Runaway Legos and Packs of Gum

The tiny yellow Lego kept rolling off the table as we sorted the newest set he received for his birthday into colors, preparing to build. I generally am given the sorting task while he supervises, he checks my work for errors with a running commentary on my inability to see the difference between dark gray and black, the fact that I often choose to make an “all the rest” pile which he corrects for me, and his delight in a particularly interesting piece. He surveys the blocks like all the presents under a Christmas tree, taking in the joy of bright colors and multiple shapes, knowing everything there was waiting just for him. Yet this one piece kept escaping the pile, I was distracted and didn’t lay it flat. As it landed on the floor after many near misses, I remarked that this one piece was trying to get away from us. My Plum asked why, why is it trying to escape? I think it doesn’t want to connect with any other pieces, it just wants to be free, I replied as I moved another red piece into the corresponding pile. “Oh, yeah, I get that,” he told me. “We all feel that way sometimes.”

My joy bringer hands me snippets of wisdom at least as often as I offer him the opportunity to brush his teeth. Neither of us are particularly grateful for these gifts when we get them but maybe we both know they are in our long term best interests. While I am convinced that he is a genius guru joy bringer, the truth is probably that most children have words of wisdom to share, if only we listen to them. The beauty of a grandparent relationship with a child is we have the time, we can take the time, we can hear the snippets and remember to record them. I know my own children were quite verbal about feelings and were astute in ways of the world, surely they shared their views with me and I should have recorded them. Yet dishes and work and laundry and the other sibling and stress and stress and stress caused me to hurry and rush and miss what they could offer. Certainly I sought to atone for being gone during their early years, I listened attentively and cared deeply. Still, I was mom. When we are blessed, our true adoration comes from our grandparents. I know I am atoning with Plum for all the missed chances with Arrow and Stella. Yet ours isn’t a clear “grand” relationship either. Chef and I have stepped in far too often as parents, our roles with this child are cemented by age 7, he knows we are important caregivers in his life, we are his safe place. He can connect and still wish to roll away from some places in his life. I get it.

Accepting his wisdom does not mean I forget that he is still a child and needs us to help shape his character, to enforce rules and structure and consequences. His heart is so sweet and pure that when he strays into the dark side, my reaction is swift. I respond with immediacy and hopefully most often, natural consequences. During his birthday party, an overwhelming affair for anyone but certainly a boy who really just wanted to get to the present part and then the playing with the present part, sitting through a game of unwrap a ball of saran wrap looked tedious and horrible and mostly like torture. He chose not to play, instead he watched as his friends took turns unwrapping little toys or packages of gum.  Later as friends were leaving, one little girl couldn’t find her treat bag, which contained her circle of gum “tape,” a top prize. We searched but couldn’t find it so hurriedly created a new treat bag and wondered if someone picked hers up accidentally. This little girl is a neighbor to Plum at mama’s, a child who looks out for him, runs to get mama when he falls and gets a scrape, has a problem on the bus, needs his shoes tied. I felt horrible that this child especially had lost her prizes.

The next day, her equivalent in our own neighborhood, A, came to play with Plum. As they ran about the ever less haunted house while Chef and I dismantled it, A said she had something she had to tell, that Plum had done something bad at his party. He watched her share his secret, that he had hidden the other little girls bag, he wanted that gum. Plum and I moved upstairs to talk, after we supported A for telling the truth and following her conscience. My first question to Plum, did you know that was wrong? Everything that came after was merely faulty judgement, impulsive desires, selfishness overruling his heart, take your pick. We wondered if God had any rules about taking what isn’t ours, if we have been given any pathway to correct our mistakes, and finally if once we atone, we are meant to live in shame. He decided he needed to use his piggy bank money and buy new gum for his friend. We emptied out his pennies, took them to the bank inside the grocery store and the good folks there helped him count out what he needed. He selected the gum, rang it up, put his money inside the machine, bagged his gum and walked out with a lighter heart. That my sweet, I told him, is getting right with God. His friend hugged him as he delivered her gum, he ran to tell me how happy she was. He was clearly happier as well.

