Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Gift of The Present

I almost wasn't present for the gift of today. Last night the ghost of an idea percolated into my imagination: To retreat. Run away, really, to hide from today. My late night lucid plan was to wake up, call the St. Bernard Abbey  in Cullman, Alabama. Pray they had some visitor vacancies. Pack a small bag. Hope my husband and kids were ok with my unanticipated 3 day absence. And make the 5 hour and 18 minute pilgrimage while spending 4 of those hours explaining and re-explaining to my sister that I really am ok.

I was hoping for relief. My thought was maybe getting away, clearing my head, being surrounded by prayer, and quiet, and the monkish life could lift this black fog that had gathered all around, in and through me. Why St. Bernard? Swiped the idea from @RachelHeldEvans' book, Searching for Sunday.  St. Bernard is where RHE ventured when she was searching for something. (side note) RHE's latest masterpiece provided much fodder for a recent sermon on the Kingdom of God. And RiffRaff. And God's great big table.  Big enough for even the riffy-est of the riffraff (me).  Listen here---> "Do This. Remember Me."  And so, maybe, a similar trip could provide me with something...Or at least get the heavy blackness off my chest.

As the sun broke through my blackened sky, reality set in. I had family and friends that had made plans to celebrate with me. My children needed their taxi service to usher them from one extra curricular to the next. 9 weeks tests are tomorrow and there is a Science test Duke really needs to ace. Beyond all the "shoulds"  and the "needs" the truth of the matter: I really desired to face today, but was just too afraid. Didn't feel like wrestling with the heartache. Weary from the struggle and constant ache in my soul.

 I was facing the brutal knowledge that I wouldn't receive the very first call I have gotten for as far back as I can remember. The one where Mom retells me the story of my birth. I always laughed her off and said, "Mom, I know this story. I've heard it a billion times." And, yet, with cruel irony the details are now foggy. I wish I could have heard her tell it this day. How intently I would have listened. I would not have missed one word of the tale. Insisted on all the details she could muster up. And even taken notes. What I do remember went something like...Lots of pain. Crazy pain. Something about a false alarm trip to Memorial. A trip to Burger King (I food for sure). Back home. Throwing up. But not my Mom. My Dad and his "weak stomach" I inherited. More pain. Back to the hospital. And before she knew it a bright eyed, first born child with lots of black hair burst into the world an old soul. "You were born grown," she would say.

The fear of enduring today and the deep pain of her absence almost drove me searching for a St. Bernard escape. Not that there would have been anything wrong with that--we all need Retreat. Rewiring. Reframing. But...I would have missed out on so many, many gifts. Gifts only received if you are willing to live into The Present in all its glorious splendor mixed with, yes, heartache and pain. A life cocktail!

 I would have missed out on:

My darling husband heading to the store for (gross alert) tampons and hairspray and returning with other thoughtful birthday treats. (You know your guy must love you if he's willing to cash in his man card like that).

My sweet Mosie being the first person to wish me, "Happy Birthday" with a lovely text (and a few alien faces due to a lack of updating on my part. Wonder what those are?)

And then hours later...BAM! A follow up text:

Another text from not so "Little" Eddie with a BIG 101 on a test. The highest grade in the class! Sweet! Congrats to him! Happy Birthday to ME!
Hugs and kisses from my darling babies: Chloe and Duke.

A trip to a brand new (to me) salon I didn't know existed compliments of "Sherry" Graves the winner of a basketful of goodies including a gift certificate to Cutting Edge and a trip to Belize! UnBelizable, Brat!

A sweet card in the mail from my precious Aunt Cherry & Aunt Tommie that provided the juice for a a rare treat trip to Lee Tracy. (Turns out the birthday shirt I picked out was identical to the one fashionista, Amy C. , chose for Marty's birthday.)

A beautiful birthday lunch with precious friends and my darling sis. Complete with a toast to "Sunshine" and "Hope" and an amazing made from scratch cake, by the Cake Bos, Kim "the intern." What a gift! She preaches like a pro AND can bake? SAY WHAT? What can't Kim Bos do?

