Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Letter pt. 2

Before The Letter came, my relationship with Billy Ray Anderson taught me many things.  And after The Letter, I found out if I had really learned those lessons or not.

The first lesson I learned was about good and evil.  I have struggled with this concept for as long as I can remember.  I was raised believing that we were born into sin and needed to be saved to become good.  After being saved, you had a one-way ticket to heaven no matter what.  This reasoning seemed to support that after you are saved, you do good.  You are filled with good.  But this is not the truth that I observed at my dad's church.  That church was filled with saved, good people.  Yet they treated my dad horribly.  They were hurtful not only to him, but to me and my mom.  So from my perspective, I saw good and evil residing in these people.  Then I became a mom and realized this tiny little being was way more holy than any adult I had ever known. As I watched him grow I saw the struggle between good and evil begin.  Talking with Billy Ray I realized this man was a good man.  He had been someone's little boy.  He was sweet, he was a hard-worker and he loved his grandma.  But in a fit of rage, the evil in him took over.  After many talks with my hubby and a lunch with my good friend, Steve Smith, I came to peace about good and evil.  I believe it resides in each of us.  I believe you need to nourish the good for it to be dominant in your life.  But we cannot judge others by their actions because that action lies within us all.

The second lesson I learned is about poverty.  This lesson really started when I began teaching in inner-city schools.  I saw these sweet, loving children living in an environment where violence is commonplace.  In dealing with their parents, I realized that when you are living in survival mode you don't have time to care about education, good vs. evil, or quality of life.  So many have given up and given into drink and drugs just to escape their realities.  I'll never forget this one mom.  She had 5 kids and I had one of the twins.  I went to make a home visit and found her naked on the couch high as a kite.  I judged her that day.  But now I am sorry I did.  I don't know what I would do in her place, watching day after day your children starving, having no new clothes, constantly having to ask for charity, having no idea how to change your life because this is exactly how it was when you were growing up.   I am sorry Ms. Snell.  I am sorry.  Billy Ray is responsible for showing me this.  He talked about what it was like to go hungry and the anger that builds up when he would see other children throwing food away.  He talked about seeing other kids in new clothes and him in clothes from Goodwill or the dumpster.  He helped me to see how these things feed the evil in us.  There is little room for light.  But then he talked about a school teacher who saw him.  She worked with him one on one and taught him to read and write.  His eyes would light up when he spoke about her, she was nourishing the good in Billy Ray.  We must do more.  We need more community centers where children can go and be nourished physically, mentally, and spiritually.  I don't mean "save" them, I mean let them experience music, art, and nature.  We need to provide a safe place to escape the danger of their environments.  I have read about many new programs, but we need more.

The third lesson I learned was about me.  I learned about forgiveness.  I have been the recipient of forgiveness many times in my life and I have been the giver as well.  I grew up thinking there were some actions that were basically unforgivable for me.  As I have lived life, this belief has been challenged over and over.  Twelve years ago, I was the recipient of forgiveness.  This person showed me such grace, it has made a lasting impression.  I am not sure that I have ever forgiven myself or totally accepted this gift.  It hasn't been until recently, as in right this very moment that I have gotten it. I can forgive Billy Ray because he is a person, not a monster.  In prison it is hard to find places to feed your soul.  It is understandable that this dark, shadow side would show itself eventually.  I am not sure I did then, but I do now,  I forgive you Billy Ray.  I know you didn't mean to hurt me.  I also forgive myself and accept your gift of forgiveness dear friend.  I was confused and not seeking help in light-filled places.  I gave into the dark shadows within me.   Thank you Billy Ray and Dear Friend for teaching me about giving and receiving forgiveness.

