Sunday, July 8, 2018

Red car and William

 This week is holding on to me. In some ways it was typical-busy. Since I am a planner, my calendar and my to-do list are my steady friends. I had must-attend meetings, I had routine job expectations and deadlines, not to mention a strange day off (July 4th) thrown in the middle; it was a busy week before it even was given a fair chance. It is not the usual hectic pace that still has its grip.
Two encounters though, the red car and William, have me flipping back and forth between the pages of my week and just won’t let me rest. It’s like when you finish a good book, and you keep going back through the parts that affected you the most. The paragraphs, the thoughts - the carefully chosen words that changed you… This is where I am this morning while the rest of my house sleeps.

The red car. It is Sunday afternoon. We are on our way home from “The Walmarts” as we jokingly say. We are the first car waiting to turn left across a busy intersection on a familiar journey home. I confess my life feels rushed at the moment. When I am not at work, I am planning a wedding, selling a house, buying a house, talking about repairs and inspections, planning a move, and it goes on. It reads like a lot of work. However, at this moment we are in no particular rush. We are enjoying the afternoon together and thinking of our life ahead. It is a precious and ordinary moment.

Our light turns green. Scott begins to pull forward into the intersection. I am on the phone, talking to my daughter and paying zero attention when this red car comes blasting through the intersection from the left. We are hit! No! We brake hard! We lunge forward! I can feel the impact of the near miss as though we crashed, but we somehow escaped! We look at each other to process the event – We can’t. It was heart-stopping, unfathomable instant that was totally out of our control, and we both realize something else as we catch our breath. We were almost killed. We really almost died. Had we rushed into the intersection, had the events happened a moment in time sooner or later it would have changed everything. It would not have been just a scrape and an insurance claim. There would have been glass, the smell of air-bags and the sound of metal and sirens. We have no doubt. But we are amazingly and totally okay.

I am fine, but I am not okay. I know. I have stood at the grave enough. I know. In an instant. No more to-do lists. No more weekly meetings. No more wedding to plan. No more. We don’t realize how close we walk to the edge daily. We don’t realize the power of a random encounter.  

William. It is now Friday. I am slowing down. My daughter, Hatty, wanted to hang out and get pedicures. We meet at our favorite funny, little salon – squeezed between the sub-shop and the liquor store – it is perfect. There are no frills. There is only room for friendly banter and efficiency within this tiny entrepreneurial space, and we feel like regulars. Tony is busy, but he gives us each a chair flanking a gentleman who is soaking and waiting.

I still have one more email, and since we can’t talk across the man in the middle, I busy myself with it.  But, Hatty meets William. And, before long we are hearing his story. He speaks softly and smiles as we learn that he is a Chaplin and works on college campuses with male athletes. He teaches them many things about life that men should know. He says that many of them grew up without fathers and they just didn’t learn how to be “gentlemen”. Before that, he ran a half-way house. Before that, he was in prison. William was saved and forever changed when a stranger came to the prison and looked him in the eye and told him that Jesus loved him and he didn’t need to commit suicide (he could not have known that William was planning to end his life later that night). He spends his life impacting the lives of others because he knows. He knows how close he has walked to the edge. He knows the profound power of a random encounter.

William went on to bless us as we talked and he spoke of his love for Jesus, and his passion, and his hope of finding a good woman who was under 150 pounds.  J  As we left, he told us to pray for him. Which we did at dinner an hour later. We were both altered by our encounter with William.

Thank you for the red car that was a half-second too early. Thank you for William who was right on time.

#justwrite #choosejoy #daughtersofjoy

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Grief, Growing Up, and The “Stew” of Life – Looking Back at a Hard Day with Gratitude:

Ten years ago today will mark all the days that follow… but I will not know that until late in the evening. In typical fashion, I had crowded the day with worries that would soon seem small compared to the tsunami heading toward my front door. We were facing some tough decisions about a business venture gone wrong, and we had planned to have a hard conversation when Brian came home from his trip. I dreaded it. However, we never had that talk, because Brian never came home.

 I lay in bed the night of May 3, 2008, occasionally checking the clock and waiting for the familiar keys to hit the desk in the home office a floor below. Instead of the keys-on-wood sound I expected, I eventually heard the sound of the doorbell.  In the door, dear friends stood with a police officer to announce Brian’s death earlier that evening in a plane accident shortly after takeoff on his way home.

All of the concerns of a few minutes before were cleared in a wave that blew through my heart, mind and soul. Time stopped and rushed forward simultaneously, and my life began to spin like a crazy ride in a dream. I wanted out. I wanted off. I wanted to go back to before I heard the news.

