I took a drive back up in the holler. I wasn’t sure were I was headed, couldn’t even tell you were I was when I got there. I was hoping to find somebody sitting on the porch. I intended to pull up in the drive and ask them if I could sit on the porch with them. Only thing was all the front porch sitters were busy. So instead I just kept driving until I came to this rise in the road and saw that the sun was setting, and stopped.
The farmer in the holler apparently isn’t used to strangers pulling up alongside the road to watch the sun slip away. He came to see if he could help me. I told him I was just enjoying the end of the day. He smiled and said it sure was pretty. I told him he sure was lucky to live and work in such a place. Yes, ma’am.
I considered stopping to talk with Mr. Ed but he didn’t seem all that interested in swapping stories.
Honeysuckle grows wild along the roadways here in these foothills adding a scent to the evening air that always smells of my childhood.
And this is the graveyard where I came as a child to bury my father and now come, this day, as a grownup, who still feels like the child, to do the same for Mama.
At a Country Funeral
…What we owe the future
Almost 90 percent of victims sexually assaulted in the military do not report the crime, so says The Pentagon.
That’s a disturbing number.
New York Senator Gillibrand blames the system. Letting commanders decide which sexual assaults to bring to trial is foolish. She warns: “If the convening authority is the only decision-maker of whether a case goes to trial or proceeds… all that training, all those excellent lawyers and prosecutors don’t make a difference.”
Of course the problems inherent is not specific to the military. It’s a reflection of our society.
While at the Children’s Justice Conference in Seattle this week I met the team of people whose sole job it is to investigate educators who sexually assault children. Currently, they have over a 100 open investigations in the state.
They might have more were it not for the way that sexual assaults are handled. In the State of Washington a sexual assault involving educators has to be reported by the school district’s superintendent.
Yes. That’s right. The superintendent of the school in which the teacher works. The superintendent who will face harsh media scrutiny once the public gets wind of what’s going down. Whether the assault is true or not won’t have any bearing on the PR nightmare that will ensue.
That’s like putting the dog in charge of the hen house. It is going to take a whole lot of integrity and gumption and high moral character for a commander or a superintendent to put themselves in a position for that kind of scrutiny.
We ought to applaud those who do step forward.
But Senator Gillibrand is absolutely right — this sort of self-reporting is never effective.
By the way, can I just point out that NPR had a momentary lapse of good judgment of reporting on Senator Gillibrand in this particular story. Reporter Ailsa Chang noted that Sen. Reid refers to Senator Gillibrand as the “hottest member” of Congress. What if anything did that have to do with this story?? Chang also referred to Gillibrand’s soft voice turning angry, perpetuating the myth that when women are passionate about a topic then they are angry. If a man were to use the same tone, would Chang have described it as such? Ironic that a report about sexual assaults would be infused with its own disconcerting sexism. Back to the fundamentals of reporting, please, Ms. Chang.
There can be no denying that the military has a problem. It is always troubling whenever you have a culture that makes sexual assault acceptable, or more commonly, overlooked behavior.
But this is a problem prevalent throughout this society we’ve created — one that continually sees through sex-rated lenses. The thing we fail to do is connect the dots. We don’t get how referring to a woman as the “hottest member of Congress” then can lead to a debased culture in which teachers prey upon children, and people assume that if women are in the military they will be sexually-assaulted.
It does not help when people like retired Army Officer Robert Maginnis, an analyst for the Family Research Council, writes a book suggesting too many women are making false allegations of sexual abuse. According to a report in the Washington Times, Maginnis said: “In the course of conducting interviews with commanders, I heard time and again complaints about female service members making sex-related allegations which proved unfounded. Not only do some women abuse the truth, but it also robs their commanders from more important, mission-related tasks.”
He goes on to say: “Female service members told me that some women invite problems which lead men on and then result in advances the woman can’t turn off. Too often, such female culpability leads to allegations of sexual contact, assault and then the women feign innocence.”
Read that carefully.
Unfounded does not mean false.
The bulk of sex abuse cases involving children that come across the desk of a child protective service worker will be “unfounded”. That does not mean that the child isn’t being sexually abused. It simply means for a multitude of reasons, officials are unable to gather enough evidence to actually charge a person with a crime.
Of course, if you apply Maginnis’s way of thinking — and a lot of sexual predators do — the child is asking for it.
I’ve seen the interviews in which the predator explains that the child enticed them into assaulting them by
- sitting in their laps
- hugging them
- wearing shorts
- crawling into bed with them
In other words, acting like a child.
Here’s a truth: Most sex abuse in this nation goes unreported. The bulk of that which does get reported, never goes to court. Very few offenders are ever convicted.
In other words, you can get away with rape in this country.
People are doing it every single day. Before he set fire to himself and his two boys, Josh Powell, and his father Steven, blamed missing mom and suspected homicide victim Susan Powell for being “sexual”. This is what is known as re-victimizing the victim.
And it doesn’t make any difference if the victim is a woman, a man, a girl or a boy, or worse yet, a toddler or infant.
As long as we agree complicity, or overtly as Maginnis is doing, that sexual assaults are the result the victim’s behaviors we all contribute to the problem.
If we were talking dollars here a lot of you would be whistling at the thought of winning that lotto ticket.
But I’m not talking dollars.
One million children.
Right here in America.
