Throwing Rocks

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When I was teaching the kids loved for me to tell stories about myself, my childhood or tell them about what I thought heaven was like. I didn’t mind stopping a lesson to tell a story because in my opinion our lives are not made up of atoms or equations but of stories.

Yesterday I shared about how I met God on the beach and as I was talking to one of my friends online about it I offered to tell her about how I met my best friend, who happens to be her sister. So, here it is, J.

Most of my childhood stories begin with this sentence: My mother died when I was 3. The reason is because that event impacted my life in so many ways. And, this story, too starts the same way.

My mother died when I was 3. I was raised by my father who was a very silent man. My best friend named him “Stoneface” which she never called him to his face. My dad was a Navy man. “Yes, sir!” was the proper response anytime he called my name or asked me a question.

When I was in 5th grade the city I lived in decided to desegregate our schools. That meant that I couldn’t go to the school that was within walking distance from my house, I had to be bused across town to a school in a black neighborhood.

I’ll never forget riding the bus to school that first day of 5th grade. Black families lined the streets and some people threw rocks at our bus. I did not feel welcomed.

Me and a skinny, annoying white girl named Angel who wore dresses everyday, smelled like Play-doh and nervously picked a wart on her knee all day long were the only white kids in our class. I did not feel we were a good representation of our people which made me embarrassed for all white people in America. And even though there were only 2 scrawny white girls in the whole class, the teacher, an elegant, tall, mocha-skinned queen, gave the class a lecture on the proper way to address black people.I knew the lesson was just for Angel and me. I listened with my whole being while Angel nervously picked her wart.

Needless to say, that year was not a happy one. There was tension all over the city. There was tension in my school and in my class. I couldn’t talk to my father about it because, one, he didn’t like to talk and, two, because whenever the subject of busing would come up he’d fly into a cussing rage. He used all the inappropriate names that my teacher told us not to.

One day, feeling particularly lonely and depressed about the whole state of affairs, I got off my school bus and began to walk home. I noticed a girl I had never seen before walking on the other side of the road. I wondered who she was but I just didn’t feel particularly friendly so I kept my head down and plodded along.

Almost home, I heard the familiar, screeching call of my arch nemesis. I’ll call her A (you can assign any name you want to her, I can think of a few choice ones that start with A). She was my arch nemesis because when I first moved into the neighborhood she decided she’d be the boss of me. And because I didn’t have any other friends I had to play with her. She had a whole playroom with a real dollhouse and a Barbie townhouse with working elevator. She also had a Malibu Barbie while I only had Barbie’s awkward friend, Francie who drove Barbie’s RV. Francie eventually got her leg chewed off by my dad’s dog, Alex and so that made her even more marginalized. A always pointed out that my toys were not as good as hers and I should be thankful that she let me play at her house at all.

Well, A, screeched at me to “Come over to my house right now!” I mumbled a response that I didn’t want to or something like that. That sent A into a rage and she started marching toward me on the sidewalk with her finger pointed at me like I’d seen her mother do to her.

A continued to berate me as she approached and as I continued to refuse to do what she wanted, her scoldings became more and more biting and cruel until finally she said,

“Why should I even play with you, you don’t even have a mother!”

Everything got quiet and then suddenly I heard a voice from across the street, “Hey! You leave her alone!”

I looked and I saw that unfamiliar girl coming across the street toward A. She bent down and picked up some rocks and threw them at A as she said, “That was mean! You can’t say things like that! You better go home before I hit you in the head!”

Well, A, being the superior, stubborn girl she was, gave it right back to her. “You can’t tell me what to do! I’ll tell my parents!”

The girl continued to throw rocks at A and yell at her until A finally retreated, terrified into her father’s car. The girl put her fist into the hood of the car and walked over to me, put her arm around my shoulder.

We walked to 7-Eleven, got some Now-or-laters, ate them in the park and we were best friends from then on out.

We had some of the best times. My friend was the type of person who collected strays. Stray people, stray animals like Barney the “corn face dog.” She loved the hurting back to life. She made us, the strays, laugh like life was good. She would feed us and tuck us into safe beds with clean feet. Music and laughter surrounded her.

Looking back, she was probably hurting as much or more than I was but she never told me or talked about it. She was always cheerful around me. She was strong and brave and even as a kid she knew how to help and clean and cook and make gravy for the biscuits her mom, Pearl, would make for us. I thought she could do anything.

