hand-shakers which is totally great, just different from that which I was accustomed. I have come to realize that life is not done your way or the wrong way. These are the things you do not necessarily  know going in.

Tonight James Taylor is in town. He was so sweet to schedule this date for us. I have loved his music since college. His is the first song on the first mix tape I ever made for John and I labored to his greatest hits with both of my children. James is boss. So we will celebrate this love God has graciously given and the love we have chosen to stick with in good times and bad. His book bag and dark hair are gone but he will forever have me: heart and soul.

Ain’t Every Year a Pinterest Year

  
I adore wrapping presents. My first paid job where I had to give my social security number was in the Neiman’s Christmas wrapping sweatshop in the underbelly of the Houston Galleria store. I was a clueless High School Sophomore who had an in with the Manager of Men’s Suits: he was my Dad. That was the same year that the wife of a prominent Houston attorney accidentally received the holiday gift intended for the man’s girlfriend, complete with hand-written note. Oops.

It was there among the 100-pound rolls of gorgeous paper and teeny gold elastic ribbon that I learned the art of gift-wrapping. My Father actually took the time to teach me how to press each corner impeccably and how to fold the edges with double-sided tape. He cared about the details almost a millionth as much as he did me.  He wanted me to do well and eventually be moved onto the floor where he could see me more. All in due time. 

I have carried the essence of my Neiman’s parcel-perfecting education with me into the Big Lots reality of my life. With the right box and bow anything is possible. Some years for Father’s Day I do the memory of Pop’s standards proud with a coordinated theme or just adorable World Market wrappings. For lack of time and inspiration, this year it was a recycled Bodacious Barbeque to-go bag. As the guys were loading me up Friday Night I thought “that bag is perfect for the present I’ve yet to buy John for Father’s Day in 48 hours.” 

(In my defense my car Evangeline was in the shop all week and I was totally off my game. Did y’all know July 4th is like 2 weeks away. What’s UP?) 

The wrapping skills my Father taught me were far overshadowed, however, by another lesson: “It’s the thought that counts.” It is. Truly. Whether we’ve had just enough money for me to cook John’s favorite meal or been wealthy enough to buy World Market wrapping paper (and even an actual present!) the thought has been there. How could it not be? John is my closer. You know when that selfish person shoves crap in a closet to the point where the door won’t shut and walks innocently away? That is me. John is the patient soul who sorts through the numerous items to make things close properly. 

John is the steady hand to my Chicken-Little anxieties and a human reminder that I should Carpe my Diem. He is good to the core and he loves my Mom. As a Father he has always been loving, faithful and fair. He led our kids to Christ and prayed with them. He has spent his life in ministry extending God’s love to those passed-over. The truth is simple: God’s love leaves no one out. Neither does John. He does not think others should be required to pay for the grace he was freely given. Crazy concept, right?

So this year I will celebrate the guy with a barbecue bag. And a few thoughts on why I’m crazy blessed. I could never explain it all and he would recoil if I tried. I do offer my humble admiration to my polar opposite and my faithful closer of closets.