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I get it now.

November 9, 2014

A year ago my grandmother passed.  How people address somber anniversaries vary; but my mother pinned this entry and worded it so well that I thought I should share it. As we approach the holiday season, and people attempt to cope with many different types of grief: I hope people find comfort in her words.

I Get It Now

One year ago today, while at my brother’s house on the way to see my mother for what we knew was the last time, I answered the phone to learn that she had slipped away and gone home to be with her Lord.

I remember my brother and I just standing there, he in his bedroom doorway and me sitting on the stool in front of the dresser, staring at each other in shock and disbelief as we each searched for words to break the deafening silence that filled the room. I screamed the horror in my head, “We didn’t get there in time!”

I’m not sure who spoke first. It was as if thirty years of pastoring had not prepared my brother for this, but instead had rendered him speechless at this critical moment.  I remember saying to myself, “You’re the oldest. Say something,” and I looked at my brother and said in barely a whisper “She gave us Jesus to get us through this,” and we collapsed sobbing uncontrollably in each other’s arms.

As this day approached, I had an indescribable feeling of dread. I don’t know why, the hard parts was over, but dread it was. I had called my sister Nora the week before to talk about how we should commerate the event only to find that she was still in a space where she couldn’t even speak of losing Mom. She literally could not make the words come out. So I switched the subject to family members and she talked me all the way from Columbus GA to Atlanta.

Today, on the anniversary of her passing, I filled my day with the work it takes to help a middle school run efficiently, (especially on a Friday afternoon so close to Fall break). Everything was going well and I’d even made mention of my mother’s home going to a fellow co-worker in passing without tearing up! I thought to myself, “What were you afraid of. You’re getting through this just fine.” And I was. Right up until I took a late afternoon lunch break and walked into my office to find a red and white box filled with gourmet chocolate dipped fruit with a balloon attached that read, “Thinking of you.”

I had no idea who would send me such a gift, or for what reason. It was not my birthday, and while cracking jokes the way I always do, I rushed to open the card. As I read it, my breathing became shallow, my heart swelled, and my eyes filled with tears. It was from my three earth angles who thought enough of me, their Mom, to let me know that their thoughts and prayers were with me on this day of days. “They remembered?” I said to myself as I read the card that said,

Hey Mommy! We are just thinking about you on today. Mommas are the best and we just want to make sure that you know your children are thinking about you on today as we celebrate Grandma’s one year Home going anniversary with the Lord!   Praise Him for His perfect peace!                                                                                                                Love, Your Rugrats.”

Suddenly I was in tears. As my co-workers came back to my office to see what was the matter. The only thing I could do was show them the attached card and make a bee line for my car. In the quiet sanctity of the driver’s seat I sat just long enough to catch my breath, dry my eyes, find the ignition and get the heck out of there.  Finally parked at the KFC down the street, I slumped and let my emotions envelope me. As the flood of tears washed over me, I realized that these were not only bitter tears; that there was sweetness embed there too.  I realized these were the kind of bitter sweet tears that accompany a sadness that has been made a little more bearable because you know without a doubt that you are loved and that no matter what may come your way, or where you are when it comes you are never alone because you are loved and you have loved.

So Mom, today on the anniversary of your homegoing, I let go of the guilt that makes me sad on this day because I was not at your side to say good bye when you transitioned home. My tears are no longer bitter because I know you knew you were loved, and I know you loved us and taught us the love of God.  From hence forward on this day, my tears will be sweet tears of comfort as I lean on the promise of God to send us the Comfort of the Holy Spirit, and I will be thankful for it.

Today the Holy Spirit took the form of a perfectly worded card from my children, attached to a box of chocolate covered fruit.

I am a blessed woman for many reasons, but the biggest reason is, was, and shall always be the gift of my son Isiah Harper, and my daughters Toni Harper Reeves, and Mamie Harper. I love you all more than words can express. Thank you for being who you are. Grandma is smiling down so proud of you and in the words of your brother “It’s time to make cake!” To God be the glory!

Why the How I Met Your Mother Finale will go down as one of best finales of our generation.

April 1, 2014

Why the How I Met Your Mother Finale will go down as one of best finales of our generation.

IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN IT! DO NOT READ THIS POST!!!! THIS IS YOUR SPOILER ALERT!!!!

