My friends, I must ask, what in the world is going on?
I ask this open-ended question because I am puzzled, worried and sometimes even disgusted at the behavior of people these days. Regular subscribers to my blog will notice that I have been absent from the blogosphere, silently pondering whether I want to continue to feed information about my life for strangers to read. I have grown weary of the emails, and negative words that weigh heavy.
This is the tradeoff authors endure. A public life equals public opinion. Thankfully 99.9 percent of my readers are kind. (Love to y’all). Still, I’ve had to callous my skin during my 10 year journey as an author. And during this journey one of my most important take away points is this: Every-Single-Person is going through something.
Everyone is going through something, which is why I have had to walk away from some people. Yes, I can understand, be compassionate, and try not to take negativity personally. I also have realized that I can’t love someone into being a better person. Usually, the more I love a negative and toxic person, the more they want to injure me. Why, Dear Ones, do people do that?
What does lashing out accomplish? Does uttering hurtful words at another person offer healing?
I try to be positive, to lend a kind word because-these days-hurtful words are a penny a dozen and kind words require a second mortgage.
Having cancer has taught me life is short. A blink. Why on earth my dear friends would I want to waste my limited breath on anything other than goodness?
Beyond my personal tragedies.
Beyond my concerns.
Beyond my weariness.
I try, to be positive. Because I’ve read the Bible a little bit and not once did I see Jesus being ugly to people. Jesus didn’t hashtag hatefulness. He bled grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love, then He commanded me to be like Him.
Me, a sinner has been ordered to be the best person I can be, to be kind and loving, to show grace when I really want to scream.
Today, I dashed into Target to fill my basket with cold remedies. Final exams are next week which can only mean one thing, a terrible cold for my daughter during the second most important week of school. Minutes later, I was walking to my car when I witnessed what some folk would call a Mexican Standoff. Six, yes six vehicles ranging from Prius to Hummer-size all backed away from their respective parking spaces simultaneously. Every single one. Since we’re in the holiday season one might expect, or hope, at least one of these drivers would extend a little holiday cheer.
One would be wrong.
No one budged. Because I feared being run over, I didn’t budge either. During this time I stood, wondering what God thinks about this behavior. This pushy, hurried, think-only-about-myself-behavior that we don with our winter coats.
Why, my friends, do we act this way? Why?
This parking lot display, which admittedly most people wouldn’t even notice, troubled me. This is supposed to be a happy season? Birthdays are BIG DEALS and December 25th is the biggest birthday of all time. Why my friends, have we taken our eyes off the reason for the season? Why is it so difficult to be the best person we can be every day?
Why are we being pushy? Why are we in twitter fights? Why have we blocked our own family on Facebook (because heaven knows we don’t talk to them face to face…mercy no!) Why are we so unhappy?
I returned home discouraged. Sometimes I think that Jesus gets very sad. That we hurt His feelings, and today I kinda hoped that someone in the parking lot would have extended a little kindness. So after I gave my daughter her medication I asked, Lord, what in the world is wrong with your children? Then a little post came across the Facebook screen. The post didn’t answer my question, but it did give me hope.
Enter Johnny Smith:
Now I don’t know Johnny from Adam’s housecat. I met him the way people find acquaintances these days, through a friend of a Facebook friend. But let me tell you something about Johnny. He gave me hope.
His Facebook post read My Testimony.
Take a moment and look at Johnny’s picture. Look at it closely. You don’t have to share your opinions with me, but I’d bet my non-existent farm you have drawn a conclusion about him based solely on his looks. You’ve already forgotten my words that everyone is going through something. Now read his testimony.
I’m writing this testimony for Jesus Christ, not seeking sympathy, praying someone reaches out to Jesus .
A few years ago I had lived most of my life a heathen. Never went to church much. My son had went missing, they found him dead in the woods. Brought back 65lbs in a body bag, he was 190lbs alive .I came home from his funeral, thinking, what kind of God allows this kind of thing to happen? Blaming God. My phone rang, it was a close friend (pee wee) his first words were. “Don’t let this make you turn your back on God.”
