It Could Have Been Any of Us

Thursday, June 21st will be another day our community was rocked by tragedy. A loving mom did the unthinkable.  In a moment that was out of her routine she left her sleeping child in the car, went in to work and discovered too late that her child was still in the car when she returned.

The thought that keeps pressing in on my mind is that it could have been me. I could have been the one who discovered too late that my sleeping baby was still in the car through the heat of the day and no one could revive her.  I could have been the one who in the pressure of the morning and changing routine who missed the toddler in the rear facing car seat. What parent hasn’t had a moment they caught in time where a lapse in memory caused a moment of danger and what ifs. In this case, it wasn’t even a poor judgement call, it was an accident. It’s that simple and that tragic all at the same time.

In the summer of 2003 we rented a beach house on the Southern Oregon Coast. One afternoon we returned from the beach in our Suburban filled with sandy children. A niece, nephew, three foster children and two we could claim as our own. As we piled out of our rig and into the house we moved to the next activity. At some point about five to ten minutes in I started asking, “Who has Allison?”

Allison (as some of my readers already know) was born with a genetic birth defect that comes with multiple medical and developmental issues. In short, she totally relies on everyone around for her care. She is and always will be completely dependent on us to take care of her. She is also heat intolerant. She cannot process warm temperatures and it can go south for her quickly.

As we rushed to the car we found her sitting and waiting in her car seat. She was hot to the touch and in those few minutes the car had already started to heat up. It could have been our family sitting in tragedy that day. It so easily could have been any of us whose moment out of routine could have turned tragic. We all thought in our minds that something had been taken care of to find out that it wasn’t the case.

The truth is, most of us find out in time. When someone doesn’t, we are gutted. The emotional ripple continues past our own community to those who have questions that will never be answered. Most of us want to know how to prevent it from happening again. Then there are those who believe they are above it all and that it would never happen to them.

I sincerely hope it never does.

This is where a little compassion goes a long way or maybe some will have to dig deep for a larger quantity of compassion. People will have those thoughts. They wonder about the hows and the whys but here is the deal, that precious mama has more “what ifs” than there are trolls on the internet. She has already condemned and questioned herself beyond what any of us can imagine. What is not helpful is when ignorant assumptions and condemnation are voiced. It has been suggested that the request for leniency is akin to giving her a pass. This mother is not getting a “pass”. Her precious child is gone forever.  Her life is irrevocably changed. We don’t need to teach anyone a lesson. Believe me, we have all been shaken by this and the lesson has been more than learned. The request to drop the charges has nothing to do with denying justice, it has everything to do with compassion and circumstances.

This is where mercy and grace step in and lead us all to a healing place. A gaping emotional wound won’t be mended by the harsh criticism and the situation won’t change with ugly words. The hate you exude only compounds the tragedy, it doesn’t elevate our souls.

Exacting punishment will do nothing to improve the situation either, it will only compound the pain in our community. Justice isn’t always found behind bars. Sometimes the natural consequences are enough. In this case, it will be up to the courts to decide whether or not to try the case, not the public and certainly not the media, social or otherwise.  One article by the The Sun exaggerated its claims by reporting that Roseburg was in the middle of a heatwave as well as using an inflammatory headline. If you take in your information through a brief news story you will get it wrong every time. If you filter it through your own pride you will  destroy those around you with your hateful assumptions and set yourself up for your own tragedy. The moment you say something could never happen to you is the when you set yourself on your own pedestal to the detriment of those around you.

Remington was a beautiful, bright child who is already missed. Justice is another word for “right”. To do justice is to do what is right. To be sure, the courts will decide and our DA has a heavy decision that I don’t envy in the least. However, may we always remember sweet Remi and how acts of kindness can heal the wounds of an aching community.

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Our Family Loves the Graffiti Weekend cruise

NOTE: This was published 5 years ago but still holds true. Folks all over Oregon and beyond love Graffiti weekend!

Over thirty years ago a few local car clubs joined together to relive the 50’s by cruising classic cars through a main area of town. It was a one night event that now lasts the better part of a week, growing from one event per year to fifteen. Our little burg fills up with shiny Chevys, Fords, Plymouths and cars I’ve never heard of. Starting tomorrow, Graffiti Weekend events will go on daily through Sunday. My family loves it.

