"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from my house to yours! I hope everyone has a beautiful holiday full of love and joy.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Before and After: The Tragedy in Newtown

I don’t have anything new to add to this conversation. I don’t have any wise words about why a young man chose to kill his mother, then 26 innocent people at an elementary school, then take his own life. I have assumptions regarding mental illness, pain, being at an age when serious mental illness often takes its strongest grip, and access to guns that should only exist in the military or on the movie screen. But those are assumptions. They help me reason through moments when I want so badly to understand, but in the end, they are just guesses.

Nothing in recent memory has upset me as much as the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. I have cried when watching television coverage, I have wept when reading articles detailing events that no kindergartner or first grader should ever experience. Most troubling, out of nowhere over the past week, I have shed tears when simply thinking about all that happened. How will the parents that lost children ever get those images out of their heads? How do they somehow find peace after losing a child so senselessly? How will the surviving children ever again see school as anything but a war zone- a temple of fear- a place of loss and terror? How will the community ever lift this cloud of grief? How do you contemplate, plan, and attend countless funerals in such a tiny town- all leading up to the Christmas holiday?

One thing that struck me from the beginning, on that Friday when the news was just breaking, was what school was for me at that age. It was a safe haven. I absolutely adored kindergarten especially, but all through my elementary years, school was my safe place, my favorite place. I knew what to expect, there were no unplanned shifts in tension or trouble as there were at home. I still had my own anxieties, but they had nothing to do with not feeling safe or worrying gunmen might come into the building and harm us. It’s bad enough for the children that have been exposed to the news about Newtown, and then must return to their school building and hallways, trying to readjust to the new normal the world has created. But how in the world will the children that survived this massacre in Newtown, who actually witnesses their teachers and friends murdered in front of their eyes, ever wall the hallways of any school now or later in life, without flashbacks and fear, looking over their shoulder on the way to the library for lurking dangers?

This breaks my heart. Their innocence is gone. Children are thankfully resilient and mighty, and have an ability to face the sadness life gives them and make it part of their new being in a magical way. But, I fear this is almost too much to ask, even of the most resilient child.

What I am thankful for in all of this madness is that we, as a country, are finally talking about gun control. To be clear, as I always try to be, I am not in favor of taking away all guns from everyone. I only want automatic assault weapons that have no business in anyone’s hands off the market. Illegal. Nearly impossible to get. Will it solve all the problems? No. Will we never again have another tragic shooting in a school or workplace? Sadly, I doubt that will be the outcome. But, I believe strongly that it will lessen the numbers and instances. One other thing I have learned is that if you are on the other side of the gun argument, I cannot change what you think, and you cannot change my view. I am not going to try here. At least we are all talking. At least I am seeing a shift in Washington, and I believe newer laws and restrictions will come out of this tragedy to make a difference.

This tragedy changed things because so many of the victims were so young, so innocent, so defenseless. But honestly, in the face of an automatic weapon, we are all defenseless. I couldn’t help but think about the parents of victims of other school shootings such as Columbine, other parents who have fought for gun control after the loss of their child in such a senseless manner. I am sure these parents are happy to finally see gun control discussed, but I wonder if they aren’t thinking—“why wasn’t my child’s death important enough to make this happen?” It’s a fair question. Maybe we wouldn’t be in such pain right now, maybe we wouldn’t have lost 20 six year olds if this had been addressed earlier.

After Columbine, I remember there was a lot of anger and hatred for the gunmen. Everyone was lashing out at their parents, assuming they were somehow responsible, that they knew everything their children were planning, or that they were so neglectful that this tragedy left blood on their hands. I was part of that group that could not believe the parents had no idea what was about to happen—the weapons, the planning, the anger. For a long time, I kept that opinion. Then, I read Susan Klebold’s heart-wrenching essay. Later, I read the book Columbine by Dave Cullen, and I realized that the truth is far murkier.

After the tragedy in Newtown, I didn’t see the same public reaction of absolute hatred for the gunman. I saw the reaction more towards the true cause of any tragedy like this—mental illness and gun control. This is where the concerns should be. Until we figure out what is breaking people, what is bringing them to their knees and to the point of making a decision to kill innocent people in large numbers, we won’t be able to prevent future tragedies.

I wish I knew an answer. I wish I could turn back time and bring these tiny children back to their families and make the community whole. I wish I didn’t think about what their last moments were like- how confusing and terrifying everything must have been. How, I am sure, they wanted their mommies and daddies in such scary circumstances. I wish their parents didn’t have to have those same thoughts, which must torture them in ways that are unimaginable.

