Love Your Other

After watching yet another comedian get reamed for not simply just “sticking to the funny” in regards to the climate we’re in, I must say I’m increasingly bothered by the continuation of this response (in different forms depending on your craft): “shut up and tell jokes,” “shut up and sing,” “shut up and dribble.” First of all, the first two require one to not shut up, which I can only then assume the comment to actually mean, “stop saying things I don’t want to hear and say things I agree with. 

I know my place as an entertainer, meaning I know I’m not famous by Hollywood standards, and I know I haven’t performed long enough to even comfortably call myself a comedian. Nonetheless, I am on a journey that has led me in the direction of comedy, not so much because I have intentionally pursued it, but because I accidentally stumbled upon it later in life, and for some reason I kept showing back up. I have an audience though I admit not a wide one. This might sound nice to say, but I quite sincerely mean it when I say I care more about the depth of my audience than the width. Perhaps that is why Hollywood has not come a-knockin’.

When I say “the depth of my audience” I mean the capacity to which they are able to care about humanity. People as individuals are troublesome, even I have a hard time giving people a chance and trying to understand them. But when I look at humanity as a whole and what it is meant to be to each other, I hold out hope for the good in individual people. I don’t want to simply make people laugh, to be a talking voice that says things people agree with so they can feel good for the moment only to return to hating their neighbor. I don’t want to be a comedian who distracts, I want to be a comedian who adds… value, meaning, purpose. 

I don’t simply want to “find the formula” for good comedy that is guaranteed to have a positive audience response while I’m emotionally unattached to what I am saying. When I say “I care about the depth of my audience more than the width,” I mean I don’t care how large or small the crowd is, I want to show up as my true authentic self and trust that the adults in the room can handle what I have to say. They can agree or disagree with me, but we can hold space for each other, and acknowledge tough things going on in the world (and our lives), and we can still have time and space to laugh. There can be humor and pain at the same time. Not all comedy is like this, which I appreciate, I enjoy many different forms of comedy, I’m just honing in on the type of comedy that works for me. 

While I’m not here to speak for or defend all comedians, trust me, they don’t need me to, I’ve seen some of them handle hecklers and they’re good, I will say, I don’t think most people get what it’s like to be a comedian. To be someone who’s talent (somehow) is to make people laugh, but to still be a person who is functioning not only in a hurting world but also in the midst of their own hurts. 

Someone messaged me recently, someone I don’t know very well but who has followed my work, and with no formalities or introduction, they simply said “tell us some jokes, we really need to laugh right now.” I’m trying not to assume intention, but being on the receiving end I admit I was a little irritated. Mostly because comedy is part of what I do, but it is not all of what I am. I was an artist before a comedian and a writer before that and I don’t simply “just tell jokes,” especially as a means to distract you from the reality of what is going on right now. Even the greatest entertainer in the world isn’t only an entertainer. It is actually not our sole job description to not care about what is going on in the world and simply entertain. While we might most frequently have entertainment to give, life, as we all know, has ups and downs and ebbs and flows and the person inside of that entertainer is just as affected the by chaos of life. 

To tell comedians to “just be funny” right now (or in the midst of any of their own grief and pain) is to take the heart right out of what they do. Same with athletes or musicians. It’s the human heart, the emotional connection that gravitates us toward watching someone perform in their craft. The humor in comedy often comes from pain, the talent in sports from the pain of hard work and practice, and the rawness in good music from the heartbreak we experience in our human condition. To tell these performers right now to not acknowledge the pain they feel, whether or not you agree with their reasons why (life hack: you can’t tell someone they don’t feel pain), to tell them to “shut up and just (fill in the blank)” is to dehumanize their craft as if their sole purpose in life is to simply entertain you. It reveals your self-centeredness, not a weakness in their ability to entertain. 

I haven’t said a lot on social media recently simply because I have learned the value of listening. Something I don’t see very many people doing right now. Without taking the time to listen first, I see noise piled upon noise and no one is hearing anyone’s message because they are too busy defending their own. People don’t care about your self-defense, they care about whether or not they are being heard, and if you are someone who wants to be heard right now, then start by listening. 

I’m aware that saying “start by listening” may not be applicable to everyone in this moment. Some people have been listening for a long time and have only now begun to speak up. Some people have been actively listening for a long time and have spoken up before only to continuously get drowned out. I get the frustration. So without being aware of how far this message will reach, my intention to say “start by listening” is mainly to the audience I have seen on my own personal social media accounts. 

As of recent, I have discovered some of my own blindspots that don’t require me getting into Facebook fights over in order to address. I have learned to become educated about the things I do not understand. Simple enough, educate yourself, so simple in fact that I missed it for a very long time in many different ways. Instead of turning away from what is hard, I am looking right at it, listening to people I thought I disagreed with because I was taught to, and realizing even if some disagreement is still present, they are just people too who are trying to figure out how to express their core beliefs. It doesn’t mean I excuse “bad behavior,” but it means I understand the motive behind it, the heart condition of the person engaged in it, and even the fact that I myself am not the judge on that which is good and bad— maybe so for my own personal life, but not the entirety of the human race. 

I am heartbroken and sad over the state of the world right now, especially America since I am an American watching what appears to be her country falling apart. I say “appears” because I know there is still so much good out there, so much is being left out of the narrative. That said, I am still heartbroken and sad. I don’t say that in a “poor me, I’m sad, comfort me” kind of way. I do not want an “I’m sorry” response. I’m a grown woman with a lot of feelings who is fully capable of not only navigating her feelings, but having boundaries with them so as not to dump them on the rest of society in an attempt to get people to look at her instead of what is going on. I am heartbroken and sad over something worth being heartbroken and sad over, I don’t want a pity party, I want people to look at the thing that is heartbreaking and sad. I want people to figure out what it looks like to help instead of hate. 

I see a lot of hate right now, some is visible obvious hate, some is less obvious disguised as “concern.” To be honest, it’s the less obvious hate that is more dangerous; it can cover more ground and breed more followers. It has a sneaky way of invoking emotion to get one to justify their own beliefs and separate themselves from anyone different; it says “I care about my own” while dismissing the other, the least of these, the marginalized. To use the word “care” only in regards to those that are just like you and your thoughts and your beliefs is not to actually care but to self serve. 

Facebook now has a “care” button. Why did we need this? Just another way to say “I don’t love what you’re saying, I don’t even like it, but I really care about it.” Thanks Facebook, for helping us continue to excel as moderates, “caring” from far away, doing nothing to be helpful, while getting in argument after argument with people we don’t even know, people we’ve already made decisions about because of their religion or political views or list of arrests. Thanks for helping us turn people into divisive strategies to get our point across. Too much? Maybe, but maybe not, maybe some of us need to stop thinking the rest of the world should think like we do and maybe we should just let people be who they are; that includes allowing a family to grieve over a lost family member, no matter what their past includes. 

(For the record, I feel like I need to actually clarify for certain people that I’m not blaming Facebook for anything, I’m just making a point, maybe even a joke. Can’t wait to see how many people will “care”!)

