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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Dear World, From Roseburg – Part 2

Note: The day after the shooting at UCC on Oct. 1, 2015,  I wrote a letter to the world that quickly went viral across the globe. Two years later, this is my sequel to the original commentary. This post was featured in the New Review and at nrtoday.com.

 

Dear World,

Two years ago you were introduced to Roseburg. On October 1, 2015, our tranquil valley became known for the tragedy that the face of evil brought to our town. Our name became part of a list of cities whose schools became the seat of violence, and like all cities that bear the same mark, we didn’t want to be known for the horror of that day.

We hoped you’d see us for the way we came together and for how deeply we care. We want you to know that we are stronger than ever, and our resolve is rooted as deep as the Douglas fir that covers the hills throughout our county.

Like most of our community, I didn’t sleep that night. When the unthinkable happened, I couldn’t shut off my brain. Instead of sleeping I began to process grief. At 4 a.m. I shuffled into my husband’s office and penned a piece, pouring my troubled heart onto the page. My message began a discussion between friends and strangers. It became evident that there were far more people who love this peaceful community than those who feel trapped by this small-town life.

As details began to unfold, stories of those we lost became our stories. We sat in a collective waiting room for those whose wounds weren’t fatal but still, we recognized that bits of their lives were stolen. We prayed with the families of both survivors and victims. We baked cupcakes, welded yard signs, printed decals, poured coffee, lit candles and held vigils.

Local churches opened their doors for the countless volunteers who came simply to comfort. Home-grown businesses donated, collected and sacrificed while the world watched us grieve for a short while.

During that first week, I had several conversations with different media outlets. From a local Seattle station to a reporter from CNN, the question was the same: What makes Roseburg different? The question was merely for the interview because they had already noticed on their own.

As the list of tragedies he had covered was recited, one reporter told me this, “No one has ever been as kind and cordial to us as the people here.” He wondered if we were anxious to have the media lights dimmed. I nodded and assured him that the first order of business was to create a safe place to heal.

As often happens during times of grief, there are those who return to their lives as if nothing happened. Media loaded their trucks and moved on to the next story. Through memorials, prayer vigils and fundraisers, we leaned on one another and those who had reached in when it was too painful to reach out.

We woke up soon after to a “new normal” where the quiet left us feeling raw and disoriented. So much loss so fast, and to this day, there isn’t a part of this that makes sense.

We’re here two years later and still standing. We’ve come together in ways we hadn’t before and survived the pain as well as the controversy. When public figures and outside forces tried to change the conversation, we stayed strong. As the reports of the investigation were released just a few weeks ago, opinions of how the information should be handled varied. We still have our own viewpoints and passions to be sure, but we still have our community.

We have inspiration from the lives we lost and the wounded who fought to stay alive. From the first responders to the emergency room personnel to the long-term caregivers, their stories have become our stories. The pastors and neighbors who have sat with the tearful have offered comfort through unimaginable loss. Community leaders continue to meet in order to chart a course in hopes that we can continue to heal and grow.

We’re here, caught in a place where we’d like to forget that day and mindful that there is so much we need to remember, like being kind and gracious to each other. We can disagree and be angry yet find it in our hearts to be civil. We can actively give and peacefully listen to those still carrying the scars of that day.

As time moves forward, so will we. There will always be hearts that need mending and victories to celebrate. Our friends will continue to heal, and new classrooms will be built, and we’ll be right here. We’re ready to listen, bring meals for some, and for others, save lives and comfort souls. We’ll continue to welcome visitors and new neighbors. We’ll work hard to improve our community and teach our children what it means to stand strong and proclaim, “We’re still here!”

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How To Live Out Your Dreams Without Boundaries (New Post at The Glorious Table)

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Do You Need a Fresh Start?

I’m not really what you would call a “morning person”. It’s not natural to me to be fully awake at the crack of dawn, springing out of bed as I summon delightful rays of sun into the windows of my home.

The more accurate picture is of me sitting in bed drinking coffee in the darkness. At that time I’m only summoning my eyelids to stay open long enough for the rest of me to wake up.

A year and a half ago I became drawn to watching the sun rise.

It was the morning after celebrating our 25th anniversary. My husband Russ and I couldn’t sleep. We had renewed our vows in front of our dearest people and couldn’t settle down.

We sat in in front of a window, bundled with blankets as we watched the sun peek over the mountains. I had just fallen in love with my husband again so I guess it was the perfect time to fall in love with the sunrise too.

Maybe I’m enamored because every one is different or that the singing birds are the most beautiful soundtrack of the day. Sometimes I realize that it’s a quiet, gentle start to something new as if I’m being reminded that every day is a great day to start fresh.

The sky often reminds me that it can wipe away whatever the day before has brought.

This morning as the blackened sky has given way to a blueish light I find myself quieted and grateful.

I’m grateful to live in such a beautiful valley where the sun illuminates the trees on most days and the rain makes everything fresh on the others.

Do you need a fresh start today? Find something you take for granted and give it another look. Maybe you’ve already seen a thousand sunrises but forgotten the beauty of a new day.

Whatever you’re going through, where ever you’ve been, can I encourage you this morning to slow down and take another look. You might find that there has been beauty there all along.

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Finding Beauty in the Being (New Post at The Glorious Table)

Christmas. Just the word evokes images of experiences, both unique to our hearts and common to those around us. Trimming trees, baking, shopping, and decorating fill the lists of activities we engage in to make Christmas “feel like Christmas.” The phrase “It just isn’t Christmas without __________ (fill in the blank)” sets us all up for disappointment on those days when real life finds its way into our celebrations.

Read the rest here at The Glorious Table.

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