Category: My Sentiments Exactly


In the 2011 thriller “Unknown” starring Liam Neeson, Dr. Martin Harris (played to perfection by Neeson) is an American bio-tech wizard who suffers a head injury as a result of a car crash while in Berlin for a series of summit meetings. After lying in a coma for four days, Dr. Harris wakes up in a German hospital to find that he still knows who he is. Unfortunately, his wife does not. Neither does anyone else from his personal or professional life. Without divulging all the twists and turns in case you haven’t seen the film, Dr. Harris embarks on a vigilant journey to prove he is who he remembers himself to be. At one particular turning point, his German doctor attempts to comfort him by offering that who he remembers himself to be may be, to his dismay, nothing more than who he wished himself to be prior to the accident.


With the weight of his very identity teetering precariously on his frustrated shoulders, Dr. Harris turns to his doctor and remarks, “It’s like a war between being told who you are and knowing who you are.” And then with the desperate fear of utter madness closing in he asks, “which one do you think will win?”

Hmmm…being told who you are or knowing who you are? If asked for a show of hands, almost certainly the vast majority of our society has at one time or another been told they are something that, in fact, they are not: Lazy. Stupid. Fat. Incompetent. Ugly. Uncoordinated. Too short. Too tall. Clumsy. Pathetic. No good. A mistake. An accident. While any of these adjectives may be unhealthy or unproductive ways in which we live, they are in no way representative of who we are

The bad news is this: we humans are complex physical beings with a complex system of emotions. We thrive (or deteriorate) on relationship, community, and a sense of belonging. And because of this God-designed need for relationship – the Bible tells us that God observed it was not good for man to be alone – we embrace what we are told about ourselves. We soar to unattainable heights because someone believes in us; we plummet to unfathomable depths because another does not. Fragile characters indeed.

The good news is this: God makes it abundantly clear in His Word that human beings were made in His image. We are the only part of all His creation which He referred to as ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31), “made in the image of God.” An image is defined as ‘an imitation, representation, or similitude…; a physical likeness or representation…; an optically formed duplicate’. Look around. What does that tell you about God? God is short and tall; God is blonde, brunette, and red-head; God is freckle-faced and olive-complected; stocky and statuesque; curly, straight, and bald. While we are daily bombarded with being told what we are, it is vitally important that we know who we are. God doesn’t make mistakes. In spite of the fact that we often misuse (or don’t use at all) the gifts and talents we’ve been given, the simple truth is that we are who God created us to be.

When I look in the mirror there are plenty of things I don’t like staring back at me (and I won’t elaborate on them on the off chance that you haven’t noticed them). But what would happen if when we looked in the mirror we saw what God sees? Far beyond the physical reflection, what if we could see His image? His likeness? How would it change what we are told we are if we filtered it through knowing who we are?

God gave us an incredible, extravagant gift in the person of Jesus. He gave him in the form of a human baby. In the image of God; in His likeness. I can only imagine the things Jesus must have been told about himself as a growing boy….conceived out of wedlock (shameful and humiliating); born in a stable among smelly animals (you don’t really think they cleaned up just because a baby was coming, do you?); raised by a carpenter (not exactly the most prestigious job in town); different; strange; downright weird. But Jesus knew who he was and it didn’t matter what people said about him.

You may say, “you’re right, Dawn, but he was God’s son after all…of course he knew who he was!” Ah, but wait a minute. The Bible also tells us that he was fully human, embracing all the traits (a/k/a weaknesses and limitations) of man. He was thirsty and hungry; He was tired; He felt physical and emotional pain; He was tempted. He suffered. But he kept his focus on what he knew to be true, not what others told him.

At this Christmas time of year, I’m reminded once again that God doesn’t make mistakes. He knew exactly what He was doing when he offered Jesus to the world through a tender young woman and a brave young man. And for all the ways He could have chosen to send us a savior, He opened wide the door to eternity through the fragile cry of a newborn.

Being told who you are or knowing who you are? Learn the truth. And win the war.

Last week a dear friend of mine shared a post on facebook which, quite
honestly, has dominated my thoughts and kept me awake for several nights now. Her name is Dawn and, coincidentally, we share not only our name but the same birthday month – how cool is that? And for the sake of clarity, she is the younger Dawn by far!