I said, “Gotta go, don’t wanna talk about this.”
Went to computer, a friend popped up and said, God loves you Johnny.
“I said, ‘God don’t love nobody’.’”
My friend asked, “Did you love your son?”
“Yes,” I said, “more than anything.”
“Would you have given his life?” my friend asked.
“No I said.”
My friend said, “Well God loved you so much he gave his son’s life for you.”
My response: “Gotta go dont wanna hear it.”
But when I stood up I could only think of God’s word and how much love for me it took to give His son. I raised my hands and asked for forgiveness. Had a strong urge to get to a church when Sunday came around. As we parked the car my heart was pounding. I went on in. Pounding got greater. I got up to leave the building but knew if I went out the door Satan would rule me. I turned went to the altar. Here I am Lord. I’m yours whatever it is you want for me. I felt someone breathing on my neck and shoulder. Turned to look, nobody was there, that I could see. Then the wind hit me in the face, blowing. Kinda scared me, I thought Lord this is you?”
Here’s what the spirit of God said, ‘YOUR TIME HAS COME. ALL YOUR LIFE YOU SAT BACK WHEN I DEALT WITH YOUR HEART. YOU SAW WRONG BEING DONE AND WALKED ON BY. BUT YOU CAME TO ME TODAY, YOU BELONG TO ME NOW AND YOU WILL SERVE ME THE REST OF YOUR DAYS ON EARTH.’ I had a peace go thru my body like I never known…and the man that walked out wasn’t the man that walked in. Amen. That’s when I became his servant.”
Johnny’s friends didn’t have to reach out. I have also learned that sometimes when you are hurting is when you are most alone. But they did. They reached out to him during Johnny’s lowest time and showed him God’s love. They responded to Johnny’s anger with the love of God. So today my friends, if you are stressed, angry, worried, and/or afraid let me say that most of us are too. All of us have felt betrayed, been angry (sometimes at God), felt alone, confused. We’ve said things we are ashamed of. (please ask that person for forgiveness) We’ve hurt people either accidentally, or on purpose. (please ask the person you have hurt for forgiveness). But every single day we all need the little baby in the manger.
God knew this. That is why one day a long, long time ago a tiny baby came into this world on Christmas morning to make you, me, and Johnny Smith, His.
He wants to call us His child.
Thank you for reading and thank you Johnny for letting me share your words with my readers.
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories; True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Please download her e-book short story collection today. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com
It wasn’t my usual grocery store, the one where I organize my coupons according to aisle, and can get in and out as fast as humanly possible. No. I dropped into this one because I was headed in that direction and needed to pick up a few items. I don’t like to dally at the grocery store, especially not with Thanksgiving just around the corner. I was standing on yon side of the store when an announcement came over the loudspeaker, “Billy Albertson come to the pharmacy.”
God has been doing this to me lately, dropping me in places where he can use me; like the gas station on Monday (more on that in another post), and the Christian Authors Guild on Monday night. He’s been pruning me, carving a little nick in my ear so that I will hear His call.
Knowing that there is only one Billy Albertson, and he isn’t on any medication, I drove my buggy to the non-yon side of the store eagerly anticipating one of those love-filled Farmer Billy hugs. Perhaps he was there for a flu shot, I thought. My stomach flipped and my heart hurt when Billy turned and I caught a glimpse of him.
He had aged, badly. His skin dull, lackluster. His stance, stooped over. His eyes tired.
“What in the world?” I asked while easing him toward the door. “What is going on with you?” Whatever he had, it was obvious he needed to be home.
“Doctor’s don’t know,” he pulled up his shirt sleeve revealing a puffy calamine-painted arm, “they’ve cut a hunk off’a me and sent it off.”
Dialing Daughter Number One I said, “Your father is ill. What is going on?”
I learned that Billy’s doctor-an incredible, and very competent and compassionate man- had spent two hours examining Billy, then sent him straight to the hospital earlier in the week for a variety of tests. Billy does not have shingles. Billy is home and for the family, neighbors, and concerned friends who may be reading this, we also need prayers for rest. According to all reports, no one really knows what is going on. This is a random ailment. All I know is that Billy is ill and he is not himself, and that we must wait for the biopsy results. Billy’s doctor is on this like a chicken on a June-bug, but the Great Physician is ultimately in charge.
