What a toddler taught me

What a toddler taught me

She was camped out on one side of the waiting room, an obvious grandmother charged with wrangling kids while other family members were having an appointment.

A boy sat in the chair on the other side of the table, all arms and legs thrown over the chair, lost in the world of a game on the grandmother’s phone. She was grateful that he was breaking through the levels that had long frustrated her.

She herself  sat surrounded by the sure signs of toddlerdom – an open bag with toys that weren’t working their magic today. The little girl was fine with a set of keys until she started trying to eat them, at which point the grandmother demanded them back. The little girl roamed her half of the waiting room, seeking and destroying.

The grandmother appealed to the boy. “You have a choice. You can let her use the phone or listen to her scream.” The older brother was unmoved and kept playing. I aspect eh’d learned long ago how to tune out the screams.

The grandmother appealed to the toddler, “Have some more biscuit.” The little girl obediently toddled over, even though her cheeks were bulging with uneaten biscuit.

I caught the girl’s eye and years of babysitting, children’s ministry and aunt-dom kicked in. I started playing peep-eye with the magazine I was reading. She stopped, giving me the side eye. I raised the magazine to cover my face and lowered it again. She stared, considering whether to join in this game until the grandmother offered biscuit again.

Let me be clear. I don’t stand in judgment over this overwhelmed grandmother. Sometimes we do what we can do and with small children, survival is always a noble goal.

But the encounter also made me sad. The only avenues of connection for this grandmother were food and electronics. Peep-eye. Itsy bits spider. So many ways to capture the attention of a toddler.

It made me think of the ways in which we interact with each other as adults. I’m not advocating for games of Itsy Bitsy Spider, although if you’ll start I’ll join in. I’m thinking about all the times that we miss the  simple ways of connecting with each other.  We distract each other with shiny objects when what we really want is just to be present with each other.

Some days I think it’s the most powerful thing that I offer in my therapy office: a space in which one human being is present with another human being.

This week today I dare you to connect with one other person. It doesn’t have to take more than a minute. Forgo the shiny objects. Set the electronics aside. If you and they are the hugging sort, give them a hug and allow yourself to feel how it feels to connect. Look them in the eyes and ask how they’re doing… and make a space for them to answer.

Sometimes we just want the simple things.

 

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Why Do We Need Churches?

Why Do We Need Churches?

This morning I saw the story of a 91 year old man who came home from his cancer treatment at the hospital to an empty kitchen. He had no food and no way of getting food. Out of desperation he called 911. The operator and her supervisor agreed to let her take him some groceries, then help get him signed up with support services.

You see, this is why we need church. We need communities to support us when we are frail or sick or disabled. We need communities to step in and do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Of course, there are other nonprofits. Out of necessity, however, their mission has to be focused and limited. Used to be you could count on your neighbors or extended family to step in. These days most families are smaller and many are spread out across the country and around the world. Some people have neighbors they can call on. Many others wouldn’t know a neighbor’s name to make a call.

There is no shortage of things the church gets wrong these days. There is no shortage of sins for which we need to make heartfelt confession. There is no shortage of challenges of which we’re still trying to figure out the answers.

But for once, can we talk about what church – what local churches – get right?

I’ve not been a member of a ton of churches. I tend to go and stay put in a place. But here’s what I’ve seen. Older folks get their lawns mowed, even when they’re crotchety about the mowing. Kids have adult friends who are not related to them but who care about them and care for them. Tired new parents have two dozen other arms to hold (and love on) their baby for an hour or two a week. Someone who never had a family before experiences what it feels like to be connected.

My present church is in a partnership with a local school, a partnership that continues to grow. Through it kids are tutored and have new buddies. Through a partnership with Bookmarks, every child was given a book of his or her own. Every child who needed a warm winter coat received one. Think about it. Not one child at that school went cold last winter for the want of a winter coat.

When I was in a wheelchair for two months my church, located thirty miles away, brought me meals every week. When my parents were dying, my church held me up with love and care and just checking in not just on them, but on me. When I was a kid and faced with circumstances that told me that I was worthless the people of my church told me that I was priceless and treated me as if it was true.

By its nature, a lot of the caring that goes on in a church has to be kept confidential. Some needs don’t need to be trumpeted. And by our nature a lot of us don’t like calling attention to such things because it runs counter to the whole spirit of why we do it and Who we’re serving by doing it.

Civic clubs adopt schools as well. And the tennis team can rally around a fallen member. But the church not only does these things but also reaches out to those who would otherwise fall through the cracks, like a 91 year old cancer patient coming home.

Maybe we don’t talk about it much because we really do it out of a kind of self interest. We do it because Jesus said that’s where we’d find him.

Miz Barker, the dancer

Miz Barker, the dancer

Perhaps you’ve seen it. How can you not love it?

Personally, I loved it the minute Miss Barker told of always having her name misspelled.

“They always left out the ‘r’,” she said. As a Haymes (‘m’ not ‘n’) I can relate. But i loved this video for another reason.