Even before we had “Betty Lou” (our ’58 Chevy Bel Air) we found ourselves planning our vacations around this week. When my girls were little they wore poodle skirts, pony tails and saddle shoes to get into the spirit of the Saturday night cruise. We planted ourselves on a curb on Jackson street, usually in front of a restaurant we like, waiting for the rumble of the motors. My husband would point out cars he once had. I showed him the ones I wanted. If we were really lucky we would spot someone we knew cruising so we could ride the loop.

We have met great people over the years. It’s more than the love for cars that brings folks together, it’s the sense of community. All of the different car clubs sponsor various events with most of the proceeds going to charity. Every year we do something a little different except two events. The cruise of course is the highlight but there is one we find just as fun but more fulfilling: the Retirement Home Cruise.

Cars line up in a local parking lot to make the rounds at various retirement, nursing and assisted living facilities. The residents often meet us in the parking lot to walk up the aisle of memories. Many will stop to tell stories of owning a car just like ours. Their eyes glisten as they recount tales from a different time. It’s beautiful.

This year we’ll have family in town. It’ll be a great way to show them this place we love so much. A place where our children have grown up with this tradition for years and are bringing their tinies along for the ride. All too soon they’ll be the ones remembering the nights where exhaust and laughter mingled in the air. They’ll show off their favorites and it will be beautiful too.

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When hosting get-togethers, keep it SIMPLE

It was a Saturday and I was expecting guests the next afternoon to celebrate my 6-week old baby. I was staring at a tray of cake crumbs stuck together with blobs of icing. They were supposed to be Petit fours. I had followed Martha Stewart’s step-by-step instructions in a book on loan from the library.

 

But these didn’t look anything like the photos. These weren’t even these. They were a big pile of this.

Mom listened as I poured out my dilemma to her over the phone. I had several other dishes to serve, but this was going to be the showstopper. The ooh and ahh moment of the buffet table.

It was at that moment that my amazing mom calmly told me how to fix it.

She said, “Take a spoon and the dish into Russ and tell him to enjoy it.”

Then she asked, “Do you know the difference between hospitality and entertaining?”

I didn’t yet, but I was about to find out.

I don’t remember her exact words, but I have never forgotten the idea. Entertaining is about making yourself look important, hospitality is about making the other person feel important.

Wouldn’t it be great if I could tell you that from that point on I “got it”?

Alas, that would be as far from the truth. The truth is, I’m still getting it. It is still so easy to get caught up in hosting the perfect get-together. Impeccably cooked food on an elaborate table with all of the right guests. Everything would be served at the perfect temperature with no stress and a perma-grin plastered on my face.

What I can tell you is I have learned (for the most part) to keep it simple. That doesn’t mean I’m never daring. What it means is when I try new things, they don’t take too long and they don’t use a lot of ingredients.

Saturday morning, we invited some friends over for dinner and firepit in the yard that night. When they accepted, I threw a casual tablecloth on the outdoor table and wove a table runner through some paper lanterns. Grabbing some pork chops out of the freezer to thaw, I paired them with a peach/mango/habanero sauce and we were ready to go.

While everyone else sat around the fire, I ran into the kitchen. I quickly whipped up a berry cobbler, stuck it in a cast iron skillet and set it on the fire. It took forever to cook. We all took turns trying to solve the mystery of an outdoor cobbler in between telling each other our stories.

The cobbler never really got done. We finally gave in and dished it up. It was still delicious, albeit imperfect. What was perfect was the fun we had. The memories we made added to this new friendship. It built relationship, which is what having people over should be all about.

As we were putting things away that night, I remarked to my husband, “It’s fun to do just enough for people to feel special but not so stuffy that no one is comfortable.” It was one of those moments that I know would have made Mom smile.

It made me smile, too.

 

(This was originally posted at The News Review website)

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Dismissed

The more connected the world gets the more disconnected I feel from others. Folks that were friends seem to split down the oddest lines of faith, politics, racial issues and gender. Friends who had enough in common to connect in the first place find themselves divided over ideology. Spend five minutes on Facebook and you’ll not only find someone you disagree with, there will be plenty of venom on both sides of the aisle to film a war scene in Lord of the Rings.

