Senka has a message, we can help her live it.

Senka July2013Serbia has come along way when it comes to the rights and support of people with disability, but it still has a long way to go. Several years ago I traveled twice to Serbia to see the conditions of people living with disabilities in Dom Veternik mental institution. An institution is no place for a person to live. Many of Eastern Europe’s institutionalized people were born with normal mental capacity, but were challenged with physical disabilities. They found themselves institutionalized anyway.

And then there’s Senka! On my second visit I was surprised to see a small woman with cerebral palsy at an event. I may even have scared her I was so eager to meet her! She is unique. Senka stood out in a society that has a limited population living with disabilities in public.

And what a joy! She had recently become a Christian and was eager to share the truth of Jesus with others. Her smile lit up the room, and there wasn’t a trace of self-pity in her conversation. She is an overcomer.Senka 2

But it’s not easy living with disabilities in Serbia. The government provides little assistance to people who need it. And while new buildings and transportation may be built to code for access, most buildings are still inaccessible. I watched Senka try to navigate life during my few days in Novi Sad, it was a slow, tedious process. She is determined, but it’s obvious she needs assistance.

I’m passionate about assisting Senka because I can’t decry the institutionalization of people like her, without supporting someone who has beaten the odds, who sets the example to her community every day!

I have set up a GoFund Me campaign to help Senka pay a personal assistant. She needs about $165 a month to pay someone to help her navigate her daily activities such as school, shopping, and social outings. Because assistance is limited for people like Senka she relies on the help of friends and her own creativity.

You can read more about Senka at her GoFund Me page. We love to talk about equality and helping others, and this is a great opportunity to do it! Senka is an example to her community that people with disability can and should be a part of society. Her message of joy and determination in the face of challenges is just what her community needs! I hope you’ll join me in helping Senka overcome her society’s obstacles! Any little bit helps!

Appreciating The Beautiful People

Across the sea behind the walls of a Serbian mental institution precious treasure is tucked away. This season I’m giving thanks for the people who bring beauty to my life. And I can’t pass by the beauty I found in Serbia. In a room the size of a small bedroom Chedo, Petra, Boris, and another little girl whose name I can’t remember, lie in metal cribs. Lubitsa, the nurse, sings to them. She kisses slobbery faces, strokes their heads, she feeds them, and washes them. She loves them. It is breathtaking.

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Boris looks like a toddler, he’s really 11. Lubitsa is the nurse at the front in the picture.

 

Two years ago (has it really been two years!?) I witnessed humanity in all of its raw and fragile beauty unfolding in that small room. I wasn’t prepared for the grace I saw being lived out there. I knew I would see sights that would make me cry, and I did. I knew to expect strong smells, harsh sounds, fearful emotions. Yes on all three accounts. But I did not expect to see beauty. Not like that.

In a world full of brokenness and pain, of injustice and lack – beauty is a treasure when we find it. Our souls shrivel without the nourishment beauty brings. Dom Veternik mental institution is never far from my mind. 600 souls shut away from the world. A staff without enough resources. A world that struggles to find beauty in bodies and minds measured as less than perfect. And yet I know the secret, Dom Veternik holds more beauty than the Lourve itself.

Serbia 2012 (293edit)

Precious Nicola has developmental disabilities and a great big heart.

 

While we eat our Thanksgiving turkey they’ll be there. Chedo, with the bright blue eyes, Petra with the ready smile, Nicola with an enthusiastic hug. Most of them are not orphans. Their parents retain parental rights and yet without resources and support they cannot provide them a home.

But that’s not the end of the story. Lubitsa will still be singing her songs. And I’m praying that the young adults I met, Tea and Boris, who are studying to work with disabled people will make a difference in their generation. As long as we have eyes to see beauty there is hope.

Today I spent time with another group of beautiful people. My new church hosts a dinner every year for people with mental disabilities. The family life center was packed with adults with mental disabilities, their care givers, church volunteers, and teens serving the meal. What a blast! It was a party complete with music and laughter. I got to sing O Holy Night with a gentleman who has Down syndrome. It was a treat!

I’m praying that more and more people will realize that sometimes beauty is found in unexpected places and offered by unexpected people. If we keep our eyes open and our hearts expectant we will find it. Today I’m giving thanks for the beauty my life has soaked up in the presence of people living with unique challenges.

Where do you see beauty? Have you found beauty in surprising people and places?

Words Can Hurt: Gay and Retarded Aren’t Okay Descriptors

Not so many years ago I referred to things, situations, and people as gay, or retarded. Meaning they were worthy of ridicule or were less than ideal. I don’t know that I gave the meaning of the words that much thought at the time, but that is what I was saying.

Not only did I use those phrases, but so did most of my acquaintance to some degree or another. I don’t know why. We didn’t talk about it. We just said it.

Maybe you’ve been known to use the phrase “That’s so gay” or “That’s just retarded” in a casual manner. I get it. I’ve done it. Words become habits.

Here’s why I don’t say those things anymore.

  • I’ve held the hand of a gay person as they’ve agonized over what it means to be who they are, how to relate to God, and why they were born the way they were. And I’ve held the hand of people who were born with different intellectual abilities, who as a result, live in dependence that makes them vulnerable.
  • Touching real people in those real situations has helped me see beyond my narrow view of life. I’ve lost the indifference to what that means for them and their families.
  • I’ve recognized it is only divine grace, not favoritism but grace, that I don’t wrestle with those realities myself. And because of that I have great compassion for those who do.
  • I’ve also come face to face with the things that do make me vulnerable. And I’ve learned I don’t want those things exploited. One of them is an ADHD diagnoses as a teenager. Do you know how often people talk about giving someone Ritalin in a joking manner? (Which I took for a while.) Or refer to someone as being “ADD” – whether they are or not? The answer is a lot! I’ve developed a thick skin.

