Friday, July 31, 2009

Everybody Needs A Little Help

Welcome, Friends and Strangers! Plenty of iced tea in the kitchen. Help yourself. I baked my sister Sherry's recipe for Southern teacakes. There are a couple dozen delicious cookies on the red platter near the hanging oil lamp. There were more, but Sherry's teacakes are just hard to resist hot from the oven!

I've been at the hospital today with Mrs. Elizabeth because her heart began to beat with an irregular rhythm about 3:00 this morning. The cardiologist scared her when he said they might have to shock her heart to correct the problem. (Note to self: Eat that doctor's lunch when I see him for not taking the time to explain a new procedure to a woman who takes no medicine even for pain.)

Please forgive me for getting up from the table for such a long spell. Matters of the heart also involve one's hands, feet and time. When we love someone and have to put her needs above our own, the cost is much more than the price of a card at Hallmark. Words of love are nice, but works of love keep the garden weeded, the bedside attended and one's own needs secondary.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a young mother whose boyfriend doesn't want to marry. As we talked, I realized that not many of us count the cost of being in a vibrant, growing relationship with another person. We must be willing to pay the ultimate price of love: dying to self, extending grace and forgiveness, and willing sacrifice.

As I was weeding the tomatoes, I said to her, "Yeah, having sex is the easy part; it's the constant cultivation and tending to love that is hard."

Bold talk for this Table, but such things need to be discussed in a safe place so we can exercise what we learn in the midst of dangerous living!

GOOD NEWS: Mrs. Elizabeth Crunk was moved to the Franklin NHC phyical rehab center at 216 Fairground Street, Franklin, TN 37064. Maybe you could send her an encouraging card or have your kids draw her something. I hope when we are that age and in a similar situation, kind folks will choose to remember us.

I'll remember you this day, Friend.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pray for Mrs.Elizabeth

Welcome back to my Table, Friends and Strangers--all are welcome here!

I am taking this opportunity to ask all who believe in a God Who hears and answers prayers to lift up Mrs. Elizabeth Crunk, my ninety-year-old friend and the woman who is the subject of the last chapter of my book, The Stories I Keep.

Mrs. E. fell yesterday evening around 6:00, horribly fracturing the femur of her good, left leg. Four years ago she broke the right femur and pulled the hip ball from the socket, damage requiring a plate, screws, eighteen days in rehab (instead of 4-6 weeks), and these past four years of learning to walk more slowly and live with considerably more pain and stiffness.

Sometime this afternoon, Wednesday, July 29, Mrs. E. will have surgery to have a rod and screw placed in her bone to bring all the pieces back together. I arrived at the hospital about 6:45 p.m. and left this morning at 9:00. I do not remember observing someone in as much pain as my friend.

At some point, I asked Mrs. Elizabeth, "How is your courage, Mrs. E.? Is it strong?" Looking into my eyes for a long moment and then with a grimace so sad it almost made me cry, this 5'3" tired fighter said, "I'll try, Rose."

You know, Friend, the more I think about what Mrs. E. said, the more I think those words shine light into the darkness--to try, not to give up or give in, even if your husband died, leaving you with 45 Jersey cows to milk by hand at 4 a.m. and 4 p.m.; even if you had no children to leave the farm as an inheritance, and none of the rest of the younger family cared about the land; even if you were taking care of your 102-year-old momma, who told you one morning to quit your job at the Post Office just 6 months before qualifying for retirement--and you declare it was worth the 8 months you spent with her; even if you just got back on your feet from another devastating injury to your leg and you live alone.

Yes, Life is hard, and you may be ready to give up. However, remember Mrs. Elizabeth Crunk, who right now is in surgery and may wake up to find her old life is gone forever and a much more limited, pain-filled one is left in its place, where folks are already wondering which antique piece of furniture they are going to get if you die.....GIVE THEM A RUN FOR THE MONEY--TRY, THEN LIVE.

You are welcome to sit at this Table as long as you need to find the courage to fight to try, or at least to find the "want to" to "want to." All the folks sitting here will wait quietly, faithfully with you--for you are not alone.

Friend, I'll be praying for your pain, too, as I stand watch again tonight over a childless widow to whom the God of the universe sent a single, childless friend to sit by her side--along with the myriads of angels sent to stand guard over them both.

Let's say grace now for what we are all about to receive.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Miss Helen Wright, Lover of All

Welcome back to the Table, Friends! The world might define us as "losers," but at this Table, all our chairs and tea glasses are the same height, and One Who loves you does the leveling. (Even if you don't believe in God or what I just said, you can keep your chair--no prerequisite courses needed for that. Everybody is hungry at some point in the Day.)

