All Things Bright and Beautiful

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“All things bright and beautiful. All creatures great and small. All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”

This was a song I learned as a child, and believed the words. I still do.

Something has been resting heavily on my heart for the past several days that I feel like I need to address in my writing. It has to do with this little song, whose words keep playing and replaying in my mind, and about God and God’s creation.

Last week I read that the United Methodist Church, the church I have been affiliated with all my life, ordained a transgender person as a deacon. I read with great interest the article about the ordination of M Barklay, one of God’s bright and beautiful creations. I read about the struggles this person has gone through in reaching this important point within the organized church, and the devotion and dedication to God and God’s work M is so passionate about. I am proud of my church for taking this step of inclusion and acceptance of people who don’t quite fit into the male / female mold, one that many of us hold onto so tightly.

What disturbs me about this were the many comments I read from Christian people condemning the church for this action and for labeling M as a child of the devil (the worst that I read) or a person not worthy of representing the church as an ordained deacon, according to scripture. I was amazed at the hatred, fear, despising, and condemnation that littered the comment section of the online articles that I read.

It makes me sad.

The Lord God made us all, as we teach our children in Sunday School. It is a miracle that any one of us is alive and walking on Planet Earth. I look at my own life and marvel that I am here at all. At any one point in the history of the world, one small thing could have happened to keep a baby from being conceived, and thus, I wouldn’t be here. In my imagination, I can just see my caveman ancestor returning to his cave after a long day of hunting and gathering, wanting a little affection from his cavewoman. She had a busy day, as well, and was exhausted. I can imagine in my mind her hugging her caveman mate, and saying in cave language, “Not tonight, Honey. I have a terrible headache.” But she didn’t. A cavebaby’s life was begun, and here I am, along with a long line of other ancestors, my siblings, and my two sons. And whether any of us are heterosexual, homosexual, transgender, or something in between really doesn’t matter. We have been given the gift of life, which is beyond any labeling that may be tacked onto our backs by others.

God created all things bright and beautiful. To those Christians who condemn homosexuality, gender differences, the concept of “two spirit” people (a Native American term. Read about it!), and anything that doesn’t fit into their narrow belief about God and God’s creation, I feel very sorry for them. I don’t believe that gender differences are a sin. What constitutes sin is us missing the mark of God’s intention for our lives. Who’s to say that God’s desire can’t be fulfilled in people who are a little bit different from us.

I think it is time for Christians, and all people who believe in God, to look at every person as God’s creation. I realize that things happen as a part of being human that make people different from one another, and can certainly make some people evil and dangerous. But we are all God’s children, even the very worst of us. And God is alive in us, even when we shut God into a dark closet and ignore the creator within us.

I wish M Barklay the very best in ministry and in reaching out and touching the people who need M the most to show God’s love to all. I look at the life of Jesus, and can see him reflected in this ministry.

I’m sure there are many who read this who won’t agree with me, and that’s OK. I am content and satisfied with my beliefs, which include believing that God is love, and that God loves everything and everyone that God has created.

“And that’s all I have to say about that” (thank you Forrest Gump for this quote).

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Small Town, Georgia, Girl

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           I have a new baseball cap that labels me as exactly who I am. It says “Small Town Girl”. It has a map of Georgia embroidered on it with a star designating my approximate location in the state. It was a gift, and I love it!

I guess I’ve always been a small town girl, even though I was born in Piedmont Hospital in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948. But even though I was born in a large hospital in Georgia’s capital city, I never claimed Atlanta as my own.

I grew up in Decatur, Georgia, which during the 50s and 60s was indeed a small town. We were six miles from downtown Atlanta, which to the child that I was seemed like an awfully long way from home. It was too far to walk, so we had to take the trolley if we wanted to go downtown to go shopping at Rich’s. My mother didn’t drive a car, meaning that most of our shopping was done right there in Decatur. It was when Mama needed patterns and fabric to make clothes for my sister and me that we dressed up like we were going to Sunday School, hopped on the trolley near the Decatur train station three blocks from our house, and spent the entire day downtown, getting off the trolley back home in Decatur late in the afternoon, just in time for Mama to prepare our family supper. Sometime in my adolescent years, Decatur lost her small town status to become part of Metropolitan Atlanta. But she remained a small town for me until long after I moved away at the age of sixteen. Today, even though Decatur retains much of her small town charm, the traffic congestion and difficulty in finding a place to park that doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, along with the variety of pricey restaurants, remind me that she really doesn’t qualify for “small town” status in my mind anymore. Even the houses on the street where I grew up are now priced so far out of my reach when they go on the market to be sold, I could never afford to live there these days!