If you are in your early 30s you are probably still contemplating a show that defined our 20s.  So, let’s go back.

In the fall of 2005, most of us were right out of college.  We had young fresh-eyed dreams of big city life, local bars, and countless sexcapades; and on our ONE DAY of not partying (think about it, it was not Sunday) or overworking, or finding ways to “better ourselves” there came a show that hit home with us.  We saw our struggle, we saw our friends, and it allowed us to escape into a fantasy world, that for some situations, probably hit so close to home you had to laugh to keep from crying. Thus we began our journey in truth.

No matter which character you related to, (and let’s be honest… the joy of archetypical characters is that we can relate to them all in some way), the cast, and I guess more importantly the writers, stayed authentic to twenty-something/thirty-something  post collegiate life from 2005-2014.  I remember my friends panicking about their bar exam along with Marshall, my personal struggles as a young teacher struggling between teaching and wondering if I should pursue life as an artist (shot out to Lily), friends getting crappy news assignments on the home television stations, countless parties, bad dates, hook-ups, hangovers, road trips, “forced detainments”, created stories, stupid bets, and most importantly,  our own version of MacLarens… where we had our seat, the bartenders knew us, and the world was ahead of us.

During this 9 season journey, HIMYM held a mirror up to our lives. It was an odd, but truthful combination of Cheers, Friends, and Sex in the City.   Friends got married at the same time as Lilly and Marshall, (count how many weddings you went to during that time in your life), they had children at the same time, we were all buying houses, apartments and townhomes; when all was going well and we were at the top… we had death creep into our psyche, and some of us had to deal with the very real issue of infertility. Phew, and all of that in a story about how someone was trying to find love, and more importantly, how many times it eluded him.

So… we are here… at the finale… and it looks like everything is going to be tied up in a fuzzy Hollywood ending that we all love because we use television as an escape. After all, we have already done the crappy endings (Seinfeld, Lost, Sopranos), and the old school ending has been done (Cheers and Friends). However, the writers got you.  It ended as it began: in truth. The characters are strong adults now, they have adult issues, and since they worked their way into our hearts by being truthful; they decided to go out that way. Lily and Marshall (the couple everybody deeply wants to be) are still together, they went to Italy for a bit, came back and he became a judge. Barney shows that the adage is true… people are who they are, and we need to allow them to be them… it will catch up, and then when it does there will be an authentic change, and not a forced one.. (funny how all superficial displays of change don’t mean a thing until something happens by mistake or not, and changes your life for good).  Robin became successful, and though they loved each other, she and Barney needed to uncouple, ( Yes, they spent a whole season building this… but if they didn’t get married we would have never met the mother!)  Ted met the mother: Tracy, and had two feisty kids; and as life does sometimes…it dealt them an unfortunate hand, and she got sick and died.  So we end at the beginning but with different eyes, older eyes. Ted has found love, lost love, and at the encouragement of his children: looking for love again. 

As far as “the group” goes you have known from the beginning that they all stay together.  Aunt Robin, Uncle Barney, Aunt Lily and Uncle Marshall you don’t give family names to strangers, or to people who you feel are no longer important in your life.  Robin’s monologue about the group, was for the single friend… you didn’t get it unless you have lived it, she was speaking some hardcore truth that the Robin’s of any particular group RARELY say, and Lily’s face when confronted with that truth was so authentic.  (Yes, married friends and friends with kids… there are something’s you will never understand too, because you haven’t lived it.) The only thing we didn’t know was how the journey ended… the time apart and the promise to be there for all the “Big Things.”  Friends will let friends live their life, and that life might take them across the world; but true friends will always be there for the big things.  

HIMYM for the older millennial, encapsulated our lives post college to the present moment.  We don’t get to flash forward; but at this point, we have lived enough to know we have a lot of good moments, a lot of trials, and  couple heartbreaks ahead of us, and if we are lucky enough… some people who are always there with the “hangover cure” and the “Big Stuff.”  

The finale was perfect. 

Here’s to a decade!