More Cards. Calls. Texts. Facebook LOVE than a girl can stand. Of course my favorite...
He sure is a charmer. I'm one lucky girl.

And now I'm sitting here. Soaking in the gift of today. Turning away the Jehovah Witness "Elder" that won't stop knocking on my door. Peering through my blinds. Watching me type this very second...And I'm not answering the door.  I just don't feel like getting into it. I don't feel like explaining: Yes, I do believe. In fact, I know you can't believe this, but I'm a pastor.  And it also happens to be my birthday. And I don't want to get into a huge Christological debate with you over the divinity of Christ. I know what you believe. And what I believe is Jesus wasn't just a role model, but Christ is actually God in skin. And Jesus humbled himself, taking on our infirmities, and steps down into our world. Laughing with us. Crying with us. And is the High Priest that knows my heartache, because he experienced heartache first hand. And it is THIS God that made a way for me today when I just didn't see a way.

 And instead of fruitlessly arguing with you, Elder Such and So, I'm going to make myself a cup of coffee and flip through the magazine that was in my early morning birthday bundle compliments of my hubby. I'm going to soak in this fleeting quiet moment while waiting to run the after school pickup circuit, grab dinner for the Kirby kids, head to a can't miss church meeting, and finally make it over the bay for a late night, first time, reservation at Felix's with My Love.

Thanking God I'm here. And drinking in deeply all the marvelous gifts of The Present. I pray, even if you are facing a dark night of the soul, you can muster up the courage to raise your glass to life, too! #cheers

Monday, August 24, 2015

I Hope You Have the Time of Your Life

Anyone that knows my mom even remotely well has fallen victim to this look. It's classic Debbie. Apparently, it's becoming classic MJ.  My sister snapped this picture of me at my little cousin, Meghan's, wedding. A beautiful celebration on Beauvoir's front porch that mom and I had chatted about, texted about, debated how to best decorate, yet, were looking forward to helping orchestrate all the same. Mom was there in spirit, but gravely absent in the body. She's been absent from a lot lately, and there's no words to describe the gut check, hole in our family, and deep ache in my heart.
And I wish more than anything, I could just turn back the clock.
Turn it back to the last weekend she was with me. She had come in town to cheer on Chloe at the OSMS pageant. We had a great time getting Chloe all dolled up. But by the end of the evening, I was exhausted from the whirlwind of getting lil Miss Thang ready. I had Sunday morning and all my responsibilities staring at me. So when mom suggested, "Hey, you want to go get some appetizers. Just you and I?"  I blew her off.

 "I'm too tired, mom. I gotta be up so early."

If I had only known that would have been our Last Supper together, I would have gone come hell or high-water.

Time is a funny thing. It is our greatest commodity.

One that can never be replenished, yet we spend it like we have an endless supply, and we waste it on the frivolous, stupid stuff. Like, the 7 hour a day average screen time. You can read more about that in a previous post here --->"Life Hacks that will have you Doing Life Better"

Or worry.

Or spinning our wheels on things that won't matter in 10 years.

Or one year.

Or tomorrow.

Or feeling too fat to put on a swim suit and jump in the pool of life with your kids.

Until you wake up one morning and realize all your time is gone, or all your time with your child is gone. I know about loss of time.  I lost my son. I will never be able to get that time back.  Jeremy would just be starting his senior year. My time with him was snatched away. I'm not unique. We are all in the process of  "losing" our children if you think about it.

They won't always be a preschooler.

3rd grader.

9th grader.

Suddenly in a blink of an eye they are all grown up...Of course that's what the goal of parenting is after all. We want to rear them to be moral, responsible, productive community members. Yet, I can tell you first hand it stings when your child says, "Ummm. No you and dad are not going to help me move in. Parents only help freshmen and girls. You are not going with me." And then you watch your child load up their SUV and drive away for their sophomore year of college.

 And you wonder where all the time has gone...

  I don't want to live like that. I want to know where my time has gone.

On sharing greasy pizza.
Crack of dawn cross country meets.
Netflix family movie marathons.
Hiking in Gatlinburg.
Friday Night Lights.
Runs. Swims. Bikes.
Building sand castles in Orange Beach.
Homemade Meals around our table.