My Plum turned 7 this week and I know he will have ever more opportunities to bring me joy and share his wisdom. I know more and more though that our chances to cement his character, to have the foundation laid that will carry him into a safe and healthy future, those days are waning. We know that he will choose to be free of his connections someday, that he will test out his boundaries and push the rules. I feel the importance of each and every moment now, the inability to let something slide. This child is absolutely too precious to risk. That is my own atonement. For now, we are building Lego sets, we are giggling at runaway pieces, we are delighting in his friends who support his good choices as well, we are loving on this child who every day, brings us joy.



Celebrating My Plum

Birthday week in Patches Of Light land and all things are Halloweeny. Our joy bringer was born 3 days before the holiday yet at age 7, this is the first celebration of him that is utilizing the seasonal theme. It was supposed to be easier and cheaper and in some ways that has proven true. Yet when all around, in every store and on all social media, I am assailed with decoration ideas and this quick easy set up and that especially cool spooky idea, I am finally ready to admit that I may have gone a bit overboard. The basement is becoming a haunted house, each room upstairs is readied for activities such as pumpkin painting  or glow in the dark bowling or mini pumpkin tic tac toe. Reminding myself that all of these decorations will stow nicely away and be used for years to come, like Christmas decor, has fueled my desire to create more toilet paper rolls with eye cut outs and creepy ghosts out of every old white sheet I own. Chef remarked last night that maybe we had gone too far, that he is only 7, maybe we are spoiling him. Silly man, of course we are.

I have been leaning into an idea, a foreign concept to me, one that blew my mind when I first heard it. I was told that to God, I am worthy of celebrating. Of course I had heard comments like this before but it sank in differently this time, my soul was open to the words and the corresponding affection that just such a celebration would bring. What would it mean to believe that one is worth celebrating, not for achievements, not for a report card, not for wealth, but merely for existing? I have always hated my birthday, hated the attention it brings to me. Attention is dangerous to one who maintains a hyper-vigilance, scouring my surroundings for potential abusers. I avoid the limelight, I hate crowds. But what if I claimed my safety in God and believed that I was of value because God chose me to be in this place in this time? Heady stuff.  As I work on really integrating this idea, along comes my Plum’s birthday. My Plum whom I adore and cherish, the child upon who’s every word I hang. I watch him fall asleep, I listen for his first steps in the morning as he rises. He brings my joy and I shower my love upon him, a safe receptacle who doesn’t judge me. Maybe we are spoiling him or maybe we are telling this child with his checkered history of adults in and out of his life that we believe 100% that he is worth celebrating.

In years past, when Lego was the theme or dump trucks in the dirt was the direction we went, we didn’t go so crazy. By celebrating the holiday with his big day, we get a twofer, and I know in the future all of these spiders and webs and skulls will be used. Seriously, the odds are in my favor. Post-Halloween sales might help us round out our collection of spooky creatures, in case we have begun a new tradition of a haunted basement.  After all, he IS going to be 8 next year and my God is this child worth celebrating. My anticipation for his big day may be a bit over the top, as a grandma I really ought to be more accustomed to birthdays and children aging. But this child is special.

Thoughts of his beginnings are never far from my mind, all the days of anticipating his arrival that were spent coming to know his mama. Plum began as a yes when everything pointed to no. A disconnected father, a young mother challenged by the pregnancy. We watched as she painted a little dresser Chef found for her, readied a nursery here in our home, moved the crib about a million times to get it just right. We had many bumpy years of moving that crib out as she sought to begin life her own and then back in again as she needed a reset. Finally he moved into a bed and his room has stayed stable since, a place to call his own regardless of other changes in his life. Under his bed he stores treasures, one earring or a necklace from my dresser, a lightbulb, rocks, my Lord so many rocks, the collars from beloved pets. Not long ago a friend offered an old military truck which has become the perfect treasure chest for a little boy to contain his hoard. On days of greater anxiety, I find him sorting through it, as if the bits and pieces of his story calm him, center him. He goes through it less and less, my measurement for his inner tranquility.

