Connecting with Community

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I get up and look at my screaming clock. It yells rather abruptly, 6:55 am.  It is telling me, I am 25 minutes late for my day. In a whirlwind I get ready and rush my kids out the door. I step out my door onto the porch, the day greets me with its sweet splendor. I pause for a minute and take in this cool still morning. I can almost savor the atmosphere. It is patient and peaceful much like rising cookies. It is a little foggy, I wonder if that is a viable excuse for an excused tardy.

I arrive at my first school and I rush my 10 year old out the car door. I give my morning farwell, "I love you, you rock and your amazing". He turns to look at me and responds with "so are you". My heart jumps at his words. I drive across town to drop off my runner, as I shove her out I say "I love you and remember you are amazing". She replies with "your the best".
I pause in the parking lot as I am certain my heart is growing. How wonderful that a child would accept words from some one so much older. What if we spoke these words to our youngsters? Regardless of how they dressed or how they spoke. What if we edified them? Would that allow hope in these lives, that seem to have lost all hope?

This runner of mine is about 30 years younger than me and yet she accepts my words. Yesterday,  I had the privilege of serving as the Master of Ceremonies for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program Appreciation Banquet. I sit and watch as there is an abundance of wisdom entering the room. This room quickly fills with servants, every single one of them still serving. I find it odd that the banquet begins at 6:00 pm and the room begins to fill at 5:25. These servants all find a place near each other. I watch this group to see how they will break off in groups. I watch to find the stragglers. There is no separation, there is no stragglers. They all seem to have a place at the table, they all belong. They are enveloped in conversation and as another servant walks in the room they all adjust to make room. I notice something even stranger, no one has pulled out their cell phone. There is no one checking their email, texting or posting on face book. They are all in the moment they are enjoying each other.

I sit quietly soaking  in the wisdom.  I check the list to see how many have shown up. To my surprise there are only 2 servants that did not make it.  I am thrilled to be in their presence. It is time for dinner and they begin to go through the food line. The men wait in the back of the line and the women go first but not before the woman in the wheelchair has food. I go and stand at the end of the table ready to assist. I offer to carry drinks and deserts to the table. As I reach for the cup and the bread they will partake of, I am overwhelmed. My spirit is pleased, as I am His hands and feet, I am serving those He loves so dearly.

At the end of the banquet they begin to call the years served and I am in awe. I stand and hand them their applause on paper. I hug them and whisper,"you are the best". They have served 244,000 hours in one year. If we calculated how many hours we have served, what would our total be? 

 "It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."  John 13:1

His last expression of love with out words He served them by washing His Disciples feet.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

I would be happy if...

This morning I put on a cute spring skirt with some adorable open toed shoes. I walk out my door and soak in the scenery. Walking down the steps I notice a red tulip blooming in my flower bed. It stands straight with pride almost as if she is stating good morning.  I make it to my car and my car reads 58 degrees. I shiver in anticipation of the warm day ahead of me. Yesterday was in the 80s and I am certainly ready for another warm one. Driving, I can’t help but smile as I listen to my favorite song. This is me experiencing happiness.  I am on time and I have plenty of time to spare. It is at least three full minutes before the tardy bell rings. If you ask the attendance clerk she will tell you this is not normal. I really need to work on that, anyway that’s another story for another day.
In the school drive I tell my little boy the usual, “I love you and remember you are amazing”. On my way to my office, about 12 miles into my drive and all of the sudden out of nowhere I see clouds. Dark thick clouds surround me as if I have angered them in some way. The warmth is instantly all gone. My car now reads 48 degrees and it seems to be dropping. I arrive at my office and my skirt is no longer cute and my open toed shoes are also no longer adorable.
I would be happy if the temperature was 100 degrees all year round. I would be happy if there was sunshine 24 hours a day. I would be happy if the tardy bell was at 9:05 instead of 8:05. I would be happy if I could wear a spring skirt and open toed shoes every day of the year.  
Today I get a call from a gentleman and he leaves a message on my voice mail, “Mrs. Elia I really hate to bother you but I heard you could help me. I just haven’t had any luck with work and we could really use some food. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just enough to get rid of this hunger”. I begin to reconsider what makes me happy.  I go on to my next message, “Hi Elena, my counselor said you might help me. My little girl is in elementary school and she is always worried about who is going to pick her up. My husband left us and I couldn’t pay the car anymore so I lost it to repo. ” I am suddenly happy that I have a car. I go on to my emails. My first email is from an educator and she is asking for coats. She has three students that have been removed from the parents care and now live with their grandmother. The little girl is 9 just a year younger than my sweet boy. It doesn’t take long before I am again happy that my boy has a nice warm coat. The other two children are boys, one is 6 and the other is 5 both happy to be at school even though they struggle with the cold weather.  These babies are cold and I am worried about open toed shoes.
Today I am certain of one thing. If we cannot find happiness in the place we are now, we certainly will not find it in a new job, with more money, in a new car or a bigger house.
Something that resonates with me after speaking with my families today is that they all had one thing in common. Even while speaking of their struggles they were  all grateful. They were grateful for the things they did have and all happy to have another day to make a go at it.  I can still hear the happiness in their voice as we visited. They were happy that they mattered. They were happy for the basics like water, food and a roof over their heads.
Happiness will look different from now on……
“I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition”
 -Martha Washington

