Tuesday, July 20, 2021

My Tribe. My People. My Mississippi.

Get yourself some friends that will straighten your crown (or fix your hair). Where to begin? I’m beaming with pride over Chloe stepping way out of her comfort zone and competing in the Mississippi Miss Hospitality Compeition. And she did it all authentically "Chloe." Thank you to Katelyn Brown for seeing a spark in her and recommending Chloe to the most amazing Local Director ever.

Thank you, Mrs. Janet, for the love, advice, shopping trips, contestant gifts, interview prep, comic relief and much more. The skills and confidence you have gifted my daughter with will last a lifetime. Thank you to Kristen Brock, the Board of Directors, and all the volunteers that dedicate hours into a program that has helped shape young women since 1949. A big thank you to the house moms that took care of our girls. And especially to our earth angel, Pam, for being there for Chloe when she had to make a quick ER visit (She is fine, but that’s always a scary moment). 

How about all the support and love. Jackson County has shown out! Thankful for all the encouragement and financial support from businesses, leaders, friends, family, anonymous donors, community and church members.  In so many ways we are really “one coast.” Since there wasn’t a contestant from Harrison County, Chloe embraced this opportunity as representing “the” Mississippi Gulf Coast. 

While enjoying lunch at Keg and Barrel Saturday my Aunt Patty reminded me of the deep roots of hospitality that run through our veins. My great uncle Himbert Sinopoli was the very first Executive Director of Harrison County Tourism. He has many accolades for bolstering tourism during his time as commissioner. Of course “tourism and hospitality” is a Sinopoli family tradition. I have fond childhood memories of feeding the gators marshmallows at Popp’s Ferry restaurant, my favorite of many famous in a small town Sinopoli eateries.

One of the many Mississippi facts Chloe (and I) learned while interview prepping is that tourism is our 4th largest industry and continues to grow. Did you know 75 percent of visitors to the secret coast come back. So invite someone! 20-25 percent of visitors to Mississippi say they are here because of an invitation by a relative or friend. And it's working! Mississippi was the top travel spending market in the US for 2020. We are our very best source of advertising. How about share with others the good Made only in Mississippi stuff and there’s much good stuff to share about the Magnolia State.

Perhaps our greatest asset is how deeply we love our tribe: Thank you Tara for showing up to support Chloe. It meant so much to have Mr. Hospitality, Uncle Himbert’s, daughter there. Thank you Aunt Patty, Aunt Angie that flew in from Charlotte, Jill, Marty, Andrea and Grace. Thank you to Susan & Bob and Chloe’s chief benefactor Windy and Rob for being there. Thank you Margaret Ann & Ken. Last year's Miss Jackson County and others. And thank you to so many for sending cards, flowers, gifts, love and support. Countless supporters let us know they were tuning in via FB Live and sending their love from across the miles.  

In addition to deep roots and crazy over the top love, Mississippi means connections. It was a sweet surprise to see one of my favorite high school teachers involved in Miss Hospitality. Each year I spent two class periods learning from a master. I did not recognize at the time how “special” this was, but I am indebted to Mr. Michael Marks for teaching me the art of speech, debate and stage. Skills I use every week in my role as clergy. 

While at the Farewell Brunch it was another “connection” moment when Angie realized one of the past long time Executive Directors was her KD mom at USM. Ms. Bonnie Warren, Director Emeritus, immediately recognized Angie and they enjoyed a sweet reunion moment. 

The Chloe Kirby Fan Club claimed a local downtown hotspot, The Porter, as our pre-pageant hang out space. One night Mark Mann was there serenading the crowd. Many nights many moons ago I spent at Tal’s listening to Mark’s band, Eulogy of the Dog. This past Sunday I preached about “Finding God’s will for your life” where your talents/gifts intersect with your passion and then sharing this unique combo with the world. Happy to see my fellow classmate, Mark Mann, is (still) living the dream. 

Truth be told, it was not easy being back in Hattiesburg. Stopping by old haunts like Shipley Do-Nuts and the Hattiesburg (Kamper Park) Zoo  that we frequented with our parents. Driving through the old neighborhoods, past Thames Elementary and places where my mom spent untold hours working hard to make sure she found her clients the perfect place to raise their families. Knowing Chloe was touring Forrest General where my dad worked for years as a Clinical Pharmacist. Both gone too soon. Every time I would recall that mom would be giddy with excitement to see Chloe shining on the stage, I was overwhelmed with a flood of tears and deep sadness for a past that can not be reclaimed. 

