Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Great Accomplishment - Cayla

We've had a rough week. If you read my last post, you know my friends, my kids, my whole church family has taken a very hard loss. I read a FB post from one of these people that I care for and she said "It's hard to me that life just has to keep going on like normal. Why can't it stop for a minute?". I think everyone touched by this has felt like that. Like we just need a minute to catch our breath, to process the events. The hard reality is... life really does have to keep going on. It's just the way of it.

Today, is my oldest daughter's last day of high school. It should be a happy day for her. It should be a joyous celebration for us. It's overshadowed by sadness. But that is life. Life is a constant blending of conflicting emotions. A constant justification of actions versus reactions. It is an unpredictable, sometimes beautiful, sometimes heart wrenching mix of good and bad, high and low, and it is ever changing and ever moving toward our next destination. Life just keeps going on like normal.

Today while the other grads are leaping and whooping it up on their last day, I wonder if my daughter will be able to shelve her sadness long enough to revel in this moment. This great accomplishment. She's not had it easy. There have been many obstacles to her success. She has arrived in a big way.

Let me tell you what my dear girl has overcome to get where she is today. I need to brag on her a bit. She deserves to be bragged on.

Cayla has attended 3 different high schools in 4 years. Changing schools is never easy. She's done this willingly, and part of her decision to switch schools the last time was for the sake of her dear old mom. I don't know that I ever told her what a burden she lifted from me when she decided to get on the bus and go to the local high school. She did it to make my life a little less hectic, a little more manageable. I've spent her entire high school career in nursing school. I did it for all of us, but Cayla has carried a huge chunk of the effect of my decision. She's been Jr. mom to her siblings. She's waited in libraries and lobbies for me to pick her up when I got out of school. She's done her homework in hallways, in the car, late at night and early in the morning. She's sacrificed doing "teenage" things. She's paid for her own proms, graduation, homecoming dances and football games. We just couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it. While trying to keep herself on track she has also worked to help keep me on track. Yes, there are many, many others who helped us, but Cayla did more than most kids would have. She did it without complaining (too much) and she has never once, not one time, thrown it in my face that she has had to do all of this to help her mother, who by all rights, should have been helping her.

Cayla, unfortunately, got my math gene. Or my lack of one. Math is a four letter word, you know. She's had to work extra hard in that area. She's succeeded. Then there is Chemistry. Don't even get us started there.
But she's worked hard and done her best, and I'm proud of her.

She's had to deal with her father seeing her and her sister less and less. He blames me of course, but that's for another post. The fact of the matter is she's pressed through most of her senior year without him. She's had a broken heart and we all know a broken heart makes it hard to function. She overcame, pressed on, pushed through it and succeeded.

She got a job in December. She has a strong work ethic. She gives everything she does her all and they have noticed. Which is good. Except they want her to work all the time. So she does. And she has less time to study, to relax, to be a teenager, than ever before. Welcome to the world kiddo. Ain't it great?

Jordan's death marks at least 4 young people Cayla has had the honor of knowing and the grief of losing. She wasn't as close to any of the others as Jordan, but they've all hit her hard. This one is the worst. And it's finals week.

At last check my baby's GPA is a 3.2 (we're hoping final grades will be 3.3 or better!). She earned a scholarship at Spring Arbor based on her efforts. That's amazing! Look what she's done! She has far exceeded what most people in her shoes would have or could have done. I am so proud of her!

I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, whatever she puts her mind to she will accomplish.

Cayla, I love you. I want you to know that. I'm proud of what you've done and the woman you're becoming. I pray when you get to college you'll have some of that time you sacrificed to help me and help our family grow and succeed. You deserve it. I pray for good friends, good instructors, good decisions and good times ahead. The Lord knows you deserve them.

Cayla, take time to be happy today. Take time to be a kid. Give yourself the break that the world won't and let out a yell of joy for what you've done. You're amazing.

Monday, May 20, 2013

"None of us is promised tomorrow."

Yesterday, my church family took a devastating hit. On the wave of joy following the wedding of two of our young leaders tragedy struck. Saturday, Heather and Jordan were married. Sunday, they were involved in a car accident that took Jordan's life. There are no words for this kind of loss.

Jordan was a remarkable young man with a heart for God and a passion for young people. He was an intern at our church for youth and children. He was my youngest daughter's Sunday school teacher, he was a leader, mentor, and friend to my 3 older children. Jordan touched a lot of lives. I doubt there is a person under 18 in our church that Jordan has not affected.

