Three years ago I found myself sitting in my car in a parking lot on a Friday night. I knew I needed to get out of the car and go in but I was afraid. I was also desperate, and that night I let desperation win.
I got out, walked across the parking lot and pulled the doors open. I was greeted by the distant sound of people singing. I made my way across the lobby, and into the sanctuary where I quietly slid into the back row. Before the first song ended I was fishing tissues out of my purse to try to stop the flow of tears. For the first time in a long time I felt safe.
"How's grandma doing?" I ask over the phone. It's been a few months since her fall, and it's been a slow road to recovery. She was grateful to be able to stay with my parents for a few weeks, but she was ready to be back in her familiar space. The only problem was, when she was one her own, she didn't really feel like cooking... or eating. And when she didn't eat, she didn't have any strength. So, before she returned home, her loving daughters said, "We want you to be able to be independent as long as you can. But here's the condition. You have to eat more."
I sat with my head leaning on my hand, my eyes glazing over as I stared at the computer screen and scrolled through my bank account. I knew enough to know it wasn't good for it to be going out faster than it was coming in. But I couldn't figure out how to make sense of all those numbers with dollar signs in front of them. I was never very good at math. When real life (aka. student loans, rent, and grocery bills) and math started to collide, I knew I was going to need help with what felt like a high-wire balancing act. I always felt a little bit like a failure because I couldn't figure out how to budget on my own. But then I learned there are people who are actually really good at this. The best part is, those people usually love to help those of us who find the numbers game a bit more challenging.
“Where are the lame? I must make my home in their shadow. Where are the lowly- the ones despised? Where is pain at this moment? Because I have tired of trying to get God to come to me, instead I will enter into the place where He already is... when you avoid pain, above all else, you are avoiding God.” ~ Matthew Lyle Mooney, A Story Unfinished.
Two weeks ago I stole this book from my friend Keri’s desk (with her permission). Little did I know, it was my heart that was about to be stolen.
I'm kind of a nerd. I love school supplies. I can get lost in the never-ending aisles of sharpies, pretty notebooks, crayons, and pencils. I've always been this way. When I was a kid, a new notebook said so much more than me than just, "it's time to go back to school." A new, blank notebook was full of potential. The possibilities were endless. There were plenty of other challenges to deal with on the first day of school. But when I could face them with a new notebook and some new supplies, it made it just a little bit easier.
There are many children here in Northwest Arkansas who don't have that option.
Many of you spent the month of May praying for a Foster Child or a sibling group in the Arkansas foster care system. This month we had a chance to talk with someone else who is investing in the lives of these same children. Ken Ferguson is the founder and president of New Beginning Children's Homes, a long term residential care facility for foster children in Northwest Arkansas. Ken explains that while the organization is structured like an orphanage, the environment is family and faith oriented.
"Liesel observed her foster Father's eyes. They were made of kindness, and silver. Like soft silver, melting. Liesel, upon seeing those eyes, understood that her father was worth a lot."
A few months ago I read those words in a story by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief.
This week, I sit across from a foster mother named Ann, and I saw it for myself. I see it in her eyes too - the kindness and the shining when she talks about those kids.
I put the phone up to my ear, the laughter of my friends echoing in the background over the familiar sounds of the musical White Christmas. It was my mom. She sounded cheerful, but I could tell something wasn't quite right. The rest of the conversation is a bit of a blur. Something about the doctor. Test results. Biopsy. Early stages. Cancer. No matter what qualifying words come before it, that word has a way of making your stomach drop...
I smile at a new picture of my niece and nephews on Facebook. They're with their mom at Chick-fil-A.
It seems normal to me. It's hard to admit, but if I'm honest? Most of the time I don't think about the fact that there are probably kids their age down the street... who will go to bed hungry tonight. While other kids are excited for the weekend, they will wonder what they're going to eat without the school lunch to count on. I can't imagine what it feels like to hear your precious 2 year old say she's hungry, and not be able to meet that need. There are a lot of people in Northwest Arkansas who don't have to imagine it. Because they're living it...
The day of my first visit to Loving Choices is an uncharacteristically cold day for Northwest Arkansas. Then again, that has been pretty normal this winter. I pull into the small parking lot behind the house, just a few blocks away from the campus of the University of Arkansas. I had heard a lot about this place, and I am anxious to see it for myself.
A volunteer is waiting for me at the door with a warm smile. She shows me a few of the rooms while I wait for the person I am meeting with. "You came in the back door, but this is where the clients would normally first come in." I look around at the entryway and waiting area, beautifully and thoughtfully decorated, and again I'm struck by the warmth. I can imagine what a relief it would be for a woman in crisis to walk through the door and be wrapped up in that warmth. To be reassured with every interaction, whether with a receptionist, a nurse, or a counselor… that this is a safe place.