Sunday, December 30, 2007

More from beneath the bridge

There was another incident which came mere moments after the women and hot coffee incident described in my earlier post.

It involved two men who, for some reason, began to argue. Their tension with each other escalated quickly until they were physically fighting and grappling with each other.

One large, handsome black man ran up to them and got between them to break up the fight. This man attempted to talk some sense into them, but they would have none of it.

Eventually, one of the men went a short distance away to retrieve a lead pipe. His attempt, I assume, to win the fight.

The peacemaker man screamed to all of us "people with cell phones to call 911 because someone is 'bout to get cut!"

We were a bit unsure of what to do, but he helped us along by calmly screaming "DID YOU HEAR ME CHURCH PEOPLE? I SAID YOU BETTER CALL 911!!"

We all suddenly seemed to know what to do.
Ten of us at once began fumbling around in our pockets, and one of us reached the police (or, as they say, the POLE-eece) and alerted them to the impending head-smashing.

The news that the POLE-eece were on the way seemed to take the fight out of Mr. Lead pipe, because he took his pipe and left.

After it all kind of died down, I asked the peacemaker what his name was.


When I complimented him on his ability to restore order, he told me that "most people just wanted to be treated with a little respect. However," he said "I still have a can of whup-ass in my pocket and I ain't afraid to pull it out and use it".

He told me that he had been clean and sober for two and a half years and that he attended church in North Little Rock.

I wished he went to mine.

We don't really need what's in his can, but church would certainly be more interesting.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lessons under the bridge

This morning at 7 a.m., the youth workers and the youth group that we are attempting to lead had an appointment. On the last Saturday of each month, we are scheduled to assist with an established ministry that feeds breakfast to the homeless underneath the Broadway Bridge in North Little Rock. I say that we attempt to lead this group of young people, because this morning, three adults and zero teenagers showed up.
Did I say on my blog profile that I am amused by teenagers? Scratch that this morning.

It is a good thing, I think, to get out of our warm safe living rooms and do something other than go shopping or out to eat. It is a good thing for me at least. It has changed me.

The first time we drove under the bridge, I expected to see a dozen or more men that we would serve. Instead, what I saw, was about 100 men and women milling around. Some were physically ill. Some were obviously mentally ill. Most were gracious and pleasant. They were tired and cold. Hardened, but helpful,...they converged onto the truck to assist with the unloading of tables and food.
We set up a line of eggs, sausage, biscuits and gravy. Hot coffee and OJ. This morning was the holidays, so we served grits and had several crates of grape juice! The guests get as much as they want, and in fact, the cooks make sure there are leftovers.
Our teens are usually right there on the serving line, dishing up the food.

A typical morning under the bridge is pretty uneventful.
Not this morning.

At the end of the serving line, there is always a place where we stack books. This morning's book pile included several copies of a book entitled "The Art of Abundance". I thought it an odd book to take to a homeless population, but I was humbled by the number of them who knew the book, had read the book and wanted their own copy.
"The Art of Abundance" will definitely be on my "to read" list for 2008.

I was amused by a man who wanted "light" gravy, because he was watching his cholesterol levels.
He lives under a bridge and he is worried about heart disease?
Say it ain't so.

Two particular women stand out in this homeless group. One is very frail, weak and mentally ill. She is quick to smile but mostly keeps to herself. The others call her "touched", but obviously care deeply for her. She is often the first to get "new clothes" from the huge bags of clothes brought for all.
The other woman is mean-spirited. The nurse in me notices that she is also physically ill. She breaks in line, grabs things out of peoples hands and hoards the handouts. The other men and women seem to give her a wide berth. She is always alone.

This morning, for some reason, the mean woman chose to abuse the frail woman by dumping hot coffee down over her head and onto her clothes. The frail, weak woman cried out and the entire place erupted into a screaming mob. Some of the homeless converged onto the frail woman, assisting her out of her wet clothes and checking her for injuries from the heat of the coffee.
The rest of the turned their anger onto the mean woman,. They called her names that I have never heard and strung more cuss words into one sentence than I thought possible. The verbal assault on her continued as she slouched away and was out of sight.
Alone again.