Cherry, my best friend, lightened the heavy load and made the journey as sweet as can be. 
She is my person. And I thank God that my sister is also my best friend.

The aunts, Cherry, Bella and I had the best time exploring the new Pocket Museum, checking out an old fashion favorite, UAL, and dining at several new restaurants. Making new Hattiesburg memories, together. And we can't forget our beautiful Cinderella Barbie, Bella. What a doll. She graced the stage regally as Jaxco's Little Miss.

There are so many wonderful things that happened during the Mississippi Miss Hospitality competition, but one stands out. A true "God thing." During the Autograph Signing Party at Turtle Creek Mall, Cherry and I walked down to the Food Court to get a Coke Zero. I looked out into the sea of faces and was stunned to see our Camp Wesley Pines crew there munching on Chick-fil-A.  A last minute pit stop change had them in this "perfect spot" at the "perfect time." The kids were equally shocked to see me there. So many hugs, and "Pastor MJ why are you here?" Each one spilling out details of a week they will remember forever. We surprised Chloe with a visit from the GFUMC kiddos. Big tears welled up in her eyes.  It made her day! This reminded me (again) the Lord is faithful to provide what we need at just the right moment. 

Another “God thing” Chloe’s roommate, Miss Jackson, recently (sadly) lost her brother. As she was sharing her heartache with Chloe, what comfort must have came when Chloe was able to say, “I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I know what it means to lose a brother.” You just never know what someone is going through. What unseen injuries they are nursing. God places people on your path for you to uplift and share their load. Be kind and gentle. We are all just trying to make it through this thing called life. 

Back to the crown fixing: In true Miss Hospitality fashion, McKay Lee Bray, last year’s winner offered to help the contestants with their hair, or anything really. Chloe took her up on that. The last night when Chloe hit the stage with a McKay Bray signature do, she looked like a movie star. Her hair flipped and swayed with her movements. This one magic moment I will remember forever. But more so, we will never forget the kindness shown in this simple act of love and service. Be that girl that will fix another's crown. 

Jackson County didn’t come away with the crown, but we left with a big smile and a heart filled with abiding gratitude. We will forever remember it as one of the best "times of our lives." Chloe has gained confidence, interview skills, made forever friends from every corner of our great state, and has learned so much about our home. The biggest take away is Mississippi is one big family with deep roots and strong connections. This entire experience has made me even more proud to be a Mississippian. Mississippi, You is kind. You is smart. You is important. Don’t let anybody convince you otherwise. 

My Tribe. My People. My Mississippi.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Seeing Red

“If you are in a red zone, there is simply no way to safely open schools now,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said in a statement. “Orange zones will struggle as well. If you open schools in these areas, the chances are that those will likely close quickly when teachers, staff, and possibly students start getting sick in large numbers. If leaders in these counties want to reopen schools in the fall, they must bring down the level of virus, starting now. Yellow counties are in a slightly better position, but must still make hard choices.”

As of July 18th Mississippi is in the Red Zone. Let that sink in. We are living in the Red Zone and most every School District in our state has been working diligently to put plans in place to open in the next couple weeks.

But there’s more...According to the Mississippi Department of Health’s Guidelines for K-12 re-opening, many (most) Mississippi District Plans for a fall re-entry places students and educators in the “highest risk” category:

1. Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.

2. More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).

3. Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.

I recognize these decisions are complex, and plans for delaying re-entry come with great difficulty for parents and leave at-risk children even more days home in unfavorable environments.

In addition, I have a high respect for our Superintendents, School Boards, and leaders that are doing the best they can to navigate this space for the children and community they serve.

Perhaps, together, we could re-imagine some alternative paths forward:
*Delayed traditional restart at least until Mississippi is out of the “red zone.” Perhaps even until we are in the moderate “yellow” zone.” This would also afford districts more time to prepare their spaces to adequately social distance.

*Offer options that work to make 6 ft social distancing more of a reality: hybrid, staggered, rotating schedules.

*Consider a traditional/hybrid combination: Offer hybrid as an option. Allowing students that “need” to come back to traditional to return and allowing those that “can” opt into hybrid to do so in order to relieve some of the burden of “full” schools.