All I can do now is hope for their healing. Hope for some peace in a tiny town that couldn’t have seen evil approaching in such a horrible, final way. Hope that whatever change we bring about as a country helps guide some lost souls to a place of healing instead of lashing out at the world in such deadly actions.

Truly, all that is left to do is hope.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

All that Brought us Here

We are now the sum of all that brought us here-
            the long, lonely road that somehow kept us both single,
                        waiting for each other.

Every step, every triumph, every loss, every disappointing detour-
            became a piece of our souls that would one day
                        only better connect us.

If only we could have known then that we each were out there-
            waiting for one another-- it would have been
                        so much easier.

If only our paths had crossed sooner--so many more days together-
            but then, it wouldn’t be what it is now,
                        and now is all I ever wanted.

Here with you-the paths diverged, lives intertwined, hearts together-
            all that brought us here-- it’s who we are now.
                        The sum, the beginning, and everything in between…us.

Happy 2nd Anniversary to my husband, best friend, soulmate, and partner in crime, Shea. I love you.


Friday, November 2, 2012

My Walk

Walking down this street
In a city I thought was my past
So distant but not forgotten
A part of my soul-
left here with regret wrapped up in goodbye.

And here I am
Only better this time around
Not alone, not lonely
All the pieces slowly
found their way back- connecting in some random, dreamed-up destiny.

All the ‘I nevers’ rescued
The ‘if onlys’ forgiven
The best parts of me survived the fire
Ashes scattered behind me-
lost in the wind- coloring the breezes of another sky.

Walking down this street
In a city that is now my home
Hope gleaming from the corners and rooftops…
I take it all in, savoring this short walk
that was years in the making, just waiting for me…to take the next step.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Finally Found You, Part 2

From the moment her information appeared in front of me, glowing on my computer screen, I knew that I would call her. I knew I would hear her voice, and learn things, whether she answered my questions or not. My mother’s best friend and my aunt were both shocked that I was prepared to be so brazen; concerned about who this woman was, and what I would learn. There was no choice for me. I had to contact her.
That didn’t mean I wasn’t nervous. My hands shook and I paced in my tiny apartment for almost a half hour before I got to courage to sit on my bed, pull the phone from my nightstand, and dial the numbers. My heart was pounding. I didn’t know what to expect, but I had to know something.
Someone once told me that it’s the unknown things that tear you apart. You can deal with what you know- good, bad, horrible- you can find a way to make it through. The unknown leaves you no path, no light at the end of the tunnel. That made sense. The need to know. The need to fill in the missing pieces of my father’s life, the mysteries of his anger and dependence on alcohol. Dialing those numbers felt like I was turning the dial on a safe, getting ready to pull open a heavy door that would help me understand.
What I didn’t know was that I was opening a door to 30 some-odd years of existing on secrets, lies, and facades. I didn’t know that opening the door to the truth could shatter my foundation instead of strengthening it. I had no idea.
I was ready for her to answer the phone. His mistress. One of many, I suspected, but the only one I knew of for sure. The only one that was real to me. The phone rang three times and the voice on the other end was not at all what I was suspecting. A small child sang the word hello to me, dragging out the multiple syllables while rustling the receiver. I froze. I asked if his mommy was named her name. He answered yes, and told me she was in the next room. Should he get her? Yes, I answered, listening to his clomping footsteps carry the phone to her. In that moment, I was counting the years back to Atlanta and the years in between, trying to see if the age was right. Trying to reconcile the fact that I might have been speaking to a half brother. Still digesting that, I heard her voice.
Very southern. The unmistakable drawl of well-bred, old money Atlanta. Now in Florida.
“This is (I said his name)’s daughter.”
Her response was all I needed. It told me everything.
In a panicked voice she asked, “Is he alright?!? Is he OK??”
Not the response I expected. But what had I wanted, really?
Did I want her to say Who? Whose daughter? Who is this? Who is he?
Did I want to then wonder if she was just a good liar? Or did I really not want it all to be true? In theory, that would be great, but then, what would that mean to everything I thought I knew? All the hunches, suspicions… and all the fallout of living with a father who had chosen someone else and something else instead of being with his family. Really with his family.
No one asks if someone is alright like that unless they care, unless they are involved.
I assured her he was just fine. So was his wife.
She was momentarily stunned, which didn’t seem to be a far distance for her to travel. Not speaking out of ill will, just the facts, she was not the sharpest tool in the shed. I remember picturing a younger Rose Nyland from the Golden Girls in my head as I talked to her. Only maybe not so innocent. Or maybe she was.
I clarified a few things for her. He had another daughter (she only knew about me). He was not single, he was still married. He was not the age she thought he was, he was about 10 years older than that. That seemed to be the thing that concerned her most of all, but none of it seemed to really be getting through. It just seemed like new information, nothing damning to her, nothing that really changed anything.
The damning things came from her direction.
How he spoiled her. How he drove to her house to pick her up and wouldn’t ever let her walk to the car, he had to carry her. How gentlemanly he was, opening doors for her, taking her places. I had to lay down. I was nauseous. This man she was describing, at great length, was a man I had never met. And my mother for damn sure had never met him. Never once, ever in my life would I describe any of his actions toward my mother as spoiling her. This was a man for whom I had to buy my mother’s birthday and Christmas gifts, handing the greeting cards to him for his signature. This was a man that never, ever, thought of my mother first, or celebrated anniversaries or special occasions unless friends prompted and arranged everything. I was seething and sick at the same time. She continued to blather on, Rose-Nylund style, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was giving details to the daughter of a married man she was sleeping with, details she shouldn't be sharing. Details that were turning my insides and breaking my heart.
“STOP!” I said, louder than I meant to.
She did. Sensing I was now upset, she began backpedaling, saying it was over now, and had been for some time. I told her I found that a little hard to believe since my father was now moving to Florida, her state of residence. She stumbled and made explanations, assured me I was wrong.  When I asked when it had ended, she couldn’t answer, laughing nervously and changing the subject. She wasn’t quick enough to answer my accusations. She didn’t need to be.

