As this new month begins, I begin to reflect more than usual on the 13th anniversary of my Mama’s passing on October 24, 2006, I wanted to share what I have learned are some of the best ways to help those who are grieving. Did you know? The definition of bereaved is “to be deprived of a loved one through a profound absence, especially due to the loved one’s death”.
People may excite themselves in a glow of compassion not by toasting their feet at the fire and saying, ‘Lord, teach me more compassion,’ but by going and seeking a person who needs compassion.” Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887, an abolitionist)
This fall also marks the passing of my Daddy, six years ago. With both of my parents now gone, I have been encouraged by friends and family, alike.
We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand…and melting like a snowflake. Let us use it therefore before it is too late.” Marie Edith Beynon
(1) Show Up. When you’re not sure what to do, simply be there. Those who are grieving want to know you are praying for them and that you care about their loss. This calls for us to reach for courage in order to go to the hard place and love on those in need. Show up with attention and grace.
The people we love most do become a physical part of us. When we lose them, be it by death or earthly separation, the sense of rupture is real and raw. Meghan O’Rourke
(2) Don’t worry if you don’t have the right words to say. My Mama used to tell me that if I didn’t know what to say, it wasn’t necessary to say anything, but to be physically present is always important.
(3) Remember them in the weeks and months ahead. Mark your calendar if necessary to remind yourself to drop them an encouraging note, text, or email. Share your memories of their beloved one. Mail a book, a small gift, or drop some banana bread by their home to let them know their loss has not been forgotten. Many who lose a loved one feel as though everyone else’s life is going on and they are stuck in this place of grief.
YOUR reaching out to them may be just what they need at a particular time.
(4) Speak their name. Never stop saying their loved one’s name. Some people may believe that speaking the deceased’s name will bring the survivors sadness, but instead there’s a good chance it will bring them joy as you remember their loved one by speaking his/her name often.
There are many additional ways to
come alongside and encourage those who are grieving.
'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.'
Alfred Lord Tennyson
This past weekend, we traveled to Abingdon, Virginia. The 4th annual Virginia Creeper Trail Rails To River Ride For Taylor Read took place on 10/6/18. We have known and loved the Read Family for four plus decades. This October journey to southwestern Virginia has become a yearly tradition for us.
I only knew Megan and Taylor Read as children while many of you were privileged to know them and watch them grown into bright, talented young adults—ready to leave their legacy in life.
Each one of us leaves a legacy, a mark on the lives of the people we touch. Today, the whole Read Family is leaving a Legacy of Love. And, I would like to acknowledge the love that Megan has shown for her brother. That love is reflected in this beautiful structure that brings shelter and comfort to those who pause here on their respective journeys. Megan designed it in love to honor Taylor and we can enjoy the benefits of her excellent work now and for years to come. Thank you, Megan, for this gift. It serves its purpose well. May God continue to bless your family.
Following the passing of their son, Taylor, age 23, 2015, our dear friends, Paul and Kelly have traveled a road none of us would have asked for. Along with their daughter, Megan, they have traveled it courageously, demonstrating strength beyond measure. They have leaned on each other, their faith, their family, and their many friends who love them. Fervent prayers have also played a significant role in their pilgrimage…prayers of their hearts and prayers of countless others. Prayers for this tumultuous journey The Reads have been called to travel. They have learned the truth that when we love much, we will grieve much and for always. We will also smile and laugh as countless memories are recalled by this community of Love for Taylor.
Reaching my sixth decade, I am noting that I have lost many whom I have loved, including both of my parents. Many that have passed have been between the ages of 20-45, years before their 60th birthday. This thought brings a few things to mind…my missing of these souls, these sons, like Taylor, Matt, Brendan and our nephew, Brad, daughters, mothers like Jule Furr, daddies like Doug Rives, Steven Rahn, and Rick Gray, they are missed by so many.
I have much gratitude that I am here today. Though my body and my brain are aging, I still have breath and energy to go forward. An affirmative attitude, my perspective at the start of each new day have become more important than ever. Seizing moments has become vital. My faith in a Living God has become an integral part of a courageous existence. I have learned that when I allow discouragement or anxiety to sneak into my days, circumstances seem even more out of control. I am also learning that when I seek joy, I find it and I am drawn to it like a magnet.
