Joy Comes In the Morning

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I’ve always loved the name “Pamela”, since my niece Pamela, born in 1986 has been a special part of my life. So when this young homeless woman told me her name, I just smiled to myself.

The day was a sunny Sunday morning, March 15, 2015. I walked and walked in the beautiful city of San Diego, California, while my husband, Donny, attended a conference.   As I moved along, I hummed a favorite song, seeing the lyrics in my mind: Brave, by Sara Bareilles. Carrying my Bible close to my heart, my plans were to find a Presbyterian Church about one mile from our hotel and worship there at the 11:00 service. I soon discovered that instead, my day would be spent in “a church” on the streets of San Diego and not inside the walls of a building. Heavy-hearted, with my husband’s dear Dad on my mind with his recent hospitalization in the CCU with pneumonia, paired with grief over the very recent passing of the son of our precious friends the Reads, I sat on a bench to rest right outside The Old Spaghetti Factory, at the corner of 5th and K in the Gaslamp District. Weeping quietly, I took this picture of my Bible, my cup of hot coffee, and a San Diego map.

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Just after taking this picture, as I glanced to my right, I saw this woman standing alone right next to my bench. Homelessness is a concern in every big city across our great big world, and sunny San Diego is no exception. In fact, locals this past weekend told us countless times that the reason for their multitude of homeless folks is because of their year-round pleasant climate.

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I am not my mistakes. I am not my old habits. I am not my PAST. I am a beautiful reflection of God. I am forgiven. I am loved. I am free. Shanel Cooper Sykes

To help minimize panhandling on every corner, the local San Diego community installed meters like this one to collect pocket change to aid those without  a home. I thought this was a good idea to share with folks at MUST Ministries back in Georgia who work tirelessly to help the down and out in our hometown community. Many humans have similar thoughts regarding the homeless population, wondering how they got there, are they alcoholics or addicts, is mental illness a part of their day, and isn’t it “their fault” that they are in this situation? Raised by such compassionate parents, my heart has always been tender towards these souls in need. In fact, back in 2002, when Leah was in 8th grade, I taught her class all I knew about this subject, using Phil Collins’ Another Day in Paradise as a springboard. And after recently reading Yankoski’s story in the book Under the Overpass, my heart has become even softer towards these folks in need, believing “every heartbeat has a story.”

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I am like a pencil in God's hand. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has only to be allowed to be used. Mother Teresa

So when this woman showed up next to me, my response was not a surprise to me. And when she shared her name, Pamela, I smiled through my tears, understanding intuitively that her being there was no accident. Pamela is my niece’s name, the sister of my late nephew Brad (Brad’s story is here: 525,600 Minutes, Remembering Brad Today, Celebrate Me Home). Though Pam, all alone in this big city, did not approach me, I invited her to have a seat as I moved myself and my things over. Note: I am not looking for accolades with my story, I simply followed my heart like I do in most every circumstance I find myself in these days. Pam was not the only one who was in need, I was in need, as well, and I believe that was the reason she was placed in my path that day.  (See two recent past posts to understand this better: Choose Not To Be Blue and Choose Not To Be Blue: Part Two.)

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First things first, I figured she was hungry. She nodded. Waiting for our table at a quaint sidewalk cafe, I was moved by the irony of this pleasant young woman who would soon escort us to our table, quietly folding napkins for the many guests who would be by for a meal on this Sunday.

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As we sat across from each other, Pam told me her story. She was stranded in San Diego and needed to get back to Austin, Texas, she had no money to her name, and there was a safe home for her in Texas with her boyfriend and his mother. Though I did not tell her this, and I certainly wasn’t sure how the day would play out,  I knew by the time we finished our omelets that my husband and I would be her ticket back to Austin.

With a full stomach and a good break in the cafe’s clean restaurant bathroom, Pamela and I hit the sidewalk, first purchasing her a big backpack and then heading to nearby Macy’s. We went through several different departments, finding her new lingerie, t-shirts, jeans, and socks. Each time we made a purchase, the employee would snip off the tags, and Pam would slip back into the dressing room to change into her new things, coming out with an appreciative, humble smile on her face. Later, when Pastor Ike called me from Georgia, and I burst into tears telling him all about our friends who had lost their son and Donny’s Daddy, Pamela was the one who was consoling me, putting her arm around me and whispering how sorry she was for my sadness. I shared with Pastor Ike about who was standing next to me and he said, “Joan, that is exactly what I spoke about in my message this morning.” (Click Here to hear Pastor Ike Reighard’s message Passion For Compassion.)

We packed her backpack full, including her old, used, soiled things which went into a plastic bag until Pam would be able to find a way to wash them. An affordable ticket was purchased at a nearby Greyhound Bus Terminal and I left Pamela to wait until the 10:45 p.m departure. Just before 10:30 p.m., Donny and I were strolling around downtown with some friends from Georgia when I realized we were only a few minutes from the terminal. We said good night to our friends, and walked a few more minutes arriving in time for Donny to meet Pamela and for us to bid her farewell. Pamela’s trip would take 36 hours arriving mid-morning on Tuesday, March 17, 2015, and Pamela would call me to let me know she had arrived safely.

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Pamela was so appreciative to have her ticket to Austin, Texas.

Once again, I am reminded of The Boy and The Starfish Story, (click here to read it). It was an indisputable fact that my husband and I could not solve the huge problem of homelessness in San Diego, California, but we made a difference for that one beating heart—which at the same time made an even bigger difference for our own hurting hearts.