More than a frail old lady

Unless we have known them for a very long time, we tend to judge people by the selves they put before us. Young or old or in-between. Accomplished or struggling. Weighed down by jobs or scattered by families.

We see the one hundred-year-old-and-some-change old woman in the bed. We don’t realize that we are also looking at a Harlem dancer who could pull off quite a shimmy and shake. Only as we listen do we see the little girl who ran away from bath time to dance, naked as a jaybird by the music of a neighborhood band, concerned only when the music stopped playing. And in our listening, she is no long the woman in room 105 but is a real live, unique person.

Knowing me. And you.

Even if our dancing days are long behind us, we never lose the people whom we have been. Inside us is still the little boy who played baseball until the dark chased him inside or the little girl who climbed trees with fierce abandon. Sometimes that’s a painful thing, like when a boss calls us on the carpet and suddenly we’re five years old inside, quaking before a critical parent whose love and approval could be never quite earned. Sometimes it’s a wonderful thing, like when we start building sandcastles with the kids and realize we are kids as well.

For joy or for struggle, we are inside all of the ages we’ve ever been.

I am. So are you. So are they.

Hearing their stories transforms them from a flat, two dimensional portrait to a being with all the shades of life. I may disagree with you and you with me, but if we know something of the stories that have shaped us we may understand each other.

The problem is, we don’t spend an awful lot of time listening to each other. Mostly we talk at each other. Even in churches, which ought to know better, there’s precious little time for us to share our stories with each other.

She was an old woman on my mom’s Meals on Wheels route. When my mom learned that she was going to be alone on Christmas Day she insisted that the woman join us. She was an old woman, but over the course of our lunch I also learned that she was a little girl who awoke one Christmas morning to find a pony tied to her bedpost.

We are all of the ages we ever have been and we are all of the stories we ever have lived. There is a richness inside all of us.

Sometimes we just need to take the time to see the dance.


sexual abuseHave you ordered your copy yet?

Here’s what pastoral therapist James Stillwell (Frankfurt, KY) had to say:

This book could well be required reading for therapists, even for those not consciously dealing with a victim of childhood sexual abuse. This is because there is a very good chance that if you see a lot of clients, you probably are dealing with some who are not even conscious of the source of their pain. Walking through Peggy’s journey has given me the confidence of “being there” which enables me to sit with empathy and compassion to others…

What makes Peggy’s book so incredibly readable is her sense of humor. Such a tough subject requires it. Her humor carries the book, even as it carries us all as we travel through this world. The mindset that sees the ironies of life. In reading Peggy’s book, you’ll smile and laugh with her almost as often as you have those intense moments of compassion for pain.

read more

Order now from Amazon

A race over too soon

This week in one of my Facebook groups the posts have been filled with pictures and memories. A woman who’d been with us in many training sessions died after a brief bout with pancreatic cancer.

fleet feet running
Lynn Hutchins Edwards

Her friends reflected on her ever-present smile and the fun she brought to even the most mundane workouts. In fact, sometimes they missed the turns they were supposed to take because they were having so much fun. She trained with the training groups sponsored by our local running store and she served as a mentor for other training programs. She was always ready to encourage someone else, trying to seduce them into loving running as much as she did.

I spent some time looking at the pictures they posted and yes, she was smiling in every one. She was strong and she was fit, but she wasn’t petite. Still, she was a runner.

As I looked at her beaming face, I thought about how many women keep themselves from such joy simply because they don’t think they’re the right size. They’re afraid of what someone might think. Their fear of what doesn’t matter (what other people might think) keeps them from doing things that really do matter.

When I bought my first tri suit the saleswoman warned me, “it’s going to show every bulge and you just have to step out anyway.” She was right, it does. But she was also right in that I did. Now I’m training for my seventh triathlon. More than that, I have the joy (okay, and sometimes the agony) of all of those races. I didn’t let the fact that my body wasn’t perfect keep me from a perfectly good time.

Lynn was average size with a bigger-than-average heart. And she was a runner.

Thank God for that, for through her running she blessed us all.

You go, girl.

The grace of old clothes

The grace of old clothes

Recently I was reading about a new company that rents clothes online. You order it, wear it as long as you like and then return it. Now  I can see the value if you’ve got a fancy ball to go to (or in the immortal words of Archie Campbell’s Rindercella, “a bancy fall”) and you’re not the kind who ordinarily does such things. Why spend hundreds of dollars on a dress to be worn once?

But the owner was positioning the company for ordinary clothes as well. She used the example of a winter coat. “Don’t we just rent that?” she said. After all, we wear it for six months and then put it back in the back of the closet. (For those of us in the south those numbers are adjusted accordingly.)

I thought about my camel colored pea coat, a bargain I found several years ago, on sale and inexplicably in my petite size (even the sleeves fit – a rarity for me.) When I slip it on the soft wool feels like a hug. It’s familiar. We’ve bonded through the miles we’ve traveled together on the barely-cool-enough-for-it days of fall to the bundled up days of winter.