Back to our recent Virginia weekend. When I chatted with both Paul and Kelly individually, we talked about the joy, adventure, fellowship, laughter, fun, food, football, and Blue Grass Music.
There was enthusiasm for the weekend, even as we missed the presence of our Taylor not being with us. The thing is, he was with us as we celebrated his life well lived, his legacy, with a rigorous 8.2-mile bike ride on the scenic Virginia Creeper Trail to Taylor’s Shelter at Alvaredo Station. We clinked our glasses as we announced “Cheers!” at the nearby Abingdon Vineyards Winery.
In unison, in and around Taylor’s Shelter, with over 200 strong voices together, we said the blessing Taylor said at family meals:
“Dear God, Thank You for everything we have and
we hope everybody’s okay. Amen.”
Yes, Taylor was with us, with many of his friends from both high school and college, many now married and a few are new parents. Taylor was with us, with his cousins, his Aunt Allison and Uncle Brian from GA, his grandparents from VA, TN, and GA. Taylor was with the dozens of The Read’s friends who watched him grow from a baby into a handsome young man. A guy who loved his family so much. Taylor loved people, golf, baseball, and God. A student who worked hard in school and loved hanging out with his friends. Taylor was with us as we remembered the day we received the shocking news of his passing, but more than that, we recalled the days that he lived, laughed, and loved.
Taylor’s Legacy Lives On in so many hearts.
From start to end, this was a weekend to remember. Our weekend started with a visit to the famous Barter Theater to see the play Singin’ in the Rain. I had a chance to spend lots of time with my college friends, Delo, Debby, Becky, and JoAnn at the shelter. Kelly’s husband, Paul brought our weekend to an amazing end with a Surprise Sunday Brunch for Kelly’s recent birthday on October 2nd. Yes, the weekend was filled with many remarkable blessings, circumstances that Kelly has come to call “Taylor Winks”.
Read here what Holly wanted to relay to whomever would listen before she took her leave since this new year, 2018 began:
Butcher’s poignant post is definitely worth reading in full. But here are 16 especially powerful points:
1. “I just want people to stop worrying so much about the small, meaningless stresses in life and try to remember that we all have the same fate after it all, so do what you can to make your time feel worthy and great, minus the bullshit. … Those times you are [whining] about ridiculous things (something I have noticed so much these past few months), just think about someone who is really facing a problem. Be grateful for your minor issue and get over it. It’s OK to acknowledge that something is annoying but try not to carry on about it and negatively affect other people’s days.”
2. “Once you do that, get out there and take a freaking big breath of that fresh Aussie air deep in your lungs, look at how blue the sky is and how green the trees are; It is so beautiful. Think how lucky you are to be able to do just that — breathe. You might have got caught in bad traffic today, or had a bad sleep because your beautiful babies kept you awake, or your hairdresser cut your hair too short. … I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go. It is all SO insignificant when you look at life as a whole. I’m watching my body waste away right before my eyes with nothing I can do about it and all I wish for now is that I could have just one more birthday or Christmas with my family, or just one more day with my partner and dog. Just one more.”
3. “I hear people complaining about how terrible work is or about how hard it is to exercise — be grateful you are physically able to. Work and exercise may seem like such trivial things … until your body doesn’t allow you to do either of them. .. Appreciate your good health and functioning body — even if it isn’t your ideal size. Look after it and embrace how amazing it is.”
4. “Give, give, give. It is true that you gain more happiness doing things for others than doing them for yourself. I wish I did this more. Since I have been sick, I have met the most incredibly giving and kind people and been the receiver of the most thoughtful and loving words and support from my family, friends and strangers; more than I could ever give in return. I will never forget this and will be forever grateful to all of these people.”
5. “This year, our family agreed to do no presents and despite the tree looking rather sad and empty (I nearly cracked Christmas Eve!), it was so nice because people didn’t have the pressure of shopping and the effort went into writing a nice card for each other. Plus, imagine my family trying to buy me a present knowing they would probably end up with it themselves … strange! … but those cards mean more to me than any impulse purchase could. … Anyway, moral of the story — presents are not needed for a meaningful Christmas.”