I grew up in fundamentalist, Bible belt, 1980’s America. When I look back to my childhood I remember standing in a sanctuary filled with white, straight, middle class, Christians. I didn’t know people with vastly different lifestyles than myself. Is that where making fun of people who are different came from? Were we scared, or is that just human nature? I think it’s probably a mixture of all of the above.

I don’t know why I thought using those words in that manner was okay. Compassion is always in order. Care with our words is always a good idea. I suppose that’s the journey toward maturity. What we know now we didn’t know in our youth. But I regret my carelessness.

We never know who we are talking to, or who might overhear us. Is a mom of a child with disabilities listening? Does that person who doesn’t ‘look gay’ have homosexual feelings they don’t know what to do with? Our words should come from a heart of humble compassion. When we think of our deepest vulnerability and our fear of its exploitation, we should want to protect others from the same discomfort of exposure or ridicule. Life is hard. We should never make it harder on someone else. Ultimately the words we choose reflect our heart attitude.

Now I cringe when I hear people use derogatory labels or flippantly use words like retarded. Because to refer to people as broken or bad, with disgust in our voices, means we haven’t looked into the desperate heart of humanity and seen ourselves there.

Let’s be careful when we talk. People with real hearts are listening and as long as it’s in our power to encourage we should take that opportunity.

Ephesians 4:29. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

How about you? Do you use phrases you need to rethink? Or maybe you have been hurt by people’s words. How do you deal with that?

Dixie Lee ~ Part 7

It’s that time again! Here’s the next part of Dixie’s story. I enjoyed writing this week’s scene, though I always feel like there’s more to write as the clock breaths down my neck!

I hope you’ll join me every Friday for the continuing story of Dixie Lee. It’s my goal to post a section every week until the story is finished. I hope in the end these posts will turn into a full fledged book. If you see a typo or feel a particular sentence or scene doesn’t work well feel free to let me know. This project will be the better for your collaboration!

And if you like the story the best way to pay me a compliment is to share it with a friend, or on your facebook or twitter feed!

(If you need to catch up with Dixie’s story you can begin here.)

Dixie Lee

On the ride to church Kenny and Gabriel chatted pleasantly. Dixie was surprised how comfortably Kenny interacted with Gabriel. He was good with kids.

By the time the trio pulled into the church parking lot her two guests had become friends. Dixie’s heart was racing. They were late. Any hope of quietly hiding in a back pew was gone. Kenny helped her get Gabriel out of the truck and situated with his crutches. Slowly they crunched their way across the gravel parking lot, Kenny and Dixie on either side of Gabriel to help steady him.

Everything in Dixie was straining to move faster. But there was nothing to be done about it, Gabriel set the pace. Finally they made it to the white church’s double doors. They were opened by deacon Peal. He smiled and offered a bulletin. “I see you brought a little friend with you today Dixie.” Leaning down towards Gabriel he said, “Hello buddy, glad to have you.”

The three made their way to the doors of the sanctuary. Organ music was filtering into the small lobby. Dixie peered through the narrow windows in the doors. Everyone was standing, she couldn’t tell where any empty seats were. Straightening her shoulders she pulled open one of the doors and let Gabriel pass through, followed by Kenny. A couple of ushers came toward them. She didn’t need to be told where the empty seats were, she knew, but she greeted them warmly and followed one of the men down the center isle. They moved slowly. First Dixie, then Gabriel, followed by Kenny. Every head turned and followed their progress down the isle until they came to the second pew. Dixie’s mother looked up sharply. First confusion, then surprise flashed across her face in one brief second. Immediately she checked her response and set her jaw. Dixie saw the steel come into her eye as she moved down to make room for Dixie and her entourage.

The song leader finished “‘T’is So Sweet To Trust In Jesus” and asked the congregation to be seated. Dixie helped Gabriel get situated on the smooth wooden pew. Her father stood to welcome the congregation. Briefly she caught his eye. She saw the question flash across his face as he quickly took in the scene before him. In that moment Dixie’s heart caught and she was ashamed. It was inconsiderate of her not to have told her dad that she was bringing Kenny and Gabriel. After all these years as a pastor’s daughter she should have known it was unfair to surprise him. How many times had she seen people approach him with a concern or complaint right before he preached and watched as he struggled to regain his composure?

Casting a sidelong glance at the little blond boy and young man beside her her heart sank. Maybe this was going to be harder than she thought. She could feel the eyes of a hundred people boring into her back. Her father began preaching. His words floating around her. Kenny’s head was back lit by one of the stained glass windows that lined the white sanctuary. The one where little children all gathered around Jesus sitting on a rock.

Dixie had always loved the simple, old fashioned building. The pews were satiny from years of use, glowing with a rich patina. Her dad’s pulpit was solid and timeless, matching the two sturdy chairs on the platform behind him. She doubted much in the sanctuary had changed in the last century.

Again she cast a sidelong glance at Kenny. His face was intent, taking in her dad’s words. It had been such a busy morning she hadn’t really had time to notice his appearance earlier. She hoped no one else would notice the earring and eyeliner he was wearing. Her eyes swept over him briefly, assessing the situation. Was he wearing nail polish? Yes, yes, he was. Dark brown that matched his tan stripped shirt. Great.

Sighing, Dixie looked down at Gabriel. Sweet little thing. His hands rested gently in his lap. Dark lashes blinked solemnly over bright eyes. His face looked as intent as Kenny’s though perhaps more peaceful.

Turning her attention back to her dad Dixie tried to ignore the ramrod straight figure of her mother to the left of her. Her dad was saying, “John had walked with Jesus, touched Jesus, loved Jesus. When we read his gospel we know we’re hearing from someone who has the inside scoop. Right from the first verses of his gospel John tells us that Jesus was no ordinary man. He’s the one through whom the whole of creation was made, he is very life and light itself. God had put on skin and moved into our neighborhood. Darkness has not overcome the light, John says. But the light has come to point the way.”