“Well, Plum, what are your thoughts on year six?” I asked as he was pooping  and I was hovering outside the open door.  I don’t care what he says, he isn’t all that grown yet if he still wants me around for that event. But I digress. “It was boring.” This was the year of completing his kindergarten, beginning first grade, those seem rather significant to me. Nope. Boring. “Well, what about the summer, you played almost every day outside with A, in the mud.”  Yeah he conceded, that was pretty okay but mostly it was boring. Hmm, I was stuck. I thought it was a fantastic year, he learned to read, he exploded his math abilities, he can even tie his own shoes, for heaven’s sake (actually we just checked that off the list a couple weeks ago, but I swear he conquered it on the first try when I showed him those bunny ears.) He can barely tolerate looking back though, he said, “Six is just so young.”

He is right, as most often he is when we have these talks. But what he doesn’t know is that seven is still not grown. Anyone who comes racing off the bus with their shoe untied, cracking up only to tell me that it fell off as he was trying to get up from his seat at our stop. Apparently his buddy picked it up, held it to his face, and performed a disgusting act of maleness. “I swear, Gran, I heard him SNIFF!” Falling on the ground laughing again, backpack spilling Pokemon keychains and bouncy balls on the leaf covered lawn, he shattered the silence of my day with his giggles and delight. He is young enough still that he holds on to the sweet funny stories and events, he allows the tough things to roll off, to sizzle away like a droplet of water in a hot pan. It isn’t that he has such a perfect life that he knows no troubles, oh Lord no. I am confident that it is exactly because he has known trauma that he is resilient and determined to laugh when he can. I am at my utmost silly, I relinquish all dignity, ever willing to play the fool, just to elicit his laughter. Plum smiling means angels singing. When the angels sing, I know God is near. Truthfully, I know He has always been near to this child.

During this birthday week in Patches of Light land, I cannot help but reflect on not just who he is becoming but who has walked with him during the previous 12 months, who has shaped this year to help create this child. If ever there was evidence of the power the village plays in a child’s life, Plum is it.  His village rose up around him, he was prayed over while still in the womb. Our church has been beyond faithful in loving and supporting this child as well as his mother when she needed and was receptive. (His father has never left the prayers of the same community, God is walking that path with us, one with more twists and turns.) Plum occupied the front row closest to the praise band in order to dance and wiggle during the music portion of each service, he walks in as though he is the mayor of church. He feels ownership, as he should, as we all should. He knows comfort there, why wouldn’t he, these are his people. He glows with the love and support that surround his every step, he is unaware at his ages but one day he will realize that all those adults in his life were his prayer warriors, were placed there by God to lift him up out of his situation to become a man with a purpose in the kingdom. He will bring joy to many, not just his gran.

My joy bringer is 7 years old today, the baby I rocked to sleep, weaned from the bottle, potty trained, taught to sleep in a big boy bed and then to sleep all night. I was with him on his first day of preschool as well as kindergarten, I haven’t missed a milestone yet. But it is all the in betweens, the moments we talk amongst the bushes looking for insects or yes, even while he is pooping, that I truly treasure. This child carries my heart with him where ever he goes, as he grows. Today we will turn our home over to his many friends as they celebrate him. I will be listening for his giggles, confirmation that all the effort communicates to him, we know he is worthy. As the sun begins to rise, the early cold snap has brought flurries that catch my eye and chill my hands. My soul is warmed though, as I take these last few quiet moments before cutting apples for dipping into caramel and hanging streamers and blowing up balloons. My soul is quiet and peaceful, as I celebrate fully this child who God is sharing with me. My joy bringer, who helps me hear the angels sing.