I watched an African American pastor recently explain to a congregation that for the most part, white people experience things as individuals. It is easy for us to not experience something that happened on a greater scale if we were not individually or personally involved in it. That made sense to me. I often pride myself on being an individual, I always thought that was a good thing, and it is, but I never thought about there being a downside. For example, if I’m not aware, my individuality could hinder me from feeling compassion towards someone who is hurting or from standing up against something that is wrong simply because I did not directly play a part in it. I want to be an individual, but I do not want to be an individual who looks at injustice and says “yea that sucks, but it’s not my problem.”

The pastor continued to say that African Americans tend to experience things as a community. When they see a black man being killed in the street, it is very real for them to see it being themselves or their immediate family, hence why they have such a strong emotional reaction to it. It’s not as simple as “what a sad story,” it’s “that is my family.” It’s a different experience, neither being right or wrong, just different. Anytime you go through a trauma with someone you are bonded to them, even if you didn’t know them before. Whether it’s holocaust survivors or plane crash survivors, when you survive something with other people that no one else went through, it bonds you to those people. 

The African American community has a history of trauma in the United States, that’s not an argument I’m trying to make, that’s just a simple fact, a history lesson. As uncomfortable as it is to say, in my attempt to experience something communally, we enslaved them, then we “set them free,” then we poured acid in the swimming pool when they tried to swim with us, amongst other things. Not only did we say “you can’t sit with us,” we had them them hosed, beaten, sometimes even shot if they tried. And I know, not all of us, I’ve made the same argument (I wasn’t even born yet!), but it’s that very same argument of individualism, “I did not do it so I am not a part of it” that has kept me from seeing where real hurts still exist.

Some of the trauma done to the African American community was recognized enough to change the law, but not enough to fully heal from the pain of the damage done. In many ways, I have failed to see oppression because I have refused to be grouped in with the oppressors. (The modern day) we have to at least be curious about this. For me personally, it has been asking myself  “what part, no matter how small, have I continued the pain through the act of dismissal?” By saying there’s no more problem, I’m saying there’s no more pain. There’s very clearly still pain. I can’t unsee it.

This communal experience helps explain why the African American community responds the way they do, they didn’t pick George Floyd as their hero, they easily saw themselves in his place and he now represents what many have been talking about for a long time, a less obvious continuation of racial injustice.

It’s not to say that those are the only two experiences or reactions, individual or communal, it’s just to help give a better explanation of how things happen the way they do. When the same pastor was asked about the riots he was quick to clarify the difference between riots and protests which the media has clumped together, making all of it seem wrong, but even with riots he said something to the effect of it being the voice of an oppressed people who don’t have the tools or the resources to make the change they’ve been asking for, and so they essentially “throw a tantrum,” an outburst of anger which seems to be out of nowhere, but the reason it’s bursting out is because it’s been pent up for so long. Again, not all, but some. It doesn’t justify it, but it explains the why.

I think we all need to start listening more to people’s why because that’s where the heartbreak is. The heartbreak is what needs to be helped, but it can’t be helped if we keep condemning the how while ignoring the why.

I’m listening more. I haven’t checked out, I’m tuning in. I’m taking time to actually pay attention. And sure, I’m not telling a lot of jokes right now, because even though I do believe laughter to be medicine, I also believe there is a season for everything; a season to grieve, a season to heal, a season to find the humor in the pain, but in my experience, I only became a good comedian because I dealt with my own pain.

While I’ve dealt with my own individual pain in my past, I realize there’s a communal pain I’ve ignored for a long time, and since I’m part of the community that is the human race, I’m taking time to address that. I’m listening to what a lot of different people have to say. It doesn’t mean you have to do the same. I don’t think there is a formula, everyone’s role will be a little different in this season of life, perhaps even circumstance by circumstance. Some people need to speak up and some people need to listen, but I do think it’s worth discovering what your role is in a way that shows love to the other, no matter how different the other is from you. 

We’re all each other’s other. What does it look like to love yourself and love your other?

love to laugh

Original Artwork by JJ Barrows

All You Need Is BOTOX! (I mean LOVE!)

Oh, the oddity that is humanity.

Here’s hoping Love wins out among all the things we think we need!

Stay in Saturday. Ep. 6: All About That Mom!

 

In honor of Mother’s Day, this Saturday we’re celebrating all the moms and mom figures in our lives!

I’m sitting back on this one and sharing the space with a few other women to be able to talk about the meaningful women in their lives. We know relationships with parents can be complicated, but they can also be so, so good. While there’s room for everyone’s story and what this day means to them (if anything), this little space in time is for celebrating the women who came through and did the best they could with what they had!

Happy Mother’s Day, Mommas!! 💜💙💚💛🧡

carbonated holiness

I just got off the phone with Richard, my old neighbor— old as in I used to live by him, and well, yes, he is of an older generation.

I mailed Richard a copy of my book a few weeks ago. I wrote about him in the last chapter and I wanted him to read it, to know he’d been the kind of friend worth writing about. I had written about my Grandmother in the chapter before and I planned to give her a copy for Christmas but then she passed away on Thanksgiving. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” I love the song but sometimes I hate that it’s true.

More and more I’m sad I didn’t send a copy to her sooner, to let her know she’d been the kind of woman worth writing about, something I don’t think she thought of herself as. It was after my Grandma passed that I knew for sure I needed to send Richard a copy, I needed him to know he was loved and missed, especially because I knew he lived alone and I didn’t know how often he got to hear those words anymore.

So a few weeks into the New Year, I mailed Richard a copy. Last week he texted me, “Thank you so much, it is so good, give me a call sometime.”

I called him tonight and he was elated, “I’ve read it twice!” he said, “the whole book!” I was shocked, was that even possible? I guess it’s not that long. He kept going as I pondered the amount of time he’s had it to be able to read through it twice, “I couldn’t stop reading it, oh I just love it. It’s answered a lot of questions, you know!”
“I bet,” I said and we laughed.

“You know, I loved very much that you called me your favorite neighbor, but you know, you made a big mistake in there.”

“I did?” I asked. (Oh no, what?)

“Yea, a big one. You called me your 70 year old neighbor, and I’m not 70…” he paused.

“Oh, you’re not!?” I said a little embarrassed, “how old are you?” Hoping I didn’t offend him.

He was quiet a second more…

“I’m 88!” And he let out a huge laugh. I was so relieved. “Boy, you really made my day with that one,” he said.

“Well see, Richard, there you go, you look great for your age, even better than I thought!” I laughed, still slightly shocked.

Richard just kept laughing, “oh that made me feel so good, I thought to myself ‘why, I outta go out tonight!’” And I could hear what sounded like him slapping the couch as he laughed. “Laughter really is carbonated holiness,” I thought to myself, something I read by Anne Lamott earlier in the week.

Richard has been getting cancer treatments the last 7 years and he told me he had his last one this past Wednesday. “I’m good now!” He said, and I tried not to cry as I told him how happy I was. He asked me repetitively if I was good and if I was happy, the same Richard I wrote about years before when I used to live by him.

“You know, I loved your book so much, I took it with me to my doctor and I showed him the part where you called me 70! He laughed and said ‘See, Richard, I knew we’ve been doing something right!’ Haha, can you believe it!?” And we both laughed at my “big mistake.”

He thanked me for calling him 70, he asked me to please stay in touch and he told me one more old war story. “I love you,” he said as we got off the phone. “I love you too, Richard,” I said as I tried not to cry again.

