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Naked Lady, Atlanta Airport

At the Atlanta airport yesterday I was sitting at a burger joint finishing up my meal when I heard a commotion and curiously looked up from my plate. To my surprise, there was a completely stark naked woman strolling down Delta’s B Concourse. She was screaming as she walked. Walked, not ran.

Call it instinct, but I was ready to hit the floor because in this day and age you never know what a commotion in an airport might mean for your safety. I expected to hear a thud or a thump signifying that airport security had intervened and were in the process of detaining her. I heard nothing but her continuous rant as she strolled on past our point of visibility.

Somewhere in graduate school I learned that laughter is one of people’s go-to responses when they are uncomfortable. It’s why you see television captions read, “nervous chuckle” when there’s a depiction of someone in an uncomfortable situation. So, it’s no surprise that as the scene transpired, my lunch bunch all turned to each other wide-eyed and open mouthed…and laughed.

We laughed at the incredulity of the situation. We laughed at the lack of urgency with which airport personnel seemed to be escorting this woman.

As we gathered our things and exited the restaurant, we cringed as we watched people’s reactions throughout the concourse. It became clear to us that this woman was allowed to walk a pretty far distance judging by the faces of people around us, snippets of conversation, and people huddling around phones in little pockets as we walked.

By the time we were seated at our gate, we laughed in disbelief that apparently, this woman walked the entire concourse. My main question was, “How in the world did they allow her to get so far???”

I attended Orange Conference 2017 (#OC17) this week with a team from my church; we were on our way home when this little incident took place. One of the main things I think we as people wonder in situations like this is, “Why?”

The way we figure out why in our society today is the internet. We soon discovered that the proper terminology to search online was, “Naked Lady Atlanta Airport.”

Sure enough, people had begun posting what they witnessed.

The video that came up showed this woman as she was disrobing in the middle of the walkway, her clothes and purse strewn around her. The video had about 3 seconds of R rated material before you saw a woman and man rush to bend down and pick up articles of clothing and attempt to hand them back to her. They both stood shoulder to shoulder, cocked their heads to the side and seemed to try and engage the woman as she continued to rant.

The conference theme this year was, “For Our Neighbors,” a plea for ministry leaders to approach not just ministry within the church being neighbor-minded, but to approach the rest of their lives with that mindset as well.

When the video ended, I realized that of course, I had not gained any more information about, “Why” this woman was causing a scene. I did however get a real life picture of what brokenness looks like. Then I got a real life picture of what being, for your neighbor truly meant. For that woman and that man it meant engaging in someone else’s mess and simply seeing if there is anything that can be done. It meant standing shoulder to shoulder in that endeavor, because you can’t do ministry alone. Standing shoulder to shoulder because when you do that, you also help shield that person’s mess from exploitation.

When that woman (prayerfully) regains her faculties, she’s going to be grateful for the people that stood shoulder to shoulder and blocked her mess from being broadcast, at least from that one camera phone.

As a student ministry leader I was convicted by two strangers in an airport who leaned in to a woman’s very public struggle. There was probably not a lot they could offer to the situation, but they offered what they could and in that 30 second video clip, it was enough.

Being neighbor-minded isn’t glamorous but it’s what Jesus called us to do. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve got work to do in that area.

BGTF

A cold panic washed over her as she turned into the complex. She’d had such a great day leading up to this moment. She took her new car for its first drive along the beach. Windows down, radio blaring. It was surreal, a girl like her, enjoying a Saturday afternoon rather than wondering aimlessly around town, sitting in restaurant booth after booth until closing time, then finding a safe place to catch some sleep before the cycle began again in the morning.

When driving down the road, she almost couldn’t believe how different her life was now. The Taylors had graciously taken her in and welcomed her into their family. She was still struggling to get along with the two Taylor siblings, but at times she could tell they were trying.

