Be Loved

Homeless Sign

What touched me most was that Wednesday, the day our mission trip with the middle school youth from my church led us to the Be Loved House.  The day before, I got to run the cardboard crusher at the Food Bank.  It was cool.  Really cool.  Tossing out the 50 lb. bags of potatoes into the enormous dumpster, not so cool.  I don’t dig puss oozing spuds.

Two days before, we pulled weeds at a day care center and sorted clothes for a Veteran’s shelter.  Both were jobs that needed to be done, but neither allowed me to interact to a great extent with those we were trying to serve.

But Wednesday, we pulled up to an old house near the heart of downtown.  The white picket fence in front of the dilapidated home was in fairly good shape.  There was a hand spray painted sign that read:  Black Lives Matter.  The cozy front yard had tables with chairs arranged in groups of four or five.

The kids headed in the front door walking through the porch which was set up as a clothes closet for folks who struggle with homelessness.  They didn’t even seem to notice the transgender person having a conversation with a dude in blue jeans at one of the tables.  But I did.  She, like everyone who walked in that house that day, would be loved.  Because in their opinion, if God can love them, they can surely work hard to love others.

I say folks who struggle with homelessness because Amy, the caretaker of the Be Loved House, informed us that they were people first.  I’m not referred to as a Love Handles Person.  I’m just a person who struggles with love handles.

After Amy explained to us that her family intentionally moved into poverty to try to minister to folks who might need them, we walked across the street to the Senior Center with baskets full of vegetables and breads.  Each Wednesday, they give it all away for free.

The kids had the mini farmer’s market under control, so I took it upon myself to sit with the old folks and listen to their stories.  One 98-year-old told me he liked to dance.  So Michelle and her friends came to his table, and we cranked up some bluegrass on the iPhone.  He wasn’t kidding!

I then spent about 20 minutes talking to a woman who was disenfranchised from her entire family.  She was divorced.  Her children and sister didn’t talk to her – she hadn’t seen them in a decade.  Her parents were dead.  She was sitting by herself.  It might be that I am her best friend.

I did take the time to have a conversation with Dee Dee, the woman who was transgender.  Surprisingly, we talked about arthritis.  She just had surgery on her neck.  I have a bit in my thumb joint.  I’m guessing that’s not the only thing we have in common.

On Sundays, Amy washes clothes for folks in the community.  They just drop them off at her house.  I hadn’t thought about not being able to walk to my basement and wash my stuff any time I darn well please.

Queen Mother was a beautiful African-American woman who led singing at our bible study that day.  She lives in the Be Loved House too.  Her personality was big.  She preached to us a bit.  One of the kids asked her if some people thought she was nuts.  She said, “I’m nuts for Jesus!”  Michelle wrote that quote on her fingers with a Sharpie.

When we passed out popsicles at the park, the two women I met encouraged me to let my daughters know how much I love them.  Maybe their father didn’t.  I will heed their advice.  I can’t get over the open sore one had on her nose.

We were told, although it was technically illegal, that folks who looked like us could get away with standing on the lawn under the tree at the large bank in town.  We could also take a nap in the park.  But if we were perhaps black, or unshaven, or in worn clothes, we’d be encouraged to move along.

The kids had to map out a bus route for a hypothetical man named Mike who lived outside of the city because he couldn’t afford the rent in town.  He had to be at McDonald’s by 6 AM to make the biscuits and his $7.50 per hour.  Unfortunately, the bus didn’t start running until 6.  Not sure what I’d do if I was in his situation, maybe stay home and draw unemployment.  Good thing that’s hypothetical.

It’s hard to raise three kids alone.  It’s harder with an annual salary of $15,600.

You know what I missed the most when I was sleeping on the floor of a church building for five nights?  Ice.  I couldn’t readily have ice in my drinks.

Pathetic.

I missed ice.

These women on the streets didn’t have tampons, they didn’t have a place to pee, they carried their belongings, ALL of them, on their backs.  And I missed ice.  I’m ashamed of myself.

There is a lot of mental illness out there.  Some of the folks I met probably take advantage of the system.

Had I been born under different circumstances, maybe I would too.

Sunday Post 165: A Second Chance to Live

I was at a conference last week in San Antonio. It was for YMCA staff and volunteers who raise money as part of their job. We do a lot of that – most Y’s use the support to help kids in need attend Y camp and tutor programs.

This year, we had a keynote speaker who really made me do some thinking. Her name is Amanda Lindhout, and she if the Founder of the Global Enrichment Foundation. Unfortunately, she landed in a position of remarkable philanthropy not because of something good. No, she was actually kidnapped when in Somalia to photograph a refugee camp. She was held by teenage terrorists for over 400 days in horrible conditions while enduring significant torture.

Her Canadian parents worked for a year to raise the $1.5 M ransom to free their daughter. She finally returned home – but not as the person who had left 14 months prior.

I suppose in this situation, most people would have holed up, filled with anger and fear. Amanda didn’t do that. Instead, she realized she could be bitter and resentful or, she could look at life another way. She spent countless hours thinking about her captors. She came to the conclusion that their actions were driven out of desperation – out of a lack of hope and opportunity in a country that is bombarded with war.

