Merry Christmas Ferguson

The rioting and violence that began in Ferguson following the death of Michael Brown has left me, a middle-age white woman, frustrated. Sad. Angry and many times discouraged. I thought our country was racially healthier than this. I could no longer ignore the open and infected wound that hasn’t healed at all. What can I possibly do to positively impact the problem? I can’t even start in my own community. The last census revealed that only 4.1% of the population of our city is black.

I had to go to Ferguson. I wanted to let the residents, business owners, police department, protesters and others know that I care. The plan was simple: I enlisted the help of friends to provide cookies, bags of treats, and Christmas cards that I would hand deliver. With a lot of faith, food, and friends, I headed to Ferguson with a simple message from Springfield, Missouri. We have people who care what happened to them, who are praying for them, and want to encourage them. This could have been any city in the United States, but it happened to Ferguson.

Prayers for Ferguson MO

Prayers for Ferguson MO

My first stop was to the Ferguson Police Department. The building is surrounded by blockades. I waited in a long line outside while several men each took their turn to explain that they were posting bond. My unease at holding a sizable platter of cookies for the entire staff began to shift to moderate concern when I realized the purpose for their visit. Every person in line except me had been arrested for protesting. One after the next, they smiled and nodded as they walked past me after completing their business. Eventually a police woman met me personally, as the tray of cookies wouldn’t fit through the small glass window. She shared in guarded comments how difficult it has been for them. This post is not an op-ed. Everyone has shared the cost of some tragic events.

I headed out to meet some of the vandalized business owners. It was easy to determine whose building had been hit because their front windows are still boarded up with plywood. Most store fronts have hand painted messages such as ‘Ferguson Strong’ or ‘Black Lives Matter’. I knocked on the door of the first business that was boarded up. Someone poked their head through the blinds, glanced at me and walked away. I kept my chin up and kept going until I found someone still open for business and welcoming strangers carrying platters of cookies.

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The first business I made contact with was a law firm. I greeted a friendly paralegal with my fresh plate of cookies. Words tumbled over each other as she explained the financial, social, and emotional impact on Ferguson. Their other locations have closed and this is their last day of business before this is the only remaining location. I have miraculously arrived just before the entire staff is getting together for a final goodbye. Like so many would tell me, the damages are not covered by insurance. A few local businesses have gained national notoriety but most small businesses have not. It is hitting many businesses deep in their pockets. She said it didn’t feel like Christmas this year, as there wasn’t much to celebrate. I smiled and explained that was why I had come to visit. She and the other residents of Ferguson should have a reason for hope. It has to go beyond our current circumstances. She reached out and asked if she could hug me.

I spoke with many who resented the gawkers coming into their city like they are a tourist attraction. One business owner had just removed their first piece of plyboard that morning. For the first time since November 24, they had some natural light coming in through one of their windows. One woman wished me well on my missions trip through the city. Many gave me their business card. It wasn’t my intent to write anything following my visit, but they encouraged me to share their messages.

The only remaining businesses on this section had all closed their doors permanently in the days following the riots after it was announced the grand jury would not bring an indictment against Officer Darren Wilson. I regrouped and headed down the road.

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By now I feel obligated to share with my reader that each business owner I met at this area was white, many of their support staff was white, and the few black people I met were doing other manual labor. When I entered one store the employees, all black, had now heard I was in town. They were polite, perhaps too polite. I gave my brief message. ‘Hello, I’m from Springfield..some friends baked for you… we are praying for you and your city.’ I let them talk as long as they wanted about anything they wanted and I listened. While appreciative, they informed me I would need to take my cookies to the other side of the store. I looked quizzically at them, not understanding. One man spoke up. ‘The owner is over there, behind the counter.’ Only they know the outcome but my instinct tells me they never enjoyed any cookies that day.

I walked to the counter to find the lights dimmed and the owner asleep in a chair. I startled her awake as she nearly tumbled out of her office chair. It took little time to get up to speed. I heard a lengthy discourse on how to fix Ferguson under whispered breath, lest the employees on the other side of the store should hear her comments. More education. Better education. Get Al Sharpton out of here for once and for all. It was a long list. I don’t think she realized she could be part of the solution.