Last month they had moved into a new house. She didn’t even know they made houses that big, but now she had her own bedroom and shared a bathroom with Lynn. Robbie had his own, but that was probably for the best. 

Two weeks ago, the Taylors had come home with a new sedan. As they all gathered around to, “ooh and ah,” at the new car smell. Mr. Taylor caught her eye overhead, winked, tossed her the keys and said, “Wanna take old Gracie for a spin?”

He always named their cars.

“Me?!” She’d answered incredulously. 

“Happy Birthday!!!” Was Mrs. Taylor’s giddy interjection.

Robbie clapped her on the back in affirmation while Lynn smiled shyly from her mother’s side. 

“Give Old Gracie a whirl and let us know how she rides!”

In a daze, she sat behind the wheel and slowly backed out of the long driveway and waved as she waited for the private gate to open.

It was there that she now sat. The daze of this morning now gone. In the excitement, she’d left her phone in the house. Ever since the move she had always driven with one of the Taylors who had a gate opener. Now, completely on the outside with no way to get in. Her stomach twisted into knots as she stared at the wrought iron gate with the Taylors happily inside of it. Fear and anxiety settled in like an unwelcome companion. She couldn’t bring herself to call the house from the gate intercom. She wondered if it were all just a mean trick to play on the poor little orphan girl. She pictured them laughing at her expense, tucked away in comfort. Comfort she dared to think she could actually have. As she looked at the gate, for the first time, she noticed a design in the iron. It gave her a semblance of hope. It was a long shot, but she certainly had nothing to lose.

She rolled down the window and entered the numbers 32484 into the keypad. She heard a squeak and then felt a rush of relief as the gate slowly opened. She floored it through the entryway and watched as the gate closed behind her in the rear-view mirror. As the iron clanked back together she saw the design take shape as it reformed the scripted word, Faith, once more.

Ephesians 2:8New International Version (NIV)

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

When I was doing my devos last week I came across this verse. It’s one of my favorites, which is weird, because I struggle to understand it. I don’t usually like or enjoy things that don’t make sense to me. Like math. But it was almost like BECAUSE I struggled to understand it, was one of the reasons I liked it so much.

Then, all of a sudden, it finally made sense to me… For it is by grace…by as in the vehicle through which we travel…plane, train, or automobile, it is by grace that we travel…THROUGH faith, the gateway…that leads to our salvation.

Grace is the vehicle, faith is the gateway. It reminds me to be grateful for His grace and my salvation…and to extend grace to others, if that’s what I’m riding in!

Twirl on Them Haters

In John chapter 12, Mary was being criticized for her actions.

Mary had her own mind and was doing her thing. She had an expensive box of perfume; it was hers, no one else’s, and she decided to offer it to honor Jesus. Her actions weren’t harming anyone, but some people hate to see a woman make her own decisions and do what she deems right. 

In John 12:7, Jesus’ response to her critics was, “Leave her alone.”
When critics come at you for doing something they don’t value, for doing something that means something to you, remember Jesus’ words. He defended Mary, He knew the true value of what she was doing. It wasn’t in the expense, it was in her willingness to give. 

When the critics thought she was crazy or stupid for giving away wealth, Jesus knew her heart. Her intelligence and her decision making skills were never in question to Him. Her worth and her value remained in tact in His eyes. 

“Leave her alone.”

When the voices of critics grow loud and distract you from your purpose, from giving that which you know is valuable and worth it…

“Leave her alone.”

When your inner monologue, your stream of consciousness, grows dark and heavy as you forget your value your worth…when the negative self-talk is screaming you down from the heights you are meant to soar…

“Leave her alone.”

Jesus explained to Mary’s critics that her actions were an intentional part of both of their lives. Do what God intends you to do, the haters have no power there.  