Her response was to start anew. So, she started a foundation that would support the people of Somalia, bringing them food, education, and hope. Instead of hatred, she found hope and love.

On my trip I also heard of another woman who had lost her husband many years ago. Her children are grown. She has nothing left. She is alone.  She is still struggling with sadness and questions.

What gives some the strength to move forward while others are unable to put their life back together after trauma?

It’s Easter. Whether you believe Jesus is the Son of God and died for our sins or whether you don’t, there has to be a lesson in the story shared throughout the New Testament. Jesus was hung on a cross and killed, and his sacrifice, his horrific death, brought about peace and hope for people for centuries.

Whether the Son of God or the victim of violence – whether suffering extreme personal loss or the fear of death, we ultimately all have two ways to respond. We can crawl under a rock and quit. Or, we can get help and work toward a new beginning – one that perhaps does more good than our first one.

Sunday Post 122: Fun-sucking Father

I think part of being a great father is really trying to put yourself in your kids’ shoes, trying to get into their psyches, working hard, hard to understand.  Too often, I miss that mark.

We were at the beach this past week with my extended family.  Each year, mid-week, we head to Calabash for seafood.  There are about six restaurants down there, I think they all serve the same food.  We go to the one my grandfather took us to when we were young.  It didn’t matter which beach we went to in North or South Carolina, he’d toss us all into his Lincoln Continental, which was equivalent in size to a 15 passenger van, and trek us down to Captain Jacks.

“It’s the best seafood on the east coast and cheaper,” he’d point out.

“But it takes three hours and two tanks of gas to get there and back,” we’d complain.

“It’s worth it.”

When Granddaddy Tanner made up his mind to do anything, there was no reasoning.  You just jumped in the back of the car and cracked the window so as not to choke on the smoke from an always lit cigarette.

After our family works ourselves into a gaseous fried food trance, we head to the year-round Christmas shop right up the road.  This year it started before we could get back to the car, Michelle turned on the full, annual, sales pitch.

“Dad, can I get a Hermit crab?”

Anticipating her move, I was ready for battle.  “Absolutely not,” I barked.  “It’s a ridiculous waste of money.  Don’t even start with me.  The answer is no!”

This year I would be firm from the get go.  We had three empty cages in the attic back home from conch pets of years’ past – nameless memories of nothing.  The little boogers don’t do a thing except sit, eat and poop.  You can’t pet them.  You can sleep with them.  You can’t take them for a walk.  We should release them all back into the wild, not paint their shells embarrassing colors with the Christmas shop’s owner’s fingernail polish.

“But daaaad.  I really, really want one.  I’ll take care of it this time.  I’ll feed him.  I’ll play with him.  I promise.”

“NO!” my voice got louder, “YOU CAN’T PLAY WITH A HERMIT CRAB!  Get a pet rock.”

It’s my brother’s fault, I thought.  He let his kids buy these damn varmints every single year.  My kids now think it’s the norm.  He such a pushover!

I looked at DJ hoping for an ally.  “You went through this stage.  What is it that compels every Tanner child to have this insatiable desire to own an oceanic crustacean?”

“Dad.  You won’t let us have any animals.  Maybe if we had a dog or a cat or even a bird, your kids wouldn’t be obsessed with getting a crab.  It’s all we can shoot for!”

“I guess you’re right.  We all need something to take care of.”

“Yeah.  And as a ten-year old, it feels really good to be able to purchase something alive that’s within your price range.  You can buy it, set it’s house up and care for it – all on your own.”

“Hum.”

I thought for a minute and the light bulb went on.

“Michelle, come here.”  She drooped over anticipating my next harsh words.

“Honey, I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have reacted so negatively to your crab request.  It was wrong of me.  If you want to buy one with your money, I’ll support you.  You have to take care of him, but it’s your decision.”

“You don’t really want me to get one, do you?”

“It’s okay.  It’s your decision.”

You would have thought that I told her she could have a pet giraffe.  She was so excited.

Maybe I was a pushover.  Or maybe, after a ridiculously knee-jerk reaction to a simple request, I got my wits about me.

I do that all too often.  My kids call me the fun-sucker.  That’s not who I want to be.  I want to add fun, not remove it.

How do we, as adults, so often forget what it was like to be a kid?  Our kids just want to be loved and to give love.  They want our time – a dad who hates cold water to be in the pool with them.  Or an animal that they can shower with affection and care for on their own.

And yet, so many times we rob them of the opportunity.  What was I thinking?

Sunday Post 106: It’s Not A Choice

Tonight I met with my men’s group – the guys who have also lost their wives to cancer.  There were only four of us.

We all struggle at times and with similar experiences, yet often on different timelines.  For some the holidays were tough.  For others, the wedding anniversary brought it all back – it was the day that no one else really celebrated.  Just their time.  In a way, that made it harder than Christmas.  I get that.