Thursday, April 4, 2013

My Eight Shiny Pennies

Today I had the pleasure of speaking to a group of United Methodist Women, one of my favorite groups to speak with. Saying I was warmly welcomed would be an understatement. As I speak to these ladies I can feel their tenderness.  I haven't known them for more than a half hour and already I am thankful for this new family. They sit anxious ready to be charged with instruction on making a difference for families in need. During my time I share stories of my failures and speak of our families successes. I find comfort in their attentiveness as I am loved without words and respectfully accepted. Their heart is seen through the tears in their eyes and value is tangible in this place . As my time comes to an end, I am approached with hugs and kisses from these lovely ladies. We stand together with nothing between us. There is no longer a line of color, race, money, or status. That has all gone away we are now one. We have only one mission, Loving our Neighbor. 
One sweet woman grabs my arm and through broken words she says, "I am a retired teacher and what you said really hit me.  It hit me hard, it hit me hard that I didn't do better". Shaking her head she says "I just didn't know". "I was busy making sure they mastered their lessons. I just didn't know". I respond with a gentle "I do know better and I still drop the ball". I hug her and kiss her and tell her we will do better.

I depart for my next meeting and I walk down the stairs back out into the cold. As I navigate the parking lot to reach my car, I am gently kissed again but this time by small morsels of moisture. This reminds me of pennies from heaven. I know but just stay with me.
 I have 8 pennies neatly stacked on my desk and those pennies remind me of my nephew. Years ago when my nephew was only seven, he came to visit me at work. They were in town for a doctors appointment.  I gave them a gift card to go eat barbeque at a local eatery. They were experiencing a time of struggles and I wanted to do some thing nice. Later that day my nephew came back to see me. He reached for a hug and said he had something for me. He digs in his pocket and pulls out a handful of pennies. He then extends his little hand and hands them to me. His sweet words still float in my heart, "thank you tia, I really liked the barbeque so I wanted to give you something". He then said "this is all I have" as he hands me seven pennies.

Well it has only been a couple of weeks since I got this new stack of pennies and no they weren't from my nephew. Maybe pennies from heaven. It was a day that I arrived at work only to be overwhelmed  by the 200 + emails, a full voice mail and many unanswered texts. I worked as quickly as possible at crossing each item off my to do list. One by one  every need was met. It was one of those days I was being ungrateful. Those days are more often than I would like to admit.

I remember answering the phone and the young woman, on the other end began to explain her struggle in gathering funds for her water bill. She had only a few hours before they were scheduled to pull her meter. We were working against the clock. At that point she was distraught, at the thought of not having running water in her home. She has little ones and how do you explain this kind of thing to children.  I told her to pay all she could and I would work on gathering the rest. Near the end of the day, I  found the money to help her pay her bill. At that moment it was just another line off of my to do list.

