My Way

water slideHere’s a visual of where I am right now mentally:

Somehow I have found myself at the top of an incredibly-high water slide, which is odd because I don’t like heights and I don’t particularly like water slides. Especially ones like these: the twisty tube kind. The ones where you lay flat on your back and go through a dark, enclosed tube that twists and loops, ultimately spewing you out into the bright sunlight in a small pool of water with a big splash in front of an audience of strangers.

Here’s my predicament: I am at the top of the slide, hanging on to the dry edge by my fingertips, unable to pull myself to the safe platform, but unable to let go. (In my visual, I am about 24 years old and look great in a bathing suit). My arms are tired and I am panicky, angry and frustrated.


The dorky teenager running the slide rolls his eyes at me, “You’re holding up the line. Let go.” I can tell he wants to step on my hands and move me along. A pack of 10-year-olds are hopping up and down, ready for their turn. I don’t see too many friendly faces, but I’m desperate. “Please. I REALLY can’t do this. I don’t know what I was thinking. Please. Let me come back up and I’ll go down the stairs.” Dorky tells me, somewhat sympathetically, “Sorry, but that’s against the rules. Once you’re in the tube, you can only exit at the bottom.” The kids must feel sorry for me now. “C’mon. You can do it. It’s gonna be all right. We do it all the time.” Still I can’t seem to let go. I would rather hang in limbo, embarrassed and exhausted, that go down that dark tube.

Letting go. Surrender. Acceptance. In theory, I suppose all that’s fine. But in reality it turns out that I want MY way. I don’t want any darkness or free falls. I want to see my path; I want sunlight or moonlight; and I want to make careful, steady progress on my journeys. Excitement and spontaneity are over-rated.

All of us have been faced (probably multiple times) with a situation that we don’t like, can’t control, and wasn’t part of our plan. It could be a big thing—losing a job—or a little thing—getting stuck in traffic. Right now I find myself in a situation not of my choosing and although I’ve spent hours obsessing on possible solutions, I can’t fix it. Honestly, my situation isn’t a big deal when I look around at the struggles so many others are facing. But sometimes I think the smallness of it makes me more angry and more frustrated. Why can’t I solve this? “Why can’t I have this little thing that brings me so much joy and comfort?” I ask God. “It’s not like I am asking for all that much.”

So I find myself fighting against letting go, against accepting a crappy situation that I HATE. I’m a bit like a four-year-old, demanding what I WANT! But after three weeks of that, I’m realizing that when I refuse to let go, I remain in limbo. I can’t go backwards to the top of the platform. And hanging here is exhausting. But crap! I do not want to go down into that creepy tunnel. Even though I am pretty sure that I’ll eventually land safely in the sunlight, I just do not want to take that ride. I don’t think it will be the least bit enjoyable. I will be scared and out-of-control and I’ll probably bump into the sides and get water up my nose and lose a contact and maybe part of my bathing suit.

out of control

What do I WANT? I would really like to rewind my life, like it’s a film and go backwards, backwards from the slide to the platform, backwards down the steps, backwards to solid ground, back to safety and sunshine, where I’m with my all of my family (two-legged and four-legged), back to the time when I had what I want now.


But we all know that life doesn’t work that way. We can’t go backwards but we can stay in one spot, hanging in limbo, unable to move forward with our lives.


Losing Yuma

I’ve experienced loss in my life. I’ve lost both my mom and dad. I’ve lost my husband’s parents. Grandparents are gone. Dave and I have lost lots of aunts and uncles. But I tend to forget the pain of loss—for me, there’s a physical pain in my chest (so I now know where the phrase “heartbreak” comes from). But even worse is the overwhelming feeling when your brain and your soul realize that something or someone is gone for good. The pain of loss reminds me of the pain of childbirth—when it’s happening, it’s remarkable.  It’s overwhelming. But as time goes by, many of us forget how the actual pain felt (thank goodness), which I guess is why so many people have more than one child! It’s been almost 3 years since my mom died and I have forgotten the gut-wrenching pain of losing someone from his earth….for good. But this week I felt the pain of loss again.


