Thankful Isn’t A Strong Enough Word

For years, it seems our lives have been just one trying time folding into another trying time. Humor has always been my way of dealing with things.  Lately it seems harder and harder to find the funny, which can not make life for those around me any easier.

I can not express the level of patience and sacrifice that have been made on my behalf by my stalwart husband, Michael, whose love is never ending, his dedication never faltering; and also by my precious Machaela, who even through her own physical pain and fatigue, talks me down from panic attacks, encourages me, and finds hope where I see none.

Day in and day out, they keep this house going, make sure we are fed, and take care of someone as needy as a new born baby (without the cuteness and baby head smell.) When I am ready to give up, they won’t allow it, and they never give up on me. I try to tell them often how sorry I am for what I put them through. What I don’t say enough is how much they enrich my life and give me something worth struggling for. When any one with any sense would cut their losses and run, these two run to me, and that is the very definition of love.

2016

I am not going to pretend this has been an easy year.  It hasn’t.  We have been wracked with pain, both physical and emotional.  But, it has also been a year of wonder and joy.

Dealing with this ridiculous body and constant pain is something I am not only dealing with, but have finally learned to accept.

What I haven’t been able to deal with is watching my beautiful daughter suffer with chronic pain and fatigue. We have spent this year searching for answers, and while we have found some, we haven’t found a solution.  She has been diagnosed with scoliosis, fibromyalgia and a congenital bone condition in her back.  After seeing countless doctors this year, what we haven’t found is a suitable treatment.  Seeing her struggle is heartbreaking.

Daddy has had a year of ups and downs.  His fight against multiple myeloma, hereditary cirrhosis and heart disease is nothing less than heroic.  Knowing that his precious, perfect heart was damaged by treatments needed to fight the cancer is so distressing.  I know there are times his journey has been agonizing, but he keeps fighting for Mama and for his family.

Michael and Mama are the backbone of our family and they neither are physically 100%,  but you would never know it.  They are patient and kind and make sure the rest of us live as fully as we can.

This year, yet again, we saw people who we thought would be in our lives forever, make decisions to leave us behind.  Their absence is sad and confusing, but doesn’t negate the love we felt for them or cancel the good memories they leave behind.

As depressing as I’ve made this year sound, there is one bright, shining light that made every pain, every tear worthwhile.  His name is Augustus Marshall Atkins and he is one of the most amazing little humans every to grace this planet.  He makes us all forget the shape we are in the second he enters a room.  Mama always says, “Every crow thinks their own is the blackest.”  I know that is true, but this child truly is amazing.

On Christmas morning, he was the perfect age to enter the room, spot his toys and go wild, which is what we were all expecting and looking forward to.  What this child did, was crawl into the room and see his grandparents, great-grandparents and aunts.  His face lit up and he went around the room acknowledging every single person.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  When he did go to his toys, he would hold them up and show them to everyone.  It’s astounding to see a child that young with such a kind heart.  He showers each of us with the most stunning unconditional love.

So, yes, this year has been difficult and painful. It seems there is no end in sight for that, but there is still reason to carry on.  So, we are ready for 2016.  We have each other, we have joy, we have love, and we have hope.

The Book of Face

For so long, I tried to avoid the news. I was tired of worrying about things I couldn’t control. Lately, it has become pretty much impossible. Unless I turn off the computer and the TV for good, I’m doomed to find out things I just don’t want to know. I find out things I don’t want to know about people too.

Facebook has become more torment than pleasure. Pictures are pretty much what keeps me from just deleting the whole thing. I want to know about people’s lives, I want to celebrate their joy, empathize with their pain and comfort them when I can. What I don’t want to do is be bombarded with hate filled rants, pounded with agendas and swamped with misinformation.

In between pictures of grandchildren, food and cat videos, lies venom.

Very few things inspire our collective ire or pride anymore. We can’t agree to respect our country’s flag, or its leader, or even what patriotism is. We can’t agree on what a terrorist is, what crime is, what a hero is. We can’t even agree on the evil of child molesters.

We can’t agree on anything, and we certainly can’t discuss it civilly. We believe proclamations without facts, as long as they fit our idea of the truth. We only know how to shame, label and bully.

If I choose not to vaccinate my child, I am a menace to society, I am uneducated and stupid.

If I choose to vaccinate my child, I am pumping them full of poison, sentencing them to a life of pain or death, I am uneducated and stupid.

If I am a Christian, I must abhor atheists, transgender people, gays and anyone who would even consider an abortion. I am required to hate anything and everything, unless, of course, it’s done by a Christian who claims to have been forgiven by God.

If I am on the other side, I must abhor Christians. I must completely understand and embrace anything and everything, except, of course, Christians.

If I am a liberal, I know that all conservatives are hypocrites, worship at the feet of FOX news and would just as soon shoot me as look at me.

If I am a conservative, I know that all liberals are on welfare, moral deviants, and they are all against God and country.

Bullying is repugnant, unless, you are making fun of someone who doesn’t think, look, or talk just like you.

Inclusion is a necessity, unless, that person doesn’t fit your image of normal.