In all experiences of life there are lessons to be learned.  Some lessons are learned over and over and over and over.  I pray I never quit learning.  My hope is that my heart will continue to stretch and open to all that is out there.  My heart is always willing, it is my mind that is slower.  So, I pray my mind will limber up and continue to accept new thoughts and new sights.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Letting Go of Family Stories

Family stories.  We all have them.  We tell them over and over and laugh or sigh.  We especially love telling stories on others.  The story about how Uncle Charlie fell asleep in church and started snoring, or the time the kids sneaked out of the house without the parents ever knowing.  But there are other stories.  Family stories that are told that describe a person we are no longer.  The bad sheep stories and the shy child stories are the stories that evolved over time to usually help to explain behaviors or help others cope with behaviors in the family that were unexpected or unwanted.  These stories can stay in a family for a long time, or they can slowly be replaced by new stories.  Sometimes the person who is the subject of the story begins to let the stories define who they are today.  They give the story too much power in their lives.  It is usually in the growing up process, that we begin to let go of those stories which no longer describe who we really are or who we have become.

My family is currently in a transition phase of story-telling.  My kids are now old enough to tell the stories, or ask for stories to be told.  Well, truthfully, they are in the eye-rolling stage of "not that story again, mom".  Although secretly, I know they love hearing the stories.  This is not the only change.  My husband is changing his story.  He is no longer a pastor, which means my story has changed as well.  I am no longer a preacher's wife.  He is in a place of figuring out the new story, he is not sure of what it is or will be.  This brings anxiety as well as extreme excitement about what will be.  I look forward to this story and what it will be about.

But another member of our family is changing his story as well.  My son is graduating from high school. He will no longer be living at home and will be encountering new ways to live his life.  As he and we, as his parents, begin to contemplate this new story, we can't help but look back over the story to this point.  I find myself looking in the scrapbooks and rereading the antidotes alongside the photos.  As I do this, I wonder which of these stories will he add onto and which of these will no longer be true.  Will he still have a passion for baseball and will he find a way to have baseball be a part of his life?  Will he still be the sensitive and kind person he is today?  There is one story that has changed and that I as his mother have a hard time letting go.  This story plays in my head unbidden.  It is the story of his birth and the joy at finally having a child.  Plus his first year of life and almost losing him three times.  Holding a baby in your arms and watching them struggle to live leaves an indelible mark on your heart. The truth is, he is no longer that baby who is sick.  In fact, he is a strong, strapping young man.  The picture of health.  Yet to this day when we go to the dr., I hold my breath waiting for the bad news.  It is time that this story stop defining him and my fears for  him.  He is about to set out on his own and he is more than capable to care for himself.  He doesn't need me hovering over him.  He won't end up in the hospital because of a cold.

The funny thing about this story is that it was only true for one year out of the seventeen years he has been alive.  Yet the story so changed my life, that I cling to it.  I have given the story so much power that I still fear for his life.

It is time to let go.  It is time to put that story where it belongs, in the past.  It is part of his story and mine.  But it does not in anyway define who he is today.  So I need to let it go, and trust that he will be okay.

What stories does your family have?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Letter Changes Everything

One of the things that always bothered me about church was all the talk about "helping" others, but there was little "doing".  Social justice is a big part of my spirituality.  My parents imparted this to me by doing not saying.  I grew up with different people staying in our house, or people eating Christmas dinner with us, or driving out to the truck stop to pick someone up.  We delivered groceries and clothes to people.  It was an important part of my growing up.  This to me embodies Jesus' message.  I feel Jesus was about taking care of those around you.  But like I said, at the churches I had been a part of, there was more talking than doing.

That all changed when we moved to Raleigh and Jack started pastoring Pullen.  Here I found people in many different areas actively working to make change.  There was a boycott going on when we got here against Taco Bell and Mt. Olive Pickles around their treatment of farm workers.  (It worked, by the way)   There was an environmental group that set up adventures to clean highways and rivers.  There were groups around hunger issues.  We would go out and glean the sweet potato fields or go to the food bank and help there.  There was a group about the Death Penalty.  They would hold services on the night of an execution and then march to the prison.  They also wrote these guys and visited them in prison.

I didn't jump in.  Wisely, Jack recommended to wait a year and get to know people, settle in, get the kids settled, and basically see what our lives were going to look like before I got too involved.  So I waited.  I kept being drawn to one cause - death row inmates.  It seemed like that year there were several executions.  Years before I had been deeply moved by "Dead Man Walking" and felt I needed to get involved in some way.  Now, if you know me, you know I have a huge fear of being imprisoned falsely.  I don't know why or where this came from, but it is VERY real.  So my interest in this cause surprised both me and Jack.  But when I asked him how I could become involved, he told me about becoming a pen pal.  I thought about it for a while and it seemed the perfect solution.