One Year Later

I still remember what I was wearing. The same jeans I always wear when I want to accessorize with black. Threw on a tank top and a jacket because the Florida weather was just cool enough to get away with it. I had just gotten a new pair of Chuck’s on sale at the outlet mall over the weekend and I still had a little Christmas money left over. My plan was to shell out some cash and finally get my diplomas framed. The one from 2010 sat lopsided in a cheap Wal-Mart frame on the floor of my childhood bedroom. I saw it every time I went home to visit and shook my head at the fact that I hadn’t gotten it framed yet. The diploma from 2012 was still in the cylindrical cardboard container it arrived in.

I drove past the framing store every time I got Chick-fil-A, so on that first day back to work after Christmas vacation, I had resolved to get it done. I remember feeling so relaxed as I sauntered into the store, it was a beautiful day with a nice breeze. I remember walking around the entire store before getting up the nerve to talk to a staffer because I’m an introvert and I’d rather walk around the store until I figure things out myself before having to ask for help.

My phone was in my right back pocket and I found it odd that it would be buzzing so relentlessly as I was talking to the very helpful sales associate. After all, it was the Monday after vacation, everyone was back to running their routes, all was well. Well, it should have been.

When I stepped out of the store and checked my phone, the initial barrage of texts had little, yet terrifying information. What did he mean mommy fell, was it from her back? Did her foot go numb again? Pray, yes, ok that’s not a good sign. Ambulance? Ok, did she break something???

When under stress, my body defaults to logic. Emotions are a bit too much for me to handle so I put them in a nice little compartment for later. At this point, logic said, “Don’t call the person reporting the emergency, call the person who needs to know about the emergency most. Daddy. It’s afternoon, he’s probably at the gym. God, please don’t let him still be at the gym away from his phone… Oh good, he answered, he sounds out of breath, he must be walking down that long Motorola hallway to the car. God please let him drive safely. Do I need to come home? Call me from the hospital so I know if I need to come home.

I remember getting back in my car and driving towards the Chick-fil-A. “You need to eat, if you end up driving home, who knows when the next meal will be, eat now while you wait so you can function properly when you need to.”

I was too stressed to go back to the office so I drove past the church and straight to my apartment. I remember sitting on the couch, praying. I tried to eat what I could until my dad called back. “Your mom is very sick.”

I remember arguing with him about me driving down, I live 1.5 hours from home. He didn’t want me to get in an accident on the drive down. I was coming regardless, so I just instructed him not to call me until I got to the hospital. I picked up my keys and my purse. I remember pausing in the hallway, trying to think if I should bring a change of clothes. No time for that. I think I grabbed a charger and then I left in my jacket, tank top, jeans and Chuck’s.

I think about that day every time I wear that jacket. I think I’ve worn the Chuck’s maybe once since then. They’re pretty sweet with zippers on the sides. I don’t think I ever got to show them to her. I used to love buying new things and showing them to mom, she always had such an appreciation for it. She appreciated things, but she didn’t let them rule her.

She didn’t have any designer clothes. Any designer purses she had were gifts, most from me. One time someone gave her a really nice leather purse and she didn’t even know it was name brand. She made a home for us out of every day, run of the mill things, nothing fancy, even though she had an appreciation for the finer things in life.

A few days after Christmas that year, we were in the family room watching the latest version of Cinderella. We all know the story. After the death of her mother, Cinderella’s dad married a prideful, selfish, and greedy woman who had two children of her own. They moved into Cinderella’s home and had no sensitivity towards the fact that the place they lived used to be a home filled with a specific brand of love. As tragedy would have it, Cinderella’s father also passed away and she was left to fend for herself in her childhood home with the three intruders. The greedy step mother had acquired so much debt that they needed to sell household items for money.

There was one conversation where Cinderella expressed that her house was all she had left of her parents and that she needed to keep it at all costs.

It was then that my mother walked into the living room and said, “Pookie, sell the house, split the money with your brothers. Don’t love the house.” I laughed. That was my mother, instructing her babies to never be so attached to things that you don’t move forward with your life.

