A Season of Solitude

I’ve been in a season of solimetude. Which, if you have known me for any amount of time prior to three years ago, you know this is beyond odd for me. I have a reputation for being social.  For being the host.  For being the consummate extrovert. Energized by the masses. Thriving amid clatter, chatter and chaos.

flowers

peaceful things at home

About four years ago things began to change. Mom was diagnosed with breast and then bone cancer. My life became consumed with trying to help meet her needs and get in as much quality time with her as I could. We moved her to Kentucky to be closer to us.  I organized a surprise Christmas gathering – flying in my sister and nieces without her knowing – assuming (accurately) that it would be her last Christmas with us.  Much of my time off was spent making the eight-hour round trip drive to Lexington and doing what I could to encourage her health and healing… which she was determined to sabotage.  I was still traveling full time with World Vision/Women of Faith and things were incredibly hectic and I literally felt myself stumbling through life. Please don’t read any of that as selfless or saintly. I have to be honest and tell you that there was a lot of resentment lining the contents of my heart during that season.

This all was coming at a time when I was trying to get off the road. As much as I loved my job at World Vision and the community /friends I found at Women of Faith… I was done. Tired. Exhausted. Stick-a-fork-in-me-done. I had been voraciously job searching – looking for a place I could be just as passionate about – and a place that I could drive to and not have to fly to get there. I wanted to be home, desperately.

Then thankfully, I found Siloam.  I attempted  to transition off the road… still having to work some Women of Faith dates on weekends while starting my new “land” job (as friends called it). I started Siloam in December of 2010 (the year of mom’s last Christmas with us) but continued on with my weekend traveling schedule through the Spring of 2011. I was pulling roughly 75 hour work weeks (not including travel). All the while trying to stay connected with mom and her needs. I don’t think that makes my resentments justified but perhaps understandable. My free time was valuable… and I wanted it all to myself.  Then summer came and I thought there would be a reprieve.  But mom’s health took a downward turn and we found out her cancer had progressed to stage four when she fell and broke her hip.

mom and I

Mom and me

It was a crazy whirlwind of events… I was up for a promotion at Siloam and World Vision called to ask if I could do 10 more dates through Fall to help them out of a jam. And my mom was getting worse – and we were looking at moving her to hospice in Virginia to be near my sister. I was making trips whenever I could to clean out her apartment and visit. The day her best friend in Kentucky was putting her in a car to take her to Virginia… was also the day I was interviewing for the promotion at work. In between interviews, I was answering calls like crazy. Mom had fallen in a roadside bathroom and was being rushed to a local emergency room somewhere between Lexington and Richmond. She was incoherent and couldn’t sign release papers so I was giving verbal and faxed permission every 30 minutes when some new issue came up. Finally she was back on the road and headed east.  It was madness.

So I was hording my down-time like a pack rat getting ready for winter. I was no longer hosting parties or my famous porch nights.  I stopped attending church and declined invites to pretty much all social gatherings. I just didn’t have it in me to politely give updates on mom, my job, anything really. I just wanted to sit on my couch, enjoy a glass of wine and take in my surroundings – my home –  the place I longed to be for the last seven years of full-time traveling.  I was finally here.

Mom passed away September 15, 2011. Five days after she arrived in Virginia.

Honestly? I was relieved for her. She was in so much pain. To the point of delirium most days.  I took some time off of work (both jobs) to mourn… and honestly, I foolishly thought the recovery time would be quicker. Not to sound callus but we had been preparing for this for awhile. And part of me thought that I would just dive right back into building and fostering community among those I’d been ignoring for so long. Part of me felt ready to engage again. But apparently it was a smaller part of me than the part that wanted to stay on the couch, nurse a glass of red along with my wounds… and recoil.

Louie

My time on the road finally ended. I allowed myself a lot of “me” time. It felt awkward. A bit like I was on a first date. Getting to know myself again without all the distractions and busy-ness was a little daunting. Being alone with myself was both frightening and exhilarating.

I took a week off at Christmas and went to Virginia. We did a family-only memorial for mom on Christmas Day. The closure we all needed.  When I got back to Nashville I tried to start the “re-entry process” into community. But it didn’t work. I reserved all my energy for work and then would collapse on weekends and evenings. It quickly became evident that I needed more time.