*Or what if we got creative? Used this as a “such a time as this” moment and re-imagined our education plans. Maybe it’s just the “right” time to consider, again, year round school as an option. With staggered track outs we could achieve fewer students in the building at one time. There are many other inherent benefits to year round school as well.

What if we worked together as a state to get us out of the Red Zone. What if we worked together for the next generation— “for the kids.”

Yesterday articles circulated about a recent White House Task force call to shut down gyms and bars in areas that are in the Red Zone. Many locals took to Facebook to come to the defense of keeping gyms open, noting social distancing and proper protocols are in place. However, many of the proponents of keeping gyms opened noted the vast difference in bars and gyms: The lack of social distancing in bars, lack of masks, clumps of people, after a few drinks inhibitions are down, people are even more “touchy.”

If we are going to get out of the Red Zone, we have to make difficult decisions. Decisions that will (yes) have an economic impact. Can we agree our health is our most valued resource? And make decisions with public health at the forefront?

I realize the debate is out about mask wearing. And some feel strongly it’s infringing on their rights. And others legitimately need an accommodation. But what if a statewide mask order could help us get out of the Red Zone and open school back up with more confidence? Could we agree to wearing masks then? This isn’t forever, it's to get us through this moment thing. 

As a pastor I am a listening ear for many. So many educators have reached out to me asking for my “prayers.” They are concerned. Fearful. Have high anxiety about being able to keep the students charged to their care “safe.” They are also greatly concerned for their own health. Parents, too. Wrestling with growing anxiety about sending their children back to school. What both educators and parents keep saying is: “I’m just hoping something will give--the legislature will step in and delay restart.”

If we can work together to relieve the burden on our Healthcare System, discharge patients, lower our Covid numbers, and get out of the Red Zone perhaps schools could safely be “open” by September or October?

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Did I Know?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

Did I know? That is the most mainsplaining thing ever. I mean of course I didn’t fully know. But I knew as much as I could have. I knew like any mother would know that I hoped and prayed my child would do great things. Things that would mean far more than anything I ever have done. But did I know, know. Well, here’s what I knew...Right around the time I was 14 and had began making the monthly trip to The Red Tent I decided I didn’t want to have children. Listening to the other ladies spin tales of horror. Babies dying in the womb. Mothers dying in childbirth. As I sat there with blood oozing down my inner thighs, cramping terribly with no relief I thought: I will not have a child. Maybe I will be a midwife and help the ladies of our village birth all their babies.

But I didn’t know that God had another plan.

Around the time I had began making the monthly visit to the Red Tent someone started coming around our house. Joseph, a local carpenter. He would bring me sweet bread from the bakery. I enjoyed the bread and his company. But I was not interested in a man. Or being a wife. Or especially having children. Then more and more he would stop by and more and more my parents would invite him to stay for dinner. Until one day my parents informed me I was going to marry this Joseph. I ran into my room and cried and cried.

Now don’t get me wrong. Joseph was a good man. A good looking man with a respected carpentry business that could provide for me, but I just wasn’t ready to be married. My parents said it was a done deal, and that they wouldn’t allow me to become an old maid like Ms. Mildred that lives next door. So we were betrothed to marry. It’s more serious than an engagement, but not quite a marriage. We set a date to be married and he continued to visit me, bringing sweet bread and stories from the carpenter shop. Over time I warmed up to the idea of being Joseph’s wife and I was almost excited about the prospect of getting married, white veil, walking down the aisle. A huge wedding the entire town would come out for.

But I didn’t know God had another plan.

Here’s where the story gets a little weird. So believe it or not I was visited by the angel Gabriel. No, I'm not crazy. I don’t need meds. Gabriel told me that I was highly favored by God and get this that I was going to have a son and this son that he will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end. I really thought maybe Gabriel had gotten me mixed up with someone. I asked him if he was sure he had the right Mary and how can I be pregnant with a son when you know, I have never…He told me to not be afraid. The Holy Spirit will come upon me, and the power of the Most High will overshadow me. And I will have the holy one called the Son of God. He told me that even Elizabeth my cousin is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God. I was stunned, but how could I tell an angel of God "no."  I accepted this as my life's mission and the angel left me.