I ended the call, hung up the receiver and stumbled to the bathroom to throw up.
My mother’s face kept flashing before me. I should have told her years ago, back in Atlanta. It had gone on forever. I never imagined he was having relationships with these women, real relationships. I didn’t know he was capable of it. Only, he was. Just not with his wife. Not with his family.
Not with us. Not with me.
My mother’s best friend reassured me about my decision not to tell my mom years ago. She knew why I had made the decision back in Atlanta. Even though others didn’t know for sure about my father’s infidelities, there had been suspicions. My mother was always so fragile and innocent, so dependent on my father. I had tried in the past to ask her about their relationship, even broached the subject of him cheating. She would not discuss it. Not in an angry way, she just changed the subject and slipped into the comfort of denial. It was maddening. No matter how you pushed, she blankly stared back, refusing to acknowledge any words she didn’t want to hear.
I had a new decision to make now.
It was one thing to live in denial, to make choices based on turning a blind eye, but it was another to be pulled from everyone and everything you know and be taken somewhere strange and new for someone else’s selfish reasons. I imagined her withering away, being abandoned even worse than before. I had to tell her. I had to make her listen to these words, to what was happening. Jolting my mother into reality wasn’t going to be easy. Or without pain.
I took a few personal days from work and made the seven hour drive home, practicing my speech along the way. My father was going to be out of town working, and she and I would be alone. No plans, just a visit, I told her. She was thrilled that I was coming to see her, to spend time with her. She always was. It broke my heart.
I was struggling with everything, but at the same time, I felt so strong. I thought that maybe, for that for the first time in my life, I might be able to change the family dynamic- extract some of of the dysfunction somehow.
I imagined my mom on her own, finding strength she never knew she had, surrounded by friends who would support her and love her and help her build a life she could count on. I saw her living in the present instead of in denial…nothing to hide or be ashamed of, no secrets or betrayals.
But, I knew her, I knew how emotionally frail she was. I knew how devastating it would be to hear this from her daughter. I knew how private she was and how this would feel so invasive.
Usually, the seven hour drive home seemed endless. This time, it was too short. I was pulling into the driveway before I knew it. Sitting in my car, hesitating to go inside.
How do you begin the conversation that will change your mother’s life?

