“Red and yellow, black and white…they are precious in His sight…”

It was late one night and I got the above message from two good friends…just a photograph that said “It’s a boy! It’s a girl!” I knew that there had been no pregnancy, so I was clueless as to what this meant. I wrote back, “WHAT???” My sweet friend and her husband had desperately wanted to have a child together, but it was not possible. They turned to adoption here in the U.S. and learned that they were “too old.” I just busted out laughing when they told me that! I could NOT believe that was valid criteria for THEIR adoption, but learned very quickly that it was. So, like many individuals in the United States, who want very much to share their love and lives with a child who desperately needs a loving family, they turned to the adoption of a foreign child.

After a very long process, they qualified to adopt a child from Ethiopia. Turns out, though, there were TWO children up for adoption – a little girl and her younger brother that the agency did not want to separate. So my friends became “instant” parents to two beautiful babies. I have watched their growth and “blossoming” in the love of their parents and family. I have laughed at their antics and “discoveries” in this new life. I have watched as they grow into their “personalities.” They have had a wonderful life…up until the past few months. At school, other children are now telling them that they are going to be sent back to Ethiopia, that they will have to leave their parents. They’ve endured others yelling at them, “Go back to Africa!” My heart can almost not take this! I can only imagine what their parents are feeling in the depths of their souls. I imagine my own little niece and nephew…how scared and confused they would be if someone told them they would be taken away from their parents…that they would be sent to a foreign place that they did not know or recognize. I wonder how could you console those babies? How would you assure their fears were baseless? I cannot come up with any solution that would “fix” that particular situation. I don’t know how I would deal with attempting to comfort a child’s very real fear regarding these actions. I mean, really, what could you possibly say? And how would you deal with the anger over someone else doing this to your child? I don’t think I would be able to contain that anger, because I am angry right now about how these two precious children are being treated, and they are not even MINE!!

I have another very dear, close, lifetime friend who married an African American – she was, and is, a very white caucasian. Unfortunately, the marriage was not successful, but they had two precious, absolutely drop dead gorgeous, biracial daughters who I have had the privilege and honor to watch, and share their lives, as they grew to be wonderful, loving adults and mothers themselves. They are simply family to me, and I love them with a full heart, unconditionally. I have nieces and nephews who have dated, and do date individuals different from their own ethnicity and culture. I have Hispanic friends who fill my heart with joy. They work hard, are not on welfare, and have values that are very similar to mine. Although I am from the “South,” and “southern” through and through, I WAS NOT TAUGHT PREJUDICE!

Children are so wonderfully cute and adorable when they are babies. The thing about children though, is that they grow up into adults. And what was “tolerated” as a child, is not always tolerated and accepted once they become adults. Like being Ethiopian…or African American…or Hispanic…cute as babies, but not so much as adults…But here’s the deal, remember the song we learned as children in Sunday School? “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I have to believe that! I have to act on that! If God made us in His image, then doesn’t that mean that every race and ethnic group is in HIS image??

The God I was taught to love and serve dictates my actions…to feed someone who is hungry; to give them clothes when they have none; to provide monetary support if that is necessary; to treat them as equal, human beings with dignity and respect; to LOVE THEM AS I WOULD LOVE MYSELF!!

Most of you know that I lost my Mama to Alzheimer’s, and I have shared some of those stories from our journey. During one Doctor visit, they were giving her yet another Mini Mental Status Questionnaire. One part of the test asked her to write a sentence. (And with each test, her sentences got shorter and shorter, until there were no sentences at all.) On this particular test, she wrote “I love all people.” I knew this to be true, for that is how she lived, and that is how she taught me. “I love all people.” How profound! And wouldn’t the world be such a better place if everyone practiced this? For you see, they ARE precious in His sight, and as a result, they MUST be precious in my sight also! Maybe we could all be a little bit more loving and accepting during our journey on this earth. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