Shining Light on our Pretend Play

Our clandestine play is based on a cartoon we watched several years ago, early morning TV binging when he was tiny and I needed coffee time. The story followed an incredibly whiny little boy and his baby sister, we watched before Plum even had a sister. Now he has two, one in his home and one he has never met, not even on his radar. Yet something connected for this child, something appealed to this boy about these characters and they have become the structure for our pretend play when no one else is around. “Gran, can we play Rosie and Caillou?” Sure honey, I tell him, even though my passion for this game evaporated about two years ago. “When is grandpa leaving? Can he hear us?” I try to convince him grandpa won’t care that we play this, that he won’t make fun of him, to no avail. It is top secret, this pretend play. We don’t even reference those names if anyone is in ear shot. As much as it drives me crazy, I know he is sharing something incredibly important and special, I play along when he asks.

We play on the front porch until the bus comes or the little boy across the street comes outside, then I am hushed and given the warning look: raised eyebrows over threatening eyes and a mouth that no longer is smiling or chattering but instead displays tightened lips with a chin jutted at me. I know I have pushed my luck, carrying on this play I don’t even want to engage in, just a word or two beyond his comfort. When we are confident the door has clicked closed signaling grandpa has left for work or no other children can hear us as we drive alone in my car, the script begins. We play as we finish breakfast, as he takes his bath, as he brushes teeth and gets his backpack gathered. I would much prefer to talk about real life, like what he is learning and more about his classroom dynamics and who he sits with on the bus. Yet this is what he chooses to share with me, this is the way he looks at his world.

He assigns roles, often I am Rosie’s mom, Braidon, Caillou, Rosie’s father when he is around, sometimes Scarlet joins us and now we have Maggie, a wonderful character based off of a delightful young girl at church. He is always Plum. Can you see why I have lost interest in this game? I have so many roles to play, many voices to keep track of, he is himself, often older, always the hero. I am generally seeking assistance from the imaginary video game we are play (Oh the hours we log on our pretend devices!), asking for tips on the pretend skateboards we are riding, wondering how to do the coolest tricks on the trampoline. My characters most often are impressed that Plum gets to help cook and garden and do wood working while they are unfamiliar with the nuances or safety issues with such tasks. Plum explains to his invisible audience how he has been performing such jobs with his grandmother for years and years, they cannot just jump in without watching how he does it safely, without learning to follow directions. He displays the sharp edges or dangerous cliffs or risky maneuvers until his invisible friends feel more confident and agree to follow the rules.  He is a patient teacher, if somewhat cocky in that he is always the best.

My characters are envious of his chess prowess, his martial arts moves, his understanding of church behavior (yes we play on the way there as well) and he graciously shares his knowledge and skill with all the kids involved, except Calliou. He is the bratty kid who carries all the negative traits my really best boy is working through. Anger outbursts? Jealousy? Chore avoidance? Calliou is the bad boy of our play, Plum has little time or interest in playing with this boy who breaks things and is disrespectful. He doesn’t want to play with a boy who won’t do his homework or include everyone on the playground. He schools Caillou or asks Rosie’s mom to explain the reasoning behind rules, the need for safety googles or why we believe in God. Sometimes he just can’t be bothered with this kid and sends him over to the adult in the story line, his back up when reporting bad behavior.

Sound complicated? I find it to be so, I long for the days ahead when we merely talk to each other, without the extra voices interfering. Yet, when I reflect on what we actually discuss and what we resolve in our play, I know he is holding on to this game for critical reasons. He IS talking to me about what is important, he IS sharing with me what is most valuable in his day. As he seeks to resolve social dynamics, as he looks at the choices he is making and replaying how he could have chosen differently or seeks to assign reasoning to the choices of those around him, he needs a safe place to try out ideas. He needs a place where he can say, “Okay stop that one, we’re going to start again. 3,2,1. Go.”  He needs a safe place where he is always the hero, where he is the smartest, the bravest, the best jumper. His world is getting bigger and wider and fuller. Sometimes I wonder if this  play is his confidence booster, a shot as necessary as the healthy food we insist on feeding him. Clearly it is meeting a need, he won’t let it go despite my groaning.