In the Land of the IRS fraud and corporate corruption.
Living in cars.
Sleeping under the bridges.
Selling blow jobs for a Happy Meal.
If children really are our future America is screwed like a rabbit in the springtime.
This notion that America is the greatest country on earth is becoming more than a myth; it’s a mockery.
What is wrong with us?
That was one of the questions Antwone Fisher raised during his keynote address at the 2013 Children’s Justice Conference in Seattle on Monday.
You remember Fisher, right?
Born in prison months after his father was murdered, Fisher was made a ward of the court and placed in foster care.
That’s the number of social workers Fisher had during his incarceration in the nation’s foster care system.
Some kids are fortunate to be in foster homes where they are well-loved and prayed over. My girlfriend Jan served as the foster mom to eleven children, some of them little boys like Fisher, before she finally adopted a little girl whom she’d brought home from the hospital as a newborn. That little girl is bright and happy and beautiful and so, so very blessed.
Why don’t we fight for children? Fisher asked. We Americans fight for everything else. We love fighting.
Of course, Fisher was well-aware that the crowd he was speaking before are the foot soldiers in the battle for the welfare of children. Social workers. Law enforcement. Prosecutors. So the question was said in a wry tone.
Just one more question that our politicians, who love to talk when the talking is about all the things they have done, refuse to answer.
Leaning elbow up against the podium as if he were chatting over the backyard fence with a neighbor, Fisher admitted that the next thing he was about to say wasn’t at all politically correct, but he warned the audience, he was going to say it anyway.
What is wrong with us? We spend all this money going to China, going to Russia to adopt children, all the while American children are left to become pimps on the streets. Why don’t we adopt American children, send them to Harvard?
Of course the answer is obvious: It isn’t sexy to adopt a child from the foster care system.
Go to China and bring a five-year old home and friends will pat you on the back and tell you what an answer to prayer you are for that child.
Go to Cleveland and adopt a five-year-old out of the foster care system and your friends will start praying for you. Then they will quit having you over for dinner and there will be no play dates for your adopted child with their children because who knows what sorts of atrocities the child from Cleveland has seen? And, by golly, their first job is to protect their own children, not expose them to the likes of America’s homeless children.
The social worker sitting next to me said she’s seen too much. The adopting process from the foster care program is fraught with problems.
What do you mean? I asked. Why are you reluctant to recommend it?
So many of these people who adopt children through foster care end up returning the kids, she said. Like Wal-Mart merchandise, they’ve taken the kids home and discovered that the kids don’t function right, so they just end up bringing the goods back to the place where they got ‘em.
Of course on the flip side of that, I’ve had a friend who adopted a child through foster care, but it took years of wrangling with the courts to do it. The biological parents were worried about the welfare money they’d miss out on if the child was adopted for good, so the state paid for an attorney so they could fight to keep the child – a child who had spent the bulk of her young life in foster care because her parents were in jail or rehab — all at taxpayer’s expense.
People get tired of fighting for kids.
It’s easier to give up on them.
As long as we don’t know the names of the one million homeless children in America, we can pretend they don’t exist except as some vague statistic.
It’s only when they stand before us like Antwone Fisher did, telling the story of that Sunday morning when he discovered the pastor raping Fisher’s foster care sister that you realize each one of these castaway children have the potential to be somebody, somebody creative and good, if only…
We cared enough to learn their names.
But here in America a million only counts when we are talking about dollars.
The Last Resort
We sat on the weathered deck, my friend and me. Her in the north corner, munching on a granola bar, drinking coffee. Me in the south corner, eating the other half of a muffin leftover from breakfast, and drinking hot tea.
This was our evening meal.
Over on the dunes, a lab chased after the Frisbee an elderly man threw. The man and his lab walk by my friend’s cottage every morning, and again in the evening. This is the only stretch of beach where dogs don’t have to be on leashes.
My friend once watched a lady climb the dunes in front of the house, drop her drawers and take a leak. She laughed when she told me the story. Apparently the woman with the full bladder figured that if she hid down behind the dunes nobody on the beach could see her peeing. And that much was true. But she did not take into account all those houses facing the dunes and all those people inside those houses peering out their windows at the silly lady squatting and
all those onlookers.
Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon
But there were no squatters Saturday evening as we sat in our respective corners waiting for
the Sun to go down.
You know about the green flash? my friend asked.
Yes, I replied. My friend Tim Wright told me about them.
Tim’s a biologist. He knows about matters of molecules and such. We take a beach trip with Tim and his wife Peggy once a year. Tim always watches for the green flash at sunset. I’ve never seen it myself but then I never can figure out those 3-D photos either.
You have to squint, my friend suggested.
Uh, can you look directly at the sun, even a setting one, without squinting? I asked.
But I was thinking of all the times my elders had warned me as a child to not look directly upon the sun: It will blind you, Child, they warned.
Don’t stare at the sun.
Wonder, has anyone ever gone blind looking for the green flash?
We sat there, she and I, squinting, and listening to the hum of passerbys, some who stopped to wave or nod in our direction.
The giant orb moved ever so slowly.
Wow, my girlfriend said. I’ve never seen it take so long. Usually it hurriedly slips away.
How many times have I called out to loved ones myself: Hurry! The sun is setting! We are going to miss it!
