5 Steps to A MUST Summer Lunch Party Each One Reach One

IMG_2759
MDJ article dated June 10, 2003. Longtime and Much Loved Volunteer, Carol Hunt is pictured below the little girl munching on a MUST lunch.

Getting everybody to practice on time! What time is the game on Thursday? PROM and all the details that go with Prom Night. College Decisions. Spring Plays. Not to mention the usual things like meals and laundry. I know if you are reading this and still have kids in your home, your days are full beyond belief. I’ve often heard MAY compared with DECEMBER as far as how busy and scheduled our lives become in May, just like the holiday season.

IMG_2541

I don’t know a kid around who doesn’t miss seeing his/her friends once school is out for the summer! If you do still have kids in your home between the age of six and highschool, I hope you will consider organizing and carrying out a MUST Summer Lunch Party. I will show you how our family did this in five easy steps and you can do it, too. Children  Elementary-High School age can even do most of the planning with a little help here and there.
IMG_2539Did you know that MUST Ministries Summer Lunch Program celebrates its 20th year in 2015? This year MUST expects to deliver between 6,000 and 7,000 lunches, across eight counties, each day of the school break. These lunches go to children who are on free or reduced lunch programs, and without this provision they would go hungry. MUST is looking for volunteers, across Metro Atlanta, who are able to give some time and resources to this worthy cause in the weeks and months ahead. Remember, they deliver to eight surrounding Metro Atlanta Counties. If you feel called to help out, please call 770-427-9862 or send an email to

summerlunch@mustministries.org.

N/A May 2016——–THIS COMING SATURDAY, MUST will be collecting the following non-perishable items along with new or gently used books from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at The MUST Marketplace at the backside of the building at 1407 Cobb Parkway North, Marietta:

**********PEANUT BUTTER (plastic jars only, please)**********JELLY**********

**********CHIPS/GRANOLA BARS(individually wrapped please)**********juice boxes**********

**********lunch bags**********sandwich sized zip locks 

N/A May 2016—Watch for ads about this donation drive on Fox Five all week!

The Marketplace is a fabulous Thrift Shop provided for anyone in the community by MUST. The prices are affordable and you never know what you might find there. YOU can check out the Marketplace when you drop your donations this coming Saturday, May 2, 2015.

IMG_2540

The poor you will always have with you…”

Jesus in Matthew 26:11

One of the most important things I believe we can teach our children is to have compassion and caring for those less fortunate than they are AND with that empathy and kindness, to then compel them to “do something” to help, no matter how small their act may seem. Back in the summers of 2002 and 2003, Leah, Walker and I hosted MUST Summer Lunch Parties a few times each summer and I am hoping if you are reading this, you may want to combine efforts with another Mom friend and host a MUST Summer Lunch Party with children who are still in your nest.

Taking Donations and hosting a Summer Lunch Party are opportunities for what I like to call “teachable moments.” A time to intentionally seize the moment by doing something fun and engaging, using our actions more than our words, and teaching our children important character traits that will help them in life.

Step One: Make a list of families that still have kids in the home. Consider school friends, church friends, cousins, and neighbors. Invite a few moms to join you in the chaperone role. (All parents do not need to stay for party-depending on the ages in attendance, recommended ratio is approximately 6-8 kids to one adult)

Step Two: Look at your family summer calendar and come up with one or more dates to host a party. Type out a notice to mail (or email) to the friends on your list.

Step Three: Meet with your volunteer Moms, your kids and their kids to plan out your party… the timeframe, snacks for the kids who come, where to have centers/stations and other details. If no swimming pool is available, plan story times ( for younger children) and games. Teens just love a chance to hang out together and catch up. Be Creative and Imaginative, catering your plan to the ages who will be in attendance! Preschoolers can help color/decorate the bags. Elementary and High School Ages can do ANYTHING, including leading groups, making sandwiches and more. Especially for younger children, set up different stations/centers where the children could rotate every 20 min. or so.

IMG_2747Step Four: Decide how many lunches your group will make. Communicate with MUST and keep them updated on your plans to provide some lunches and to find out where to take them. Call 770-427-9862 or email summerlunch@mustministries.org. Sometimes we made 50 and other times we made 100, but it depends on the size of your party, and ANY number of lunches will make a difference! Once you know who is coming, divide out the supplies you need for each lunch and email/text an assignment to each family who is coming. Use Facebook messaging for ease.

YOU will need: As many new or gently used books you can collect, hand sanitizer,  table knives, peanut butter (plastic jars only), jelly, bread, chips (individually packaged), fruit, granola bars (individually packaged), juice boxes, zip locks, lunch bags, crayons or markers for decorating bags, cardboard boxes for transporting the lunches, and frig space for storing the lunches overnight. A long dining/folding table or ping-pong table (cover with clean beach towels) will be perfect for making the sandwiches.

Step Five: Party Day! Be Flexible! Smile to yourself knowing that you are making a difference in the lives of hungry children AND helping to plant seeds of compassion and caring, not only in your own kids, but also in the hearts of their friends! Start with an introduction to explain the purpose for the party, pray for the children who will be receiving the lunches your group prepares, and remind the children that all lunches have to be packed before free time!

P.S. MUST Ministries can also use help with transporting and delivering the lunches. Our son, Walker and daughter, Leah were able to ride with the van a few times and seeing these kids for themselves was another great experience in and of itself. Contact Must Ministries to see how you and your family can get involved :  770-426-7667

IMG_2746
notes from families who received lunches from us back in 2002-2003
IMG_2742
AliMae spoke at the MUST Fundraiser this past Saturday Night. She is now 15, however she shared that after her grandmother passed, her father spiraled down and she and her brother were left hungry many, many days. That is until the MUST lunch van showed up and fed them! Since then, AliMae has been adopted into a more stable home and is doing well.
IMG_2741
Little girl proudly holding her lunch bag! “You leave us with a smile in our face.”
IMG_2696
Happy Faces as they receive something good to eat for lunch!
IMG_2694
Joyful little girl takes her lunch with a grateful heart.
IMG_2693
It’s LUNCHTIME for these three precious ones!