“You read in the Bible where Job took pieces of broken pots and scraped his skin,” Billy said. “I am in such agony I could scrap myself clean to the bone.”
Sounds like Chicken Pox doesn’t it? It also sounds like Shingles. Right now I do not know, neither do the doctors.
What I do know is that God put me in the grocery store, the one I never visit so I could be placed in Billy’s path; so I could ask you to pray. Even though the biopsy is marked STAT, the doctor doesn’t anticipate receiving the results until Friday. Would you join me in praying that the results come sooner? Would you ask that the doctor know how to treat Billy’s condition?
And would you please pray for healing?
Blessings to you!
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Mountain Memories; True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. In 2014, Mercer University Press will release her next book titled Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. Email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com
I’ll call him Michael. It’s my brother’s name, a safe one for this real-life story.
Michael was four years old and new to church. His mother needed to work so they’d have a safe place to call home. Sometimes “work” meant that men, strange men, stayed over. Men who scared Michael.
Vacation Bible School was supposed to be fun. There’d be snacks, and crafts and games and music. Oh, it was the music that Michael loved more than anything. He loved how dancing made him forget, just for a moment, that there’d be a stranger in his house. Miss Sheila brought Michael and a bunch more kids to Vacation Bible School. She took all the kids in the neighborhood whose momma said yes when she offered to drive them. She’d bring a school bus full of kids if she had one, just to get these babies out of the house. On the way Miss Sheila reminded them how much fun they’d have. Michael was excited.
The church was big, the ceiling much taller than at home. Kids were gathered in groups, more kids than Michael had ever seen. Michael was told to stay with his group leader. He couldn’t remember her name. He wanted to go home to his Momma.
The music started and the leader stood in front of everyone. She held something that made her voice loud. But her face was kind. Michael liked her which is why he got up and grabbed her leg, clung to her. He didn’t mean to hit her when she asked him to sit down, but he did. She passed him back to Michael’s group leader who passed him to another when he hit her. Finally someone led him away from the sanctuary, needed to explain the rules of Vacation Bible School.
I’ve been volunteering with Vacation Bible School for many years and I’ve never met a child who touched me more than Michael. He was the child no one wanted to be around. He was an angel one moment, defiant the next. The first day with him was pure torture. I did not know his story. I did not understand his actions. Nor did anyone else, nor did they want to. He ended up with my group because, quite honestly, no one else knew how to handle him. I didn’t either. I don’t have an advanced degree in childhood education, but I do know there was a reason why Michael acted out, why he hit, why he crossed his arms in a tight cocoon around his body.
As I led him outside I said, “Michael, I understand it’s hard being in a new place; but we don’t hit. We just don’t.”
He looked at me in a way that sent chills up my spine. There was a meanness inside him. His brows came together, his arms crossed tight in what looked like defiance, but was actually the only self-protection device he had.
Then he said, “you’re not gonna be my friend. He turned, curled himself tight.” His voice, the whine of a broken child, pierced my big-bad-adult stance. I didn’t think. My heart acted out and did exactly what “the rules” say I shouldn’t do. I gathered Michael in my arms and hugged him. Hugging isn’t allowed these days. Heaven forbid we touch a child that isn’t our own.
The force of his hug, the desperate need for love knocked me off balance. Michael clung to me like a piece of driftwood in the ocean. I squeezed. He squeezed harder. He was strong. Releasing him I said, “Sweetie. I am your friend, but we don’t hit our friends. Got it?”
He said he did.
Returning to music class, Michael did all the moves better and faster than the big kids who made up my class. We formed a line and left the room heading toward snack time. Snack time is a sit down, cross-your-legs time where children receive goldfish on a napkin and water in a cup. Snack time is also story-time, when a volunteer reads as the children munch. Listening to stories keep them occupied. Michael didn’t have to tell me he was hungry, I knew it in my heart. I didn’t yet know about Michael’s home environment, but I would with the next class change.