I guess I began to grow up that May. I use that phrase now because someone said it to me a few months later. Something like, “I bet you have grown up a lot since it happened.” I thought that was such an odd thing at the time. Later, however, I would find truth in the notion that such tragedies are when we truly grow up. It is when we are stripped bare, that God can begin to make us into our truest self.  When all the security of the world has let us down, and we know we are completely lost, we are ready to learn and grow. "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" 2 Corinthians 2:9a. Wow.

I learned many truths through profound grief. I quickly discovered that suffering is everywhere. It is sort of like the experience of buying a car. You never notice how many Silver Honda Accords are on the road until you start to shop for one. It’s the same with a loss. Your grief makes you keenly aware of the pain of others. It is like a TV with only one channel; you can no longer look away or avoid the pain by flipping past it. In short, you are suddenly dialed in. 

I learned that no matter how independent and capable we believe we are, God created us for community. He intended us to travel this journey with others. Unlike my nature to handle my problems on my own, I knew I would not travel well through this valley unless I could lean in and accept assistance and tell others what they could do to help. It was my journey, but it was not just about me; God’s goodness was revealed through the love of his people toward our family. 

I realized that my journey was not the same as that of my daughters’. They also had a grief journey to travel. As a mom and a problem solver, it was hard to trust their paths to God. I could not carry the burden for them. But, God proved faithful in so many ways and provided just what they each needed. I had to trust Him. I am still learning this. Growing up is hard. 

I eventually found that Brian’s death was not an end; it was a beginning. God had many things left for me to love, learn, do and be. He would plan a move for us to Tennessee to be closer to old friends and family. The unimaginable would eventually lead to blessing upon blessing that I would have never dreamed or agreed to ahead of time.

I read somewhere that it is the “Stew of Life.” All of the good parts and the hard times are essential ingredients. We often want to undo the hard parts. But, I know that to change something now would change the whole recipe. And, I wouldn’t want to do that. Many of you are a part of this stew as well. We have been so blessed with amazing friends and family who stepped in to help in some way. I will be forever thankful for you!

What is left after ten years? The same that will be left for any of us I think. The lives we impacted, the way we loved our people, and the good we did or at least tried to do. Brian is remembered through the many ways he touched others with kindness, humor, and service. I occasionally hear from someone who will tell me of his impact in their lives when they were a teen or some good deed he did for them. Through the blue eyes and laughter of my girls, I see his spirit and feel his zest for life. I still hear my voice repeat funny things he used to say, and I can almost hear him laugh with me. He reminds me by his example to play-hard and love-hard and enjoy the precious time I have left.  On this May 3, I think of Brian and his memory reminds me to be grateful for today, and every day.

#justwrite #daughtersofjoy

Friday, October 27, 2017

More Than a List - More Than a Job

It was on my list. My daily to-do list. The one that tells me I have made a difference each day. I have always worked off a list either mentally or physically. I am wired that way I guess. I am a planner. A list gives me hope for the day ahead. Without a list, I sometimes lose track of myself and wonder what I accomplished that mattered.

Today’s list included audit review and follow up, postage machine install, buying an ice machine for the office kitchen, completing reports, a meeting, approving payables, and being available to notarize documents at 2:00 pm. I had worked my way to the last item by 2:00 pm and was answering an email when Alisa poked her head in and asked if I was free to do my notary thing.

I walked into the family room. There was Alisa, the caseworker, and two young women (one blonde and one brunette), a tall young man, and an adorable, bouncy, baby girl with blonde angel curls sitting in the center of the room. All attention was on this child. One woman held her tiny left hand, and the other held the right. I realized then that this was an adoptive couple and a birth mom. I rarely see this process. I sometimes see babies, sometimes parents, but rarely see the process unfold. I have never seen it at this stage before.

The room seemed filled with a mix of anticipation, joy, and a bit of anxiety. I felt a pang as I looked at the birth mom. I was filled with the thought of giving up one of my girls, and I could not imagine what she might be thinking as she sat in the room. (Adoptions are not all the same, and many are a joint venture between birth parents and adoptive families that continue beyond the paper-work in support of the child – what a remarkable thing!)  I do not know this young mom’s situation, but I know she is brave and probably a bit scared. All I know for sure is that I admired this pretty stranger who had options that may have seemed easier months ago when she chose life for this baby-girl.