Enter Monroe, Georgia, the small town I have called home for the past five years. Now, this little town reminds me more of the Decatur where I grew up than any place I know. Yes, we have our traffic snarls on Broad Street, especially when the big trucks are trying to get through town on their way from one of the interstates to the other, and when I am trying to come out of the Walmart parking lot during rush hour or on Saturday. It’s a lovely little town, with friendly people, welcoming churches, a terrific little community theater, a Saturday farmer’s market, lots of small shops for browsing and purchasing interesting items of all kinds, safe places to walk my little dog Sunshine, a strong medical community, and the warm touch of Georgia hospitality. People here wave as they drive by, and they pause on the sidewalk to say hello to my dog. They don’t ignore me as I walk past and will look at me and greet me with a smile.

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be living in Monroe, Georgia, I probably would have shaken my head, pondered in my mind just where Monroe is on the Georgia map, furrowed my brow, and asked, “Where? Why?” It isn’t important why or how I landed in Monroe, but I am happy that I did. I was even able to purchase a small home – one that I could afford – to set down a root or two. I am making this my home for awhile and claim this little town as my own, even though I am a transplant.

Small Town, Georgia, is a good place for someone like me. I live a simple life, enjoy listening to the birds singing in the trees around my home and watching the deer in the park, appreciate that nothing that I need is further than 10 minutes away by car (and I could walk if I had to!), and have made some very good friends. All this, and more, are what make me a true blue “Small Town Girl.”

In the novel that I wrote, “Fishbowls and Birdcages,” the main character was someone like me, a person who moved around from town to town, never quite belonging, and never sure just where Home was. She finally found her place, and it, too, was in Small Town, Georgia, although hers was a fictional town. She learned that the saying, “bloom where you are planted,” had a positive meaning for her as she developed her own identity and strength through her faith in God. Fran found her place, and I have found mine.

Yes, I am now officially a Small Town Georgia Girl. My new hat is proof of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Help Me Make It Through the Night

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The telephone awakened me from a sound sleep. My bedside clock showed that it was a few minutes past 1:00am. Caller ID on my phone informed me that the caller was my friend, Bill. What could he want to talk about at this hour of the night. We had talked earlier in the evening for almost an hour.

Bill apologized for waking me up. The sound of his voice told me that something was wrong. I couldn’t get him to share with me what was on his mind, or why he called me at this ungodly hour, even though I asked him more than once what was the matter. Rather than quiz him further or demand an explanation, which it was obvious I wasn’t going to get, I simply asked him, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Talk to me, “ he replied. “Please help me make it through the night.”

Only a couple of days earlier we had been talking on the phone about our favorite song writers, and Kris Kristofferson came up in the conversation, where we had agreed that we both liked his music, and this song in particular.

“Talk to me,” he repeated.

“Would you like for me to tell you a story?” I asked.

“Yes, please.”

Drawing from my writing and my collection of days, I began telling him about a game my sister and I played as children, Runaway Orphans. Since Bill and I both grew up in the same town, he was familiar with the places my sister and I visited when we played this special game. I embellished the story and added drama to it in an attempt to entertain Bill with its telling and perhaps help him get whatever was troubling him off of his mind.

When I finished, he said to me, “Tell me another one.”

I then went into the story about the day I ran away from home when I was five years old.

“Another one?”

I dug deeper into my childhood, recalling our family tradition of making homemade peach ice cream on the Fourth of July every year and about my job of sitting on top of the churn while Daddy turned the crank. From there, I went into the story about my special brother, Johnny, and a story about my daddy’s pocket watch. As I finished this story, I realized I had been talking for well over two hours, and that it was very quiet on the other end of the line.

“Are you still there? Are you feeling any better now?” I asked.

Bill’s voice, barely above a whisper, answered, “Yes, I think I am.”

“Do you want me to tell you any more stories?”

“No, I think I’ll be ok now. Thank you.” And he hung up, leaving me wondering what had just happened. It was now 4:30am.

Bill never told me why he needed me that night. The next evening when we talked, I commented, “Well, we made it through the night last night, didn’t we?”