Oh no, people will say. What’s wrong? Who died? It wasn’t a person and she didn’t die. But today I lost someone who loved me, nurtured me, comforted me, and made me laugh. It was my dog. Here’s the story in a nutshell. We have a dysfunctional dog named Bijou. We love her, but let’s just say she has issues. We made a thoughtful and informed decision to adopt a second dog for companionship and in hopes that a friend would make Bijou less anxious. Enter Yuma. Yuma was calm and confident where Bijou was anxious and fearful. What became more important to our family was Yuma’s love, comfort, gentleness. She seemed designed to offer love and comfort. After 2 months of what we all thought was a harmonious relationship, Bijou and Yuma fought. Bijou couldn’t let it go and soon Yuma couldn’t either. We called a trainer and the vet. It didn’t take long for us to realize that Dave and I (even with a trainer’s help) did not have the skills needed to solve the problem. In fact, we became certain that we were making the problem worse. So today we returned Yuma to the rescue group where we adopted her.


So I lost a dog. Not a big problem in today’s world, I know. But dang, it hurts. And it reminds me of previous losses, of people I will never see again, of illnesses and situations that I couldn’t fix. For me death is about losing connections, relationships. Never being able to pick up the phone again and call my mama. Never watching my mother-in-law playing cards and sipping her coffee. Never having Uncle Barry call me LeRoy. There’s a finality, an end, that when my brain begins to comprehend, I feel a bit like my head will explode.

head exploding

For me, with Yuma, it’s losing a being in my life who loved me unconditionally, who comforted me, who made me laugh. Dogs like Yuma put their people first. In fact, they exist solely for their people, to love and to be loved. I guess, then, it’s no wonder I want my mama so bad.

Mama’s Right Again

Well, it’s all done. About 2 weeks ago, we buried my mom in the family cemetery next to my dad. I had been dreading doing it but once it was all done, I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do and the right place for her to be. One of my cousins told me, “It’s time for June to come home.”

farm 2

 For our family, it’s always been “the farm.” Those 250 acres were the culmination of my grandfather’s dream—to own his own land, to farm, to be his own boss. Many of my aunts and uncles settled on “the farm,” raising their families there. As a child, I spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and most of my summers on “the farm,” riding horses, swimming, building forts in the hay barn. In 1942, my mom left college, after only 2 years, to come home to “the farm,” get a job, and help her family make ends meet. Toward the end of her life, Mama lived in the same house that her parents and siblings did, what we sometimes called, “the big house,” even though it was a small 3-bedroom ranch-style home.

The "big house"
The “big house”

Mama believed in “family” the way some of us believe in God. The eldest of 7, Mama helped support her brothers and sisters (and her mother and father) both emotionally and physically. She adored them all, and they were among her very favorite people in the world. In her later years, her family were her very best friends, and she delighted in them. Mama taught us that “family” is the one thing you can always count on; “family” is always there for one another; “family” are your “people.”

My Mom, standing left, holding her baby sister, with her mother and father and siblings.
My Mom, standing left, holding her baby sister, with her mother and father and siblings.

Now that I live in Atlanta, about 4 hours from “the farm,” now that my grandparents are dead, and Mama and 3 of her brothers are dead, now that I have my own little family, it seems that I may have forgotten Mama’s idea of “family.” If I have, it was Mama, and her burial, that reminded me.

My cousins & me at a Christmas party about 1970. I'm the little black-headed kid who looks like a boy. Nice haircut, Mom.
My cousins & me at a Christmas party about 1970. I’m the little black-headed kid who looks like a boy. Nice haircut, Mama.

 Here’s what “family” did for us. “Family” dug a plot for my mother’s remains in the hard South Georgia clay, perfectly symmetrical, saving the layer of sod so that it could be laid back on top. “Family” cleaned up the private cemetery, putting pine straw down. “Family” set up chairs for the service. “Family” drove long hours for an informal, 30 minute service.  “Family” brought a dozen roses for my mom.  “Family” spoke of Mama’s legacy and her love. “Family” made us a delicious lunch of barbecue, potato salad, baked beans and sweet tea. “Family” re-covered my mother’s remains.

Being laid to rest next to my dad
Being laid to rest next to my dad

My favorite thing that “family” did: “family” moved the cows. Remember I said mama was buried on “the farm.” Well, “the farm” is home to cows, and the pasture is, well, let’s say within “moo-ing” distance of the cemetery. Now, cows don’t bother me; I’m used to their “conversation” and their aroma. But “family” evidently thought that the cows might be a bit disruptive or perhaps not dignified. So the morning of my mom’s burial, “family” moved the cows.