For Part 1 in this series of posts, click here.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Finally Found You, Part 1

For most of my life, my mother’s happiness was my main concern. I have fretted over what she doesn’t have, what she has lost, and what I wished for her. So much so, that I ended up sacrificing my own happiness at times. In the mixed-up maze of my family background, I felt the only way I could come out safely on the other side was to see her happy.
It’s not her fault. She didn’t set out for that, it wasn’t her goal. At times, she has asked too much of me, but only because she has felt so little true love in her lifetime. She cried out for me from a place of great loneliness and disappointment.
I have always tried to answer. Only when the weight of everything threatened to drown me did I finally realize that the balance was truly off. I always thought making your mother happy couldn’t be wrong. It wasn’t wrong, it was just overwhelming. Too much. Too much from a person whose own sense of being was hanging from very delicate threads.
My mother married at 16. In the photos I remember of her wedding, the photographer is too close to the bride and groom, obviously cramped in a tight space--the tiny living room of a relative. Their faces are blurred, too indistinct to see their expressions. My mother wears a simple dress, my father in something like a suit. The flash is too bright, the images overexposed.  They are figures in a room of onlookers, taking part in a sweet ceremony somewhere in the hills of rural Kentucky—coal mining country—where marrying at 16 wasn’t unheard of, or even unusual. They had no money, no idea what was next.  My father was 20 years old and became my mother’s future in that moment. For better or worse.
My destiny was also carved in that tiny living room. Their paths created mine, setting in motion years of pain they couldn’t imagine, standing there taking vows, ready to escape their own histories and lives of poverty and longing.
None of the pain was planned. No one like this sets out to hurt everyone, to abandon their vows and promises. No one strives for alcoholism or regrets. Yet, choices are made and the line between destiny and choice grows blurry. What kind of fate has this kind of outcome? Whose destiny does this all benefit?
My mother is now heading into her seventies. Her hands look frail; her eyes look tired to me. She still carries a beauty with her that I would be grateful to see at her age. She still sees only what she wants to, deals only with the superficial, and somehow looks the other way when something too painful to handle occurs. I marvel at her denial, and at times rage against it, demanding that she admit to me that she remembers things that haunt me in dreams and waking hours. These things truly happened, but somewhere in the world she lives in, they are locked away permanently. It took me so many more years to heal because of her locked away secrets. But, it is also the only way she knows to survive.
In my first years out of college, I finally landed in Atlanta, Georgia with a real job and hopes of a career future. The distance from my family-about a five hour drive- had honestly been good for me. I was finding my own way, still uncertain, so much more to figure out, but I had a little space to clear my own path. My father’s job led him to Atlanta from time to time, and he called while he was in town, and occasionally, we would meet somewhere for dinner, usually under my mother’s encouragement, both of us only getting together because it made my mother happy, and quieted her demands for it to happen.
A new feature was being introduced in the market where I lived for residential phone service. It was called Caller ID. My apartment complex was taking part in being one area of a test market. The little cumbersome box sat next to my phone in the bedroom, the readout offering the end of the mystery of who was calling. The phone rang, and instantly, the caller’s name and number appeared.
My father had arrived in town one week, and my mother had let me know he would be calling me on a Friday morning. Around 8am that morning, I was still in bed, and the phone rang. I picked it up, and heard my father’s voice, but saw a woman’s name scroll across the caller ID screen. I was distracted, and my father’s words pulled me back to the conversation. I hadn’t heard a word he had said, and I interrupted. “Where are you?” I asked. There was a pause. “I am at the Holiday Inn in Buckhead”. My turn to pause. “Can you call me right back?” I asked.  He agreed.
Maybe this Caller ID thing was faulty. Maybe it was a glitch.
The phone rang. The same woman’s name appeared. I picked up the phone and acted as if nothing was wrong. He planned to come by my apartment that day. Mom had sent some things for him to deliver to me. We settled on a time, and hung up.
I laid in bed for a moment, and then went searching for my phone book. First, I scoured the hotel listings and called every hotel in Buckhead, GA after not finding him at the Holiday Inn. No one with my father’s name at any one of them.
Then, I grabbed the Caller ID box and scrolled through the names of recent callers. I settled on the woman’s name, and scribbled it down on a piece of paper along with her phone number.
I turned to the residential listings in the phone book and found her. Right there, staring back at me. Her name, her address.
When the time came for my father to visit, I was ready. Palms sweating, heart racing, but I was ready. It was no secret to me that my father wasn’t faithful to my mother, but I had never had any kind of proof. It was always just something I sensed, even when I was little. Even before I really understood what it all meant, something in me just knew it. It was never spoken about or discussed. But I knew.