Dawn and I met through our childrens’ sports activities and have become good friends. Mikey, her oldest son, has the biggest, most heartwarming smile you’ve ever seen. He loves to share hugs, high fives, and french fries at baseball games. Mikey is also a special needs young man with Down Syndrome. When our families first met, he called me ‘Mrs. Hood’. I laid my hand on his arm and pleaded with him, “Mikey, please don’t call me Mrs. Hood – it makes me feel old. You can call me Miss Dawn.” He threw his head back and laughed big and hard, then smiled and said, “okay, Miss Dawn.” He now refers to my in-laws as Mimi and Papaw and has a not-so-secret crush on our daughter Rachel. {smile}

I am blessed to know Dawn and her family. All of her children – Mikey included – are fierce athletes. Their daughter Ashley has college scholarship potential as a softball player; she also excels academically. Their two younger sons, Evan and Zach, are baseball and football superstars and Mikey, although on a special needs baseball team, far exceeds the physical and mental abilities of his teammates. As I’ve observed their family dynamics over the years, I’ve learned that Dawn and her husband Mike rarely make concessions for Mikey. They hold him accountable for his behavior, his speech, and the sometimes belligerent taunting of his sister. Having never spent a significant amount of time around a family with a special needs child, it has been fascinating to watch how they treat him – literally – just like any other kid. Somewhere in my brain I wrongly assumed there would always be the ‘making excuses’, the ‘indulging’, the ‘oh, I’m sorry’.

My perspective was always based on the family’s and the inspiring way in which they completely and totally embrace Mikey. (Although it has never crossed my mind that they would do anything else.) But I never thought about it from Mikey’s point of view until last week’s facebook post from Dawn. On a regular morning, in the midst of a regular weekday routine in which two parents were preparing themselves for the workday ahead and four children were eating breakfast and grabbing book bags for school, Mikey said to Dawn, “I don’t want to be a special ed kid, Mom. I want God to fix me.” 

Whoa. Shut the front door. If this were a scene in a movie, the moment would freeze on the big screen accompanied by deafening silence.

My kids have said a few things over the years that have stopped me in my tracks, but what could any parent possibly say in response to a statement like this? Dawn shared that this is a recurring topic with Mikey and also bravely shared how it breaks her heart. Mikey knows he is special needs; knows he functions at a different level and pace; knows he will always live life ‘differently’ from his siblings. And it frustrates him. More than how Dawn responded to his statement, I’ve been reflecting on Mikey’s simple, innocent proclamation: “I want God to fix me.”

We all have things we would like for God to ‘fix’: finances, marriages, wayward children, jobs, physical features that we label ‘too much of’ or ‘not enough of’ or ‘just not the way I want’. But when is the last time we asked God simply, ‘fix me‘? I have to admit, God has really been dealing with me in this area (no, actually it’s been more like hammering – I do have a stubborn streak). I tend to look at what surrounds me and want those things to change. The ‘If only…I just wish…why can’t I…or why don’t they…’  Maybe what I need to be looking at is me and what needs to change.

I heard a sermon recently by a man, well into his 70s, addressing this very subject. His text was 15 little words nestled in the middle of Psalm 37, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (v.4). Dr. Hill put it this way: “if you try to delight in what you desire, your desires will never bring you any delight.”  His point was this: until I delight myself in the Lord first (the result of which is a contended heart), my desires will never satisfy me. You guessed it: hammer firmly in hand, nail placed strategically right between my eyes, swing with intent. Bam!

Will God ‘fix’ Mikey? I don’t have any idea. Conventional wisdom, the history of medicine, and DNA would all say no. But everyone who knows and loves Mikey would tell you he doesn’t need ‘fixing’. Is this a pat-on-the-back, “just give God the desires of your heart, son” quick fix? Absolutely not. I don’t doubt for a moment that God created Mikey in his mama’s womb exactly the way He planned. I don’t question that His purpose for Mikey’s life is of any less importance than any other person on planet Earth. Does knowing that make it easy? Of course not. Does it satisfy Mikey’s desire to be more like his siblings and their friends? Probably not. Does it explain God? No more than understanding how a clock works explains eternity.

The lesson is for me. For us. Fact is, we live in a broken world. There always have been and always will be circumstances and situations that we wish could be fixed. But how would those circumstances and situations change if nothing changed except the heart through which we look at them? Thank you, Dawn, for offering me a view behind closed doors; and thank you, Mikey, for being you.

I think my Christmas list will be short this year: Dear Santa, I want God to fix me.