Then I shifted my focus to the parents, and we walk to my office because it feels awkward to sign the adoption petition in front of the birth mom. This petition changes things. I chit-chat and congratulate the young couple. They see the pictures of my girls and ask me about them. As I comment on how fast (my) children grew up, I am thinking about the chubby legs still bouncing on the ottoman down the hall. This child will grow up too quickly for this young couple as well. That is what babies do. There will be dresses and bows, “Pat-your-Bible,” “Jesus Loves Me,” Barbies, boys, and sleepovers and one day they will wonder where all the days went. Oh, but they will get to have days- sweet, exhausting, precious days! I imagine all the memories they will make together because of the other young blonde woman sitting in the same room down the hall. The gift of all those sweet memories still to come is possible because a birth-mom is making a heartbreaking, courageous decision, and there is a caring and thoughtful advocate for both moms and the new dad, and there is AGAPE. A place to call when there is a family crisis, a child in need, or when you need help sorting through options whether it is adoption, marital problems, stress, or depression. For 51 years there is AGAPE with professionals trained to help.

I do not always get to see the work we do close up. I sign checks, meet with vendors, have planning meetings, and sometimes I forget how special this place is. AGAPE is a special place, and I work with special people. So, as I shut my computer for the day and looked back over the things I accomplished on my daily list, I said a prayer of thanks for AGAPE, a place where the to-do list represents more than just hope for the day, its signifies making a lasting difference and participating in work that matters.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Good Things Come in Threes Too.

Good Things Come in Threes Too.

I was talking with some friends last night over dinner. We were discussing some crazy luck of a mutual friend the week before. It was one of those days where it goes from bad to comical and you either laugh or cry. You know, you spill a drink at dinner and ruin your clothes, then go buy a new dress to change into but get out your car and realize it will not start, and in investigating it, you ruin the new dress you just put on. All true for this friend and thankfully she laughed. One of my friends said as he was remembering the events, “Bad things come in threes!” It does seem that way often.

I was thinking about that this morning while talking to a colleague, Kim, about what an awful week she has had. I mean the work she does is hard even when it is good, but this week has been HARD. She has been on the front-lines, she is battle-worn, and she is weary and when I looked at her today, I could see it in her eyes. She is hurting for all those she has tried to help this week and asking herself, “Why couldn’t I do more? Why couldn’t AGAPE do more? Why is life so hard for so many?”

In her week, there was certainly three ‘bad things’ to list and more. There were mishaps in the systems causing delays and pains for her regular tasks. There were court appearances where the ruling went against our prayers (and we fear for the future for the kids). There was unexpected death leading to much sorrow, heartache and uncertainty for the child left behind.

She just left my office with tears in her eyes ‘cause it keeps getting worse. As I watched her walk away, I said a prayer of thanks. Not for all the hard things, but for the good things that are in the midst of the hard. I said a prayer of appreciation because God brought my new friend and colleague to AGAPE to work with us. Kim brings laughter in the door with her every morning and she brings joy to her calling of helping children and their parents. She is wise like a mentor, but giggles like a girl when she is having fun. Kim is a good thing.  

There was a foster family prepared to step-in immediately and help a young child during the most devastating time in his life-the death of a parent. He is without family, but a temporary family will care for him until he is reunited with his extended family. Foster Parents are a good thing. 

Kim has a job in Nashville where she can be near her grand kids, and Christians serve our community as foster parents because of an organization like AGAPE that exists to help families and children in the worst of circumstances and fills in the gap for many when there is no one else. There is hope, help, and healing because for 50+ years AGAPE has been doing this HARD-WORK. 

AGAPE is a good thing.

Good things come in threes too. 

#justwrite #thisisagape #goodthings

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Garbage Can.

As I backed out of my driveway this morning, I was reminded that it was Wednesday. Humpday to weary 9-to-5ers, but also garbage day for those of us on the mid-week rotation with Franklin Disposal. I put the Pilot in park. As I wheeled my big blue receptacle to its resting place, I felt a sense of peace. No big deal, I know this. However, there were many Wednesday mornings at the beginning of this 9-year journey that I felt ‘not peace.’ At times I felt sad, or angry, but not usually peace. I remember that first day in May 2008 when I rolled the garbage can back down the driveway in my fuzzy pink bathrobe. It was probably the first time I had done that in 5 years. Always in divide and conquer mode, Brian did garbage can duty. I did morning routine duty. I did hair, sock searches, and refereeing of early morning squabbles over cereal and pop-tarts. Brian did garbage duty for almost 20 years. I remember looking up and seeing my neighbor, Julie, as she watched with tears in her eyes. She also knew that Brian King did garbage duty. Brian was gone.