Dixie remembered her dad telling her he was starting a new sermon series on the book of John. As she read along in the first chapter renewed confidence surged through her heart. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory,the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Could that not be the answer? Grace and truth. Jesus was full of both. Not sacrificing one for the other. What if we were? Isn’t that what Kenny needed from God and from people? Truth to make sense of his life and set it right, and grace to meet him where he was and help him find his way. The hesitation and doubt left Dixie and courage flickered, lighting her face.

She turned her eyes back to her dad and listened with renewed interest. He concluded his sermon and the song leader, Mr. Jenkins, came up to lead them in “Blessed Assurance.” At the end of the song her father stood up and prayed over the congregation, blessing them for the week ahead.

Dixie turned to Gabriel and helped him with his crutches. The little boy turned his sweet face up to her and said, “I liked the singing a lot. I have missed singing in church.” Dixie smiled and squeezed his shoulder. She turned toward Kenny.

“I had never heard that about Jesus before. I liked your dad’s message.”

“Do you have a Bible Kenny?” Dixie asked him.

“Not with me, my mom’s bible is somewhere at my dad’s house.”

Impulsively Dixie grabbed one of the Bible’s from the pew and held it out to him. “Here take this one.”

Kenny looked surprised. “I can’t take that, it belongs to the church.”

“Nonsense, Bibles are for being used. If you need one that’s what it’s for. Take it and read the book of John this week for yourself.”

He hesitated and then smiled reaching for the book. “Okay, I will. Thank you.”

Dixie’s mother, Sharon, was engaged in conversation so the three headed down the isle toward the back doors. Dixie glanced up and caught Sadie’s eye. In a moment she read her thoughts. Sadie made her way to them and stood by Dixie’s elbow.

Under her breath Sadie whispered in Dixie’s ear, “Dixie, what are you doing?”

Dixie turned to her friend and said aloud, “Sadie I’d like you to meet my friends, Gabriel and Kenny.”

Sadie was caught off guard for a moment. Her good manners took over and she said, “Hello, it’s nice to meet you.” She turned her attention to Gabriel, “Dixie’s told me about you. I’m glad you could come to church with her this morning. How is school going for you?”

Gabriel responded politely, “It’s going real well. I like Manning Academy.”

Sadie smiled at him, then turning back to Dixie said, “well I’ve got to get going, I’ll see you later.” And she hurried to join her family. Dixie’s heart sank for just a moment. Surely Sadie would come around. She was the sweetest person Dixie knew.

As the three continued down the isle Dixie caught Bo Sheridan’s eye. Dixie stopped beside him. He was handsome in his light blue oxford shirt and khakis, his gray eyes twinkling. “Hey Bo. How are you?”

“Good Dixie. I haven’t seen you since the race the other night. You been workin’ to hard?”

“No, not really.”

“Well how about after the race next Friday we grab something to eat?”

“All right, I’ll plan on it.” Turning to Kenny and Gabriel Dixie said, “Hey, Bo, I’d like you to meet my friends Kenny and Gabriel.”

Bo turned his attention to them. Dixie saw his face cloud as he took in her guests. He hesitated, then replied, “Nice to meet you boys. Glad you could come today.”  Turning back to Dixie he said, “Well Dix, guess I’ll see you Friday then, looks like the family’s leaving without me.” Dixie knew he had driven separately, she’d seen his truck in the parking lot. But she told him goodbye as he turned to go.

Mr. McAllister was standing by her elbow as they turned again to head to the door. “Oh Mr. McAllister, how are you?”

He reached out both of his bony, age freckled hands and clasped one of hers in a friendly hand shake. “Good, Dixie, I’m good. I see you’ve brought some guests.” And turning he stuck out his hands to her friends, “I’m Joe McAllister, so glad to have you.”

He was a small, old gentleman, clad in a light brown suite three decades out of date. Wispy white hair was smoothed back over his age spotted head. His watery blue eyes were smiling at Kenny and Gabriel.

“Mr. McAllister, these are my friends Kenny and Gabriel. Gabriel is in my music class at Manning Academy.”

The old man was patting Gabriel’s shoulder. “Good, good, Dixie’s a fine musician isn’t she young man? So glad she brought you along with her today.”

He turned and rested his hand on Kenny’s shoulder, “And how do you know Dixie, Kenny?”

Dixie held her breath. “She gave me a ride home last week, sir. I was having kind of a bad day and she was a good friend to me,” Kenny answered.

“Well now that’s our Dixie isn’t it? I hope you’re doing better now son. I’ll be praying for you. I’m very glad you joined us today and sure hope you know you’re welcome back any time.”

“I appreciate that Mr. McAllister,” Kenny said, and Dixie saw he meant it.

“Joe, call me Joe, young man.” And turning to Dixie said, “Well little lady, I guess you need to get these young men home but I’m sure glad you brought them today.” He reached out and cupped Gabriel’s fresh cheek with his worn hand, “sure glad.”

Dixie could feel the tears pushing a lump up in her throat, “Thank you Mr. McAllister,” she responded.

The three had just turned to head back to the door when Dixie’s mother approached, “I’ll see you at home Dixie, once you’ve dropped your guests off.” She didn’t great either of them.

“Mother, this is Gabriel,” Dixie said smiling down at the boy, “And you know Kenny.” They both smiled at the commanding woman dressed elegantly in plum colored wool. “I’m going to drop Gabriel off,” Dixie continued, “but I thought it would be nice if Kenny joined us for lunch. He enjoyed Daddy’s sermon and I thought he may want to discuss it with him.” She had her mother cornered and she knew it.

“Very well.” Sharon’s tight lips clipped out the words, her green eyes where impenetrable depths. She turned to go, “I’ll see you at home.” Dixie knew so much lay behind those words.

“All right guys, let’s see if we can make it out the door this time.”