A pastor friend of mine was sharing the story recently about an afternoon early in his ministry when he and another minister friend were relaxing on a bench looking out across a church campus. The church was quite old and had gone through multiple building additions and renovations over the years. As with many churches of its day, the cemetery sat immediately next to the sanctuary and so the rest of the campus had been built up around these two original structures. While the two men sat looking out across the campus my friend was letting his eyes and mind wander among the tombstones, imagining the men and women who were buried there. Had they lived long, productive, influential lives? Or in the eyes of the community had their lives been cut short, robbed of opportunity? Had they been blessed with good work and happy marriages? Children? Were they prayer warriors or troublemakers? Interrupting all these thoughts the other minister commented, “Man, I would give anything to be out there right now!” Shocked and more than a little concerned, my friend responded, “Whoa! Wait a minute, brother. Things aren’t really that bad are they?”

At that moment each of the men realized what the other had set his eyes on. My pastor friend was looking at the cemetery. The other minister was looking just beyond at the playground.

While Christmas centers on the birth of the Savior, I find myself spending lots of time thinking about Mary. Barely grown past childhood, this tender young woman was chosen to carry the son of God in her womb. Out of all eternity, God chose her.  GOD. And morning sickness, swollen feet, and backaches. I look at my own daughter, almost 13, and wonder: if she came to her father and I with the news that she was pregnant – but adamantly maintained her virginity – and told us that an angel had visited her to announce that she would become pregnant by the Hoy Spirit, what would we say? My first inclincation in 21st-century lingo would be to look at her and sarcastically ask, “Really?” My husband would probably be tempted to look at me and exclaim, “She’s your daughter!”

Surely, Mary knew from that first moment of the angel’s visit (which probably would have landed me in the funny farm) that a hard road awaited her. Shame, humiliation, gossip, rejection, finger-pointing and murmuring as she walked through town and attended services at the temple. What would the news of her pregnancy do to her family’s good name? Did anyone really believe Joseph had been visited by an angel as well? Or was he simply trying to orchestrate a cover-up of his own immoral behavior? Was Mary able to share with her mother her fears, her cravings, the first little butterfly of movement in her womb? Did she laugh or cry when the son of God rolled over in her belly and kicked at her ribs?

In the face of all these questions I am reminded of a simple, yet profound statement made by Mary immediately upon the angel’s revelation of God’s incredible call upon her life. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled,” Luke 1:38 NIV.  Mary’s eyes were set on her Redeemer, the Author and Finisher of her faith. She didn’t question whether or not God was able to do what the angel foretold (as did the elderly Zechariah upon the announcement that his barren wife Elizabeth would bear a son). Mary didn’t doubt what God was going to do, she simply asked in childlike faith to understand how He was going to do it. God’s messenger answered her and Mary embraced the first step of a journey that brought the world a Savior.

As the calendar moves us closer to the day we celebrate the giving and receiving of gifts, food and family, and the wonder of Christmas morning, let us remember that the most excellent gift of God came through one woman who had her eyes set on eternity.

May the word of the Lord be fulfilled in us this Christmas season and throughout our lives.

I’ve just celebrated ten years as a breast cancer survivor. Although the weekend was full of activity with my youngest son’s football SuperBowl game, my husband’s birthday, a football banquet, Georgia romping all over Auburn, and Clemson (where my cousin’s son plays) rocketing into the ACC championship, I found myself in quiet reflection for a good part of the time.  I guess it’s the change of season that always does it to me: I find myself gazing at red and gold trees so long that my kids have to remind me the traffic light has changed. I stop on the side of the road and take pictures of particularly fire-y bushes just because, and often get completely lost in the gentle swirl of falling of leaves down onto the street or into a yard.

So maybe it’s simply this time of year that causes me to become so aware of my ‘being’. Maybe it’s that in the last two months more than one dear friend has passed away and I’m thinking about how their families will handle the holidays this year. Maybe it’s just recognizing once again that I’ve been given another year. Another 365 days. One more calendar full of Monday mornings, baskets of laundry, school pictures, garbage pickup, football games, Sunday dinners, report cards, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, and car payments.

Sometimes I worry that people tire of hearing me celebrate again, a good report from my oncologist, another landmark ‘anniversary’, another “I remember the day…” story. And to be honest, sometimes I feel guilty for having another ‘anniversary’. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve lived it but there are days and even seasons when I experience what some people refer to as ‘survivor guilt’.  The ‘why them and not me?’ question… the ‘but she was a single mom’ question… the ‘her kids will never know her’ question. So before I go too far down Melancholy Lane and cause the few readers I do have to turn off their computers, let me turn the page.