6. “Use your money on experiences … or at least don’t miss out on experiences because you spent all your money on material shit. Put in the effort to do that day trip to the beach you keep putting off. Dip your feet in the water and dig your toes in the sand. Wet your face with salt water.”
7. “Try just enjoying and being in moments rather than capturing them through the screen of your phone. Life isn’t meant to be lived through a screen nor is it about getting the perfect photo.”
8. “Listen to music … really listen. Music is therapy.”
9. “Cuddle your dog. Far out, I will miss that.”
10. “Talk to your friends. Put down your phone. Are they doing OK?”
11. “Travel if it’s your desire, don’t if it’s not.”
12. “Work to live, don’t live to work.”
13. “Seriously, do what makes your heart feel happy.”
14. “Don’t feel pressured to do what other people might think is a fulfilling life. You might want a mediocre life and that is so OK.”
15. “Tell your loved ones you love them every time you get the chance and love them with everything you have.”
16. “Oh and one last thing. If you can, do a good deed for humanity (and myself) and start regularly donating blood. It will make you feel good with the added bonus of saving lives. Blood donation (more bags than I could keep up with counting) helped keep me alive for an extra year — a year I will be forever grateful that I got to spend here on Earth with my family, friends and dog. A year I had some of the greatest times of my life.”
Wow, just wow!
The greatest single cause for atheism in the world today is christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.
Brennan Manning, Author of All Is Grace
This passage in Romans 5 perfectly describes the wonderful and brave woman I am lucky enough to call my mother. Even on her worst or saddest of days, she still shines the brightest light and takes refuge in her faith. I would never come close to the person that I am without you as my Mom!
My friend, Jule Furr, took her leave just before Thanksgiving on November 22, 2017. Jule and I were heart friends and this inspiring angel will be sorely missed. You can read her brief bio here.
Her Celebration of Life Service is on this Saturday, December 9th at 1:00 p.m. at Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence, by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.'
Jule faced cancer early in her life as a junior high student. Battling the disease for decades, when others asked how she was feeling, she was in the habit of responding, “Oh, it ain’t nothing but ‘a thang’!” with a courageous and joyful smile on her face. Whether she was dealing with loss of hair, bells palsy, or any other yucky side effect of her continual treatment plan, Jule maintained her sense of humor and her determination to live.
I've always thought I was touched by God and He chose me for a reason. Because of my struggles, my faith is stronger. I want people to see Jesus in me. We are here to shine a light.
Jule was treasured, loved, and fought for her life daily to be with her family, husband, Bryan, daughter and son, Jordan and Christian (called Fuzzy). Jule Furr considered these three her greatest gifts! The Furrs were married over thirty years. She felt blessed to have him as her husband and best friend.
Over time, many of us came to call her “Jules”. When I asked her about this, she proclaimed, “Well, I am ‘a jewel’ you know, I’m a ‘Daughter of The King’!!”
It is honestly difficult to describe this woman who changed the world with her birth on February 27, 1964. Number five, she joined four sibs, sisters, Mary Ann, Kathy, Linda, and one brother, Chris. Funny story, upon her birth, her Daddy announced that he would nickname Jule “Banana” as the 5th one in the bunch, but the kids disagreed!
First living in Charlotte, North Carolina as newlyweds, Jules and Bryan Furr soon moved to Georgia where they raised their two babies in Marietta.
My story with Jules began when we were Moms together at Eastside Christian School in the late nineties . Though I lost touch in recent months due to the severity of Jules progressive disease, our friendship is one I will cherish in my heart forever.
Here, I will share a few anecdotes from our time together.
In 2000, I was preparing to raise money for the Avon Breast Cancer 60-Day Walk from Gainesville to Atlanta. Having gone through this cancer herself, Jules was not strong enough to participate. However, she did want to help me raise funds. A participant was required to raise a minimum of $1,500.00 and our children held a Dog Wash to help. (I still laugh when I recall our son, Walker, age 8 at the time asking me if he could put out a “tip jar”!) Along with my friends who were walking with me, Kathy Owen and Jil Cain, we raised nearly 10 grand! Jules, alone gave me a total of $820.00 the week of our walk! While registering on Day One, a woman in front of me was dismayed because she was unable to reach her financial goal. You guessed it, she was right at $820.00 short and I happily gave her Jules donation funds. Wow, was that a cool, God Wink!?!