Dixie and Kenny loaded Gabriel in the truck and headed to his house.

“I like Mr. McAllister,” Kenny said. “He was kind.”

“Me too,” piped up Gabriel. “But my favorite was the singing. I loved the singing.”

Dixie smiled, she was glad Gabriel had found such enjoyment in the hymns, and she was touched and relieved at Mr. McAllister’s kindness. Had he not noticed Kenny’s appearance? Maybe he didn’t see well enough to notice. Or maybe he had and didn’t care.

Come back next week to see how lunch with Kenny and Dixie’s mother goes!

So what did you think? I’m always interested in feedback. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything as challenging or as important as Dixie’s story. I believe God has given us story to teach us how to think through the reality of our lives and express ideas more clearly. Jesus used story better than anyone else. He brought truth home in contexts his listener could understand. Stories go beyond our heads and touch our hearts. I’m learning so much as I write Dixie’s story. I hope it’s reaching your heart as much as it is mine.

You can follow this blog, by clicking the button to the right that says follow, so you don’t miss any of Dixie’s story.

{I encourage you to share this link with friends. But please don’t copy and paste, that way ownership of the story will never be in question. Thank you.}

Dixie Lee – Part 6

Well it’s been another crazy week. Late again getting Dixie’s story posted, but never-the-less here it is. It’s a much shorter entry. But I’m going to post what I have and pick it up again next week. If you need to catch up you can read the first part of Dixie Lee’s story here.

I try to post the continuing story of Dixie Lee every Friday. I’ll be writing her story, which I hope will turn into a full fledged book, every week until it’s finished. I could use your help in making the story better. If you see a typo or feel a particular sentence doesn’t work well feel free to let me know. This project will be the better for your collaboration!

If you like the story the best way to pay me a compliment is to share it with a friend!

Dixie Lee

A couple of peaceful days had passed since Sunday’s altercation. School was going well and Dixie felt at home among the staff and students. Teaching with Ms. Bushnell was a real pleasure. Dixie had found in the music teacher a kindred spirit.

On Wednesday the thick humidity broke and the air held a delicious hint of fall. The summer had grown old and tattered. The trees were just beginning to surrender their leaves. After school Dixie hopped in her old truck and headed out to the river. She wanted to call Kenny but didn’t want to risk being overheard at home. The fallout wasn’t something she felt like dealing with today. No doubt she would deal with it, but she would avoid it as long as possible.

Old man river called her, and the fresh air was a balm. She pulled up to the sprawling oak on the river bank where she and Kenny had last spoken. Settling herself between the tree’s roots she dialed the number Kenny had given her. Butterflies danced in her stomach.

One ring, two rings, “Hello,” Kenny’s voice twanged in her ear.

“Hi Kenny, it’s me Dixie. I was just calling to check on you to see if you were settling okay at your friends house.”

His voice sounded really pleased on the other end. “Thanks Dixie! Yes I am doing fine here. I still need to find a job but I like living here. Dad hasn’t bothered me at all.”

“Good Kenny, I’m glad to hear it.”

Awkward silence filled the air.

“Are you feeling better than the last time we spoke?” Dixie ventured.

Pause.

Softly Kenny responded. “Dixie, I’m still a gay kid who’s Daddy doesn’t want him and who’s Mamma is gone. Honestly, I’m a little depressed. I’m thankful my friend is letting me stay here but I’d rather have my family.”

“I know Kenny, I’m sorry.” Dixie took a deep breath and collected her thoughts for a moment. “Kenny, would you like to come to church with me on Sunday?” Then, before she lost all nerve, “and why don’t you come have lunch with our family after?”

“I’d like that Dixie. I enjoyed dinner at your house the other day. What time does church start?”

“It starts at 10:00. I’ll come pick you up by 9:45, okay?”

“That sounds good. Thank you for thinking of me Dixie. You didn’t have to.”

“I’m glad to Kenny. See ya’ Sunday.”

Dixie sat with the cool breeze on her face, her heart pounding and mind spinning. What had she just done?

“The right thing,” her heart answered.

It was the right thing. But in the process she had defied her mother, and she would pay for it. Why was her mother so unfeeling to this sad young man? How could she help her see he wasn’t a threat but just someone needing to be cared for? Dixie hoped her Dad would understand and support her decision.

Dixie sat by the river for a long while. Her untamed head rested on the enduring strength of the oak. The secrets of the river bubbled up in song and washed over her, through her. How many years had Old Man River sung his murky music? Mockingbirds scolded and copied in the branches overhead. A comical ground hog waddled along the bank. Her heart settled. Her mind stilled.

“God,” she whispered, “what do you think about all this?”

No lighting or voice answered. Just the ever moving river; always changing, always constant. That was life wasn’t it, changing and constant.

For better or worse Dixie would bring with her two very unique people on Sunday. She didn’t see how she could do otherwise. The religion of her youth was crumbling in the face of humanity’s very real need. Her heart insisted she choose compassion over expectation.

Perhaps she should have warned her parents. But instead Dixie slipped out early Sunday morning while her mother was in her bedroom and her dad had already left for church.

She headed for Gabriel’s house first. She had checked with his parents during the week to make sure it was okay to pick him up. They were pleased Dixie wanted to take him to church and spoke of a visit themselves in the future.

Dixie knocked on the dark green front door and waited. Lindsey, Gabriel’s petite mother opened the door. Her blue eyes, so like her son’s, smiled up at her. “Miss Dixie, come in. Gabriel is so excited to go with you this morning. Thank you for thinking of him.”

“It’s my pleasure. Gabriel is a special young man. As I’m sure you know!”

They walked together to the front room where Gabriel’s father, Joe, was helping him put on his jacket.

“Good morning Ms. Lee!” called the little boy cheerfully.

“Hey buddy! You ready?”

“Yes ma’am!”