The cows waiting patiently (or maybe impatiently)......
The cows waiting patiently (or maybe impatiently)……

Yes, it was right and it was time for Mama to be home again, on “the farm.” And while Mama was not one to ever say “I told you so,” I imagine her somewhere smiling, taking great delight in my realization that she was right…..again.

photo 2

Saying Goodbye

In less than a week we will bury my mother next to my father in a private family cemetery in south Georgia. My mother died almost 2 years ago and she was cremated (Mama wasn’t always sure she wanted to be cremated until she realized how much cheaper it was and then she was all for it. My mom was what one friend called “tight with a dollar”). We had her “cremains” (ugh! what a gross word!) put into a decorative, but biodegradable, box. Note to self: if you plan on procrastinating burying your mama, do NOT put her into a biodegradable container. They do not hold up well over 1


You might wonder why my sister and I waited so long to make these final arrangements. And now that we did, I wonder why I am dreading it so much. I suppose we waited because we were just plain exhausted after Mama’s illness and death. We planned the funeral; cleaned out her little apartment; helped Charlie, Mama’s husband, move to Florida. And then we rested. It seemed done. We could process. We could grieve. We could get back to normal.

Lyn took our mother’s “cremains” to her home. I didn’t want them. Maybe because that box was the reminder of the finality of death. Or maybe it was because that box staring me in the face reminds me that my Mama, her life, her dreams, her love, her smile, could all be reduced to an 8″ x 10″ x 5″ box. Besides I have my own reminders. My mother’s pocketbook hangs in my hall closet on a peg under a tote bag. Sometimes when I open and close that door I get a glimpse of it and a grief pang goes off in my chest.

photo 2
Do you see my mom’s white pocketbook hiding behind the tote bag?

One time I took it all the way out and looked through it. There was her wallet with her expired license (she hadn’t driven in 10 years); her phone numbers written down on a scrap of paper in her old-lady handwriting; her glasses; her tissues; her rain bonnet (my mom was from the generation that wore “rain bonnets” so she didn’t mess up her “hair-do” that she got from the “beauty shop”). A grief bomb went off in my chest, and back in the closet it went, safely tucked behind the pink-striped beach bag.

photo 3
With the exception of her lip-stick, which I’m sure was in the hospital with her, these items were my mom’s “essentials.”


My mother wanted to be buried next to my dad (who died in 1975), near her mother and father and two of her brothers, in a private family cemetery on family land. In my head, I understand that and I want to honor her wishes. In my heart, I don’t want to leave her there. It’s so far away. I feel like I am abandoning her. My logical brain tells me that makes no sense. My dad’s been there for almost 40 years; I’ve never worried about him. And I’m not a “grave” person. As much as I loved my husband’s parents, we don’t visit their graves, over an hour away. They live in our hearts and in our memories and in our love.

 Maybe I dread burying my Mama because that is the final act. We are really done after this, aren’t we? The estate is settled; we’ve distributed her clothes, her books, her pictures. What was once a full life of love, laughter, tears, family–has all been blown away, like the seeds of a dandelion on a windy day or when a child puffs her cheeks and blows them into the sky.

dandelion blowing


Yet, I’m reminded that the dandelion’s seeds don’t disappear. They travel who knows where, one by one. They land in a new place, put down new roots and grow. The seeds of my Mom’s life are all around me, too, in my son’s compassion for others; in my sister’s generosity; in my love of reading and my fondness for British accents.

dandelion field


But I think I’ll hold on to her pocketbook, just a while longer.

mom picture 1980s
My Mama, circa 1985. I miss her smile.




But wait…..Who Is My Neighbor, Again?

About a year ago, on a Wednesday night, I was sitting in a classroom in our church teaching a Bible Study titled Disciple. disciple 1Through the classroom’s glass door, I watched as a young black man came walking down the hall toward us. He was in his late teens, early 20s, closely cropped hair, pants hanging low, low, low on his hips. I was fairly certain he wasn’t a parishioner and as he walked toward us, my brain assembled the information and came up with this conclusion: He is from the neighborhood surrounding our church, and he has come to ask for money. I had reason to make that assumption. St. David’s is in a neighborhood with townhomes and apartments, home to a middle-class, working community. When I was a preschool teacher at St. David’s, quite often people from the neighborhood would come to our doors, looking for financial assistance.