As you finish reading this blog post, you may be feeling a tug at your heart to do something! If so, DO IT! If you are too busy today, (it is almost MAY) make a  notation on your calendar in the coming weeks to reread this post.  In addition, if you do not live in the Metro Atlanta area, I hope you will respond by researching folks in need in your community and get your family involved in lending a hand.

IMG_1974
Walker and I,  with our friend and neighbor, Shannon as we give out Summer Lunches in the projects in Marietta. (2002)

Every bit that we do will make a difference. Are there children’s books tucked away in a cabinet or attic space? Let’s get those out and donate them to children who would love to have a book to call their own! These lunch parties can happen at workplaces, churches, anywhere there is a little space and a group to help pull some lunches together. Even young adults or folks my age can pull together a party!  MUST needs lots of sandwiches! Let’s make our 2015 summer extra special by reaching out to those in need.

IMG_2749
the postcard I mailed to families who joined us for the parties

IMG_2385IMG_2754

Ellie Spieth: A Hero In Her Brother’s Eyes

A native of the state of Georgia, I have always looked forward to the annual Masters Golf Tournament which takes place in historical Augusta, Georgia every Spring. The azaleas, the singing birds, the dogwoods, and the fairways this past week were as stunning as ever for the 2015 contest. As the tournament neared the end, we were gathered with some friends last Sunday night for a pizza dinner and we were all calling out: “Is the kid going to win, is he going to win?”, when Jordan Alexander Spieth, age 21, won his first major at the 2015 Masters with a score of 270 (-18). He tied the 72-hold record set by Tiger Woods in 1997 and became the second youngest to win the Masters, behind Woods.

golfer on grunge

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Christopher Reeve

That’s all amazing, but did you know that since his remarkable win, Jordan has been quoted as stating emphatically that it is his life’s desire to be remembered more for what he accomplished off the course than on it? This is true, and he has founded The Jordan Spieth Family Foundation and is already steering his efforts and winnings in three specific directions:

(1) Special Needs Youth and Education

(2) Military Families

(3) Junior Golf

The oldest of three children, a brother Steven who plays basketball for Brown and little sis, Ellie,  Spieth credits Ellie with keeping him humble every day of his life. “She’s the funniest member of our family,” Jordan said. “It’s humbling to see her and her friends and the struggles they go through each day that we take for granted – their kind of lack of patience or understanding, where it seems easy for us and it’s not for them.” Ellie, age 14, has a neurological disorder linked to severe autism. Jordan sees that though she has many challenges in her life, she is never defeated by her disadvantage and he turns that into his advantage. Her journey has served as a touchstone for her older brother’s life, and Jordan calls his little sister his hero.

I just love hearing about people who make an intentional choice to have a positive impact on the world around them, in their sphere of influence. Spieth is a great example of that and we need more heroes in our world like Jordan Alexander Spieth! With all the bad news in the world today, it is wonderful to hear good news like this.

Dr. Phil McGraw is famous for saying: “Someone needs to step up and be a hero.”

This is no dress rehearsal and we only get one chance at this life here on earth.

How might you and I step up and be a hero by having a positive impact in our sphere of influence today?

Man and woman couple help silhouette in mountains

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stop, Look, Listen-There Are Angels Among Us

IMG_1720Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

A 16th century Englishman by the name of John Bradford spoke the words, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford” as he watched his fellow prisoners being led to their executions. Bradford was imprisoned in the Tower of London for his Protestant faith, opposed by Queen Mary I of England. I think about this phrase, “…but for the grace of God, go I…” a lot as it relates to homeless folks, as well as other who find themselves in dire situations.

IMG_2278

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
Saint Augustine

Many of you have asked about Pamela since I posted the story entitled Joy Comes In The Morning, (click here on the title to read it) and I finally heard from her three weeks after the day we spent together in San Diego, March 15, 2015. I did get a text right after she arrived safely to Austin, Texas, but I had not heard from her since. Easter Weekend was extra special after I received the text below from Pamela.

Every beating heart has a story, and I am grateful for the opportunity Donny and I had to impact Pamela and help her turn her difficult life towards a more positive direction. As you read the above story entitled Joy Comes In The Morning, I believe you will agree that Pamela was an angel in my life that day, as well.

IMG_2536

 Who might be in your path today who needs a smile,

a positive affirmation or a touch?IMG_2274

YOU could be the angel in a life today.

Meet Me In St. Louis

IMG_2500
“I see trees of green, red roses, too. I hear babies crying, I watch them grow, they’ll learn much more, than I’ll ever know. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.” ( a weeping willow tree in Forest Park, St. Louis, Missouri)

Easter 2015 was extra special for my husband and me as we flew to St. Louis, Missouri, to meet up with our son and his wife. As we enjoyed a short, relaxing flight, I read through a book our daughter, Leah gave me as a Christmas gift, making plans to continue this blog: pages from joan, while pausing here and there to ponder a book I have just recently started writing.

There is something about the window seat of an airplane, looking over the sea of clouds that gets my heart reminiscing, the lyrics of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World”, going through my mind.

IMG_2461Having only lived in St. Louis for six months, Jessica and Walker have learned their new city well and as usual, were wonderful hosts for our visit. Before our children moved here, we had never visited St. Louis. We have always wanted to visit, hearing about this place from many good friends that grew up here, and now, it has become one of our favorite U.S. cities!