She saved my life and I’m thankful that she came to my rescue.

That’s my story.

Peace,

Jill

 

 

 

Lent, the Beach & Spiritual Minimalism

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A friend of mine contacted me and told me that she was following my blog and she asked that if there was a day that I was at a loss for what to write, she wished I would write about the day I met God on the beach.  

I have plenty I could write about today but since it’s the first day of Lent and I was thinking about fasting and I read this quote by Patricia Taylor, “Fasting makes space for God in our lives” and I was thinking about how minimalism is really like fasting – doing without to make room for better things – I realized that what happened to me on the beach 33 years ago really set me on a path of spiritual simplicity and so I felt it all worked together.

So, here you go K.

Let me say first that every step I took, every change I made, I feel was a needed step to get to the beach. I don’t look back on my experiences and say they were stupid or wasted or I was wrong or the people who led and mentored me were wrong. We all did what we thought was the best and I grew and it all worked out for good. That’s how God is.

Let me start again…

I was 22 years old, driving my little orange Volkswagon Beetle as fast as I could down to Florida. My husband was out on the ocean laying cable and I was headed down to visit my sister. I was very upset.

See, I had gotten saved in the Southern Baptist way at 12 years old. The preacher had said, “If there’s anyone you love and they have died and gone to heaven, the only way you will see them again is if you accept Christ as your personal Savior.” My mother had died when I was 3 years old and I really wanted to meet her and I felt this pull in my heart like God had tied a rope around it and was pulling me to the preacher. So, I followed the pull and went down and accepted Christ as my personal Savior. I didn’t know what I was doing but God took me seriously.

In the years that followed I said I was a Christian but I didn’t really know what that meant. I grew older and life happened and then life really happened and it got mean and ugly and dangerous and so at 16 years old I decided I needed to get serious with God because I was going to need Him to get through all the mess.

So, I dropped friends, hurt people, got religious, got serious, prayed, studied the Bible, went to church every time the doors were open, I witnessed and handed out tracts, I worked in the church and worked really hard to be a good Christian. I mean I had to pay God back for what He did for me on the cross, right? They say that’s not what they’re saying but the people in the church act like that’s what you have to do.So I followed their actions. I had to be good enough to meet the requirements to get into heaven, right? They told me that God accepts everyone even sinners, but they gave me dresses and told me how to look and act right to be accepted by Him.

After about 5 years of jumping through hoops, I was getting burned out. I was working really hard, but I always felt like it wasn’t enough. I always felt guilty. I was not enjoying life, but I never told anyone because I didn’t want to complain, seem like a whiner or appear like I didn’t really want to be a Christian. I mean you don’t live for this life, you’re storing up treasures in heaven, right?

Well, the breaking point came. Someone to whom I looked up to as one of the greatest Christians I knew was an absolute jerk to me. Hurt my feelings bad. I mean bad. The funny thing is I can’t even remember what it was but whatever it was gave me the excuse I was looking for to leave a religion that I was already trying to get out of. “If that’s a Christian, then I don’t want to be one!” I said proudly. Lame excuse, I know, but I was grasping at straws.

So, let’s get back in my VW Bug heading down to Florida. All the way down, all 13 hours, I was rehearsing my goodbye that I had planned to give to God. You know, “It’s not You, it’s all the fake people pretending to be your followers” speech.

I decided that I needed to give God a formal goodbye and a reason for breaking up with Him. So, I planned to stop at my favorite beach (the photo above is the place), find a spot by myself and tell God goodbye, bow out and leave.

It’s funny now, but I was really nervous. I parked my car, took off my shoes and headed to the beach. Thankfully it was during the week during work hours and so no one was there. I walked a way down past the boulders dotting the beach and stood with my toes just touching the surf as it gently reached out to touch me.

I took a breath….but before I could speak I heard a Voice.

I can’t tell you where it came from. It seemed to come from behind me, from inside me and surround me all at the same time. The Voice said,

“Before you go, I just want to tell you something.”

I looked around, no one was there. I stood facing the ocean waiting.

“Do you see that ocean?” the Voice said.

“Yes.”

“I thought of you the day I made it. I knew you’d like it.”

I was dumbfounded.

“Before you go, I just want you to know that I love you.”