Heather, and her beautiful, Godly family have served in our church as long as I can remember. If you've ever been to Connection Church you have undoubtedly been blessed, been touched by a Favazza. Sue (Heather's mother) heads up our children's ministry. She loves our children. She serves them, and us their parents. George (her father) is fabulously musically gifted, as is his brother Rich. If you've ever been to a service at our church chances are extremely good one or both of these brothers blessed you with their musical abilities. Both of them are gentle, genuine, generous men of God. Bridget, (Heather's aunt) Rich's wife blesses so many people with her gift of hospitality. She works quietly behind the scenes serving others, tirelessly, generously. Jen (Heather's aunt) and Josh (Jen's husband) also work with and teach, mentor our children. Josh is a faithful member of the children's ministries, of the drama team, he serves on our board. I know I'm missing someone, please don't be hurt if I did. Heather and her siblings have always been involved in our church. You'll find them watching children on Sunday mornings, acting as jr. counselors for camp, making themselves available wherever they are needed, whenever they can. In recent years Heather has asserted herself as a leader in our youth ministry. She has grown and blossomed into a beautiful young woman of God. She has a servant's heart. She shows faith and strength and grace so often to so many. My point being this: If you have been to our church, there is a member of their family who has touched your life in some way, whether you realized it or not.

Yesterday, my heart broke, shattered for Heather. I grieved and cried for Jordan's parents, for George and Sue, for Aunts and Uncles and Cousins... I grieved with my children in their loss, with the other young people  affected by this. I saw up close the ripple effect of grief in lives Jordan has touched, of those who love the Favazza family and have been blessed and loved by them.

We heard the news at the end of our service. Collectively the church gasped, immediately you heard the sounds of people crying. I looked around and throughout the church faces were covered with tears. There is a section in our sanctuary where our teenagers sit together as a group. We gathered there and surrounded those kids with prayers, hugs, tissues... The Favazza family began to arrive from wherever they were waiting to hear news of their loved ones. We prayed for Sue and George on their way to Heather, my God how we prayed and cried for Heather, we cried for our kids, we prayed for our church, we came together.

Dave, one of our pastors, took the initiative to speak to our kids. His words were direct, full of truth, full of guidance, and love for the grief of our youth. He cried with them. Our pastors, Rocky, Dave, Zac, Mikie and Al, whether it was deliberate or not, lined up against the wall like an honor guard, watching our children, watching the Favazza family, waiting to meet the need. There were no dry eyes for these men either. They stood, they watched, they waited, they prayed, they cried, they met the need.

A meal had been planned for a volunteer appreciation luncheon that was, of course, immediately cancelled. Lovingly, it became a meal for those who just needed to grieve and be with each other. People flocked to our kitchen to do whatever task they could. The food was set out, we all moved to the largest classroom. We ate together, or tried to, and we just stayed with each other. We stayed with the family and friends and kids who were touched by these young lives. A group went to Heather's home to clean, to take care of business, to bless that family in the only way they could, in a remarkably loving way.

There was so much love there, I could never tell it all here. I tell you without a doubt, the love of Jesus was evident, the presence of God was undeniably present there. I consider myself honored to be among such a group of remarkable loving people.

I'm sitting here today wondering what I can do for this family. For this beautiful young woman devastated by loss. I got nothing. I'm praying, I can't stop, every thought leads me back to her. I am making myself available.

Yesterday, the rumblings of "Why, God why?" were beginning to be heard. I know that it is natural to ask this question. It's a part of our beginning to accept the unacceptable. However, I am not asking "Why?" There is no point in it because there are no good answers. There are no answers that satisfy our grief. In fact there are simply no answers to the question "Why?" at all. It simply is. Today, I prefer to ask "What?" What can I do for this family? What can I do to honor Jordan, his life and work in the service of the Lord? What can I say to let my loved ones know how I love them? I prefer the question "What?" far above the question "Why?" Why gives me no hope, no direction, no plan. Of course, Heather and her family, and Jordan's family will ask "Why?" Their grief is obviously different than mine. I do not mean to suggest that anyone else should grieve as I do. I hope only to offer, even if to one grieving heart, an alternative question. An action option to your pain and grief.

It will take some time for recovery and healing to happen in the wake of this loss. I intend to take an active role, in any way I am asked, to help in the healing of Heather's grief. To assist her family while they hold her up until she stands on her own. To encourage my church family as they heal, and recover. We have all lost something. It is beyond sad. But we have hope in Christ.

Dave said something that I can't shake today. "None of us is promised tomorrow." He challenged us to live as Jordan had, sharing his faith with everyone he met. I need to share my faith with all of you. I don't do that as I believe I should. Fear stops me. How ridiculous. Fear? What do I have to fear? Nothing.