We used to be content knowing the names of kids and your favorite band. Kindness mattered more than being right and respect was a given. I would love to pour out the answers to what’s happened but I got nuthin’.

As sometimes happens on social media, I was alerted to a blog post by Beth Moore today. It wasn’t a direct link to the post itself. It was an apology written to women in the church as well as Beth Moore. The author, Thabiti Anyabwile makes a beautiful case for honoring the words of the piece but of the God who created both women and men. In his “Apology to Beth Moore and My Sisters“, Anyabwile admits to being inwardly dismissive towards women in ministry. In a beautiful gesture he asks forgiveness, not only from Beth but from the sisters in Christ who’ve also endured decades of being seen as less qualified strictly because of their gender.

It’s really so much more than women in ministry. It’s the devaluing of women in our congregations. I once attended a church where the men were finding their own sort of revival as they became intentional about knowing scripture and each other. They were breaking down strongholds and the women wanted in on the action. In the pastor’s own words he announced that he’d been asked, “When do the women get a turn to do the same thing?” He relayed to us his response, “When the men start leading in their homes.” Cue jaw drop…

When I become passionate about a topic, my voice raises a few octaves and I get animated. It’s quite possible I spit but not on purpose. “Why do other women have to wait until all the husbands get it together before ministry can happen in us?” I told a friend. It was grossly unfair to stall the spiritual growth of women because we were waiting on men. What about the single women or those whose husbands attend other churches? Why were we relegated to social events while the men deepened their relationships with God?

To be fair, it wasn’t meant as a punishment. It was just misguided at the most. There was no diabolical scheme to keep women unschooled in the ways of faith. It was just a long line of misconceptions about men, women and their ability to lead according to their gender. We found ourselves in a denomination where women even held some of the highest leadership positions but many of the churches were unable to embrace women as full partners in ministry.

In the past few years women have begun to raise their voices in all areas of life. Stories of being dismissed, ignored and even abused have  risen to the surface as shame has been given over for freedom. We’ve found the space to heal and move out of those old stereotypes as #metoo captured our attention. Even then, the thoughts and experiences were being shoved aside. Perhaps some found it easier to plug their emotional ears and sing LALALALALA to drown out the truth. The truth that many of us know, it’s not just men who grope and abuse that are culpable. It’s also the men who silence women or chose not to believe our stories because somehow that means changing more about ourselves than we think we can.

Three years ago I told a raw story of being molested by a man in leadership in our denomination.  I pointed out that there was more that could have been done to protect others but leadership found it more important to protect the denomination. Of course it was under the guise of protecting me but I never bought it. If they wanted to protect the women, they would have done something before he did something else (which he did).

It comes down to being able to see each other as Christ’s creation. He says the church is his bride. What if you went to a wedding and they didn’t let the bride speak? What if she had no say in the music or vows? If she were in the shadows or the background we would wonder if she’s there willingly. If we believe that marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church as in Ephesians 5:32 , then our focus will be love, not allowing women to be devalued.”

We need to get down to the business of discipleship. We can’t win hearts to Christ if we can’t join our hearts in the church. Reconciliation is a beautiful thing. It doesn’t require us to be perfect or know everything, it just requires us to move forward and respect each other’s gifts along the way.

 

 

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What Hope Can Do (New Post at The Glorious Table)

Just a few months ago, my dear friend passed away after a relatively short illness. It has depleted my heart in ways I didn’t expect. I’ve felt loss before, but this ache is different, and although I hold the hands of others through pain, I didn’t expect to respond the way I have. The layers of emotions left to sort out are piled high, my soul is drained, and my body feels weak.

Sherry had the gift of hospitality, inviting everyone into her home and serving delicious meals with a side of laughter and honest conversation. She didn’t want a traditional memorial or what she referred to as “a big hullabaloo.” In lieu of a formal service, we hosted an open house to encourage friends to drop in to tell stories, comfort the family, and pay their respects. The family requested my help arranging the food. Her daughters and I pulled out beautiful serving trays from the closet, and my husband brewed pots of coffee to welcome her guests.

As I was standing in the middle of the kitchen halfway through the open house, Sherry’s niece Tiffany leaned over and said, “Jemelene, you need to breathe.”

Read the rest at The Glorious Table.

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