Did you know there are seven things you must do in St. Louis in April 2015:

(1) Get Your Indie Fix-a slew of shows from some much loved, arty musicians like OK Go, Sufjan Stevens, Sleater Kinney, and British pop-rock band The Kooks. (2) Support the SL art community at The Makers Ball on April 18. (3) Get the Giggles at Touhill for the Chicago-based improv group The Second City April 22-25. (4) Sample S.L. at the “A Tasteful Affair 27” on April 19 which benefits Food Outreach, a Downtown nonprofit providing nutrition services to St. Louisans living with HIV/AIDS or cancer. (5) GET active! Join the S.L. Marathon on April 12, running past some of the city’s best-loved locations, the Gateway Arch, Forest Park, Citygarden, and Anheuser-Busch brewery. (6) Catch the Spring Fashions on April 9 and April 26 at two runway shows featuring fashions from top stores. (7) GO GREEN! Join more than 35,000 members of the local community as they celebrate our amazing planet at the S.L. Earth Day Festival on April 26 at Forest Park. (note: ideas taken from ALIVE St. Louis, April 2015 issue)

IMG_2501
Walker and Jessica take a rest from paddling the ‘rents all around Forest Park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

On this visit, we stayed at nearby Chase Park Plaza, but next time, we will be staying at their new home, built in 1929, on Teasdale Avenue. It was so exciting to walk through the home that will be theirs come Mother’s Day Weekend 2015!

IMG_1772
The Page Home on Teasdale Avenue, St. Louis, MO
[pullquote]Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.[/pullquote]

We enjoyed dinner Friday night at the kids’ favorite BBQ spot: The Shaved Duck. Oh my, this was truly the most delectable BBQ we have had in some time!

IMG_2462
The Shaved Duck

Saturday, we awakened to a blue sky day and got ourselves started with a walk in the famous green space of the city: Forest Park, 1,371 acres of water, land and cultural museums, located in the western part of St. Louis, Missouri.

After walking for awhile, we hopped into a paddle boat and tooled around seeing the park from an entirely different

                      perspective.

IMG_2463 IMG_2494 IMG_2490 IMG_2466 IMG_2465 IMG_2464

IMG_2521
Leah and Walker with a bunny, Easter 1995

Perspective is a funny word to me as it has a lot to do with “choice”. Waking up on the Monday after visiting our married children, I am reminded of how fast time is traveling by. I remember once again, that as of June 21, 2014, both of our

children are now married. When I scrolled through Facebook yesterday, I saw so many cute babies and young families at annual Easter Egg Hunts. This perusing caused memories of our own two, on Easter Sundays gone by, to come flooding back. During this current season of my life, I am making a conscientious choice about my perspective. Synonyms for perspective include outlook, view, viewpoint, position, stance, attitude, frame of reference, approach, and interpretation. My husband and I are parents-in-law to two amazing kids, we are living in a home where the extra bedrooms are empty for the most part, and while we remain very close to Leah, Walker, and their spouses, they have now become their own “family unit”, just as it should be.

If I sound “sad” here in these side remarks about perspective, I really am not.

However, the passage of time does give one much to remember and to be grateful for.

Now, back to our 2015 St. Louis Easter Weekend, the Walker and Jess cooked for us Saturday night : yummy caprese paninis, home fries, and a bottle of red.  Following dinner , we hung out with their cat, Louis while playing Canasta. Dad and I finally ended up with a winning score, but with only 3 rounds played, this game is TBC. (to be continued!)IMG_2515

IMG_2517
Donny, Walker and Jessica on the steps of Memorial Presbyterian Church, Easter Sunday.

WE completed our Easter Visit in St. Louis in the most wonderful way. We worshipped together in the church Walker and Jess recently joined, Memorial Presbyterian Church on South Skinker Boulevard.

Until next time, SEE YA LATER, Walker, Jess and Lou!

IMG_2512

[pullquote]

Cherish your human connections – your relationships with friends and family.”

Barbara Bush

[/pullquote]

 What is your perspective regarding the season of your life today?

Where Is He? He Is In Us

IMG_1628

Right now that word joy may choke you...For anyone, newly grieving, to take even this first step is as difficult as learning to walk for the first time. You are, in fact, back at the beginning of learning to live again, to function, to participate in life. You are learning to live the second part of your life, so be patient with yourself. Eugenia Price, Getting Through The Night

IMG_2432

As the family filed out of North Metro Church this past Thursday at Dr. Rick Gray’s Celebration of Life Service, the instrumental music played loudly “Crown Him With Many Crowns”. My girlfriend Sandy and I, and the rest of the  congregation stood reverently by.  Especially during unpredictable and devastating circumstances, many ask, “Where is God?” There is no doubt that Rick Gray and his family, along with our dear friends, The Reads, in Virginia, who have faced unimaginable tragedy in their son’s passing, believe in their gut that God is on His Throne.  As painful as loss is, we believe in a God who is not only aware of what has happened, but he is worthy of our honor and praise regardless of our circumstances. We recognize that it is not something we can see with our eyes, but it is a truth we have intentionally chosen to believe.

We call it Faith.

With Holy Week upon us, my Father-in-law is still in the hospital. We are hopeful he will make a full recovery, but we obviously do not know what the future holds in this precarious situation.  Donny’s Dad is a man of faith, believing in things he cannot see. This very personal faith gives him hope for his future, regardless of what his future might hold.

We do not stand alone in this belief. We belong to an enormous family of faith. My ADPi Sisters, a group of nine of us have been getting together for a weekend every single year since 1979. We all have Cookeville’s  Tennessee Tech University in common. We do life together. We laugh, we cry, we call, we email, we text, we celebrate, we mourn together, but most importantly, we share a common and rigorous faith in God.

