Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Setting the Table

Not that long ago I had little fingers and not-so-nimble hands that clamored up to the table for a meal, hoisting themselves into "big boy chairs" to participate in the evening ritual of eating dinner as a family.  Not that long ago I carefully set the table with an excess of napkins and some kid-friendly plate, rounding out the table with a plastic cup with a lid to prevent spills.  I went to great lengths to find cute plates that looked exciting or enticing to the boys, probably in some misguided thought that a plate with a monster on it would make eating asparagus more appealing.  We have Transformer placemats and kid sized silverware and stacks of unbreakable cups.

In a moment of reflection this morning while putting these plates away into the cupboard, I had a flash of conviction. As silly as it may sound, God can talk to you in the simple things too.  I had spent so many years protecting things from getting broken or ruined because of little fingers and little hands that I had made the world seem unbreakable to my children and in some small way let them believe I didn't trust them with the bigger things, the breakable things.  The great irony here is that the plates we used when they were little were in a give away box three moves ago because all the moving and movers had left half the set chipped or broken.  I hadn't let them use them because they were of value to me and yet now they don't even fill my cabinets. 

I read somewhere that the difference in my generation versus my grandparent's generation is we don't see the value in keeping the old because we're always interested in getting the NEW.  It is true, isn't it?  Go on E-bay and search for an iPhone 4 if you don't believe me.  She was one of 8 - the only girl with 7 brothers.  She tells me they had their squabbles but never to the degree that you hear of today - they were family and were good to each other, end of story.  I was visiting with her last fall and talking about how dysfunctional I believed my family to be.  There are 6 of us; 4 from one marriage and 2 from another; 3 boys and 3 girls.  Our family story couldn't be more different if I tried.  I rarely if ever speak to any of them, we don't live near each other and we are not familiar with each other's lives in a way that makes us familiar at all.  We are so fractured that "family" doesn't seem like a good word to describe what we are...or maybe therein lies the brokenness in our culture, what is family today?

My family is me and the three guys I share this house with.  My family is my best friend in Mississippi and my college friend in North Carolina.  My family is friends I have loved in Ohio, North Carolina, Maryland and Tennessee, friends I do love here in Oklahoma - that is who my family is to me.  If you ask my Grandma, she'd say her family is her FAMILY and her friends are her friends.  Her family is who she sat around the table with and once the table was set, they gobbled down whatever their Mom had cooked on the breakable plates and never once complained about asparagus because it was food and they were hungry.  Her Mom didn't buy plastic plates or cups and if they broke a plate, they broke a plate.  They were taught not to fight over things or toys because things and toys were scarce.  They set the table, sat around the table and that was where life happened in her home. 

One of my most sweet memories of childhood was sitting around the table to eat dinner as a family.  The place of honor at the table was the seat adjacent to our Dad and across from our Mom.  Joe and I fought over that seat almost every day.  We would talk about our day, laugh, be scolded for our choices, hear about what our Dad did at work that day - life happened around that table.

The three handsome guys I live with, we do the kitchen table thing in our house too.  Not as often as I'd like, but we do set the table, talk around the table and ask to be excused from the table. Not as much life happens around the table as I'd like either.  We are usually operating at a hurried pace trying to eat in time enough to get to the next activity and I still put those plastic plates on the table as if somehow the monster plates will keep them small, protecting them from something be broken.  We replace things that get broken with something new because it hurts to see them sad because something is broken.  Convicted again.  My Mom always told me "life isn't fair" and I didn't get it as a kid but I sure do now.  I don't feel like a parenting failure, but I do know that I have spent more than my fair share protecting them from brokenness and going out of my way to make sure nobody ends up sad...and try as I might, I could never keep the world out enough to prevent the brokenness and sadness from invading our home. I couldn't stop them from seeing that life is not fair, try as I might.  The newness always wears off and things do end up broken, that doesn't mean that life is over nor does it mean that everything is replaceable. 

Today, I am giving away the monster plates and the plastic cups because it is passed time that they know I trust them enough to live in a breakable world.  They have lived through many moves across thousands of miles, lost loved ones that made their heartache, left behind friends knowing that they would probably never see them again - I think it is passed time that I give them the credit that they can survive in a breakable world.  I have prayed over them and hovered over them when they have felt brokenness, witnessed tragedy, felt great grief.  They know and understand that GOD is the healer of our breakable world.  They know that they have a soul that cannot be broken by the world because GOD has promised to be faithful to them, even in brokenness.  They know that some things in life are irreplaceable.  They know that the irreplaceable things are not things at all - but most of the time, the irreplaceables in life are the people.  They also know that brokenness can mean irreplaceable relationships can be lost. 

I wish I had my china here - because tonight, I would set the table with that instead of the plastic plates. 

God speaks to me in the biggest moments too, but I am ever so grateful that he speaks me in the little and simple ones too.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


We live in a small town that seems to be happily nestled in this precarious place of status quo, the overwhelming urge to flee, before I too, am sucked into the mire is near impossible to escape.

And yet, somehow, we've bonded with this place. Not in a soul mate/forever/permanent type of way, but bonded nonetheless. Bonded to people and friendly faces, bonded to flat opened fields (that are all the rage in my hometown- these Okies don't understand the appeal of the flat backyard when they are all flat), bonded to my fabulous foursome that I selfishly hoard almost exclusively to myself...bonded to this place.

