Saturday, May 13, 2017

Mother's Day: The gifts that, really, matter

A dear colleague in ministry, Rev. Andy Stoddard, shared this pastoral post offering hope to the broken-hearted facing Mother's Day. What caused me to pause and really allow his words, like a soothing salve, to pour deep down into the plethora of piercings that dot my heart is I know he is a fellow sojourner of the broken way. Coming from someone else I would have scrolled right past it dismissing these quips as the fluffy stuff Hallmark cotton candy cards are made of. 

I'm not really sure when this cynical bent first crept in. It was definitely after the death of my 12 year old son, but before the death of my mother. I think it just worsened after my mom blew us all out of the water by taking her life. And now it's sometimes difficult to listen to others try to offer advice, tips, help if they have not been heart crushed as well. (I don't share this like it's a good thing. It's a growing edge for sure.) 

Those that have lost children. Those that have lost their mothers.

Somewhere in the middle of those two lonely sentences, twin pillars of tragedy, you will find bits and pieces of my shattered heart. 

And no Mother's Day breakfast in bed, no carnations offered by precious children at church, no Sunday afternoon fancy brunch, no creative gifts that say, "I know you," no thoughtful cards, over the top Facebook accolades, or being offered chill time by the pool will take away this throbbing ache. 

(Now Kirby family: if you happen to be reading this--this is NOT your cue to take back all the darling gestures you have planned for your wife/mother or are now cooking up in response. Let's not go crazy here! And let the record state: I take back my earlier declaration, "We are just gonna skip Mother's Day this year." A Mother's Day happy or two never hurt anyone!) 

I'm just trying to say the broken dreams, shattered lives, loss of child or mother or both type of grief runs much deeper than what cards, chocolates and kisses can fix. 

I know this.

Andy knows this. 

And some of you reading know, too. 

I'm sorry this is a part of your life's tapestry (and mine). I'm sorry you are dreading facing another holiday that reminds you of your great loss.

And so, THANK YOU, Andy, for reminding me I do not cringe at the thought of celebrating Mother's Day alone.

I do not cry alone--Like yesterday when I completely freaked out a young sales associate at Dick's Sporting Goods. He will probably never ask another lady with her back to to him, "Mam, can I help you find anything?" For fear she might turn around and scar him for life by a mascara stained, blubbering, snot shooting out of her nose mess!  What exactly do you say to a person bent over completely overcome by grief that was triggered in a hot, unexpected second by DSG's clever "Give a Gift that Matters" Mother's Day ad campaign vomited from wall to wall? Apparently you say nothing. Because, honestly, you don't know what to say. You just stare back at her wide-eyed. Frozen like a statue. 

I do not dread tomorrow alone. 

 I chose to remember
Just as Jesus wept beside the tomb of His friend Lazarus, so now He weeps with all the brokenhearted.

And I weep with you, too, dear, brave ones. I hope and pray both you and I will be courageous enough to dream new dreams, to deeply love once more, to approach tomorrow a bit more thankful for the gifts we have--The Gifts that, REALLY, Matter--Family and friends to laugh with, love, and share this crazy, awful, beautiful, mascara ugly cry life with--The greatest treasures we can hope for on Mother's Day or any day.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May the Fourth: An Out of This World Birthday

"May the Fourth Be With You. "
I was dreading it. All the Star Wars freaks and geeks flooding my News Feeds with their personal twist on Star Wars Day. No, I'm not a Star Wars hater. Actually, like it a lot. Star Trek, different story. It takes a special sort of Space Geek to dig Star Trek. But Star Wars...Sure, I can get with that.
One of my favorite 5 year old hairstyles was Princess Leia space buns. I have friends that can still ROCK that Out of this World awesome look!

No, my issue with it is I don't get to send my Mom a text with some cheesy version of, "May the 4th be your best birthday, yet!" And she says back, "What now??"

And I call her and helplessly try to explain to her (not exactly the Space Geek type) it's a play on a popular pun. You, know... May the Force Be With You, from Star Wars? Well it's May the 4th? Get it? May the 4th be with you? And it's your birthday! So, May the 4th be an out of this world birthday! 

Well, this year it certainly is an out of this world birthday. It's in a freaking galaxy far, far away...And, sure, I know she is having a Blast. Celebrations: Her Signature Trademark! Yet, I'm left here longing for the time that was snatched away from us. That zoomed by at the speed of hyperspace. And I'm left wishing for the tender days of yesteryear for her to swoop my long, black hair into Leila space buns. Ugh...Just ugh.

And this in particular May the Fourth was to be a SUPER SPECIAL one of Galactic proportions! Mom was turning the BIG 6-0! We had made a sorta pact that we would do New York City for DeDe's 60th birthday. Mom, me, Cherry, Chloe and we were going to see if her sisters and their daughters wanted to go, too. Was going to be a DeDe's 60th & Chloe's Sweet 16 Trip of a Life Time! Good times, ahead!

But, alas, the Dark Side overcame our sweet DeDe. She poured out herself 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.

During this past 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 everything that she just couldn't stand to be in this world not one more breath.

Not one more Thanksgiving. Christmas. Easter.  or May the Fourth. She couldn't take one more moment of this world.