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My Mama and the FBI…

I don’t really know whether this is just a “Southern” thing, or not, but whenever I mention this particular “event,” most people from the South, if they were raised in a small town, readily identify with what I am about to say. It was not uncommon in the summer (or Sunday) afternoons, for my Mamaw Barber to swing by and pick up my Mama and us kids to take us riding “around town.” The ride ALWAYS ended with a drive-by, or swing-through, the local cemetery. All us kids were jammed together in the backseat (usually laughing and/or fighting – but ALWAYS having a good time…), but we would get really quiet as we rode solemnly through the grave yard. We would hear Mamaw and Mama commenting on the different people, whose names appeared on the various headstones. Comments such as, “You know his wife has remarried, don’t you?” Or, “She used to make the best apple pie around!” Or, “Do you know whatever happened to….?” It was as if they were visiting old friends. For my part; however, I was always thinking…”WE’RE IN A CEMETERY!!!”

(Now, as an aside, I have to tell you that our neighbors ran a little hamburger stand just down the street from where we lived, and my Mama, at one time, worked there. She pretty much knew everyone in town, so when someone came by that she did not know, it got her curiosity up. So, it happened one day, that a stranger, a man no one in town knew, began coming by the hamburger stand and, of course, would order a meal of some type. This began a daily event for him and my Mother.)

On this particular evening, Mamaw picked all of us up for the traditional ride around town. As we were riding around some of the neighborhoods, Mama got all excited when she recognized “the stranger” sitting out on the front porch of one of the houses we had passed by. She began sharing how this man had just started showing up everyday at the hamburger stand, and how “mysterious” it was that no one seemed to know where he came from…or what he did…We all listened with delight, but did not think too much of the situation. However, we teased Mother unmercifully about being a detective and made fun references to her “unpaid” role as an FBI agent.

After a month or so, a black sedan pulled up to the hamburger stand, and two men, in black suits and sunglasses, got out of the car. They approached the window of the hamburger stand, where my Mama was waiting, with a smile, to take their order. Her “detective” radar and energies were on high alert. One man approached the window as the other one stood to the side. He identified himself as an agent with the FBI, and wanted to ask Mother a few questions. He was asking about a specific man…a man who turned out to be Mama’s daily visitor at the hamburger stand. The FBI agent pulled out a photograph, and asked Mama if she had ever seen this man. She immediately told him that she did recognize the man in the photograph, and, even better, she could show them where he lived!! The FBI was more than gratified, took the information, and left. We never saw the mysterious stranger again, never knew what had happened to him, or why he was being hunted by the FBI.

That story has given our family more laughs than you can imagine! We lived in such a little town, and everyone just knew everyone else (and all of their business, it seemed). Whenever a new person moved into our area, we got to know them, and it usually did not take more than a day, to determine their life history. We were a “community” in every sense of the word. Neighbors knew all of the kids that should be present, and went on alert when the “normal crew” did not show up. Parents did not worry about their children being outside, or down the street, because they knew some sweet, caring neighbor was watching. It really was a “village” helping to raise the children, and protecting them.

That “neighborly” philosophy has followed me all of my life. No matter where I live, I have always gotten to know my neighbors – not in a nosey, “in their business,” sort of way, but with genuine and sincere interest. I chose my current neighborhood with purpose. I wanted that “old-fashioned” feel of community. I wanted to pass neighbors and friends each morning on my daily walks, to stop and chat and “catch up,” to watch their homes when they were out of town, to have them watch my home when I was out of town, and to just drop by for impromptu visits. I can’t begin to imagine living next door to someone I don’t know…or even attempt to know…or speak to when I pass them on the street.