I believe that Jesus Christ is the one true son of God. I have accepted his sacrifice to cover my sin, and reconcile me to God. I didn't deserve that love. I still don't. But that's the beauty of it. People, society, our culture has twisted the simple truth of Christ's mission here. He didn't come to damn us to hell, he came to deliver us from it. He came in love for all of us. LOVE. LOVE. He gives us a choice and does not force us to follow Him. He loved me when I was ugly to the core. He loved me when I spit in His face and turned my back on Him. God is LOVE. Mercy... sweet blessed mercy was shown to me. Unconditional acceptance of the person I was, with all my garbage and sin, with all my mess... love and mercy. I strive to show others love and mercy. I fail almost daily. God still loves me. God still grants me mercy. I have hope. I have peace. Those are things I thought I may never see not so very long ago. How can I call you my friend, how can I say I care about you, if I keep this awesome gift, this indescribable love, to myself? I make myself a liar by not sharing it with you. I'm sorry for that.

We are not promised tomorrow. We are not promised so much as another breath. All we have is this moment. Use it wisely.

Friday, May 17, 2013

I'm Most Proud Of...

Theme Thursday this week seemed like it would be an easy one to write. I figured I'd get on here and brag about my kids, how sweet they are, how well mannered, that so far they are all compassionate giving people. One has even made it to adulthood! They are my pride and joy for sure.

Then I thought - Hey! My college graduation is this weekend! I should write about my accomplishment in graduating nursing school (which is a certain kind of hell unto it's own) at 43 years old, with 4 kids, working 24 hours a week. Not to mention I'm a first generation college graduate in our family. That's a pretty big deal, right? I totally beat the odds! The statistics that say, in general, kids will only do as well as their parents did in terms of education. Neither of my parents graduated high school, and although they are/were very intelligent people, they never got the opportunity to finish their high school education. Heck, I think my dad only actually finished 8th or maybe 9th grade.

Then I read this: Pregnant Woman Shot in Detroit. A woman I know named Laura, heads up an outreach at our church called My Sister Song. The basic concept here is to reach out to women in the sex industry and those victimized by human trafficking, and show them a little love, compassion and acceptance. You can read all about what they do on the site linked above.

Anyway, in this article, there is almost no information given except that this young woman is a prostitute and she's 8 months pregnant, and she was shot through the abdomen. The article is fairly unremarkable. The comments, however, turn my stomach. I could go on and on about hatefulness and judgement, but that's not what this is about.

You'll see some comments by my friend Laura there too. They are loving and encouraging. She doesn't get caught in the trap of trying to make morons people see her side. She refrains from engaging them at all. I admire that. I managed to refrain from posting any remarks at all because honestly, there would have been no love or compassion in what I said to these people who can't see past a circumstance to catch a glimpse of a human being, 2 human beings in fact.

Anyway, I e-mailed Laura, I told her how mad I was and that I was having a hard time not ripping these heartless bastards people to shreds. Her response?

"...But I've been learning how to fight back constructively.  I spoke our truth and allow the reader to weigh out the differences between the hate posts and our love posts so I don't dignify their remarks with an answer... I've had moments of staring at their remarks while thinking, "how can I approach this to wake them up!".  But no, I'm putting my energy into the lil sweetheart they're ripping to shreds and we're gonna watch God build her up!  YAY!!!"

She just keeps focusing on that girl and her baby. She blows me away with how she loves people. Even people who don't "deserve" it, people who the world says are worthless, trash, less than human. I learn so much about love from her.

So while I have a lot to be proud of, today I'm most proud of this remarkable woman. I'm proud that I get to call her my friend. I'm proud to be a part of the outreach she leads, and to join up with women who aren't afraid to love when they've got nothing to gain, and plenty to lose.

Check out Theme Thursday over at Something Clever 2.0. Read some posts, make a friend...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Theme Thursday - Good Samaritans - Kevin Donelson

So we're talking about good Samaritans for Theme Thursday this week. I didn't plan to write a post this week, in fact, since the last one I've been so overwhelmed with the daily grind that is my life, I haven't written anything at all. I was reading over some of the other contributors posts and came across this one from Mom With Her Running Shoes On. It reminded me of the example set for us.

A parable (according to Merriam-Webster) is a "short fictitious story that illustrates a moral principle or religious attitude". A parable is always more than it appears on the surface.

When I was in my early 20's, I met a guy named Kevin. I don't think I knew his name was Kevin for quite sometime after I met him, everyone I knew called him "Chaos". Except I think he spelled it with a "K" - "Khaos"... but I digress.

When I met Kevin he had green hair and a pierced nose. He wore a heavy leather motorcycle jacket with chains hanging off it, beat up engineer boots, and ripped up dirty jeans. I don't know where Kevin lived, I think he bounced around, but mostly I think he stayed with his girlfriend wherever she was living. He looked to me like he was badly in need of a shower and a washing machine. He was loud. He was foul mouthed. He was surly and angry and somehow arrogant. He had this way of ignoring people he didn't like that made you feel like you'd been emotionally slapped, as he stomped past you completely disregarding the fact that you were speaking to him.