Policemen and soldiers are racists and murderers, that is, until someone is shooting at you, or stealing your things.

Social programs are for the poor and lazy, that is, until you lose your job and need help feeding your family.

It is exhausting to try and keep up.

Respect for any ideas, other than our own, has vanished.

When did it become mandatory for everyone to think exactly like everyone else? When did it become okay to viciously attack, or write people off who don’t think and feel the same as you on every subject?

Until we relearn the art of compromise, we will stay stagnant. I assure you, your over the top personal attacks will not win you one convert. They will not convince one other opposite-thinking, human being of your brilliance or sway them, miraculously, to your side.

I used to consider myself a conservative, but in today’s climate, I can only hope to classify myself as simply being a decent human being, and it is a dwindling party.

So, please, keep posting your cat videos, baby pictures, joys and woes. But in between, maybe we could all try an experiment. When something happens that touches our hearts and demands our opinion, let’s try expressing it with kindness and respect. We might just be surprised at the results.

Compromise with Kindness

I have the ability to see, and argue, both sides of most issues.  I get this from my Daddy.  It doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions, it just means I can see how people think the way they do on almost every subject.
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It seems we have come to a time in our society where the only things that matter are social issues and you better hope you come down on the side that is the loudest.
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Every issue today is either jet black or lily white.  There is no room for compromise, in fact, people who feel compelled to consider compromise are frowned up as weak and subject to be devoured. The problem is, in reality, very few issues are truly black or white.  Most have more than, please forgive me, fifty shades of grey.
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I understand everyone feels the need to justify their every thought and deed.  I understand people want to be accepted and understood. What I don’t understand is demanding approval and acceptance from all humanity. It is time people realize, there are always going to be people who disagree with them, and disagree strongly.  This does not mean they are bad human beings.  It doesn’t mean they should be driven from the face of the earth.  It simply means, they have their own belief system and who is to say it is more right or wrong than yours?
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If you want to win someone over, you will never do it with a sledgehammer.  There is only one way it will ever work, and that is with kindness, knowing it will never work with every single human being.  Go about doing what you feel is right with love and compassion for the people who disagree with you.  Eventually, most people will stop seeing you as a threat to the universe and while they might not jump on whatever bandwagon you are up on, they might not feel the need to keep trying to knock you off.
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Here is one person, on one side of one issue, who understands how to look at both sides from his side:
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We All Live in Ferguson

There are answers, I believe that. There are things that need to be done, but aren’t being done. We spent the day yesterday in downtown Atlanta, in the very places I saw on the news last night. I have separated myself from the news for over a year because it’s overwhelming and upsetting, and I feel like I can’t do anything to help other than get more upset. But, it is hard to avoid something like what is happening now.

I noticed people yesterday, had a conscious thought about what color they were, something I have never done before in my life, but have found myself doing increasingly more and more over the last six years. Yesterday I noticed even more, but it was all a good thing. Everyone was helpful and friendly, even though we were at places that can bring out the worst of people, places you have to wait your turn, Vital Records and the DMV. People were smiling and talking across color lines. I never heard anyone mention Ferguson, though Mama over heard a conversation between two older black gentlemen saying they wished people would get upset over the black on black murders in Chicago and across the country, that issue made sense to them. I just noticed babies, of all colors, waiting in the arms of mothers of all different colors. Men of all colors giving up their seats to women of all colors. People waiting patiently together.

There are answers. But, the answers won’t be found in the self serving Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson; they won’t be found in the hate mongering KKK; they won’t be found in the well meaning white college students yelling black slogans; or by the angry black people yelling catch phrases; the answers won’t be found by people burning and looting cars or businesses owned by people who had nothing to do with anything. What we really need, the only thing that will ever work, is for men like Regie Hamm and Johnathan Gentry to sit down together to find a way to teach this country how to live together, with respect and love, for each other and ourselves. If people can get along happily at the DMV, there is hope, if we want it.

https://www.facebook.com/johnathan.gentry.14

http://www.regiehamm.com/blog/where-i-stay/

Jamei

We had to say goodbye to our sweet boy Jamei today. For ten years he was Machaela’s best buddy. He never had much to do with any of the rest of us, until we painted our bedroom blue and then, suddenly, our room was his favorite room. Over the last few years, he would brave the dogs everyday to cuddle with me on the bed.

Machaela rescued him, and he knew it. Ten years ago, we were in Pet Smart and Machaela went over to see the cats stacked in cages against the wall. Immediately, a male, black cat caught her eye. When she asked the attendant if she could hold him, the lady explained that he didn’t like people. She said he was feral, and had been found near a dumpster. She said he wouldn’t let anyone hold him, and was scheduled to be put down within days. Machaela insisted. The lady, still doubtful, let her try to get him out of the cage. It was love at first site. Jamei didn’t resist at all, in fact, he went to her happily and snuggled in her arms. There was no doubt he was coming home with her.

You could tell he had lived a wild life. He had battle scars on his ears and his left eye was damaged. Eventually, his eye would have to be removed, but it never bothered Jamei.