So Jack introduced me to Billy Ray Anderson.  Billy Ray had written to Jack asking him for a pen pal, and Jack set me up with him.  I was forewarned of the requests for money and of getting too attached, but was not prepared for what would happen.

I realized after his first letter that Billy Ray had a learning disability.  As we begin to write back and forth, I realized that Billy Ray was somewhat mentally disabled.  When he found out I was a teacher, he began to tell me stories from his childhood and told me his I.Q.  His stories broke my heart as I had known many little boys who fit his descriptions.  There seemed to be a symmetry to my work with inner-city kids and now befriending Billy Ray.  I wanted to make a difference in these kids' lives so they would not end up like Billy Ray.

His letters were usually full of scripture and his musings on Jesus.  I told him about some of the students I was tutoring.  He gave me advice about them and my own kids.  He sent me artwork which he had learned to do in prison.   After several months, he asked if I would come to see him.  I was terrified.  Me, going into a prison?  Voluntarily???  Jack agreed to go with me which was allowed because he was a minister.  Jack described the process of the gates closing and at one point being in a very tight space with a gate closed in front of you and another closed behind you.  There really is a "clank".  I made it and met Billy Ray for the first time.  He was a huge man about my age.  Jack stayed with me until my nerves calmed down.  Then he left us alone.  We talked some and he asked me to pray.  Then he asked me to sing, so I sang.  Then it was time to go.  I was deeply saddened to leave him there.  I knew he had done something bad (didn't know what at this point) but he was more like a child than an adult.  Afterwards I asked him about his crime.  He had a hard time telling me, but he did.  He had murdered his girlfriend because she left him.  He described the murder in detail and had confessed when arrested.

All this time the letters kept going back and forth.  I wrote one letter a week, he wrote 4 -5 letters.  I sent little bits of money to his account for stamps and ice cream.   I felt a good friendship with him, much like those I had with my students.  Then one day I opened a letter that changed everything.

Billy Ray wrote a sexually explicit letter to me.  It was a lengthy letter describing many obscene acts.  I was stunned and began crying and shaking at once.  I didn't know what to do.  I felt defiled and betrayed.  We had been writing for over a year at this point.

After much thought and talking with Jack, I opted to end all communications.  Billy Ray had sent several letters as I was trying to understand and decide what I needed to do.  I threw them all away, unopened.  I asked Jack to find a replacement for me and a male therapist had recently asked Jack about a pen pal on death row.  This man took my place and is still writing to Billy Ray.

I have experienced a lot of guilt about leaving Billy Ray.  He has been left all his life, and this is what precipitated his crime.  But at the time, I was unable to cope with the feelings of betrayal and vulnerability his letter evoked.  I was scared.  I became terrified that he would be released and would come to my home. 

About this time a moratorium on executions was put in place as the legislators looked at the issue.  I stopped all involvement in the cause.  Passing the prison causes me much pain.  I have just recently realized the depth of this violation.  I pray that naming it, putting words to the pain can help me begin to heal. 


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Love Thursday

This Thursday I am loving:

1.  Watching my son get what he deserved - MVP for baseball and All-conference!  Way to go!!

2.  Getting to spend time with my daughter and my "other" daughters, the twins this weekend.  I love those girls!!!

3.  Fitting into size 12 pants!!!!!

4.  Walking with my husband and talking.  I love that time together!!

5.  Having the work on the outside of my house done!  Now for the painting.

6.  Having friends support me even if they live miles and miles away.  Thank you all!

What are you loving this Thursday?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Grass is Greener on the Other Side

I love to spy on other people's lives.  I watch "Wife Swap", "Nineteen Children and Counting",  and I used to watch "Jon and Kate Plus 8".  I know, I know.  Believe me, I have heard it all from my hubby!  But I am curious.  I want to know what other people's lives look like.  It started when I was little and reading "Little House on the Prairie" books and "Anne of Green Gables".  I was fascinated with how other little girls lived.  I really wanted to live back then, it sounded so fun.  At some point,  this curiosity morphed into a "the grass is greener on the other side" mentality.  I began to feel everyone's lives must be so much better than mine.