I don’t know the totality of what life is about, but I do know there’s these little portions of each day in which I get a glimpse of it, overwhelmed by the beauty of it and moved by the connection found in it. I know no other option, and so even on the hard days I move forward, thankful for these glimpses, these portions of day in which to laugh with an old neighbor and celebrate that “he’s good now!” That is all we really have— right now, and right now is what I am most grateful for. That, and carbonated holiness.

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More stories and adventures at: jjbarrows.com, and itscalledaspade.com

 

My Mommom

My grandmother passed away yesterday… on Thanksgiving. This isn’t exactly the hook line you’re supposed to start with to grab someone’s attention, but I realize this is less about how many people read what I write and more about taking the time to honor a woman I love who didn’t receive much honor during her lifetime.

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I recently published a book and I only say that to say I wrote a chapter about her, about getting to know her later in life and how much I had grown to love her (you appreciate so little when you’re young). My plan was to give her a copy for Christmas. She lived a quiet life, often afraid she hadn’t done enough or loved well. She was my mom’s mom, which is why we called her Mommom. My Dad’s dad (we just called him Papa cause DadDad sounds weird) passed away just before Thanksgiving about three years ago. His death was national news, and while only certain groups may have known his name, his name was in the headlines, highways in Charlotte, NC were closed during his processional, and hundreds upon hundreds of people attended his funeral.

Sometimes I think Mommom felt inferior to my dad’s limelight side of the family, but she never said so. A lot of people say I get my stage presence from my dad’s side of the family, especially my grandfather- he had it (as well as my dad). But I know for a fact I get my witty sense of humor from my mom’s side- not only my mom, but as I spent more time with my grandmother later in life, I realized my mom got it from her. She was so funny, so witty, even at 97 years old. Just before she passed on Thanksgiving she reminded my dad to wait until the turkey was cooled before he carved it. When asked how she was feeling she said, “at my age everything hurts, and if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t working!” We laughed A LOT with Mommom.

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I mailed her pictures from when I got married this year and she beamed with pride. Josh and I went to visit her while back in South Carolina and she had our pictures proudly posted in her room. She called him my “lover boy” and said she was too short to reach his cheek so he’d have to bend down for a kiss.

With every visit we played cards and parcheesi and she was impossible to beat– at first it was like “go easy on her, she’s old,” but my siblings and I quickly learned she was ruthless and even in our best efforts to take her down in cards, she’d have none of that. I’ve only beaten her one time and I recorded it because I knew it would never happen again.

I wasn’t always as close with Mommom growing up. In fact it wasn’t until fall of 2015 that I really got to know my grandmother, as a friend, not just a relative. I’ve been going through old pictures and journal entries and I found this unfinished entry during that time…

Today I rubbed lotion on my grandmother’s legs. Prior to this I don’t think I have ever touched my grandmother’s legs, be it because that’s normal to not go around touching an older person’s legs or because I never thought I had a need to, it struck me as odd that at 32 years old I didn’t even know what my grandmother’s legs looked like before today.

When I think about it, I guess I do notice much of the older population tends to stick to pants when it comes to getting dressed for the day. I remember my little sister crying in her bed one night. Mom and dad came rushing in, “honey, what’s wrong? what’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to get old,” she cried while my parents tried not to laugh, “why?” they asked. “Because then I won’t be able to wear shorts,” she cried, terrified of having old legs that needed to be hidden under pants. We still laugh about this incident.

I thought about that night as I rubbed lotion on my grandmother’s legs today. I noticed her getting fidgety in her chair. She was trying to take a nap in her lazy boy but she kept rubbing her legs as if they were aggravating her. She’s in her nineties and uses a walker to get around but the only places she gets to are the kitchen and the living room. She can’t hear very well anymore and doesn’t always feel great, but she credits much of that to a default of being alive for ninety plus years. She spends most of her days alone in the house as everyone is off at work, or in my case, finding something else to do since I’m visiting and don’t want to be cooped up in a house all day.

As the holidays have approached I’ve begun thinking about what I could do to help people, what could I do to step outside of myself? I’m better at helping people during the holidays, I’m not proud of it, in fact I don’t think I even realized it until I started writing this, but if I look at my track record, I’m much better at helping people during the holidays when everything feels all warm and fuzzy and the need seems to be more clear. It’s as easy as filling a shoebox with gifts or pulling a name off a tree, maybe showing up at a shelter to serve a meal.

Geez. I hate re-reading about my selfish nature sometimes, but at the very least at least looking at it helps me realize what needs to change. Things did change that Christmas. It was my first Christmas in two different homes as my parents divorce finalized. It’s still weird to process divorce as an adult, you think you’re supposed to be stronger than a child, not be as sad, but acting stronger doesn’t make you stronger, it wears out your energy until you’re weaker than you thought possible. Just let yourself be sad about stuff, it’s okay.

And that’s what I had to tell myself as I processed the death of a 97 year old woman that I knew was coming if for no other reason than age alone. But it doesn’t make it any less sad to lose a life, especially a life you didn’t feel got it’s due credit and that you waited much too long to know it’s value. I’m at peace with my Mommom and I’s relationship, I grew to love her probably more than she knew, but with death comes the thought, “if I had only sent one more letter or called one more time… I hope she knew how much she was loved.” More and more I want that for people, to know their worth and value, to know they are loved. I can’t be that person for everyone, I’m only one person and I’m still trying to figure out how to get good at it in my own family, but I still want everyone to know it to be true for themselves- you are loved. You are worthy.

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So today I honor my Mommom by sharing this chapter I wrote about her, because she’s worth reading about, whether by many or by a few loved ones, she’s worth taking the time to talk about, and perhaps that’s how I will let myself process my grief. Her death will not make national news, but that doesn’t make her any less important to those who knew and loved her. And I never got to tell her, “Mommom, I wrote a book, and you’re in it!” I’m sad about that too. I wanted her to feel a little bit of the limelight just once in her life, I wanted her to know her granddaughter loved and admired her.

 

“it’s called a spade” by JJ Barrows

My Mommom

We don’t have a Christmas tree this year. I suppose at 32 years old and with all that is going on in the world, it isn’t the biggest deal that we don’t have a Christmas tree this year. In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t a big deal at all. Plenty of people either don’t have Christmas trees or have never had one, so who am I to complain?

And yet I’ve been thinking (shocker), if I can so easily dismiss my own feelings about not having a Christmas tree this year, I can just as easily dismiss someone else’s feelings about not having a Christmas tree this year, which is to say I can easily dismiss their story without a care in the world as to the reason why they don’t have a Christmas tree this year, or maybe why they’ve never had one at all (if they do in fact celebrate Christmas).

Perhaps it’s not so much about the Christmas tree as it is about the why behind it. As with many things in life that may seem like “no big deal,” perhaps the small things are a big deal because there is a “why” attached to those small things, a story unheard due to assumption.

I’ve always been obsessed with Christmas. I was the kid who was preparing for the arrival of December 25th the day after Halloween, and honestly sometimes even before then. My goal was to turn our house into a winter wonderland no matter how tacky everyone else thought it to be. I hung lights anywhere my mother would allow it and spent any extra money I had on decorations.

As a preacher’s kid I understood “the reason for the season,” but as just your average kid, the manger scene was more of an epic center piece for Christmas dinner. I was grateful Jesus came to earth in the form of a tiny little baby, mostly because it gave us a reason to have Christmas- the ultimate birthday party.