IMG_2430
TTU ADPi Sisters, 1983 at Leslie’s in Knoxville, Tennessee
IMG_1641
TTU ADPi Sisters, 2015 at Kelly’s in Abingdon, Virginia

We stand shoulder-to-shoulder in our faith journeys, sharing prayer requests with each other year in and year out. For something different in 2015, we decided to read the same devotional week after week together: The Joshua Code.

IMG_2429

Together, we start a new chapter each Sunday.  Ironically, the reading following Taylor Read’s recent passing reminded us: of the promise in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This week’s reading is called, The Proof is in the Pudding.  According to this devo, the evidence in our personal faith in a God is three-fold: inward, upward and outward. Inward evidence (see Ephesians 5:19) is seen when we choose to have a “song in our heart” regardless of our situation. Upward evidence (see Ephesians 5:20) is seen when we continually choose to have an attitude of gratitude to our God. Outward evidence (see Ephesians 5:21) is seen in our service to those in our path.

Through the generations, many have asked the question”Where is God?” Two of these who have lived during my lifetime are C.S. Lewis and Lee Strobel.

Christians can have doubts and they can have questions, and the unhealthy way to deal with that is to keep them inside where they fester and grow and can undermine our faith. The healthy way to deal with it is to talk about it and be honest about it. Lee Strobel
I do know plenty of atheists, agnostics and skeptics who have become Christians through the years. In fact, several of my friends were once strong atheists but are now committed followers of Jesus. Lee Strobel

C. S. Lewis, (1898-1963), author of Mere Christianity, among many other books, and best friends with J.R.R. Tolkien.,  fell away from faith in his youth, but returned at age 32 for the remainder of his days.

After his wife’s conversion, Lee Strobel, (1952-    ) one of the most well known atheist-turned-Christians and author of The Case For Christ, became a believer at the age of 29 after he did extensive research on the evidence for Jesus.

IN MY 56 YEARS HERE ON THIS EARTH, I HAVE CERTAINLY KNOWN SORROW, WITH BOTH OF MY PARENTS HAVING GONE ON AHEAD OF ME, ALONG WITH MANY MUCH-LOVED FRIENDS AND RELATIVES, INCLUDING A PRECIOUS NEPHEW, BRAD. I FIRST LEARNED OF MY FAVORITE BOOK ON GRIEF THROUGH THE PASSING OF  A GIRLFRIEND, JIL CAIN ON AUGUST 5, 2005, A GRACE DISGUISED: HOW THE SOUL GROWS THROUGH LOSS, BY, GERALD L. SITTSER.  I KNOW WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO HAVE THAT PHYSICAL ACHING, ANGUISH IN MY HEART AFTER HEARING OF THE PASSING OF SOMEONE I DEARLY LOVE, AND I BET YOU HAVE FELT THAT, TOO. I THINK GRIEF FEELS A LOT LIKE THE FRIDAY AND SATURDAY BEFORE THE FIRST EASTER SUNDAY. AS JESUS WAS BEING HUNG ON THE CROSS, SURELY HIS MOTHER, MARY, ALONG WITH HIS DISCIPLES, AND COUNTLESS OTHER FOLLOWERS HAD ACHING HEARTS AND WANTED TO LOSE ALL HOPE IN THEIR FUTURE. BUT THEN SUNDAY CAME! I AM LEARNING THAT THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE IN THOSE WHO GRIEVE WITH HOPE AND THOSE WHO GRIEVE WITHOUT IT. THE READ FAMILY CHOSE THE POWERFUL ANTHEM, LIFT UP THE CROSS, TO WALK OUT OF THEIR CHURCH TO. THIS SONG ILLUSTRATES HOW THEY WERE GRIEVING THE LOSS OF THEIR BELOVED SON, BROTHER, NEPHEW, AND GRANDSON  THIS IS RELATED TO A PERSONAL FAITH JOURNEY.

It is both ultimately and intimately between each created human and God.

Where are you and I in our journey today?

How is there inward, outward and

upward evidence of faith in our lives?

IMG_0917
Celebrating an anniversary with my parents. It makes my heart so happy and at peace knowing they are together today.

Despite the fact that I had been a Christian for many years before the accident, since then, God has become a living reality to me as never before. My confidence in God is somehow quieter but stronger. I feel little pressure to impress God or prove myself to him; yet I want to serve him with all my heart and strength. My life is full of bounty, even as I continue to feel the pain of loss. Grace is transforming me, and it is wonderful. I have slowly learned where God belongs and have allowed him to assume that place—at the center of life rather than at the periphery.” 

Gerald L. Sittser, author of A Grace Disguised

IMG_2328In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.” Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and Christian philosopher, Pascal had poor health especially after his 18th year and his death came just two months after his 39th birthday.

SaveSave

Choose To Not Be Blue: Part Two

I have been pondering a great and devastating mystery this morning. The mystery of the unanticipated passing of a loved one. One thing I know for certain is that the abrupt and unexpected death of someone we love is earth-shattering. The event will make you numb and send you reeling into shock when it happens.

Woman mountain HikerI also know that there is a difference as wide as The Grand Canyon, between those who grieve with faith and hope and those who do not. We saw this illustrated within the walls of a Virginia home this past week. On Wednesday, my husband and I traveled over 600 miles round trip to the quaint, historical town of Abingdon to sit with best friends we have been close to for 38 years. Their son passed away on Saturday, March 7, 2015. Our hearts are aching and we are trusting that we can somehow be an encouragement in the days, weeks, and months ahead as we walk this unfamiliar path with them. When I planned my last post entitled, Choose Not To Be Blue, and now this Part Two post, the sudden death of this much-loved young man, Taylor Heston Read, had not yet happened. This post is not about our best friends’ son leaving us so suddenly—that subject is far too raw and heartbreaking just now. Our constant prayers for comfort lie with the bereaved, Paul, Kelly, Megan, five grandparents, and the countless others who knew and loved this kind and gentle soul. Thank you for joining us in this prayer. Rest In Peace, Taylor, and we will see you again.