Also, in 2000, when battling breast cancer, Jules’ fear for her two young children’s reaction, soon gave way to inspiration. Soon, she penned an original story called, “The Scarf Game”, and it was published just a few weeks later. The 23 page story book which never mentions the word “cancer” was written from her daughter, Jordan’s perspective. The creative story line explains how both Jordan and Christian learned to tie scarves on their Mom’s bald head to help her when she was not feeling so well. This is just another example of the courageous and positive outlook this dear friend held in life.
During a particular season of illness, during the school year of 2007-2008, Jules and I would talk on the phone often. She shared with me that when she felt down and discouraged, she would list the things she was most grateful for…her husband, Bryan, Jordan, 8th grade at the time, and their son, Christian, 4th grade.
One time when I was at Chemo treatment with Jules, her nurse, Cindy Deminsky, said about Jules, “She is a treasure, treasure, treasure!” In Jules’ usual humored way, she quipped, “No, you are! I’m just an addict!”
Jules always expressed to me how much she valued her girlfriends. Back in the day, she thoroughly loved her “Southern Living Ladies Lunch Club”. They would dress crazy for gatherings and when Jules was ill, they took two-hour shifts to stay with her.
We must meet the unknown future by bringing to bear everything that has been shaped by us in the past.
John O'Donohue, Irish Writer (1956-2008)
I am convinced Jules relied strongly on her faith as she journeyed through life, and she would want everyone to know this!
Jule Furr defined life and never allowed life to define her. Her smile changed the world, but she never let the circumstances of her world change her smile.
I saw a movie this past Tuesday night that was offered up for a two-night showing by Fathom Events. The next one is scheduled for October 6, 2016, if you decide you want to see it after reading this. The title of the movie is “To Joey, With Love”. Have you heard this story? You may have followed their journey on Rory’s Blog, This Life I Live.
Telling the truth and being real; feeding my family a home-cooked meal, that's important to me. That's important to me. Joey Feek
Seeing it has given me just one more certain reminder that every beating heart has a story, and Rory Feek, Joey’s husband wanted to be sure his late wife’s story was told. And now, I feel compelled to share it here with you.
Seeing this reminded me that none of us know how our stories will go. Life is full of uncertainty; with no way to foresee what challenges or blessings await us. But as Rory shares this story, he assures us that though we may not know our story that is to come, we can trust, and hope, and have faith that God will bring “good” to our story, whatever that may turn out to mean.
“Some may have the wrong idea about the Christian life. Once they become believers, they may expect “smooth sailing”. Yet, God makes it clear from the beginning of the Word to the end that troubles are inevitable for those who call themselves His. Christ’s life was no exception: He endured false accusations, rejections by His own people, and betrayal by a close friend-to name just a few. As His followers, we expect difficulty. We can choose to look elsewhere for comfort, or we can use our hardship as a source of growth. No matter how painful the trial seems, let’s not waste the opportunity.” Dr. Charles Stanley
If we knew what was going to happen around the corner, we wouldn't get up in the morning.
My Mama, Polly Shivers Walker
You see, Joey and Rory Feek were married in 2002, and had their first child together, Indiana in February of 2014. Before parenthood, Joey and Rory had made quite a name for themselves as a country and bluegrass duo, but together they decided to take some time off on their Tennessee farm to bond with their newborn baby girl, Indy. Without telling you their whole story, I am hoping I have told you just enough to peak your interest, so that you might google them, or even better, find a theater that is showing their story on October 6, 2016. More than 750 theaters had a showing on the night that I went. You can click here to find tickets by putting in your zip code: A Story of Life, Love and Hope, that never dies.
Sometimes when you don't know what to say, you don't know what to pray, these hymns help. The hymns are here for us in the really tough times.
Feeling broken hearted and blessed all at the same time this morning...watching my beautiful bride pour a lifetime of LOVE into a few minutes.
Rory Feek, March 2016, in Joey's last earthly days
Yet you, Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.
As I often say, life is not a dress rehearsal, it’s the real thing! Rory Feek shared that Joey lived several months longer than expected, but every single day, she LIVED. Just like she lived before she was ill, as though each day was her last. Do you and I live each day like that? I don’t, but I want to. Let’s Just Do It!