I want to spend my life in such a manner that at the end of my days, I will feel as if I've heeded the Psalmist's plea: "Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered--how fleeting my life is." Psalm 39:4

I want to live like I believe.

How we choose (and ultimately it is your choice) to use the time we've been gifted with DOES matter. You can listen to a message I offered about TIME in relationship to parenting here--->"Losing Your Marbles" by Rev. MJ Kirby  WARNING! The beginning is rough. I had just returned from a 6 week hiatus, leading Beach Worship, and it took me a bit to get reoriented into "church" space. It's quite comical, yet many people have told me, "It really made me think." I've ran into people around town that keep saying, "This is not like me, but I shared your sermon with friends that needed to hear it." So, I guess I can just get over my uncomfortableness about the manic, disoriented nature of the beginning.

The idea behind the message is not original. I lifted the concept from Reggie Joiner, founder of Orange, over at the The Parent Cue. His book, Parenting Beyond Your Capacity, provided much fodder for the message.

Ain't nobody got "time" for that. Ok, fine. Basically the gist is this...Time is finite. You only have so much of it. When your child is born you only have 936 weeks with them until they are an adult to make a lasting impact.

Is your child 3? You have 780 weeks left.

6? 624 weeks left.

12? 312 weeks left.
15? 208 weeks left.

17? 52 weeks left. Ouch...

Time matters.

So the question becomes...What are YOU doing to make the most of the time you have been gifted? 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

5 Life Hacks That Will Have You Doing Life Better

I think sometimes (most times) we make this 24 hour earth axis revolution much more difficult than it actually has to be. Our day to day spinning warps into a hyper speed, Americano blur that imitates the twisted tale of our day, "Busy = successful."

We clock too many work hours. 

Spend too much of our "free" time staring at screens. Do yourself a favor and log the number of hours you spend on your phone, tablet, iPad, Mac, or TV. If you are like the average American, I hope you are sickened by the data you collect: "In the United States, people spend an average of 444 minutes every day looking at screens." Do the math that's a whopping 7.4 hours of your life.

Horrifying Chart Reveals How Much Time We Spend Staring at Screens.  Zach Epstein 

We don't invest enough of our day to day life in communal table time-- "Sadly, Americans rarely eat together anymore. In fact, the average American eats one in every five meals in her car, one in four Americans eat at least one fast food meal every single day, and the majority of American families report eating a single meal together less than five days a week. It's a pity that so many Americans are missing out on what could be meaningful time with their loved ones, but it it's more than that. Not eating together also has a quantifiably negative effects both physically and psychologically."

The Importance of Eating Together: Family dinners build relationships, and help kid do better in school.  Cody C. Delistraty

We don't breathe in this sacred breath of a life we've been given enough.

When is the last time you ventured into the great outdoors? Stopped by the library? Or enjoyed a scoop of your favorite ice-cream just because?
If you begin to analyze your life. Do the brutal, soul searching (painful I might add) inward looking. The really sleuthful examination that requires honest self reflection...You might not like what you discover. You might find worn in patterns of life draining moments, those spots in your day that suck the very life out of you. For most of us these shadowy patterns will percolate quickly to our awareness...

Life stealing, familiar habits we circle back to again and again that we can't seem to shake.

Skewed ways of thinking that tarnish the lens we view life through.

Negative voices, be it external or internal, that keep us from living freely.

 The wrong sacrifices we've made along the way.

The lack of attention to those people and things that need attending.

Trading money making for time, when we know time is the commodity that we can't replenish.

And then, there are those that inspire us. That seem to rise above the suburbia white noise and emerge as life champions. Those lucky ones that are born with life hack genes, or perhaps they have developed highly acute life hack skills over the long Road of Experience. (Is it nature, nurture or a combo of both that create these inspirational people?)

They come from all walks of life.  Sometimes it just the dad next door that has his act together. A high school student with an extraordinary passion for helping others.