I fell to my knees in tears as I was flooded with a feeling of love that I had never felt before. I was weeping. My father had never told me he loved me and those were words I had always longed to hear from him. Now I heard them from my Heavenly Father.

The Voice continued, “I don’t care if you ever read your Bible again. I don’t care if you ever go to church again or pray again. I just want you to know that I love you.”

I was undone.

God wasn’t trying to stop me from going. He wasn’t forcing me to do anything. He was just loving me.

In one sentence He had taken that hot, heavy coat of duty of my back and had given me freedom.

I was free to love Him or not. I could go or stay.

But He loved me. He thought of me. He knew how much I loved the ocean. His loving me was not because I read the Bible through in a year or prayed everyday for 15 minutes or went to church every time the doors were open.

He just loved me.

And I loved Him back.

I was free!

But the crazy thing is that all those things that were a burden, Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, became things I wanted to do. I wanted to know more and love more this God who thought of me and knew that I loved the ocean and loved me for just me.

Since that day, it has become my spiritual practice to take off things rather than taking them on. When I feel a church or teacher or spiritual leader begins to weigh me down with things I should do simply out of duty or to meet requirements for salvation and heaven that God has not told me in His Word, I run to that day on the beach and remind myself of my freedom!

It’s funny now that I’m writing this how God sort of taught me how to be a Spiritual Minimalist that day.

Love God. Love Others. Love Yourself. That’s all.

Peace,

Jill

 

 

 

 

 

It All Came Down To One Basket

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So, I’m back in the saddle (I don’t know what it is about these western metaphors lately) but to be honest I’m slumped over. Like a wounded cowboy coming back on his plodding horse. I need water and some grub.

My brother and I got through the minefield of organizing the funeral and burial of our father. My father and stepmother had been pretty diligent about getting their affairs in order, so they didn’t leave a lot of labor to do – just a lot of paperwork.

My brother and my husband and I cleaned out my father’s room in the assisted living facility and donated some of it, threw out some of it and I have some things to be dispersed to a few family members.

It really all came down to one basket.

Hours after I had watched the dirt being shoveled over my father’s casket, my brother and I went to the attorney’s office. We sat at the conference table and my brother sat the grubby, worn out basket in front of him and began picking through it and verbally sharing what each piece of paper was.

With a pained look on his face, the attorney waved it away and said, “That’s ok, I’ll have someone go through that later.” Is there anything else? Other possessions?

I said, “no” but my eyes wouldn’t leave the basket. He so easily dismissed and waved away the only tangible remains of my father’s whole life. Ouch.

That’s it. All those years of work. The sacrifice, the dedication, the thought, the effort. The making of money, the spending of money. All the antiques, the Persian rugs, the Chinese vases, the silver, the interior design. All the buying and selling of homes and property. All the love, the giving and withholding. The family drama. The constant tension between stuff and people. My father’s whole life was reduced to one basket of papers.

All this decluttering, downsizing and minimizing of my life came into sharp focus. It’s true, we really don’t need this stuff we hoard and hold on to. Because at the end it really comes down to one basket of papers and what people remember about you – good or bad.

My dad was a math genius and we would have arguments over my math homework because I just didn’t get it.

But even I know that you can solve for X if you know the answer, what you’re heading for. So, if we know that the end = one basket of papers and the memories people have of you, shouldn’t you be working toward that end?

Shouldn’t we be making good memories and sharing love?

I think so.

Going to get some grub, find a tree to lean against and probably take a nap.

Peace,

Jill

 

 

You Had Me At Eclipse

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March 7, 1970. It was a Saturday and I was 8 years old. I was playing in the front yard when my Dad came outside with a piece of paper with a hole in it.

It was weird because my Dad never came outside to do stuff with me.

He told me that we were going to watch the solar eclipse.

I knew what that was because my teacher had told us about it at school. I didn’t remember much she said except, “Don’t look at it or you’ll go blind!”

So, my Dad had figured out how to watch it without going blind. He poked a hole in a piece of paper and held it so that the sun shone through the hole onto the sidewalk.

Like this:

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So, my Dad and I stood on the sidewalk staring at a bright circle on the sidewalk until we began to see the black circle overtake the brightness. I was awestruck! I was watching – on my sidewalk – something that was happening in the heavens.