When I was real young my gifts consisted of coupon books, ones that included free hugs, a three-minute back rub, being nice to my sister Betsy… stuff like that. When I got older the coupons got more serious; extended free hugs, ten-minute back rubs and kisses for the whole family even when I didn’t feel like kissing them. My mom still has the coupons.

In college my gift to my parents was my presence at home because like your average college kid, I was broke. But with my presence came my Christmas spirit and ability to decorate. I’d stay up late on Christmas eve (after the roles reversed and the parents were the first to go to bed) to clean the entire house, set and decorate the kitchen table for the Christmas meals, and prepare an overnight breakfast casserole to be served alongside Jesus’ birthday cake in the morning.

When I started working the presents came rolling in and without the excuse of being a kid, I lost complete sense of what Christmas was all about. I tried to make the day last as long as possible by getting as many presents as possible. The longer we all sat around the tree and opened presents, the better Christmas seemed. Maybe somewhere deep down it wasn’t so much about the presents, maybe it was just wanting my family to sit around together for an extended period of time in which they all seemed happy, and maybe without the presents, I didn’t know how else to make that happen.

The Christmas of 2006 was the worst Christmas I can remember, largely due to my eating disorder and inability to fix it with the Christmas spirit. I racked up a great deal of debt that season because shopping kept me from binging and purging on the Christmas cookies I made in abundance (because one batch of cookies is never enough for a bulimic). My old friend anorexia would sometimes come to visit and on those days I felt powerful and in control, but my newer friend bulimia liked the holidays more than anorexia, and so bulimia is who I spent more of my time with that holiday season. I tried so hard to make Christmas perfect that year, and all I can remember is how miserable I was.

After going off to treatment in 2007, it would be a couple of years before I returned home again for Christmas. In 2009 when I finally did go home I was unaware it was going to be the last Christmas in which my whole family would be together, my parents still living under the same roof. I was sick and slept through Christmas dinner. My boyfriend at the time had flown in from Chicago to surprise me but seeing as how I was passed out on the couch, he ended up spending most of his time talking to my grandmother, an often forgotten family member.

After moving to Portland, Oregon in the fall of 2010, I spent the following Christmases out on the west coast with friends. Friends are often easier than family and much cheaper than a round trip ticket across the United States, so my excuses to stay away from home were valid.

Last year I returned home for Christmas and it was the first time members of my family would be celebrating in two different houses due to my parents’ divorce. I didn’t know how to feel about it. I tried to “make the best of it” as I was advised to do, but what about the reality of it being sad that we weren’t one family anymore? I mean sure, we were, but we weren’t.

I didn’t think I would be back home for Christmas this year. It was not a part of my plan, funny how that works. I’ve been living in San Diego, California over the past year and San Diego is perfect for escaping life’s problems, except for the fact that you never escape life’s problems no matter where you go. After going on a trip overseas with my mom and brother, I returned to South Carolina with them. That was in October and I’m still here… at Christmas.

I’ve spent the last few months helping my mother move out of our family home of 35 years. The house is on the market and if ever there were an empty nest, it is that house. Day in and day out my mother, brother and I have stripped the walls and packed everything away, taking car load after car load over to my mother’s new condo. It’s been a slow process and I’m exhausted. “Make the best of it,” I hear a voice play in the back of my mind, and so I’ve been trying to do that- make the best of it, offer help, cook food, be present, be strong, be 32 and not in need of a Christmas tree.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the empty house by myself. I turned on Christmas music and I let it echo through the empty halls. I danced and I was happy. Then I sat on the floor of the larger than life empty living room and watched memories flash across the walls as if they were movie clips, and I cried. For the first time since my family split up, I uttered the words “I miss my family.” I laid on the floor and I cried as I let myself miss my family. “I wish we had a Christmas tree,” I cried, but I knew it was about more than just the tree.

It’s no secret I’m an advocate for feeling your pain, in part because I’ve spent a good portion of my life avoiding it. But as of recent I’m sick of feeling my pain to the point of not being able to see other people. I’m still trying to find the balance of feeling your feelings without getting stuck in them. And so while I’m bummed we don’t have a Christmas tree because my mom’s condo is too small, our old house is too empty and I’m still not quite sure who to spend Christmas with or how, this doesn’t have to be the Christmas that gets remembered as the one without the tree.

In the middle of all the moving and family drama and stress of holiday expectations, there is someone I overlooked along the way, someone I’ve overlooked along the entire way, as in the span of my entire life.

My mother’s mother. Mommom, we call her. My grandmother.

My grandmother still remembers that boy who talked to her at Christmas dinner in 2009. She asked about him the other day and when I told her we had been broken up for five years and he had been dating someone else for the last three, she responded with “aww shame, I always liked him.” I found her response to be funny seeing as how she met him only once, but at the same time I knew why she felt this way. She felt this way because even if it was just for a short while on a night five years ago, she felt seen and noticed and paid attention to. No one forgets that feeling.

I have spent the last couple of months getting to know this forgotten member of my family, my grandmother. She was always present at holidays, providing shrimp on Christmas eve, gifting us with at least two dollars for each kid so we could “treat ourselves,” and snoring on the couch in the late afternoons. I have memories of her in the background, but for the most part that is all.

One morning I was trying to figure out how I could do more to help other people, to step outside of my own selfish head and meet the needs of others. I knew I was limited as to what I could do financially, but relationally I had something to offer, which is sometimes the harder thing to give. Handing someone money or a piece of pie is often easier than sitting down next to them and trying to figure out what to talk about, especially in this day and age where everyone has to be so politically correct that people are afraid to talk anymore, not to mention the distraction of cell phones which has left this generation of teenagers crippled from being able to make eye contact.

And let’s be honest, it’s not just the teenagers. I see kids playing at the park while their parents scroll through their Instagram or check their email on a park bench. I myself will sit next to my grandmother with my head buried in my phone, clicking like on pictures of people helping people while I’m ignoring the lonely woman beside me.

And such was the case that morning when I was admiring others on social media for do- ing so much for others while I sat on a couch next to my grandmother who was staring at the wall. I immediately started to look up ways I could volunteer, especially over the holidays. It did not cross my mind that sitting beside me was a woman in need of love and attention and eye contact just as much as people in the nursing home or on the street. The ugly truth is, it didn’t feel as good to help or even love my grandmother as it did to help or love other people I had no history with who would praise me for my efforts.

After spending the day looking up good causes, journaling, praying and trying to “get right with God,” I decided I would go for a run at sunset. It seemed to be just what I needed. As I passed through the kitchen to grab some water before heading out, I noticed my grandmother trying to cut an onion. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was trying to make dinner. My mom wouldn’t be getting off of work until around dinner time and Mommom sometimes tries to cook on designated nights to help out.

Assuming Mommom wanted to feel like she was contributing, I let her carry on. I so often function out of assumption, I think we all do but I’ll speak for myself. I’m embarrassed to say it, but multiple times I have walked past my grandmother trying to chop an onion in the kitchen while thinking to myself “good job, Mommom,” instead of, “hey, can I help?” And I get it, not everybody wants help, some people want to chop their own onions and show the world or at least their grandchildren that they are capable of chopping their own onions, which is great, chop away! But I think asking if help is needed, which is just initiating a conversation if nothing else, is worth the risk of your offer being rejected.