Rather, I will share a story that is dear to my heart which in my view, demonstrates so well the important life lesson my Mama stressed to us as we were growing up: When you are feeling down and out, help someone.

The date was August 5, 2005, when my dear friend Jil drowned in an Alabama lake while her family was with her. They were delighting in the final hazy, lazy days of summer when she slipped away. Jil was 40 years old. Jil Cain was one of those humans who inspired others to laugh and love. Jil is still remembered and missed by multitudes of people, even nearly 10 years following her passing. Jil left a memorable legacy behind for her family and friends. A life-changing book was shared with me just after Jil’s passing: A Grace Disguised.

IMG_2183
Joan and Jil take a break during the Avon 3-Day 60 Mile Walk in support of Breast Cancer Research, October 2000, Atlanta, Georgia.

My memory bank holds many, many sweet images of Jil, one of which was our participation, along with my girlfriend Kathy, in an Avon 3-Day 60 mile Breast Cancer Walk together in 2000. With the help of my friend, Jules Furr, I was able to raise over $6,000.00 and I walked in memory of my teaching friend, Debbie Ledford who had died in late 1999 of cancer. Leah and Walker even held a dog-wash to raise funds.  : )  Throughout this weekend in 2000, Jil, Kathy and I were surrounded by survivors at every turn. The 60 mile journey was an incredibly inspiring experience. A stirring of the soul.

An experience that changed our lives forever.

Later in the month, soon after Jil had died, I was driving aimlessly down the road. Our children were at Wednesday night youth group, my husband was working, and I was falling into the depths of despondency as I grieved the loss of my 40-year-old girlfriend.

Suddenly, I remembered this important lesson that my mother had always told me. Mama had often modeled this lesson as well. Tragically, Hurricane Katrina and the broken levies had just flooded New Orléans. In the nearby Boots Ward Recreational Center, there was a Red Cross shelter, a safe haven for some of the Katrina evacuees. I drove straight to this center and found out that there was a volunteer position available for the following Monday, 6-10 a.m. I signed up and felt the sadness start to ease.

The following morning, I arrived at my appointed time, unaware that someone was about to be placed in my path who would change my life. I soon met Sarah L. Johnson, a Katrina evacuee who had resided in New Orléans her entire life. Sarah was 85 years old, had never married, and had no children. Funny, she said she had always wanted to visit Atlanta, but didn’t realize she would come like this. The story of how she got here is a story in and of itself. After the initial evacuation, though there was a power outage, Sarah and her fellow residents were returned to their apartments. When she heard banging on her door, she glanced out the window only to see water rushing into the streets and rising rapidly. We now know that the levies had broken down, but at that time, the residents had no idea what the rushing water was from. They were hurried to the roof of the building where they stayed overnight until a helicopter could pluck each one of them off the roof. When boarding the helicopter, in all the confusion, this 85-year-old woman lost her walker, her glasses, her shoes, and worst of all Sarah was separated from a friend who was holding all of her IDs for her.

IMG_2179
My new friend, Sarah, at the Red Cross shelter.
IMG_2180
My friend, Vicki, who also helped Sarah Johnson during her unexpected, unplanned trip to Georgia in 2005.

Sometimes our greatest disappointments are God’s appointments to be a blessing in someone else’s life.  A friendship soon developed with Sarah which would change my life for evermore.

When I first met Sarah, she was just waking up in the Red Cross Shelter. I helped Sarah with her laundry, got her breakfast. She talked with me about her strong faith in God and how surely God had a plan for her even in this crazy situation. Feeling more encouraged, at the end of my shift, I gave her a hug, thinking I’d never see her again this side of heaven.

IMG_2178
Cathy and Sara with Sarah Johnson, who joined us for our weekly Bible Study in my friend Sara’s home.

A few days later, I received a phone call from my friend, Vicki, who had worked at the same shelter, telling me that Sarah needed to see a cardiologist and could I help her to get in to see someone. I had the privilege of taking her to a doctor the very next day. Her heart was just fine and this was the beginning of a sweet friendship, one that I will forever cherish. After four weeks at the shelter, Sarah moved to a wonderful nearby assisted living facility where even though she was the only African American woman there, she was embraced by the other residents. She worshipped with us at our church and even gathered at my sister’s home for a huge family lunch! She shared her heart with me and told me why PSALM 27 was her mainstay scripture. Mama and I took her to the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta and she told Mama and me all about her personal and vivid memories of the Civil Rights Movement.

IMG_2170
Our daughter, Leah, with Sarah in Aunt Mary Ann and Uncle Jim’s home as we gathered after church for a Sunday lunch.

Later, Sarah was happily returned to New Orléans to her same first floor apartment. I believe that our God gave me this opportunity to serve and help Sarah during a time when my heart was broken over the loss of my precious friend Jil.

So if you are feeling down and going through a great disappointment today, look up and all around. Watch for the appointment that may be waiting around the corner for you to be an uplifting messenger to someone today.

IMG_2181
Sarah L. Johnson sings “How Great Thou Art” at Wellington Place Retirement Home before returning to New Orléans.

Jeremy Camp’s song: No More Tears brings tremendous comfort…

20140329LS_1002
My beautiful and loving friend, Kelly Marie Heald Read, gives me an encouraging hug on March 29, 2014, my day to be a Mother of the Bride. We’ve been holding each other up, leaning on each other in faith since 1976.