Gabriel’s soft blonde hair was combed neatly. His little button up shirt matched his eyes. His parents helped him up and they started to the door. As his dad lifted and settled him into Dixie’s truck his mother spoke quietly to Dixie. “If the service isn’t long Gabriel shouldn’t need to use the restroom. But if he does he will need assistance if there is no handicap stall. I still take him to the ladies room if he needs help.” Her eyes held the worry of a mother reluctant to trust her son to new circumstances.

“No worries,” Dixie placed her hand on Lindsey’s shoulder. “We’ll be just fine.”

His mom had already gone over the basics with Dixie on the phone earlier that week. It wasn’t Gabriel Dixie was worried about.

By the time they had loaded Gabriel in it was later than Dixie would have liked. Gabriel waved to his parents as they pulled away. She headed down the road to pick up Kenny. By the time she swung in to the gravel drive it was past 9:50. It had taken longer to load up Gabriel than she expected.

Kenny was by the front door waiting for her. He waved and trotted briskly to the truck. He opened the door and paused as he saw Gabriel sitting in the front seat by Dixie.

“Kenny this is my friend Gabriel, he’s joining us this morning.”

Kenny stuck out his hand, which Gabriel shyly took, “Hey, it’s nice to meet you Gabriel.” Then he slid up on the seat and slammed the door.

Looking at Dixie Kenny observed, “We’re an interesting group aren’t we?”

She chuckled, “I suppose we are.”

Then turning to Gabriel Kenny asked, “How old are you Gabriel?”

“I’m eight.”

“So, how’d Dixie get you to go to church with her?”

“She asked me to go and I wanted to. She’s nice.” replied the little boy, smiling.

“She is nice buddy.”

Check back next week to see what happens when they get to church! What will people think?

What did you think about this week’s story? Was there anything you really liked, anything you didn’t like? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below!

Also, you can follow this blog, by clicking the button to the right that says follow, so you don’t miss any of Dixie’s story.

{I encourage you to share this link with friends. But please don’t copy and paste, that way ownership of the story will never be in question. Thank you.}

Dixie Lee ~ Part 5

Whew what a week! I’m late getting the next part of Dixie’s story posted, but better late than never! If you need to catch up you can read the first part of Dixie Lee’s story here.

I try to post the continuing story of Dixie Lee every Friday. I’ll be writing her story, which I hope will turn into a full fledged book, every week until it’s finished. I could use your help in making the story better. If you see a typo or feel a particular sentence doesn’t work well feel free to let me know. This project will be the better for your collaboration!

If you like the story the best way to pay me a compliment is to share it with a friend!

Dixie Lee

Dixie retreated from Angela’s home as quickly as she could. Sliding behind the wheel of her truck she rested her head briefly on the steering wheel, blinking back hot tears and breathing past the lump in her throat.

Her perception of life, people, and church was unraveling. How many years had it been that she’d known Angela? In all that time she had never questioned what it felt like to walk in her shoes.

She heard a soft tap on her window and looked up. There stood Mrs. Murphy, compassion crinkled the edge of her eyes. Dixie rolled down the window. Mrs. Murphy reached her hand in and rested it on Dixie’s arm.

“Don’t you fret baby girl. Truly open minded people don’t have an agenda and I’ve met precious few of those in my life. It’s hard to be different from what you know. Just keep your mind and heart and ears open and you’ll be okay.”

An agenda? Did she have an agenda for Kenny? Did the church have an agenda to attract or repel certain people? She didn’t have the answers to those questions. But a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her she needed to ask them.

“Yes ma’am. Thank you.” Mrs. Murphy squeezed her arm, smiled and turned to go in.

Rolling up the window Dixie started the old truck. Heaving a sigh she backed from her friend’s driveway. Now she had more questions than she’d started with and she didn’t feel any better at all.

The thought flickered through her mind, “what must God think of these things?”

Truly she didn’t know. Not really.

She did not call Kenny or see him again that weekend. And yet he was the shadow that stalked her, never far from her mind. On Sunday she sat on the second pew to the left, beside her mother. She greeted the same smiling ladies, older gentlemen, freckled children she did every Sunday. On this day her eyes were different though, she felt as though she were looking through someone else’s. Everyone was so very… white, and clean, and well dressed. She had never noticed before how much alike they all were.

Where did everyone else go to church? Or did they?

She was quiet at lunch. Her mother chattered about the upcoming ladies tea, hosting Glenda Sue’s baby shower, and a variety of other niceties. Her father nodded and responded when appropriate. Dixie’s brother Daniel and his wife Muriel were polite and attentive. But Dixie was distracted, lost in her own musings as the conversation swirled around her.

“You aren’t still stewing about that boy are you Dixie?” Dixie’s eyes snapped to her mother’s face, she hadn’t realized she was being spoken to.

“We won’t speak any more of the incident. There is no need to fret about it dear,” her mother reassured.

“What boy?” her bother asked curiously, looking between them.

Oh, great, Dixie thought to herself. That’s just what she needed, a family discussion at the dinner table about her ‘indiscretion’. Daniel was the golden boy. Four years older, a young lawyer with a new baby and lovely wife, he was heady on the good things of life. Despite his glowing reputation and paternal attitude he and Dixie had a pleasant relationship. Lately though he was beginning to annoy her with his self assured, successful posture.

“Dixie brought home a hitch-hiker to dinner the other night. A young gay man, of all things.”

“Seriously, Dixie?” She could hear the surprise and derision in Daniel’s tone.

Her father cleared his throat. “I’m not sure it was as sordid as all that,” he interjected. “I understand Dixie thought she was approaching a young woman on the road when she stopped and found herself caught up in an unusual situation. It was just kindness she was trying to show.”

Dixie’s eyes met her dad’s and softened, a knowing, warm look passed between them.

Her mom refused to let go. “Perhaps so Richard but I hardly think it was necessary to bring him home to dinner. And ever since you’ve been quite sullen, Dixie. I hope you aren’t fretting over the matter, that’s all dear.”