I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be given time. Do you know how Webster defines time? Check it out: “time (n.) The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.”  Huh??? If someone read that definition out loud and asked me what it meant, I don’t think my answer would be, “oh yeah, you’re talking about ‘time’.” Let me see if I can make it a tiny bit more personal …

I’m thankful for time to make my son a cup of hot chocolate on Saturday morning.  Not just the dump-it-in-your-cup-and-hit-the-microwave-button kind, but a cup of hot milk with chocolate powder, stirred with a wisk, topped with a mound of whipped cream, and sprinkled with red or green sugar crystals. Served on a dessert plate with a spoon on the side so he can dig into the whipped cream while the chocolate cools. And his smile as he says, “thanks, Mom” makes getting up a little earlier on Saturday a little easier.

I’m thankful for time to flatiron my daughter’s hair. And she has a LOT of hair! She may not always ask me at the most convenient time (like when I’m already running late getting myself ready) but she still wants me to help, still wants to tell me about school and her friends, music, and – oh yes – boys. She still wants to talk.  And at barely two months shy of 13, I’ll take it. She’s my only daughter. And I’m seeing in her the makings of a wonderful, strong, beautiful woman with a laugh that sounds like butterflies.

I’m thankful for text messaging and cell phones. My oldest son now lives in Texas and when I think back on my college days when my mom and I would ‘talk’ only by letter, it must have been maddening for her. Me, I was just happy to see something in my mailbox! But to be able to send my son a picture of our beautiful Fall trees when he’s missing the change of seasons, or get a picture of his new puppy on my phone, or just send a “have a great day, I love you” text message makes me feel like we are still very much a part of each other’s daily lives.

I’m thankful for time to write. I never dreamed I would have a job that allows me to write AND receive a paycheck. Some days it is technical, some days it is counseling verbage, some days it is creative and free-flowing, and some days it is painful because the organization I work with cares for people at the lowest, most desperate point of need in their personal lives, in their marriages, and in their ministry.

I’m thankful for the time my friends give to me. They invest in me and I’m learning to give myself the freedom to be ‘me’ with them. I’ve learned that some can handle ‘me’ and others can’t. I have friends from every kind of background and lifestyle you can imagine – and it makes my life incredibly rich and colorful! I wouldn’t have it any other way and I treasure this beautiful jewelry box of ladies I call my girlfriends.

My life is not perfect: far from it. But here I am, living this “indefinite continuous progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole”.  I am, we all are, living time. Pretty cool. Kinda’ scarey. Very thankful.

How do you say goodbye to someone you’ve known almost your whole life? He’s not family (at least not by blood relation) but he’s absolutely family. I met Larry Morton when I was 12 years old and he was 31. He was married to a sweet, pretty young woman named Ruth Ann. Our families become instant, lifelong friends. They had moved to the Atlanta area from Canada and my Southern family provided endless hours of entertainment for Mort as he observed our quirky sayings, behaviors, and food choices. He loved to practice his southern drawl on my name, calling me “Daaaaawwwwwwn” then flashing his Santa Claus smile. Mort lived with wild abandon, drove a corvette, rode a motorcycle, water skied, snow skied, and (fill in the blank with every other adventurous outing imaginable). I played the piano and it was not unusual for Mort to buy me a new piece of sheet music and bring it over to our house. One of his favorites was “The Entertainer”, a tricky little ragtime piece that I worked hard to master. When Mort and Ruth Ann had their first (and only) child, Nicole, I was convinced she was mine.

Mort taught my brother and me how to water ski at Lake Lanier on a warm Saturday morning in early summer when I was in high school. He showed me how to put my feet in the skis, hold the rope correctly, and lean back. Keeping my knees together and pulling hard when he hit the throttle on the boat, I came up out of the water on my first try! For many years after, my brother and I could not get enough of those early mornings and long days at the lake. Mort, my Dad, my brother, and I would go very early, meeting Ruth Ann and my mom later in the day to eat and hang out at a little cove we discovered. My confidence grew and it wasn’t long before I tried to slalom. That’s when the fun really began! Many a boyfriend tried to survive a day on the lake with my Dad, my brother, and Mort. Very few made it back for a second one.

Mort and Ruth Ann took me to my first professional hockey game – the Atlanta Flames. I was hooked from the first drop of the puck. Going to the games with them was the only time my parents ever let me stay out late on a school night. The highlight of those games came one night after a tough win and a few broken hockey sticks. I managed to wrangle a stick from one of the crew and Ruth Ann and I walked down to the locker room, waiting patiently for those enormous athletes to start leaving. Ruth Ann stood there with me as I sheepishly asked them to sign the stick, which they all graciously did – every last one of them. With my stick covered in Atlanta Flames autographs, I sneaked it in the house later that night and gave it to my brother for his birthday. I thought Mort and Ruth Ann were the coolest people on the planet.

