Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May's Blessings

I am having a difficult time with the fact that it is the last day of May, 2017.  My mama always warned me not to wish my life away when I was yearning for the days to pass quickly to the next great adventure we had planned.  And now I know why; it seems the older I get, the quicker the days are going, becoming months and years which feel as though they just evaporate while I am unaware.  

While reading a blog post from a writer I follow, she gave me the words to  share the conundrum I have found myself in the last few months. As my friends know, John and I and our two still-at-home sons  jumped into inner city life in the final days of February and the early days of March this year.  We had been prayerfully considering our move for two-plus years. We finally decided there is no "perfect" time, so let's just jump in.   

Our family has six years of inner city ministry "under our belts."  We have worked in a ministry dedicating ourselves to an after school program involving tutoring, meals, recreation, and sharing the Bible and God's love with some of our towns most vulnerable children.  We have fallen in love with the children we serve.  We long to make their lives the best we can; but we are limited in what we can do. Our hope and prayer is that we can do it better by living among them, being available all the time instead of just a couple of hours a day several days per week. There are so many stories among the families we minister to.  I have struggled with the realization that their stories need to be shared; but their stories are not my story so they are not mine to share.  And yet, as Jesika Knight of The Knight Five wrote,  "It's not my story to tell.  But his story (her father's) is forever interwoven with mine.  And the only way I know to make sense of all this mess is to share my part in it. "

And so just as the childrens' stories are not mine, where our lives are interwoven. I try to share in ways that my friends will become aware of the consuming needs in the community in which I live.  I try to thoughtfully keep identities hidden in my writing.  

The month of May brought joy in that we got to spend quality time with three beautiful siblings bringing them to share in worship at the church we attend.  We got bonus time with them each of those three Sunday afternoons, taking them to a city park to play or to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to see their first bear; and then this past weekend, I confirmed with their mom on Saturday that we would be by to pick them up to take them to breakfast and that we would feed them lunch before returning them home to her mid afternoon on Sunday.  She told me that they would either be at her house or their daddy's house.  Sunday morning came and we couldn't find them or their mama anywhere.  We know some of her hangout spots so we drove the streets of our neighborhood searching to no avail.  It breaks my heart that they have loved going to church, the extra hugs, the Bible stories and activities and we couldn't find them.   I pray they had food to eat that day and stayed safe while roaming our streets with their mother.  

I made a new friend this month, a lovely young woman just getting started in adulthood.   She called me out of the blue, having gotten my phone number from a mutual friend.  She asked if I could take her to the emergency room; she was experiencing severe abdominal pain. We went thinking she probably was suffering from one ailment and found out that she was actually suffering from a much less serious ailment and a full recovery is mostly easily achievable. Praise God!  

The surprising part of our time together was her transparent sharing of her story with me.  She spoke openly about early childhood abuse and trauma and how it is still affecting her; she spoke about her many hospitalizations over this last year and learning to deal with the long-term affects of the abuse and the resulting conditions she must live and cope with. She also shared her plans for a bright future and the goals she has and the steps that have been outlined for and with her to achieve those goals.   She gave me hope that there are answers and that just maybe she and her generation of children of poverty might be the ones to put the family patterns behind them and succeed in overcoming and achieving a better life for their children.  

This last month has also brought a new realization that just because one pours their life, love, time and energy into the life of another, it in no way means that person loves or cares for you or would not inflict harm, or place you in a dangerous situation. And that my friends was a heartwrenching, sobering realization.  

On a personal note, two of our sons celebrated birthdays in the month of May. The oldest son is thirty-one and the next turned twenty-one. The twenty-one year old began his first professional job with a local school system after graduating from our local Tennessee College of Applied Technology.

And then just in the last week, our baby boy, aged eighteen, and I completed our final year of home education.  I have had him at home since he began fourth grade.  Again, where has the time gone?!! 

I have also had the privilege of sharing many hours with one of my best friends.  She underwent three surgeries in just a month's time due to complications and a fall and resulting fracture after hip replacement surgery.  After she came home following her third surgery, another friend of ours and I spent time with her each week day while her husband was working.  We have changed her bandages, prepared her meals, cheered her on through physical therapy.  I learned to become an advocate for her when I felt there were gaps in information or care.  I have also transported her to numerous appointments, learning that I can do this (though I was scared to death she would somehow be hurt during our first outing.)  I joke with her that she has thoroughly trained me for becoming a certified nursing assistant. 

I named this blog East Tennessee Blessings years ago after a few wonderful days with a niece and her extended family in upper East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. While my life has taken twists and turns since then, I am blessed to live out my life with God's gifts for me in beautiful East Tennessee.  All blessings come from His hand and I am an abundantly blessed woman!