“Yes, “ he said. “And it was no small feat. I’ll forever be grateful to you for staying on the phone with me all night long.”

I never learned what was troubling Bill that night. Over the course of our three-year friendship, I discovered that he had his own demons he was battling, and little by little, one by one, he shared a few of them with me. He also recalled tidbits of his history and life as a journalist – he truly had the gift of the story teller, and could have me laughing uncontrollably or sympathizing with tears running down my face as he’d relate a tale from his past.

Bill also encouraged me as a writer. He never completely understood my style of writing – I am not a journalist or reporter, but a weaver of tales and a painter using words instead of paint of my memories and adventures through life. He would sometimes tell me that I needed to step away and be more objective in my writing, that I put too much of myself into it. I’d politely disagree with him, and he’d keep on complimenting me on my writing, even though I didn’t take this piece of advice. He said on many occasions that I was a better writer than he was. That wasn’t true. He was a gifted writer, a diligent researcher, and an extraordinary communicator through the written word. I could never do what he did.

One thing that Bill told me often was that he didn’t believe he would live to be an old man. He once said that he didn’t think he would live to see 70. And he was right. I guess he somehow knew his limits and sensed his life span. When a classmate of ours died recently, he told me he thought he might be next. I wish he had been wrong.

Bill was my friend. My heart is aching as I write tonight. I’ll miss hearing his voice, listening to him telling me about his latest writing assignment, and being the recipient of his praise and admiration of me and my writing.

I wish I could have had the chance to say goodbye.

“I don’t care what’s right or wrong,

I don’t try to understand.

Let the devil take tomorrow.

Lord, tonight I need a friend.

Yesterday is dead and gone, and tomorrow’s out of sight.

And it’s sad to be alone.

Help me make it through the night.”

“Help Me Make It Through the Night” by Kris Kristofferson

I Wish I Could Make Music

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I can make noise, and occasionally I can hit the right notes on a piano or on my baritone ukelele, but I am not a musician. I wish I were. As a child, I endured six years of piano lessons and two years of violin lessons. I never mastered the piano and failed miserably at the violin. Then, in my 30s I had to learn to play a plastic recorder as one of the requirements to become an elementary school teacher. I passed the test, but did not consider myself proficient on this instrument. However, as a teenager I became a pretty mean ukulele strummer at summer camp. But I was not a particularly good singer; hence, the idea of becoming a professional musician never even crossed my mind.

I recently attended a local jazz concert while visiting my cousin in North Carolina. The jazz group consisted of a pianist, a flutist, a bass player, and a drummer. It was wonderful. While the music washed over me and through me, I found myself focused on the hands and fingers of the musicians. How I wished I could play an instrument – any kind of instrument – with the passion and love that clearly radiated from their faces and the movement of their arms, hands, and bodies. Memories of all of the musical instruments I attempted to learn how to play in my past made me more keenly aware of the talent and gifts of this musical group.

As a teenager I loved to sing, and even tried out for a part in the musical “Oklahoma!” at my high school. I didn’t get the part. I was told my voice wasn’t strong enough and was too breathy. I sang in the chorus, but struggled through it. I was a second soprano and alto (never could hit those high notes), and found it difficult to find my part unless there were strong vocalists on either side of me singing into my ears. Later, I sang in various church choirs, but again, I had to be positioned near someone I could follow and drown out the melody in order to sing the harmony. I loved singing, but I simply didn’t have the gift, even though I had the desire to sing.

Now the only way I make music is to turn on Pandora on my computer or satellite radio in my car and listen. I especially appreciate listening to the musicians who are not only performers, but also composers. To be able to write a song, then figure out the music to go along with the words, and finally perform it while playing the piano or the guitar is something worthy of my deepest admiration. How I wish I could do it!

I sing along sometimes, especially if it’s an old favorite whose words come to me easily. And there are a few songs that I can actually pick up the harmony and pretend that I am a real musician while driving down the highway.

Music is the love song of the universe. I can’t imagine a world without it.

Someone once asked me if I believed in God. I answered that, yes, I do believe. This was followed by the follow-up question, why? My simple answer was:

Because I believe in music.

A Heart-to-Heart Conversation with Facebook

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Facebook, you and I need to have a little talk.

When I signed on to social media in 2008, I did so at the urging of my son-in-law, who told me Facebook was a great way to keep up with my family and friends and to share photos and life experiences with them. It would also be a quick way, he assured me, to check in with my family to know what was going on in their lives and to keep them updated on what was happening in mine.