Many residents are actively part of the solution. I greeted some gentlemen who were trading fish stories or something at a public gazebo. Okay, I might have practically chased down a few people in a public parking lot also. I had found the heartbeat of Ferguson. Ebony and Ivory, people who were colorblind. They explained that this is what things used to look like. They would hang out together for a cup of coffee, maybe breakfast, no one thought of the color of their friend’s skin. One day, one person at a time they were going to hang out together in public to show that things are back to normal – at least as it depends on them. They are the unsung heroes of Ferguson.

My next stop was to an eye glass store. The boarded up windows said they were open but with a padlock on the door and no answer I had to move on. I  tried to give a sizable plate of cookies away twice to pedestrians. First I encountered a young black woman about 25 years old who offered a battery of excuses for why she didn’t want them. She was either allergic to them, not hungry, diabetic, or something else. I listened as the sentences overflowed one into the next. A simple no thank you would have been fine but she seemed obliged to provide a reason for declining. Shortly after she walked away a second young black woman came down the street, keeping her eyes glued to the sidewalk. I blurted out my spiel, expecting another rejection. She looked me squarely in the eyes, grabbed them from my hands as she yelled ‘Thanks!!’ and ran down the street.

I should have been back on the road by now but I knew I only had half the story. I had to go to West Florissant Avenue. 

Nothing could prepare me for the devastation caused by the riots beginning August 9th following Michael Brown’s death. I couldn’t make sense of random buildings that had been set on fire, left to burn to the ground, while the business next door was open for business as usual. I stopped to take a few pictures, having little history of what occurred on this street. Many businesses were completely unrecognizable.

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When I first looked across the street at one business something was different. It wasn’t burnt down but a chain link fence blocked off all access. I eyed a hand painted sign with the simple message RIP Mike. I quickly googled the address for where Michael Brown had been shot. It was just down the road. I was looking at a makeshift memorial made for him. I stopped to take in this somber moment. This is why I was here in Ferguson. I prayed for the Brown family and for those affected by his death.

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I was now on the side of town where I met the first group of black business owners. The first business was a ladies’ dress shop. A young man was watching the shop. He stood to shake my hand and asked if I would like to wait to meet the owner. I was running out of time so I thanked him and moved on. Next door was a hair salon, where I met some of the most beautiful people from the entire day. I was still giving my same message and getting a new response each time. The owner, a black woman about my age, was overcome with delight. She said several times that she couldn’t understand why people would come to Ferguson to show them kindness but it had encouraged her that God has not forgotten about them. I think I hugged everyone in that business three or four times. I left encouraged and excited to meet more people.

My last stop of the day was to a nail salon. I had large plates of cookies for the staff, smaller bags of cookies for individuals that I had been handing out to people on the street all day, and my Christmas cards with a simple message inside that said ‘We are praying for you’.  I walked excitedly into their doors only to be greeted with rather sullen faces. Here sat a room full of women all getting manicures and pedicures, the very definition of relaxation to me. Who wouldn’t want a cookie and a smile?

Most of them, it turned out. The staff spoke very little English. I wasn’t sure at first they understood me, but I laid the cookies at the front counter anyway. I walked up to a lady waiting and offered her a bag of cookies. ‘No thank you.’ Suddenly I didn’t handle rejection so well. ‘Would you like a Christmas card?’, I asked with a smile. ‘No, I don’t celebrate Christmas.’ I glanced around, looking for anyone who would make eye contact. A few women looked my way and gladly accepted the cookies, some declined, some never acknowledged me. My thoughts? That’s okay. I wasn’t here to push any agenda.

With the sun quickly fading I had to turn back home despite having some Christmas cookies left. Just as I was pulling away I spotted the most encouraging sight of the day – the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association bus. Chaplains have been in town since November visiting people and businesses daily, giving them hope, praying with them, and encouraging them. I joined ten to fifteen people on their bus as we shared stories about the trials and triumphs in Ferguson. We ended by gathering in a circle of prayer, finishing the day with my own Christmas miracle. I had surely been here a week, I was exhausted but excited, and these chaplains were just the boost my spirit needed on a cold December day.