I am struck with the image of every chair and tea glass being the same height. It reminds me of a poem I wrote to a famous poet, Billy Collins, after hearing his reading his poetry and his autographing a book for me:

Ode to Billy (not Joe) Collins

In my hands I hold the book of your poems
Where you wrote my name on the title page
Almost as big as yours.

What does that say about you? I wondered,
Having only heard you speak and read poems
For about the past hour,

not including the minute it took
for you to sign the books
my friend Karen bought for me.

Does my name size mean
That you count me
Almost as important as you?

Or were you just exhausted, weakened
from all the energy meted out
One-two-three syllables at a time?

You are funny, you must know,
Inviting guffaws,
Not polite twittering.

I wanted to shout, "BRAVO!" at the end of "Litany"
And "MOMMA!" when "Lanyard" evoked silence
Remembering the atomic strength love
Laid six-feet beneath Alabama sod.

Your eyes were engaging while chatting with me
Surprisingly I was uncomfortable with your fame,
Speaking to me like we would have a beer sometimes

where you make our small circle laugh
and all our names the same size
as our beer glasses.
(June 29, 2009)

Miss Helen was famous, no doubt about it. Because she had taken time for many individuals during a forty-year span and even those folks had moved all over the world, Miss Helen and her stories were held like treasures--and so was she. I remember one day while visiting her in her room on the assisted care hall of the Fairhaven Retirement Home in Birmingham, Alabama. Her eyes got big and she exclaimed, "Rose! I just have to tell you something that just happened, something that the Lord did!"

I knew when she began like that, which she almost always did, I was in for an amazing story of wondrous proportions and spine-tingling details, even if the narrative centered around needing a few more thank you notes and their being provided in an uncanny way. Friends, that's how Miss Helen saw all the details of her life: planned out, provided for, and surrounded by the sovereign God of Heaven.

That particular day Miss Helen said:
"I was told someone would be picking me up at 6:30 that evening. I said I wasn't going
anywhere because I didn't go out at night. I was told to be ready because that night I was
going out. Well, I was taken to Briarwood Presbyterian Church, and my driver and I were taken
all the way to the second row from the front--and the place was packed! I was wet from being
rained on, so water was dripping off my hair. I was a sight, for sure."

"I had no sooner gotten seated, when I heard the speaker say my name! I about had a heart
attack! I thought, 'W-h-a-t?! This man is Oriental, and I don't even know who he is!" Well, he
said he was from Korea, and his son had just had his first baby girl. When the man asked his
son what was the daughter's name, he was expecting a wonderful Korean name. However,
the son replied, 'Her name is Helen.'

'Helen!' the man exclaimed. "What kind of Korean name is that?!' The son replied, 'I wanted
to name my daughter after the woman who changed my life when I was in Birmingham,
attending Southeastern Bible College--Miss Helen Wright.'"

"Rose, then the man looked down at me and said, "And so, Miss Helen, that is why I asked
for you to be brought here tonight, so I could thank you for helping my son and to meet my
granddaughter's namesake."

Miss Helen exclaimed, "Rose, there were hundreds of people at this Foreign Missions'
Conference, and they began to clap--for me! And there I was, dripping wet from the rain!
Afterward, there were more folks in line to speak with me than Billy Kim, the speaker!"

Then Miss Helen asked me a question that had become a tradition at the end of her stories,
"Rose, can you beat that!" to which I would reply, "No, ma'am, no, ma'am I can't."

In 2002 I went to Korea to speak to a women's conference for military wives and female soldiers. Because of my friendship with Miss Helen, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Billy Kim at his Far East Broadcasting Company in Seoul ( Dr. Kim himself escorted my party through the facility. Although I am relatively certain this distinguished pastor does not drink beer, his kind treatment of me said our beer glasses would be the same size.

And Miss Helen? No way was she an imbiber of distilled grains. However, for the twenty-five years we were friends, this amazing lady never once made me feel less spiritual than she--although I was by a mile. In her presence there was no question our chairs were the same height--even if she had to do a little sawing to make me believe it.

Once she asked me if I thought God heard my prayers. I hemmed-hawed around (Southern lingo for "stalled") and finally said, "No." She followed up with, "Do you think He hears mine?"

Immediately I replied, "Yeah! Sure!" Woefully inadequate vocabulary aside, I was rock-solid sure God heard the prayers of the little 4'11", 98 pound spiritual heavyweight standing in front of me. I will never forget her response to me, "Well, since you don't believe God hears your prayers, don't you pray. I will pray for you because I know He hears mine."

Although one might think that sounds like criticism, it was not. It was simply the truth. To be honest, at that moment I didn't want to be praying for myself when Miss Helen was willing to pray for me! Across the living room from me, Miss Helen knelt beside her coffee table and began to pray. I could barely hear her. I remember wondering, "Do I just watch while she prays? Will God hold it against me? Will it work if she prays and I don't?"