We introduced Mort to my Mom’s hot buttered biscuits and my Dad’s famous ham. He introduced us to Verner’s ginger ale. It has just the right mix of sweet and burn; I love it to this day. Some of my family’s favorite meals come straight out of Ruth Ann’s kitchen. She had been a school teacher in Canada and I was fascinated by her stories of how they did things ‘up North’. Mort and Ruth Ann were easy and comfortable to be with and Mort was the kind of man who always made you feel better after you had been around him, even if only for a few minutes.

I recently heard a Bible study teacher sharing about I Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”  He asked what our thoughts were on why love is the greatest. A few people offered up the canned answers: because God is love; because love is a choice; because you can’t have faith and hope without it; because …” And then he explained it in a way I don’t think I’ve ever heard before. He said that faith is something we have here and now that the Bible promises will become sight. Hope is something we have here and now that the Bible promises will be made complete. But love? Love is eternal. Love is past, present, and future. Love will remain love for all eternity. Amazing, isn’t it? How a simple, different way of looking at something – even a word – can open up a whole new concept of what it really means. I can’t help but believe that God gave me the opportunity to hear these truths just a week before we learned that my dear friend, one of my heroes, is on his way Home.
 
Mort, even now your faith is being made sight. Your hope is being made complete. The love you gave your family and the love they gave you will go on forever. Rest, my friend. I love you.

Ask any median adult (by that I mean 55 or older) where they were in 1963 when JFK was assassinated and I will guarantee they can tell you not only where they were but what they were wearing, what they were doing, and who they were with. There was no internet, no text messaging, no Facebook posting, no cable news, no Skype sharing. Yet the whole world knew what had happened within minutes. And the whole world was shaken. America mourned the loss of a beloved president and grieved a little boy’s sweet, final salute to his Daddy.

Fast forward to 2001. Not since that fateful, tragic day in 1963 has this country come together in crisis like it did on September 11th. Rescue workers from all over the country traveled to New York, DC, and Pennsylvania to provide whatever assistance they could to whomever needed it. People opened their homes and businesses to complete strangers, providing shelter and safety, a drink of water, a comforting embrace. Members of Congress (Democrat and Republican alike) sang ‘God Bless America’ on the steps of The Capitol. Churches opened their doors on a non-Wednesday week night to host prayer vigils for the dead and their traumatized survivors. Rudy Giuliani, his voice near breaking with emotion stated, “when the final numbers come in, it will be more than we can bear.” Somehow that observation stings in my heart and mind more than any other from that day.

I can tell you almost every detail of our lives from 9/11: Rachel was a toddler, still in her pajamas, playing in the den with our two dogs Tiger and Bo. I was still in my pajamas as well, enjoying my coffee while Rachel played. Richard had gone out to run an errand that morning and as I answered his phone call there was no mistaking the seriousness in his voice: “Turn on the TV. Turn on the news. I’m on my way home.” Minutes later we sat glued to the TV, trying to convince ourselves that it was air traffic controller error, a horrific computer glitch, something. Anything. And then the second plane crashed into the tower. This was no accident we whispered, as if whispering somehow made it less true. Rachel continued to climb on the dogs and serve them tea from her toy kitchen set, completely oblivious to the fact that our lives had changed in a moment. Nothing would ever be the same. Nothing.

We spent that afternoon and evening trying to explain to almost-12-year-old Alex what terrorists are and what drives them to commit unspeakable acts of violence. We tried to put in perspective that God was in those tragic final moments for the thousands who lost their lives. And that it wasn’t wrong to pray that the people responsible would be brought to swift and sure justice. Over the next days and weeks, we drove a little slower, spoke kinder words to strangers at the grocery store and gas station, shed tears without hesitation or embarrassment, and made the time to say, ‘I love you.’

We engaged in an unparalleled rally of American pride, unity, strength, and resilience. We recited the Pledge of Allegiance with stronger voices, steadfast resolve, and unwavering confidence in WHO WE ARE as Americans. We drew comfort from a president’s tender yet unmistakeably strong message of hope. Yes, we suffered a severe blow at the hands of madmen that day. We bore the grief of millions on our broad American shoulders. We endured the mocking humiliation and shame of those who thought they had won the victory. We swallowed the bitter gall of death. But we need to remember there is One who had already done it all before.