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Our annual TTU gathering, January 2015, Abingdon, Virginia in The Reads Home.
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The Reads (far right) travel from VA to GA for Jessica and Walker Page’s wedding celebration on June 21, 2014. Some of our FF Group, The Beasley’s, Carters, Bowers and Pattersons are also pictured…friends since Fernbank Elementary!
Yes, weeping may endure for the night, but JOY does come with the morning. Psalm 30:5

Psalm 30:5 came true on the following day as the sun rose on Monday, March 16, 2015, starting with a long phone visit with my grieving friend in Virginia, Kelly, as I walked along the water, stopping in the loveliest places for a moment of quiet reflection and prayer.

One of my many prayer spots in the  beautiful San Diego Embarcadero Bay.
One of my many prayer spots in the  beautiful San Diego Embarcadero Bay.

Later, I was thankful to see pictures of my precious Tennessee Tech sisters loving our friends The Reads, as they represented our group at Taylor’s Celebration Service which I was able to watch on livestream.

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On March 14, 2015, friends watch a memory video with Kelly….girlfriends multiply JOY and divide SORROW.
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The prayer box which the eight of us gave to Kelly. Our initials are engraved inside to remind her that we are praying for her and her family.
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The card our group of eight gave to Kelly, Paul and Megan to remind them: “We’ve Got Your Back.”

That afternoon, though his wife, Annie had to work, our nephew, Evan, and their 14 month old son, Noah, was able to drive a short distance to meet us at the beautiful Torrie Pines Reserve. Again I was struck by irony: grieving with our friends over the loss of their son…while watching this beautiful boy’s journey begin.

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JOY overflowing as we visited with these two precious ones, my brother John’s firstborn and Evan and Annie’s firstborn, Noah James Walker, age 14 months.

As we continue to pray for healing for our Dad, Don, and peace for our friends The Reads, our faith reminds us to be brave.

Song of Solomon 2:11-12 "For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land."
Song of Solomon 2:11-12 “For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.”

 How is your journey calling for bravery today?

Is it a health decision, a relationship that needs mending,

a courageous conversation that would be difficult, but beneficial for all?

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There is NO EXPIRATION DATE With Our God

Though these events took place nearly eight years ago in our home, the truth remains forever.

Last night, my husband and I enjoyed homemade apple cobbler with spray whipped cream. Unfortunately we were out of vanilla ice cream which eliminated the chance for ala mode! This after dinner delicacy was actually so good that I decided to surprise our son with the same treat. He was holed up in his room, so I went ahead and fixed this dessert without even asking him if he wanted it.
When I had it all ready, with whipped cream, sprinkled cinnamon and sugar, and 3 musketeers chocolate syrup, I called him down.

He was very pleased when he first arrived in the kitchen…then upon his initial observation, he asked about the date on the syrup.
I responded with the truth: “I have no idea what the date on that syrup is.”
Ok, now, don’t be shocked, but he decided to check the date and it was May of 2005…I am not kidding!!! ( I wish I was!) Needless to say, it went straight in the trash and he fixed himself a new dessert!
WE had some good laughs about dates on products that are in our ten year old home and how we might want to check them out a little more often and a little more carefully in the future…
Soon, our son was checking the dates on some of our other things…the milk had a good date, the yogurt was okay, too.

Later, just before retiring for the night, our son and I started talking about other “expirations”, like letting too much time go by before we open the Word.
If we are not careful, we wait too long to go to the Word for the answers to the big questions that we have in our lives. Just because we do not take the time to look in that direction, does not mean the answers are not there. If we are not careful, our days go by and we do not reap the benefits and the strength that it is in the Word for each of us to grab a hold of. As 50 something women, we realize more than ever that our lives on this earth have an “expiration date”. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 reminds us: “There is a time for everything, and everything on earth has its special season. There is a time to be born and a time to die.”

So, maybe you want to go check the dates of some of the products you have in your refrigerator, and perhaps you want to take stock in the date of the last time you delved into the Word as well.

Do something today that you have been putting off because we are not promised tomorrow. Only God knows the number of our days and He’s not telling us that number.

“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.”
1 Peter 1:24-25

The Good News is that once we are His, considering God and His Word, there is NO EXPIRATION DATE!

A SOJOURNER Life Is A journey

“You only live once-but if you work it right, once is enough.” Joe F. Lewis

You and I, we are sojourners on this earth. The Webster’s dictionary defines a sojourner as follows:

“…one who is having a brief, temporary stay; a brief residence”

WE are sojourners on this earth because this earth is not our home.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14

Last night, as I worked for several hours organizing my thoughts, my story, in anticipation of sharing with the recovering ladies at the Women’s Extension Center, it quickly became apparent to me how far God has brought me in my life.
HOW ENCOURAGING!!! My main prayer has become two words: “Thank You.”
As a 50 something woman, (or any age woman!) I believe it is positively cathartic, very freeing, to think through, and even possibly write down your story, your personal testimony.
As I have expressed before, I have kept a journal for more than 20 years.
This simple tool has so often aided me in working through issues that have burdened my heart in my day-to-day life.
If you are not sure how to get started, try setting a timer for 10-20 minutes and just WRITE, WRITE, WRITE until the timer chimes…or TYPE, TYPE, TYPE…whichever is most comfortable for you.
In sharing with these women, I came up with the following verses to guide me:

Matthew 6:26-27
Lamentations 3:22-23
Galatians 5:1

“If you won’t be better tomorrow than you were today, then what do you need tomorrow for?” Rabbi Hahman of Bratslay

Today, I encourage you to consider yourself as a sojourner as you contemplate your life journey. How far have you come?