Never in my wildest nightmares would I have thought that one year and nearly one week after that conversation with my mother, would I no longer have a key to my childhood home. The place where my diploma sat for six years, untouched. The place where I thought I could always come back to and just be me, no matter what.

But mommy’s lesson still stands. It is just a house. The special brand of love that once flowed through it, though altered, can survive outside of those four walls. It must. One year later, that love is struggling, but I am praying that it will eventually thrive once more.

cinderella-mommy-tweet-12-27-16

 

 

To Redefine

We have all heard the saying, “Everyone grieves differently.”  It’s the saying that gives people permission to feel and act on feelings as part of a process that may take days, months, or even years.  Losing mommy at the beginning of 2016 plunged my family into the grief process.  However, it’s now nearly 11 months later and truthfully, my grieving process has only just begun.

 

I am a textbook firstborn child.  I was an honors student my entire life, got a full ride to college–dean’s list, cum laude, then a graduate degree in ministry. I had to get the good grades, I had to meet expectations, I had to fit the mold as it were.  I did it dutifully, with no regrets.  After all, the mold was fine, there was nothing wrong with the mold. The mold was crafted by loving parents, supported by a community made up of friends and family…the mold worked.  Until it didn’t anymore.

 

Right now, I’m tired of the mold.  It has lost some of its meaning with the absence of mommy.  It doesn’t make sense trying to run the same routes when your personal cheerleaders are not there anymore.  When the one person who steadily cheered you on regardless of any situation is no longer in the stands, running is no longer fun.

 

There’s nothing wrong with the routes to be run.  The other people cheering from the stands don’t mean any less, but that integral piece meant so much, that running the race without her just doesn’t make sense right now.

 

That’s not to say that the race is over. Surely not.  There are goals to be met, people to see along the way.  But what it does mean, is that right now is the perfect time to stop running and rest.

 

Sometimes people don’t understand rest.  They think rest isn’t good for you because it doesn’t look the way they think it should.

 

My rest was always coming home to my family, kicking off whatever pair of shoes I was wearing and leaving them under the coffee table until I finally remembered where they were.  My rest was curling up in a corner on the couch and deciding what movie to watch with my dad while he ate pistachios in his chair. My rest was celebrating that mommy made it to Christmas vacation without strangling any of her students.  It was decorating the Christmas Tree with 29 year old ornaments and helping mommy string lights on her keyboard and daddy’s fish tank. It was dancing to Christmas music with my brothers in the living room because they never judged my dance moves.  It was kissing my mother goodnight on Christmas Eve and saying I’d be back after spending time with good friends.  It was waking up on Christmas morning and reading Luke chapter two around the Christmas tree and then going back to sleep! It was asking, “what time are we going to Grandma’s house?” and then all of us not being ready when we said we would be, except for daddy. He was always ready.  It was going to Grandma’s house and seeing whatever family/friends happened to be there that year…and then eventually the singing would start. It was mommy singing Jesus What a Wonderful Child while my aunts and uncles sang back up.  That was my rest, and I will never ever have that kind of rest ever again.

 

So, to me, it makes complete sense not to pretend that this Christmas is like any other. I have no desire to run the routes that I’m used to running because I know that my rest, the way that I am used to getting it, is not coming.

 

I have incredible friends and family that open their hearts and their homes to me and I’m so thankful.  But honestly, I don’t want it. I want my mommy and no one can give me that.  Anything other than that would be a sad comparison.

 

I don’t want to make arrangements so that I can spend Christmas Eve with friends and family because I won’t get to kiss my mother’s cheek and say, “see you later.”  I don’t want to laugh and be merry because when it’s over, I won’t be able to sit down on the couch and leave my shoes under the coffee table until I remember where I left them last. Mommy won’t be singing in grandma’s living room this year. Therefore, I don’t want to participate.