Choose To Not Be Blue Part One

IMG_2133
My big brother, John Wade meets some new friends in Sona Bota, Central Africa, 1951.

The day was sometime in March 1950 when the small family of three, including a seven-month-old son, were dropped off at the port in New York City and boarded a big ship to set sail for Western Europe, Belgium, leaving all that was familiar to them back in rural Kentucky. Language and other mission work training would be a part of the next year after their lengthy trip across the globe. Following training, they would continue their long, arduous journey south,  with Mama now expecting child number two, Mary Ann, as they started their medical missionary assignment in the heart of Africa. They would live there for nearly four years and have one more child, Amelia Kathryn, while serving the people in the Congo. I have often wondered what it would have felt like for their parents, their siblings, and friends to send them off so far away for such an extended amount of time. They were young, my Daddy, age 30, Mama, age 23, and my big brother, John Wade, barely walking by the time they began to plant their roots in the bush country. Though I know they were thankful for their dedication and decision to serve, I am quite certain there were days when their family back home, missing them, were blue about these circumstances. My sister Mary Ann and her family can relate to this as my niece, Amy lived for years in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as a medical missionary from January 2003-January 2006.

IMG_2117
Mary Ann and Amy serve together in Rio de Janeiro 2005. Amy is now married to Stephen and they are parents to eight month old Noah Ray.

One of the most crucial life lessons my Mama taught me is simple: If you find yourself feeling sad, blue, or even a little depressed, help someone out. Even a smile can turn someone’s day around. You can make a difference in another soul’s day.

You can choose to not be blue.

IMG_5184-2
Melissa and Lauren at a going away gathering.

My friend, Melissa, and her family, had to make this intentional choice very recently when she helped her daughter, Lauren prepare for a mission assignment in South East Asia. Lauren and eight other young adults will be sharing The Gospel while serving in Thailand. The team, who will be working under the direction of Launch Global, arrived there just a few days ago to begin their work. Join me in praying for them. Their team members include: Lauren & Brady, Beth, Enoch, Lauren, Warren, Steven, Jenn, and Kimberly.

IMG_2109
This Freedom Bag was packed with LOVE by my friends, Melissa, Rachel, and Debbie. The reason for doing this was to help a young and hurting woman, but the outcome was two-fold: it also encouraged and brought JOY to the packers!

As nearly three dozen women came together in our home this past Thursday night to bring their Freedom Bags, Melissa shared with me how much this process of shopping and filling this bag had encouraged her as she had been reflecting on how far away her daughter is now living. Lovingly selecting a new shirt and pants, comb/brush, a soft throw, chapstick, socks, a journal, etc. and knowing these items would go directly into the hands of a young and violated woman brought Melissa joy beyond measure. Melissa made an intentional choice to get up, show up, and do something for another person and the result was exactly what my Mama taught me it would be: Melissa felt better and more accepting of her family’s current circumstances.

IMG_2107
Over 55 bags were packed and are ready to place directly into the hands of young women who have been imprisoned by the crime of human sex trafficking.

What will you do for someone else the next time you find yourself feeling blue?

IMG_2113

IMG_2124
First cousins, Walker, Amy, Leah, and Ricky enjoy some sightseeing during a mission trip to Rio in 2005.
IMG_2122
Donny checks on a boy in the medical clinic, Rio de Janeiro, 2005.
IMG_2121
Leah and Walker serve with their cousin, Amy, a medical missionary to Rio 2003-2006.
IMG_2119
Worship Service in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, June 25, 2005.
IMG_2116
I loved hanging out with some of the little children in Rio, 2005.
IMG_2115
Leah visits with a Brazilian family and their puppy,along with team member, Brent, Summer 2005.
IMG_2132
Walker works as part of the Eye Clinic Team in Rio, Summer 2005.
IMG_2126
A few of the precious people we served during our week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 24-July 3, 2005.
IMG_2131
Our family at the famous Christ Statue in Rio

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”  Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Eight Ways To Share With Others

IMG_1903
My sisters and I love to share when we are together! Here is a Kentucky hanky that Mary Ann gave to Laura (’cause Laura Lea is the only sis born in KY!) and a picture of Kathy’s newest granddaughter, Noelle Victoria Findlan, born in September 2014.

In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
Khalil Gibran

Sharing just makes a person feel good. Robert Fulghum even included SHARE EVERYTHING as his number one thing to learn in life in his famous writing: All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

My Mama taught me early, as the fifth child of a total of six, that sharing was a way to practice unselfishness. Mama showed us that when we share, we in turn, get an extra bonus and blessing in our days. I have found this to be so true as I have journeyed through my life.

IMG_1899
Mary Ann and Laura Lea decide on some items that are ready to pass on.
IMG_1896
Kathy and Mary Ann share some things they no longer wear.

(1) This past week, my three sisters and I met at our usual place, Cracker Barrel for our Sister Session. We try to make this happen every 2-3 months. When I am with my sisters, more than any other time, I feel like Mama is right beside us. It’s an opportunity to remember, to share our hearts and photos, update our family calendars, and laugh ’til we cry. We always share things with each other that we can no longer use…shoes, jewelry, clothing items, books and more. It is such a nice way to pass on things we love that we have no need for anymore, knowing that one of our sisters is going to get some use out of them. What’s in your closet that you still love, but just don’t use or wear anymore? Share them with a sister, daughter, niece, or a friend.

(2) Keep a “GIVE AWAY” box in your garage or basement and fill it throughout the week.

IMG_2048

Once it is full, deliver it to Must Ministries, Goodwill, or some other charitable organization and then start filling it again.