My family and I covet your prayers for us and our neighbors. There was a shooting a few blocks from us this past Sunday evening just outside a church building. As I sat up late a couple of nights ago trying to quiet my mind from this month of troubles, I heard what sounded like many shots rapidly firing very close. It is difficult to distinguish if the shots are in deed close due to the proximity of our home to the houses on either side and the closeness of all the homes and buildings in our neighborhood. The sounds reverberate off our dwellings and structures and we just look at one another dumbly and say, "Did you hear that? Was that gunshots? How close do you think that was?"  The shots occur far too often. And the children we love so much are just down the street or around the corner hearing the same shots we are. Many of them are growing up not only with chaos on the streets outside their homes, but also inside.

Thank you in advance for your prayers!  I will be praying His richest blessings on you also my friends! 
 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Brokenness

"This then is how you should pray:
'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name,
 Your kingdom come,
Your will be done, (in me!) on earth as it is in heaven.
 Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.'"  Matthew 6: 9-13

 I recognized the kids first, adorable and chattering with one another. The young man was pushing the grocery cart/truck that held them all. I looked at the young woman and realized that yes, they are whom I think.  We all head to the produce section of the store. I keep watching to see if she recognizes me. We don't make eye contact until I speak to her.  I almost didn't but I'm glad I did reach out.  

She left her husband over a year ago. I have known him since he was a little boy. These kind of meetings are awkward to say the least. Unfortunately, they are becoming more common in my life.  

A few months ago, it was once close friends who let us know they were divorcing. Then a couple of months later, our daughter informed us that she and our beloved son-in-law are also separated and have filed for divorce.  

These past weeks have been one bit of bad news after another. While in the local pawn shop with a friend, I witnessed a young child comforting her mother who didn't have enough money to pay their utility bill after paying the pawnbroker the required fee for retrieving her belongings. She was screaming at the child's daddy on the phone that she needed help.

I have witnessed a house full of children disappear because the adults of the household failed to pay their utility bill. Then when at least some of the residents return, profanity, loudly and forcefully, spews very late in the night for all the neighbors to hear.  

Another young friend had to call E-911 on a stepfather because the very inebriated man's plate of food somehow came in contact with the child's mother.

Yesterday, I sat outside two courtrooms at Knoxville's City-County Building while a friend answered a subpoena as a victim/witness in a case being heard.  I saw so many broken lives filter through that hallway and shared space.  I overheard tidbits of lawyers' discussions with their clients. So many young children having to wait while the drama in the lives of their adults got put on trial!   My heart hurt for those children and their families.

The wee hours of this morning brought a distressed phone call from another friend who was having relationship issues which had to be dealt with by law enforcement.  

We are all broken, messed up, have struggles.  The sadness for me is when I watch the children become the adult, comforting the parent, calling for help, seeing too much, and losing their innocence in the chaos.  

It would be wonderful if I could claim that my children have never been "there."  But sadly and shamefully, I cannot. I've lived my own messed up days, months, and years. My children have been scarred by their arguing parents screaming at one another. They have lived in fear of their family being split up, or maybe in fear that their parents would not split up; sometimes the lines are skewed and difficult to discern.

In my opinion, there is an answer to the madness. The Bible instructs us on how to live in peace with one another. There is no magic that will make high bills, hardships, and sickness go away. But there is a way to live in peace and harmony in spite of present circumstances. There are promises made to help us through the present bad circumstances, help us live a little closer to the Original plan. There is hope for a brighter, better future and an eternity beyond our wildest dreams.   

Your Kingdom come in me Lord today and every day. Help me to reflect and shine your light into the dark places, to comfort those who are hurting, and to point them to You.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Life at The Potter's House

It is Day 19 in our new home.  We had kept our move quiet until this past Sunday.  It felt like a private thing.  

Day 1 brought tears, heart wrenching, from the deep places of the gut, tears and wailing.  It  caused this mama to question every decision she has contemplated over the last two plus years.  I didn't set out to hurt my own family when John and I set out to become inner city landlords.  I never even considered moving to the inner city myself until one of our friends misunderstood our looking at the house next door to his and thought we were looking for our own family.  The seed was planted in our hearts in that moment and over the next eighteen months, God moved us gently towards the idea of our taking up residence among the souls we had come to know and love through the ministry we shared in at the little blue house.   And then, like Jonah, we ran away from that radical idea for nearly two years.  We made excuses, found renters, suffered through what came from renters in a 100 year old house, made more excuses.  Finally, nineteen long days ago, we began our move.  The first three nights, only John and I (and our littlest dog) resided at our new home.  I returned to the suburban home the first two days for school with my senior.  And then day four brought our two youngest sons and our two biggest dogs to the city to live.  

There have been many complaints- the kitchen is too small, you are trying to bring too much of your "junk" into a house that is too small, I want to go home.   