I thought about other clothes in my closet… the clothes that  I can date because my mother gave them to me and it’s been more than a few years since she cruised a Talbot’s store. The clothes that felt just right form the very first day and that are a part of my weekly rotation. The clothes that are a cause for celebration when I can fit into them and wear them.

I think about the clothes now worn with frayed edges and bald spots. Some are passed along to the yard work/painting drawer. And some are put out of their misery – or at least put out in the trash, too far gone for Goodwill.

Perhaps such musings are nothing more than the first world nostalgia of someone entitled enough to have more than a few outfits in my closet, who has the luxury of switching from summer to winter closets. But it made me think of deeper things.

It’s tempting to be dazzled by what’s shiny and new. It’s what this clothing rental business is counting on. After all, aren’t you getting the new iPhone? But there’s something to be said for the connections that come through the years. I enjoy making new friends, but as the Girl Scout song says, not at the expense of the old.

Old clothes. Old pets. Old friends. They may be a bit worn but what a treasure it is to share the miles with them.

“Don’t just stand there despairing.”

It’s been a rough week on this corner of the planet. A boy is killed, apparently for the color of his skin, and the long simmering racial divides of a community erupt into what looks like a third world uprising: unarmed protesters against authorities in full military gear. And we wonder how it will be different.

A man who was obviously enormously talented in moving us both to laughter and to tears as well as making our hearts soar (and who was by all accounts a lovely human being) takes his own life. We try to imagine – or try not to remember – the depths of such black despair and we wonder how it will be different for others.

In other parts of our planet centuries of conflict are being played out with weapons old and new. Hatred stoked by the centuries erupts into killing and cruelty, and we wonder how it will ever be different.

Along the border of our own nation there is a struggle between too much and not enough. Children fleeing from too much danger, abuse and hopelessness find themselves rebuffed by communities feeling already over-stretched by not enough resources, not enough answers for the problems they themselves face. We wonder how it can ever be different.

There were events in my own life this week that didn’t make the news. A former client shared an email with me that she’d sent to her friends, “outing” herself as one who has struggled with the great black dog of depression and who now consciously chooses to live her life in ways that allow the light in. It was a brave and heartfelt email, and a reminder that for her, life is very different.

Last Saturday I also attended a meeting of the Steering Committee of Baptist Women in Ministry, NC. As we talked about next year’s meeting I thought back to the first meeting I attended so many years ago. Thirty, maybe forty people huddled together hoping for hope that locked doors might be opened. Our theme, taken from a song lyric, was “One by one, truth will grow.” As we met on Saturday I thought about how different things are now. We provide not insubstantial scholarship money for a woman student at each of the Baptist Divinity Schools in NC. And in recent months women have become pastors at both Watts St. Baptist in Durham and Riverside Church in New York City. One by one…

This week I’ve been reading John Philip Newell’s book, The Rebirthing of God. In it he quotes Nobel Peace Prize winner (and Mayanmar activist) Aung San Suu Kyi who has spent most of the last twenty-five years under house arrest. “Don’t just stand there despairing. Do something.”

It seems as good a word as any for this week. Don’t know how to resolve the Middle East or global warming or immigration or race relations or the scourge of depression? Do what you do know. Do one thing. You may think you’re only touching one life but you do not know how many other lives that one life will touch and how many lives those lives will touch. You may only write one letter but you do not know if yours will be the letter that’s the tipping point. You may only clean one stream or befriend one person who is of another race or political party or from the other side of the tracks. But you do not know where those steps will lead.

Don’t just stand there despairing. Do something.

Making a new trail

When I came to College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC as Associate Minister in 1986, they saw me as something of a groundbreaker. They’d never had an ordained woman on staff before. In fact, no Baptist church in Greensboro had done such a thing. One elderly member has since confessed to me that while she didn’t vote against me, she wondered why they were calling a woman “when there were so many fine male ministers out there.”

Since that time there has been a long line of outstanding women ministering through that position. (In case you’re wondering, they’ve had the same pastor for twenty years.) The pastor is always quite gracious to me in giving me credit for starting things off. “These are the fruits of your ministry,” he says.

Maybe. But maybe not so much.

I wasn’t there long before I started hearing stories about Lounelle Selle, a non-ordained but no less legendary “education director” who’d ministered some years before me. People remembered Tex, as she was called, fondly and with great respect. I always felt like she’d made my job just a little bit easier. I may have opened a door, but Tex was the one who unlocked it.

I was delighted to see the following story about her in our paper this morning. (click here)

We all stand on someone’s shoulders. Sometimes we know it. Often we don’t. Today, let us remember, give thanks for and celebrate the people who fought for a trail that the pioneers could follow.

Special note:
I am scheduling my program, “Apple juice, butter cookies and other ways to save a life” in churches for the fall schedule. Contact me (peggy@peggyhaymes.com) if you’re interested in finding out more.