I grabbed my headphones and running shoes and walked back through the kitchen. I sat at the table and looked at Mommom, barely five feet tall, her white bushy hair giving her an ex- tra inch, hunched over the kitchen counter trying to chop an onion. I watched her as I put my shoes on. She moved slower than I remembered. I lingered for a second, which is sometimes all the time that is needed to grab your attention.

I wanted to offer her help because I knew it was the right thing to do, but truth be told, in getting back to the basics of calling a spade a spade- I didn’t want to offer help because it got in the way of my plans.

I didn’t want to offer help to my own grandmother. And even if we weren’t related, an elderly human being. And even if she weren’t elderly, a human being! In that moment of hesitating to offer her help, the content of my character was revealed and I realized I didn’t actually want to step outside of myself and help people. I wanted to feel good about helping people so long as they didn’t interfere with my plans. I still wanted life to be all about me. No matter how many times I learn the lesson, my wayward heart sets itself on myself and I forget that people matter.

Sometimes I forget that I matter and I wear myself out in an attempt to do everything for other people. And once I’ve burned myself out I jump to the other extreme, forgetting that other people matter, writing them off in an attempt to only take care of myself. I struggle to find the balance between the two. The simple balance of all people mattering- other people and myself.

I watched my grandmother struggle to chop an onion. I stood up, picked up my iPod, took a deep breath and set it back down. “Do you need any help, Mommom?” I asked, honestly kind of hoping she would say no so I could still go for a run and feel good about offering help. She didn’t respond. Between my hesitant attempt to gently offer help and Mommom’s hearing aides not always working, I realized she didn’t hear me. “MOMMOM,” I yelled, “DO YOU NEED ANY HELP!?”

Mommom turned around to look at me, “did you say something?” she asked. I laughed a little to myself, “YES,” I yelled, “I ASKED IF YOU NEEDED ANY HELP!”

Mommom’s face lit up, “ohhhhhhhh!” she said excitedly, “wow-wee, that would be wonderful. I can’t move as fast as I used to. We might never eat at the rate I’m moving.” I laughed but I also felt a few degrees more horrible for not asking before then if she needed help. I knew I wasn’t going to get my run in that day, but I also knew something else mattered more, even if (for as much as I hate to admit it) helping with dinner didn’t feel like it mattered more in the moment. I am selfish through and through, to the point of it blinding me to help the old lady struggling right before my eyes.

For some reason it’s easy to dismiss helping the old lady when she is my grandmother, assuming she will always be there and she can hold her own. But there will come a time when she won’t always be there and she can’t hold her own anymore, in which case I have to ask myself, am I going to run away because it feels better, or am I going to step into someone else’s struggle… just because.

I began to cut the onions, mash the potatoes and set the table, all the while making jokes with Mommom and repeating them louder so she could hear me. As I helped with dinner that night I knew a friendship was being formed, as well as the realization that even when I think I have nothing to give, I always have a helping hand to offer and a really loud joke to tell that could bring a smile to a weary soul.

At 32 years old my friendship with my grandmother began. We’ve always been related, clearly, but we’ve never actually been friends, in part because I had the shocking revelation that I’ve never actually sat down with my grandmother and said “tell me about you.” I began to ask my grandmother questions, first over time spent making dinner, then over time spent having tea in the late afternoons. Mommom would talk about her own mother with a smile on her face and it was clear she loved her mother very much. It was the first time I saw my grandmother as someone’s daughter and not just a distant relative.

As I began to see my grandmother as someone’s daughter, I realized I could relate to her because I was someone’s daughter. The more I listened to Mommom’s stories, the more affection I felt for her. I began looking for ways to help her, going out of my way to ensure her comfort, not just because she was an old lady but because she was my friend.

I didn’t hear Mommom say “I love you” very much while I was growing up, which isn’t to say she didn’t love us, some people just never learn how to express love, or they learn and then somewhere along the way of life throwing a few heavy hits, they forget. The few times I remember saying “I love you” to Mommom were only slightly less awkward than her reaction, “okay, you too.” Some people don’t know how to receive love either, and after you hear their story, it makes sense as to why.

As my affection has grown for my grandmother over the last three months so has my ability to communicate my love for her. “I LOVE YOU, MOMMOM,” I yell (so she can hear me) before leaving the house. In the beginning she’d respond with her awkward quiet whisper “okay, you too.” Over time she progressed to awkwardly whisper “love you too,” as if she were unsure she could say it or not. Whether or not I got the response I wanted, I continued to tell her I loved her because I did, and it mattered less and less what the response was. I’d rub lotion on her legs, drive her to the doctor, carry her meal tray to the table, put a sweet treat on her plate and looked for little ways to not just say “I love you” but to show her.

Over time those little things have added up, and Mommom growing more and more into knowing she is loved and cared for has begun to liven up in a way I didn’t see while I was grow- ing up; in part because I didn’t really see her, and in other part because some of her difficult experiences in life added up to her being unsure of how to give and receive love. Now before I leave the house Mommom yells with confidence, “I SURE DO LOVE YOU, JJ.” I kiss her on the cheek, look her in the eyes and say “I love you, Mommom.”

Love is hard, and I don’t mean that in a cliche way, although maybe it’s cliche for a reason- because it’s true. When you really stop (really, stop) and think about living out the task of loving someone no matter what the cost is to you or whether or not you get it back, and you do it day in and day out all the days of your life… love is hard. We all know by now that love isn’t a feeling, and I know people need things to be defined so they call love a choice (since it’s not a feeling), and yes it is a choice, choosing to act out love even when you don’t feel it, but I think love is even more than a choice. I think love is so much grander than we could ever imagine or hope to express or receive that quite simply there isn’t a category to put it in or another word to define it… it just is. Love is what it is- it’s love. Love surpasses all understanding, all realm of thinking, all reason, all logic, and honestly, makes no sense.

But for as hard as love is, I honestly believe it’s worth it. I believe that love is hard and life is good, and that love is good and life is hard. I believe that it’s both for everyone and that it’s okay for both to be good and both to be hard.

A few months ago I set out to travel and be adventurous and meet new people because to me that was the definition of life being good. Instead, I somehow managed to spend most of that time at home, my very definition of life being hard. But I found out that whether you are traveling or stationary, life is both good and hard, and wherever you go, there you are. While I haven’t traveled as much as I’d hoped these last few months, I did make a new friend I didn’t see coming- my grandmother, my Mommom. It has been since being at home that I’ve realized if you try to avoid the hard parts of life, you’ll end up missing out on the really, really good parts.

It’s not like everything is fixed at home, nor is it a Cinderella story of happily ever after, we still celebrate Christmas in two different houses, but it’s a hopeful story of no matter my circumstance or how hard life and love may get, it is well with my soul…

and well worth the journey.

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I actually say this when I’m performing and I mean it sincerely, I don’t normally “should” on people, but if you have elderly family members or friends, you should call them or go see them. They are way cooler than we think they are. It’s gets harder for them to remember things as they get older, so it never hurts to remind them that they are loved.