But what about my roles? How do I choose to portray the people in his world? I have discovered that I am not given much latitude with Caillou but the others, I am given free rein. I use those friends to support his kindness, his sweet spirit, his willingness to learn and assist others in need. I reward his desire to be a leader. We discuss the fallout from Caillou’s poor choices, we wonder how we can bring him along side us and reduce his anger. I seek to normalize the mistakes, the errors, the outbursts, I offer forgiveness and grace to this younger imaginary child. We are stuck in a black and white phase of this game, Calliou has little room for redemption but I am edging him ever closer. Still the other children are more fleshed out, have desires to lead as well, they bring more personality and less hero worship. We are establishing an entire village of friends who are learning how to save their money for the best skateboards and to do chores to buy more apps on their fancy phones. I secretly like these kids who play together so nicely, if only I weren’t in charge of all of them.

So what does it all mean? I wonder if he isn’t speaking to what we all really do, if we don’t create worlds and words and assign motivations for those people in our lives that fit our needs that may have little to do with their own reality. Based on the Brené Brown construct from “Rising Strong” my friend Janet wonders aloud to me quite often when I relate a situation to her, “Or maybe that is the story you are telling yourself.” It never fails to piss me off AND alter my course of thinking. She is allowing the characters to speak a bit more freely, to have voices that share new ideas. She and I play our own version of “Rosie and Calliou” almost every time we meet, in fact I realize now that whenever I meet up with trusted friends, we lay out our villages, we arrange the people either closer or further away from us, we tell the stories of our lives, all of course from our viewpoint. We choose to be the hero, the victim, the distant observer, we choose our role. We give voices and perceptions to all those who cross our paths. The adult version of this game I play every time with my Plum. Is it really so different?

As I go into this week, I am replaying some interactions, moving some of my people around in my mind, allowing them to have voices I had not considered before. I am choosing to lend them some grace, to wonder about the redemption of all of my characters. I know the stories I tell myself and the stories my Plum tells me are where we need the most light. Oh the things this child teaches me. Maybe you will join me in opening up your own pretend play and questioning your own stories. We may find some healing in understanding the voices of others. We may find we are more able to play nicely with others.

I Felt Hope Again

This season has been rough, as a review of my blogs would attest. My feelings about the election are well known, this estrangement sucks the energy out of my every day,  horror blasts me as I watch the news to find another mass shooting or another unarmed black man shot by a police officer, then of course my double concussions set me back for several months. It has been hard to find the joy, to see the promise when all around felt bleak and my head hurt. My soul was searching, I kept showing up to church, looking for the light. Yesterday, in my car, I finally felt the warmth of the sun even in autumn, I knew the Light was surrounding me even in this darkness. Oddly enough, my hope came from an NPR story about the NFL.

I have listened and read for 9 months now as people are made less depending on skin color or religion or income or gender. I have witnessed friends and families divide, as love for this country becomes about a piece of cloth and not the people who wave it. Wondering where empathy went, how we became so full of anger and hate that we could no longer even hear each other, I grew increasing fearful of talking to anyone about the matters that were breaking my soul. Still, I avoided seeking out only like minded people, a danger as bubbles keep us safe only for a moment, when they pop we are exposed and vulnerable and our lack of global information becomes evident. Yet, the darkness was burying me, I too wanted to hide under the blankets and let someone else worry about Puerto Rico and mass incarceration and immigration and all the Harvey Weinsteins of the world. I admit I was only seeing the shadows, the light was dim, as if sun glasses were shading me. Surely the Light was there all the time.