It seems we have become millions of little islands to ourselves…only interacting with whoever we live with, or whoever we work with. When did this happen, and is it a good thing? I don’t think so. I think the more we invest in relationships, and genuine caring, we begin creating those wonderful neighborhoods and communities, where we love, argue, support, defend, protect and share…all for the common good. I think I will make more of an effort to love my neighbors, and leave the “investigating” to the FBI… Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“I don’t want to be a burden…”

Most of you know that I began this blog as a way to deal with my own grief…while watching my Mother slowly die, literally and figuratively, of Alzheimer’s Disease. Those who loved her beyond reason, had to stand by and watch her descend into that living hell. She remained home, with family, until we could no longer give her the care that she so desperately needed. One of our strategies, to keep her home as long as possible, was to “share” the responsibility of her care among the four children and my Father. Part of my responsibility (and honor) was to stay with her and Daddy, one week out of every month (more often, as I could)…

Mother had gotten to a point where she could not bathe herself, go to the bathroom by herself, or feed herself. So, on this particular day, it was time for her shower. I found it easier (and safer) to just get in the shower with her, and gently bathe her as we talked, laughed, and reminisced. Some times this was a difficult task for her, in that she could not follow or understand anything that I was saying. Other times, bathing was easy, and she would assist me with her own care.

We were both in the shower, drenched from head to toe, and she placed her hand on my arm and made me stop. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I never wanted you children to have to do this. I never wanted to be a burden.” Those words broke my heart and I struggled to find just the right thing to say, to convince her that she was never a burden to us. With a smile on my face, I said, “Mama, didn’t you tell me that when I was a baby, while nursing, the only way you could get me to go to sleep was to let me pinch the skin under your arm, and roll it back and forth between my fingers?” She smiled so sweetly with the memory, and said, “Yes, that’s right.” I asked her, “Didn’t it hurt?” She said, “Yes, but that motion somehow soothed you, and you would go to sleep every time.” I then said, “Didn’t you spend countless, sleepless nights, sitting by my bed, or laying beside me, or just holding me, because I was so sick that you would not leave me alone?” Again, she said, “Yes, I did!” I continued to tell her that there were too many examples to count, too many memories of selfless sacrifices that she had made not only in my behalf, but for all of her children. I asked her if she considered being our Mother a burden. She looked at me in shock, and said, “No! I loved all of you, and I wanted to take care of you!” I then explained that we were doing the same thing for her now; that we wanted to take care of her, out of our love for her. She smiled through tears, and said “OK, then! That’s settled.”

Some times the greatest gift we can give someone is to simply accept their help and caring. Those who are being cared for DO feel like a “burden” to their family. You have a choice as to how you are going to make that person feel…You have a choice as to HOW you are going to give that care – either out of guilt or out of love…and your actions will indicate which choice you made. Have you let your parents, or loved ones, know that they are NOT a burden? Or do you let them know how inconvenienced you are? I tell families and caregivers all the time, “It’s not that you just gave the care, and got it accomplished, but rather, HOW you gave the care.” Do you make them feel guilty? Let those individuals, the ones you are caring for, know that providing care and assistance is an act of love… I don’t ever want someone I love to feel as if they are a burden to me. Caring should be given freely, from the heart. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Is that punch SPIKED???

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Sunday was Father’s Day!  I am so thankful that I still have a wonderful “Daddy” to honor and celebrate. He will be 90 in the fall of this year, and is doing well. We are going to have a HUGE party to celebrate this monumental occasion. He is already excited, telling everyone within listening distance that he is going to be 90!!! “90,” he says with wonder…he cannot believe it!  Most of you know that he was a Minister (preacher) for all of my life, which does make me a preacher’s kid…and I don’t want to hear any grief about that…lol! He pastored small country churches. I am certain that much of my love, respect, and passion for elders was developed in those little churches, because small country churches are FILLED with older adults (who sing really, really loud…). This week’s story is about an event that happened in one of those churches…

Just like in larger, metropolitan churches, babies are born, couples get married/divorced, and people die. As a result of those life events, my Father conducted numerous ceremonies for his church members. As the pastor’s family, we were not expected to attend the funerals; however, if it was a “joyous” occasion, like a wedding, we put on our “Sunday go to meeting” clothes, and got to attend. My Mama always made sure that we behaved and conducted ourselves in a manner befitting a “preacher’s family.” Although we had to put on those socks (with lace), patent leather shoes (that always hurt your toes) and wear the scratchy, “stand-out” petticoats (to look like a little lady), we always looked forward to going because of ALL THAT FOOD!!!