There were several people that I knew at the time who told me what a jerk Kevin was. Let me tell you, it didn't take much convincing to believe that was true. There were others though, who told me different. They told me that once Kevin got to know you, he was a good friend, basically a decent guy. I'm telling you, I just couldn't see it. As weeks and months passed, and Kevin's hardcore exterior faltered in my presence on occasion, I warmed to him. I never felt he was my "friend" though. He was just this guy I knew who was friends with some of my friends. It seemed to me too, that every time I began to see a little bit of that other Kevin, he'd pull some asshole move, and I'd be knocked back a bit on my opinion of him.

Gradually, as I accepted Kevin, he accepted me. We were never close, but he was decent to me, and I was blessedly never the recipient of his anger. Then, one night he shows up at my door, unannounced, and tells me he needs a place to stay, because his girlfriend kicked him out again. He didn't really ask to stay with me, mind you, he just sort of stated his dilemma and waited. When I hesitated he just said "Look, I know you don't really want me here. I don't really want to be here. Mostly I need a place to keep my stuff until she cools off." He was far more explicit in his terminology, but you get the gist. He told me he probably wouldn't even sleep here because he knew his girlfriend would let him stay with her, but he needed to make a show of moving more than anything. So I agreed. He didn't thank me, he didn't say anything, he just stepped outside the door and grabbed a couple bags of his stuff he had sitting there and hauled them up to my spare room. That's sort of how he was.

Kevin stayed there that night, but he really was gone most of the time. Sometimes he'd cruise in for a few minutes to take a shower or grab something he needed, but he really wasn't there more than 30 minutes or so at a time. One of these times he came uh... home (??) and he realized I needed to get to the grocery store so he just ordered me into the car, where a couple of guys he knew had been waiting for him and he made them wait while he and I shopped. It was a crazy experience, I felt like a huge imposition, but he told me in his very Kevin way "F*** them. They can wait." Well, that was Kevin.

Another time my brother called me, he was stranded in downtown Flint (not a great place to be late at night) and asked if there was anyway I could come get him. I had no car, nobody had cell phones then, shoot most of my friends didn't have land lines much less cars, it was late... I told him I would try to figure something out but I was absolutely clueless about what to do or who I could call. Yep. In walks Kevin. Just there to grab a shower before he had to pick his girlfriend up. I asked him anyway. He said he would do it if hedidn't have to get his girlfriend in about an hour when she got off work and that she'd basically freak out if he was late and she'd be especially mad if he drove her car to Flint. I'm thinking there's no hope of getting my brother when he gets this classic Kevin mischievous grin and says "How long does it take to get to Flint?" From where we were it was going to be just under an hour to get there...

We jumped in the car (an old beater wanna be a muscle car) and when we hit the highway, I saw the needle on the speedometer pass 100 and he was still gaining speed, I just turned my face to the window and refused to look. Kevin, of course, found this extremely funny and took great delight in announcing our speed to me and teasing me about being afraid. We got my brother, and he took a verbal beating from her, but later he told me he didn't care. He didn't want to see anybody stranded someplace like that.

Then there was the night he found me at home and I was so sick. I was puking and puking and probably should have gone to the ER, which he tried to convince me to do but I kept refusing. I don't even know what he had going on that night but it certainly wasn't in his plan to sit on the cold bathroom floor with me while I threw up until nothing was left in me. His plan certainly wasn't washing my face repeatedly with a cold washcloth and holding my hair back while I hurled and cried until I literally collapsed on the floor. It wasn't hauling my big old butt to bed when the vomit-fest finally ended and we both thought I might live after all, or sitting there on the edge of my bed telling me the most insane "bedtime story" ever told until I finally fell asleep. When I woke up I found him sleeping on the floor in the extra room, still wearing his boots. He didn't want to leave until he was sure I was going to be ok.

Kevin was the ultimate Good Samaritan to me. Kevin was sort of like a walking parable - always more than he appeared on the surface.

Kevin and I drifted apart some time after that. I saw him occasionally at parties or friends houses but by the way he acted, so casual, so nonchalant about me, you'd never know all the sacrifices he made just to be decent to me. It wasn't about me though. He would have done it for anyone.

Kevin died in August of 2011. He was 40. I heard the news through a friend on Facebook. I cried. I mourned the loss of the opportunity to thank him as much as I did his death. As I said, Kevin and I were never close, not in the traditional sense, but I lost a friend that day and the world lost a really good person. What he did for me, in our craziest years, has never left me. True kindness, never does.

Check out the other posts at Something Clever 2.0 and say "Hi" to our lovely host Jenn.