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My thoughts on Ferguson 

  • Almost everyone believes they can overcome this. People want to be a part of the change.
  • Healing takes a long time and everyone arrives there at different junctures and in different ways. No one can force an agenda on an entire group and expect them to fall in line, regardless of where you stand in the issue.
  • Kindness begins with your neighbors.  Start with what you can do today for someone who can’t give anything back. 
  • Change takes a long time also. Ask yourself if you are part of the problem. If you are, make deliberate steps to change and apologize to those you have wronged to the best of your ability. If you are on the receiving end give people the chance to change. This has been a wake up call for many white people who never thought about walking into a store with their hands in their pockets.
  • The world’s problems are not solved by a cookie and a smile but they aren’t eased by screaming when no one is listening to each other. Let’s each do our part
  • It’s easy to lose sight of the individual behind each part of this story. Each person in Ferguson has their own personal story. All too often we lose those individual stories by throwing people into categories.

Making Peace with the Past

imagesI can’t remember a time when I didn’t love basketball. It is, as they say, in my blood. My memories of my dad standing, yelling, waving, stomping his feet, uttering words I would get my mouth washed out with soap for using… all for the love of Indiana basketball. Like my dad, all of us attended IU. I witnessed Bobby Knight’s antics and Steve Alford’s record-setting free throws. And rivalries… we knew every team we were for or against.

I am all for cheering my team to the finish line whether they win or lose but I get a sick feeling in my stomach when the intensity turns to personal attacks. One famous rivalry was between Geno Auriemma and Pat Summit. I came across the article below and thought Coach Auriemma had some great comments on forgiveness, reflection, and some ways he has changed since Coach Summit retired due to Alzheimer’s.

http://www.tennessean.com/story/sports/columnist/david-climer/2014/04/05/final-four-better-geno-auriemma-pat-summitt/7357281/

  • Do you have some things you need to address with someone? What are you willing to do while there is still time?

  • What are some specific steps you have taken that were effective in restoring damaged relationships?

  • Do you share your conflict with anyone who will listen or do you try to contain the damage?

  • How do you make peace with your past?

What a Beautiful Sunset!

God made this for you, Mom

God made this for you, Mom

One of the most significant changes in my relationship with my mother as her Alzheimer’s progresses is how we converse. There are definitely challenges but I am so thankful in many ways! First, I still have her with me physically. Second, she still remembers me and recognizes me. Third, she still retains the personality I have known her to have throughout my life.

Like most mothers, she has several ‘mom-isms’ that stick with me. Now my children and grandchildren get to hear some of my favorite ones:

  • If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.
  • I done went and et too much!
  • I think I have I little fur booties on my teeth.

Perhaps my favorite one is this:

  • Did you see the sunset last night? It was so beautiful! I almost called you to go outside and look at it but I was afraid I was calling too late.

I love this for several reasons. Alzheimer’s has taken away a lot of things from her but it hasn’t taken away her love for the simple things that I can take for granted – the sunset that comes every night. You see, her memory is now such that she doesn’t remember much more than a few minutes at a time most days. She is not recalling last night’s sunset. Instead she is recalling how much she loves God’s sunsets that come each and every night. Isn’t that amazing?

Also, she still thinks of others. She wants to share that happiness that she feels with me and our family. And she shows some level of concern for us.

My mother is undoubtedly greatly affected by Alzheimer’s at this stage in the disease. I don’t want to minimize that. I am so thankful to share some of her daily delights, however.

For some of my other posts about our journey into Alzheimer’s, please visit my page listed at the top titled Journey Into Alzheimer’s.

I appreciate your honesty

John LennonOver the last year I have journeyed with a dear friend as she watched her mother’s health fail. Initially there was hope that the situation was a temporary setback. A few months revealed that was not the case. This particular friend is an extremely busy person who gives back to her employer, family, friends, and community. I made myself available, and when she had free time we labored together as we watched each of our mothers decline. Things spelled downhill rapidly and her mother passed away recently. The funeral was out-of-state so I sent flowers and checked on her each day. Imagine my surprise when she drove by my home once then twice without even stopping or offering more than a slight wave after she returned home. Had I done something? Said something? She sent a few brief texts saying she was not up to talking yet.

Grief 

A true friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need. – Prov. 17:17

It’s perfectly fine for my friend to have this response. I respected how she handled her emotions. I deeply value my friends who are honest with me, even when it isn’t what I want to hear. Sometimes we put an unattainable and unnecessary goal on others to respond to their grief in the same we would and in the same time frame. It is impossible to know what is going on in another person’s thoughts. More than that, are you prepared to hear it if they pour out the details to you?