dollar sign

As this young man made his way to our classroom, I (the original Miss Bossy-Pants) flew into action. He was graciously invited in by our group, but I thought to myself, “I can’t let him interrupt our Bible study. I’m responsible for the group. I need to protect the group from being harassed by this man for money. He probably thinks we’re ‘easy pickings,’ a bunch of ‘rich white folk’ who will give him money just to get rid of him.” But to my surprise, he didn’t want money. He told us, in a tear-choked voice, that he had just found out his father had died, that he had left his mother’s home, and just started walking. And then he saw our church, St. David’s. He made a spur of the moment decision to just “come in.”

grief of young man

Our group offered condolences, but I remained in my Miss Bossy-Pants mode, and thought to myself, “I should protect the group (from what, I’m not sure) but I should let them focus on their Bible study and their class. I—Miss Bossy Pants, who knows all, and who controls all—will handle this situation!”miss bossy pants I asked if the young man would like to sit somewhere private and talk. He said yes. So he and I headed out to St. Bridget’s Chapel, a quiet room away from the classroom. We hadn’t gotten very far when I heard footsteps behind me, “Wait. I’m coming too.” There, in our group that night, was my friend Toni, who specializes in grief counseling.

We sat in St. Bridget’s. Toni and the young man talked. I listened. We prayed. When the young man left, Toni gave him her card with her cell number and told him, “If you ever need to talk, call me.”

praying together

I’ve been thinking about this young man and that Wednesday night a lot lately, maybe because I’ve been thinking about grief. You see, I have more than a passing acquaintance with grief. But that night a year ago, I didn’t see grief at first. I saw an interruption, someone who wanted something. But my friend Toni saw grief. She saw a person. She saw an opportunity for ministry, to be the body of Christ, to actually be a DISCIPLE, rather than sitting in a class studying Disciple.

The Body of Christ
The Body of Christ

I realize now that this young man was not FROM the neighborhood around our church. This young man, who didn’t look like any of us in Bible Study that night, was our NEIGHBOR. And I guess he did want something from us. But what he wanted and needed was so much harder to give than a five dollar bill. My prayer now is that he found it.

who is my neighbor

God Freaks Me Out!

One of my blog-readers told me not too long ago, “You really like Jesus, don’t you?” (Uh-oh, I thought. She thinks I’m a “Jesus Freak”). But after we talked, I realized that what she meant was that where she (and others) think of God or even the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, I imagine Jesus, real flesh-and-blood (hippie) Jesus. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I believe my strong affinity for Jesus came from the music of “Jesus Christ Superstar” when I was just a youngster. Jesus was super-cool, mysterious and moody, but also loving and patient. Even at age 7, I saw it as an incredibly tragic love story. I wasn’t quite sure where the love part figured in but I had my eyes on Mary Magdalen.

jesus and mary
Mary M and Jesus–Do you see what I mean???

Now here’s the other reason I love me some Jesus. God (the big guy) kinda freaks me out. I hate to have to admit that in public, but if God is GOD, then God already knows anyway. Most kids, if they think of God, probably think of a grandfatherly guy with a white beard sitting on a cloud. When I was a kid, I imagined God as an old man with a white beard, but my God had a glint in his eye, not a merry twinkle, but a steely glint. I also realize now that my childhood version of God carried a trident. (Hmm. I’m wondering if maybe we didn’t also have a book of Greek mythology somewhere on the shelf……)

angry god
Angry God

So why would God be scary to me as a kid? I trace it back to the Noah’s ark story, the one that we tell all the kids with delight: “Look at the animals, all two by two, going up the big ramp into Noah’s boat. What fun! It’s like a floating zoo!” HAH! I wasn’t taken in by the pictures of the adorable kangaroos and elephants marching together in harmony. What I focused on is that God (the one who was supposed to be all about love—which is what my mom told me), that same God, destroyed the entire world, all the people, all the animals, except Noah and his ark.

