The Lady I Want to Be

IMG_4994Sam and I went to a funeral this week for one of my best yoga students.

She died on Tuesday at age 98. So Sam and I hopped in the truck at dawn and drove back to windy West Texas where the mesquite and post oaks grow.

I met Aline Garrett when she was 92, after I decided to offer a “chair yoga” class to the ladies who live in the local senior apartments. I wrote about it in 2011. 

I had no idea what I was doing teaching yoga to people who may have been alive during World War I, so at our first class, as six slow-moving, Texas farm-wives gathered around, ready to learn yoga, I said,

“Does anybody have medical issues I should know about?”

They looked at each other and immediately I thought: Oh man what did I just say, we only have an hour.

92-year-old Aline, with her grey hair wound into a tiny bun atop her head, thought on it a minute, then held up her right index finger and said,

“My finger is crooked.” Then she giggled.

With that one comment Aline Garrett set the tone for the class forever. We met twice a week and she never missed one. Soon, I started calling her Ms. G and decided, if I get to be 98, I want to be just like her.

In fact, I want to be like her at 43.

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At the funeral home on Thursday, her family sat behind one screened in area, as a Bluegrass trio sang hymns from behind another.

Old-fashioned decorum is alive and well in West Texas farm towns, and it pleased me to think Ms. G was probably bluegrass before bluegrass was cool. I found myself nodding again and again as her 34-year-old Church of Christ pastor shared, with deep knowing, all the things that were great about her.

Without hyperbole or preacher theatrics, he compared her to the Apostle Paul.

I have learned to be content regardless of my circumstances. I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need, and I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13

Seriously, that is no small thing, but I think she would have just smiled and shook her head.

I remember sitting with Ms. G at her daughter Aletha’s house, which sat across a big coastal field from ours.

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This was probably a tornado, but that’s not the point.

We were shelling peas at the kitchen counter, when Ms. G began to talk about the Great Depression, and how for Christmas one year, she and her siblings each got an onion.

“Oh and we were happy to have it,” she said.

When she was in her 80’s she flew on an airplane for the first time. She said they gave her a bottle of champagne, announced it over the PA and let her see the cockpit. “Now that was high cotton,” she said clapping her hands and smiling.

Both events seemed to delight her equally.

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Norma (left) and Ms. G. in Warrior II.

In the few years I knew her, I never heard Ms. G say a negative thing about a person or event. Ever. If people were speaking negatively around her, she would look at her hands and sit quietly.

She also loved to read, but when we met she was going blind. Rather than mope and complain about that, she began to memorize long passages of scripture, so she would always have it, even if she couldn’t see it.

Some of her buddies, who were mine too from yoga class, came to the funeral. Although, I haven’t seen them in five years, they treated me like I’d only been on vacation. Bernice squeezed me for a very long time.

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Betty, me and Bernice

This is also how I want to be in the world. Because if you’ve ever mattered to me, you probably still do, despite space and time. Ms. G was like that. She never forgot anybody.

Later,  we gathered at Durwood and Aletha’s for coffee at 4 in the afternoon, just like we used to. There were a pile of new great-grandkids playing in the living room and people rocking in chairs.

Despite having lived in that old farmhouse across the field for only two years, I can think of few places where Sam and I are as woven into family and community as we are in Gorman, Texas. I didn’t realize how precious that is.

Aletha, who is her mother’s daughter to the bone, said to me through tears as we hugged goodbye, “Mother would have loved this, because this is the stuff that matters.”

Je Suis Nice

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Nice, France June 2013

It should be pretty clear by now, nobody knows what to do.

And I find myself asking, “Is this our new normal?” But I keep rejecting that, because God forbid I ever accept as normal, one suffering human taking down hundreds of strangers.

But how do I respond?

Author Anne Lamott has some pretty good thoughts here.  She says Cain is still killing Abel, just as he always has, but grace still bats last.

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Taken from the Promenade des Anglais Nice, France August 2011

My sister lives in Nice.

She was having dinner five blocks from the truck massacre. She and her friends were swept into waves of people running from what they didn’t know. They just knew they should run. The friend she was dining with wrote this in the Huff Post about the experience.

It prompted someone to say on her Facebook page, “that was a little too close.”

Let us not delude ourselves. We are all a little too close now. The idea that anyone can “keep us safe” from a guy driving a truck into a crowd, or the other terrors we imagine but don’t speak, is just foolish.

Unfortunately, this rage, this sickness, this despair is alive to some degree in all of us, and only in that space can a meaningful response begin.

