Harper Lee and saying goodbye

TKAM 3

Today Harper Lee died. In a way I feel like my mother, who died in September of last year, was lost all over again.

The emotions and memories that tie me to my mama have deep roots in the world of Harper Lee. My childhood, and hers, was very much like the one Lee described in To Kill A Mockingbird. I have always loved this description of Maycomb, it was the world of my mama and her mama, it was my young life’s rhythm:

Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it. Somehow, it was hotter then. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon after their three o’clock naps. And by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum. The day was twenty-four hours long, but it seemed longer. There’s no hurry, for there’s nowhere to go and nothing to buy…and no money to buy it with.

My childhood was lived to the cadence of my mother’s voice reading. From the time I was tiny until I left for college mama read to us. She read to inspire, to educate, to challenge, to infuse our world with beauty. There were hard years and rough places in our relationship, but words endured. Even after I’d left home and had my own family mama and I would read the same books and discuss them together.

The summer I was 17 she read To Kill A Mockingbird to us. I think it was actually my brother’s summer reading assignment for school, but she read it aloud to all of us. I stretched out at the foot of her oak sleigh bed and listened to her voice carry us to a different time. The window AC unit beat back the heat and dried the sweat collecting in the creases of our knees and elbows. It was an oasis.

I have to pause in the writing of this post because my middle school son just came downstairs and asked me to come read to him. Mama would be pleased the tradition of loving books lives on in my family.

As I was saying, her voice transported us to another place. I met some of the most important people I’ve known in Mockingbird’s pages. Scout, the curious barefoot girl who came alive as she saw the world through the eyes of others; Atticus, the father who didn’t know he was a hero to all of us; and Boo, the mockingbird who saw what no one else saw, and sang what no one else sang.

We all have our favorites in the story. I think mama’s was Atticus. He was the father she didn’t have. The father she wished she’d had. The father she adopted and needed. My brother and sister can speak to their favorites. My favorite is Boo. I hadn’t thought about it until now but I’ve been looking for Boo ever since. The mockingbirds of our society who don’t hurt a thing but often don’t fit in, and sadly, too often, are wounded.

A friend told me once that mockingbirds sometimes sing at midnight. One night I heard it, the strangest, sweetest sound in the pitch black. You can only hear a mockingbird sing at midnight if you wake up, and listen. The world too often sleeps through the song.

When the world said goodbye to Harper Lee today part of me said goodbye to mama, all over again.

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I am you

SantaThis Christmas the intensity of life has left me breathless. I love Christmas. Often the season feels like a respite from the weariness of life. The broken, ugly parts of the year are folded away and tucked into the closet until the tree comes down and White Christmas has been watched fifteen times!

But this year I just can’t get rid of life’s reality. My legs are shaky from the journey. Not only from my own loss, but also from yours. Daily the news gives us much to scoff, and to dread. Closer to home, church friends are struggling with cancer diagnosis and illness, for themselves or their children.

I could sit and cry for a hundred years. Part of me feels guilty to think that way at Christmas. The other part of me thinks it would be a terrible relief! In those moments I cling to Jesus promise, even invitation, in the beatitudes; “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

I’ve been reading A Christmas Carol, as I often do at Christmas. I find the parallels between our two societies, separated by almost 200 years, is uncanny. I’m reminded there is nothing new, the same drama is replayed in generation after generation. Truth be told I wonder if I’ve found the secret in its pages. We can only celebrate after we’ve first grieved.

Scrooge learned this lesson from the ghosts and tiny Tim. He learned to grieve his own mistakes, to grieve injustice, to hurt for those in need. Only then could the gift of goodwill, the beauty of a Savior, seem sweet to him. Only when he recognized the need could he participate in the solution. He learned that mankind is tied together. A living heart cannot see the suffering of its fellow man and remain unmoved.