This came as a surprise to me, this bonding thing. I am not a joiner, a gaggle of girlfriends person or even a "people" person. I love my husband, my sweet boys, my best friend, my Mom and some close family enough to take a bullet for them, but the whole group think mentality of social relationships feels fake, lacking in authenticity and therefore exhausting, futile and pointless. So when I began to feel ties to this place I was flummoxed. How did this happen?

Little by little, I realized, I had let people and life actually take up space in my day to day goings on. The years of being gypsies had hardened me and instinctively, I wanted to protect my family and self from any perceived threat to maintaining our constant survival mode.  Guarding, I am always on guard.  And yet, we are bonded to this place.

So, as I processed what it meant to "feel" bonded,  I began to explore what it could look like if I let someone know that I gave a darn. There are many passions that run deep in my heart. Politics, freedom, the heroism of soldiers, the importance of seeking God with all you are and all you have...the list goes on, but if you know me at all, you know I am crazy about my kids.  I have spent a good amount of my life caring for someone else's and then my own children.  I get kids.  I especially "get" the kids that struggle with everyone else.  I don't know how or why, but I do.  I love the kids that disturb the classroom, that beg for attention and get it in any way, shape or form, that need one person to see them for who they are not how they behave.  I would rather be with a group of silly kids than a group of grown-ups any day of the week.  There is no pretense, they are painfully honest and much more willing to forgive.  They see the world with less skepticism and cynicism and more wonder.  I would go to battle for my children because I love them, care about their future and want to see the world touched by how they live out God's will for their lives. So, as I contemplate what it means to be bonded to this place, I have to scratch my head in wonder when I see that as crazy as I am about seeing children grow up in a big beautiful world full of opportunity, I am not in the majority. 

It has been over a week since there was a vote in my little town to do something extraordinary for the young children in our community.  They were going to build this big, beautiful and brand new school, all we, the people, had to do was get on board and be willing to share just a small portion of what we have been given with the children needing this new place to be built.  I can't help but be reminded of what Jesus said, "what you do for the least of these, you do for me."  In a town chocked full of churches, smack dab in the Bible belt, some how these words get lost in a political fray that ultimately comes down to one central issue: don't you dare expect me to separate myself from MY money for the benefit of someone else.  We can tiptoe around it, walk on eggshells or use euphemisms to make it seem less selfish or greedy, but I believe being direct is much more effective.  For those reading this outside of my little town, let me paint a picture:
               McAlester is home to Oklahoma's death row.  We have a epidemic level methamphetamine   problem, my 3rd grader asked me the other day what a "meth lab" was.  Poverty is also rampant.  9 out of 10 children at a local school are on free or reduced lunch.  The schools here, because of the high rate of poverty, get federal funds to supply free breakfasts everyday to every student.  There are many single-parent homes, children in foster care, children being raised by family members because a parent or both parents are incarcerated.  We have multitudes of people living on some form or multiple forms of government assistance.  This is a place in dire need of a new start, hope and a future. 

As in everything in life, there are two sides to every coin.  So, here's what the flip side looks like in McAlester.  We have committed and devoted public school teachers that go to bat for our children in the classroom and at the capital.  They work tirelessly to overcome obstacles that should not exist in the lives of preschool, elementary or even high school students.  We have a vibrant community of volunteers that will work towards cleaning up the town, passing out backpacks full of food to the students that go hungry over the weekend and build houses through Habitat for Humanity.  Small town America still exists - this place is living proof.  Coffee shops, restaurants and clothing stores are locally owned and operated.  Small business owners can thrive here.  Football season is Friday Night Lights.  Everyone knows everyone and that can be a comfort as much as a pain. 

So, it should go without saying that the parts of me that feel bonded to this place are more aligned with the more attractive elements than not.  I struggle against feeling like this place is "home" because I cannot fathom how the importance of raising up our children in the way that they should go is LOST because of the unwillingness to cough up the cash to move our little town into this century. 

The longing for more pangs in my soul as I see these kids that need more hope in their lives.  Born into privilege, I have never known hunger or neglect or real need.  I see so much need and want to respond, support, lift up and save these precious babies from the vicious cycles of under-education, lack of opportunity and poverty.  I have never known these obstacles in my personal life, but I cannot close my eyes and pretend that this isn't happening in my own back yard, because it is.  It is everyday.

I let someone know that I gave a darn about these kids and I let them know that I felt we were responsible for meeting a need here.  I let down my guard.  It hurts and stings to see the response but I am too bonded to these kids to let it deter me from doing it again and again until we all see the need and are willing to meet it.  The lesson here for me has been that letting my guard down can let the light shine in - the light always overcomes the darkness.  I am counting on that, leaning into the promises that His hope for all our futures is designed perfectly. 

I am bonded to this place.  Even after we make our inevitable departure for a corporate career ladder move, I will still be bonded to this place and these kids that pull at my heart strings.  There are many children here that need a friend, mentor, coach, big brother/sister - if you're so inclined, go make a connection with just one of them and you'll see what I mean.

(stepping off my soap box...)
have a blessed day.