Even though a large part of me still felt fearful of my father, I felt a need to do this—to confront him. To hear his answers. I was ready for a fight. I was ready to remind him that the betrayal went beyond his marriage. He was also betraying me—our family.
He arrived and I didn’t even let him set the bag down that my mother had sent. I asked him where he was staying. He responded with the same hotel. I told him I had called there, and everywhere else in Buckhead. He didn’t miss a beat. He almost looked amused. His response was that he traveled so much in this area that sometimes he forgot where he was. He said it was a Holiday Inn in a different location.
I said her name.
I asked who she was.
I expected an explosion. I expected him to be defiant and tell me what was and wasn’t my business. Instead, he fell into an abyss of a million excuses. She was the girlfriend of a friend, he was staying at her house with this friend to save money. He asked me to please not tell my mother, she didn’t like when he and his friend did things like this.
I bet not.
He had only stayed there last night and would get a hotel tonight, he promised.
This new side of my father was hard to take in. I had never seen him weak before me, but my ambush and information had caught him off guard.
He mumbled a few other excuses and promises and got out of my apartment as soon as he could.
I remember that I had a date that night. A second date with someone I liked.  I had contemplated cancelling, but had waited too long to decide. He showed up a few hours after all of this had taken place and I was in a fog. In a weird (for him) scenario, he showed up to take me on a second date, and I blurted out everything that has just happened, warning him I might not be myself for the evening. Great set up, I know. Predictably, the evening was short, and I was home, still in my fog, by 9:30pm.
I called a close friend and updated him on the events of the day. I told him I wanted to go and drive by the woman’s house. Just to see, I wasn’t sure why. He offered to go with me. I told him I wanted to go by very late, like 2 or 3am. He was in.
We took the phone book page with us in the car, and drove around, finally finding the neighborhood she lived in. My hopes were dashed when I realized she lived in a gated community. We sat in the car, staring at the gate, with an attendant inside. Somehow, my friend came up with a story to tell, and a few fibs later, we were through the gate.
Her house was on the back end of a cul-de-sac. It was massive-- a huge, gorgeous house in one of the most exclusive areas of Atlanta. And there, at 2:30am in the morning, in her driveway, sat my father’s car. The house lights were dark. No other cars but hers (with Georgia plates) were parked near the house. I knew the friend my father had spoken of, the one who supposedly was the real reason he had stayed at this house. I knew his car. It was nowhere in sight.
My friend reached over and took my hand. “I am sorry, Kim”.
Me too.
In the strangeness that is my mother’s mode of survival, in the weirdness that you can only understand if you come from a family where alcoholism, codependence, and denial are considered “normal”, I didn’t say a thing to my mother. Or to anyone else in my family. I knew my mother probably already knew. If she didn’t, it wouldn’t change anything. She wouldn’t leave. And to be honest, I didn’t know if she could handle knowing that I knew. It may sound bizarre reading those words. I can promise you that it is even more bizarre writing them.
Years passed and I moved a few dozen times—all across the country and back. Every time I unpacked, I came across an antique wooden box where I kept a few special papers and mementos. The page from the phone book was folded neatly and tucked inside. Every now and then, I would pull it out and look at her name. It wasn’t circled or marked, but I was drawn to her name every time. That phone book page was a symbol to me of all the things I had guessed but never been sure of, all of the things and people my father chose over my mother and our family. At least I wasn’t crazy; I hadn’t imagined these things were happening.
Fast forward seven years. Abruptly, out of nowhere, my mother and father announce they are moving to Florida. What might have seemed like a normal migration after retirement rang false with me and my mother’s sister and closest friends. It was normal for my mother to follow suit and do whatever my father said, but my father’s choice to move was odd. He was desperately close to his two grandsons, my nephews, really playing the role of doting father in their lives. My mother had a job and a close, protective circle of friends. It was hard for my mother to make friends due to her shyness and insecurity, so the few close friends she trusted were precious.
I spoke with my mom’s best friend, whom I was also close to, and we fretted together. We worried about the real reasons behind the move, about how my mother would fare in a place where she knew no one and had no real outlet to meet and befriend people. We worried about her moving to a place far away from everything and everyone she knew-and where my father was truly her only lifeline.
Something in my gut told me there was more to the story. And somehow, instinctively, I went to the antique wooden box and pulled out the yellowing, tattered phone book page. I went to my computer, navigated to Google search and typed in her name. Her name from all those years ago in Georgia. Her name and information magically popped up. Her new phone number and address, readily available on the screen.
It was too easy. It was too awful.
She now lived in Florida.
To view Part 2 in this series of posts, click here.