I have a bad habit of going the all-or-nothing route… go big or go home as they say. Every time I would try to re-enter into my church community – I would sign up for this or that – thinking that would force commitment and dedication. All it did was force me to be creative with my excuses for cancelling. Yes, I probably owe an apology to many of you… as I may not have always been forthright in my reasons for backing out.  Yea – I said it.

I’m not 100% sure I’m 100% ready to give it my all out there again. Maybe I never will. I have come to enjoy my home and the little world I’ve created for myself. I have Louie, an 18lb beast of a cat that I rescued and adore and he keeps me company and busy on Instagram. There are many weekend mornings that I find myself curled up in the corner of my comfy couch as I hug my tea… look around my house and let out a deep sigh of contentment.

Home… I’m actually home.

 

 

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Hints of New Life

Now, I realize it’s only the middle of February and not even close to being Spring. But this past weekend’s warmer weather dove-tailed one of the coldest blizzardy Winters I’ve ever experienced… and it was enough to get me longing for  balmy breezes and tulips and the wild bunnies that mysteriously appear in my backyard every March.

I’m reminded of my friend William Mwizerwa from Rwanda, who when asked how he and his family got through tough times in Africa, simply replied, “We keep our eyes on eternity. On the promised land where we will one day live. On the new life we will one day have”.

I’m in no way comparing a harsh Tennessee winter to the hardships of Rwandans. But I caught myself looking for hints of Spring this morning… in hopes it would carry me through the inevitable late-March winter-blast that’s sure to renegade through Nashville at least once more… and be reassured of the new land and the new life to come.

Here is how Spring dropped a few hints my way this morning:

  • The sweet onion grass is popping up in random spots throughout my straw-like yard.
  • The squirrels are hyper… very hyper.
  • The birds were loud at 6am… very loud.
  • I got to the office 15 minutes earlier because I didn’t have to scrape snow or ice off my car.
  • There was an extra pep in my step this morning.
  • My street was dotted with joggers, dog-walkers, stroller-pushers and cyclists.
  • I did not wear a coat to work.
  • My living room was flooded with light at 7am.
  • Johnny was wearing shorts with his requisite hoodie.
  • There is a large hoot-owl’s winter nest high up in my backyard tree – which two squirrels were dismantling. There may be war on N. 16th Street very soon.
  • I saw at least six of my neighbors having coffee on their porch.
  • It is SIXTY-THREE degrees!!!!!!!!!!!!

What hints of new life are you seeing?

The Contributor

Every morning, without fail, I see him. Smiling, waving… humbly manning the corner with a yellow sign around his neck that says, “New Edition. $1.00”.

With. Out. Fail.

I’ve seen him there determined to ignore the blistering sun that leathered his face and soaked his donated t-shirt. I’ve seen him standing diligently while snow fell in haphazard piles on his tattered beanie and worn shoulders. I’ve seen him stand relentless in his makeshift rain slicker (aka a large trash bag with head and arm holes cut out – and a Kroger bag tied do-rag-style to protect his head).

I have to say… I’m really impressed.  So why did it take me until today to roll down my window and thrust a few bills in his direction? He merely leaned in through my passenger window and handed me the “new edition” and said, “Thank you ma’am… God bless you”.

“You’re welcome”, I said nice and awkwardly. “Wait! What’s you’re name?”

“Oh, um… Johnny. I mean, John. Well, okay… call me Johnny”.

“Okay Johnny. You’re doing a great job. I mean, I like seeing you here every morning. You’re pretty faithful.”

“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”

Johnny. I bet if I’d known his name I would have bought a paper long before today.

I’ve seen a lot of these vendors around town. But I’ve felt loyal to Johnny because he’s just at the end of my street… the corner of Eastland and 14th.  It’s a pretty good corner. The only 4-way stop in a busy avenue that feeds most of the neighborhood into the main boulevard. Johnny is a smart entrepreneur.

I guess my hesitation stemmed from some lingering skepticism that they were no different than the folks standing on the corners with “Will Work For Food” signs. Accept these guys (and gals) are already working. This is their job. And for many of them, like Johnny, who may have mental or other disabilities… they’re not finding any other options. But don’t get me started – that’s a whole other blog.

I’m actually enjoying the paper. According to an article in The Contributor the folks standing on corners with papers are vendors.  They purchase the newspapers for .25 cents each and sell them for $1.00. They’re allowed to keep all proceeds plus tips. So, yes… please tip.