(3) Be on the lookout for ways to give back. Currently a lot of my girlfriends are joining me in the battle against human sex trafficking by preparing Freedom Bags for girls who will be rescued in 2015 in the Atlanta area.

IMG_2012
A Freedom Bag pulled together by our life-long friend, Karen.

To learn more, go to my earlier post entitled “What Is A Freedom Bag?”. Our friends, The Arntzens were recently touched by orphans in Cambodia and founded a ministry to aid them. Go to Saving Susan to learn more. There are so many needs in our world today. What mission is your heart being called to share a part of yourself with?

(4) Use your creativity to share with others. Our gifted sister-in-law, Jeanie, does this very well and this picture demonstrates just one example of how she shares in this way. IMG_1908 IMG_1911Before our Sister Session, Jeanie mailed a homemade bag for each one of us, complete with the African continent sewn on. Since our parents were missionaries in Belgian Congo in the 1950’s , this gift was extra special.

(5) Recently, we had a party and we asked our friends to bring non-perishable foods for our local homeless shelter’s pantry. Here is how much we were able to gather in just one night!

IMG_1020

(6) Share your story with trustworthy friends and family. This past weekend, we were with our two children and their new spouses. My husband and I took some time to share life experiences from our young adult years, our early days of marriage, and our parenting season, including mistakes that we had made along the way. Our Pastor Ike calls this a ‘courageous conversation’. Transparency and authenticity allows individuals in any relationship the chance to be true to themselves without the fear of judgment or criticism.

IMG_5593

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” 

Brene Brown, Author/Founder of The Daring Way

(7) Share Birthdays! They are Parties in our Souls! A birthday is a perfect chance to honor a person in our lives, not for what they do, but for who they are and for what they mean to us. An opportunity to say to them:

“Thank you for being born and being among us!”

IMG_1919
Rita presents our dear friend, Jack with a cake for his special day.
IMG_2028
Our son, Walker blows out his candles and makes a wish on his day!

(8) With each new day, share a smile with at least one fellow human you meet who shows up in your path. Sure, you may not receive a smile in return, but you will know you have made your attempt to bring joy to someone else’s day.

In what ways will you and I

share in the days ahead?

What Is A Freedom Bag?

IMG_1731

Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go.

Mother Teresa

As a mother, I cannot quit thinking about the issue of human sex trafficking and I know, I just know, that there is something we can do to have a direct impact on this horrific issue. That is just how I roll these days. Each one, reach one, one day at a time. Learn, then listen for ways one can make a difference.Tea by the lake

After attending the Justice Conference in Atlanta on January 31, 2015, I decided one way we could positively encourage and help some victims of this crime is to put together Freedom Bags that are being collected by Operation Liberate. This is a huge undertaking, but my Mama taught me to dream big, so I am asking for as many of you as possible to come on board to join me in this huge project. more about Operation Liberate: “Doing What Is Required”, click here.

Since it may cost an estimated $150.00 to buy the bag and all O.L. is expecting to have included in each bag, this could be a great joint project between 2-4 girlfriends, mothers & daughters, a small group Bible Study, a Book Club, a Tennis Team, the ideas of ways to achieve this goal are limitless!!!!

Operation Liberate helps rescue women and girls with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They want to be able to bless each of these precious ones with a unique bag created with love and prayers to encourage these victims on their first step to recovery. Because of an upcoming large-scale rescue, Operation Liberate is trying to collect as many Freedom Bags as possible by March 15th.

If you are “IN,” please let me know, so that I can count you as a “YES.” Do not hesitate to contact me with your questions.

We are on a tight schedule as these bags need to be pulled together between now and my goal date of Thursday, March 5th.

The deadline for Operation Liberate is March 15th.

PLEASE SEE BELOW THE INFORMATION THAT WAS SENT OUT BY OPERATION LIBERATE:

“Thank you for your interest in helping Operation Liberate serve the many women and girls that the Lord is going to free in 2015!”  To give each girl a special, one-of-a-kind Freedom Bag, please only fill your bag with NEW, unused items. If you are unable to pack an entire back yourself, consider partnering with your small group or church.

As you assemble your bag, please pray over the girl who will receive it – she’ll be so encouraged to know that she was prayed for. If you have questions or would like to get others involved, email Rachel at operationliberate7@gmail.com. Thank you for sharing Jesus’ love with these precious ones!

Instructions for Packing a Freedom Bag – PLEASE READ CAREFULLY

Please select a NEW feminine tote, duffel bag, or backpack that is sturdy and roomy enough to serve as an overnight/weekend bag. Heavier items should go in the bottom. Clothing and blankets should be neatly folded. For smaller bags, clothing and blankets may fit better rolled. Toiletries that might leak should be packed in Ziploc bags. Utilize any pockets for smaller items, like lip balm or travel-size deodorant. Pack anything breakable, like sunglasses, last.

Print the following information on an index card and pin to the outside of the bag:

Woman (17+), teen (13-17), or child (under 13) & clothing size (XS, S, M, L, not numeric sizes)

If you’d like, sign the card “Hand-packed with love by [your first name]” or “With love from [church or ministry]”

Once your bag is assembled, please contact Rachel at operationliberate7@gmail.com to arrange a time for it to be dropped at Midtown Church BY MARCH 15th.

Fill your bag with the following NEW items

Toiletries:

Remember this is a gift intended to show the love of Christ, so treat it like you would a care package for your own child or best friend in their first semester away at college. PLEASE ONLY PACK FULL-SIZE TOILETRIES to guarantee that each survivor receives similar items.