At the end of the meeting, I shared an email a buddy of mine sent me today.  I met him through the play, A Christmas Carol.  He’s a really neat guy and has become a great friend.

He was commenting on a recent post I’d written – the one where I said, “I don’t know how my story ends.”

He wrote:  As I was reading your blog, it struck me. I’m sorry about you losing your wife, but do you realize that if it wasn’t for your loss, we would most likely not know each other?  Would you have tried out for A Christmas Carol if Lisa was still living?

I know how you will finish the book.  For everything that has to die it brings forth life.  You bury a seed so that it can bring forth life.  Your ending will be LC instead of BC … Life after Cancer not just Before Cancer. The key word is Life because you are still living, and look at all of the new sprouts that have come up!

 A friend in the support group said, “It’s not a matter of choosing this new life over the loss of your wife.  It wasn’t a choice.  She died – period.”

The choice comes in what you do after she dies.

I am thankful for the new experiences I’ve had since Lisa’s death.  I am thankful for the new friendships I have made.

I always feel like when good happens that I need to clarify my happiness – “This is great, but I’d rather this not have happened and still have Lisa.”

Well duh.  But it wasn’t a choice.  Therefore enjoy the good, and enjoy guilt free.

Sunday Post 92: The Birthday Blues

It crept up on me again.  I wasn’t expecting it.  I thought I was just overwhelmed – too much to do, too many details.  Both true; neither my problem.

Turning 47 wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  We never much celebrated birthdays.  Maybe an ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins – perhaps on the exact day, maybe earlier, maybe later.  It didn’t much matter to us.

Some guys rearrange their work or travel schedule to be home for the anniversary of their wife’s birth.  Not me.  Mine didn’t require it.

Lisa did throw me a party on my 40th.  She catered bar-b-q and hired a man to play his guitar in our backyard.  My father-in-law passed out beer on our front porch as our guests arrived.  My parents manned the kitchen.  Lisa and I worked the crowd – friends from all the corners of our lives.

So why the weepiness for me?  I heard the same song last week with no affect.  This week is different.

Maybe I was sad because Lisa never got her guitar player in the backyard.  She didn’t quite make it to 40.

Maybe it’s because I’m the only one still celebrating birthdays.  Maybe it drags up the anger and the frustration that the world just isn’t fair.  Why couldn’t we add her years to mine and divided by 2? 40 years for her, 80 for me – 60 for each of us.  That seems more fair.

No.  She didn’t get to celebrate 47.  She also didn’t get to pick out an outfit for the middle school dance with Stephanie tonight or quiz Michelle on her continents and oceans.  She didn’t get to read, with pride, DJ’s paper on the Iliad.  She didn’t even get to go on the Target run to buy the gargantuan package of toilet paper, giggling all the way through the store.

All of that is in a knot deep, deep within me – the anger, the frustration, the regret, the sadness.  Occasionally some of it comes out.  But not all.  There are parts of the wound that are so deep, they’ll never see the light of day.

Most of the time it won’t matter.  Mostly, it won’t be visible to the naked eye.  But a few will see, and me – able to compare now with then.

My day is over.  The cake is gone, and the knot tucked neatly beneath my spleen.  It’ll come back out; I just don’t know when.

Sunday Post 63: The Feeling Of Guilt

Posted by Danny

I didn’t really understand guilt associated with death.  I’ve had a whole lot of feelings over the past few years but not guilt. 

How does that one pop out of nowhere two years after Lisa’s death?

I don’t have feelings of regret related to how I handled her illness or death.  I think I did pretty well given the circumstances.  I had hope.  I stood by her, and she was strong for me.

But I regret in a different kind of way.  I think my feelings are centered around my ability to move forward.  I’m laughing again.  I’m spending incredible time with my girls, and I have the benefit of watching them grow.  I lay on the bed with each one each night.  We talk about their days.  We talk about the future.  We have our inside jokes and a good dose of daily zaniness.  We pray.

And Lisa doesn’t get to do any of that.  I am the beneficiary of a stronger relationship with my children, because we are each others’ lifeline.  Our bonds grow deeper each day. 

In my head I reverse our roles and think of myself – watching Lisa on this earth with our kids.  How sad I would be – separated from her; unable to hug my kids; not sharing in the day-to-day joys they bring.  It tears me up.

I know she is with us, I feel her strength and presence.  But she can’t tickle or hug.  She can’t respond to their questions.  She can’t share a memory from our past. 

Although at times it feels like she is right here, I refuse to believe she can see us.  That would hurt her too much. 

I think in earthly images with a very limited view of the breadth of the universe.  Perhaps she can see and feel more than I can even imagine.  At times, what I imagine is sorrow and separation – not the joy and peace that I should. 

She once said to me, “You have the hard part.  You have to put the pieces back together when I’m gone.”  It has been so hard; and yet, I live.  I wish we could share this life – six months here, six months there.  What I’d give for her to have one night at bedtime with the kids.  No.  I get it all. 

Wrapped in my slowly growing contentment with life is a heightened sense of guilt.  Guilt and sadness for her, for what she is missing.

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