During this report on NPR, I heard an interview about the talks between the players and the owners and this comment from Roger Goddell saying, “The discussion was very productive and very important. It reflected our commitment to work together with our players on the issues of social justice.” Yes, friends, this was the source of all my hope, this is when the light broke through. The tears flowed, the dam of sorrow burst open. We have been witness to history, that subtle shift in time when patterns long held are broken, when light shines through the cracks. The NFL players who have been protesting  in a civil rights manner akin to Martin Luther King Jr, using their power positions to draw attention for those who have no national stage, to amplify the voices of those who are silenced, it worked. The commissioner of the NFL, the most powerful sport in the country, used the words “commitment to social justice. ”

When I heard those words, I experienced deep sweet hope. I had forgotten the feeling, such was my despair. I was overwhelmed, the light was so bright, the joy was so great. Does it seem silly to have taken my cue that life is going to be okay from a radio show and not from the orange leaves in the trees or the wooly worms preparing for winter? Maybe I just needed a rich powerful man to not say the protesters were wrong, I needed someone in power to say the words social justice. Whatever the reason, however it came about, I was reminded that sometimes it really is darkest before the dawn and the truth about our current days is that we have a chance to be the light we hope to see. We can bring more peace and social justice and love and hope during these turbulent days, that is how we make the cracks, all of us shaking things up a bit. His Light will shine with us, will go before us, if we are brave enough to do what is right. Sometimes that is standing up, sometimes sitting down, sometimes even kneeling. We may be called to speak up or gather together silently. Following the lead of Jesus, we will bring the light, we will bring more hope into this broken world.

Friends, I hope you can find a bit of light today. Maybe you are the illumination someone else is waiting for. Thanks for joining me here during the darkest days as I keep searching for my own shining sliver. I felt hope again and my God it was glorious.

We Are Roaring

A whisper can be carried away by the breeze, the message lost as roars and hollers around fill the space it tried to claim. Whispers are the risky first steps, the ventures into reality of our inner lives, the worry, the fears, even our secret loves. We test to see if the world about us falls apart when a truth is spoken. As a child, as a young adult, I whispered some of my secrets only to be shutdown and taught that even my quietest voice was not to be trusted or valued. When I began writing, later when this blog became my roar, I found a safe space to allow my voice to grow in volume and intensity. I am learning to speak my truth and live into what that means, accepting all the consequences and freedom that brings. I didn’t expect to hear so many other voices, no longer whispering , shouting out stories that tear at our souls. Loud, angry, hurt voices speaking openly about sexual harassment, about choosing to suffer in order to keep jobs, fear of not being believed blinding them to their own power, The whispers have turned into a roar, saying no more no more no more.

I am heartened by the bravery of all these friends and strangers posting #metoo on public forever forums, sharing stories that break my soul and anger me that this problem is not so rare, that I am not special in my suffering. I am shocked and saddened by the sheer number, a scroll through my social media accounts show that women are finding the courage to share that they have been treated as objects time and again, that they have been silenced by a system that forces us to prove our claim rather than the abuser prove his innocence, even when the accusers number in double digits.

I have searched and searched for the upside to this political nightmare. I believe that God will use all to His glory but I could only see daily how more and more of His people were being marginalized and demoralized and put at risk through the divisiveness and hate rhetoric. Yet this president has accomplished one thing, whispers are turning into roars. Women who felt triggered by the comments he made on the bus with Billy Bush and found ourselves shrinking each time we heard his voice, have now said, enough. We found that more and more of us are feeling the same way and, my God, have like histories. It was only a matter of time before Harvey was outed as an abuser, who is next? Women are angry and talking out loud. We are pushing our way into that glory, to a space of no shame, to a celebration of all that it is to be women and children of God.

The men in our lives have choices as well. Their own voices matter in the midst of this uprising. Will they find their own voices and ask God’s forgiveness for the times they ogled the waitress, they hugged the cashier, they held the hand of the hostess as she took him to his table, made their own comments with their buddy at the bar, or didn’t object when another man did all of this? See all these women weren’t harassed by only a handful of men. This is systemic, we have a problem in how men see us, actually look at us. We are not bodies for male pleasure. Long ago a manager at a restaurant where I worked was instructing others in training on how to interact appropriately. He said, if you wouldn’t do it with your spouse watching, don’t do it. So simple, the perfect start for those men who respect their spouses. For those who don’t we have bigger issues to address, a different blog. Right now, the streets are filled with roaring women. Thanks be to God.