From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the Lord’s name is to be praised. Ps. 113:3
But that night, there on the weathered deck of the charming Last Resort cottage, the sun put on a show. Danced its orange self into the watery blue horizon.
Like a Flamenco dancer in slow motion.
If there was a green flash, I never saw it.
Neither did my girlfriend.
But when the last bit of sun slipped into the Pacific, I felt like clapping.
I wanted to shout out: Bloody Good Show, God.
And I don’t usually talk with a British accent.
It was awesome.
Seeing the sun set
and recognizing the of the gift of one more day
and the Creator behind it all.
Do you ever feel like giving God a standing ovation
from where you sit?
You alone know when I sit down and when I get up. You read my thoughts from far away. Ps. 139: 2
During the week in which two brothers gathered together the tools of destruction that would kill, maim and terrorize Boston, soldiers from around the nation gathered up their guns and ruck sacks and headed to Fort Benning, Georgia, to take part in a 60-hour marathon designed to showcase — or breakdown – their physical stamina, mental toughness, team’s tenacity, and character’s mettle.
The 30th annual Best Ranger Competition 2013 got underway Friday April 12 as participants for the Boston Marathon fueled themselves with carbs in anticipation of Monday’s run.
I had promised SFC Timothy Briggs in December that I would come watch him compete for Best Ranger of the Year. To be honest, I barely knew SFC Briggs. Our encounters had been sporadic, seemingly random, although if you have been reading my writings for any length of time, you know I don’t believe in happenstance meetings. My life’s ambition is live in a manner that welcomes people to join me in sacred encounters and intimate conversations.
SFC Timothy Briggs and SFC Raymond Santiago on the second day of Best Ranger Competition events.
SFC Briggs and I met at a Starbucks in my hometown of Columbus, Georgia. He was sitting in a corner, dressed in crisp camo uniform. I thought about speaking to him when I took a seat near him but decided against it. I figured the men in uniform from Fort Benning can barely get a moment of privacy when they are out and about in my hometown. Especially given this was a couple of years ago, when public patriotism was at fever pitch. But Briggs spoke to me, said he hoped his telephone didn’t interrupt my wi-fi, and that little bit of thoughtfulness ignited one of those engaging conversations that I welcome. Because I travel a great deal and meet so many people and because I am old as a mature oak, I don’t recall all the specifics of that conversation. But I found out that he was from Montana, that he was a pretty good runner, that he’d just gotten to Fort Benning where he was going to be a Ranger instructor, and that his momma had died, and that he’d spent the last decade of his life deploying to war. Before we parted, I gave him the only copy I had with me of After the Flag has been Folded.
Anybody who has read that book knows that it tells you all you need to know, and then some, about me, about growing up military in Columbus, and about the aftermath of war. As I backed my car out of the parking lot and entered Manchester Expressway, I vividly recall thinking: What a pleasant, sincere young man.
I knew in that moment that I’d just had an encounter with somebody different. Somebody who embodied goodness. I told SFC Briggs that I would stay in touch. I’d asked for his email addy so I could do just that. I thought about him from time to time, prayed for him, but I never did write that email to him. Then, last July, right before Mama fell ill, I returned to Columbus to attend a reunion with Rose Hill’s youth group, Prophecy. On Monday, following the reunion, I arranged several interviews for a book project. We met at a coffee shop in downtown Columbus. I was there for several hours that morning but had to leave by 2 p.m. to catch a plane out of Atlanta. On my way out the door, a young man dressed in civilian clothes called out to me. I didn’t recognize him, but I approached him anyway. He introduced himself as the fellow I’d met a year or so earlier at Starbucks. And once again we had one of those brief but engaging conversations, and this time as I parted, God stopped me at the door. Literally. My hand was on the door. I turned and went back to SFC Briggs and we talked some more, then I left, but only because I really had a flight to catch.
This time, however, we exchanged phone numbers and we stayed in touch. Brief text messages every now and again. Words of encouragement. Prayer requests. Photos of the mountains. In December when I returned to my hometown to celebrate the birthday of Miz Lillian of Pine Mountain, SFC Briggs and I met for dinner. That’s when he told me he’d been selected to compete in the Best Ranger Competition, and I told him if he did I would try and make it.
Because I didn’t know the dates of the competition, I didn’t know then that in order to make it, I would have to cancel an already previously arranged book event at the Cannon Beach Library. Nor did I know then that the competition’s award ceremony would take place the very same week that I would be overseeing our city’s One Book One Community read. And I had no idea, none at all, that SFC Timothy Briggs and his teammate SFC Raymond Santiago would actually win the competition!!!
After sixty-hours of grueling physical and mental challenges. SFC Santiago and SFC Briggs are named Best Rangers 2013
Now if you want to see some really great photos of the event, hop on over to the USA Today’s report of it. Otherwise, here’s the ones I snapped with my cell phone.
While the news has been dominated by Brother of Destruction in Boston, I was able to spend time with two of our nation’s finest men and soldiers — SFC R. Santiago and SFC T. Briggs
Sunday morning’s event included navigating the high wire over a pond, while it was raining.
Touching the Ranger sign and then dropping into the pond.
But first, they had to shimmy up a ladder and walk this beam across the water. This after two nights of little to no sleep, MREs to eat, long hikes they they mostly ran, and many other activities.