He had the oddest little meow. Unless he was really mad, it came out almost like a whisper. Machaela said he sounded like his squeaker was broken.

He loved steak and he loved lettuce. If either were left unattended he would help himself, using both paws like hands, to daintily eat what he could.

He followed Machaela around, and would come when she called him, just like a dog. We didn’t hear him purr for years, but as he grew friendlier with people other than Machaela, he began to purr more often. He liked to, of all things, have his gums rubbed, and Machael would oblige him. He loved to have his face rubbed most of all and he would get between you and whatever else your hands were doing, to achieve that goal. He’d return the favor by nuzzling your hand.

Even today, when he was so sick, he was gentle and loving.

I have had quite a few cats in my life, and I’ve loved most of them. Never, has there been a cat like Jamei. I know he could feel our love right up until the end. He was a silky, soft ball of pure joy and we will never forget him. There will always be a Jamei shaped hole in our hearts.Jamei

Revival Time

For as long as I can remember, summer has meant one thing – revival. Numerous weeks of morning and night revival services. My mother, like her mother before her, and her mother before her, was raised going to little foot washing Baptist churches scattered throughout North Georgia. Most of them only meet once a month, which allowed people to visit each other on their home churches’ off Sundays. Each little church had its own week long revival during the summer.

Daddy was a Catholic when Mama met him, but when I was three, he was saved and not long afterwards, he was called to preach.

By the time I was seven, my Daddy was running revivals, first as a helper, then as a pastor. We spent Saturday nights at conference, where the church conducted its business. We spent Sunday mornings in church and Sunday afternoon at church members’ houses. If we were lucky, they had children; if we weren’t lucky, we’d spend the afternoon staring at wallpaper, doilies and each other, listening to the adults talk. We spent the summer going night and day to revivals. Fred and I knew that’s just the way it was, and it never occurred to us to argue.

Things were different in the days before air conditioning. The night air blew in through the windows and the sounds of singing, preaching, praying and shouting blew out into the night. Wooden handled funeral home fans were a necessity for stirring the air and swatting insects.

There were unwritten rules that I never remember being told, I just knew. To this day, I’m not sure if they were universal church rules or just Betty Sue rules. They were the respect rules.

We knew never, ever to come in or out while someone was praying. We never left during preaching unless something was in imminent danger of exploding, and even then, we had better be sure we were about to spring a leak. Otherwise, we slipped out quietly, either after altar call was in full force or, during regular services, between preachers.

No one left when conference was open, period. This always confused me since conference was left open during revivals, but I guess that rule came with an amendment.

I don’t remember Fred or I taking toys or food, but if we did, I’m sure they had to be soft enough not to make a noise when they were dropped.

There were times, though, that we managed to make noise. More than once, after stacking a pile of books one level too high, they’d topple over banging against benches and floor and echoing throughout the church. There was the time I tied a sleeping Fred’s shoelaces together, then violently shook him awake causing him to kick, grunt and fall off the bench. Giggle fits were frequent visitors too, things are just funnier when you aren’t supposed to laugh.

Talking during church was my weakness, the one rule I broke most often. I tried to whisper, but neither Fred or I ever mastered a good whispering technique. I learned to read lips, I learned the sign language alphabet, and I learned the magic of carrying little notebooks and pencils. Some things just had to be said right then.

Don’t misunderstand me, I wasn’t perfect by any means. There was the time I inexplicably decided to introduce myself to the little girl sitting behind us by taking a big bite out of her; and the time I was supposed to be standing quietly beside Mama while she played the piano, but must have decided my full, frilly dress was too good to waste, so I did the twist while she played.

Girls wore dresses in the church house. Mine always had to be of the appropriate length and height. This elicited more than a few grumbles, since all my dresses had to conform to this rule. This was during the mini skirt craze and knee kissing dresses at school drew the kind of attention I didn’t want. I endured it though. Truth be told, the thoughts of ending out in the altar and having the old ladies scramble for towels or afghans did not appeal to me at all.

As we grew older, sneaking out after altar call became a new challenge. After altar call, the big kids had their outside hangouts, and it was cool to feel like we were doing something a bit naughty. We had to time it just right while Mama was praying. The great thing was, back then, you could hear when the meeting got going good and we could usually get back inside in time to witness what we were all there for, the joy of seeing someone saved. I never remember not knowing that’s what we were there for, that was what was most important and I never remember not wanting to be in the church when it happened.

The friendships forged during those weeks were permanent and deep. There’s a love there that I could have never found anywhere else. Going back to the places Daddy pastored, years later, I am still met with the same love and acceptance that I got when I was young.

After my girls were born, my health was not always agreeable enough for me to be able to carry them to church as often as my parents did me. They were blessed to be able to go with Mama and Daddy to different churches across three counties, just like their mother and uncle before them. I don’t remember telling them the Betty Sue respect rules, but between she and I, we made sure they knew them.

We have a new little grandchild coming along now and hopefully there will be more in the future – a new generation to learn the respect rules and to know that summer means the same thing to them as it has for generations before them – revival time.