On this particular occasion, we had made it through the ceremony and had gotten to the reception without any incidents. Mama got us each a plate, filled with wedding cake and ice cream, a few peanuts, and a few of those wonderful “wedding mints.” She got us all together in one place, told us to stay put, and she went off to get our punch. Daddy, of course, was across the room talking and visiting with his members and the bride/groom’s family. Mama finally returned with the punch, sat down, and took a sip of the punch. She looked at me with horror on her face, and said, “The punch is spiked!” She then said, “Get over to your Daddy and tell him NOT to drink the punch!!” I ran over to get him, but he had already had THREE cups of punch, saying how good it was! Once we explained the situation, he immediately stopped drinking the punch and sought a way to remove himself (and us) from the vicinity. We could hardly stop laughing, trying to get to the car. (Daddy did NOT drive home that day!!) My Daddy had never tasted ANY alcohol, so he really was an innocent.

In today’s world, there’s not many grown children who can say that their Father never smoked, drank, cursed, or abused them in some way, whether physical or emotional…but I can! My Father set a true example for his children to follow. He never said, “Do as I say, not as I do.” He continually said, “Do as I do!” By living that sweet, pure life before us, he gave us the most wonderful example to follow. My Father took this responsibility to heart. He and Mother wanted (and planned for) all four children. He taught us wrong from right. He lived his life the way he wanted us to live ours…and we heard (and saw) that message loud and clear. We live fuller, more complete lives because of the lessons he taught us. I can’t think of any other person who truly emulates the word, “Christlike.” And no matter how old I get, he will ALWAYS be my “Daddy.” Let’s celebrate those Fathers every day – not on just one day out of the year. And stay away from that punch…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“I didn’t raise a dummy…”

So…you have not heard from me in quite a while…There are reasons, and maybe some day I will write about them, but for now, I am going to attempt to continue the posts on a more regular basis. With that being said, let’s begin with a new story…

I am at a time in my life where I find I want to “downsize.” For the last few months, I have been going through boxes that have been “stored,” and not been opened in over 10 years. You just have to wonder…WHY did I save that “stuff,” if I was going to keep it in a box for that length of time? And if I had not used it, or missed it, in over ten years, I surely don’t think I needed it NOW!! It had just gotten ridiculous!!

While going through some of the “memorabilia,” I discovered a little red New Testament Bible that my Grandmother had given me when I was just a small girl. I had forgotten that she gave me the little Bible, and also that I had saved it. The minute I touched the cover, all the memories came rushing back…when she gave it to me, and what she whispered to me as she held me in her lap. It is certainly one of the items that I will be keeping for the rest of my life. However, as I was looking through the old and worn pages, a note fell out. The note was from my sweet Mama, and here is what it said…

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When I first started speaking to various groups/companies/associations across the country, Mother always said, “I would love to hear you speak.” I was usually in some part of the United States, far away from where she lived.  But on one occasion, I was going to be nearby, so I asked if she would like to attend the conference to hear me “do my thing.” She was so excited! The day arrived and she rode with me to the conference. I got her a good seat so she could see her daughter “in action.” Conference representatives made the necessary announcements, introduced me as the speaker, and I began my presentation. Every time I looked at her face, she was grinning from ear to ear, and watching the people around her, listening to me. She wrote this note during the presentation, and gave it to me before she left to go home…a note that I will also keep for the rest of my life… Later in life, as Alzheimer’s devoured her mind and body, she would continue to ask me about my presentations, and if “they” liked me. And, as always, upon my affirmative answer, she would say with such pride…”that’s MY baby…”

I know children (both young and adult) who have never known that their Mom or Dad were proud of them. I cannot even begin to imagine what that must feel like, for all I have ever known is that unconditional love and support. I KNEW that my parents believed in me and thought I could do anything! And that belief became reality! I really DO believe I can do anything…even now, after all of these years! Parents, do you constantly berate a child (whether young or adult), and bring failures (whether real or imagined) to their attention? Do you make them feel as if they are NEVER “good enough?” Have you told your children how proud you are of them? Have you shared with them the joy they bring to your lives? Have you told them how much you love them, and believe in them? If not, why not take the time to do so today? It would be so wonderful for them to know they are valued and loved…Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

But…that’s NOT us!!!

