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Monday, September 26, 2011

Here I go . . .

Obviously, I am not a person who moves around a lot. I lived in the same house from the ages of 4-21 with the exception of college. I lived in my little house in Winder from the ages of 21-31 when I briefly lived in Emily's basement "I live in my sister's basement . . ." and then married John and moved to Dahlonega where I remain. Jobs would be the same with me, since I worked in high school at Chic-fil-a "all the good Christian kids worked there," and later I was an intern @ FBC Vidalia where I did everything from change diapers to plan activities for the high school kids. Then I landed this sweet gig at my home church at 21 years old (not quite 21 if you want to get technical) and I have been there ever since.
So if you want to get right down to it, I've never done anything besides take care of children, make sweet tea and chicken sandwiches, or take care of more children.
Well, I've also done quite a bit of writing/ lesson planning, some basic first-aid (okay, that one surgery at camp one summer), cleaned up quite a bit of vomit, conducted some interventions, a few counseling sessions, testified in court, supervised teachers, trained teachers, put up quite a few bulletin boards (that were outstanding, in my opinion), and I've read and studied quite a bit, trained, attended and conducted countless workshops, and copied some coloring sheets. Working for a Baptist church all these years, I've also logged quite a few hours hugging people, shaking hands, sharing potluck dinners, serving at potluck dinners, organizing "fellowships" (get-togethers if you're not Baptist), teaching with flannel-graph, assembling "power bands," jamming to some Veggie Tales or The Sparks Theme Song, cleaning dry-erase boards, picking up puzzle pieces (wow, we have a puzzle for everything here!) and even some very odd things that you would never know happen in the course of a day at a Baptist church.
Once, the women's ministry director and I spent an entire day with a homeless lady who lived under the trucks that park behind Kohl's in Lawrenceville. We took her shopping for clothes and toiletries, and helped her fill out paperwork for government housing. Looking back, it now seems odd that we took her to eat at Longhorn. I can still remember when we pulled up to her "home" behind Kohl's and there was this trash bag of clothing and a bottle of scope - under a trailer in this space of about three feet where she lived. I was probably 23 years old, owned my own little house and had a nice job. I'm sure I was wearing "nude" control top pantyhose, hanging around back there with the trucks behind Kohl's feeling very naive.
Another time I held this little boy on my lap in the housing projects while some of the pastors were putting on a puppet show. Suddenly I realized he had wet his pants and mine too. So I spent the whole day out there with a huge pee stain on the front of my skort (yes, skort, it's a combination shorts/skirt and very handy in the summertime.)
There was also my stalker-friend, 59 year old Mohammed, who stuck around after Revival one night and scared the stuffing out of me, then followed me to Target in the women's lingerie department and scared me again before my mom called and told our then-Associate Pastor that I was NEVER to be left alone at an event again.
Ryan reminded me today about the Dean-O and the Dynamos concert - the WORST event we ever carried out, when there were about two thousand kids crammed into the DHS gym and the air conditioning went out . . . in late May . . . in Georgia. And then after the SECOND song, the two thousand kids lost interest in the music and the super-saved aerobic-dancing girl in her denim overalls and started ripping to shreds their Hawaiian leis . . . getting up to walk around the gym, chasing each other, mobbing the stage area, and making me a nervous wreck. Fortunately the show only lasted about two hours.
And I cannot forget Fort Bluff, the scene of the all-time most regrettable camp I've ever been a part of. There were the narrow triple bunks reminiscent of a Nazi concentration camp, the food that I stopped eating on day one when Vanessa Lopez met me in line for breakfast and said: "Ms. Melissa . . . there was a cocka-roach in my sausage biscuit!" and the crazy rules about coed swimming and the need for 8 year old girls to wear t-shirts over their bathing suits. My exact words to the camp staff  "but all the kids look exactly the same at this age! Who cares?" It was, in fact, a camp with a nice brochure that was NOTHING like reality.
And while on the subject of camp, I will always laugh when I think of "Miss Karen" and the giant bag of poop "at least ten pounds in this bag," the little boy who pooped in the sink backstage during the talent show, (the year with all the Tavious kids at camp . . .) and the farting gymnast who got into an argument over who dealt it - with her gymnast partner- during the talent show. There was the year when fourteen different girls all tried out with the song "Jesus take the wheel," including a rap version and a ridiculous interpretive dance. I will smile when I think of little Josh Trainer, grinning as he won the first place trophy for "Fly Away," and the next day when he became a virtual celebrity in the cafeteria.
Truly this job has been my mainstay for the past 14 years. The people of this church have carried me through a horrendous first marriage that never should have happened. The people of this church have stood by me through my codependency and divorce. This church was a place where I could go to feel successful, sane, and busy. Sometimes this church was a place for me to hide, to get lost, or to blend in with the crowd. Sometimes this church was all that was left of me. Through my time back in schools, two ectopic pregnancies, the loss of two very precious souls, through a new marriage, the transition to step-parenting, and through every triumph and ordeal of my adult life- I've had this sweet gig. I once told someone, "I get paid to tell kids about the Bible. How sweet is that?"
Through this job I discovered that my life's work is to help abused and neglected children. And to parent them. Through this job I learned about forgiveness, repentance, healing, honesty, hard work, recognition, charity, compassion, pain, ambition, passion, creativity, trust, and loyalty. I've learned to work with people who are very different from me. I've learned to be part of a team. I've learned to balance time. I've learned to work for a common goal. And now it's time for this season of my life to end.
I will take so many wonderful memories, so many lessons, and so many important truths with me as I go. I am going to work full-time with abused and neglected children. I am going to further my education, but most of all, I am going to be more available to my family, and be more of a wife to my wonderful husband. I am going to where God has called me, and believing good things will come. So, here I go to Dahlonega! And just as I once stood on the outside of this season, not knowing when I accepted this position at 21 years old that I would still be here all these years later, with a heart full of memories - I don't know what the future holds. But I know who holds the future.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mom Power