Healthy Boundaries

You use steel to sharpen steel, and one friend sharpens another. – Prov. 27:17

I have another friend who regularly apologizes for saying she is brutally honest. In reality she is one of my most trusted friends. Do you value the friend who tells you when you have food sticking between your two front teeth. The friend who doesn’t deliberately post the worst photo of you on Facebook simply because it is the best picture of her or him? The friend who tells you when you need to work on your attitude or outlook? My closest friends protect my trusted information. They challenge me consider my options, use the wisdom of others, to pray more, be a kinder person to both the lovable and the not so lovable, to give more generously. To be less like myself and more like Jesus. I’m a work in progress with a long way to go. I need friends who look me in the face and speak the truth in loving words.

Your Face Mirrors Your Heart

Become wise by walking with the wise;  hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces. – Prov. 13:20

Most of all I cherish the friends who love me enough to listen when I want to talk, pray when I’m silent, and share their burdens with me also.

What are some of the most important qualities in your friendships?

 

 

Light up your world

The last several weeks have weighed heavily on us and many dear friends as we waited for the outcome of a tenuous matter. Our concerns came to a fruition yesterday, wrought with all kinds of emotions. Some voiced relief, angst, confusion, doubts, frustration, and even anger. Does that describe a similar situation for you?

We moped around our house yesterday trying to escape the topic at hand. Everyone handles challenging situations differently. As for me, I prefer to be alone to ponder things. I get no comfort from hashing and rehashing things. Even a warm pot of ham and beans for dinner wasn’t lifting the mood in our house, however.

We have been preparing for some guests over the past few weeks, and kept ourselves busy most of the day. By early evening we had run out of things to do and we were making excuses to run errands. It was a valiant effort to break the silence.

Do you find yourself in a rut sometimes? Sometimes the answer is right in front of you.

We headed off for an errand. As I waited in the car at a store, the most obvious thing was staring back at me. Christmas lights. At this time of year, they are seemingly everywhere. In the same way that the emotions had crept up on me, so had the Christmas lights.

‘Let’s take a drive to see the lights.’ It was such a random comment. Our children are grown and we have gotten away from some family traditions that were once an annual tradition. In just a few minutes the world seemed a lot brighter, both internally and externally. We cranked up some traditional music, and off we went.

What other time of the year can you think of when people give of their own time and money just to bring a little joy to strangers?

We cheered and clapped for the neighborhood that had synchronized lights and music. We oohed and ahhed for the shimmering lights hanging from the rooftops. Yes, we even spied on one resident working hard to wrap gifts in their brightly lit dining room. Some streets were so beautiful that we came back for a second glance.

As if with a collective sigh, the evening tour was over. Life seemed a little lighter, joy had returned.

Sometimes we need to change our scenery to see our circumstances in the correct lighting.

Whatever your faith is, my prayer is that you find joy in the simplest things around you. They are there. I promise.

Discover the joy in everyday things.

Discover the joy in everyday things.

How to say Thank You

I always want to appreciate the generosity and kindness of others. In a perfect world, I write a thank-you note promptly for every person who has reached out to me. In a perfect world, I have beautiful and inspiring words that express these emotions. Sometimes that calls for gushing emotions that overflow with flowery words. Other occasions recall details of the changes in me or others who benefit from someone’s generous time and gifts. Some times I come up so short of expressing any appropriate acknowledgement. Today is one of those days.

For a little background, I took a course in college. As that occurred approximately 100 years ago, I can no longer recall the name of the course. It was something on American history in the 60’s? (I’m making this up. It is the closest detail I remember.) Just before the Thanksgiving break, we were given the assignment to interview a veteran. I smelled an easy A. Nice!

I wrote out my questions for the interview, timed out the appropriate setting, and began the interview with my dad. The fallacy of my theory about an easy A was to assume he wanted to be interviewed. He did not. I believe his words went something like this: ‘If I had wanted to discuss my time in World War II or the Korean War, don’t you think I would have mentioned it before now?’ Ouch!

My gentle giant of a father did not have mince words when necessary.

I suspect I went whimpering away after the abrupt notification that the interview ended off before it ever started. What had I done wrong? My mom told me I had no idea what the answers might be, and he didn’t get joy from some of the more painful memories. Not every experience feels better by recounting it over and over. I saw this comment on a friend’s Facebook page this week, which seems to sum up the experience.

Are ya going to listen to past trauma or today’s truth? I choose truth.

I muttered words of thanks over the years to my dad. I wrote papers later that showed his heroic character without the need for graphic detail.