Normal Person's Noah's Ark
Normal Person’s Noah’s Ark

As a little girl, it was hard enough for me to wrap my head around the fact that people (like me and my family) could be so evil and BAD that God wanted to, well, kill them. But as a kid who adored animals, who wanted to be a dog or a horse when she grew up, it completely freaked me out that God killed all those innocent animals. And in a flood, for heaven’s sake. I imagined all the horses, cows, dogs, goats, sheep, zebras, who weren’t on the ark. What was it like for them? Yikes.

kangaroo flood

Now you could argue that I completely missed the true point of the story, which is that God saved Noah. God could have just ditched us all, but instead, God said, “Let’s have a do-over.” If you did argue that, you would be mostly right. I do get that point now, as an adult. But as a little girl, all I could think about was those poor animals. And wonder if I would have made the cut.

My Noah's Ark--I'd be the one stuck on  the rock
My Noah’s Ark–I’d be the one stuck on the rock

As an adult, I have learned a little theology, and I know in my head that I believe that God (the big guy); Jesus (the cool guy); and the Holy Spirit (the “force” like in Star Wars); they are all actually just ONE GOD. That actually works out quite well for my Jesus fixation. Years ago, a minister told me that Jesus IS God, so that when I think of God, I COULD think of Jesus. Hallelujah! My religious life just got a lot less complicated!

Maybe I have over-simplified things. But I imagine that because Jesus walked a mile in our (human) shoes, so to speak, he “gets” us, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. And I think he loves us anyway. (And, by the way, I don’t think the flood was his idea.)

jesus walking

Jesus Goes to Yoga

For the past few months, it’s been hard for me to pray. Well, actually, that’s not 100% true. I tell God plenty of stuff. I ask God to remember and watch over my “people,” especially those who are sick or sad, and I probably ask God 20 times a day for general “help,” like “Help me to find my path in life;” or “Help me to not be afraid;” or “Help me to not eat this bag of M & M’s.”  (A friend calls those “arrow prayers” because they go straight up to God!)But I am having a hard time listening to God right now. Or you could replace “right now” with “almost all the time.” Because who am I kidding? Listening requires being quiet, not only with my mouth (which is hard enough for me) but also in my brain (which is dang near impossible). It is easier to shut my mouth than it is for me to tell everyone in my brain to “hush.” One of my yoga teachers used the term “monkey mind” to describe when our brains won’t stop the incessant chatter. Here’s what I think of when I picture my “monkey mind”:

clapping monkey
I know…….it’s a little creepy.

I have discovered, however, one place where I can be still and I can force all those dang monkeys to vacate the premises. It’s my Yin Yoga class. Because yoga is an eastern practice, I know there’s a whole group of Christians who label it “dangerous” or “incompatible” with Christianity. I am no yogi. I haven’t studied the theological belief system of yoga. All I do is show up at class. But I have learned that often when I show up at yoga, Jesus shows up, too.

Jesus and yoga

I like to think of Jesus on the mat next to me (it helps that in yin yoga the room is dimly lit and we’re encouraged to keep our eyes closed). I’ve spent more time than I would like to admit wondering what Jesus would wear to yoga. I think he could pull off those tight pants but I don’t think he would. I’m thinking long gym shorts and a comfy t-shirt. Of course, the bigger question is what would his t-shirt say? “I heart my Dad”? or maybe a Superman t-shirt? Or maybe he’d show solidarity with the downtrodden and wear a Cubs t-shirt? (I DO know that my Jesus would never, ever wear a Yankees shirt). Just between you and me, I actually think Jesus enjoys the class as much as I do. It’s incredibly relaxing and restorative, and with the stress of his job, it’s got to feel good to just take some time for yourself.

I could see Jesus wearing this. Good luck with that.
I could see Jesus wearing this. Good luck with that.

I know I’m being silly about Jesus needing a little “me-time.” After all, he’s God, so he’s pretty self-sufficient. Maybe I believe he likes yoga because he likes that I LIKE yoga. In Yoga, I often feel like my mind is getting washed clean of all the negative thoughts and fears (yes, that’s a baptism reference). I leave class with a fresh perspective, new energy, and a sense of peace. If Jesus is truly within me, he’s gotta be saying, “Whew! It’s good to get some space in here. I couldn’t hear myself think with all those dang monkeys.”

My brain after Yoga! No monkeys! Space for Jesus to sit and chat!
My brain after Yoga! No monkeys! Space for Jesus to sit and chat!

Jesus meets me in Yoga because it’s one of the few places where I can be still and quiet. I can listen; I can simply “be.” In that stillness, I can sense Jesus near me, and I can rest assured in the knowledge that I am loved and that I am safe. Can I get an “Amen”…..or maybe even an “Om”?