I survive my day and as I gather my items. I sit for awhile and gaze out my window. The flag is still waving freedom, with no plan to be still. In the distance I notice a mother and father play with their little one. I speak out loud with no intent to be heard, "It is to cold to be out". Today I've complained about the weather. I complained about my car taking to long to heat up, I have to sit there for two whole minutes before I feel heat. As I am complaining my eyes catch just a brief glimpse of a man just a few feet away.  He is seated outside, on the ground with his head bowed. I assume he does this to keep the cold wind from hitting his face. With grief I now sit with my head bowed and that is when I see them. It has only taken me all day to notice these 8 pennies neatly stacked on my desk. I was so busy being busy and complaining that I failed to see "my eight shiny pennies". 
In that moment every thing around me is still, even the flag.  The pennies, they belong to the momma. They belong to the momma that paid all she could. Earlier in the day the momma turned in her receipt of what she had paid and with her receipt she left "eight shiny pennies". This momma did all she could.
What if we did all we could? What if we loved without words and respectfully accepted? 
 What would our world look like then? 


Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Givers are odd creatures.

I have been off for the past four days and let me tell you it was not easy rolling out of bed this morning. I struggle with finding enthusiasm to start my day. My 10 year old wakes me early, as he is ready for his STAR testing. I am not ready for my day nor do I want to get ready. I struggle with what to wear and I also have trouble with making my hair behave.  My outfit needs a little help and gathering my things is like a scavenger hunt.  After what seems like hours I am finally out the door. My first step out the door and the chill bites me harshly. I am obviously not dressed for the day and I can't remember where I left my car. Who said it could be 30 degrees this morning? No I am not two but I sure do want to throw a tantrum.

After finding my car, I head to my office and upon arrival I am greeted with a smile. I explain to my Pam that I don't feel like working, she smiles and we agree that we would rather be in bed with a movie or a good book. As I walk in my office I notice a bag of diapers on my chair. One of those odd creatures woke this morning thinking of someone else instead of herself, hmm what a concept.

My first meeting and I find myself seated with a group of "Givers", they chat about what they can do to help put shoes on children's feet. It sounds like a lot of work but they are dedicated to helping these children.  I sit thinking of all the good that will come out of this time given by these "Givers".  Before I leave, one of those "Givers" runs to her car to gather diapers. This "Giver" has no idea what she has done by gifting diapers to a single mother attempting  to achieve a better way of life for herself and her children.

I am out the door again heading to pick up food from yet another group of "Givers". Inside I start to fill a box with groceries. I reach for cereal and notice a small ziploc baggie on the shelf. In the baggie there are three pair of neatly folded socks. I grab them and place them on top of the food box. My heart softens as I think of this simple gift. It is time to go and meet our Neighbor in need. The cold chill continues to bite and I wish I had a pair of the ziploc socks on. Once in my car I call our Neighbor and ask her to meet me nearby. It doesn't take long before I find our meeting place, which is a parking lot.  I sit content waiting for our Neighbor. I smile as I look over at the ziploc socks and I begin thinking of this sock "Giver". This "Giver" could not possibly imagine the joy these socks are about to bring this woman. She is struggling to allow her daughter a chance at an education. I remember her words the first day we met. She said, "I can't believe you would want to help someone like me". These ziploc socks are yet another reminder of value given to someone that doesn't feel worthy. These ziploc socks will softly whisper, I care. Our Neighbor arrives and she smiles with thanksgiving, at this box full of hope and acceptance. She hugs me and thanks me for her ziploc socks and my heart jumps at the  magnitude of Hope this simple gift has given.

I leave to visit yet another "Giver". I arrive at this large building and my heart jumps as it is filled with "Givers". I greet our "Giver" and walk with her to her car. She unloads diapers and as she hands them to me, she apologizes for what she calls a small gift. I try and explain to her that there is no such thing as a small gift. A gift is an object given without the expectation of payment and that in itself is powerful. This "Lifechanger"  is giving without expecting nothing in return because she gives to people she will probably never meet.

My heart smiles as my day has been filled with "Givers" and I witnessed a rarity, Hope given in a ziploc baggie. Be odd and give what you can.