The frail one received "new" clothes from the bag and from her friends as they even offered and gave her their "new" clothes off of their backs. I was reminded of what I heard on the radio as I got dressed for this morning (Really. I am not making this up. I heard this on the radio at about 6:45 this morning.) "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy". I thought then that the message was for me. That I was getting ready this morning to go show some mercy.
Bless my heart. (sing song voice)

Instead, I was given a front row seat to observe the best show of mercy that I have witnessed in a long time.
My homeless brothers and sisters made the Bible passage come alive.

Profanity and all.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

2007 in review

Memorable moments. Where your mind has taken a picture. An incident has been lived through, heard, felt and seen which will influence you for life. Moments that contribute to who you are.
These moments can be the wonderful ones which can steal your breath away with wonder.
But they also could be the ones which are so painful that they steal your breath away with pain.
Some are pretty ordinary at the time, but later seemed to gain significance.

It is good, I think, to take stock of such moments.
They are "Markers".
Maybe they are spiritual, but maybe not.

I live a very boring life. In no particular order, my "markers" very well may put you right to sleep:

*Surviving the first year of Casey's college experience.
This learning to let go business is hard.
For me AND her. (and for me) (me)

*Observing Abby's very first band competition. I have looked forward to this phase of being a band mom. I am a competitor, just not very fierce.
A second reason this band competition was memorable was because I met a newly bereaved mom. Right there on the bus seat with me. There is no way that our being there together was an accident. For the next few years, when we meet, we can look each other in the eyes and ask "How ya' doing?" and we will know exactly what is being asked.

*Being told I have a mass in my right lung.
Gasp! Terror!
Oh wait,.. it was just an infection caused by inhaling bird dookey.

*Speaking at the National Gathering of Bereaved Parents. It was a meeting room filled with hundreds of emotional and spiritual giants.

*Time spent in the book "mere Christianity" by C.S. Lewis. Big revelations there...just this morning even.

*The 2:30 am gathering around my dad's bedside, singing to him, talking to him and loving him as he stepped from this Earthly dimension into the Heavenly one I long to see and know. What a heartbreaking honor to be there.

*The quiet time my family had immediately for a few hours after daddy's death.
We called and informed no one.
Just us.
Very intimate.
We sat in mom and dad's house processing what we had just witnessed and what it would mean for us all. My family has as many (or more) issues as every other family, but I am glad to live life with them.

*My disappointment there at daddy's deathbed when God did not answer my prayers to get a glimpse of Jae, Heaven, angels or some other type of glory. It happens to others, and I wished it for me.

*The homeless ministry that I have been privileged to be involved in.

*Flipping a house.
We just about bit off more than we can chew here, but hey, I am learning to take risks. I hear that taking risks is fun. Remind me of that when you see me.

* The March 18th banquet fundraiser that supports Jae's, Taylore's and Alicia's memorial educational scholarship. Each year, I am humbled by the deep generosity and love of friends and strangers.

*The mean spirited person who attempted to sabotage the March 18th banquet by calling in cancellations to the banquet hall, and placing another call to cancel the food for 750 people.
What was that all about anyway?

*Long talks in the wee hours of the morning with Casey.
Sending her to school immediately after her Pa's death was very difficult for her. Add a few more stressful things and her tearful comment "I don't think I belong here anymore", made me want to throw back my bed covers, get in my car, drive the distance and bring her home.
I wonder if that is how God in Heaven feels about us here on the Earth?

There are others markers, which probably should not be shared, and there are some that are probably huge and I will slap my forehead at the idea that I have forgotten to add them to this list.
Regardless,..we are upon a fresh start to a whole new year.
2008 is here.
A chance to create new markers.

Fresh starts are good.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve gift

When I was growing up and the family would gather at my home and Uncle Tom's and Aunt Mildred's house, we always came through the door yelling "CHRISTMAS EVE GIFT!! CHRISTMAS EVE GIFT!!" which meant that a kiss and a hug was to be given and returned.

Now, a wonderful thing has occurred: There is an entirely new set of people who come through those same doors yelling that phrase. Some of them had no choice about the matter,..they were born into this crazy family. But others married into us and have completed our circle. Many of us no longer live in Jacksonville, so I expect they are yelling that phrase in their own houses which are mostly scattered across Texas, and other parts of the nation as well.

And then there are those others,.... The ones whose voices we long to hear: Aunt Irene, Grandma Goldie, Grandma and Grandfather Bushey, Uncle Tom, Aunt Mildred, a brother I never knew, Daddy, and Jae Lynn.

I asked Casey this morning what she thought Jae would be like if she had lived. We wondered about it for awhile, but settled on the fact that we mainly just wished she was here with us. I told Casey that maybe she was here with us.