They had to rescue bodies, run through villages, shoot their way through villages, toss hand-grenades at targets, hit the bulls-eye with hatchets, and find their way through the pitch black dark.
They had to do all that while carrying a ruck sack that weighed a ton. Okay, not a ton but more than a 3-year-old.
They shimmied out of helicopters and ran water across a muddy field.
They did all that and so much more against the ticking of a clock, beating out fifty other teams from all across the world to claim Best Ranger of 2013 title. A title bestowed upon them by Gen. Colin L. Powell
Himself a graduate of the Ranger course.
“It was the Ranger course that was the greatest challenge of my life at that time of my life,” Powell said.
Yes. There will always be those few who plot our destruction. Sometimes, as was the case in Boston, they will succeed. But for all the evil they inflict, there are thousands, millions more, plotting, training and carrying out goodness.
Don’t you just love it when God plans an encounter that turns into an adventure you never ever, ever imagined?
What adventures in goodness have you been on lately?
Editor’s Note: One of the best things about attending Kathy Patrick’s Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson, Texas is the opportunity I get to meet some pretty fabulous writers. If it seems like we writers are always plugging other writers, it’s because we love reading good books at much as you do. I heard New York Times bestselling author Leila Meacham speak on a panel and I just knew I had to share her back-story with you. It’s such a remarkable story.
Here’s a glimpse at two of her books as reported in the New York Times last year: “Her 2010 novel, “Roses,” follows the three founding families of a fictional Texas town over the course of nearly a century of secret-keeping.”
Her newest book is “Tumbleweeds.”
And here’s what others are saying about her work:
“Roses heralded as new Gone with the Wind.” (USA Today )
“As large, romantic, and American a tale as Texas itself.” (Booklist )
“An enthralling stunner….A compelling saga with echoes of Gone with the
Wind.” (Publishers Weekly )
“It’s been almost 30 years since the heyday of giant epics…but Meacham’s
debut might bring them back. Readers who like an old-fashioned saga will
devour this sprawling novel of passion and revenge.” (Library Journal )
I adore Leila and even more so because in the course of our corresponding, I learned that her husband, an Air Force veteran, served in Vietnam. Leila said she could never have gotten over it if she had lost her husband in Vietnam the way my mother did.
If you enjoy our interview, be sure and pick up Leila’s books. The former Texas English teacher tells stories the way they are meant to be told — with sheer delight.
If you enjoy our interview, be sure and pick up Leila’s books. The former Texas English teacher tells stories the way they are meant to be told — with sheer delight.
Karen: Where did you grow up?
Leila: I grew up in Wink, a little town in West Texas with a population of perhaps two thousand. It was aptly named since you could pass by it in the wink of an eye.
Karen: Were you raised in a household of faith? How did that raising help determine the course of your own life?
Leila: My parents were southern Baptists, and my brother and I were reared in the church from the time that we started first grade. We went to Sunday school and church on Sunday, training union Sunday nights, prayer meetings on Wednesday evenings. The church was a mainstay of our lives. I don’t know that we were a family of faith as much as a family of Baptists. I was not so much spiritually fed as spiritually trained. We children lived by a list of moral do’s and don’ts, rights and wrongs. As a result we did not smoke or drink, take God’s name in vain, lie, cheat, or steal. Even so, I developed a personal relationship with God at a very early age. I thought of Him then as my loving heavenly father, and that image of Him has abided within me always.
Karen: Who were some of your favorite childhood literary characters and why?
Leila: I loved all the classic books featuring animals. The characters in Wind in the Willows–Mole, Ratty, Badger, and the irresistible Toad—enchanted me. I was crazy about Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Black Beauty. I suppose I loved them because I have a great fondness for animals.
Karen: How old were you were you began writing your first book?
Leila: Forty one.
Karen: When you were writing that book, did you have a dream for it? Something you imagined or hoped would happen to it?
Leila: Not really. It was of the romance genre. In those days, romances were all the rage. I wrote the book because a colleague bet me a steak dinner that I could, and I bet her I couldn’t. Lo and behold, a local agent took a look at it (again at the behest of my friend), submitted it for publication, and Walker and Company of New York bought it right away. I had to pay the tab for two steak dinners at the San Francisco Steak House.
Karen: Did you pray about your writing? And if so, what form did those prayers take?
Leila: At that time, since I wasn’t seriously pursuing a writing career, I don’t recall asking for divine guidance. Writing the book was nothing but a simple experiment.
Karen: What did you do with that book after you wrote it?
Leila: I put it on a shelf and went on with other pursuits, mainly teaching, my first love.
Karen: When did writing become a daily discipline for you?
Leila: When I began writing the saga Roses at sixty-five. I had an epiphany one morning when I asked God what he wanted me to do with the rest of my life. I clearly felt Him tell me to finish the book I’d started twenty years earlier during a year of illness and put away when my health returned. I would never have opened the box that contained the manuscript if I had not believed that God called me to complete it. As a result, I did the thing I most dreaded about writing: I sat down for a certain length of time each day and wrote with no hope that anything would come of my endeavors. I worked on the book over a period of five years.
Karen: How was it that you came to publish Roses?