“Actually, mother I wasn’t thinking about Kenny just now. I was thinking about other things. At the moment I was wondering why no black people attend our church.” She shot back acidly.

The room fell silent. Sweet Muriel cleared her throat, “I need to check on baby Jackson.”

Her dark hair swung across her face as she bent to get up from the table. As her slim figure disappeared from the dinning room Dixie felt guilty. She could imagine how uncomfortable Muriel must feel.

“What on earth…” her mother began, but her father stopped her quickly.

“I think that’s quite enough Sharon. Let’s save this conversation for another time.”

“No, I think…” her mother began again but this time Dixie put an end to the conversation.

“I’ve lost my appetite,” she said standing. “Excuse me I’m really finished with this conversation.” Dixie stalked from the room. Her red hair flashing a warning sign to anyone who might attempt to follow.

Upstairs she sank wearily to her bed. Sighing she slipped off her heals and stretched out her legs. Tomorrow was the beginning of a fresh week. She was looking forward to getting back to school and working with the students. It would be a good distraction from the rising tension at home.

The next afternoon found Dixie perched on the edge of a picnic table under a sprawling oak, observing the antics of a couple dozen 3rd graders during recess. Beside her, balanced on the bench, sat Gabriel. His hands rested on the tops of his crutches. Wide, blue eyes took in the movements of his peers. Dixie was keeping him company as he rested from the exertion of trying to keep up. Tentatively Dixie cast him a sidelong glance. His face was intent on the fun his classmates were having. His soft mouth curved slightly with pleasure in his small, pale face.

“What are you thinking Gabriel?” Dixie heard herself ask.

He turned expressive eyes on her and blinked solemnly for a moment. “I was thinking I’m glad to see other people who are healthy. It makes me happy seeing kids enjoying running around in the sun.”

Dixie blinked in surprise. “You are? It doesn’t make you feel bitter to see other kids enjoying something you can’t?”

The little boy turned back for a moment and watched the motion and color of bodies speeding by. “No. Why should I resent something someone else is enjoying? If everyone else had a disability it wouldn’t make me feel better and I would miss out on watching their fun.”

“Well I must say, Gabriel, that’s a pretty mature attitude. A lot of adults could do with a dose of your wisdom. Where do thoughts like that come from?”

“My parents started teaching me when I was very young that God has a purpose for my life and if I fought him because I thought my circumstances were unfair I might miss it. I wouldn’t want to miss something as important as that.”

Tears stung the back of Dixie’s eyes. Gabriel wasn’t her son but her heart burst with pride for the little fellow, she couldn’t imagine how proud his mother must be of him.

“Where does your family go to church, Gabriel?”

“We don’t go very often, mostly just at Christmas when my grandparents visit,” he answered.

“Oh, I’m surprised, I would have thought with that kind of faith you would attend church.,” responded Dixie lamely.

“Well,” said Gabriel thoughtfully, “I’d like to. And I think my mom and dad would as well. But it’s challenging for me to get around at most churches and I know by the end of the week my parents are already tired. They’ve had to bring me to school all week and take care of my little sister and brother too. I remember one Sunday school I went to when I was six told my mom it would be best if I stayed with her in big church because they didn’t have enough space and helpers for me. I remember that upset my mom so much she didn’t want to go back to church for a long time.” His voice trailed off and his eyes wandered back to the children playing.

“Oh, Gabriel, I’m sorry. That must have been very disappointing.” What could she say to such an injustice? They sat quietly and reflectively, watching the antics before them. Suddenly Laura Parson’s yelled as she tripped and fell, hitting her head. Dixie jumped up and ran to check on the little girl. After a bit of inspection and consoling it was determined she would live. Just as quickly as she was down she was up again and back in the fray.

Dixie ambled back to her spot beside Gabriel. She smiled and sat beside him again. She liked his easy companionship and sincerity.

“Miss Lee,” he turned his solemn eyes on her, “you shouldn’t feel too bad that my family doesn’t go to church. We worship Jesus every Sunday at home. I think he understands.” His blonde hair ruffled in the cool breeze. The green and gold jacket fit at angles on his frame. She studied him for minute thinking.

“Gabriel, I think he most certainly understands your heart. But I’m afraid he may not understand the churches’. When Jesus commanded his disciples in the book of Matthew to let the little children come to him I’m pretty sure he meant all children.” She paused. “Will you come to church with me this Sunday Gabriel. I would be happy to pick you up and bring you. Your parents are welcome as well, of course. But either way I’d like to come get you and take you with me as my friend.”

His china eyes twinkled, spilling sunlight. “Miss Lee, it would be my pleasure.” He drawled with a smile.

Dixie threw back her head and laughed. Ruffling his hair she smiled, “well I look forward to it. I’ll pick you up at 9:30. Now let’s get these hooligans rounded up and back into class.”

Come back next week to see if Gabriel makes it to church with Dixie and if Dixie gets up the courage to see Kenny again!

What did you think about this week’s story? Was there anything you really liked, anything you didn’t like? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below!

Also, you can follow this blog, by clicking the button to the right that says follow, so you don’t miss any of Dixie’s story.

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Dixie Lee ~ Part 2

Last week I shared the first part of Dixie Lee’s story. Today it’s time to pick up where we left off!

I hope you’ll join me every Friday for the continuing story of Dixie Lee. I’ll be writing her story, which I hope will turn into a full fledged book, every week until it’s finished. If you see a typo or feel a particular sentence doesn’t work well feel free to let me know. This project will be the better for your collaboration!

If you like the story the best way to pay me a compliment is to share it with a friend!

Dixie Lee

After dropping Sadie off Dixie turned down Broad St. and passed the colorful store fronts of the quaint downtown shopping district. Pulling onto West King St. she traveled past two blocks of tidy homes sleeping behind pretty lawns. Her truck turned into the driveway of the Lee’s lovely white cape-cod. It’s shuttered windows giving the impression of sleeping eyes.