Anyway, if you have one of these vendors in your neighborhood… please take a moment and a few dollars and help employ someone who has otherwise been deemed unemployable. And ask their name. Knowing their name will make all the difference.

Grounded…

It’s Sunday morning and I’m writing this from my cozy green couch. If you know me, you know how significant a statement that is… considering the crazy travel schedule I’ve had the last 6 years.

Last Saturday, I grabbed a last minute lunch with a couple of friends at the Grilled Cheeserie truck that comes to East Nashville on weekends. We were sitting there slurping our gooey cheesey sandwiches when my friend Duane stopped mid-bite and said, “Wait! It’s Saturday! And I’m eating lunch with Debbie Barnett!” It’s a very good thing.

The number one question people are asking me is, “Are you going to miss traveling?”

Yes and no. What I love about traveling is discovering new places, seeing a world of people out there who are just like me and who are very different than me. Experiencing different cultures within our own country is fascinating. We Americans are such an eclectic people! More than anything, I love traveling abroad. It helps me see that this world is both awfully huge and quite small. The vastness of this world becomes evident when you climb on a plane in an all-familiar Nashville, TN  and some 18 hours later you step off into some wild, untamed place like Addis Abba, Ethiopia. But it’s that very thing that makes the world seem so small… because it’s all so attainable.

Anyway, that part of travel I will miss. But here’s a list of what I WON’T miss:

  • being stranded in yet another airport due to delays, cancellations weather and incompetence.
  • being lovingly frisked by TSA agents every few days
  • having constant jet-lag and a body that has no idea what time zone its in
  • swollen ankles & fingers from being 35,000 feet in the air several times a week
  • missing yet another friend’s wedding, birthday, dinner party, graduation, etc
  • feeling like a visitor in my own church
  • conversations back home that always with, “I haven’t seen you in forever!”

And here’s a few things I’ve discovered that I LOVE about being grounded (or not traveling for a living):

  • having a regular sleeping pattern
  • being home on weekends when everyone else is off work as well
  • my mailman now recognizes me and waves
  • not eating “out” for every meal and getting to cook more
  • being able to say “yes” to invitations
  • my plants don’t die
  • discovering the meaning to “Thank God It’s Friday”
  • not having to “catch up” with close friends because we stay caught up.

Don’t get me wrong… I loved what I was doing these last 6 years and see it as such a gift. But suffice it to say… I’m loving the adjustment and thank God every day for the amazing life He has given me.  But I’m happy for the change and ready to embrace a new way of of living it for now. And who knows what the future holds? But I know that He holds me… so I will just hang on and enjoy the ride.

Bittersweet…

Change is never easy… and often bittersweet. And often it’s accompanied by having to say goodbye – sometimes to dreams… sometimes to places… and sometimes to people. And sometimes to all three.

Many of you know, that I’ve been working with World Vision for more than 14 years now. If you know me, you know how passionate I am about the work of World Vision, and my experience has deepened immensely over the last 5-6 years while being a part of the amazing team of people at Women of Faith, and being a part of the rich ministry that happens on the road through Chonda Pierce and her crew.

I’ve had the privilege of personally taking part in of over 80,000 World Vision children being sponsored through the tours I’ve been on the last decade or so. That, in and of itself, has been an incredible gift. Not to mention all the rich relationships that have been formed along the way. Thanks to folks like Twila Paris, Ron Kenoly, Avalon, Aaron-Jeffrey, Big Tent Revival, Newsboys, First Call, Cece Winans, Israel Houghton, Margaret Becker, Natalie Grant, Skillet, Martha Munizzi, Mark Lowry and countless independent artists. Oh the stories I could tell (don’t worry – I won’t – what happens on the bus dies with the bus).  All that said, I’ve never taken this gift for granted. There are some hefty sacrifices that come with this line of work… but there’s some pretty sweet perks, too.

However, for the last couple of years I’ve been feeling the weight of not being in “community” where I live. There’s something to be said for having people that walk with you every day. Something to be said for knowing… and for being known. And there’s something to be said when that’s missing in your life.