Leila: Well, that was indeed a divine thing. The day after I placed the final period on the manuscript, a friend contacted her niece in New York City, who happened to be the wife of a prominent literary agent. My friend informed her niece that she wanted her husband to take a look at my manuscript. I was instructed to send a synopsis and the first seven chapters of the book to his office. He read the material, requested the rest of the book, and within weeks e-mailed that he would be happy to represent it. After several months of revisions, my agent submitted the manuscript to numerous publishers in New York, and Grand Central Publishing made a pre-emptive bid for the novel. In my jubilation, I remembered clearly God’s promise of the morning I asked Him what He wanted me to do with the rest of my life. “You write the book, and I’ll do the rest.” And He did. Roses went immediately on the New York Times best seller list and has been translated into the languages of twenty-two countries.
Karen: How does one go about developing a prayer life intimate enough to hear the promptings that led you to write?
Leila: A simple belief that God listens and responds when we ask Him to lead us. I do not believe I could write without a channel open between us. I feel the flow of inspiration when I pray for him to guide my body of work for the day.
Karen: Were there moments of doubt when you were working on Roses? Moments when you felt inadequate to the task?
Leila: Oh, my goodness, yes. The book covers nearly seventy years of the history of three families. I often asked myself, considering the time span, if I was up to the research and organization and scope required to tell their story. Did I have the skill, the talent, the patience, the perseverance to write a 630 page novel. Often I felt I did not, but I plunged ahead because I knew I was doing what I was called to do.
Karen: Do you view your publishing story as a testament to God’s faithfulness? Or do you frame that another way?
Leila: I definitely view the story behind the story of Roses and subsequently two other published novels that I’ve written as a testament to God’s faithfulness. I am in daily awe of His fulfilled promise to me: “You write the book, and I’ll do the rest.”
I dreamed of my grandmother’s hands. It was an odd dream since Granny Leona has been dead a long time now.
Even when she was alive, my days spent with her were few. I grew up in Georgia, a good day’s drive from where Granny lived in Church Hill, Tennessee. The town gets its name because it is just what it says it is – an Appalachian hill town with a church sitting upon its tallest spot.
Granny Leona was a cripple woman. That’s what folks in East Tennessee referred to her as: “Do you know Mrs. Spears? She’s the cripple woman who lives at the bottom of the hill.” Most of my memories are of her in a wheelchair, always painfully, slowly shuffling about the dusty wooden floors, in search of her snuff jar and her Bible.
Granny’s Bible was a big, black-leather book. The words Jesus spoke were highlighted in red. She would sit with that big Bible on her lap, reading by the morning light that drifted in through the window near her bed. I don’t know how Granny knew to read her Bible. Most of my kin of Granny’s generation were illiterate. Pap, which is what we called my grandfather, only knew how to sign his formal name: Howard J. Spears.
I bought Granny a birthday card once for Pap to give to his bride of over 50 years. He signed the card: Howard J. Spears. I realized later that Pap didn’t know how to write “with love” or “Happy Birthday” or even “thanks.”
It would make Granny and Pap proud to know they have a granddaughter who writes books. Some people even say I write real well. But it’s not my writing that I am most proud of. It’s that I took to heart Granny’s teachings.
She taught me to cherish the Word of God.
A lot of educated people might think my granny unsophisticated. And, I suppose, they are right about that. But given a choice between hanging out with sophisticated people or spending the afternoon in the presence of my grandmother, I would give back my college education for one more hour with Granny.
She might not have been educated but Granny was a wise woman. She birthed eight children. She understood people and their ways. And Granny’s faith in Jesus was beautiful in its sheer simplicity.
The Immaculate Conception and the Resurrection were not topics of debate for her. They were simply the facts. Granny knew that Jesus, born of a virgin, was a man who lived his life helping others. For that, he was crucified. Three days later, inexplicably, Jesus rose again.
It never occurred to Granny to try and explain how these things could happen. It never occurred to me to ask. I believed they happened just like the Bible said because Granny taught me to believe that.
Granny and I never attended church together, save for the day when we buried her son, my father. Granny never took me shopping for Easter clothes. She never filled an Easter basket full of eggs or plush stuffed animals for me. She never told me stories of the Easter Bunny.
Faith is the Easter gift my granny gave to me.
I would watch as she’d pull a dollar bill from her change purse she kept in her dress pocket. She’d send that dollar off to whatever TV preacher had ministered to her that week. Educated people sometimes laugh at people like Granny. They think TV preachers use that money to sleep with harlots. They are right about that, some do.
I never laughed at Granny though. I thought she had one of the purest, most trusting hearts I’ve ever come across. Sometimes, my own daughters look at me with that kind of trust and it makes me want to be more like my granny.
In my dream my hands, which I rely upon daily to type out the words within my heart, were gnarled. As hard as I tried I could not get my fingers to open up. They curled into my palms, just like Granny’s had.
As a teenager, I used to sit for long spells with Granny, holding her balled-up hands. I would rub her translucent skin and listen to her stories about her son, my father, the boy she lost in Vietnam.
Granny had the most remarkable hands. Her crippled feet didn’t work like she wanted them to, but Granny’s knotted hands could still turn the pages of her Bible as she haltingly read to me the Easter story:
“And behold, there was a great earthquake, for the angel of the Lord descended from Heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door.” Matthew 28:2.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of the forthcoming novel Mother of Rain, Mercer University Press, Fall, 2013. She can be reached via Twitter @karenzach.com
The sermon wasn’t particularly in-depth. What is there to say on Psalm Sunday, other than Jesus gave his all.