The artwork featured in this post if from the Family Chic blog. To see this piece in more detail, visit Camilla Fabbri's blog by clicking here.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Who Can You Give Your Bagel?

There are sometimes when I read something, and I am so inspired to share it that I immediately update my Facebook status, type my 140 characters on Twitter, and then, point my browser to Blogger to get the word out. This is one of those posts.

Since we moved to California, I have been even more aware of the issue of homelessness, because frankly, on every corner, I am seeing it. It's more prevalent here than it was in our former home state of South Carolina. Even though we live in a little suburban area well outside of the city of San Francisco, I see it. Every day.

The problem with seeing it every day is that you start to get used to it. It is sad but true. In the first days when we moved here, I was stopped in my tracks by seeing a person sleeping in the doorway of my local bank. Five months later, I notice, but I am not quite as frozen in place with each sighting.

Please take a few moments to read this piece posted by Julianna Morlet this morning. A friend of mine shared this on Facebook, and her comments on the post made me click through and read. I was moved to tears.

I struggle a great deal with faith, religion and how some people judge or hurt others in the name faith. But this post and these words are the best example of "walking the walk" of being a compassionate human being, and remembering to give, listen, and pay attention...to everyone.

This is a reminder to all of us that those struggling with homelessness, addiction, mental illness, and other tragic circumstances that take control of their lives are someone's child, someone's sibling, someone's parent...someone's connection to another life. Thank you Julianna Morlet for writing this, and to my friend Lori for sharing this today.

(I am sharing her post in its entirety here, as I don't want you to miss a word)

Who Can You Give Your Bagel?
by Julianna Morlet
"Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor." Proverbs 22:9 (ESV)
I woke up at 5 a.m., hit my snooze button, dragged myself out of my warm sheets and started my normal-every-Tuesday-morning-routine. I drove to Starbucks, swapped the typical weather jokes with my favorite barista, ordered my grande coffee and bagel, and walked out the glass door.
What wasn't routine was the scraggly teenage boy I ran into on my way to my truck. He was asking for something. Though I didn't clearly hear him, I assumed it was money.
I told him I was sorry but I didn't have any, and continued on.
He didn't ask again and he didn't pester me. But something in my head did. Did he ask for money or food?
Quickly, I spun around and asked, "Do you need food?" His reply was so innocent and affirmative. I held out my goodie bag. "Here ya go, a toasted bagel with cream cheese made just for you." He smiled so big, I thought his lip ring was gonna pop out.
I didn't think anything of it until I got in the truck and started pulling away. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the boy peeling open the cream cheese, carefully and joyfully, like it was Christmas morning.
On my drive to the office, I wept like a broken-hearted mother.
I didn't know this boy. Had no idea what kind of trouble or circumstances got him to the streets, but I did know he was someone's son. And if my son were out on the streets, asking for food at 6:30 in the morning, I'd want that busy-looking girl to stop and give him her bagel.
Almost a month later, my mother forwarded me an email she had received from a woman in her Bible study. It read:
"Hi Alma, Viola told me she read Julianna's blog which talked about giving a hungry teenage boy her bagel. Viola wondered if it was my son Kyle because of the lip ring Julianna mentioned. I was overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude for her compassion. He was hungry and she gave him something to eat. I have attached a picture of Kyle to show Julianna to see if he is the one she fed that morning. If not, I know there is another mother out there that would be very grateful for her compassion if she knew."
I scrolled down to see the face of the boy and gasped as my eyes instantly filled with tears. It was him! The boy had a name and it was Kyle. But more than that, he had a mother. And now she knew someone had taken care of her son, even if it was just a small meal.
We are not all called to mission fields far away. We are not all called to pastor a church or lead a women's Bible study. However there is one thing we are all called to do as God's people: we're all called to stop, to be aware of the hurting around us, and to have compassion. We are called to share our bread with the poor.
The Lord asks us to care. He calls us to be on the lookout for those who need our time and kindness. And yes, our bagel and cream cheese too.
Check out the video of Julianna interviewing Kyle's mom:

To read the original post, click here.
Click here to go to Julianna's personal blog.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Places We Have Lived

I lived on my own for the first time during my freshman year in college, occupying a two bedroom apartment  in a not-so-great area of town near campus. (I have huge regrets about not living in the dorm that first year, but that’s for another post). I was so ready to start my life away from my parents, away from my father, away from my past struggles, away from the things that I felt defined me. I had no idea that so much more was ahead of me that I was not equipped to deal with. The shaky foundation of my family proved to be poor preparation for the next stage of my life. I had no idea.