So, two years ago I started trying to find something full time, off the road, with which I could be as earnest… but it seemed nothing short of futile. However, a few weeks ago, I began conversations with an organization called Siloam Family Health Center. It’s a local clinic here in Nashville (15 min from my home) that serves immigrants and refugees from around the world. They believe in providing quality health care in the name of Christ… to those who are uninsured and could not afford care otherwise. http://www.siloamhealth.org

They have offered me a full time position (w/benefits!) as their Development Writer & Coordinator. My role is to write all content for the organization including web, print, media, donor correspondence and grants. They have also asked me to focus on donor engagement – an area that’s needed more attention.

I’ve gratefully accepted the position.  As a communications & journalism major, I’m thrilled to be “officially” using these skills. And simultaneously saddened to let go of something I’ve cherished for so long. Bittersweet indeed.

Yes, change is hard. But change, in this case, is very good. My soul is already being nourished at Siloam as I’m finding myself smack dab in the midst of my given-by-God abilities and brushing off skills that had become a little rusty. But as they say, it’s like riding a bike. Balancing creativity and business, along with honing my marketing motor skills… is all quickly returning.

I realize there are changes that are not welcome…  a loved one is no longer in your life; you lose a job you love with no immediate prospect; “the change” of life for women 🙂 ; or suddenly being struck with a debilitating disease… the list is literally endless. So please, please do not hear me say that all change is good. I know that many of you are fighting it with all you’ve got. I merely want to encourage those who may be fearing a change that could be life-altering in a great way… to just take the leap. Because the good news is… there’s a God who never changes. Who never wavers. Whose goodness and justice is constant. So even when this world throws us a curve ball we didn’t see comin’… we can rest assured. We are in good hands.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

a little too personal…

Being a believer and follower of Christ… I have come to terms with the fact that, for now, we live in a broken and fallen world. I don’t like it, but I know that “It is what it is” (to quote my friend Bone Hampton – he says this phrase almost never follows anything good).  But because my hope is in Christ and I know that this life and these circumstances are temporary – I wait. And I hope. And I wait.

But every once in awhile. I struggle. Not with doubt, but with patience. With not understanding why earthly restoration is taking… so… stinking… long. “Why Lord, why must You delay your coming back? Why must we wait any longer for You to make all things new and right again?”

Mostly I get like this when the brokenness hits close to home. Because my occupation is one that deals with some of the most broken places and people in the world… it’s important that I learn to sit in the “now and the not yet”. Reconciling current reality with a hope for the future. But I have to admit… this is easier when I don’t have a personal relationship with those who are suffering. I am moved by their photos, their stories, their pleas. But I am not usually undone by them.

But then things hit closer to home. Suddenly friends and family are in the fire. And I don’t like it. Not one bit.

I’m a fixer by nature. And when things are beyond my scope of abilities… I’m not happy. Arrogant, I know. And I’m especially frustrated when I am “reduced” to faith and praying. I say “reduced” in quotes because I know that faith and praying are elevated callings and are by no means considered a reduction. But my sinful nature wreaks havoc on my perspective… and I feel reduced. Oh yea, John 3:30 says “He must increase, and I must decrease.” I often (conveniently) forget that verse.

These last 2 weeks have weighed heavily on my heart. Many of the people I care very much for… have been suffering. And there’s nothing I can do about it. And my ugly arrogant pride rises up and wants to take action. But I’m learning to die to that. Learning to decrease so He will increase. It’s a life-long process, I’m afraid.

Here are some of the people I am praying for if you want to join me – though, I totally understand if you already have your own overwhelming list.

  • Two young teens who I used to tutor just lost their sweet mama, Gwen, to a heart attack this past Sunday. They bury her tonight. Gwen was also an Aunt to one of the other students I tutored.
  • Another friend called me to tell me that her dad was just diagnosed with cancer.
  • Another friend’s mom passed away last week from Scleroderma.  He buries her tomorrow.
  • My own mother called to tell me her “numbers” are bad again. She has Stage 4 Bone Cancer.
  • Another friend who has cancer was told he should have those final conversations with his wife and family.
  • My oldest niece has been in and out of the hospital due to an ulcer and chest pains. She’s 23.
  • Another friend’s marriage ended.
  • And yet another friend recently gave birth to a still born.