 Or the 31 year old, NYC journalist that traded in her Big Apple Dream for Crystal Clear Caribbean Clarity. Meet Yale Grad, Noelle Hancock, a successful writer that gave up her $95,000 a year career for scooping ice cream in the Caribbean.  You can read about her surf and sand adventures here--->

New York Journalist Gives Up $95,000 Job to Scoop Ice Cream On a Tropical Island 
Of course, there is not a perfect formula that creates these inspirational people, but there are certainly some common threads that run through the lives of those that inspire.

My mom, Debbie Sinopoli Regan, possessed these sought after, yet eulsive, attributes that transform a regular person into an (extra)ordinary, everyday Life Hack Super Hero of sorts. Not the 355K shares Superstar who goes Viral Nation, but the kind of unsung heroes that are real and present and giving back in each of our everyday lives. 

The ones that we come in contact with in our daily hustle and grind.

 If we slowed down jut a bit.

Broke bread around the table more.

Or lifted our heads up from the Almighty Screen.

We just might notice these remarkable souls and be inspired to Do Life Better ourselves.

Adam Watkins, dear friend and colleague of my mom, recognized these effervescent, "lots of flash and a little sass" qualities embodied in "Debbie." Adam compiled a "What Debbie Taught Me" list and shared it at the beautiful Memorial Celebration held by the Hattiesburg Area Realtors in my mom's honor at St. Thomas Aquinas a month to the day after we tragically lost her. These Debbie Life Hacks are worthy of sharing and imitating.


Five Life Hacks that will leave you Doing Life Better
 1. Be a giver.

 2. Be an encourager.

 3. Be selfless.

 4. Be present.

 5. Be courageous.

Maybe packing up and relocating to The Caribbean is not the thing for you. How about getting your toes in the sand. Sharing a double scoop of ice cream with a little one. Or inviting your widowed next door neighbor to gather around your family's table this evening.

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” 
― Thérèse de Lisieux, "The Little Way."

Monday, April 27, 2015

Theodicy, It's Elementary My Dear

On Sunday, March 29th our 2015 Confirmation Class waved their palm branches boldly proclaiming,"Hosanna! Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is The One that comes in the Name of the Lord!"

On tiny bent knees, 
surrounded by the strength of the community of faith, 
We prayed over each of them that...

The Holy Spirit (would) work within you, 
that being born through water and the Spirit, 
you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our youngest, Duke, was one of these tender branches grafted into the faith that had been nurtured in him from birth. 

Duke took the oath he was making seriously. 

A week prior our son wrestled with whether or not he was actually ready to make such a hefty proclamation. 

His reservation? An unanswered (and I would add unanswerable) question that loomed heavy on his fledgling heart...

 "Why did God 'allow' his brother to die?" 

Join the club, Kid!

Your pondering includes you in great company, theological Giants, that have been unable to unravel the perplexing mysteries of God and evil in the world and suffering and death and dying. 

Solomon, one of these greats, wrestled with such despairing wonderings... "I, the Teacher, was the king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. I observed everything under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless--like chasing the wind. What is wrong cannot be made right. What is missing cannot be recovered."  Ecclesiastes 1:12-15 

Life doesn't wait for you to figure it all out.

The very next day after Duke took that historic confirmation leap, pledging to strive to follow Christ all of his earthly days...

He was sucker punched.

And Eddie and I had the *wonderful* parental privilege of fumbling through attempting an explanation to our twelve year old as to why his DeDe took her life.

She was sad. And sick. And not thinking clearly. And made a terrible decision.

Screams of disbelief and horror. Deep guttural cries.
"No! No! Not Dede! Not MY grandmother!"

Deeper sobs of loss. Of lack of understanding.

"Why? Why did she think I didn't need a grandmother anymore?"

We have no answers. But...
"God loves you. DeDe loves you. We love you. We are sorry." 

And now I'm holding a broken hearted little boy faced once again with a horrific tragedy I cannot explain, and...

I, too, am wrestling with "Why."

and "Not Fair."

and "How Come."

And "Where were YOU" when this happened?

I shake my fists at God and scream and sob and ask (Beg. Plead. Barter. Bargain.) for a  do-over that can't be done over. 

No answer.

No explanation.