After positioning the students in a semi-circle I took my place in a chair. As expected, the older boys in my group began getting into each other’s space causing me to sit in the floor with them. The moment I crossed my legs, Michael climbed into my lap. Picked up my hand, patted it, squeezed. We were friends.
Frowning, one of the elders said, “Miss Renea, Michael shouldn’t be sitting in your lap.”
I had broken another rule. Don’t hold children.
We finished snack and headed into the activity room where exercise is fun. This is Miss Sheila’s expertise. As the children were getting settled in I pulled her aside, said, “tell me Michael’s story.”She told me things that broke my heart, caused my eyes to pool, tears splash from my lashes.
Story time is the place where bible verses are read, repeated, and hopefully retained for years to come. It was obvious to the group leaders that Michael was too young for my class, but that didn’t matter. We were all about to learn that at 4 years old, Michael could already read. After story time was over Mr. Joshua took Michael’s hand and shook it, said “I love you little man.”
Writing those words just now cause tears again. Because I know in my heart that if God doesn’t intervene in Michael’s life he won’t hear those words often.
During crafts, Michael bounced into the room, touched every color, called it by name, then counted the numbers on the wall. While the older children colored outside the lines, Michael created masterpieces. He knew all his colors. Crayons quickly became a security blanket. I don’t need an advanced degree in Early Childhood Development to see that Michael has the potential for greatness.
“You’re a smart boy,” I said while he sat in the floor and colored. “How did you get so smart?”
Without looking up he said, “My Mommy.”
“What’s your Mommy’s name?” I asked.
Michael stopped. He lifted the crayon to his mouth, tapped it against his bottom lip and thought. “Hmm, I don’t know what my Mommy’s name is. Why don’t I know her name?”
I laughed. “That’s because it’s Mommy you silly goose.”
The next day I was running late. By the time I arrived, children were seated in their groups. The scowl was back. he was afraid. He had no friends. “Michael!” I said waving. He ran. I reached out. He placed his hand dark against mine. He is my friend. Rules be durn’d when it comes to a child who is living a real-life hell on earth. The rest of the week was a blur of hand holding, dancing, drawing and hugs.
“I want to adopt Michael,” I announced at the dinner table to my husband whose face bore the look of complete shock. I’d been reporting on Michael. Telling about his remarkable ability to reason, to memorize and recall words almost instantly. “I don’t care that his mother loves him. I love him too. He is special. Something bad is going to happen to him, I can just feel it..” I excused myself from the table and locked myself in the bathroom.
Now I know what y’all are thinking. Who am I to want another woman’s child? I wish I had an answer. The best way I can explain it is that I have a strong sense of despair about Michael. Perhaps this is because I worked for a criminal court judge, because I know the statistics; know what happens to young boys who have men walking in and out of their lives; know that some mothers have no choice, absolutely none, when it comes to feeding their children. I find myself glued to the television, terrified that I’ll hear about him on the news. I want them both in my home, safe, loved, protected. In all the years of meeting children such as Michael it is the way he clung to me, the way he made me love him that sears him into my heart. Michael’s mother is a good Mother. Any mother who has a child reading at four years old is a wonderful mother. She is doing everything she knows to do, which is why I wrote her a note at the end of Bible School telling her how much Michael loved her, how smart he is, how if she ever needs help she should call me.
But she didn’t call. She moved. Michael is gone. Relocated to the other side of Atlanta. For a short time Miss Sheila brought him to church. Michael would smile, wave, and run to me. I would kneel down scoop him into my arms and squeeze, pouring every drop of love I had into him. Those women, the ones who told me not to touch, hug, love, they frowned, but I didn’t care. The people who make those kind of rules can just get over it.
God tells us all that the most important commandment is love. He is the ultimate rule-maker. I am accountable to him.
I just wish that loving Michael didn’t hurt so much.
Michael has been on my heart a lot lately. When I ask Miss Sheila about him she just says, “he’s gone.” And I cry. Big ole heart-broken tears. I know I can do nothing, absolutely nothing, but pray for Michael. So I pray the prayer of someone who is powerless, someone who sees the potential in this child. I pray with my face on the floor, with tears wetting the carpet. Pleading that God protects him, keeps him safe, and that Michael will always knows that I am his friend. And so I ask you today, if you read this blog, please pray for Michael. God knows his real name.