As she slipped into the snug kitchen, Pumpkin, her orange kitty wrapped himself around her legs.

“Hey, buddy.” She bent to scratch the lines between his ears. His own ginger color matched the ginger coloring of the Lee family. Dixie smiled, Sadie always giggled that the Lee’s had a matching cat.

Tiptoeing into the foyer she saw a light on in the family room. Her dad sat in his favorite armchair reading; his slippered foot propped on his knee. The sight of his tall frame, sitting where he always sat, was a comfortable feeling.

“Hello, darlin’,” he greeted Dixie with a smile. “Have fun?”

Leaning over to plant an affectionate kiss on her dad’s sandy head, she replied, “It was a nice evening, Daddy. I had a problem with the truck on the way there though.”

“Oh?” He laid his book across his lap and gave her his full attention. He wouldn’t have said it out loud, in so many words, but this girl of his was his pride and joy.

She plopped herself down on the arm of his chair. His hand rested on her knee as she talked. “Yeah, the carburetor is acting up again. I unclogged it but it seems to be happening more often. Maybe it’s time for me to look for something more reliable.”

“I’ll take a look at it tomorrow and see if we can get it in better working order.”

“Thanks Daddy. Well I’m tired, I better get to bed before school tomorrow.” With a last kiss she headed off to bed. Pumpkin following her up the stairs ready to snuggle down for the evening.

“Dixie,” her mother called from the end of the hall. She was surprised to see the light on in her parents room and find her mother still up. A very punctual, detailed person, her mother was careful about her routine of early to bed and early to rise.

She stopped just outside the door and poked her head in. Her mother was propped up in her big brass bed, a cream and rose sunburst quilt pulled around her trim figure. Demure green eyes blinked at Dixie, delicate hands folded across the magazine resting in her lap.

“Yes, ma’am?”

“Dixie, dear, do you have everything you need for your first day tomorrow?

Trying to keep the sharpness out her tone she replied, “Yes, I’m ready, you don’t need to worry about me.”

“Well, dear, you should probably get some rest, it’s getting late and you have an early day tomorrow.”

“I’m on my way to bed now, mother.”

“Goodnight, dear.” Her mother smiled, and picked up her magazine.

“Goodnight.”

Did her mother wait up just to make sure she was in bed on time? Certainly she could be trusted to begin her job student teaching as an adult. She and her mother had never been enemies, but neither had they been friends. Dixie often struggled under her mother’s expectations of propriety and control.

From a Vicksburg family of some reputation and means, Sharon Lee, had an image to uphold. Dixie had always been aware of that fact. And while some might call Dixie rebellious that wasn’t really accurate. She loved her freedom and could be selfish, but she recognized the rules of society, often using them to her advantage. She knew where she fit in the order of things and while she may push the boundaries of her world she didn’t crossed them. Someone else her age may find being the daughter of a respected woman and Baptist minister stifling but not Dixie. Even though she enjoyed her carefree, youthful ways she fell well inside the deep south Delta values of morality.

Which made her wonder why her mother always seemed to be on her back about something. She tried not to let the high expectations and standards of her mother to irritate her. Daddy on the other hand seemed to enjoy her unique personality. He encouraged independence and initiative.

Dixie thought about these things as she got ready for bed. Pulling back the crisp cotton sheets she and Pumpkin snuggled down together. Her eyes sought the moon beyond her lace hung window. Tomorrow she would return to her old elementary school, Manning Academy, to begin student teaching. At the end of the quarter she would be ready to graduate Delta State University. Instead of feeling nervous a confident readiness bubbled up in her. She and her ginger kitty drifted off to sleep wrapped in the pink walls of her room and a growing sense of enthusiasm.

The next morning Dixie, red shock tamed and dressed in the emerald colors of her old school, bounded down the stairs. Her father sat at the oak table in the clean, white kitchen reading the morning paper and savoring what was probably his third cup of coffee. Looking up from from his paper he smiled “Mornin’ Dixie girl, you look raring to go.”

“I am Daddy, ready to show ’em what I’ve got.” Her eyes sparkled at the idea of a new challenge.

“That’s my girl.”

Her mother turned from the porcelain sink where she was cutting fruit, “Richard, don’t encourage her. Dixie, dear, you’re there to learn, a bit of humility will serve you well.”

Flopping down in a chair next to her dad Dixie rolled her eyes, mostly to herself. “Yes mother, I realize I’m there to learn. But honestly I have been learning for three years now, I’m ready to do.”

“Well just be sure you listen before you go charging in. I’m sure you’ll get a chance to teach on your own soon enough.” Turning back to the fruit she asked, “Can I fix you an egg dear?”

“No thanks, mother, I don’t have time. Just going to have some coffee and a yogurt.”

Knowing that some things just weren’t worth pressing her mother shrugged and went back to her chore.

After a few gulps of coffee and a strawberry yogurt Dixie jumped up. “Well, I’m off folks,” she announced. And with a quick kiss on each parent’s cheek she flew out the door, screen door slamming behind her.

Her father chuckled, a slight smile on his face. “That girl,” her mother exclaimed in fond exasperation. Their looks met and they burst out laughing.

The couple’s older son, Daniel, was married and settled, it was just Dixie at home now and as much as they hated to admit it they dreaded the day silence, in the form of her absence, would descend upon the house.

It was just a five minute drive to the school; one of the pleasures of a small town commute. Dixie tried to enter the office with dignity but her bright freckled face and shocking hair made that a difficult thing to accomplish.

The secretary sat behind a metal desk, reading glasses pushed up on her forehead. The name plate on her desk read Martha Herbertson. “May I help you?”

“Yes, I’m Dixie Lee, I’m student teaching with Ms. Bushnell.”