I have said before (and this wasn't an original idea) that I think Heaven may see us and know about us, just as we know about a baby that is soon to be born. The unborn baby or newborn baby is completely unaware of anything, and can not know that is is already named, and how much is it loved, cared for and protected. That child's lack of understanding of those concepts does not mean that they are not true.

To say that Heaven's occupants are unaware of our lives here on Earth, implies that they do not have full knowledge and memory of who they are. I think that the ones who have gone on before us, are deeply concerned for our welfare, just as God is. However, they have an understanding of how transient our life here is, and know full well that what awaits us can not even compare with what we are experiencing here.

Just as our family here continues to change, with it's additions and losses,..our family there also is experiencing a growing circle. They don't miss us, because they know we are all on our way. How can you "miss" someone who is already on the way to the party?

Deep thoughts. Maybe not always correct theology, but I have studied enough to know that it is not all just "wishful thinking" of a mother who longs for her oldest child.

Christmas Eve gift Jae Lynn.
Christmas Eve gift Daddy.
Christmas Eve gift Uncle Tom.
Christmas Eve gift Aunt Mildred.
Christmas Eve gift Lawson.
Christmas Eve gift to the rest of my loved ones there.

We will all be there when we are "full of days" here.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Here, four days before Christmas, I find myself at peace, and I am inclined to think that it will remain here with me for the duration of this holiday season. I am grateful for it's presence.

There is a chance that it could be sucked right out of me if I enter the McCain mall or even the parking lot, but I don't think so. I went in yesterday and was at one of those sales counters where there are no lines, know,..the kiosk in the middle of the mall and where the workers roam around in the middle. Yesterday, there, it seemed as if everyone were getting waited on but me. Obviously not fair. And I just had a question,.."Do you sell so-n-so?" (the answer was no)

Anyway, while not getting waited on, I observed the worried, frustrated and frantic faces of others. They just looked like they were working way harder than me. At life.

Maybe that's it. Maybe I am not peaceful, but just lazy.

"Peace on Earth. Goodwill towards man". The angels were announcing the good news. In the middle of wars, pain, divorce, suffering, illness, and death, the angels knew that what we needed on this Earth was personal peace and the ability to love each other.

God with us.

I am grateful for His presence. Then and now.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

cat hater

I have had some new readers to my new blog. It fascinates me how people can view the same set of words and come out with such a vast array of opinions or thoughts. Isn't that how communication is though? Someone says something, and then others hear (or read) though a filter of their own experiences, opinions and interpretations. The result is that what was said was not what was heard.

Nothing real heavy here. I have only gotten positive feedback from those who have read and the spoke with me about it. Amusing, but positive. The flash point for several friends has been the fact that I call myself a "cat-hater".

I think that's a scream.

Thanks for joining me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I think that I may stay for awhile on this subject of "becoming stronger or becoming bitter".

I have pondered for months as to what makes some of us pull towards God in pain and some of us pull away from Him.
Are there any books out there which spell out the spiritual direction we will go?
We all have emotional and physical devastations,..but we all respond differently.

I know personally that practicing what I preach is much harder than I thought it would be. I can just hear the phrase (sing-song voice here) "we are to trust in God in the good times as well as the bad". Altho I can not recall any times specifically, I am sure that I said that phrase to people who were hurting.
I was clueless.
I am sorry that I said that to anyone.
I very well may say it to someone again, but now,,..I will know what I am talking about.

Is it our upbringing?
Is it our genetic temperament?
People endure similar losses, but have polar opposite reactions. Why?

To me, the fact that God will make sense of my loss is the only thing that makes sense. Nothing else will hold muster. Somewhere, sometime, in Heaven I guess, I will see that losing Jae Lynn had a purpose. To say otherwise would enrage me. Of course, her death was not pointless!

My frustration is that I have not been allowed to know the point. The purpose is hidden from me. Me. Her mother. God makes me an intelligent woman and then keeps me in the dark about such stuff.

What in the world can He be thinking?

Isaiah 55 reminds me that "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways. As far as the Heavens are higher than the Earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts".

In spite of knowing this verse, and truly believing it,..I suspect I will continue to grapple with wanting answers.
Then, when I get worn slap dab out from grappling, I "rest" in the knowledge that He has a really good explanation. I don't "rest" there because I have come to terms with anything, it's just that I am too worn out to think anymore. Then, before I know it, I pick up all the pain again and once again ask God: "What are you thinking?"