What will you give?
Tim was gone all weekend at a Key Club Convention in Seattle, so I didn’t have to worry about fixing anyone dinner. I made a quick run to Starbucks for the mandatory iced coffee. I had a long afternoon planned, wrapping up edits on the upcoming NYT bestseller — Mother of Rain. (aren’t I ever the Pollyanna?)
As I headed east, toward home, I glimpsed at a young couple with a child in a stroller panhandling on the corner of the major highway that runs north-south through town. I just wanted to go home. Drink my coffee. Fix my edits.
I didn’t make it half-a-block before I turned the car around.
Dang it all, that Hugh Hollowell & the Love Wins ministry, has ruined me forever. I can never just mind my own beeswax any more. I can never ignore the poor, never pretend like they aren’t right there, box-top in hand, begging: “Anything helps. God Bless.”
I pulled my car into McDonalds parking lot. Walked through the drive-thru — the quickest route to the corner where the couple stood. Yes. Everybody saw me. Geeish.
“Hi, I’m Karen,” I said, offering my hand to the girl standing behind the stroller.
“Hi,” she said, and offered me her name. I did the same to the fellow standing there. He, too, gave me his name. Then, I squatted down in front of the child, who was staring blankly, at the endless line of traffic creeping by, staring at her.
Her name is Destiny.
She did not smile, did not speak, only looked at me with the suspicion of a child who has seen too much already.
“What kind of help do you need?” I asked, bluntly. I was prepared to do anything to get this babe off that corner.
“We need food,” her momma said.
“Do you know about Agape house?” I asked. It’s a well-supported local ministry that feeds the poor in this community. They’ve just built a local shelter for women and children.
“Yes,” she said. “But they aren’t open on Sunday.”
I remember Hugh teaching me that. The irony of the homeless and poor, that the one day they often most need help is the day that everybody is in church.
“Are you homeless?” I asked. “Do you have a place?”
“No,” she said. “We used to be but we have a place in the basement of our landlord’s house.”
“I don’t know for how long,” interjected the young daddy. “I lost my job and need a new one.”
“Well, why don’t you let me take you over here to Wal-Mart, buy you some groceries,” I offered. Hugh taught me that, too. Offer to buy the panhandler lunch instead of just handing them money. Spend time with them. Make a human connection. Learn their name. Their story. Build community.
The momma appeared totally shocked. The daddy unsure. “Our ride is coming for us soon,” he said, hesitating. Another woman, also in her Sunday go-to-meeting clothes joined us on the corner. She knew this couple by name. She knew their family, knew their story. It was clear from her heavy sighs that she was troubled. I introduced myself to her, too. She handed the daddy $10 and told him, “Let the woman take you grocery shopping.”
“You can stay here,” I offered. “Continue to panhandle. I’ll take your wife — is she your wife? — and child to Wal-Mart. You can wait here for your ride. We’ won’t be long.”
“Okay,” he agreed.
Another passerby, “Everything okay?” he asked, through the passenger window. I told him I was taking the momma grocery shopping. “Okay. Good,” he said, handing me a wad of cash. “Use this.”
I gave it to the daddy.
He slipped the cardboard sign into the dirty diaper bag. “I don’t want to be greedy,” he said. To his wife, he said: “I’ll wait inside McDonald’s for you.”
She followed me to my car, buckled the silent child into the backseat and herself into the passenger seat. I stuck the dirty stroller with the broken wheels into my trunk. I had no idea how she managed to push that baby anywhere in that stroller.
The baby’s hair was matted, unkept, uncombed. Her face dirty. Only her coat and shoes were clean. New. Some coats-for-kids program surely.
The first thing I put in the cart was a new stroller. I let the momma pick it out. She picked a Disney princess one, pink and green.
“I want you to grocery shop for anything you need,” I said. “Anything. Just pretend I’m not here.”
She stood in the yogurt aisle, unsure, unable to decide on putting anything in the cart.
“I’ve never done this,” she said. “Usually we have vouchers or they tell me how much I can have.”
“Honey, listen, just buy what you need. I’m not going to tell you what to buy.”
But in the end, I did, because she was overwhelmed, unable to decide. We got milk. Eggs. Yogurt. Cheese. Cereal. Chicken. Bread. Lunch meat. Sausage. Noodles. Veggies. I told her how to make a quick and easy pasta salad.
“Sounds good,” she said.
“It is,” I replied. “One of my family’s favorites.”
We bought apples and cuties for the silent child, who had taken one of those cheese strings and eaten it lightening quick, like the hungry child that she was.
And toilet paper. Not the cheap kind but the same kind my family uses. I’m picky about toilet paper and peanut-butter and laundry soap. Tide. Jiffy. Angel Soft. When I end up poor, I hope somebody buys me good toilet paper.
We had to take the bad stroller out of the trunk for all the groceries to fit.
She does not have a GED. She’s pregnant again. She told me but I already knew that. There was that momentarily flash of anger in me. I have a daughter who has been unable to get pregnant. We are praying but we’ve been praying for three years now. I keep a pink dress in my closet. An Easter outfit I bought the granddaughter I don’t have yet. I pray for her by name. I beg God, literally beg him, heart pounding, weeping kind of begging to bless my daughter with child. She wants so badly to be a momma. I want so badly for her to know the joy of being a momma. It is the one thing in my life that I loved doing beyond all else.If the Spirit moves, would you pray that God bless my daughter with a child?