The excitement of the angelic encounter quickly faded. Did this really happen? I had no one to talk to about this. The next month I walked around kinda in a daze. Wondering if that was a dream, or if it was real. I kept marking down the days until it was time to go to the Red Tent. And when the time came and we gathered at the tent, there was no blood. I tried my best to hide this from the ladies in the tent. My nosey aunts and cousins. I knew I couldn’t sit next to my mother because she would notice. I just kept to myself and tried to figure out what I was going to do.

There was talk of going to visit my cousin Elizabeth. Some of my relatives were making a journey to see her and bring her gifts for the baby. They were calling her pregnancy a miracle. Maybe I wasn't crazy after all. I spoke up and asked my mom if I could go! She said: "We will see." Which usually meant no. When we got back home I heard her telling my dad that she thought it would be good for me to go on a little trip, especially since I was about to be married. I was allowed to go.

I just knew my cousin Elizabeth could help me. When I walked through her doors and called out to my cousin she came running to greet me. She put her hands on my stomach and said: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” I explained to her everything that had happened and she invited me to stay a while with her. I stayed three months with her and my baby grew and grew and my body stretched and stretched. One day while we were eating breakfast she said you must return home and tell Joseph.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next. When I got back home, Joseph was waiting at my house for me with sweet bread. I ran and hugged him. He looked at me with shock and refused to hug me. Hot tears streamed down my face. I retold him everything that had happened and then tears welled up in his eyes. He called for my parents and showed them my belly and said it was a disgrace. That he could not possibly marry me, but that he cared for me and because of his respect for my father he would not tell the elders. He would quietly separate from me. And he left me.

As soon as the door shut my father and mother started screaming at me. My mother yelled in my face: "What have you done. You have dishonored our name. You could be stoned to death." My dad quietly said: "You should be stoned to death but we all know Joseph is a good man. " I went to my room and cried and cried and cried until I fell asleep as the sun was coming up.

For three long torturous days I stayed in my room. My mom would bring me food. But I refused to eat or leave. I would not bathe. Or speak to anyone. My room became a tomb. I hoped for death. To be buried alive in my sorrow. And then on the fourth day I woke to the scent of sweet bread. I ran into the kitchen and found a basket of my favorite kind and I note from Joseph: "My darling Mary, please meet me at my shop at sun down." I devoured the entire basket. I bathed and my mom braided my hair and i went to meet Joseph. I was scared but thought maybe he had a change of heart. And then my eyes saw it. A crib. And the fresh scent of wood. Joseph ran to me and picked me up and twirled me around. He put me down and knelt down and kissed my feet. He kissed my belly. And hugged me so tightly I thought I would stop breathing. He said how very sorry he was for not believing me. He was visited by an angel in a dream that confirmed what I said and he was ready to take me as a wife.

The big fancy wedding I had imagined was off the table. At four months pregnant we had a very small quiet wedding and a meal at my parents’ home before I moved in with Joseph in the room he built for us at his parents home.

But that was not the worst of it. I had know idea how cruel people could be. The entire town was talking about me. So much so I couldn’t go anywhere. I was trapped at Joseph’s parents house. Long days while Joseph worked. They called me a whore. And said I shamed my family.  Shamed by God. And that Joseph had married a disgrace.

So when I found out we had to make a journey to Bethlehem to register for the decree made by Caesar Augustus for a census as difficult as that journey was I was thankful to get out of this town. The journey took several days. My back ached so badly. I couldn’t tell if I was going into labor or my back was hurting because I was riding on a donkey over rocks. I had wished I had some of my cousins with me to tell me if it was getting close to time. But all I had was Joseph because we he was from the lineage of David from the house of Bethlehem. It was Joseph’s family were were traveling with. They ladies in his family were cold to me. The entire clan finally left us. Went on ahead of us on our second day of the journey. They were getting frustrated by my pace and said there would be nowhere to sleep if we were the last to arrive I kept having to stop to use the restroom and it was harder and harder to get back on the donkey with each stop. My back was now aching non stop.

When we finally arrived at Bethlehem my back was killing me. Joseph stopped in the first inn he could find. He told me to wait with our things and he went in to speak. It was getting dark out and I was getting cold. He came back with a downcast look. He said the inn was full. That on the other side of town there were two other inns and maybe they had room but because of the census the innkeeper doubted it. We were about to go but I had to pee so badly.