I was not sure I could do it, not garbage-can-duty, of course. It was everything all at once and nothing would ever be the same. The garbage can became a symbol for me over the years. 
I am not sure why, but I didn’t adjust well to the garbage-can-duty-thing. I was confused about how early the garbage guys would come, and what about holidays? Seems so simple as I type this, but I often found myself trying to race, bed-head and barefoot, to get to the street before the schedule-conscious truck passed, often leaving the can at the curb past the HOA acceptable time limit. This of course causing an appointed deputy of all things Homeowner Association-like to issue me a helpful reminder delivered by personal post. It was a struggle. However, there are many things I handled with ease, much more complicated, time-sensitive, and consequential matters that others might find overwhelming, but I never quite fused the nuances of refuse disposal into my sub-conscious. When I forgot the schedule or missed the memo concerning holiday pick-up in those early days, I can remember just being angry all over again at the thought that garbage-can-duty was supposed to be Brian’s.

In case you were beginning to worry about me, I am actually quite adept at the job of Trash Captain now. I made a deal with “The Man” when I moved to let me leave my “Big-Blue” by the house so there is no remembering to put it on the curb, only to put bags in the can. Smart! This morning, though, I was reminded of all those feelings in those early days, and I realized I hadn’t felt that way in a long time. Peace.

More changes are in store and I am moving into new space again. My baby-girl is out of high school and she is not a baby. She is grown-up. She will not be living with me in just two short months, and I feel different but good. 

It is almost like reluctantly moving to a much smaller home, but then finding out that the view is more amazing.  

I am transitioning to a new place. I am going from I have to, to I get to. I no longer have to have milk in the house because I am responsible for other humans, but I get to cook dinner when everyone comes home because it brings me joy... There will be no lunches to have to pack (even though I enjoyed it) for Hatty this fall, but getting to schedule coffee or lunch with her across town when it works for both of us. She buys her own shampoo and tampons. I don’t have to check the school calendar. I don’t need to pull the parent duty.

I get to choose how I spend my free time. Weird.

 I get to check in with my older girls to see what is important and have meaningful exchanges without the need to make all the decisions for them. I am a silent investor now. I am still deeply vested, but they have their own big-blue-responsibilities and I have mine (Yay). It is the same with the garbage now. It is my big blue receptacle. Who’s else would it be? I get to roll it back to its resting place and be thankful to have a curb on which it can sit, at the corner of a yard, where the house is my own.


Monday, December 26, 2016

A Barney Banjo Christmas and Coming Full Circle

Another Barney Banjo Christmas

For those of you who knew Brian King, you will especially appreciate this story. Rewind to Fall 2016 when I saw Jeanie Garrett an old Florence, Alabama friend who surprised me with returning the Barney Banjo Brian had given to her daughter Julia, moments before we left Florence Alabama to make our new home in Hoover, Alabama where we lived for eight years until Brian was killed in an accident in 2008. At that moment, I knew I would have a special Christmas present to give to Kristian (pictured left) with the new Barney Banjo in the foreground, with her sweet Dad (right) that same Christmas morning, 
and then yesterday (above) when she opened and laughed through tears as she read the Barney Banjo story again. See the story Below:

A Barney Banjo Christmas

It was the Christmas you were two and a half. For some reason to you were deathly afraid of Santa; I blame the creepy Easter Bunny at the mall we saw in the Spring. But my, you were cute with your blonde hair always spilling out - refusing to be contained by the bows I tried.

I remember the fateful day we first saw the Barney Banjos at the Florence Toys-R-Us. There was a massive display of purple plastic, and we were instantly enthralled with the cleverness of the design. You had to put your hand inside to make the banjo play. It played songs and sounded like a banjo - Cute! (My Mom brain immediately devised a plan, “This will be great ‘Santa present.'” So we began the discussion..“Santa might bring you a Barney Banjo for Christmas if you ask him.” Knowing full well that you would not want to get within 10 feet of the “Jolly-old-elf,” I thought this might just be the motivation you would need to get over your phobia. Never wanting my kids to grow up with unreasonable fears, I figured this could be the perfect solution.

Wow, was that a great idea that backfired! I did get you to talk to Santa – wide eyes filled with terror, you quickly asked for a Barney Banjo and ran back to me. Poor kid. Once that task was over, I realized Santa’s job was going to be tough. All of a sudden, there were no Barney Banjos at Toys-R-Us! I thought I would check with other stores, None. I called Gran. She checked in Tennessee – Zero. I called Aunt Michelle. She checked in Atlanta – Nada.  I called Hasbro. The nice lady on the phone could not guarantee me that anymore Barney Banjos would ship before Christmas. Apparently, there was an issue with the manufacturer, and “Have a nice day!” What?! I started to panic; I started to talk to you about other fun toys. You would look at me with your blonde wisps and big baby blues and tell me how you could not wait until Santa came with your banjo. What was I going to do? I had a two-year-old who told Santa – at gunpoint, practically, the two things on her sweet list, and one of them might not make it! 