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Marley’s warning to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

So what should we grieve? The want and despair of life, of our friends, of our enemies. We grieve injustice, and our own impotence, and too often our indifference. That grief puts us in a place of empathy with others, and gratitude to the One who has lit our hearts with goodwill in the darkness of ignorance and want. We celebrate our own redemption and participate in the reclaiming of mankind for love’s sake.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelations 21:4

Mourning is the order of things now. It’s part of the business of life. But it won’t be when the old earth is destroyed and a new order is put in place. Our grieving for what could have been, for what’s been lost, is only bearable when we realize the new order is coming.

This Christmas I mourn for me, but I also mourn for you. I mourn for children in poverty. I mourn for man’s foolishness that pits one group against another and speaks harshly of their fellow man, giving way to fear instead of courageous love. I mourn for the ignorance, and greed, and scarcity at work in the world. I grieve for the prevalence of disease. I grieve because more often than we want to admit we’re a part of it all. I grieve because I’m a part of the brokenness, often feeding fear and self instead of love.

This Christmas it seems appropriate to grieve. And as I grieve I pray. I pray for me and I pray for you. I pray with hope that the old order will pass away and the new order of things will bring relief. And I pray that in the meantime you and I will be people of goodwill, and that our sweet Savior will help us to endure!

I pray we will emulate the Child of Bethlehem who became one of us. His very presence an act of solidarity, stating, “I am you.” Can we do less?

“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13

Someone Kind

Kindness is key3In the last four weeks we’ve talked about receiving God’s kindness, being kind to ourselves, being kind to others, and receiving other’s kindness. I’m going to finish out this month of kindness with a story. It won’t surprise you, I’m sure, that it’s about my mother. (If you know me, you know my mom passed away in September.) Over a lifetime she learned all of the aspects of kindness I’ve mentioned.

Discord, anger, tension, cruelty, sarcasm, or strife caused her pain. Her heart soaked up drops of gracious beauty with a thirst akin to drought burdened soil waiting for the downpour.

At times I watched her draw in her heart, flinching with fear at the fast paced expectation of the world. It’s loud voice yelling be, do, learn, know, perform. She was just a wife, just a mom. But how can you just be anything extraordinary? You have to work at that. And she did.

It took her a long time to learn how to be kind to herself. A long time to recognize that until she had right expectations of herself it would be hard to have right expectations of anyone in her world. But, God is kindness itself. He took the time to teach her. And when she did learn that lesson, her naturally peaceful, quiet, courteous, beauty loving heart turned into a force of nature.

A force that stood up in the face of the loss, neglect, ignorance, selfishness, brokenness, and abandonment she found in others. She smoothed out rough feathers and quenched fire with a word. She could do that without fear or threat to herself because she knew who she belonged to. She knew she was loved. She had learned kindness at the core level.

I know I’ve worried her, watching me dance and leap and run and pout trying to figure out who to be. She tried to tell me, you’re extraordinary, you’re a mom, you’re a leader, you’re wonderful just being you. But I have listened too often to the fast paced expectation of the world; be, do, learn, know, perform. In part because I saw her struggle with not being enough. I wanted to be more, for her, because she never felt she could be. But that’s a lie too. That’s not what kindness says, that’s not what she really wanted.

Now I know the truth. Even though I have imagined conversing with great minds, writing award winning words, inspiring thousands of people, the truth is – none of that is enough. At the end. When I slip from this world and am measured against eternity I want one word to define me. Kindness. People could say all sorts of things about me but as long as they can say I’m kind, it’s enough.

And now I have the hard task ahead of learning that lesson. To put down rocks of judgement. To elevate the life of another over my own. To have the power of love lit in my heart so that kindness becomes a force of nature, able to stand in the face of misunderstanding, injustice, fear, pride, longing, and even whining.

My mother was kind. I want to be like her when I grow up.

Who do you know that is kind, who has the well-being and good of others in mind? How have they impacted you? 

Let’s pray:
Father, thank you for the kindness of your Son. He is our ultimate inspiration. Thank you too for the truly kind people you have put in our lives. We want to be like them. We’ve received encouragement, forgiveness, and hope at their hands and we want to turn around and give it away ourselves. Ignite your kind nature in our hearts we pray. Amen.