Miss Helen had just spent the last hour writing down all the things that were bothering me; so not long after she had started praying, she took those yellow pieces of paper out of her Bible and laid them on the table in front of her. "Father, since I know that You hear me, I am giving all these burdens of RoseAnne's to You. I know that You will take them and then take care of each concern and problem. Thank You for hearing me, In Jesus' Name, Amen."

The small giant stood, walked over to me, thanked me for coming, and then escorted me to the door. As the door shut behind me, I wondered, "What was that all about?!" However, I felt light and free, maybe for the first time in my whole life ( I was twenty-eight at the time). The next day I was on my favorite jogging road near Homewood High School, where I also taught. The darkness began to close in again. A familiar, internal wound began to be poked. After a moment, I realized that the aforementioned wound was listed on the yellow pieces of paper that Miss Helen had given to God on my behalf.

To noone who could be seen I said, "Listen, that was on that yellow piece of paper, so you need to take it up with God!" It was like the darkness that had been threatening to engulf me was blown away. I didn't have any more personal faith in God than the day before, but I surefire believed in Miss Helen's faith--and at that moment, that was plenty good for me.

Looks like the cinnamon rolls are all gone, and we're all out of iced tea. I'll go into the kitchen to make some more; but while you're waiting, why don't you ponder whether or not you believe God hears and answers your prayers. Once I sit down again, you may have some yellow pieces of paper you need to get off your chest. Since I have come to know that God hears and answers my prayers, maybe then we can fill more than just your tea glass--although at this table, they are all the same size.

Miss Helen Wright, Prayer Warrior

Welcome back to my Table! Could someone pass the cinnamon rolls? Miss Helen Wright loved eating breakfast at an old Birmingham restaurant called Bogue's. They would make these small cinnamon rolls that were tightly wound and baked so the sugar was dark and almost chewy. Because of GI problems, Miss Helen ate like a bird, but she always put one or two of those delectable mounds in a napkin in her purse. I loved going to breakfast with Miss Helen!

By the time I met Miss Helen, there was no equivocation about absolutely trusting Jesus and about the difficult way for the one who chooses to live in that trust. I will write more about this, but I wanted to post a prayer by Captain Drake of the British Navy. A copy fluttered to the floor from a book I pulled from the shelf of a used bookstore in Melrose, Scotland"

"O Lord God, when Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavour any great matter,
grant us also to know that it is not the Beginning but the Continuing of the same
until it be Thoroughly Finished, which yieldeth the True Glory." (Punctuation mine,
capitaliztion his]

I shall return here to write more on this particular subject, but I felt like there were those who would be stopping by this Table who might need a strengthening bite of manna, of holy Bread to help give encouragement and to encourage to be brave like a little child who is trusting fully in a parent to lead, to protect, and to provide.

Blessings, Friends.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Miss Helen Wright, Firewalker

I received an e-mail from a former student of mine. She told of her present-day life with two autistic children. I marveled at the growth of character and spiritual maturity that was evident in her life, even in the midst of the forty-plus hours a week she juggles in order to get all the services both children require.

This woman thanked me for introducing her to the wisdom of a woman I met in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1983, Miss Helen Wright. Miss Helen, as everyone called her, was in her early seventies at that time, but age did not slow her down. In fact, she declared that God was renewing her strength every day as she waited on Him.

Most folks raised in the South would recognize Miss Helen's spiritual vocabulary even if they were not religious. If you lived in a small community, either your family showed up at Christmas and Easter church services, or you attended the Vacation Bible Schools that the local church, if nothing more than for free babysitting.

So even the crowd at the local juke joint would take off their ball caps or cowboy hats when the band, after singing "Sweet Home, Alabama" and their other four tunes ten times, would desperately turn to songs mothers and grandmothers had sung to them in the swirling dusk of firefly twilight: "Amazing Grace/How sweet the sound," or "Jesus Lover of my soul/Let me to Thy bosom fly."

Nowadays many churches omit the old, familiar hymns in favor of catchy choruses. Now there is the influx of people from sea to shining sea who come to this gentle land, strangers who buy family homes and farms, tearing down the modest structures whose wood was seasoned with the love and loyalty of those who prepared Thanksgiving turkeys and birthday cakes and Fourth of July barbeque and funeral food--all manner of covered dishes of green beans, corn, Jell-O salads, and buttermilk pies.

In the place of those clapboard houses rise mansions with seven bathrooms and four-car garages with nary a tractor or pickup truck in sight. The people in those new developments know little or nothing of what grew in the dirt that now lies barren and deep under concrete and steel, never to produce food for their children who think vegetables come from Whole Foods and the goats in the field are dogs.