“Oh yes, she’s expecting you. Do you know where the music room is?”

Dixie nodded that she did. Some of her favorite days were spent in that room. At the time Mr. Anderson was the music teacher. Originally, Dixie had wanted to be a country singer, and even though it was still her secret dream, the larger pond of college had tempered her ambition. Her practical side saw the value of a back up plan. It seemed logical to teach music.

The secretary broke in on her thoughts, “Here is your name badge, you need to wear it whenever you’re on campus. You can go down to the music room and get settled. And welcome to Manning Academy.” She smiled warmly as Dixie took the name tag.

One of the many reasons Dixie had loved her time at Manning. The private preparatory school’s warm faculty and staff often made the place feel like family.

Walking down the long hall memories wafted upon the wings of smells, sights, and sounds that had been tucked away for some time. Even though she had met with Principal Hall before the school year began she hadn’t been this far into the school. Towards the end of the hall, on the right, the door of the music room stood ajar. Inside Ms. Bushnell was bent over her desk shuffling through papers, her shoulder length brown hair half hiding her face.

Dixie stepped just inside, cleared her throat, and burst out with what, even to her ears, was an overly enthusiastic, “Good morning.”

Liz Bushnell looked up, a warm smile spreading across her face, blue eyes crinkling delightfully. About thirty, not exactly tall, and casually dressed she conveyed an air of friendliness.

“Good morning to you too, I’m Liz Bushnell, and I imagine you’re Dixie Lee.” She crossed the room as she said this and stuck out her hand in greeting. “Come on in and we’ll get acquainted before the kids get here. My first period is at 8:30 so we have about an hour. I understand you were a student at Manning, has it changed much since then?”

Dixie swept the room with a nostalgic glance, noting the white board at the front of the room, colorful posters along the sides, musical instruments on the right hand side wall, a keyboard set up toward the front, and the teachers desk in the left front corner. “Not really, it feels just the same, your desk has moved to the side but that’s about all.”

The next hour was spent going over lesson plans, sheet music, and class structure. They talked about the breakdown of Dixie’s responsibility. This first week would be spent primarily in observation, getting to know the kids, and becoming familiar with classroom procedure. The week after that she would start grading and helping kids who needed extra attention. By the end of the quarter she would be teaching solo. Liz was thorough in her instructions, but not tediously so. Dixie decided almost immediately that she liked her.

Before long the sound of feet in the hall and little voices was floating through the door. About 20 3rd graders filled the room with color and motion. The boys and girls were dressed all in khaki’s and shirts of yellow or green. Noisily, they sat themselves down in the rows of plastic chairs facing the front of the room.

A little boy with straw colored hair, caught her eye. He had on a green shirt that was too big for him, and was struggling to maneuver into the back row. Braces on his legs and forearm crutches made the task difficult. He bumped a classmate and caught another one’s chair. The child who was bumped scooted as far away as he could.

Dixie felt self conscious, should she help him? She didn’t want to draw more attention to his problem, but she felt badly for him. In the second it took for her to think those thoughts Ms. Bushnell was moving to his side, adjusting his chair and speaking reassuringly to him.

Walking back to the front, Ms. Bushnell raised her voice, “All right class I have someone new to introduce you to today. Ms. Lee will be joining us this quarter as a student teacher. That means she’ll be getting experience teaching before she graduates college. She’ll learn from us and we’ll learn from her. I want you to welcome her and respect her. She’ll be spending a lot of time with us.”

Dixie smiled back at all the curious little faces turned her way.

Ms. Bushnell got right to work after that. She went over a previous lesson with them and asked them to review what they had learned. It was the second week of school, Dixie hadn’t begun earlier because she had to attend a student teacher orientation at college as well as meet with her student teaching supervisor.

As Liz spoke Dixie stole glances at the little boy in the back row. His big blue eyes were full of expression. They were fixed on Ms. Bushnell, soaking in every word. When it came time to follow her instructions to clap out a rhythm he was lost. His crutches got in the way and his arms jerked most unrhythmicaly.

Dixie’s heart squeezed to watch him. She had never really been around children who were different before. Come to think of it, when she was going through the Academy she didn’t ever recall any children with, a problem. As she processed these thoughts, finding more questions arose, she hardly heard what Ms. Bushnell was saying.

Before she knew it a bell was ringing, feet were shuffling, and the class was over. Several of the children waved at her, a few stopped to say “Hey Ms. Lee.”

As the children lined up at the door to leave, the little boy she had been watching took his place at the back of the line. Whether instinctively or instructed she could only guess.

“Well what did you think,” Liz asked her, following her gaze.

“It was great. Seems like a great group of kids.”

“But?” Liz coaxed.

“Well, what’s wrong with that little boy with the crutches.”

Liz’s eyes twinkled even as her brow furrowed. “Nothing’s wrong with him. He does have cerebral palsy though. His name is Gabriel. He’s new this year. His parent’s moved him from the public school hoping he’ll get a little more one on one attention.

Dixie thought for a moment. “I don’t actually know what cerebral palsy is.” Her natural curiosity was peaked.

“It’s a condition that affects the brain. Not actually a disease. It has effected his motor control and muscle tone.” Liz paused a moment, and then said knowingly “I think you’ll find it worth your while if you take the time to get to know Gabriel.

Dixie wasn’t so sure. But, she was willing to be a little uncomfortable. She determined to look up cerebral palsy at home that night to learn more about Gabriel’s condition. Tucking those thoughts away for the time being they got ready for the next class.

Come back next week to see what twists and turns are ahead for our friend Dixie!

What did you think about this week’s story? Was there anything you really liked, anything you didn’t like? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below!

Also, you can follow this blog, by clicking the button to the right that says follow, so you don’t miss any of Dixie’s story.

{I encourage you to share this link with friends. But please don’t copy and paste, that way ownership of the story will never be in question. Thank you.}