This has all happened, roughly, in the last 10 days or so. It’s easy for me to wallow in the chaos of broken places. To dwell my thoughts in places that are dark, and even add to their darkness by obstructing the truth of hope. This can happen when I find comfort in self-pity or delight in drama.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m not getting all Pollyanna on you. I’m not suggesting that I, or anyone else, deny the feelings of the pain of our own or each others’ hard places. We are to “bear one anothers’ burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Bear… as in carry, feel, assist… and that can be wearisome for both parties. But, when we are strong enough again, it’s important to help point ourselves and each other toward the cross. Toward Christ Himself. Remember friend?  Remember self?  This is why He did what He did. He has absorbed the punishment and provided life when and where we could not.

So all that to say… I have caught myself being a little overwhelmed with sorrow and concern this week… and rightfully so. I mean, there seems to have been a land-swell of brokenness in the lives of people I care about.  Topped by my normal occupation which requires a passion for people I’ve never met…  it can be quite an emotional flood.

And my reason for blogging all this is simply to remind myself that God is on His throne… and sometimes that’s all I need to know.

Thanks for praying with me.

-Deb

Ray…

I live in a split-level duplex. The man upstairs (no, I don’t mean Him), who I lovingly refer to as “the upstairs roommate” is named Ray. Ray has lived here for 22 years. If the owner of this house ever sells – the buyer must understand that Ray is a package deal. He “ain’t goin’ nowhere”…

Ray drives a truck. But he’s not what you would call a trucker. Though he’s got the right hat. Mesh in the back, bright green, sits up high and a little crooked. Not the cool intentional Ashton Kutcher kinda way – but in that ‘I get dressed without a mirror’ kinda way. And he wears a plaid shirt. And Dungaree’s. Okay, well maybe he is a trucker. He’s technically retired but still has a run every week or so.

I get his mail when he’s gone. And he gets mine and watches for packages. He always brings my trash cans in from the curb. I mow the spot where he parks his car and put his morning paper on his step. We are good neighbors to each other.

When Ray gets home from a string of deliveries…  he likes to come sit on my porch and tell me the play-by-play details of his run. Including all his dive hotel stops and what he ate for dinner each night. Driving a truck can be lonely. I bet he’s been saving up all that chit-chat.

Ray always signs off our conversations by hollering over his shoulder as he clunks up his metal stairway… “Be safe, ya hear?”. He seems serious most of the time, but his crooked smile is sweet and and he laughs easily. And when he laughs his nose crinkles up so much that his glasses slide down to the tip and then he pushes them back into place with his two fingers right in the center of the lenses… leaving two big finger prints right in his eye-line. This apparently doesn’t bother him.

When not on the road, Ray drives an old beat up Chevy Nova painted with gray primer.  He put fake stick-on bullet holes on the trunk. He thinks it’s funny and that it makes him look like he’s “been in a battle”. He likes to think of himself as a “bad ass”. But he also says things like, “I’m goin’ for a little walkie-poo”.

Walkie-poo.  Yep.  That’s what he says.

He also says little gems like, “I’ve been busier than a one-armed paper hanger”. And, “I’m doin’ alright fer an ol’ fella!”

He collects model cars. Hundreds of them. I’ve never been in his apartment but I can see them through the window, in their original boxes, stacked floor to ceiling. He goes to trade shows and has a buddy who buys and sells them on ebay for him. “I don’t need no new-fangled computer… prolly goin’ outa style anyway… so why bother learnin’?”  I try to tell them that one, they’re not “new-fangled”  anymore and two, they’re pretty much gonna stick around. But he’ll have none of it.

Ray is a creature of habit. Every Saturday night, at 5:45pm… he emerges with slicked-back hair and a bolo-tie adorning his plaid shirt. He’s off to Saturday night mass… “Gotta pay God my respects… make sure He knows I’ve been a good boy!”

I adore Ray. He’s sweet and kind and a little doddering. But I know he has a deeper story. I just haven’t figured out what it is yet. It’s taken me 4 years to get him on the porch. He still hasn’t come inside my house yet.  I know that he was almost married once but  then she ran off with someone else.  And I know that he sends every member of his family birthday cards and Christmas cards… “even the ones that don’t speak to me no more.”  He spends most holidays alone, unless he can find a buddy to go to Shoney’s with him.  I’ve invited him, included him and have taken him food but so far he’s refused all the invites. But I’m hopeful. And persistent.

When I first moved into this place 6 years ago… I introduced myself and my roommate at the time… all friendly-like. He quickly put up his hands and said, “I’m just an old guy and I keep to myself.”

And I thought, “We’ll see about that Ray… we’ll see about that.”