We went in to ask if I could please use the restroom. The innkeepers wife’s eyes got as big as saucers. She yelled at her husband: "How could you turn this woman away— the baby is at the door!" While I was in the restroom an arrangement was made that we could stay in the inns stable. There was bright red blood mixed with thick mucus when I was in the restroom. I remembered what my cousin had told me. This meant the baby was almost here.

We got settled in to the stable. The innkeeper's wife kept bringing us things. Blankets and water. She brought us figs and grapes and cheese. I couldn't eat, but I was glad to see Joseph eat something other than the granola and pita bread and honey we had packed for the journey. All through the night I tossed and turned. Now the ache in my back had moved to the front. It was gripping me. I cried out to God: "Have you brought me here to die in this this stinky barn." This went on all night the next day and as the sun was going down my water broke. It didn’t break with a huge gush. Just a little trickle. I thought at first I peeing on myself. But it didn’t stop trickling.

At this point the innkeeper's wife wouldn’t leave my side. She was an angel. I was so thankful to have her and wished my mother was with me. A few hours later the pain was almost unbearable. I was frightened by how much it hurt. She told me I would know when it was time to push and it would be a relief to push. What felt like hours wasn’t that long and it was finally time. With Joseph holding my right leg back, and the innkeeper’s wife bracing my left leg, I began to push and I pushed and pushed and with one final scream my first born son burst forth from my womb.

He was beautiful. A masterpiece. I was in complete love with him. I never knew I could love someone so much. and if I had known then all the heartache I would endure watching this child I bore be mocked, stripped of his clothes and dignity, beat until he bled and hung on a crooked cross like a criminal left to die well I just couldn't have taken it to know all that at this moment. I didn't know the whole picture. I didn’t know I would watch him take his last breath. The sky would fade to black. The curtain in the temple would be torn in half. And he would feel as forsaken as I did when I was left alone in my room.

What did I know? I had a promise I pondered in my heart. I didn't realize this child I delivered would soon deliver me. Save our sons and daughters. Walk on water. Heal the deaf. The blind. The lame. And after being buried for three long days my son would rip his way out of the grave like he burst forth from my womb. No I didn't know all that.

Here's what I knew. My child was special. He was healthy. He was beautiful and he was mine. As he snuggled up next to me and drank deeply from my breast all felt right in the world. All was perfect. If just for a moment. Heaven touched earth and kissed. He was pure love. I loved him so deeply it felt like my heart might explode. All I knew was love.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Get your Ash (Somewhere).

"Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Psalm 90:12

Ash Wednesday is upon us. The time each year that is set aside to reflect on the duplicity of our ever present mortality, coupled with the never ending mercies of God. A loving God that grants us safe passage from the ashpit of life to the eternal hope we have in Christ. And so with both deep humility and great hope we receive the ashes that mark the beginning of our 40 day journey (plus Sundays aka little Easters) to the cross, through the grave, and into the glorious light found Resurrection morning.  English please! Ok, you are going to die. Have you stopped for a second to inspect how you are living while you still have the breath of life filling your lungs? 

Why participate in Ash Wednesday? 

By participating in Ash Wednesday, you will begin the Lenten season with a solid commitment made with the strength of the community around you. A strong start makes it more probable you will finish strong!

In between the last of The Tatonut Kingcake donuts, the final parades, and other fun & festive Mardi Gras celebrations, be thinking what you could give up for Lent?

What could you offer? A technology fast? Refrain from eating out as much? Turn the faucet off your running mouth.

But more importantly, ponder what you can "add" to fill the void created by your fast--Start a daily scripture reading practice. Tomorrow I'm starting a @YouVersion plan 'Journeying With Jesus - 40 Days Lent Devotional'. Check it out here---> Click here to join me!  Set a dedicated time to pray? Commit to being in worship each Sunday of Lent? Just can't be there? Join our online worshipping community.  Forgive someone? Gather around your family's table more? Use the money you saved from eating during Lent to start a "Giving Jar."

The entire point of "giving up" something or "adding something" is to make an intentional effort to draw closer to God as we focus on our 40 day journey to Easter morning. 