When the black had almost completely covered the sun I looked up. It wasn’t complete darkness, but the light was a weird color and my eyes felt like they didn’t know how to focus. Everything got quiet. I noticed that no birds were chirping, no dogs barking, nothing. It felt weird. The world had gotten strange and unfamiliar.It was exciting!

I looked back at the circle on the sidewalk and watched as the world slowly became normal again.

My Dad and I exchanged a few words like, “Well, that was something.” And he went back inside.

That eclipse in 1970 was a major deal for me. For one, it was so important that my Dad made sure that I experienced it –  and I experienced it with him. An occurrence as rare as an eclipse. And two, I had the experience of the world getting weird – if the sun could go dark than ANYTHING can happen. How exciting!

Since then I’m a sucker for any astronomical event. Falling stars, comets, lunar eclipse, blood moons, anything. I’m up for it! Yes, I would have been trailing along after the Wise Men following that crazy star.

So, tonight, 47 years later, I’m standing in my bare feet in the middle of my street, freezing to death looking at the outer edges of the moon with binoculars for any trace of shadowing. I’m also scanning the sky looking for a green comet that’s supposed to be visible with binoculars. I see nothing. I go back in shivering. But not disappointed.

Because I know, up in the heavens, something amazing is happening. Even though I may not be able to see it, I know that the giants in the sky are moving, choreographed by God. And in any given moment, alignments can happen, paths can cross and something amazing, a once in a lifetime event can happen.

On any average Saturday, the unexpected can happen. The day can suddenly become a once in a lifetime event and from then on out your whole world can be different.

Is it just me or does that give you hope?

Here’s a link to the news report of the 1970’s solar eclipse. It’s fun to watch if you love nostalgia.

Peace,

Jill

“You Don’t Have to Own It” She’d Say

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I woke up at 3am, as I do sometimes and I found myself thinking about my sister.

She’s been gone 22 years. I’ve now outlived her by 4 years. She never walked this path I’m walking now. Our mother didn’t either. I’m a pioneer!

Awake in the darkness, I remembered something my sister would say, “You can love, admire and enjoy something and you don’t have to own it.”

Neither one of us had much money. We both married for love, not money, and our wallet could never keep up with our dreams. So, she would recite her addage to me and herself whenever there was something we really wish we could have but knew we never could.

Now, as the dust has settled from the busy, raising kids, frenetic life I used to live – now that I’ve stopped comparing myself to others, stopped judging myself so harshly – now that I’ve been around the block and know what makes me happy and what doesn’t – that old addage of my sister’s really rings true…

I don’t have to own something to enjoy it.

There are all sorts of things I love but the initial cost, the lifestyle changes I’d have to make to have it, the upkeep, the maintenance would be just too much.

So, I’ll just enjoy it from afar, thank you. Thanks Sis!

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I was 18 (on the left), my sister was 36. Circa 1982

Peace,

Jill

Not a Teacher, a Friend

ARF8NK Red-kneed tarantula Brachypelma smithii

About 17 years ago I taught a really small class of 4th graders. It was the first year I taught 4th grade. I had previously taught 6th. The students seemed so little and less smelly and I instantly fell in love with them.  They were precious.

I had them do an activity one day, you know, one of those fillers. I had them draw and color a picture of their favorite day. I got pictures of birthdays and Christmas and then one picture of a car wreck. It was a horrible scene with bodies strewn on the road, blood and an ambulance. I took the picture, smiled and asked the student to explain it to me. I said, “how can this be your favorite day?” He said, “It’s the day I got my heart.”

Well, that afternoon I called his mom and told her about the picture and said, “Is there something you’re not telling me?” She laughed and explained that her son had a heart transplant when he was a few days old. They had taught him to be grateful for his heart.

We had such a great year! That student was so unique and fun! He brought in his pet tarantula and we kept it and his cricket supply for a week or so. One cricket escaped and stayed with us for the rest of the year, chirping during tests.

I had the privilege of teaching at the same school with that student until he graduated. I kept in touch with his family as he grew into adulthood and got a job. His family celebrated every day they had with him because the doctors had said he may not live far into his teens. He is now the longest living heart transplant patient!

Now in his 20’s I just got news that he’s not doing very well. So, today I’m going to go have lunch with him and just hang out. He’s not just my old student, he’s my friend. And that’s the cool thing about being a teacher: once your students leave your class they become your friend. You end up with a lot of them. But none quite as special as the one I’ll be visiting today.

Peace,

Jill