I don't begrudge those who were born elsewhere; some of my best friend hale from beyond the borders of the Confederacy, and someone has to tell them the stories of the unknown people who made this place hallowed ground, who faced unbelievable hardships with strength and courage that came from the Almighty--God, that is, not money.

One such woman was Miss Helen Wright who gave up a concert pianist career with the Alabama Symphony to teach piano to students at a small college that trained people who had committed their lives to God to help others in foreign lands. Miss Helen chose poverty over prosperity--but was the richest person I have ever met.

I have decided to tell Miss Helen's stories here because I have realized that more of you can come here than can visit me at Rose Hill to sit around my table. Here you will experience a beloved ritual observed by Southerners for generations after a meal of fresh vegetables from the garden, accompanied by cornbread made in an iron skillet. We will linger around this table of communion while drinking coffee with our dessert of chess pie or peach cobbler and tell stories we have come to love.

There are plenty of chairs around this Table, and all ya'll can invite someone to visit here, too. You don't have to bring anything--just a hunger that needs to be filled.

Welcome, old and new Friends. I invite you to listen to stories like the legends of old, stories of an ordinary woman who could walk in the midst of the fire!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the Down Side of Midnight

Last night a group of friends gathered to celebrate the birthday of my best friend, Valerie. As Valerie, Karen F., Shirley, Shauna, and I sat at a round table, I would be safe to caption our time as: The Night of the Round Table. However, looking at each woman individually, I would boldly say that we all could be called "knights" with earned seats at that clrcle of honor, all having fought dragons and evil rulers and their servants in service to our High King.

When was the last time at a girls' night out that the question was asked: What piece of advice and what warning would you give about living in this world to someone younger than you? As we all toasted Valerie's health and continued journey upon her path toward Bravery and Truth, we asked one another those questions--and the answers were richer fare than the Italian dishes we were eating.

Karen said, "You can run, but you can't hide." Friends and Neighbors, and Visitors to my Neighborhood: Words cannot convey more truth than these. Right on, Sistah! One cannot speak like this unless she has experienced it for herself. As we are learning with our present political situation, you best go with someone who has lived through the storm/battle/crisis/life-sucking monster attack, instead of one who has either heard of such things or has enough information to make a damned fool of himself and of anyone who follows a leader who has only heard stories, but never lived them himself.

Shauna said, "Life is too short to be too serious," or something to that effect. Nothing overt about knightship or battle or enemies at first light, but upon further unfirling, we were still all under the same Flag: God gave His Israelties many feasts to rejoice in His care and provision, and then to celebrate for several days with family and close friends. Our holidays are not too much like those feasts because usually we are wondering how in the hell we are going to survive being around family members who hate us or degrade us or ignore us. I think Shauna is on to something: Time to declare a new Party with stated Rules of Engagement, instead of those unspoken ones that are like arrows shot from a hidden archer--they come out of nowhere but will rip through your flesh and heart like a razor.

Since it is so late, I think I'll add more when I awaken on the upside of midday.

Good morning, Friends...Welcome to the Round Table where we have room for you to sit...and then pass the biscuits, please.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Writing Down the Light

I use words to make a living as a speaker and a writer. Hearing Billy Collins, the famous American poet, read selections of his work, I had a vision: With the backdrop of Mr. Collins' standing at the podium, hundreds of words were moving and blinking on and off like summer fireflies in the trees at Rose Hill.

As I sat in my theater seat, a thrill rushed over me like I had not experienced since childhood--pure, unadulterated joy. All I had to do was capture the lit syllables with the glass jar of my mind and then place them on a page to shine every time someone stopped to watch. Bingo.

Watching, waiting, writing down the Light. Welcome to my world, Friends.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day 1 in the New World

I still use a fountain pen...the kind that is refilled from a glass Sheaffer Skrip bottle with the lip inside for easier filling. I have old phones...the kind that attach to the wall with a cord and ring with a bell and dial with fingers in holes. I have an oil ceiling lamp over my sink that I light when I wash dishes at night. The clocks in my living room tick and chime the hour and half-hour and must be wound daily.

Sticking my thumb out in the highway of this new "social media" is like hitchhiking on another planet; I just came over a hill, and life as I knew it was changed. I can still look over my shoulder and recognize "familiar"; however, as I turn my face to the present, it is more like the future science fiction authors described when Eisenhower was President.

However, my people have always been pioneers. My maternal grandmother's grandfather braved the trail in a covered wagon to bring his family safely from Texas to the mountains of Tennessee. Surely I can step onto this new path, looking back to where I came from, gaining courage and strength to continue on the new Way.

Howdie, Friends, my name is RoseAnne. You are welcome here.