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, & floss
  • Shampoo & conditioner
  • Gentle face wash
  • Body wash
  • Deodorant
  • Chapstick
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hair brush or comb
  • Feminine pads & tampons
  • Travel pack of Kleenex
  • Hard candy or gum

Clothing:

Please ensure that all items in your bag are the same size (small, size 2/4, etc. While we need mostly xs, s and medium, there is also a need for Large.)

  • Sweatpants
  • Sweatshirt or thermal tee
  • 1-2 pairs of socks
  • 1 pack of panties

Special touches:

PLEASE PLACE YOUR NOTE IN AN OUTSIDE POCKET OF THE BAG, as each note must be reviewed before being given to a survivor.

Every bag will include the Life Recovery Bible, which we believe is the most important element of the Freedom Bag. If you would like to cover the cost of the Bible for your bag, PLEASE INCLUDE A CHECK FOR $10 MADE OUT TO MIDTOWN CHURCH. YOUR CHECK SHOULD BE PLACED IN THE SAME POCKET AS YOUR NOTE.

  • Handwritten letter or prayer
  • Journal
  • Pens

Fun items:

Please include three or more of the following so each girl feels special and loved:

  • Nail polish
  • Lip gloss
  • Cross necklace
  • Small stuffed animal
  • Lightweight scarf
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair ties, clips, etc.
  • Colored pencils & sketchbook
  • Coloring book & crayons (can be great therapy even for adult women)
  • Slippers
  • Small, soft blanket or throw
  • Travel-size pillow
Click this link for a printable list for Freedom Bag Instructions.
If you have made it to the end of this long list of needs, I hope that means you have decided to make a difference in just one young hurting woman’s life.
Contact me today, and remember, this can be accomplished with a group if just one person will step up agreeing to be in charge of each bag, delegating needs to the rest of the group.
I can meet you anywhere in Metro Atlanta to pick up your Freedom Bag.

 Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.

Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”Starfish on the beach

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said,

“It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

We’ve Got Your Back A 40-Year Friendship

IMG_1656
Our first gathering following The Brown Wedding in 1978, Tullahoma, Tennessee.
IMG_1657
Kay Green marries Joe Brown on December 9, 1978

Some women pray for their daughters to marry good husbands. I pray that my girls will find girlfriends half as loyal and true as the Ya-Yas.
― Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

It all began in the mid-late 1970’s when 9 girls, Becky, Kay, Susan, Delores, Leslie, JoAnn, Debby, Kelly and Joan moved themselves and their belongings to Cookeville, Tennessee to attend Tennessee Tech University. Each girl was far from home and began a search for friends who could make the years spent at Tech more fun, rewarding and meaningful. All 9 girls chose to join Alpha Delta Pi Sorority and that was the beginning of what would become life-long friendships. They certainly did not realize at the time that their common beliefs and love for one another would continue to bring them together in celebration of their friendships for decades to come.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13 (Life Application Bible)

IMG_1590
Taylor’s baptismal shell, a note from Meg’s confirmation class, and a bar of soap with the verse: Philippians 4:13 etched on it. These items were found in the rubbish, surviving the house fire.
IMG_1586
Though this is a new storage box, all of the silver utensils that were wedding gifts back in 1982 came through the fire, along with pieces of fabric found folded together and made into a small (new) baby quilt.

On January 4, 2014, we 9 were together for our annual weekend sleepover when our friend, Kelly received a call from her husband telling her that their home in Abingdon, Virginia was burning to the ground. It was too late to make the 3 hour drive to Virginia, so we hunkered down with our dear friend and held onto each other. This scene, 9 of us in PJs, was symbolic of what our friendships had come to mean to each of us in the past 36 years. Much of our time spent together would be doing the usual things that girls do: share recipes, talk about everything under the sun, eat and then eat some more, showing family/travel pictures. But that night, it became more apparent to me than ever before how unique this group of girlfriends is. Everyone in this circle relies on their faith daily and we have come to depend on each other’s prayer support, too, as we have listed out specific requests year after year.  We’ve been through marriages, births, and deaths side-by-side, and we’ve always had each other’s back.

The next day, we drove Kelly to her hometown to join her husband and to survey the damage. From what we saw, we assumed all was lost, and mostly everything was lost. However, with the help of many friends, family members, and neighbors, a few things were recovered.

IMG_1610
Kelly and Paul’s home on Valley Street

Though their sweet dog, Belle perished in the house fire, all other LIFE was spared. There was much to be thankful for, even amidst such tragic circumstances. In the past year, Kelly and Paul have been a picture of grit and tenacity as they have moved forward and renovated an Abingdon, Virginia home that was built in the 1930’s. This past weekend, their home was the spot for our 37th reunion and as usual, we had a wondrous time together! The location of their new home has allowed them to enjoy this beautiful and historical community more than ever before. They are just a few steps from The Barter Theatre and a couple of blocks from The Virginia Creeper Trail, Whitetop Yoga, and the weekly Farmer’s Market!

IMG_1658
Dalton, Georgia gathering in 1985
IMG_1628
The Virginia Creeper Trail
IMG_1626
The Virginia Creeper Trail
IMG_1641
Abingdon, Virginia gathering in 2015
IMG_1606
after a yoga class at Whitetop Yoga in Abingdon, Virginia, January 2015

“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”
― Maya Angelou

These strong friendships have seen us through countless life experiences: job losses, deaths of parents, births/marriages of our children, and currently, the births of grandchildren. We often agree as we sing our ADPi prayer:

“Hear us sing in one accord,

Praises for thy gifts, O Lord, For thy gifts of daily bread,

For thy paths in which we’re led, From thy throne of Love on High,

List to Alpha Delta Pi, AMEN”,  

 the unity that the 9 of us share has made our lives so very rich!

IMG_1494
Kay and Joan in our matching pjs
IMG_1432
a quilt given to Kelly and Paul following their house fire