I will always name my dad as my hero. He is the example.

My dad was a freshman in college at Indiana University when he was drafted for World War II. He finished that first year of college, served his country faithfully, and resumed his studies in Business at Indiana University.

He continued on with life. He wandered into a hat shop one day to purchase a gift for his mother. He encountered two of the most lovely women – my mother and my grandmother. I think you know what happened next. Chapel bells were ringing. They didn’t ring for very long because he was home from the Korean War just long enough to say his marriage vows. Within days he was back to serving his country after being drafted a second time.

I heard these men and women referred to as The Greatest Generation as years passed. Truer words were never spoken.

My dad went on to have a successful career as an entrepreneur. He and my mother owned a number of successful businesses. They spent many long nights working to ensure their employees would have another paycheck during a recession in the 1980’s.

He loved family life. He was an only child who had six children of his own. Many people never knew about two of his children, Ann and Alice. They were the first set of twins in our family. My parents had no idea they were expecting twins until they were born. Neither child survived. I was vaguely aware of this as a young child from the whisperings of a great-aunt who would explain the significance decorating graves on Memorial Day each year.

My dad finally realized he needed to put his health first when he approached age 60. Soon he was walking several miles every day. All those years of ice cream and fried chicken had beat him to the punch. He suffered a massive stroke at age 62. The remaining eighteen years of his life were spent in a wheelchair, permanently paralyzed, until he passed away. To this day I can hear his laughter. I don’t hear his voice complaining. He would tell you he had a great life. I saw trauma after trauma in the unfolding of his life. He saw joy and victory. His final words to me were to thank me. Thank me? He wanted me to know how highly he thought of me as his daughter.

In the final days of his life, he was thinking of everyone but himself.

These are just a few of the reasons we call them The Greatest Generation. Tom Brokaw wrote a book titled as such. One reviewer noted that, ‘In this book, you will meet people whose everyday lives reveal how a generation persevered through war, and were trained by it, and then went on to create interesting and useful lives and the America we have today.’

To all the heroes, thank you. How do I adequately sum up my appreciation? I don’t know. I stumble over the words until I tumble into a torrent of inadequate musings and exaltation. Perhaps less is more. When we meet any servicemen or veterans, we sum it up with these words:

Thank you for your service.

Would you like an order of fries with that?

I heard a message this past week on a topic that causes many to cringe. The speaker even called it the ‘S’ word. . . submission. Suddenly people shrink in their seats and mentally check out. I walked away with one thought on my mind: McDonald’s.

Our daughter worked at McDonald’s during her high school years. One of the first things they train their employees to do is to up-sell their orders. Order a hamburger and you should expect to be asked if you would like an order of fries as well.

Spend more than you intended.

Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. If I flip the question upside-down to a statement, it sounds like this:

Let me offer you more than you expected from me.

What a great model for serving others with my life. Do I give the least required so that I have minimum effort to claim a success? Or am I willing to give more than I expected, more than I intended, more than I thought I was up to giving?

Today my goal is to beyond that. I am going to offer to super-size my time, my service, my gifts.

Can I super-size your request, please?

What are your thoughts?

What I hope for you today

Hope changes everything. Hope precipitates the route to joy. Hope brings internal strength when external circumstances look daunting, perhaps impossible. My prayer for you today is to keep faith in your situation. If hope is nonexistent, pursue it diligently.

“”I’ve always talked to players about perception and reality. I don’t worry about perception. There may be some of that, that people want to attach to a good name, but the reality is that some good things can happen.” – Tony Dungy

What is on your list of impossibilities today? What has worn you to such fatigue that you can’t crawl out of that mental or physical manhole

“Always direct your thoughts to those truths that will give you confidence, hope, joy, love, thanksgiving, and turn away your mind from those that inspire you with fear, sadness, depression” – Bertrand Wilbertforce

Do yourself a favor today, perhaps an eternal favor. Take a chance to believe again. Faith is the cause.  Joy is the result.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

Let me know what you have renewed hope in today. Encouragement feeds encouragement in others. Someone else  needs to hear about your story of hope. Your journey to joy.

We Get to Pick Our Treasures

http://storylineblog.com/2014/12/16/we-get-to-pick-our-treasures/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=Donald%20Miller&utm_content=We%20Get%20to%20Pick%20Our%20Treasures

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