God is not the one that moves away from us. As we seek to refocus our lives and center our hearts around Christ, God will be found.
Local? Meet me at The Greenhouse on Porter any time from 9 -11 am or at the Ms. Gulf Coast YMCA from 4-6 pm to begin a season of intentional reflection by an outward expression of your inward effort to become more like Jesus. Or participate in our Ash Wednesday Service at 12 noon at St. Paul at our Porter Avenue location or 7 pm at our East Campus location. If not, just get your ash somewhere! Google is a miraculous thing: Ash Wednesday Service near me. Click! ------> Lent Begins.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Wait Three Days

On this day, three years ago, my Mom left this world. Shock. Horror. Deep guttural cries: Do not even begin to communicate the terror we experienced in hearing the news. I can still feel the screams deep down in my bones. 

The Dark Side overcame our sweet DeDe. She poured herself out for others.  Leaving nothing to sustain herself. She fought the good fight until there was simply nothing left to give. God rest her sweet soul.

Last Easter these hauntingly telling pictures popped up on my Time Hop, and I was completely floored. Like breath knocked out of me floored. How did we not SEE this? My sweet Mama looked absolutely miserable. So unsettled. So, doing everything she can to hang on. So overcome. I remember saying something rude that day like, "Mom, can't you just smile!?"

Well, no, she couldn't just smile. She was so low.  So overcome by the darkness.  So sad. So worried.  So rat in a cage. So everything that she just couldn't stand to be in this world not one more breath.

Not one more Easter. Not one more Mother's Day. Not one more grandchild's graduation. No seeing boys turn to men. No throwing bridal showers. No kissing newborn great-grands. Not one more of anything. Mama simply couldn't take one more moment of this world.

Hello, Good Friday! I'm swimming in the sadness of your moment. This dark, shadowy day: Where we recall the suffering of God. The betrayal. The brutality. The abuse. The mocking. The wishing there was some other way. The not being able to take one more moment of this world. 

In this dark hour that literally takes my breath away...I am reminded of the only thing we can do when darkness chokes out all hope: 
Wait. Three. Days. 

And in the waiting remember...
The story is not over.
 Death does not get the last word.
 The grave can't hold Jesus back.
Morning will break. 
Sunday is coming.  

Death can rage and threaten and intimate. But it can't overcome. "Oh death...Where is your sting? Where is your victory?"  You talk a big game, but in the end you are nothing but a punk. 

I will not be moved. Though darkness presses in. And the earth shakes. I can smell death all around. I will wait, and even suffer while I wait, but that doesn't change the outcome:

"Nothing can ever separate us from God's love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow-not even the powers of hell can separate us from God's love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below-Indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Wake Up & Be Thankful

This past Sunday I started (again) a practice of “Waking Up and Giving Thanks.”

I also posed the question to our Live @ 11:11 congregation: “How different would your days be if you chose to live a life of gratitude instead of grumbling?” I'm guilty. I grumble.

And so, I've began (again) waking up and thanking God for the gifts I have and trying to orient my day towards “Thanks-living.”

It’s a good discipline.  A simple spiritual practice. Counting your blessings. Counting them one by one. Looking for your wins. The good. Cup half full stuff.

Did you know? Looking for the good is a magical happy pill you swallow deep down into your soul. It’s quite difficult to be in a bad mood when you begin to ponder ALL the gifts you have to be thankful for. If there is breath in your lungs you have something to celebrate.

Consider this your personal invitation to join the Wake Up & Be Thankful Revolution. Waking Up Thankful is actually trending now! Check this hilarious video  released by Forest Hills Church that has gone viral.

When you make a list of all of the things that you are thankful for, it has a way of changing your entire perspective and radically increasing your chances of a happy day.

Here's how it works...

Right when your eyes pop open:
Before you mentally recite your never ending to-do list.
Before you brew a cup of coffee.
Before you (not intentionally) start an argument with your spouse.
Before you step on your scale.
Before you drag your kids out of bed for school.
Before you check: Facebook. Your bank account. Or your favorite GroupMe.
Before you go on a run. Hit the gym. Or get your yoga on.
Before you text your BFF.

Before you do anything: Bring to your mind at least three things you are thankful for on this day.

This simple practice truly is life transforming!

In contrast I can't believe how I was waking up to my grumbly to-do list: a Ruthless Task Master sucking my energy and stealing my joy. The last four days I have had to fight off this ingrained reflex: Before my feet hit the floor I was complaining to myself about how many things I have to do and how I can't possibly get it all done.