WOW! $20,0002.69 = A Win for The Guinn Family and Kate’s Club! Just look at what kids can do! You may have read my recent post, Are You Driving? Put The Phone Down, about Marietta triplets, MacKenna, Alyssa, and Issy, along with their mom, Kim, and the huge positive difference they are making in our world in the challenging and onerous aftermath of their Daddy, and Kim’s husband’s passing in 2014. You see, Frank, an Atlanta firefighter, was training for an upcoming race when he was struck and killed by a distracted driver.
Age seven at the time, at first, the triplets did not want to talk about their Daddy’s passing, it was just too hard! Thanks to an organization founded in June 2003, Kate’s Club has taught these sisters how to grieve in a healthy way, while moving forward. In addition, Kate’s Club, in Atlanta, Georgia, offers all of their resources free of charge, and they even hold monthly meetings for the grieving parents, which Kim Guinn has shared has been extremely helpful to her.
The soul is healed by being with children.
I listened to The Bert Show live this morning, as they interviewed Mom, Kim, the triplets, as well as Kristen Stocks, founder of a life-changing organization from Kid’s Boost, and here is what I learned as a follow-up to this amazing story:
The Guinn Family contacted Kid’s Boost The Mission of Kid’s Boost is simple: To create a sustainable cycle of giving by equipping kids to serve others. Mrs. Stocks, the founder Of Kid’s Boost, believes that kids of all ages have the innate need and desire to do something great in the world. So, Kid’s Boost offered The Guinn Family $100.00 to begin their plan. Long story short, the first annual Running thru The Flames 5K held this past Sunday on September 11, 2016, in Marietta, Georgia, raised $20,002.69…$15,002.69 more than their goal of $5,000!!!
This all began with three grieving girls who had lost their Daddy because of a distracted driver, a motivated (and also grieving) Mommy, $100.00 and this family’s desire to make a difference while honoring their precious loved one. So I leave you now with a few thoughts:
Do you have kids or grandkids? Would you like to see them more confident? What is important to your child? THINK BIG! Contact Kid’s Boost and they will help you empower your kids to do great things to give back in fun ways.
Are you and I distracted drivers, one who is constantly handling our phones while behind the wheel? Read here about a tragic accident that happened just this week in Athens, Georgia, stealing a life away, a UGA Grad Researcher, Ashley Block, age 25, instantly. The driver, age 31 has been found to not only be looking at her cellphone, but also impaired. As Kim Guinn states: “Pass them like you love them, because someone ‘does’love them. Bikers, joggers, pedestrians have families just like you.”
Do you know someone who is struggling with the loss of a child or a parent? If so, encourage them to contact Kate’s Club. This $20,000+ raised by The Guinn triplets will fund camps, outings, parental resources, all kinds of great things, all in the name of helping families who are grieving the loss of a family precious member.
And finally, remember that TODAY is a gift, and that is why we call it “The Present”. Click here to read one of my favorite posts: The Simple Things. Make Today A Great Day!
I had the opportunity this past Tuesday to go to The Barter Theater, again with my lifelong friend, Kelly Read.
You have been my friend, that in itself is a tremendous thing.” Charlotte to Wilbur in the story of Charlotte’s Web
If you have never had the chance to visit this theater and the quaint Virginia town of Abingdon, please put it on your radar for a trip in the future. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in Southwest Virginia, this town not only boasts of this great, old theater, but also the famous Virginia Creeper Trail. I like to joke and ask my husband again and again, “When can we move here!?!” Seriously, we love it!
Charlotte’s Web is often called “the best children’s book of all time,” and occupies a special place in the hearts of young and old alike.
Along with busloads of school children, Kelly and I saw the play Charlotte’s Web.
As a retired teacher of elementary kids, I love this story for many reasons. One of the reasons is I read it aloud to my class every year. Another reason is during my one year of homeschooling, I read it along with Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little to Walker during his first grade in school. All of these timeless stories were written by E.B.White and illustrated by Garth Williams.
If I can fool a bug… I can surely fool a man. People are not as smart as bugs.”Charlotte, the spider to Wilbur, the pig
I highly recommend you read these stories aloud to your children and grandchildren.
You should be able to find a copy in your local library where many locations offer free story times.