Everything I saw ahead of me for college and especially that first year fell apart within the first semester. I was already dating the man I was certain I was going to marry, that I had met just before the end of my senior year in high school. He was also my first love, my first real relationship. It was innocent and burdened-- lovely and flawed. Looking back, we never stood a chance because I had no idea who I really was or why I had so little faith in myself. I had not yet begun to define or heal the wounds that were taking a little more of my happiness every day. I had planned on a lifetime with him. We didn’t make it to Christmas.

Having been an honors student in high school, I thought I would repeat that success in college. I never worried about my academic abilities, and had no idea how emotionally trying it would be to sit in a huge lecture hall of hundreds of students I didn’t know, trying to figure out where I fit in and why nothing seemed to make sense. The weight of it all was smothering me. Nothing I thought I could depend on was lasting or working out. It all fell apart so fast.

I wasn’t equipped to deal with such independent choices, a serious relationship, or living on my own, and I certainly wasn’t equipped to deal with losing it all in a matter of months. All the things I had looked forward to, the things I had banked on that were my light at the end of the tunnel, were mirages. At the beginning of my life as I saw it, I had lost everything.

The worst part was that people judged me so harshly. I was viewed as this unstable girl who fell apart after her boyfriend left her. In part, that was true. It became a joke in the circles I had traveled in, my classmates. I was laughable, ridiculous. I will never, ever forget how that felt. I was so confused and felt so alone. The words others said, many of them people that I had come to regard as close friends, still ring in my ears at times of doubt, this many years away from all of that.

I am sure it was a foreign thing as a young person who had grown up in a stable, supportive family to watch someone like me disintegrate…or worse, seem fine one day and a wreck the next. We were so young. No one is supposed to be wise and enveloped in the capability to see the big picture and the real reason behind such things. I know all of that now, but it still hurt and took me so long to understand. I had a few close friends during college, one I had known in high school, another I made during my freshman year that were the exceptions and somehow had that wisdom. I am forever in their debt for the support they gave me during that first year and the years after at that time in my life.

When I go back in time in my mind, or when I reread a journal page as I am rearranging a bookcase, in the same way a song or a scent can transport me back to a singular moment…the place I lived during that first year in college is as clear to me as the four walls I am looking at now. I can see the marked, scuffed wooden floors, the metal blinds that made constant noise when I had the windows open, the bathroom with the black and white checked tile that crawled up the walls, the two small steps that led into the kitchen from the backdoor that I must have walked up and down a thousand times. The pink phone that hung on the wall in the hallway, and the countless nights I sat in the floor just below it, twirling the cord in my fingers, talking to close friends that I missed desperately who were far away at other campuses. The pieces of furniture that a teacher and friend gave me to help me make my start in the world. The way the sheer curtains in my bedroom blew in the breeze at night and floated above me as I laid awake.

I cannot believe the perfect still pictures I have in my mind of that little apartment that was nothing extraordinary, except that it was a beginning for me, and a place that honestly, to this day, brings a physical pain when I think back.

I started a tradition then, quite by accident. When I was moving out of that apartment once my lease was up, I had just finished putting the last small items in my car. I had cleaned and scrubbed and was taking one last walk through to make sure that I hadn’t forgotten any detail or left anything behind. I remember it was getting dark and I just kind of froze. I remembered that a year before, I had walked through this empty apartment in such a different place in my life. I was full of hope, so ready for the next chapter. I was so excited about every doorknob and window screen because they were mine. Now, as I stood in the hallway, I started to cry, to really weep, over all that I had lost. Over all that had transpired in one year of my life. I lingered in every room and made a note to remember all the happy things, the first moments of the life I had imagined, the despair I felt and the tears I cried in those rooms. It was such a huge thing for me to lose that first relationship, and I said goodbye to more than just a rented apartment, I said goodbye to a huge part of my innocence and hope.

I stood in my bedroom, next to shadowy marks on the floor left behind by my brass bed. I said one simple last goodbye, walked out the door, turned the key for the last time and took a deep breath. I made a decision right then to try and leave all that sadness locked in that place. To let it stay there and somehow suffocate in the tightly closed rooms, with nowhere to escape. It was silly and dramatic, but it helped that young, lost woman that I was put one painful chapter behind her.

Without ever planning it, I followed that same ritual everywhere I lived after that. After everything was cleaned and packed, when the sound of my footsteps echoed in empty rooms, I would take that final walk through and really remember everything- the good, the bad, the minutes and moments—all of it. I would do my best to say—That was me—here. That’s done. Onto the next place in my life.