Ferris-Wheel

Still summer…so I am still in vacation “mode….”

Some of my best childhood memories are the family vacations that we took. Our family was not rich financially, but Mother and Daddy were able to save enough to take us on a few wonderful vacations. As I look back on the experience now, I am not certain how they were able to afford them. We would load up everyone; immediate family, cousins, uncle, and take off! We would have a carload full (no station wagon, just a regular sedan), and we were squeezed in. It did not matter though, we would laugh from the time that we got into the car, until we returned home, several days later.

One of the more exciting vacations took place when we went to AstroWorld in Houston, TX. Oh, as kids, we just could not contain our excitement over being able to go to this new amusement park. All of us were “riders,” and we had viewed brochures detailing the rides and attractions at AstroWorld. It was our plan to ride everything!! Mama would go with us on some of the “calmer” rides, but Daddy rode every ride with us.

They had a huge ferris wheel from which you could see a view of the entire park, as well as much of Houston. Since I worked part-time through high-school, I had a little “extra” money, and had bought a small, inexpensive camera prior to the vacation. It was my goal to record every wonderful moment of that vacation. When we got to the ferris wheel, I gave the camera to Mama, showed her how to use it, and asked her to take a photo of us as we came around. I told her that we would be waving our arms and hollering so that she would know it was US! We went up, got to the top, and began to come down on the other side. I told everybody to start hollering and waving arms to pose for the picture that Mama would take. When we came around to where she could get the shot, we all noticed that she did not have the camera up, aimed in our direction. She was smiling so big, and giving us the “thumbs up” sign. I knew right then that she did not get our photo, but had taken a picture of another family. We kept trying…each time we came around, we would whoop and holler, trying to get her attention, and hoping that she would take another picture. Each time, she would just smile and wave. 

When we finally got home and had the pictures developed, it was confirmed…we had a great picture of someone else’s family. Mama felt so badly, but I assured her that it was the best picture of the entire vacation, and something that we would all remember. We had a good laugh then, and continue to have a good laugh whenever that photo is mentioned.

We spend so much time attempting to make situations in life “picture perfect.” And…if the usual happens, life situations are NEVER absolutely “perfect!” Do we miss the wonder of those imperfections by focusing on what was “not right?” Does striving to be “picture perfect” make one less satisfied with the reality of their life, even when that reality contains much good in it? And are things truly, really that bad? We took so many pictures during that Astroworld vacation, all “picture perfect!” However, you know the only one that I remember in vivid detail?? The one that my Mama took of the other family…I can still recall the way that “other” family looked on the ride. I remember how we were whooping and hollering trying to get Mama’s attention so that she would know which “ferris car” to capture. I remember laughing so hard when we realized that she had captured someone else’s family. I remember her laughing along with us at her mistake. Such good times…and the memory of that one photograph will be in my head for always. Why do we waste so much time worrying when something doesn’t happen exactly as we planned it? Why lose those moments of your life with that stress? I try to always go with the attitude: “One day we’re going to laugh about this….” And you know what, we usually do! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

And then I heard this low, sexy voice…

Most of us can share similar stories about the lessons our parents have taught us. No matter where you live in the world, it seems that most parents caution their children in the same way…”Don’t cross your eyes; they will get stuck that way!” “Don’t go outside with a wet head; you will catch a cold!” “Always leave home wearing clean underwear. You might be in an accident.” (As if you are going to end up with clean underwear should said accident occur…) As I was growing up,  my Mother imparted numerous “words of wisdom” on how to be safe. This week’s story involves some of those lessons…