There has been sickness:  strep throat, a sinus infection, then an allergic reaction to the antibiotic used to treat the strep requiring an ER trip.  So for the first nearly three weeks of living in our new home, I have hunkered down and concentrated on our family.  We have spent time doing school, unpacking boxes, making trips back and forth between the new and old houses.  I moved here to be an intentional neighbor, to bring the light of Jesus to those around me.   It seems my time walking the sidewalks is spent teaching only the canines in my life that the bathroom is outside while attached to a leash.   (They were used to having a backyard to go directly into to do their business and to access the neighbor's dogs and argue with them.)  The fence we have up at our new house isn't very secure and we have only let them run around out back one day while they were closely supervised by a person.)

We are SLOWLY adjusting to bright lights right outside our bedroom window all night long, sirens close by all hours of the day and night, the sound of gunfire on a regular basis (and knowing it's not our former neighbor, the gunsmith.)

Yesterday, one of my friends asked me if I had heard the gunfire the night before around midnight.   I replied that I had not but that I did hear multiple sirens just after that and that my neighbor's dogs had howled and barked for one to two hours after that.  She had heard that there had possibly been drive-by shooters about a block away from our house.   When I left her at her door, she told me to be safe and I told her the same.    

I am trusting that I will pull "us" together and we will begin reaching out to our friends we have already made and our neighbors that are not friends yet and we will begin to make new friends and share the love of Jesus in tangible ways with those around us.   

For now, I am trusting God with us and the decisions we have made and to know He is working all these things for our good.  His promises have never let me down and I know He won't forsake me now. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

HIS Love Overwhelms Me

I will sing the LORD'S praise, for HE has been good to me.
Psalm 13: 6

His love amazes me!   The way He speaks to me in numerous and unexpected ways stops me in my tracks, brings tears to my eyes.   

Early in December, I discovered a daily Advent message from Biola University which could be  delivered daily to my email inbox.  It has scripture to meditate on each day, a musical selection to listen to, a beautiful piece or multiple pieces of art to gaze upon, a short message from one of many writers/theologians.   I got behind and haven't read all of them.   But today, I opened my gift from Biola and I read.   The message touched me and then I saw the name Bach.  What?   Bach?  - Only my favorite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach.  He composed something about Jesus?  What?  And then I hit play.   My eyes filled with tears.  I could not believe that my "happy music" is titled Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and I NEVER knew it!   Let me share a brief backstory.  

My daughter and her soldier fiance decided to marry in May, 2005 in Las Vegas, NV while he was home on leave from Iraq.   They had flown to California to spend the two weeks with his mom, dad, and siblings.   Two nights later, we got a phone call asking if we could be in Vegas by the upcoming Friday.  It was Monday night.   "Sure, we will be there, we wouldn't miss it!"   We pulled our two youngest out of school a few days earlier than the system's official end and we flew our first flights and we witnessed with joy their union in the clerk's office in Las Vegas.   

Fast forward one year.  Son-in-law finished his enlistment commitment, he and daughter are living in Tennessee a few hours from us.   They had decided to renew their vows in June, 2006.  Extended family, church families, friends are invited.   I mentioned to darling daughter that I would love to be escorted to my seat with Mr Bach's music playing.  I explained to her it is my "happy music," love at first listen.   It is such a joyful piece of music.   I gave her the track number and never paid attention to the title.  I know; I'm more than a bit ridiculous!  Listen here to this beautiful piece.  

Now that I know the title, my happy music is all the happier, truly joy-full!

Last week, I stood a few feet behind a dear friend and her family as they prepared for her mother's burial.   The minister, standing between the casket and the family started reading from John 14.   I smiled to myself briefly.  Really God?   Are you speaking to me here?  Now?   That morning, I had "slept in."   My sons and husband had gotten up about the same time I did.   I missed my quiet time with God.   As they conversed and the television played in the background, I reached out to the devotional book I have been reading from daily.   I hesitated, and then I grabbed it.   Usually, I am alone and the room is quiet when I share this time with my Father.   But I reasoned with myself that it was the last day of 2016 and I wanted to see what God had to say to me on this day.   The last scripture reference listed by the author for that day's reading was John 14: 26-27.   I turned to it.   Oh my!  Verse 27 leaped off the page and into my heart, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful."

He knew what my thoughts have been since the week after Thanksgiving when our city house was broken into and robbed.  He knew about my second thoughts about the next chapter of our lives and our desire to become His ambassadors in our inner city.   He knew that I had chosen PEACE as "my word" for 2017.  And apparently He also knew that I needed a second dose of that verse for the day, for the coming year, while I stood at that graveside. I wonder if the imagery of the grave was another message to bury my fears and trust HIM in complete peace?  He knows that I quite often, just like a wayward child, have to be told more than one time what it is He wants me to know, to believe.  He is so good to me.

His love overwhelms me!