No do-over.

I'm left with thoughts of how Meaningless! Utterly Meaningless Life can seem!

Duke wondered if he could make a vow to follow God after what happened to his brother.

I, too, wonder if I am capable of keeping my vow to serve God, church and community when I have such unanswerable questions haunting my imagination. I wonder if I am "right" for the role of pastoring young people when I feel so completly lost myself? When I am so angry with God. Feel so utterly betrayed. Broken beyond repair. Cast down. Abandoned to the pit of hell. 

Returning to the giants, I am reminded of the internal wrestling of The One--you know Jesus Christ--God in skin--that we waved palm branches to honor on Confirmation Sunday...

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1-3

And I think...Duke and I are in good company in our perplexed ponderings.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Let's Go Fly a Kite

I had *almost* forgotten what it means to have a little one. The Ides of March blew through transforming "baby" Duke from our 11 year old little boy to a 12 year old young man. The same age Jesus was found blowing the minds of the wise ones in the temple. The same age our Jeremy was tragically whisked away to the other side. 12 is a Grand Canyon-esque leap . "Baby" Duke is now fully functioning: Capable of showering (or swimming, fishing or paddling) without my fear of him drowning, selecting his wardrobe (the Kid has style), whipping up a pb&j if necessary, wrestling with "why" all this has happened to our family, and of course making his way down any flight of stairs...

I'm having to relearn old routines
Digging deep. It is difficult to separate the grief exhaustion from the now I have a little person I'm responsible for exhaustion. It all gets twisted up and leaves me feeling like a ragged, used up mop. 

I'm dusting off my preschool psychological warfare skills.
"Yes, I realize you don't feel like eating breakfast. I really don't either. But breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And guess what? YOU get to choose what you would like to eat for breakfast! Would you like oatmeal, fruit & a granola bar, or cereal? It's YOUR choice. Pick one..."  BAM! The "choice" trick gets the little people every time...Breakfast is served!

And then there's the indoctrination of Breleigh into Kirby Life. She is proving to be a quick study. Bre loves swiffering! 

All in all, Breleigh is handling this insanely, difficult transition beautifully. Some sort of God infused bubble shelters her from the harsh reality of her circumstances: 

Her mother is incarcerated. 
           Her "DeDe" (insert real mom) is gone.
She's suddenly a Kirby. (God help her!) 

In childlike fashion, she embraces each day with eyes wide open expectancy. Her gusto and get up and GO is at full throttle!  I can only liken her attitude to a surprise Easter miracle. If only we all could harness the faith of a little child...

Breleigh is sleeping all the way through the night...Not in our bed. 
(Eddie has battle scars from wrestling 5 boop boop babies out of our bed, and I feel sure he was NOT prepared/willing to relive those "fun" times.)

No screaming. 
No tears. 
No drama. 
(There IS a God! And, Bonus Prize! My husband is not going to run away...yet!)

Of course, Chloe is having to adjust to a roommate. She was quite accustomed to her quiet sanctuary.

We are all having to adjust. 

Breleigh LOVES her new school. She is enveloped in love and care. The predictable, rhythmic routine is proving to be therapeutic for her. Each day I drop her off and pick her up she is grinning from ear to ear. The highlight of my day. 

Breleigh is being super brave and trying all sorts of NEW and marvelous things! Her first snow cone!  First onion ring! Didn't care much for her first shrimp...But, that's no biggie. She's enjoying walks around downtown OS and learning new tricks on the trampoline. I just found out she has never been to the library! SAY WHAT? So, a trip to check out library books is at the top of the To-Do list.  

Chloe Kirby Kite Pro Extraordinare.
Photo creds: Big Eddie 
Mom did manage some of these little extras like trips to the zoo, movie dates, and GattiTown fun. But, I'm realizing there are a LOT more unexplored little life lagniappes like snow cones, the library, boat rides, an upcoming trip to Gatlinburg, and if I had to bet we will get to witness her first kite experience. Putting that in my notes right now....

"Ask Breleigh if she has ever flown a kite. Up to the highest heights." 