It has taken an intentional and concerted effort to stop that negative tape that was playing on auto. It's taking serious Mr. Miyagi focus to change my, "I have to do" list to a "I get to do" list. It's required an even larger, mammoth sized effort to not play the "Get to do" list immediately and just stop for a hot second. Take a deep breath. And name some things

This attitude of thankfulness is now flowing throughout my entire day. It's elevated my mood. It's created an upbeat background to build the days of my life upon. Sure, I have melt downs and grumbly thoughts, but not near as much as prior to this simple intentional practice.

The experts say it takes three weeks to start a habit, and then it takes another three weeks to solidify it. I'm going to attempt to practice "Being Thankful" for six weeks. Hopefully it will become a habit!

How about you join me?

Here's How: When you wake up tomorrow morning (and guess what there's something right there to be thankful for) name three specific things you are grateful for.
By the end of the week write down a minimum of five things in which you were thankful for during the week. Put it in your iPhone notes, get a cutesy Be Thankful Journal, start a Google Doc, post to Facebook (someone in our community is doing this and I LOVE IT!)

Voila! After the sixth week, I am banking on you and I being far happier than today. It's been proven that counting your "wins" will change your attitude which leads to gratefulness which leads to happiness which leads to a more productive and successful life. Let's do this!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

How You Can Be Present for Grieving Parents in Their Suffering

Darkness looms heavy. Tears flow from town to town along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We are all one big Love for Sophia family. We miss that beautiful, sparkly, spunky, funny, fabulous girl. 

 And what you find at the very center of the Love for Sophia family are two amazing, yet broken, parents who don't deserve this, who are trying to get through the 8 month DIPG nightmare that continues to pour down on them with little to no relief. And we, who are attempting to comfort them, cannot comprehend even a tiny fraction of the gut wrenching, soul twisting, heart exploding pain that holds the Myers family captive. 

Angel and Joshua weep. God weeps. The Love for Sophia Family weeps. 

We all weep. 

 Pastorally, I couldn't let this dark hour go by without doing something. I tried to figure out  "what" I could do, and  so we offered our Live @ 11:11 Services to be a "Hope and Healing" Service. You can check it out here ----> Hope & Healing Service. 

 I don't have the answers to the hard questions that plague us all. What I do have is insight, born through awful, personal tragedy, to give. And so, I will offer what I have, and pray God will take my small basket of bread and fish and multiple it to provide spiritual nourishment to those that are hurting. 

Here is what I offer: A "What Not to Say" List, and a "What to Say/Do" List. My intention is not to hurt anyone. Please don't feel badly if you have already said these things. We ALL have said these things. Just from here out try to be mindful of the Love for Sophia family, and refrain from offering these space fillers. 

DISCLAIMER: I know the temptation. You DON'T know what to say. You feel awful for them. So you just reach back into your "Grieving Parent Files" and grab the first cliche you find.  DON'T DO IT. DON'T SAY DUMB THINGS. I promise standing there and saying nothing just enduring the awkward silence for a moment is better than saying these things...

What Not To Say to Grieving Parents:                                                                                                   1. "The Lord needed another Angel." Please, don't say this. Or any derivative of this: Needed another singer, dancer, etc. Regardless of your personal religious or spiritual persuasions. Trust me. It stings. Try to put yourself in their shoes. If God needed another "angel" then God could have created one. Not MY baby. I can't tell you how many well-meaning, loving people said this. And I can't tell you how badly it hurts.  

2. "This was God's Plan." Nothing like that. Regardless of if you believe that. I don't care. No parent wants to hear this days after their child has been ripped away from them. Who are YOU to say what is and is not God's plan.

3. "Everything Happens for a Reason."  Really? Again, are you the Governor of the Universe? Sometimes insanely, devastating, unimaginably horrific accidents happen to some of the most loving, giving, selfless people. And we can't make any sense of it. It's not your place to try to wrap it up in a neat package, and tie it with a "God" bow. Some things just will not make sense on this side of heaven, and it's not your job to try to force sense out of tragedy.

4. "At Least... " She is in heaven now. She's no longer suffering. You got to say goodbye. Or  any "at least" sentiment, really. "At least" hurts, badly. Trust me. 