I’m so grateful for your life, Mommom, and I’m so glad I’ll always have your sense of humor and your stylish green sweater to always take with me. I love you. JJ

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Iceland Part One

 

You learn a lot about taking a trip with photographers around the world and being on the road with the one you love for 10 days.

Here’s the first part of our trip to Iceland… with part two and a big life change just around the corner!

The Tension of Life

There is a tension of dark and light, dust and divine breath.

There is a tension of good and bad, heartache and humor, deep sorrow and overwhelming joy.

There is a tension where I feel I don’t belong because there are no answers or quick fixes, no boxes or formulas, no way of knowing if I’ll ever make it out.

There is a tension everyone either wants to resolve, avoid or deny exists and yet it is in that very tension where life in all of its fullness is found.

It is okay to be both sad and happy, lost and found, hurt and hopeful.

We try to be one or the other and fix both ourselves and others if bent too close to the sadness. We function in the safety of our emotional comfort zone and expect others to function in theirs, meanwhile dismissing their pain and only prolonging the process of their feeling too stuck, too sad, or too lost to continue on this journey.

Life is messy, being a human is hard. I say that hand in hand with the belief that life is good, and being a human to be a gift. But some days, I totally forget. I forget the goodness, I forget the gift, and I struggle.

I struggle in the unknown of pain and sorrow that isn’t even circumstantial, just present, and I don’t know why, which makes it seem even worse. When there’s nothing to pinpoint your pain to, it feels hopeless.

It’s when we think the hopelessness is our ultimate reality, our final truth, the end of our story that we consider giving up. What’s the point anyway? If no person, place or thing can fix this and I will always feel this way somewhere deep down inside no matter how many accolades, awards and acknowledgments I receive, what’s the point? There will always be a void and I can’t avoid it.

The truth is, sometimes I still don’t know. Even as someone who believes in a Higher Power and the gift of life and purpose in the pain and God in the details, some days I still just don’t get it. “Only God can fill the void,” they say. “I know,” I say, and I do know, but I still just don’t get this God I believe in and this Life that He “gifted” us with. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a gift at all.

I don’t need pad answers, I don’t need declarations of holding on and Jesus loving me. I know the answers in my head no matter how much they disconnect with my heart. I need to live in the tension of life being hard and good, I need to affirm to myself and others who feel the same way that we are not crazy, or too lacking in faith, or lost causes. We’re human and there’s not only grace for our humanity but also love for it… love for our human selves no matter what state we find ourselves functioning in.

I have to admit, sometimes saying “hold on” isn’t enough, but I can at least say, “you are not as alone as you think you are… not in how you feel or in what you think.” Sometimes it just takes one person to voice their struggle for someone else to say, “Oh my God, me too,” and in that small spec of commonality is a glimmer of hope in the connection of our humanity.

It’s often in our isolated hopelessness that we go to extreme measures to rid ourselves of it by numbing out or checking out, not knowing the pain and sorrow we are leaving in our wake, hurting those we’ve left behind and out of the process, leaving them to figure out the pain on their own while we took the easier road of self destruction. Self destruction never seems easier in the moment, but it is always easier than dealing with the pain that life holds, having to be awake for it, alert for it, and gritty enough to actually work through it.

Today I do no feel gritty. I do not feel like making the choice to live in way that life matters. I feel like disappearing into the darkness that is my room and numbing out to Netflix, no bad thing in and of itself, but if I continue to make small choices to numb out every time something seems hard, I will have practiced living the kind of life that gives up when things get too hard.

And so, with that said, I acknowledge the tough day, I say hi and I sit with it for a bit. I live in the tension of feeling dark inside while the sun shines outside of my window. I sit just long enough to own my feelings, to sort though my thoughts, to figure out what is me and what is a lie I’m believing. Some of it I write out, as I’m doing here. And then, when I feel a little more free to be me, not me the entertainer who everyone expects to make them laugh, but me on an off day when I myself don’t feel like smiling, I set about to go outside and take in life in other places… grass, flowers, trees… there is evidence of life everywhere.

What better example of living in the tension than the flowers and trees that have to break though the darkness of the soil to get to the light and grow till tall.

With that said, it’s time for me to go outside.

To those who are struggling, you are not alone, I grieve with you. And to those who are doing well, that’s great too, I celebrate with you. Both are okay.

May you live in the tension of the fullness of life today, feeling neither like you have to fix everything, nor like you have to give up.

Life is hard and good, and you are more okay than you think you are.

 

Dust and Divine Breath

It’s been a weird two days. Life and death and everything in between. The other morning I woke up to multiple text messages from friends; some of whom I haven’t spoken with in years and some of whom are on my home team of life, you know, the thick and thinners, the ninth inning, the ones who are there for the whole game no matter what it holds. Though the familiarity with each of these friends was vast and wide, their messages were the same, “heard the news about Billy Graham, I’m so sorry, hope your family is well…” or something to that affect.

I had mixed emotions about the death of Billy Graham. To me he wasn’t just some evangelist who impacted the lives of many, wrote a bunch of books and preached a lot of sermons. To me he was “Uncle Billy,” and sure, more often than not he was a distant uncle, but given our family’s history, regardless of how I felt about what he and my grandfather did, I always understood him as Uncle Billy. I didn’t quite grasp the reality of who he actually was and the impact he had until later in life.

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Allow me to explain…

My Grandfather was Cliff Barrows, the choir director for Billy Graham since the very beginning. As I understand the story, my grandparents were on their honeymoon in North Carolina when they heard a preacher was looking for a musician because his choir director got sick. My grandmother (Nana) played the piano and my grandfather (Papa) had a booming singing voice and was well versed in multiple instruments. They both offered up their services and the rest is history. That preacher was Billy Graham and he and my Papa have been best friends since they were in their early 20s, even started the crusades together.

 

I used to avoid saying I was the granddaughter of Cliff Barrows because of my own issues with family and faith and trying to figure who I am and what I believe as an individual outside of all of the influence; but in this day and age with new generations who’ve never heard of Billy Graham crusades and the Kardasians actually being a thing to follow, I figure it’s not actually as big of a deal as I’ve made it out to be, it’s just my own stuff.
 My Nana and Ruth Graham (Billy’s wife) were best friends and for a time my mother not only worked as head of the women’s ministry for Billy Graham (well before meeting my father), but was mentored by Ruth as well.

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My mother used to say Ruth was her role model and she wanted to be just like her. She’d try and try and end up feeling frustrated that she wasn’t more like Ruth, more pleasant, more gracious, more kind, more loving, etc… My mother told me one day she was so sick and tired of trying so hard to be the perfect example she chucked her bible across the room and yelled out “that’s it, I can’t do it, God! I can’t be Ruth Graham, I’ll never be Ruth Graham!” In the stillness of her room she heard a quiet voice, a very gentle response from a very loving God,

“Good. Because I already have a Ruth Graham, I don’t want another one…

I want my Lydia.”

It was then that I realized for as good of an example as Billy and Ruth Graham may be to many people, as faithful and spiritual and generous and all that stuff, it doesn’t make them any better in God’s eyes, and I don’t have to be like them for God to value me. That was huge for me. Growing up in a sort-of limelight, a preacher’s kid in a small southern town and granddaughter to a music evangelist who prayed with or sang in front of numerous presidents since Harry Truman and even alongside my own personal favorite, Johnny Cash, my understanding of God for a long time was that I had to be good for God to accept me.