No answers here tonight.

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Some dear friends of our family are not shopping for Christmas gifts this season. David and Lorey are not attending any Christmas parties. Instead of their family gathering together for holiday traditions this year, they will gather for the next few days to mourn the death of Lawson, their beautiful young son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend.

Psalms tells us that our death day is determined before our birth day. I don't understand this. How can someone only 8 years old be "full of days"?

I asked Ralph as we left this family's home: "How do you get through something like this without being bitter towards God"?

Just what exactly is the recipe for coming through a loss such as this with your Faith intact?

Should I know the answer to these questions?

I do not.

I don't know that I could re-create the path I took towards God after losing Jae Lynn. I recall it being dark and convoluted. Scary and disorienting. Comforting and surreal. I found myself in completely unfamiliar territory, even after a lifetime of being a follower of Christ. I felt as if I did not even know who God was. At the same time though, I was reassured that He was in control of all events,..even my unspeakable loss.

Lawson and Jae are much more alive than me or anyone who reads this note. Lawson is now a magnificent young man who has no limits on his abilities. He is (present tense) confident of the love he had here and I think he is surrounded by people who know him and love him there.

Does that help the pain that David and Lorey are feeling tonight? No.

I am praying tonight for Lawson's family to feel God's peace. The peace which is not explainable or understandable. The past few weeks have been dark and difficult for them, but the days and nights ahead,........

...just pray for them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Headlights and Hankies, part II

The surprise on my way home occured in my car as I began to process the emotions I have been experiencing in the past few days. Nothing to do with the headlight incident. Really.

It is a good thing that I work with a hilarious group of individuals or I just might be a bitter person. Their good nature rubs off on me every day I am around them, but occasionally even they can not improve my mood. That's how it was Monday night. I zoomed through the end of the days tasks at work, because I was felt as if I were going to cry at any moment. And I did not want to do it in front of them. Didn't want to be a baby. After all, this is my fourth Christmas without her.

I decided on the way home that I needed to go to Jae's grave. She needs a new flag on her flag stand. And her place has been bare lately, without a lot of trinkets and mementos. What she needed was an Angel for her grave or her headstone. As I went up and down the Wal-Mart aisles of decorations and ornament's, I began to cry.

There were no angels beautiful enough for her grave.

Carols playing overhead.
Mothers pushing their daughters around in shopping carts.
Dozens of people looking for cute ornaments for their tree.
No one knowing why I was there beside them.
Joy everywhere.
Joy. Joy. Joy.
I wanted to scream.

I asked the worker about angels. She said they had none.
"Kleenex? Do you have Kleenex?" I asked.
Nope. Just a brown paper towel.

Have you ever tried to blow your nose with a brown paper towel? It has to be similar to using aluminum foil.

After buying a few other things which I needed, and passing friends whom I held away with a wave, I finally reached my car. Out of control. Right there in the parking lot. It had been building all week,...maybe all month, but it came out right there in my car, in the dark, in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
(Did you hear me?)

I never knew people could have a nervous breakdown just from walking through a store. But from now on, when I go into the parking lots at Christmas time, I am going to look for those people like me. I know they are there.

Four Christmases later, I find that I am used to feeling of grief. It is very familiar to me. However, the intensity still sometimes catches me by surprise.

I can truly enjoy some aspects of the holidays, while others test my sanity.

Today, I am much better. Better at hiding it? No. Just better than I was. I don't try to figure it out. It's just the way it is. I am simply better today.


Monday, December 10, 2007

Headlights and Hankies, part I

Going to and coming home from work today was full of surprises.

My Mazda is actually a pretty cool car, but I have always had a bit of an issue with my headlights. Like most vehicles, mine is equipped with "dims" and "brights". But unlike most vehicles, when I have my "dims" on, it is a near equivalent of driving with two flashlights strapped to my hood.
Dim indeed.

My brights have been out of balance for several months. We have often laughed that we were able to see night life in the trees because of the upward direction of the bright beams. Seriously. They point almost straight up.

The other day, we noticed that I have a headlight out.
One of my dims.
Down to one flashlight.