For all the men and women who serve and fight bravely every day for our freedom in America, I know the One who served and fought bravely for our freedom in eternity.  He suffered severe blows at the hands of madmen. He bore the grief (and sin) of millions – no, billions – on his perfectly broad, sinless shoulders. He endured the mocking humiliation and shame of those who thought they had won the victory. He swallowed the bitter gall of death. And he came back victorious. He won the battle and He has already won the war. For you. For me. For the world. On this tenth anniversary of 9/11 as we remember and reflect, I encourage you to get to know Him.

His name is Jesus.

Someone once said, “Marriage means commitment. Of course, so does insanity.” Ask anyone you know, married or single, about-to-be-married or used-to-be-married, it doesn’t matter: they will all have something to say about marriage. Thousands of books have been written about marriage, hundreds of seminars and workshops are held each year on the subject, contracts are written, movies are made, and therapists and lawyers make their fortunes off of it. Still, we are no closer to figuring it out than Adam and Eve after their disastrous rendezvous at the fruit tree which gave birth to ‘he said, she said’ and the beautiful madness of marriage.

Irving Stone’s The Agony and The Ecstacy, published in 1961, is an amazing, masterfully written ‘biographical novel’ on the life of Michaelangelo. It is also a haunting and insightful portrayal of marriage. We see the contrast in the rich historical Renaissance era between Florence – a cultural mecca for artists, architects, musicians, and writers – and Rome, the political, religious, and educational benchmark for all of Italy.  Both cities brought their own unique value to their country, and to all of Europe as a result.  But not only in the culture where he was raised, we see Michaelangelo’s own personal battles mirror that of marriage. The passion with which he pursued what he loved, the despair of rejection and/or failure, the very struggle necessary to create. And the glory of a life well lived, leaving behind astounding works of art that have touched countless millions of lives.

We’ve all heard ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’. We are also from Florence and Rome. We are salt and pepper, dogs and cats, blue sky and deep green ocean, and velvet and steel. For all the ways we explore understanding and overcoming our differences, our contrasting elements are the stage of struggle on which we create things of beauty, works of art. Where would fried chicken be if seasoned only with pepper? How boring would a dog’s life be if never given the opportunity to chase after a cat? Would the sky be as blue if it did not rest peacefully against a deep green ocean? And could we truly appreciate the strength of steel if we never cradled velvet against our cheek?

My husband and I will be married for 17 years tomorrow. There have been seasons of ecstacy and times of overwhelming agony. We have loved, laughed, cried, yelled, made promises, made threats, and bought and sold cars, houses, and furniture. We have three wonderful children. We’ve shared many more pets. We’re learning to learn from others’ mistakes and celebrate their successes. And we’re learning what works for us. At the end of the day, for all our married ups and downs, he knows me. I know him. We draw strength, stability, and sometime arguments from each other. And at night, resting on the same pillows, there is comfort in knowing that Rome and Florence are learning to peacefully and productively co-exist.

The struggle to create something of beauty. The glory of leaving behind a work of art. The beautiful madness of marriage.

In my mid-20s, I was part of a small Bible study group which was, truth be told, probably more of a ‘find your spouse’ study group than anything else.  We had a lot of fun and spent ridiculous amounts of time together as a group.  Church functions, discovering new restaurants, pool parties, bowling, Christmas decorating, weekend trips, shopping, football, Spades tournaments that lasted for days, New Year’s eve parties, and more than a few late night races between those of us who had fast cars (and yes, I was one of them). One particular weekend, very late on a Saturday night, we were exploring how we felt about the serious topic of life.  Everyone had to write on a piece of paper one word to describe how they felt about death. We scribbled on our papers and folded them up, laid them in a basket, and one person began reading all the words out loud.  “Scared”, “dark”, “alone”, “final”, and “trapped” were just a few of the sentiments.  Then our self-imposed leader read mine: “peace”. 

Now don’t get me wrong: I love being alive and want to squeeze every moment I have out of it. A friend said to me recently (in her elegant, slow Southern drawl), “Dawn, I hope when you reach the end of your life, there’s no more dance left in you.”  Her simple statement hit me deeply as someone who has faced a terminal illness and, praise God, lived to tell about it. I truly don’t have a death wish. But as far back as I can remember, I’ve never been afraid of it.  Death has always seemed to me a warm blanket of rest. And letting go. And peace.

For the past several years, I’ve had the wonderful privilege to be part of a volunteer ministry at my church whose primary focus is caring for families as they navigate the dark waters of a loved one’s terminal illness.  As one of the leaders, I am often the first point of contact for a family after they have been advised by their doctor that it’s time to ‘call in hospice’. Our small band of volunteers serve as a sort of liaison between the family and hospice care. Many of them have never heard of hospice and don’t fully understand what it is, so we help them understand the language of ‘end of life’ care.  We also help with the daily tasks of life: housecleaning, yard maintenance, preparing meals, laundry, grocery shopping, and day-to-day errands, so that family members are able to focus on caring for their loved one.