“Few people would guess that a pig and a spider could be best friends. In this story, not only are they best friends, but Charlotte, the spider saves Wilbur, the pig’s life. Charlotte takes a chance on Wilbur and goes on the most rewarding adventure of her life-friendship. And Wilbur, desperate for a friend, finds out that life is about more than just himself: it’s about helping those around you. Together, this unlikely duo changes the lives of every animal (and human) they meet.
Wilbur and Charlotte’s selflessness creates a better world. So does their bravery to be who they are. And their willingness to love each other unconditionally.
Take a chance on someone today. You may find that they’re terrific. Or radiant. Or humble. And they just might change your life.”
Director of the play, Charlotte’s Web, Barrett Guyton, Barter Theater
Sorrows cannot all be explained away…In a life truly lived, grief and loss accumulate like possessions.” Stephan Kanfer
How do we describe grief? How do we express how much we miss someone’s presence in our days? Loss is an inevitable part of life, and grief is a natural part of the healing process. The reasons for grief are many, such as the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, or the letting go of a long-held dream. Dealing with a significant loss can be one of the most difficult times in a person’s life.
I can easily recall after my Mama passed on in October, 2006, there was a physical aching in my heart, a pain I had never experienced before. I knew then a little more about what grief was. When our much-loved nephew, Brad died in April, 2009, our family learned more about this process of grief. We held onto each other a little tighter after that. My Daddy went on to join Mama in November, 2013, so I have had a glimpse of what grief is about. Like you, I have lost friends who have meant the world to me. Some of you have lost a beloved spouse. Grief is something we would definitely never invite in, but something we are all called to experience at one time or another.
Even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead.” Frederick Buechner
Unlike many of you who are reading this, I have never walked through the loss of a child. I can only imagine that losing one of our children would be like losing a limb, or worse. That is where our dear friends, The Reads are today, on March 7, 2016. They are looking at the calendar, recognizing this date and marking the first anniversary of their son, Taylor’s passing at the young age of 23.
Taylor Heston Read will always be remembered as a kind, strong, athletic, funny, loving young man, and he will be missed forever. Taylor’s parents, five grandparents, friends and relatives, including his sister, Megan know they will see him again, as they look ahead with godly confidence of this truth.I miss Taylor, too! You see, Taylor’s parents and I first met when we were just starting college at Tennessee Tech University back in the 70’s. Kelly and I bonded quickly as ADPis and went on to stand alongside each other in our 1982 weddings, vacationed together and yes, raised our children together.
Taylor was a precious little brunette baby boy. A tall young man, I’ll always remember Taylor as a gentle giant, with a comforting smile. His many friends, both guys and girls, describe Taylor as a caring soul, as “the one who looked after me,” … a bridge over troubled water.
The remembrance of Taylor will forever kindle fondness, smiles, and pure love by so many of us still here on earth…
In response to Taylor’s passing, his family soon began to consider how they wanted to mark the memory of his life here while having a positive impact on their beautiful community of Abingdon, Virginia.
Before long, it became apparent that a shelter on the Virginia Creeper Trail would be designed by Taylor’s gifted sister, Megan. The construction began soon after.
~~~~~~~A Labor Of Love~~~~~~~
The first annual “Rails To River” bike ride fund-raiser for Taylor was scheduled for October 3, 2015. When the day arrived, all plans were in place…the t-shirts had been sorted, the BBQ lunch was simmering, and the weather in Virginia was trying to put a damper on the plans. Even a cold and rainy forecast didn’t stop the fifteen plus riders on the trail who made the 8 mile trek to Taylor’s Shelter for the very first time. A huge crowd turned out to support this family and the trail. The stormy weather couldn’t block the sun from popping out just in time for the dedication of this creative retreat, this refuge from the storms of life for generations to come.
Donny and I cannot wait for our next bike ride to Taylor’s Shelter over Easter Weekend, 2016!
How do we describe grief? I do not know, but I do know how to describe a response to grief. In one word, The Read Family has chosen to respond with HOPE. Rest In Peace, Taylor Heston Read, a life well lived.
In addition to knowing we will all go through grief, we also know that our time to die will come, as well. I read a great article published this past week, “On the Day I Die”, by, John Pavlovitz. Click here to read it.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Yes, weeping may endure for the night, but JOY does come with the morning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?