I became a teacher and this feeling suddenly and drastically changed.  I met children who ate only two meals a day, five days a week, the meals served at school.  I met children who thought it was just the way it was to get whipped with an extension cord.  I met children who were left at school for hours sitting in the cold because their mother picked up an extra shift at the strip joint and forgot to send someone to pick them up.  I met children who lived with a mom who was drunk/high/or some combination every minute of every day.  My students taught me that just because you may have a tough life, you don't have to hang your head and mope around.  They taught me that we all have crosses to bear.  They taught me to live my life with joy.  But over time, the urge to look over the fence, came back.

My husband began his ministry as a "live-in" pastor about this time.  I mean that we began living in the towns where he preached.  He pastored several churches with middle income people like us and then upper income people.  Through him, I met people who were devastated by depression.  Through him, I met people who were grieving the loss of children/spouses.  Through him, I met people who were struggling with financial issues.  Through him, I met people who were struggling with health issues.  The interesting thing I learned was that these issues knew no socio-economic boundaries.  Everyone has problems.  Everyone has issues.  Everyone feels they have too much to handle.  I finally learned the grass is not greener on the other side, it is just different.

You may be wondering what was so bad about my life that I was always looking.  Well, that is just it, my life wasn't that bad.  I grew up in a loving home, albeit it a conservative and patriarchal one.  I went to college and met the man of my dreams.  I had a career I loved.  I did have health issues, but not enough to keep me from having fun and working.  We didn't have a lot of money, but we had enough.  it had nothing to do with my life, but everything to do with how I viewed life, how I lived life.

I kept looking ahead.  When we have kids.......when you work full-time......when I can stay home with the kids......when our kids are gone......when we can retire.......when we go on vacation.....on and on.  I never looked at the "now", where I was at that very moment in time.  And you know the sad part?  I missed things.  I missed moments with my children because I was too preoccupied with the future.   I had plenty of moments, but I know that I missed some because of my focus.

Learning to be present has and will be one of the hardest things for me to learn.  I had to learn to still my mind and my thinking and take in my surroundings.  I had to learn to appreciate what was in front of me, and not long for what was not.  I had to learn peace.  You know what I found along the way?  Joy.  Happiness.  Rest.

I am not saying my life is rosy, you know that is a lie if you have read just a bit of my blog or my statuses on facebook.  I have problems.  I have LOADS of problems.  But I have many, many things to be thankful for.  I am living a slow life.  I have longed to live like this for years and now I am doing it.  I don't have a timecard anymore.  I am my own boss.  It is wonderful.  I am married to my best friend who gets me even when I don't.  He has been so patient with me all these years of "looking ahead and over the fence".  He has taught me to breathe.  I have a son whose smile literally takes my breath away.  His eyes shine with kindness and generosity.  He is almost a man and he has taught me how to play.  I have a daughter whose inner strength brings me to my knees.  I am in awe of her spirit and being.  She is a young lady and she has taught me how to love.

So why do I still watch these shows if I am not looking over the fence?  I think now it is just curiosity.  I like seeing how others live their lives.  How they run their homes.  It is kind of like when I used to go and visit classrooms as a teacher.  You never know when you might pick up a tip.  But I think I also watch because, sometimes it is nice to remind yourself you really have it pretty good!  (I mean, have you see some of those Wife Swaps????  and NINETEEN kids, come on???)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Menu Planning

Well, it is Wednesday and I am just now getting this done.  But better late than never!

Monday - Crispy Rosemary Chicken and Potatoes - finally cooked this.  It was okay.  I used boneless thighs and cooked it too long.

Tuesday - Hamburgers w/Sweet Potato Fries - these fries are delish!!!!  You must try them if you haven't yet!

Wednesday - Roast - will probably make fajitas because we have a game and it is Cinco de Mayo

Thursday -  Easy Tilapia with Tomatoes and Wine

Friday - will go out - My son's Senior Night in Baseball.  Important memories will be made!!!

Saturday - Spaghetti

What are you having for dinner this week?