I've been thinking a lot lately about the role of a mom, and the power of that role. The really deep thinking about mom power started about a month ago in Kohl's. I was looking around in the bedding section and overheard a conversation between a young woman, her child, and her mom who was riding around in one of those wheelchair-shopping-cart contraptions. Actually, I'm not sure if I could really call this interchange a "conversation", because it was more like a grumpy disabled grandma insulting her daughter and grandchild relentlessly. It's rare you get to witness this type of family dysfunction on your lunch hour- but I did. It started when the younger woman walked away from grandma and the child to look at some large framed paintings. I was just a few yards away and heard the grandmother fussing at the child. She was saying things like "Stay over here! Don't you dare walk away from me! What are you? Stupid?" And when I heard the last remark, I just turned and glared at her. The little boy was probably six or seven, and he was just doing what normal little boys do. He was touching the edges of pillows, running his finger along the wall, picking up random objects to look at them. He was as quiet as a mouse, and really not more than a few feet from grumpy granny at the time of her reprimanding. He came and stood a little closer to the wheelchair, and she continued on her tirade: "I knew if we came here, your mother would go off and find some crap she doesn't need to buy! Why are we wasting our time here? I didn't want to come in this store anyway! You don't need anything else for your house, it couldn't get any more cluttered!" Then she spoke to the child again, her words ice cold: " Don't even think of asking to go look at the toys! We did not come in here to look at toys! You have everything a child wants anyway! You need nothing else!" It was hard for me not to turn toward the ice queen and blurt out: "No, he doesn't have everything he needs. He needs you to be kind to him and stop humiliating him." But I kept my cool. I started to walk away when I heard the young mother start back-talking granny. She was as cold and sarcastic, but also worn down like she didn't care what verbal abuse her son had to witness. It was really very ugly.
It makes me sad to overhear or see a scene like this one. I just finished reading an awesome book called "Like Family" by Paula McClain. It is a memoir of her experience growing up in foster care, the middle child of three sisters who were abandoned by both parents, and spent their childhood and teen years living in different people's homes with different rules, different levels of dysfunction and so forth. This is a fabulous read (took me three nights to finish) and I laughed and cried, laughed and cried, through the whole thing. I read over one hundred pages the night I picked it up at the library, and woke up John several times giggling because of several funny stories and references to the pop culture of the early eighties when these sisters were growing up. But the reason I mention this book as part of this blog is because the girls in this book experienced all different types of moms. They had an absent mom, a stone-cold mom, a Nazi mom with endless rules, a permissive mom with no rules, a "wonderful" mom who was typical in every way, but eventually gave them back to the system (that was painful to read about.) They also had an abusive mom in foster-care, and yet with all of these moms, they yearned for a closer relationship, the bond they wanted to have so badly. You can feel the ache in the words of the writer, how as a little girl she longed for one of those "mom" figures to claim her, protect her, be affectionate to her, care for her when she was sick, and love her. Isn't this a basic human need? Don't we all want to have a mother care for us.
I am one of the lucky ones, actually, I am among the "more than lucky." I have a mother and a father that I would not change for anything. I am so blessed to have grown up in a home with two pretty normal people, who are still married today, and who were committed to not just each other, but to me, Emily, and Becky in every way. Today I am a well-rounded person with my father's sense of humor and work ethics, my mom's compassion and hospitality, and thirty-four years of wonderful memories because of two amazing parents. And there is not a sum high enough to convince me to call someone else my "mom" or "dad." I esteem NO ONE . . . not even among my relatives, the high honor of being labeled my mom and dad. Those titles are distinct and will not be given to anyone else in my life. But I know it's because of how blessed I was as a child (and still am today) that I didn't need a tribe of men and women to raise me. I had the best.
Mom and Dad are powerful people. They have powerful roles, their words are powerful and their actions will shape the foundation and future of the children they raise.
Just like grumpy granny in Kohl's (who is lucky I didn't roll her into the men's restroom) . . . words are powerful and mom's words are among the most powerful.
May God give me the words to speak to my precious stepchildren, my godchildren, and those children who "wait" for our family. May I watch my words, being ever mindful of the power they contain. May I always remember that when I hold my children I hold their future, their hearts, their tender minds, and their personalities.
Somewhere in the world today (maybe the state of Georgia, maybe elsewhere) are the children who will join our family through adoption. I pray that any damage or pain from the past will be comforted and eased when they are brought into our family for good. I pray that I will have the words to say that will encourage them and heal them, and make them always proud and happy to say "that lady is my mom."