It hurts my momma’s heart to see people be careless with children. It angers me. But I refuse to do nothing about it.
“Do you read to your daughter?” I asked. The girl never said a word. Only pointed and grunted when she wanted something. More cheese. The princess stroller.
“Yes,” the young momma said.
“Have you tried to get her into Head Start?”
“I’m on a waiting list,” she said.
“If you need help getting her into Head Start, call me,” I said. “I’ll go with you to talk to them.”
And I gave her my phone number. She said she entered it into her iPhone but she didn’t. Her momma pays for her iPhone. She has a iPad too, she said. Her momma bought her that also. Even the poor are wired these days.
“Take my number and call me the next time you need to go panhandle,” I said. “I’ll watch the babe. You know DHS could take the babe away if you panhandle on a busy street like that with a babe. There have been quite a few wrecks at that intersection. I’ll watch her if you need to panhandle.”
She told me that her father died when she was only 13, an “accidental suicide”. Her husband’s parents were at an AA meeting. Meth users finishing up rehab — again. They’d lost custody of their two youngest girls, her husband’s sisters, and were trying to get them back.
“Don’t tell this woman all that,” her husband chided her in McDonald’s parking lot as we waited for his parents to show up, give them a ride back to their apartment.
She argued with him. He walked away. I sat in the car, with the silent babe, who was eating tiny nutter-butters and grunting. My iced coffee had remained untouched.
“Do you know Jesus?” I asked the silent child.
She shook her head no.
“I am going to pray you do one day,” I said.
She held out a nutter-butter pinched between her tiny fingers.
Daddy came back, said maybe, if I didn’t mind, I could give them a ride to their place. They’d call his parents, let them know they hitched a ride home.
“Sure,” I said.”Of course, I’ll be glad to give you a ride.”
“Would you mind stopping at the store so I can get some cigarettes,” he asked.
“No problem,” I said.
“Would you mind buying them for me? I don’t have any ID on me.”
“I”m sorry,” I replied. “I can’t do that. My momma just died of lung cancer. She was a life-long smoker. I can’t buy you cigarettes.”
It’s okay to tell the poor that you can’t help, to set some boundaries. Hugh taught me that, too.
Daughter Ashley says I don’t have any boundaries. My son Stephan says it, too. I’m an embarrassment to them, the way I go up and speak to just anybody, anytime, anywhere. It’s like I have no sense of what’s appropriate. I know that’s true. I don’t. I only know one way to be — that’s to plunge headlong into life.
I do it all the time. It annoys some and enchants others. I’m too old to worry about what’s appropriate anymore.
I only know that at the end of the day, I want to be able to say I gave what I had.
I try to live my life spilled out
because I come from a place of overflowing.
A place where Jesus gave His all
without ever asking: Are they going to take advantage of me?
After we unloaded the groceries, and the daddy told me that I had been a huge answer to their prayers, the silent child walked around the front end of my car, and reached for me.
I knelt down and she hugged me.
When I pulled away, she cried.
We were driving through one of those neighborhoods that you can find in almost any city nowdays.
You know the ones where the houses are squished up next to one another like dolls on a shelf, all lavishly dressed, all so very pretty but yet so very different. One house has a stone front. The one next to it is a brick colonial. One has a turret. Another has a wide porch. Nobody has a yard. Instead they have what passes as green embroidery, a strip of grass that serves as a well-placed border.
There are two moving vans in front of one of the houses. Someone is either moving in or out of the tidy village.
Around the bend, past the house with the stone turret is a towering, spiked gate. It opens and shuts electronically, welcoming those who live up the slope, and locking out those who don’t. There are two great stallions of bronze just beyond the gate. They are standing on their hind legs, playfully battling in that way that racing champions and barn bound horses are prone to do. This is artwork with a message: Only the powerful live beyond these gates.
Just beyond the intimidating art are homes so massive in scope it would take a team of Merry Maids a week to clean just one and then they would have to start all over again. The three-story yellow home with row after row of mirrored glass looked more like an office building. I’m sure it is perfectly appointed inside — these home always are — but from the outside it just looks like it is trying too hard to be noticed. Like Paris Hilton in a yellow bikini. You can’t help but look.
We stare up at the horses and the mirrored-yellow house as we drive on pass, acutely aware that people who live in gated communities do so in part because they are trying to distance themselves from others whom they deem either a threat to their well-being, or a challenge to their quality of life. They believe they have worked hard enough, smart enough to earn the right to live beyond the squalor beyond the gates.
“This must be jarring for you,” I said to daughter Konnie, as we drove on through the neighborhood just beyond the bronzed stallions.
“Yea, it is,” she replied. “I can’t even get my mind around this.”
Konnie had just returned from Sierra Leone. She went with Willamette Medical Missions to Ronurie, a village so remote it required a four-hour drive from Freetown. While there they set up a makeshift clinic and offered rudimentary medical care to the sick and suffering. There was one physician and five nurses on the team. Konnie’s job was intake — getting blood pressure, vitals, and chief complaints.