If you are reading this and you have even a tiny concern about someone: Please, don't be afraid. Or second guess yourself. Or feel like you are over-reacting. Reach out to them and try to get them the help they need: Counseling, medication, a support group. Tell them you care. You are there for them. You love them.

Don't wait. Till you can no longer say,
 "May the 4th Be With You." 
"And Also With You." 

Monday, May 1, 2017

Holy Hoops

On February 26 tender seeds were planted during Live @ The Landing  (our weekly St. Paul OS Youth gathering--featuring worship, community groups, games, give-aways, food & fun). The message that night was simple, yet full of possibility. We were studying the Gospel account detailing a few friends ("stretcher bearers") doing this crazy thing by lowering their paralyzed friend through a roof to be healed by Jesus. During our Small Group time Leaders posed the question to our students: "How can we be 'stretcher bearers' in our community?" The High School Guys Community Group stepped out of their session buzzing about a 3-3 Basketball Tourney for Charity! Our High School Girls got the party started the following week by praying for Sophia and making heartfelt signs. 
We posted this on our St. Paul OS Youth Facebook Page and it became a living embodiment of our Youth Group being "stretcher bearers" for Sophia and her family.  This simple act of FB sharing resonated with many others and got SO MANY likes and shares! (Over the next few weeks our entire Ocean Springs community was rallying around Love for Sophia. NOTE: Sophia Myers is precious 7 year old Greyhound recently diagnosed with an in-operable brain tumor--DIPG. 
Our High School Girls & Guys Groups melded their idea of a 3 on 3 tourney and Love for Sophia together and Holy Hoops: A 3 on 3 Basketball Benefit for Sophia Myers was birthed!
Over the next few weeks plans were hashed out (sometimes quite fiercely when opinions diverged) on our Student Leadership GroupMe. William Evans and Andrew Bowie took the lead in this effort, and so many students and parents got the buzz and begin to forge ahead. From March 6 to April 30 with Holy Week, Easter and Spring Break falling during this time period what transpired was electric and a "God thing" worthy of sharing.

Our resident Bishop, James E. Swanson, Sr.encourages our clergy, churches, districts, etc. to be in the regular practice of naming ways you are seeing God show up in your midst and he calls these "Glory Sightings." I must admit I have thought this was a bit on the cheesy side (no offense) and always feels bragadocious lifting up "great things" that are happening, so I rarely (if ever) lift up a "Glory Sighting." However, Holy Hoops has made me a Glory Sightings believer compelling me to lift up this "great thing!"  Glory! So here goes...

On Monday, I honestly thought this thing was dead in the water and was contemplating canceling and worried about how I would tell our Youth Leadership. It was a great idea, but was just not getting the needed traction. We were sitting on 8 registrations--and 3 of those later I would realize were duplicates (Someone accidentally registering 3 times.)
Wednesday evening, I get a text out of the blue from a fellow cheer parent asking, "What can I do to help with Holy Hoops?" Coach Juliane had already said that Cheer could volunteer to help. I said we needed to get the word out, and now! 

That night OSHS Cheer led the effort creating an absolute Instagram/Twitter Storm encouraging students to Sign up! So much so one of our St. Paul OS Youth Student Leaders shamed our students that had not posted yet saying, "Cheer is posting more than you!" (Oh, the power of positive peer pressure).

Thursday morning at Breakfast Break registrations doubled! Up to 12! There were ballers still wanting to sign up, so our leaders agreed to  set up shop the next day, too!

 In a few days time we went from 5 registrations to over 30! People kept signing up and the end result was a 36 team bracket and an additional pre-bracket to accommodate over 40 teams. 

Somehow Buckalew Enterprises was able to pull off tshirts in a record 3 days time. (T-shirts that an anonymous donor completely underwrote!) Our Holy Hoops shirts, coupled with a generous donations of pulled pork plates, drinks, candy, prizes and an AMAZING Bake Sale along with entry fees and other donations brought the total to over $4,000 raised for sweet Sophia Myers! GLORY! All of which is wonderful in and of itself...

However, words and even pictures/videos fail to capture the spirit of Holy Hoops. I have never felt so much raw energy in our church building. Period. I have never witnessed so much "sportsmanship, character, love and respect" (thanks Michelle Smith). Respect for players and friendly, passionate competition for a great cause set the tone.

There are so many individuals and businesses in our community that came together to make it happen: Baking, refereeing, publicizing, sweeping, selling, donating, dunking, snapping pictures and
the list goes on and on and on.... HOLY HOOPS was an All Hands on Deck effort and we needed EVERYONE that pitched in to make it happen! It was way bigger than we could have pulled off ourselves and truly was A GOD THING--A GLORY SIGHTING! 

My overall take away God peeled back the veil and offered us a little slice of Heaven on Earth--Baller Style! I am so proud of William, Andrew and our youth, OSHS Cheer, and parents and all the other "Stretcher Bearers," especially my sweet tough as nails nephew, Eli, that came out to help set up and ended up needing a stretcher himself--God bless him! 
I can barely contain the love I have for our church family and our tiny town, Ocean Springs! GlooooRAY!