Philippians 2:3

 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

We Forgot To Limp

Plum stubbed his toe this weekend, not the terrible first stubbing of spring that draws blood on tender flesh cushioned for months under socks and slippers and boots, but really more of a bumping of his little foot against the cement porch, a foot that has spent the entire summer roughening on the gravel road alongside our home. A closer inspection showed not a single drop of blood, not a tear in his skin, no mark of the injury that he felt. Hours of barefoot play in the summer sun and the steadfast refusal to keep shoes on brought about a tough exterior, one that belied the pain he was experiencing. We have extra bandaids for just such an injury, one that is more inside than out. He asked me how one limps, such was his determination in milking this event as well as the disappointment that nothing outward pointed to the level of pain he was knew. I showed him and he managed a limp for all of two steps before he was distracted and the pain receded. I understood his concern, though, I had worn my own bandaids all weekend.

Our church moved 10 years ago to a brand new building, one that fit the dreams we all shared for more ministry options. This weekend was the celebration of that move and our 3 services would be combined into one but our church couldn’t hold us all at one time, thus the high school just down the road was chosen to be our worship site. The auditorium and cafeteria were large enough for us all, a perfect choice. Except that building held memories of my children, of Stella’s art exhibits, of decorating their lockers every year for their birthdays, of graduation ceremonies as I watched them cross the stage and look to their future. I walked those hallways as I registered them for classes each year and bought new sweatshirts and yearbooks, I met with teachers their for conferences. This was their high school, the place I drove Stella to early each morning when she missed the bus and picked them both up to drive to orthodontist appointments.  This building held memories that I had ignored. Yet walking though with Plum, I began to mentally limp, I felt the injury and knew no one could see me bleeding. Then it happened, I was distracted. Plum wanted to explore the stage, a friend tripped and fell, the food was plentiful and the friends were all around, I forgot that I had stubbed some memories. As we left the event, I realized I had survived without real damage to my psyche. Now in thinking about the school, I would also remember singing praise songs and would always consider that the students who sit in those chairs for assemblies will be covered in the prayers of our congregation.

Later Chef and I attended a wedding of a young woman from church, a woman who oozes grace and light. She sings with our praise team and sends me notes that lift me at exactly the moments I think I am sinking, she lives out faith actively. Chef and I had not been to a wedding since the civil ceremony of our daughter, the estrangement occurred one month after that and we were not invited to her actual wedding, the one with the dress and cake and music. I knew this would be a stubbing crashing smashing of memories, a bashing of hopes and dreams but I so respect this young woman we couldn’t not go. Bandaiding my heart, we entered the event hall and found that many other friends from church were there as well, we sat with some who kept us occupied and laughing and covered with joy such that we forgot to limp, we forgot to check for bleeding. This wedding was the perfect one to ease us back into life, to invite us to participate in joy and distract us from our pain.

I know it would be safer to avoid the gravel, to always wear shoes, to stay away from places that trigger memories that will break through to my bruised soul. Yet I am not called to be safe and protected, to hide and to be cushioned. I am asked to rely on the strength of God, who will guide me and keep me from harm. Running away rom those events that might possibly touch on my sore spots means I would miss the chance to heal ever so slightly, to replace some memories of what hasn’t been with an evening of laughter and new jokes to share and delight with friends instead of nursing wounds on my couch. Paul says we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, he doesn’t say we should stop doing the things that might rough us up. Today I trusted in God to protect my soul, and found his grace was indeed sufficient. Step by step, that is how I move ever closer to the light.


For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9


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When Children Repeat our Hate Speech

The world crashed down before I even had my first cup of coffee, before actually I had even turned the coffee maker on. We had only donned slippers and robes moments before, just out of bed, I’m not sure I have even visited the bathroom yet, surely I must have or I would have lost control of that function right there on the steps as my grandson uttered hate speech. Of course he didn’t know the meaning of the words he used, merely repeating something in the manner of growing his vocabulary. Of course I delight as he uses ever larger words and deeper concepts that he picks up from listening and exploring his world, I have always delighted, until this one morning. My heart broke before it even had time to fully wake. Spreading the reputation of my Plum far and wide as a joy bringer maybe has brought more pressure than this 6 year old can bear. As he nears his next birthday, I too am getting closer to admitting that he doesn’t always bring the smiles and lighten my heart, he is reflecting the world sometimes to me and it isn’t pretty.  I much prefer when he shows me God.