5. "I Know How You Feel, I Lost My Youngest Child in 1965." Stop right there. The parents are carrying a load that is unbearable. They cannot hold your pain, too. Don't share any "sad" story. No loss, cancer, divorce. None of it. This is for later. Much later. If you are close to the parents and want to be somewhat of a journey partner, or a guide if you will through the grief process, that time will emerge. If you just want to offer yourself as a witness that you CAN survive this...wait...there will be a time for that. Don't do that today. For the love of God DO NOT do this coming through the mammoth line at the wake. And don't say this at the Celebration of Life. Swapping horror stories is for much, much later. I know it seems "helpful" to say, "I know your pain I lost a child," but it's just too heavy right now. Save it. 

6. "God knew you could handle it." "You must be strong people." "You are stronger than I am."  " I couldn't do this." None of this is helpful. Maybe you do think they are strong. You are probably right! Maybe you think you couldn't do it (God forbid you find yourself having to endure such heartache). But, seriously, this all hurts, too. 

So What IS Helpful to Say? 

A good rule of thumb is to make "I" statements, instead of trying to "make sense of their situation" statements:  I'm sorry. This sucks. It's totally unfair. can't fathom your pain. I'm here for you. I'm praying for you. Let me know if I can do something to help you. I love you. I loved ______(name of child). Tell them what you loved about their child. will miss them. I will miss _______(fill in the blank with a memory). I'm going to call you in a few days (Call them.) I'm going to stop by and check on you. (Stop by. Bring food. Or gift cards. Or something you know they would appreciate. Don't stay long, unless you are super close to them, or they have asked you to stay.)  If you can't say any of this... Just don't say anything at all. A touch. A pat on the back. A nod. Just being present in their grief for a split second. Carrying a tiny bit of the pain as you stand there with them. 

What Can You DO?

1. PrayI mean really, really pray. Like put your face to the ground and cry out to God for mercy for this family. Intercede on their behalf--night and day. Whenever you think of them.  I KNOW we would not have made it through without the countless multitude of family, friends, parishioners, clergy, casual acquaintances, community members, and people that just heard our story praying for us. Pray without ceasing, Love for Sophia Family, for the Myers family!

2. Let the family know you are praying for them. 

 Again, the cards and letters that flooded in. What a source of strength and encouragement!

3. Meet the Primary Needs. Communities usually do this well. Greyhound Nation is shining.  So much LOVE for Sophia is pouring in. Keep doing it. Don't stop. This serves to nourish the family physically, but also reminds them that people are walking with them. The Love for Sophia Tribe is helping carry the load. I can't tell you all the love and presence that was showered on us, and is continued to be offered, and how much it means.

4. Go through the Parents' Liaison:  It's best to try to coordinate most of the "food,"  "gifts" or "offers to help" through someone close to the family. Do not just show up at their house and walk in. Knock on door. Hand your gift to whoever answers door. Leave. Unless invited in. I say this to say, if you are trying to give food, gifts, monetary support, whatever, try to find out who this person (or people are) instead of going straight to the parents. A few suggestions in this case: Talk to Christi. Or Leah. Dana. or Kerry. Set up the giving through them, so the family is not bombarded. 

5. GIVE MONETARILY: Angel and Joshua have plans to fight this monster, stupid tumor, that took their child. I know they can do it. Help them in the fight. Give to the cause. 

6. SHARE THE LOVE FOR SOPHIA STORY: Spread the word. Your sharing and financial support could be the reason the DIPG code is cracked. And not another child has to suffer this horrible cancer. You can be a part of stopping stupid tumors from devastating families. 

In closing, I offer this prayer for the Myers and all who know and Love Sophia:
Great God of mercy, you created us in your own image, redeemed us by Christ's blood, and give us new life through your Holy Spirit. There are times when life conflicts with life and we find ourselves in the crucible of unforeseen tragedy and unbearable suffering. In this dark hour we ask that you provide a beacon of hope to light our way. We, also, offer ourselves to aid the Myers family, who are met with adversity beyond their capacity to endure alone. We offer you our hands to do Your work; We give You our eyes to see as You see; We give you our tongue to speak Your words; We offer our hearts that You may love through us. It is through such giving that we become more like you. Stir up in each of us a holy desire to think less of ourselves and more of others until we are so intertwined with Christ that it is God alone that lives, breathes, and prays in us. Amen.

Lord Hear Our Prayer,