January 20, 2014

In my town there is a little church that looks like an upside down ark. It has multiple shades of brown, tcakehe roof is made out of beautiful wood, and it is (as we say in south) a refuge for all manner of folks.  You can say there are at least two of every kind with us… just take your pick. The rituals of our lives; births, baptisms, confirmations, weddings, ordinations and deaths have all been observed over time. Rectors have changed, priests and associate priests have come and gone; but through it all our Noah has been with us.

As a boy, I always wondered how hard it was for Noah to gather two of every kind.  After all, that included predators and prey, or in church lingo the “blessed” and the “God Bless ‘em”, and for my non southern “unchurched” friends “the difficult” and “the calm.” I also asked the question, why all the animals? In my youthful mind, there would be some animals I would let drown… it would make the world a better place.   It is funny how questions of your youth are answered in the most unexpected ways in your adulthood.

Some people might wonder why, when I make the allusion to Noah, I am not talking about a priest or a pastor; but a choirmaster/organist. Well it is simple, when I joined the choir a decade ago it became clear to me our fearless leader was called to build an Ark. He might think he was called to build a good church choir, and that he did, but he was tasked to build a support system to a very motely group that would keep us afloat when our world flooded.  Like Noah, he found at least two of every kind: The adventurous, the shy, the damaged, the lonely, the talented, the veteran, the active duty, the scientist, the teacher, the artist, the pragmatist, the dreamer, the loud and the quiet, the liberal, the conservative, the Methodist, Baptist, and more than a few Lutherans, the young, the old (a matter of perspective), the black, the white, the gay, the straight, and the bisexual.   In many churches, not only would there not be such an active search for diversity, I am sure many might have been like me in my youth and left them off the boat if they showed up.  But after a while you learn two of each kind ensures that you are not lonely: it gives you someone to talk to and something to talk about. It teaches us about the other, and it gives you a home.

In a decade, our ark has floated to Atlanta, Washington DC, New York City, and the UK. We have been there for each other when it seemed nobody else would. We have laughed, screamed, cursed, cried and most importantly prayed together. In a decade, I have never heard him give a, “rote prayer” or a prayer filled with cliché sayings. I have heard him struggle for words to comfort others, and hand it over to other members when he was standing in the need of prayer…and when at loss for words I have seen him usher in a silent prayer with only outstretched hands.

Our Ark might be held together by the mutual love of music, but what is a boat without a strong, witty, sometimes hard to follow, dreamer.So to our grandiose, big thinking, fearless leader, and the 30+ person choir he created and is working his butt off to maintain and expand. Happy 10th anniversary. Only God knows where you are going to lead us next… but hey… I am down for the ride.

Penguins, Santas, and Ducks Oh My: an open letter to Lucifer/ or thoughts on advent

December 20, 2013

I have been quiet, intentionally, for the last few weeks because we are in the season of Advent.  I was in reflection about how I need to change and things I need to do to become better person and blah blah blah. However, there have been MORE than a few of you that have asked my opinion on the “goings on” of last few weeks.  So I am going to put on my armor and go to the source of the drama: Lucifer.  Yes, occasionally it is important to “call out the devil” on his antics… just to let him know… you are aware of his cray.

Dear Lucy,

I would ask how have you been, but I can see that you have been working overtime this holiday season.  I am going to be honest.  I was truly hoping I would not have to be bothered with you until AFTER Christmas, but you always did like trying my sexy, don’t see why  now you would change your ways.    I know you are asking, “Why the informal tone of this letter?  Aren’t you are frequently battling me with the full armor of God?”   Well… yes I am… and I will again…but hey, since you are not directly at war with me at this moment, we can be civil (do not confuse this for weakness… at any point in this letter I can, and will rebuke you with the FULL AND ALMIGHTY POWER  OF GOD… “ummm humm, you best be scurred” ).  But I am in the business of congratulating folks on a job well done: and you sir, have done a FABULOUS job of hijacking this holiday season.

In a season where we are supposed to be  calm, quiet, reflective and patient, in an effort to prepare ourselves for when we celebrate the birth of our Lord… you have managed to get many of us  focused on the race of beloved childhood character.   Come on! REALLY! That was a cheap shot; it was like stealing candy from a baby… you know this country and its history on race.  Anything would cause division, but since you are the creator of the cheap shot, I should not be surprised you took it. However, I must give you credit for causing this stir over an image you created in the first place. I will acquiesce, a 19th century robber baron, was in fact, a white man.  However, the Saint Nicholas who gave gifts to children, and punched heretics in the throat was probably Turkish… and Santa and what he has come to represent … the spirit of love and generosity… is colorless… so the question is pointless. So when children ask me, as sometimes they do, what color is Santa  I respond that love and generosity is all colors…( I don’t think some would get the concept of colorless just yet).