Facebook, you have let me down. Or rather, people on Facebook have let me down. And I am angry that I can’t visit you now and then to touch base with my family and friends without getting upset. Instead, when I open my Facebook page, I am bombarded with stuff I have no desire to see, hear, or know about.

I’m talking primarily about the recent presidential election. I was for neither candidate, and I felt that we had pretty poor choices for our country’s leadership. But one of them was elected, and I am still – three months later – reading horrible things from both camps about the other. I understand that you are an avenue for people to express their opinions and beliefs, but I don’t understand why I have to read through these in an effort to find the kind of news I want to see. Before you were part of my life, I didn’t know (or care) who won the Golden Globe Award or what the winner’s speech was about. I wasn’t subjected to venomous rantings about people who followed certain political parties (and I am talking about BOTH of them). I wasn’t exposed to the hatred that seems to permeate throughout the postings on your pages.

I have already unfriended some folks that I really care about, because they are using you as their platform for airing their grievances, fears, and anger to the universe. And I am seriously considering saying goodbye to you altogether. I hate to do this, because I truly enjoy keeping in touch with my Facebook friends, looking at photos of children and grandchildren, learning about travel and life events, finding delicious new recipes and neat DIY ideas, and offering up a prayer when someone is hurting or ill. This week I have watched as my son travels cross-country to his new home in California from New York, and I have savored each message and photo that he has posted along his way. I have also celebrated a few birthdays with some dear friends, and have read about life milestones, major decisions, and other bits of personal news that I wouldn’t know about if it weren’t for your presence in my life.

Facebook, I have tried to figure out a way to block messages that I don’t want to look at. As a librarian, I would love to catalog them into neat little boxes, and then have the ability to choose those categories I want to look at. But I don’t have that luxury or choice, beyond your birthday bar on my personal bulletin board. I have to plow through the venom to get to the new grandchild, the family reunion, the latest travel destination, or the graduation celebration.

On a personal basis, I have to admit that I am easily sucked in. I have a hard time scrolling past items that look distasteful to me. I am compelled to give them a quick perusal, almost always ending up with an upset stomach and angrily clicking off of you until I can settle down and breathe normally. This is not my idea of social media. It seems more like anti-social media to me.

I don’t know what to do, Facebook.

I am holding on by a thread and not pulling the plug completely yet, because I know you have many redeeming qualities that I value. But I am not happy with you, Facebook, not one bit. And I’m not sure what to do about it.

For now, I think I will continue to write in my blog and share my collection of days with my Facebook friends. And, yes, I will use you as my portal for sharing what I write. I will also post photos on your pages that I want to save and share.

But I’m going to have to think long and hard about what our relationship is going to be for the future. Facebook, you and I are in serious trouble. I think we need to separate for awhile and give each other some needed space. Whether we split for good will be something to consider down the road. I am hoping our relationship can be salvaged and that we can reconcile our problems. There is so much good in you, and so much potential, I can’t cut the cord quite yet.

Facebook, I have some thinking to do.

Goodbye 2016. Hello New Year.

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The New Year has a way of haunting me as January 1 draws nearer. I know it’s just another day, but for me it’s a time of looking back, taking stock of where I am right now, and gazing ahead for perhaps a glimpse of what is in store for me in the coming year.

The past few nights I have been awakened by dreams reminding me of my past and filling me with a mixture of regrets, feelings of accomplishments, and memories of pure joy, deep sadness, and even loss – all jumbled together in a sleep-depriving slide show of my history. As I contemplated all that is part of who I am, I reached out to God in gratitude for delivering me from evil, for walking beside me during trying times, for teaching me about what real love is all about, and for giving me my life.

And now, today, on New Year’s Eve, I turn the final page of 2016, the pages filled to overflowing with my words, thoughts, prayers, and wishes. I close the book, but I don’t seal it. I can always return to this year in my memories, and be reminded of this great and wonderful gift called life and of the year of 2016. A new book awaits me, its pages blank and ready to receive whatever each day decides to grant me.

Last year I wrote a list of things to NOT DO in the New Year. I didn’t accomplish my goals entirely, but I can report proudly that I have not put on a sports bra backwards in 2016. (See my blog from last year to read my list: https://jennielousdays.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/my-to-dont-do-list/ ). But I also have to admit that I fell off the chocolate wagon over the Christmas holidays, and I enjoyed far too much candy and cookies. The New Year is a good time to re-group, get back into good habits, and take a bold step forward.