Being a “career woman” most of my adult life, travel has been a necessary requirement in the pursuit of my business. Flying on planes, obtaining rental cars, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants, connecting with limousine services, etc., etc., etc. has been a part of my daily and weekly routine. Since I am female, my Mother was especially careful in teaching my sisters and me how to be safe, and to be ever vigilant of our surroundings. She would tell us before getting into a vehicle…never go up to a car without looking around and under the car (someone could be under the car with a razor blade, with the goal of slicing your achilles tendon, rendering you defenseless). I have never figured out how someone could get under the car to begin with, and then how they could get to me before I stomped them into senseless oblivion. But ask me if I still, to this day, look under a car before getting in it, and the answer would be “yes.” She told us to always check the back seat, to make certain that someone was not hiding there. (Yes, with the intent, again, to do us harm.) When we had completed all of these necessary tasks, we could then safely get into a car. We had completed “the checklist.”

I would not be able to tell you whether I have been conscious of these “lessons”  or not, but I can tell you that very obviously I complete all the tasks when I travel. It has all become very “second-nature” to me…I don’t even think about it…I just do it.

So…I end up getting into Houston, TX, late one night. (Yes, all my flights had been delayed, yet again, for SOME reason…) In most airports you can obtain your rental car in the actual airport, and walk right out to the parking lot to pick up the reserved car. In Houston, however, the rental car companies are not on the airport property. You complete all of the rental agreement papers in the airport, and then a shuttle takes you to your car. And on this particular night, the shuttle took us to a very dark, deserted parking lot. I was on the shuttle with about eight business men. The shuttle driver, being a good Southern gentleman, elected to drop me off first, since I was the only woman. He also felt the need to wait until I actually got into the car safely before he pulled away. (A very nice, considerate young man!) 

I got off the shuttle and realized that I could not approach the car, and certainly NOT enter it until I had completed Mama’s safety checks. I placed my briefcase, suitcase, and garment bag on the ground near the shuttle bus door. I leaned down and looked under the car (to make certain that the person with the razor blade was NOT there). Then I went around and checked in front of the car, as well as the other side to make certain no one was hiding in the shadows. By this time, everyone on the shuttle was anxiously waiting to see what my next move would be. (I could hear a chuckle or two from a few of the men on the bus.) I proceeded with great caution and looked in the back seat to make certain it was indeed empty. After I had completed all of these tasks, I determined that the car was safe for me to enter. I loaded up all my paraphernalia in the trunk and proceeded to the driver’s door. Just as I opened the car door, I heard this low, sexy voice saying, “Your key is in the ignition.” I whipped around with both fists up in the air, ready for the battle of my life. That voice scared me so badly that I almost wet my pants!! This was the first year that the auto industry had added the option of a voice reminder for “keys in the ignition,”  and I had never heard one before. Once I realized that there was no sex predator in the car, about to attack me, I noticed the guys on the shuttle bus were killing themselves with laughter. I turned around, gave an enormous bow and curtsy, and bid them on their way. We all had a good laugh with my antics, but you know what? I was SAFE! And I have continued to be safe all of these years.

As children, we think some of our parent’s “cautions” are silly and ridiculous. Some of you have probably even said, “I will never catch myself saying those things to my children.” But you end up telling your kids the same things. Why? Because usually what our parents teach us, are lessons that DO keep us safe; that DO help us make the right decisions; that DO give us “direction” in our lives. I don’t consciously think of each lesson that I have been taught, but they stuck! I hear their words in my head, and I follow their guidance without even thinking about it. Because of my Mother’s “safety guidance,” I have always been aware and safe as a result. Her lessons were a success! What have you taught your children? Are the lessons worth remembering? And do you deliver the lessons with love, patience and consideration? I think I will keep following my Mama’s advice…and parents, I would keep giving those lessons…Won’t you join me? Just for this week….