There is no time or energy for hiding behind masks here. Grieving before a loved one draws their last breath takes on many faces, and we have learned that no one has the right to dictate how another walks down the path to good-bye. Sometimes they need to laugh so they don’t fall apart.  Sometimes they need to vent – and there are no rules about language here. Sometimes they need to weep. Bitterly. Sometimes they need to ask questions and try to answer what is destined to remain unknown.  Sometimes they need to sit and embrace the silence. But they don’t want to be silent by themselves. There is an unspoken comfort that comes from simply having a warm body close enough to reach out and touch. Even if they don’t

People often ask why we do what we do – especially when they hear about us for the first time.  “You mean you go into a stranger’s house and clean their toilets?” Yes.  “Why on earth would you practically move in with someone who’s dying?” Because they need us.  “Wow – you guys are weird.”  The families we care for would disagree.  There are many answers, and we all respond in our own way. But for me, the answer is two-fold: meeting people at the point of their need is what Jesus does. Not to over-spiritualize or set ourselves up on some kind of pedestal, but for me it is truly that simple. However, a very strong secondary driving force, and probably what drew me to this in the first place, is that I feel very much at home with people who are broken.  Whether they are broken because of their own choices or choices that were made for them or choices that were forced on them, I am drawn to them.

After being unemployed for almost a year (three days shy of one year to be exact) I’ve been incredibly blessed to begin working with an organization whose focus is providing a safe haven for ministers and their families in crisis. It is a comprehensive, intense program (on average from 12-15 months in duration) which offers relocation, housing, counseling, and childcare when necessary in an effort to provide healing and restoration to ministers and their families who have had to walk away from their calling – as a result of their own actions, or the actions of their home church.  I was initially thrilled about this opportunity because it meant I would be writing – and getting paid for it!  But it didn’t take long for me to realize that once again, I’m submerged in an environment where people’s lives have been shattered.  Men questioning their failures. Women questioning their marriage. Children questioning their future. 

The vast majority of the time, I will not personally interact with these families. Most of them I will probably never even meet.  But what we are doing is helping them put their lives back together. The ‘safe haven’ we provide is guiding them to an honest and authentic relationship with God, themselves, their families, and their church. It is a painful process. Peeling back years of unresolved or unexplored issues to face the core of their own souls.  And then to slowly, gently provide the balm of restoration. To help them stand again, scarred from the battle, but equipped with tools to win the war. I can’t say I love my job because it doesn’t feel like a job. I love what I am a part of. I love knowing that families have a place for hope.

And I feel very much at home.

I must admit, I was absolutely convinced that after 33 days of trial and only 10 hours of deliberation, Casey Anthony’s jury would hand down a guilty verdict.  Yesterday afternoon, sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office with my Mom (who fell and broke her shoulder over the weekend), I was absolutely stunned when a ‘not guilty’ was announced on the more serious Murder 1, Murder 2, and Negligent Homicide charges.  Facebook posts went through the roof, Twitter was all aflutter, and every cable channel except Disney and Cartoon Network provided up-to-the-minute commentary.  One newscaster offering her own particular flair for drama was practically salivating over the assumed guilty verdict just moments prior to the live announcement.

After hours and hours of research over the last two weeks about filicide – the deliberate murder of a child by a parent – I have learned that approximately 400 children under the age of 5 are killed in the United States every year.  That’s more than one child every single day!  And the large majority of these precious little ones are killed by a biological parent – not another family member, foster or adoptive parent, daycare provider, or stranger/predator.  Those we are born to trust the most are the very ones who have viciously, violently robbed these babies of life, liberty, and the simple joy of a frozen popsicle on a hot summer day.  If you increase the age of children to 12, the numbers go up even more.  In fact, the most life-threatening risk to a child under the age of 15 is their own parent.

Right about now, you’re probably sitting at your computer or holding your iPod shaking your head, wondering what happens in the mind and heart of a parent to move them from the normal, everyday frustration of parenting to not only thinking about but actually carrying out the murder of their own flesh and blood. This can’t even be stretched to ‘mercy killing’, where a parent might possibly argue that death was an act of kindness. No, not by any stretch.  This is the cold-blooded, premeditated, planned and rehearsed killing of a defenseless human being.  Now, if your blood pressure is rising and you’re starting to squirm, keep reading.