 I'll keep you posted. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Mind Over Mud Mantra

I'm not really sure of much right now. Mind warped. Sleep deprived. Punch drunk. Drug to the bottom of the muddy Mississippi and held captive by heavy chains of 
            and anger
  and confusion
               and doubt
and sorrow
        and insecurity.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

I am in the Tomb.

3:30 am my eyes pop open. A heavy ache stirs deep within my bones that drives me from my temporal resting place beside my man, my rock, to sitting all alone in the Darkness. Something is churning deep within my belly that won't let go. An awareness of the fast approaching Light, but for now a long, black night presses down on all sides.

I am in the tomb.

Grave clothes wrapped tightly. I'm struggling to be freed. I twitch and turn desperate to be released from the clutches of the box.  I try to locate the exact source of this immediate, frantic panic.

 Of course this internal wrestling is primarily birthed from the horrendous tri-chord tragedy that holds me captive...

Easter 2014
No one. And I mean 
no one wanted to stop 
and take this pix. 
Thankful I insisted. 
I lost my Mother. Period. My Mother that was so much a part of my everything. My Mother that was so giving, leading a life of sacrifice and service. My Mother that I loved and adored. My Mother my children loved and were doted on by her like none other. My Mother that would do anything for me. I mean anything. My Mother that I spent so much time with, and yet, not even a fraction of enough time with. My Mother that was snatched from this life in a second with no warning.

My Mother took her own life. I don't feel as if I'm trespassing her by saying that, because sadly it has already been said... (See here: Hattiesburg Realtor Found Dead). Wrapping your brain around this bloody reality is an enigma shrouded in deep, dark, unknowable mystery.  It is a violent vortex of indescribable agony that will suck you down into the darkest, vilest pit of hell if you allow yourself too much time wrestling with the "Whys."

And, yet once again, I find myself thinking: "I wouldn't wish this pain on my worst enemy."

All these unanswered questions loom...Could we have done something? What signs did we miss? Racking your brain...Circling. Circling. Circling back to those final encounters. Final conversations. Closing texts. What did I miss? What if I would have picked up on something? ANYTHING?

Yes, we knew she was depressed (and suffered from depression & anxiety), but there was always a part of her that was not settled. Disappointed. Heavy laden by some self inflicted, but mainly circumstances beyond her control and selfish people appointed chains. And so like a relentless detective on the case every single person I come in contact with I ask...When did you last talk to Mom? How did she sound? Looking back what did you notice?

Thank you, Dora!
And "thanks" to all  for the
 strong hedge of love &
support enveloping our family. 
And then there is Breleigh.  This beautiful, innocent lamb of God my Mom poured into sacrificially. Breleigh's mother, my sister, through mainly self inflicted, turned inward choices coupled with addiction that she couldn't (or wouldn't) shake is literally in chains serving hard time. Her shell of a half-life (See here: Generation Beautiful. Dirty. Rich. Or hereSomeone was Going to Die And here: At the Crossroads ) leaves my sister a prisoner of the State of Mississippi. Once released, Rayanne faces years of probation where she will be on a long, treacherous path to recovery and redemption (If, and only if, she chooses the light over the dark which is yet to be revealed.)

But if being paraded down the center aisle of St. James Catholic Church in a yellow jumpsuit (Weird I expected orange) and bent over by the weight of literal, noisy chains to view your mother's dead body and pay your final respects to the one you took more and more and more from can't change a person...Seriously, I don't know what could? 

I'm praying for a miracle of fish and loaves proportion!

 But back to Breleigh... Mother would always say, "If anything was to ever happen to me...Y'all would take Bre?" Our response: "Stop that, Mom! But of course! We would take Bre."

Naively unaware this was our last
Easter together...
And that's what we did. Are doing. And will do...

To circle back that's the immediate source of this morning's pain.

In a few short hours light is coming. Marvelous light. Morning is here. And THIS Easter morning will be the first one I face without my Mother.

My Mother that would have been here.