I would say Ha Ha! Foiled again… but you couldn’t leave good enough alone could you?  You realized the “Santa-gate” controversy would not get you through the season,  so you went ahead and started another culture war over a TV show that claims to be wholesome Christian based family programming.  I MEAN REALLY! You have crap shows all over cable TV and you choose one of my favorites! Well played.  I mean who doesn’t love hyped gay bashing. IT MAKES GREAT NEWS!! Both sides screaming foul at each other and God Bless Phil’s heart he was only saying what was in the Bible ( yes, please give that statement all the southern gentility it rightfully deserves)… oh and don’t think I didn’t notice the comments you put on race in there. Clever …very cleaver. However at the end of the day this is all old news buddy, people have been using the words of God to oppress people for years take your pick: Gays, Blacks, Jews, Women the combinations are infinite!  I notice that you see  God revealing  tolerance and acceptance  to us THROUGH his word and we are slowly starting to  listen.  I guess that means some good tried and true methods of dissension will lose its power.  That is the joy of the LIVING WORD it is constantly revealing itself.   So I hate to tell you Ole Dark One,  you are soon going to need a new bag of tricks (why do they call you that anyway… Dark One… your God given name literally means “The Bearer of Light” after all… oh wait… now I remember… the fall, the bearer of light in the world… that whole Savior thing… wait… too soon? Wound still fresh? Well, I’m sorry, I am not sorry…but I did promise to be civil).

Actually, ole Lucy, if we, America, choose to acknowledge it; your little exercise in division and chaos (and eventually futility) is exactly what we needed in order to prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Lord.  If we are to learn anything, it is how much we need Hope, Love, Joy and Peace in our lives. We need it because we live in perpetual confusion and that people will unintentionally insult us (and sometimes intentionally)  and how many things… simple things… keeps us from God’s light.  The color of Santa, or what we say about it each other,  or the inability to forgive and to give the same tolerance we expect or why we care what anybody thinks about us other than the Father.  These concerns keep us out of God’s Pure Light and with you in its shadows . So I want to thank you for helping me out in my advent mediation. I sure it was not what you intended, but hey don’t all things work for the good for those that love the…. Oh silly me… nobody knows the Bible better than you.

I am sure I will be seeing you in 2014, and I am positive it won’t be as civil.

Until then… Merry Christmas.

A solider in the Army of the Lord… oh who am I kidding… you know exactly who I am.

Tall pan, cold oven, and don’t run in the kitchen

November 11, 2013

Grandparents have a very unique place in our lives. They are the ones who spoil us, teach us lessons that our parents may or may not have time for, keep our secrets, and laugh at our faults; and when we can’t understand how our parents developed their eccentricities we only have to look a generation up and all is made clear.  To look at our grandparents is to not only a look into the past, but a glimpse into the future.

For a brief time in the early to mid 90s my grandmother lived with us. She coached me through my first solo at church, “wade in the water” and by coached I mean my mother, a momentary music major in college, would teach me the notes, and my grandmother would calmly sit in her chair and hum. Sometimes she would tell me to hold a note out …other times she would tell me to make it short… and it when it was right, I was rewarded by a simple… yes, yes that’s it.  My mother, would then tell us stories about how grandma would sing in the kitchen, make her clean, make her cook and while this storytelling was going on  my grandmother would sit in her chair with a slight scowl on her face and softly say, “Now Carrie… it wasn’t like that…” then we would all  laugh. I believed it was EXACTLY how my mother worded it because unbeknownst to her she did the same thing. It became a running joke… these  sayings  my mother adopted from hers “not your clean, but my clean” or ” if it was a snake it would have bit you” and later on she would invoke her mother “if you think I am bad you should have been raised by my mother! She would not let you SLEEP!!! GET… UP!” My mother’s authoritative voice seemed to channel my grandmother’s scream through the generations in an “if I had to do it… so do you” kind of way.  The voice, and my grandmothers chuckle will be forever replayed in my mind.