Thank you for reading, for praying, and for sharing this post. Subscribers are always welcome.
Renea Winchester is the author of: Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half Truths from Appalachia an ebook released September 2013, and In the Garden with Billy:
Mercer University Press will release her latest: Farming, Friends and Fried Bologna Sandwiches, in 2014.
She needs two points. This is a simple math problem, one point, plus one point equals two points. As the school year rushes to a close, my prayer life has increased dramatically. Test anxiety, homework, finals and the school’s computer system crash has wreaked havoc on my family (and I’m not a teacher!) Not only did the local system crash, the entire County computer system crashed and stayed down for seven days. This meant End of Year testing, school projects and final exams simultaneously.
As an aside, if you are critical of teachers and faculty imagine for a moment the pressure staff is already under at the end of the year. Then add a system-wide computer crash so bad that emails aren’t even working.
I am thankful . . . for many things. My husband has a job. I remain cancer free. We’ve seen our share of job loss, fear, uncertainty. Still, knowing that college looms near, and, absent a book contract, I worry about money, am still searching for part-time employment. I pray about this, scholarship money, a book contract, a job; I pray about these things often.
But it is my daughter’s struggles that consume me. I pray, worry. Worry, then pray. Multiple times each day I pray, Lord, she only needs two points. Please help her make those two points.
This year, her struggles have been many. She’s dealt with anemia and vertigo. I’ve seen her stagger into the house, eat something then sleep so hard I have to wake her to do her homework. In addition to the health issues, during the first semester she had a teacher (whose contract will not be renewed next year) who shouldn’t have been teaching. I’ve met with faculty, pulled her out of that teacher’s classes and emailed the new teacher so often that she probably hates me (I promise, I am not a pushy person, or a helicopter parent.) For those who don’t know, helicopter parents do their child’s work, they hover, don’t allow their children to make their own mistakes, or decisions. I haven’t helped my daughter with schoolwork since Elementary School. For that I am proud. Yes, her grades would be higher if she came to me or her father for help, but she earned the grades she has; scratched and sweated out every single point. For that I am proud. I am not one of “those” mothers who will send my daughter to college then do her assignments. Instead, I posted a note on her computer which reads:
I am smart
I can do this
It will be difficult, but worth it
I will own the grades I make
Perhaps that is why I feel so helpless, because during this second semester, with the new teacher, she has pulled her grades up dramatically. Perhaps that is why I continually ask God please, just two points so she doesn’t fail.You know she has worked so hard.
Then today I read a devotional which began: Genuine faith puts a letter in the mailbox and lets go. Distrust, however, holds on to a corner of the envelope and then wonders why the answer never arrives (Streams in the Desert)
Y’all know I am a word gal. I love hand-written letters, anxiously await the arrival of mail every single day. I’m a letter writin’ card mailin’ fool. I send notes to complete strangers. Cards, letters, vegetable and flower seeds to people I will never meet. During that time I have never stood at the mailbox holding onto the corner of the envelope. No. I slap a forever stamp in the top right-hand-corner and hoist the red flag knowing that the US Post Office will deliver my letter. I am confident the Post Office will deliver the letter. They have never failed me.
But when I read that genuine faith puts a letter in the mailbox and lets go I realized that I (literally) have been placing more faith in the postal service than God. Sure, I’ve been doing my part, praying and believing that God will answer the prayer. But my belief only lasted for a few hours, until worry snuck in and whispered what if she doesn’t pass? At that moment I snatch the envelope from God and tuck it in my pocket.
So today, as another school day begins, it is my desire to replace the prayer of she needs two points with the affirmation of Thank you God for the two points. I may not yet see them, but I believe they are coming.
Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes. In 2012 she released Stress-Free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author. 2014 will see the release of In the Kitchen with Billy: Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She is currently working on her first novel. She would love to hear from you. Visit her at www.reneawinchester.com