The only place I didn’t do that was my childhood home. I was so ready to fly away when I left—and there was plenty to want to fly away from. Maybe it was because I knew I could come back to that house from time to time, but even when my parents announced they were selling the house and moving to another state, I had no desire to go and say goodbye. Maybe that was a mistake, because there are things that I still haven’t made peace with. Maybe I needed to shut it all away in the rooms of that house like I did the other places I lived later in life.

Today, a picture caught my attention on Pinterest, and I clicked through to find the story of this piece of a house in the middle of a field that had intrigued me. A woman had mourned the necessary loss of her childhood home, and all the dreams she had tied to it. The house, along with other buildings on the farm, had to be burned down for safety issues after years of deterioration. In the ashes, she remembered how she, as a child, was certain she would return to this house to raise her own children. Her memories moved her to erect a monument of sorts in the same spot where the house once stood. I so connected with her relationship to a place, a home, and the hope that grew inside it. 

We all walk through the rooms of the places we have lived in one way or another I guess. The places we have lived become a part of who we are, what we were, and what we remember. 

As I sit here tonight in a home that I know is filled with love, I have found the hope I had when I first walked through the halls of that tiny apartment in North Carolina in 1988. I could have never known how many years it would take to get back to that place of hope. Every place I have lived, every address change, every risk, heartbreak, and choice has led me here. 

I am finally home.

Please visit the site for "If We Lived Here" and Paula Rebsom’s work by clicking the photo below, which inspired this blog post.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mistaken Identity

Like many Americans, I was not familiar with the Sikh faith until this past week’s horrible tragedy. I had erroneously assumed this group was part of another faith, and I was amazed at my own ignorance. I wonder if the shooter even knew who he was attacking, or if he just assumed he knew. I am guessing the latter is true.

I have been heartened to see the outpouring of support from across the world, and I so hope that for many people like me, we learned a little something. 

One of the most indelible images from 9/11 came that very day, later in the afternoon. I realized that my colleagues and I were stuck in Colorado for a business event, and it was unclear when the airports would reopen. We all just wanted to get home as soon as possible, to be close to our loved ones. I called a local rental car agency and began working on getting a few cars reserved so we could all pile in and start the drive home to California the next day.

I made the reservation and drove over to the rental location and it was a madhouse. The lines were out the door, and people were in various states of grief and shock, some talking non-stop, others in a confused silence. I waited in line, first out in the parking lot, and then slowly, I was in the doorway, making my way through the stanchioned area behind other worried travelers.

The first thing I noticed upon walking in the door was one of the rental agents. He was taller than the others and wearing a turban. My first instinct was that this was NOT the place for him to be at this time. I assumed he was Muslim, and although I knew that didn’t mean he was connected to what had happened, or even that he agreed or condoned the horrific acts, it just seemed to me that it was not the best idea for him to be there given the strong emotions so soon after the tragedy.

I now know from what I have read in the past week that he was almost certainly of the Sikh faith, not Muslim.

As I got closer to the counter, though, I noticed that he was crying. Not just a few tears, but barely able to compose himself. His face was wet with tears, and every now and then, he would stop in the middle of typing in information or printing out invoices to just let himself sob and release the obvious pain he was feeling. I had been trying to keep myself together all day, and at that moment, I broke. I started crying right there. That image of that moment has always been in my mind when I think about that day. As I got even closer, I could hear the way he was speaking to everyone, in such a gentle, caring tone, telling them not to worry about where or when they would return the cars, just to get home, or wherever they needed to be, safely.

As I read and learned more about the Sikh faith this week, everything lined up with this man I remembered. Here is a description of the “heart” of the Sikh faith: devotion to one God, who requires us to uphold equality between women and men and all peoples, and perform seva, service to our community as an expression of our faith.

I mean, honestly, how beautiful is that? How simple and gracious and beautiful.

As I hold the families affected by the shooting in my thoughts and heart, I wish for so many things. 

I wish people would try harder to understand and accept than to judge and hate.

I wish that no one had to fear going to a movie theater or a religious service for any reason.

I wish for the children of the world right now to become the generation that finally gets all of this right.

Big wishes, and probably clouded, optimistic hopes that won’t ever completely come true.

For now, I hope everyone reading this post will read this beautiful piece by Valarie Kaur that touched my heart as I read it yesterday. Click here to read Today, We are All American Sikhs.



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