Late last week my grandmother passed, or as we say in the black community “went on to glory.”  She was 89 and always said “God only promised three scores plus ten…and that’s if you live right… the rest is gravy.” I am grateful she had 19 years of gravy.  Grandmother’s passisng didn’t hit me until I made her pound cake. I knew I had to get it out of the way.  Her legacy to me, outside of a love of spirituals and Victorian poetry is her pound cake.  When my mother first started to teach  to me the recipe in the 6th grade my grandmother would sit in the dining room and watch;  she nodded in agreement as my mother said, “put it in a tall cake pan this is a big cake, put it in a cold oven, and don’t run in the kitchen.” The same words she told my mother years ago.  As I recall this, I hear her saying yes, yes, that’s right in a barely audible voice, but one filled with pride.

My mother doesn’t make this cake anymore… that’s probably because she doesn’t have to; I make it, and recently so does my sister.  Grandma was there when it went to a new generation, and she knew it was passed on right, and as the years went on she always asked about me and the cake. The reply was always: Yes grandma, I still make the cake… it is still good! So to my grandma singing in heaven: I have not forgotten.  Tall pan, cold oven, and yes ma’am I will not run in the kitchen. Love you forever.. and see ya on the flip side.

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And so Summer Begins!

May 27, 2013

MEMORIAL-DAY Wow…. It’s dusty on this Veranda! I will have to apologize for not keeping it up and functional, I guess you can say stress caused a minor moment of writers block.  Ha, yes time passes so slowly in the south that a year and some change is denoted as a minor moment in time. However, I am back! Time to start dusting off the veranda, the patio, and the porch.

Welcome to summer! For years I have wondered why such a solemn day, Memorial Day is the kickoff to the most anticipated time of the year…Nationally… ( Let’s be honest, in the south, the most anticipated time of year is the kickoff to football season).    I could not grasp what bathing suits, deals on cars, BBQing, fireworks, and early morning sales at discount clothing venues had to do with remembering America’s fallen.  However, until recently, I didn’t argue with the status quo… I went partying with my friends… had way too much to drink, jumped into the lake (recently lost my glasses in said lake), bought my clothes at a discounted price, and ushered in the dawn of summer at the lake or pool like everybody else. No Harm No Foul. I continued on this idyllic path until I recently had a conversation with an older veteran friend of mine.  He was upset that there was a lot more partying and lot less recalling.

Mr. Jones, as I will call him here, because he would kill me if I mentioned his real name, is a Vietnam Vet. He is a tiny bit of a curmudgeon… but humorously so, he hates almost everything, and he doesn’t follow a single southern rule. He can’t stand talking to people, but for some odd reason he talks to me. I like to think it is because I am delightfully wonderful, but I think it is because I periodically check on him to make sure he is not dead. This means I will listen to his old stories, and those stories of soldiers who most outside of their own family have forgotten. It is in that listening, I that found my answer to why Memorial Day is the kickoff to summer.

“When you do this, Do this in remembrance of me,” if you don’t know where that’s from… RUN TO A CHURCH!!! There is one every 5 feet south of the Mason-Dixon… seriously it’s like Jesus a la cart.  But I digress; when we commune regardless of your sect of Christianity you hear the words do this in remembrance of me. Every time we take communion it is a religious memorial day; we remember, the greatest sacrifice and we commune with friends and family, and we always follow that up with fellowship… either in the form of coffee and cookies, or potato salad and collard greens, or a simple hug. A minor party if you will, and it is in that vein we as a nation celebrate Memorial Day.

Soliders, though they didn’t die for our sins, many of them died for our freedom. Our country would not be a superpower without our armed forces. You could not have that BBQ, your private pool, go whitewater rafting, or even the chance to jump in the lake with the bathing suit you bought on sale at Target if it wasn’t for the fact that someone you don’t know, or maybe someone you do… made the ultimate sacrifice.  When you eat today… when you fire up that grill and open that beer… remember that you are communing in remembrance of them. It is a party… nobody is sad when you receive an amazing gift, and outside of eternal life… I am hard pressed to find a gift more amazing than Freedom.