You told everyone, over and over, about your Barney Banjo! I felt the Karma Gods placing their bets and laughing at me.

In December, your Dad was flying to Austin, Texas for a meeting, and I told him to look for the elusive evil toy while there. He was skeptical. I said, “Find one!” So, when he landed, I started harassing him, “Did you look for the Banjo?” “No,” I begged him to call the stores, and he promised to. He called around – no luck. Then he tried a K-Bee Toys in a local mall somewhere. At first, the clerk said they were out, but then hesitated and said he would check the back stock. When he finally came back to the phone, he said they had two Barney Banjos that had been pushed behind some other things. Your Dad said, “I just need one, I am on my way!” When a man who was sitting close by heard the conversation, he asked for the story behind the sudden excitement. Brian told him about the search, and when the man heard the toy’s name, his face lit up, and he almost shouted, “I am looking for a Barney Banjo too!” Off they both flew to the store and bought the last two known purple, plastic banjos on the North American Continent. When I next received a call from your Dad, I anxiously answered, and he did not speak at first. Then, I heard the sappy, sweet banjo notes that rang over the cell phone from Texas to Alabama! My hero! Christmas was saved, for both of us!

I can remember your chubby face full of expectation and delight that Christmas morning as you ran into the living room. Your only words, “Where is my Barney Banjo?”I wish I could always make your dreams come true like your Dad and I did that day. I love you, Mom.  (Written in 2010 – edited Christmas 2016. Merry Christmas!)

#justwrite #christmas #daughtersofjoy 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Comcast Hell

A letter sent to a company acting as an agent for Satan:

August 2, 2016

Dear Sir or Madame,

I am responding to a letter I received yesterday in the mail. I cannot begin to convey my frustration with this situation. But, I am going to attempt to try (somehow the redundancy here seems wildly appropriate).

I am attaching evidence of an account closed in December of 2014. Upon which time I returned my equipment and received confirmation from Comcast that the account was closed and paid in full. Great. Super. (In case you don’t know, no customer has ever closed an account with Comcast and felt nostalgic. I am sure Jean Valjean felt similarly when he finally left the prison camp. Had it not been for the ‘24601’ tattooed on his arm, he wouldn’t have kept a souvenir to remind him of the “good times”. You just want to move on with your life and forget.)

Wrong. In December of 2015, one year later if you don’t have a calendar in front of you, I receive a bill for $118.23. Weird, right? I call and say, “This must be a mistake”, and they assign a case # and tell me they will make a note and do an investigation. They don’t. They send me another bill and then I call again. If you are thinking, surely it was resolved by the second call, you would be sadly mistaken. I am told they cannot explain the reason for the charge. Only that it appears that something was credited to the wrong account and I owe $118.23. This makes no sense to me because it has been one year since the account showed a Zero balance. Why were they just now sending me the first bill?!?

The next week I start getting letters and calls from Credit Management. Of course, I call, and I am SO happy to be able to start the process all over again. There is no resolution. They persist, and although I-do-not-for-one-second-believe this is a fair charge, I decide I will resolve it and pay the bill. I document my calls to them and put the papers away. I am assured that the Comcast account will now be completely settled and I try to rebuild my life. Seriously.

In case you have lost track, it is now August 2, 2016, and yesterday I receive yet another letter from another reputable business (yours) telling me that I owe money on my Comcast account that was closed over 18 months ago! Not frustrated at all, of course, I call, when I should be working, and speak to a representative of your company. Assuming she followed through with her promises, this matter should be in the “Dispute Bin,” or at least the “Mad as Hell” file and maybe even the “It is a good thing we don’t have a brick-and-mortar office in Tennessee, ‘cause we would have to deal with this crazy lady in person” folder.

So, to recap: I don’t owe this money. I am attaching a P.I.F. (Paid In Full) letter which is dated August 2 because I went to the Credit Mgmt. Website and pulled it today. But, I called an agent of their company Agent ID #A4Y to confirmed that it was paid by credit card 3/9, and then I found the bank record of the transaction for $118.23 (which I am also attaching). I am attaching the original bill for $118.23 so I am not even sure where you come up with $103.06, but I will mostly blame that on Comcast because none of this madness would be possible without the stellar management and thoughtful attention they give to customer service.

Please respond by emailing at ******** or by phone (6**.***.*076) and message to my voice mail to let me know that this has been resolved.


Traci (Unjustly Sentenced to Comcast Hell) K***