“I hear the train a comin’…”

Recently, I was the Keynote Speaker for a conference in Columbus, GA. (And just for the record, I would go back again in a heartbeat to spend time with those wonderful people!) It was the first time I had ever been to that city, and the conference site was a renovated historical hotel in downtown Columbus. I arrived to find that the hotel was just beautiful! Large, shady trees…old brick…. and ambience that people attempt to duplicate in more modern hotels, but never get quite right. It was “southern” through and through. I checked into my room and began unwinding from the trip. Since I had arrived near dinner time, and it was already dark, I went ahead and ordered room service for the evening. After eating, I reviewed my presentation to make certain there was nothing missing, and that I was fully prepared for the next morning’s event. I then stretched out on the bed for a little relaxation and reading.

As time passed, I changed into my pjs and began the nightly ritual of “trying” to go to sleep. I’m not the best sleeper to begin with, and staying in hotels as often as I do, can cause absolute havoc with my sleep patterns. I am a very light sleeper, so any little noise or light, will bring me fully awake. It was about 10:00 p.m., and as I lay there, I heard a train in the distance – blowing that mournful horn that you hear in the night, as it began its initial approach into the city. As the train got closer to our location, the horn got louder and louder. In fact, the horn never stopped! The engineer apparently starting blowing the horn at the outskirts of the city, and was determined (or required) to blow the horn the entire length of the city! As the train made its way closer to my location, I kept thinking, “My, it sure does sound pretty close!” Within moments the room began vibrating. The horn was so loud I had to cover my ears, and it felt as if the train was going to come through the walls. I looked out my window, and sure enough, there was the train passing by – just across the street from my room!!

Within moments the phone in my room began to ring. Since I very rarely ever get calls from a land line, I picked up the receiver and cautiously said, “hello.” The person on the other end, introduced herself, explaining that she worked the front desk of the hotel. She said, “I’m so sorry to bother you, but are you playing a guitar?” I laughed and responded, “Although I do play a guitar, I did not bring one with me this trip…” I then asked if there was a problem. She indicated that there had been a few calls complaining of someone playing a guitar near (or in) my room. Now, I have to tell you, I was laughing so hard and trying not to insult the young lady, but I was thinking to myself…Guitar??? Did you not just hear that train coming through???? We had a good laugh and she apologized for bothering me. And by the way, that train made another “appearance” at 4:30 a.m. the next morning…

So many times in life people get extremely upset over minor events, while ignoring HUGE occurrences that should be addressed. I’m sure that whoever complained about the guitar playing was very upset about that “inconvenience.” Certainly, they were bothered enough to call the front desk and complain. I just wonder if they mentioned the train while complaining… Personally, I could have tolerated the guitar, but that train! Had I known about it beforehand, this one issue could have been a “deal breaker” for my stay at that particular hotel…ambience or not. But apparently, for that other person, the complainer, the playing of a guitar was the issue. We get so occupied with the “little things,” that we miss the huge, life-changing events that need to be dealt with on a daily basis. I think I will try to NOT sweat the small stuff, and attempt to get a handle on all those “trains” in my life. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

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“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…

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…