 

It’s not that I want to be sad and depressed and cry alone.  No, I just need to recover and redefine what my rest looks like.  No one can do that but me.  People can say that I need to be surrounded by others so that I feel loved and supported, people can say that I need to try to be as normal as possible, but that’s not true. I know myself, and I know that I need rest and I won’t get it at home.  At any of my homes.  I’ll be standing in someone’s kitchen knowing that everything is different and my world is not right. I’ll be sleeping in someone’s spare bedroom and it’ll be a reminder that I no longer have a key to my house and can no longer wake up in the bedroom that sometimes (even nearly three years later) I still dream about waking up in.

 

So I’m leaving.  Just for a couple of days. I’m going to somewhere I’ve never been (because I couldn’t afford a ticket to London) so that I can walk around and not feel responsible for or to anyone. No one will feel obligated to cheer me up or distract me, including myself. I can be as happy or sad as I want to be. I can sleep or shop or take in some sights.  The one thing I will do though, is redefine my rest.  When your rest is defined by one thing for nearly three decades, it will take some time to figure out what it will look like from here on out.  So, the journey begins.

Girl Time with Mommy

Whenever mommy wanted us to have girl time, she would always ask if I wanted to get my toes done. In hindsight, I realize that it was one activity that we could do together, that wouldn’t hurt her back. She always wanted to be able to shop with me, but the pain limited her.

My mother was one of the humblest people ever, but we sure knew how to be vain when we wanted to be! Whenever one of us was singing or playing or doing something at church, there was always the one question, “What are you going to wear?!” Many a Saturday was spent making sure something in the closet worked. I’d come home with a new pair of heels and she’d say, “Ooooh, girl! I would wear those if I could! Mmm, wear those for me, Pookie!”

Jewelry was exchanged, purses were borrowed (usually mine, because hello, purse princess). I get my love for accessories honest. My mother never once told me I had too many shoes or too much jewelry, I’d come home with something new and she just celebrated the fact I got it on sale. In fact, she worried that I would never be able to bring myself to pay for something full price. “You know, one day you’re going to be able to afford something for the price that’s on the tag, and when you can, you should buy it!” I think she wanted me to just enjoy something pretty regardless of how much the price got marked down.

“Right, but mom, if I can find something on sale…then I can buy MORE things with the money I saved!” She would just purse her lips, and shake her head at me, amused at my desire to be so logical.

Similar discussions were had at the nail salon during girl time. The nail tech would ask what color she’d like…”I want the French, you know, with the tips,” mom would respond. I usually opt for a singular color, most often a clear pink. I’m too logical for my own good. “Mommy, it costs less! Inevitably, it’s going to chip so I might as well pay less for it.” Again, pursed lips, with an eye roll…

Today is mommy’s first birthday in heaven. I’m quite certain she is jamming in whatever attire the Lord provides for the saints up in Glory.

Here on earth though, I went and got my toes done for some girl time. I splurged for the French, full price and everything. And yes, mommy, I will rock my heels till my back gives out too, just for you.

Why do we have to yell that black lives matter?

Because to some people they still don’t. Because we live in a country built on black lives not mattering, and we are still recovering from that. Because the people saying, “all lives matter,” well see, your lives been mattered. Ours didn’t. To say, ” All lives matter,” in response, is to say, “Your struggle is over, we are now equal and you no longer have a right to complain.” But you see, if we didn’t have to complain, we wouldn’t. If our skin color didn’t have a vastly disproportionate percentage of men in jail, if our young men weren’t pulled over for driving while black, if our hair didn’t incite jokes on fashion television, if our skin color didn’t automatically make us more likely to be shot while unarmed, if our skin color didn’t make us nervous in certain cities at night (and sometimes during the day)…then we’d stop complaining and yelling that black lives matter. So, when you respond with, “all lives matter,” you’re participating in the din that’s meant to drown us out…but we did not stop when we were kidnapped from our original countries, we did not stop when we were drowned along the Middle Passage, we did not stop when we were raped and bread like horses, we did not stop when we were freed but then discriminated against, we did not stop when our Strange Fruit decorated trees, we did not stop when we had to be educated from antiquated text books, we did not stop for Jim Crow, we did not stop when racism grew quiet as a whisper and lurked behind closed doors for fear of being called out, we did not stop when cameras gave eyes to the system that our mouths had been speaking of for years. We will not stop so long as our brothers and sons must sit through the, “talk,” and learn that they will be treated differently because of the skin that they’ve been born with. We will not stop so long as mothers and sisters must imagine bloodied and pulped faces as they wave their young men out the door. We will not stop so long as, “be safe,” has the context of, “if you are stopped say nothing, do nothing out of FEAR for the very air that you breathe. Say nothing, do nothing because regardless of what your rights might be, mama just wants you home safe at night.” So you see, we will not stop, because black lives do in fact matter and there are still people who would prefer that were not true. 