2016 is waving goodbye as she approaches the door into years past. She is taking with her tender memories of dear friends I have had to say farewell to this year, of great personal accomplishments that at times seemed daunting and unattainable, of prayers for healing and those answered prayers, of fears over the fate of our nation during the most disturbing political race I’ve ever experienced, and a plethora of moments and days that brought tears to my eyes merely from the pure joy of being alive and acknowledging my small place in this remarkable universe.

As she moves closer to that door, 2016 pauses to glance back at me and with thumbs up and a broad smile, she wishes me Godspeed into 2017.

I pull out my book with blank pages, and I am ready to write!

The Christmas Doll

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I wrote this for my blog in 2008. While talking to some friends recently about going to Rich’s Department Store at Christmastime when we were growing up, I remembered this and found it in my archives. This is one of my favorite Christmas memories. Enjoy!

I was five years old and Christmas was getting close. My mother told me that I needed to think about what I wanted Santa Claus to bring me, and that we would go downtown to sit on Santa’s lap once I decided what I would tell him. It didn’t take much thinking for me. All I wanted was a doll that could walk and talk. Nothing else interested me.

Mama dressed me up in my Sunday dress and shoes and bundled me in the winter coat she had made for me. We walked three blocks from our house to the trolley stop in Decatur to ride the bus six miles to Rich’s Department Store in downtown Atlanta. Once there, we easily found the line of children waiting to talk to Santa, and took our place with them. My turn came, and I pranced right up to Santa, climbing onto his lap. When he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I told him – a doll that walks and talks. Is there anything else you want Santa to bring you? No, thank you, just a doll that walks and talks.

From Santa’s lap, we made our way to Rich’s toy department. Mama and I began looking at dolls to see if we could find the one I wanted. A pretty saleslady approached us and offered to help. I told her what I wanted. She smiled and said, “Well, young lady, I’m not sure we have a doll that walks and talks, but I have lots of dolls that I can show you.” The first one she took off the shelf was a doll that could walk. She showed me how to hold onto its middle and move my hands to propel one leg and then the other forward. The doll was pretty, but she was stiff and couldn’t really walk. She wasn’t the one I wanted. The next doll was one that could talk. But her lips were painted onto her face, and I had to turn her completely upside down to make her chirp a whiny “Ma-ma” from somewhere in the vicinity of her stomach. That wasn’t talking. This doll wasn’t the one I wanted, either. I wanted a doll that could walk and talk.

The saleslady showed me doll after doll, demonstrating what each one could do, but none was the doll I had asked Santa for. Finally, in desperation, she said she had one more, but she didn’t think this doll was right for me, either. Into my arms she placed a big soft baby doll, dressed in pink, with light brown painted hair and blue eyes with real hair eyelashes and eyelids that blinked open and shut as I moved her head. She was soft and plump, and the size of a real baby. She was beautiful! But she doesn’t walk or talk, both my mother and the saleslady reminded me. Thoughts of walking, talking dolls flew out of my mind for a moment as I held this wonderful baby doll. I gently handed her back to the saleslady, and she placed her back on the toy shelf. I had told Santa that I wanted a doll that walks and talks. I knew his elves could make a doll for me that walked and talked. As Mama and I left Rich’s, I counted on Santa to bring me what I really wanted for Christmas.

On Christmas morning, I was awake early to see what Santa had brought me. To my surprise, he had not left a doll that walks or talks under our tree, but the baby doll I had held so tenderly at Rich’s. I gently picked her up and carried her to Daddy’s rocking chair to rock and cuddle until the rest of the family woke up to see what Santa had left at our house. I don’t remember wishing for a doll that walks and talks ever again!

My Christmas doll wasn’t the one I thought I wanted, but she was the one I needed, and she needed me. She couldn’t walk or talk, but that didn’t matter to me. I named her Cathy and loved and cared for her for many years, while she loved me back by simply being soft and huggable, and by gazing at me with those crystal blue blinking eyes.

My wish for us all this Christmas is that we remember that it isn’t getting what we think we want that makes our lives complete. What makes life wonderful is discovering the “baby dolls” we meet along our way who need our love. And it is in our response to them that we become more caring, giving, and compassionate human beings.