The old show, “Kids say the Darnedest Things” takes a lighter view of the utterances of children, when they repeat the curse words mommy said or describe how daddy put the moves on mama. We laugh when we hear adult talk emerge from little mouths, highlighting the absurdity of our concerns and our proclamations. Yet what of the times that they repeat hate speech? What does that say about the world they are exposed to, how do we control what they know and hear and say without limiting their growth? In a society that allows white supremacists to march freely without the need for hoods, there should be no surprise that this ugly talk has filtered down to my first-grade grandson. Apparently it began on his bus, when he was being bullied by older kids who eventually were sent to see the principal and he was moved to the seat right behind the bus driver. Yet no one bothered to address the language used against him, to explain why it was wrong. He only knew it felt hurtful to have the older kids taunting him. Other kids ran to tell Mama as he got off the bus and sat down in tears, unable to make it even the block to his door, such was his shame. So when our very large white Labrador blocked his path on the steps, it seemed the perfect time to use his new words. Frustrated and annoyed, he blurted out, “Move it you white cracker!”

My first instinct of horror and shock ruled my own words: No Plum we never ever ever say that, that is ugly horrible talk. Then I got some coffee and invited him to sit with me as we dug into the why. We talked about slavery and the idea that some people are worth less than others, something he thought was outrageous and my heart began to mend. We talked about another ugly word, one I never ever want him to use and why. We explored how angry people are right now because they are being treated as less than still and he is white skinned and he is expected by many to be better just because. We talked about a war within our country fought by those who wanted slavery to continue and those who didn’t and how grateful we are that the North won. We also talked about bullies and hurtful words and how the things those folks say are probably things we don’t want to allow to come out of our mouths. He apologized to our dog who was none the worse for it all but my Plum was learning that words matter.

A deeper fear was lurking within me though, one that screamed that I must stamp out this hate speech before it can grow any roots. Somehow I missed some moments with my own son, in spite of all the posters and quotes and books and moments to address his innocent utterances as well. He was one person, an addict but not a racist, before he went to prison. When the gates opened, he was clean and sober but covered in swastikas and runes and subtle references to white supremacy organizations. His experiences inside had exposed him to a race war that our war on drugs has elevated, he became an enlisted soldier in an army that was bringing its fight outside the cells and into the streets. Mama and I feared what he would plant in this sweet child’s head, how would we continue to nurture a child who loves everyone if his father was telling him to hate some? Yet Arrow has chosen to separate from his son, to disappear and begin a new family outside the influence of our ideologies. While his son is white, he has become less than worthy in my son’s construct, a heart-breaking possibility when we measure people by what they can do for us and not by virtue of their existence. Still, everyday I worry about this man who was once my little boy learning that words matter and love was better than hate. He is engaged in a war that has already been lost, on many fronts. My soul aches for this lost boy.

So we try again, with this child, to eradicate hate speech before it can destroy a little boy’s loving heart. Every day that he leaves our homes, when he climbs aboard a bus or hits the playground, he is exposed to a world that is struggling with racism and sexism. For now, he knows that God made us all, that we look alike on the inside, where it matters most and that we are all important to God. He told me today that he is a follower of God, not bullies. My joy bringer reflects God to me, and I have to be strong enough and honest enough to reflect God right back, especially during the hard talks, even before coffee. I have to be brave enough to tell him words that he cannot use, even against our dog, who truthfully, is quite annoying. We are meant to be light and grace during these turbulent times, our children are watching and listening, and in spite of us all, repeating our embarrassing words. His “shits” and “damns” don’t seem all that bad any more.  Neither does home-schooling.