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Castel Plage. Promenade des Anglais. Nice France. June 2013

Don’t believe me?

Pick a tragedy. Ataturk Airport Istanbul. Dallas PD. Bangladesh. Iraq. Orlando. Nice. Did you know there are pages-long lists of terrorist attacks organized by month on Wikipedia?

How did you react to the news of each? Rage? Invective? I alternate between that and sighing defeat, but what does that accomplish? Nothing. It just releases more anger, fear and despair in my orbit.

Maybe you’re not enraged by the carnage.

But how do you react when you see a Black Lives Matter rally? Do you murmur and grumble? Make surly comments? What about Trump and Hillary? I. Can’t. Even.

What comes out of your mouth then? What do you release into your orbit? Certainly, (hopefully) it’s different by degree, but not in nature.

It’s not what goes into a man that defiles him, Jesus said. It’s what comes out.

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Vieux Ville, Nice France. June 2013

Someone told me once, the key to victory in spiritual warfare (and don’t kid yourself, that is happening) is entering the battle bearing the opposite spirit. St. Francis explained it like this:

Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury, let me sow pardon, where there is despair, let me bring hope. We saw that this week in Dallas. Thank God.

But after Bastille Day, with our Nicoise brothers and sisters lying dead in the street, nothing could be more irrational and impossible. Nothing. Yet, Jesus said to do it, so it must be possible. But He never said it would be easy or cheap.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ He said.  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

To do such an impossible thing, we have to believe that Jesus is the God of impossible redemptions. Which I do.

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Overlooking the Promenade des Anglais

Kindness is the fruit of the spirit I most want to cultivate right now.  So when I find myself shouting expletives at my tv, I try to catch it and consider how unkind that is. It only poisons Sam and me and our home.

What I’m trying to do instead is stay within my circle of influence – controlling the things I can – like my mouth, my interaction with people I love, and my service to people around me.

So I’m choosing kindness when what I want to do is scream. I’m choosing quiet, unseen service to other humans when I want to be selfish and angry. I’m choosing to slow it down and respond carefully in conflict, rather than just reacting in my same old ways.

And I’m choosing to pray and fill this space with beautiful images from one of my favorite cities on earth. Nice. Mon coeur est brise´.

What else can I do?

Maybe this sounds naive in light of the shocking and seemingly relentless terror that plagues the world now. If I could do something about all that rage and violence, I would.

Maybe what I can do is deal with my own.

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#PrayingforNice

A Story on Mother’s Day

Today was the first time in a decade I haven’t spent Mother’s Day, feeling like an abandoned aircraft hangar, with rickety falling off doors, loose tin and rats in the corners. It’s a victory to instead feel like a busy, well-lit clearing house, processing little boxes of love and sending them right back out the door.

The difference is, lately I’ve been telling the truth – a lot – to people who are also knee-deep in the messy and glorious body of Christ. And I think it is totally remarkable how the Lord moves his followers to drift and sway together like seaweed does in the tide. Especially, when life is painful.

The reason I walked away, ten years ago, from a faith I didn’t understand, was a bad story with a faulty premise.

A failed attempted at motherhood weakened my superstructure of tepid Christianity, belligerent politics, pride, loneliness, judgment and fear. After it all fell down, I sat for years at the bar nursing one bitter cocktail after another and barfing that story all over everybody.

Today, I don’t even recognize that girl, because I straight up repented – in the most literal sense of the word – I turned and walked the opposite direction; away from the bitterness that was poisoning my life and into the arms of Jesus and his people.

Crazy. Wise. Choice.

That choice forced me to look hard at the stories I’d always told myself. The sanctimony. The loneliness. The fear. Then I had to admit it, so people could help me replace those stories with new ones about who I am and what I’m doing in the world God so desperately wants to redeem.

And in that process, God made me a mom. A spiritual mom. A mentor mom. All day today I’ve received calls, cards and texts from women who said I’ve mattered to them in some way.

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Living as a follower of Jesus has brought me people who cry in my office, my car, my living room about a thousand topics, including the children that they, like me, cannot have. It has brought me mentors who tell me to read Isaiah 54. It has brought me daughters who tell me they do something now because they watched me do it.

Unimaginable. Couldn’t have written that story alone. Impossible.

And the only difference between now and my bitter barfly days is Jesus.

It takes courage to stare down the stories we have told ourselves for years, to dismantle them and begin to write new ones. Mostly because without Jesus as the first and last word, we’re still trying to save ourselves.

And that’s just not the whole story.