  Smiling because of
 Mom's comments
about her flip flops in Easter pix. 
My mother that would have made her rabbit cake with crooked little rabbit ears because she really wasn't that artsy, but loved adding to the celebration non-the-less, and I would have loved those crooked lil ears. And there would be Jody's Bakery Easter cookies, because there never, ever was a holiday without something from Jody's. And dyed eggs with the lil ones. And demanding we hide eggs for the grandchildren again and again and again. My Mother that would have taken me on a shopping spree the day before to have me and the Kirby kids all dolled up in Easter Sunday Fabulous just like she did last year.  And our larger than life Italian family would gather around the table once more...With my Mother that would have made this day a special day like only she could...

Instead of the Easter light, if I'm brutally honest...I'm sitting alone in the blackest space somewhere in between Good Friday and the coming dawn. Dreading today and all it means...

 I now have a precious 5 year old under our roof that is waiting on the Bunny to arrive. I have Easter, the pinnacle of the Christian experience, the breaking of all chains. The bursting forth of the Marvelous Light. The eternal Hallelujah Chorus echoing from generation to generation telling the greatest story ever Jesus burst forth from death, Got up and Walked out of the Grave!

And, yet, I don't feel like I have the strength to even wiggle my way free from the death cocoon that is suffocating my life and seeking to grind me into an ashen paste...


Deep breath, here comes my guttural heart's cry...


But first, I  better pour myself a cup of coffee and wake up Cherry...

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tonight We are All Warrior Nation

Darkness looms heavy over Warrior Nation tonight. As the rain continues to pour, tears flow from town to town along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. On this night we are all Warriors: Yellow Jackets, Indians, Fighting Irish, Hounds, Panthers, Admirals, and every other community in between has joined The Tribe.
                                                                                                            We keep watch with the North Woolmarket/D'Iberville family tonight. Facebook is flooded with Warrior Support, evidence that The Tribe is circling the wagons, creating a hedge of love and strength for the coming days. 

 We all feel the heaviness and heartache that is radiating from the very center of Warrior Nation. And what you find at the heart of our community are two loving, broken parents that don't deserve this. That could never have fathomed this. That are trying to make sense of the unbelievable nightmare that pours down on them with no relief. And we, who are attempting to comfort them, cannot comprehend the full extent of the gut wrenching, soul twisting, heart exploding pain that holds the Ward family captive. 

The Wards weep. God weeps. Warrior Nation weeps. 

We all weep. 

 Pastorally, I couldn't let this dark night go by without doing something. I tried to figure out  "what" I could do, and here's the best I could come up with: I don't have the answers to the hard questions that plague us all tonight. 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.  

In that spirit, I have compiled a "What Not to Say" List, and a "What to Say/Do" List. My intention is not to hurt anyone. Please don't feel "bad" if you have already said these things. We ALL have said these things. Just from here out try to be mindful, Warrior Nation, 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. 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. 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. Or chose another 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, or if that is in fact the reality of the situation. 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. Somethings just will not make sense this side of heaven, and it's not your job to try to force sense out of tragedy.

4. "At Least You Still Have Your Other Children." 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 on this tonight. Or tomorrow. For the love of God DO NOT do this coming through the mammoth line at the wake. And don't say this at the funeral. 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. I 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(ren). I 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. A loving gesture says it all. 

What Can You DO?
1. Pray
I 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, Warrior Nation, for the Ward 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. Warrior Nation will shine in this respect. Keep doing it. Don't stop. This serves to nourish the family physically, but also reminds them that people are walking with them. The 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 "gifts" or "offers to help" through someone close to the family. In our case it was my sweet sister, Cherry.  This role is not for the faint of heart. But someone needs to rise up as the liaison to the rest of the world. The right person usually emerges. 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. 

5. GIVE MONETARILY: Who plans to bury their child? God have mercy, children? Give! Here's how you can offer financial support: If you would like to help Jimmy  and Amy Ward, you can contribute to the Jimmy Ward Gulfport Firemen's Fund by contacting any branch of Bancorp South. 
Click here for the details: WLOX Story: Gulfport Firefighters Respond to Tragedy

In closing, I offer this prayer for the Ward family, the family of the young men involved in this terrible tragedy, and all of Warrior Nation:
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 Ward 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,