 

It’s not that those were the words that were spoken to me, but it’s sort of what I saw or experienced… Nana always in pearls and smiling, family get-togethers meant no crying or arguing, and as long as you had Jesus you could smile at the storm. While it might have been well intended, some of it just didn’t resonate with me. I understood that Jesus was a Savior, but nobody talked about what they needed saving from, other than the generic title of sin, which is a word I’m still wrestling with sometimes.

For me, that’s what my faith has been, a form of wrestling, of asking questions I wasn’t supposed to ask because I was somehow already supposed to know the answers as a preacher’s kid, or like I had a better understanding of God because of my family connections. On top of my own process of exploring faith, there’s the whole issue of a traveling evangelist and the fact that if he’s impacting the world, who’s at home with the family? While Uncle Billy may have been America’s preacher and my Papa America’s song leader, their own families didn’t really know them that well. I know later in life they both expressed wanting to do that part over if they could, and so I don’t say that to come down on them, but certainly to be real about the fact that not even America’s preacher got it all right, and not even his kids were perfect. Sometimes kids just need to figure things out apart from who their parents are.

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So the family connections run deep and I have spent time thinking I was cool, growing up going to crusades and meeting DC Talk, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant and all my favorites in the early 90s, to growing older and wishing I wasn’t related at all due to the pressure and expectation that came with it. For a long time I resented my Papa and his “job” that seemed much more important than his family, especially when people praised him for it.

Last year I got to speak at a women’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia and I shared about growing up in the family I did, the affects it had on multiple family members and learning to come to peace with it. When the conference was over a woman came up to me and asked if she could share a story about my grandfather. She proceeded to share that when she was little her father was a raging alcoholic and used to beat her mom and the kids. He would take apart the television set during the day while he was gone so they couldn’t watch it and put it back together at night when he came home.

One day her mom found one of the pieces he had hidden to the television set and figured out how to put it back together. When the television set turned on that first time there was a Billy Graham crusade on and they all sat in the living room and watched. She said she watched my grandfather sing and lead the biggest choir she’d ever seen. One day it was nearing dinner time and my grandfather came on and introduced a woman named Ethel Waters, an African American woman, which back then was controversial to have onstage leading a song.

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Ethel and my grandfather sang “His eye is on the sparrow,” and it was the first time this woman had ever heard the song. That night her father came home and found them trying to take apart the television before he got inside. He grabbed her mother and she screamed for the kids to run. The woman and her siblings ran out to the nearest field and hid. She said they could hear her mother screaming and together her and her siblings quietly sang “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches over me.” She said they just sang that line over and over again and she kept saying to her siblings, “God cares about the sparrows and he cares about us, He’s watching over us, it’s like they sang on the television.” She said she never forgot my grandfather after that.

It was unfortunately a long time before her mother eventually left her father and the foster care system got involved, but she said every time trouble happened they just sang to themselves “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches over me.”

She hugged me with tears in her eyes and said “I know you’ve had your own issues with your family and I validate that, I’m sorry there were times they weren’t there for you, but please know it wasn’t for nothing. We had to have faith for a long time before anything happened, but I truly believe we were given hope through that song we heard your grandfather sing.” I hugged her and thanked her for sharing her story, that I needed to hear it. I was grateful to have a glimpse from the other side, from someone who wasn’t related or personally affected by his absence.

“I know you may not want to hear this,” she continued, “but in the best way possible, I see a lot of him in you… you draw people in, you hold their attention, and that’s what he did, he was gifted… and so are you.”

 

 

For the first time in a long time I felt proud. My grandfather had recently passed away at this point and I didn’t get a chance to communicate that to him, but in my own heart and mind I made peace with him and the beautiful mess that is my family. It’s not that everything got all better, but I wasn’t so affected by the way things were or allowing resentment to dictate how I lived my life or responded to people.

At the end of the day, for as great of men as Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows may have been, I think they would be the first to say they were just human… men who no matter how hard they try, still fall short… we all do. No exceptions.

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I say this not to minimize their impact, but to address some of the negative comments I’ve heard swirling around the death of Billy Graham; some of them vile and hateful from strangers with opposing views, some of them with a more subtle sting from friends who have their own similar issues with their families they have yet to come to peace with.

I totally understand given the faith aspect and Billy’s sold out devotion to God and the Bible being ultimate truth, a lot of people not only disagreed with him but didn’t like him. We live in a day and age where it’s almost forbidden to have an opposing opinion, especially as a Christian, a word that doesn’t have the best reputation and I get why. I personally am sold out to Jesus, truly believing the way Jesus loved people is the way we were meant to love, but even in that I have a hard time associating as a Christian because of the awful things Christians have said and done in the name of Jesus. I think even Jesus is heartbroken over it.

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(a little humor always helps)

I don’t have all the answers, I just know that people are people. People are people… broken and beautiful, messed up and put together, dust and divine breath. We’re all made up of both, yet we’re so quick to point out the dust in others and divine breath in ourselves that we completely miss each other. I think it’s okay for there to be differences among us, we don’t have to make sure everyone gets along and feels good all the time, but we can still communicate our differences in a loving way, valuing the person even if we disagree with their choices.

Some of the comments were so horrible I didn’t think they were real because saying them to any human, especially in regards to their death, seems inhumane to say the least. The naysayers are entitled to their own beliefs and opinions, but the conditions of their hearts are being revealed and they are acting out of the very hate in their own lives. Some of them may truly believe Billy Graham was an evil man and I understand they are speaking out of their conviction (in the same but very different way Billy spoke out of his own conviction), but they are revealing their own evil by their response to him.

A person at peace with themselves, with God, with the world, a person who truly loves because it naturally pours out of them and not because they need to be loved back, that type of person doesn’t wish, hope or pray evil things upon another human being. That type of person may have a strong conviction about the life a person lives, but they still see the person as a person and value both the dust and divine breath within them.

Hate does not conquer hate.

Hateful comments toward or about a person making hateful comments doesn’t make you an activist, it reveals that you’re just as hateful and vile, only in a different way. People are standing on opposing sides of politics, religion and bathroom usage and using hate to communicate, which means no one is really hearing anyone because no one responds well to hate. On top of which, half the stuff people are arguing about isn’t even the point.

People are people. No matter how different your view, people are people, no matter how rich or poor, isolated or well known, religious or atheist, vegan or Texan… people are people.

We all started as someone’s kid, some of us had bad things happen to us, some of us not. We all have a story, a reason we act, think, function the way we do. To a degree we are a sum of our experiences but they don’t have to define us, we can choose how we respond to them and to the world. We don’t have to hate on people in the process, even if they hate us. So while I hate the things that have been said around Billy Graham’s death, I don’t hate the people who said them. I see very broken, hurt people who are responding out of their own lack of love and their blindness to it and I feel sad for them.

The crazy part to me is, it’s not like Billy Graham was known for hate speech. He may have had his own opinions on ways of living because of his faith, but he didn’t hate the people. He may have had to wrestle through some of his own understanding of God’s word and what it meant to him, but he didn’t hate the people. He was a huge force in de-segregating black and white audiences and refused to speak to any crowd that was segregated. He agreed to meet and pray with every president that would have him even if he didn’t see eye to eye with them politically, because even the President of the United States he saw as a person in need of being loved, which let’s be honest is no easy task.