They treated everything from malaria, to broken bones, to hernias — the bulk of men and boys suffer from hernias. And while that may seem like a fairly treatable condition here in the states, it isn’t at all in the northernmost villages of Sierra Leone. Some of the clients walked 25 miles to medical care. One man’s hernia had grown to the size of a watermelon. Children came in with serious ulcerated abscess from splinters lodged while scraping their knees scaling a coconut tree. Sometimes their faces would be totally disfigured by tumors or infections left untreated. Some women came in quietly crying, seeking help for the infertility that had cursed them, made them an outcast among the only community they’ve ever known.
I remembered how hard it was for me the week I returned from Vietnam. How jarring it was to see daffodils blooming, edging manicured lawns, and thinking about the wildness of the Ia Drang Valley, where so much blood shed had happened, for what? For nothing.
My girlfriend Cammie, who lost her daddy there when she was only six months old, stood in that field grasping her father’s wallet and crying big sobbing tears: It’s so unfair. It’s so unfair, she repeated.
And who was I to say otherwise?
So I just held her instead and said, Yes. Yes. I know. I know.
I wanted to do that with my Konnie right then. To tell her, I know. I know. It is so wrong on so many levels.
When the week of ministering health to village people drew to a close, the children in Sierre Leone raided the trash bags of medical team. The “trash” consisted of the unused, unopened plastic supplies, cardboard boxes collapsed for recycling, and such. All still sanitary, but nothing necessary for their return.
One boy rejoiced upon finding a vagina speculum, still unopened in its plastic pouch. For this child, the shiny plastic speculum looked like a toy. He grasped it with both hands and a smile of elation lit up his face. This was a child celebrating the unexpected find of an unknown treasure.
She thinks of that child.
And the dozens of others like him.
She thinks of millions she doesn’t know.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “We have so much that we take for granted. So much.”
The children would run after her shouting: “Apato! Apato! Snap! Snap!”
White person. White person. Take my picture. Take my picture.
And so Konnie used her iPad to take their photos and show them their own smiles. Living in a village void of electricity or internet or cameras, glass or even mirrors, these children never see themselves.
The only reflection they have of themselves is through the eyes of another.
We don’t do that here in the land of excesses.
We don’t seek to know ourselves through the eyes of others.
It’s so unfair that we can live in fine homes sided with mirrored glass and yet remain blind to the unexpected treasures all around us, and the ways in which we already possess the ability to heal others.
It’s ludicrous, really, the way some Believers carry on in this nation about being persecuted. You know the type. They can be heard most often on talk radio or some cable television channel whining about how their religious freedoms are being infringed upon.They yammer incessantly about their First Amendment Rights and how the world is going to hell in a hand basket.
Given the way Congress has been misbehaving lately, it probably is.
Let me just say this about Congress before I move on: You employed them. You. Me. We employ Congress. We can fire them if we so choose. We can boss them if we decide to. We can and should tell them exactly what it is that we expect of them.
Why, then, does everybody and her live-in act so damn helpless when it comes to Congress?
It’s like Miz O always says: Don’t give away your power.
I am so weary of hearing people, yes, even you, my beloved NPR hosts, yattering about how little Congress is doing and how badly they are doing what little they are doing.
The question isn’t what is Congress going to do about all our problems. The question is what are we going to do about it? We are the boss people here. Why then aren’t we doing something more than taking to the airwaves and complaining?
We are only powerless to do something because we choose to be powerless. Because we like the former King Edward have abdicated our right to rule, to have voice, for a mistress of our choosing: Facebook, television, Twitter, video-poker and/or porn.
We are so confused about our First Amendment Rights. Seems we have mistaken the right to petition for redress of grievances as the right to bitch and moan.
It isn’t the same thing people.
As written, the First Amendment requires action on our part. As lived out currently, it is regarded as permission to whine about the inaction of others.
It is this misuse and abuse of the First Amendment that has me all fired up.
Rachel Held Evans sent me a link to a blog post she wrote: How [Not To] Respond to Abuse Allegations: Christians and Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM).
In it Rachel (rightly) takes Tim Challies to task for making allowances for SGM to abuse the First Amendment in his post Thinking Biblically About Sovereign Grace Ministries.
As the Huffington Post reported SGM is trying to skirt around ongoing allegations of child abuse by invoking their First Amendment Rights. It’s a misuse of power and a misunderstanding of the First Amendment.
Challies called for Believers to be slow to judge the allegations of abuse. Evans did an excellent job in her blog post of highlighting why Challies was wrong in his approach, so I won’t belabor the wrong-headedness of all that.
While there will always be ongoing debates about the freedoms ensured by the First Amendment, freedom of religious practice and belief does not allow for harm to the life and liberty of others. Invoking the First Amendment does not mean a person can get away with human sacrifice as an acceptable religious practice. Similarly, any church practices that would not sufficiently protect children from sex abuse is certainly not protected from civil court scrutiny by the First Amendment.
Those who complain about being persecuted in this world for being Christian often fail to realize that the problem isn’t their faith.
It’s that they aren’t behaving Christian enough.
The world isn’t angry with Christians for believing in God. They are angry because so many Christians act like the Devil all day long.
How much more ungodly can a church body get than to try and invoke the First Amendment to avoid litigation over allegations of child abuse by its members?
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of A Silence of Mockingbirds, the true crime story behind Karly’s Law. She teaches First Amendment Rights at Central Washington University.