This morning (very dark still) I had an errand to do and when I re-entered my car to take off, I did not notice that I now had NO headlights on! I did not notice, that is, until the police pulled me over. The nice policeman seemed truly frantic as he ran up to my car and blurted out "DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU DON'T HAVE ANY HEADLIGHTS? NO HEADLIGHTS! NO TAIL-LIGHTS! NO NOTHING!"
Of course, I then yelled back "WHAT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? WELL NO! OF COURSE I DIDN'T KNOW THAT!" and then I flicked them on and off to prove to him that they did work.

This is how the rest of the conversation went:
him: "Mrs. Russell, did you know that when you turn them on (his emphasis) one of your headlights is out?"

me: "Yes I did officer. In fact, that's probably why I did not notice that I had NO lights on. I'm accustomed to driving in the dark."

him: "Mrs. Russell. It's very dangerous to drive with only one headlight."

me: "Yes officer, I know. That's why I try to drive with my lights on bright. I can see better."

him: "Mrs. Russell, you can not go around driving in town with your lights on bright."

me: "Well, nobody usually cares, because they point straight up."

In retrospect, I'm surprised he did not pull me out and give me a breathalyzer test right there!

The kind officer called my license into his dispatcher, but discovered that I have always been a very good girl and have had no tickets in years and years.

He let me go on to work with only a warning.

Merry Christmas to me.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

starting over

The book "The Passionate Church" tells the story about a huge town in New Zealand which was devastated,..leveled actually, by an earthquake in the 1930's. The homes, businesses, churches were reduced to dust and rubble. Nothing left. Even the landscape and terrain changed, with rivers re-routed and mountains formed where there once had been flat land.
The city leaders began to consider the re-building of their city but there were no longer landmarks which held familiarity. Eventually, using a simple compass to point the way, they built a city which was better than the one which had been lost.

I wonder what would happen if we did that to our churches and programs? Just throw out everything and start over.
What ministries would we keep and improve?
What would we gladly never do again?
Why do we do the things that we do?
Churches today are so busy, yet often so incredibly ineffective.

I am a member of a small church that has been in chaos for a few years. I am sort of feeling like that city in New Zealand. I don't even recognize us any more. It is easy for me to get discouraged and think "We are in terrible trouble!" However, if we were a large church, with lots of staff and active members, it would be diffucult to re-invent ourselves.

God promises that all things work together to bring good to those of us who love Him. I am greatly encouraged by the direction of mine, and many of my brothers and sisters hearts. It is as if we are using "the compass" and not our old road maps.
Very scary.
Very exciting.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


This post was almost written at 3:00 am, since that was when I got up today. Instead, I waited until now, when I am feeling a little less overwhelmed and bit more awake.

Behind me is a fragrant candle which I lit on Thanksgiving weekend to symbolize Jae Lynn's presence with our family all through the holidays. It will burn continually until New Years day, where then, I will pack it up and store it away until next year.

Directly in front of me is a program from today's memorial service hosted by the funeral home which served us after daddy's death 3 months ago. My friends at this funeral home honored and remembered all who had been lost this past year. A thoughtful gesture.

To my left is a closet filled with gifts already purchased for under our Christmas tree. To my right is the place where our tree will stand.

Our tree used to be decorated with our hodge-podge of home-made ornaments, and our walls were covered with the girls annual "Dear Santa" lists. Each of the three girls had their own little nativity scene to place wherever they chose. Almost every single thing in our decoration box had been kept for a reason and had some sort of sentimental value. Last week, I climbed into the attic and stared at that huge decoration box, now covered with three years worth of dust.
Will I open it this year?
Friends have offered to do it with me, but I think that when I enter into that box, it will need to be done in solitude.

I used to hate it when I overheard someone say "I wish Christmas would be over!" I never told them so, but I often considered those people just grouchy negative bah-hum-bug-er's. I could not comprehend how such a wonderful joy filled season could be dreaded.
The one who considered herself so "caring and understanding and empathetic".

Grief is the hardest work I have ever done. It never ends. Time does indeed provide blessed healing of my wounded heart, but the scab gets raked off every hour during the holiday season.
Even when I sleep. Or don't sleep.

At this afternoon's memorial service that I just mentioned, I was surrounded by a hundred or so of fellow mourners. There are others out there who feel like me. Thousands probably. Now I can relate when I hear the phrase, "I just wish it was over!".

I have a great deal of blessings and joy in my life.
I honestly am, I think, a very positive individual. It may not be obvious by these thoughts, but it is true.
However,...I don't think I will get into the box this year.