If humanitarians, Christians, activists, feminists, whoever wants to say status doesn’t matter then let it not matter, don’t compartmentalize, let it not matter… from the poor to the president: love people… all people. Disagree all you want to, but show love and kindness toward the human. Dare I say it’s not so easy.

For me personally there’s something I highly value and respect about Uncle Billy that goes well beyond all the accolades; in this world where everything is about self gratification, sex and scandals, that man stayed tried and true to the woman he loved since his youth. I know they didn’t have the easiest marriage with his schedule and travel and the time and attention of five kids, but there’s not one scandal to his name regarding his marriage and devotion to his wife. He faithfully loved her not only to the end of her life, but to the end of his. She mattered too, and he knew it.

 

And while I think that is so, so beautiful, it’s also sad because of just how rare that is… faithfulness and doing well by the one you love, even when it doesn’t feel as good as the day you said “I do.” That man loved people, and not just in word, but in action. Believe me, if anyone understands that some people didn’t feel loved by him or his ministry, it is I! I get it, they didn’t do everything right, I’m speaking as someone who feels personally affected by it. But I still truly believe that this man and my grandfather were just two humans who tried the best they could with what they had, and again, no matter how great some people saw them, they would be the first to say they were still in desperate need of a Savior.

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I suppose that’s the difference between some of us who believe in a Savior and those who don’t, we are aware of the brokenness, able to see what needs to be mended. It’s not that hate is beneath me, it’s that I can see my own humanity and the vileness I am capable of, bring it before my Jesus and say “help me. I don’t want to live like this.”

I don’t want to be a person who hates the people who hate people, I would only be adding to the hateful masses.

To Lauren Duca and the humans full of hate out there… While you’ve made your dust abundantly clear, I choose to see the divine breath within you, cloudy as it may be, it’s in there. You were made to love, even if you don’t know it yet. It ain’t easy, but I love ya!

And love wins.

happy new year!

While this video is wishing you a Merry Christmas (why not wish merriment year round!?), it wraps up a bit of my year last year and what I’m learning about life and how to love well. I hope this year breathes refreshment and revitalization back into our weary souls.

If you’re looking for a fresh start and don’t know where to start, start with gutting, deep cleaning and rearranging your room. I’m finding that cleaning out the junk and getting a fresh perspective is already helping me approach what lays ahead.

May you have a hopeful new year, with bursts of happiness and the courage to press into the pain when necessary.

Breaking The Rules

When I was in fifth grade my little sister had her head bashed in by a gold club. I know, it sounds morbid, and it was but bear with me, the story ends well.

It was a Sunday afternoon. We had just finished lunch and prior to that we had just finished church. To this fifth grader, church was definitely something you wanted to finish so you could hurry up and get to lunch. Lunch was something you didn’t want to end because after lunch was nap. I never liked nap time, which strikes me as odd because now I couldn’t live life without one.

My parents told everyone to go to their rooms after lunch, my mom always said the same thing, “you don’t have to go to sleep, but you do have to be quiet.” Nap time was really more for my parents, they were smart to train us young for the Sunday afternoon nap. We always knew it was coming. “Whatever you decide to do for your time is fine so long as it’s quiet and it’s in your room.” The last thing I remember my mother saying before everyone departed the kitchen was “you are not allowed to go outside.”

I remember this because my two younger siblings (Bobby and Betsy) had decided this was exactly what they would do after mom and dad fell asleep. We all went to our rooms and they waited a little while before I heard them quietly sneaking back out. Bobby had a friend over that day and they decided to play with dad’s golf clubs. I find it important to note my dad has never been a golfer, still isn’t, but either because it was another hobby he tried to pick up and didn’t find entertaining (I don’t blame him, boring!) or someone gave them to him because people always randomly give things to their pastor (probably for good measure), we had golf clubs laying around.

Bobby and his friend Jamie each took turns swinging. Betsy was frolicking around the yard. I was peeking out of my window when I decided to go out and tell them I was going to tell mom and dad they were breaking the rules (yes, I made things my business that weren’t my business). Without paying much attention Betsy frolicked her way behind Jamie’s back hand swing when his 9 iron (that’s the big one for those of you who don’t play golf) smacked right into her forehead (which is the only reason I ever learned that was a 9 iron).

I wasn’t there right when it happened, I only heard Betsy screaming. I ran outside, Bobby and Jamie frozen dead in their tracks and Betsy holding her hands over her forehead. Because I didn’t see what happened, nor did I see any blood, I assumed Betsy was being dramatic, like a “Bobby pushed me” kind of cry. With there being four kids in my family we heard those a lot. “Don’t be such a baby,” I said to Betsy, “why are you crying?” I know, in retrospect I am not proud of how I approached the situation, but this was my first memorable lesson in never assuming you know everything.

Betsy couldn’t even speak, she just removed her hands from her forehead. For a split second I was silenced as a I experienced my first shock wave. Once the split second was up I screamed bloody murder for my mom and dad. I stood there, unable to move, looking at the inside of my little sister’s head. The hole was the actual size of the 9 iron. I remember thinking if she leaned forward her brains were going to fall out.

Mom and dad came running out of the house and to be honest, the rest is a blur. I remember them wrapping her in a blanket and rushing her to the hospital, but that’s it. She was in the hospital for a while, in part because the first time she was stitched up they failed to clean it out first so she was rushed to another hospital (with more credentials) to re-open her head, clean it out and sew it back up. She stayed on the children’s ward of the hospital for a long time. I remember all the toys and flowers that flooded her room. Truth be told, I remember being jealous, even almost wishing it had been me.

Maybe that’s a normal feeling for a kid, especially a middle child, when they see one of their siblings get all the attention (even if for unfortunate reasons), or maybe I was just that selfish from the get-go since my first word was “mine.” Either way, I was glad Betsy was okay, but I was tempted to remind everyone that she didn’t listen to mom about nap time.

I don’t know why I’ve always been worried there wasn’t enough love to go around, as if people were going to run dry if they gave it all to Betsy. I don’t know why I’ve always been more concerned about how I was going to be okay more so than other people. I don’t like this quality about myself, but it’s there, and I can’t change it if I don’t address it.

I’ve come a long way from the fifth grade girl who wanted to tattle on her sister who just had her head bashed in, but I still fall short in my efforts to look out for my own self.

I think it’s important to stand up for what’s right and have an opinion and voice an injustice (like say breaking certain rules), but I find it just as important, if not more so, to cater to the person who is hurting, to offer love and support and grace (even if rules were broken). People are really good at getting behind causes and campaigns, especially ones that draw attention, but I think people (myself included) fall short in the day to day individual ways they can offer love and extend grace to the very people in front of them.

To my fifth grade self and any other child or grown up kid out there, I just thought you might like to know there is plenty of love to go around, if only we’d be willing to extend it- no matter what, even if you don’t get it back the way you want it. You become a person of love when you practice love. And believe me, love takes practice.

As for Betsy, I love you sis, I always have, I just never expressed it very well. Little did I know how much more jealous I would be one day when Harry Potter made his debut into the world and the two of you shared the same scar. I don’t know if I ever said it then so I’ll say it now, I’m really glad you’re okay.

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