May the fallen watch over us, and may we, as a country, forever and always work to be worthy of their sacrifice. Amen

I posted on Facebook: Mother’s Day

May 13, 2012

I posted on Facebook, “What is your favorite memory of your mother?”  The responses were varied, but the most common was “that’s hard let me think.” People then asked for clarification, “Do you mean the funniest, or the most sentimental?” I responded with, “Your favorite memory, something simple, complex, touching or hysterical. The only requirement is that it must be your favorite memory.”  When you ask that question randomly and don’t give people too much time to think, you tend to get the most authentic answers.  Frequently, it is a memory about a trip from childhood; or (for sons) a trick you played on your mother, for some daughters it was the moment they themselves became mothers, and for other children the moment they became friends ( I just so happened to be friends with one of the mothers whose child said this was their memory. She responded: Yes, we are good friends…but I will always be her mother first).

As we age, and way leads on to way, if we are lucky the bank of our memory is constantly deposited with positive moments that we will lean on in times of joy, sometimes in  moments of deep thought, and more frequently in times of trial. It is odd what we remember about our moms. “The first time riding in the front seat listening to Top Gun while driving down the highway” or “making glittered pine cones at Christmas”, “handing mom her lipstick on the way to school”  or my favorite response of the day, “standing by with the fire extinguisher while making croutons.” Then there were those that responded with rituals, “Every time I come home I sit at the table with my mother and we just talk till my father falls asleep,” “My mother always sings, and if her voice hurts she hums while cooking.”  We lucky ones are surrounded by positive memories of our mother; and we frequently forget about it until somebody causes us to take pause and think.

I did receive one response from a friend that said she had no fond memory of her mother. That she was a child of abuse and alcoholism, and to this day mother’s day leaves a taste of disdain in her mouth (Facebook might not always be the best forum to ask blanket questions). It was harsh to hear, and in my own way I understand her pain. However, I think it is a good way to share with you my answer to my own question.

My mother is a Christian woman. She is a nurturer, a disciplinarian and a friend. When I was younger, I was bullied, I was short, fat, and unfortunately had husky branded on the back of my Bugle Boy jeans (Note: both of those items husky and bugle boy jeans are a tragedy).  One day, I was bullied to the point of tears, I was at a low point, and she then said the words that would forever change my life and be the mantra for everything I do. I will share these words with you, my friend, so that my mother can the mother you never had, but the mother I know you will become. I don’t think she will mind. She also taught me to share. She told me:

“Ike you have a light. A light that God gave you, that people will try to take, and Satan will try to extinguish.  That light is joy, an unexplainable, unduplicated, and an irreplaceable joy.  It is your lily in the valley, and your balm. Under no circumstances should you allow somebody to steal that joy. Not me, not your father, not your sisters, not your friends, and sure as hell not your enemies.  Never let anybody steal your joy.”

Granted, at the time I didn’t know what balm meant I thought she said bomb, and the idea of blowing people up with my happiness amused me. At the time, I guess it did the trick.  However, it was one of those moments that will forever define who I am.  It is the best gift she could ever give me, and if I only knew how much I would lean on those words in the years to come. It is my favorite memory, it is the memory I share with my students, and one day, God willing my kids.  Yes, I have the memory of her being Den mother, making Christmas sugar cookies, summer vacations, practical jokes, and her bringing popsicles to me and my friends playing kickball, foursquare or an ill-titled football game in the backyard. I have the memory of her putting the braids in my hair (please forgive me: I was going to grow up to be Kyle Barker from Living Single), and sewing Halloween costumes.  And like most children I have the embarrassing memory (with evidence) of our entire family dressing up like Star Trek characters with this little black boy in Spock ears . However, my favorite memory defined me as a person, and yes it makes me disgustingly happy.

This Mother’s Day or whenever you read this post, I challenge you to publicly share your favorite memory of your mother with your friends. You never know if your mother might bless someone else via proxy. Leave it in a message on this page if you like, you never know who might read it. I also challenge you to give the memory new life by speaking it to her; if she is alive take her to brunch, lunch or dinner at the very least call her. If she has passed, go to a special spot or use a specific time of day to speak the words to the wind… I am willing to believe she will hear it.

To all mothers out there… Happy Mother’s day.