In 2008, approximately 1.2 million abortions were performed in the United States.  More than 50% of those abortions were performed on women between the ages of 21 and 25.  Cold-blooded, premediated, planned and paid for killing of a defenseless human being.  As much as we cry out for justice on behalf of little Caylee Anthony’s murder, had her mother opted for an abortion anytime prior to the birth of her daughter on August 9, 2005 we would call it ‘a woman’s choice’.  Caylee was murdered and callously tossed away in a garbage bag before she could celebrate her 3rd birthday with cupcakes, lemonade, and girlfriends.  But over a million little Caylees die every year in legal abortion clinics throughout the US before they ever draw their first breath.

For all the outrage Casey Anthony’s verdict has brought to the surface, it would do us well to recognize that until we as a people put inestimable value on human life – all human life – we will continue to reap what we have sown.  Selfishness will prevail.  And we will grieve the heart of God who knit us together in our mother’s womb.

I cleaned out our attic this week.  It’s only June – not even Summer yet according to the calendar – but the Atlanta area is already enduring temperatures way up in the 90s.  My goal was to work in the mornings before the heat soared past unbearable.  However, anyone who knows me knows that once I get started on a ‘project’, it’s hard for me to stop.  I’m like a freight train on crack. 

So I climbed the stairs, took a few steps onto the plywood flooring and looked around. Wow. I think there must be something about insulation, duct-taped boxes, and intense heat that promotes reproduction.  Where did all this stuff come from?  I found suitcases, Christmas decorations, papers from previous school years, air filters, clothes, and toys.  It seemed easy enough to begin editing.  I started with broken toys (how did they end up in the attic and not the trash can?)  I then moved on to parts and pieces of incomplete Christmas decorations (repeat previous question).  Clothes that no one in my family will ever wear again, luggage long past its prime, and a collection of stuffed animals that would rival FAO Schwartz brought back great memories, despite the fact that I was beginning to look and feel like I was at boot camp in the desert.

Going through each box with just enough detail to make sure I wouldn’t regret our Friday morning visit from the trash man, I was quickly filling the bags beside me.  Then I found it.  The box with Rachel’s costume from her dance recital six years ago.  It was an adorable bright yellow top and skirt that felt something like a cross between vinyl and plastic with black taffeta everywhere (literally).  Her group danced to Rascall Flatt’s Life is a Highway.  I remember her practically floating down the stairs to show her Daddy after we had the whole outfit perfectly in place, complete with slicked back her hair and makeup. She was beaming and her Daddy was speechless.

Next, I came across a collection of sports cars that Alex collected when he was much younger.  I remember the various Christmas and birthday celebrations when he received them and how he studied them, learned about the make and model, discovered all the parts that would open and close, and proudly displayed them in his room.  His favorite by far was the truck his Granddaddy gave him, a replica of his own. Alex kept a very special place reserved just for that truck and it was very often the first one he showcased when anyone else admired his collection.

With the heat sweltering and my eyes stinging from sweat running down my face, I was about ready to call it a day. My stomach told me it was well past lunchtime but I decided to go through one more stack before descending into the comfort of the air conditioned hallway. I moved a small blue blanket that a family friend had made for Stephen’s crib and opened the box underneath where I saw a stack of cards and some computer-printed sheets of paper. 

And I started reading.  “Dawn, we are praying for you and your family every day”; “Please know that Heaven is being bombarded with your name!”; “Our children pray for you and Baby Hood every morning before breakfast”; “So sorry to hear that you must undergo another surgery”; “Praying for you as you begin your chemotherapy treatments”; “Please let us know if we can do anything for you”; “You and Richard are a testimony of God’s strength and grace”; “I love your short hair!”; “The Lord brings you to mind several times each day and I am asking Him to give you strength and courage”; “Thank you for your updates by email…it helps me pray specifically for everyone in your family”; “You look fabulous with a bald head!”  More cards.  More Scripture passages.  More prayers.  Countless emails and notes of encouragement. 

I have no idea how long I sat on the floor of our attic reading those precious notes of encouragement, remembering like it was yesterday.  But what really made my heart swell was the realization that nearly ten years later I remain close to almost everyone who sent those cards, notes, and letters.  How it blessed me to realize that these friends and family have shared the good, the bad, the ugly, and the miracles of life with us! 

I was drenched when I slowly, carefully, came down those rickety stairs and closed the ‘trap door’.  But my spirit felt uplifted. Encouraged. Strong.

Eight years in the attic.  And still so very close to my heart.

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