A Foil

Jane Austen’s Emma was the book I was bent on reading over Christmas vacation in 2015.  I was so intent, that I actually went to an actual bookstore to buy a physical copy.  I find it to be Austen’s wittiest work.

I was getting a kick out of recounting the twists and turns throughout the plot to my mother as she recovered from surgery.

She loved hearing about Frank Churchill’s antics and all the drama he put poor, control freak, Emma through. This charming beauty of a man who could talk his way in and out of anything, who made his way through life politely offending everyone he loved in a way so delightful they almost thanked him for it!

But see, sweet Churchill was nothing but a literary plot device known as a foil… a foil for dearest Mr. Knightly.  Steady, moral, vocal, handsome, loving…but Mr. George Knightly is only seen as literary hero, “Mr. Knightly,” because of Frank Churchill. The contrast, the juxtaposition, makes the difference.

To quote my favorite of Austen’s works, “A girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then.  It’s something to think of.”

And what would being crossed a little in love be without those that cross it?

In life there are moments where you see the Churchills from the Knightlys and life comes into full focus.  Churchills are the ones that fascinate you and catch you up in a whirlwind only to leave you to fall, unaccompanied, when his fancy suits.  But the Knightlys…oh the Knightlys live up to their name.  They swoop in, at the nick of time when it really counts.  They cushion your fall regardless of what it might cost them emotionally or physically. See, the Knightlys…they’ve been there, all the while.  They’ve seen you at your best and worst and stood by you no matter what.  The Knightlys are quiet and yet their presence is a constant comfort. He may be in the corner…but he’s always in YOUR corner.  When you need him, he’s there.

When life gives you those moments of clarity and focus, find the Knightlys in your life. Keep them close and allow them to provide perspective.  Frank Churchill isn’t worth the time it takes to say his name.  But a Knightly? Well, it’s all in the name then, isn’t it?

Student Ministry

There are so many titles for what I do. Youth leader, youth minister, student coordinator, student pastor…my official title is, Youth Director.  It’s all the same to me because I get to minister to kids all the time so I think it’s the coolest job ever.

I’ve been intentionally ministering to students since I was a student. I think I started teaching bible studies at 16 or 17.  So much of my life is about pouring into other people. Pouring into students, pouring into volunteers, pouring into people I mentor.

It’s a beautiful thing when the people that I have poured into over the years turn around and do the same for me in the midst of my own tragedy.  I have one student who came through my seventh grade small group.  She’s a sophomore in college now.  She was at the hospital the night we lost my mom.  I have no idea what words she said to me, and honestly, it doesn’t even matter, but she was there, hugging me in the moments when I needed to feel God’s love the most.  This student, now and adult, that I had been teaching about God’s love for years, was giving me a physical representation of it right then and there.

I had another student texting me scripture.  Another sending me words of wisdom from her daily devotional. Others simply sending their love.

All things I’ve done for them over the years.  They returned that love in kind. In the midst of my sadness, I have never been more proud to be a minister of students.  I get to watch my students, minister.

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