Daddy’s Girl

Photo of Charmin, Homer and Wendy
Me, Daddy Homer and my best friend Wendy – Circa 1969

Children are great observers of all that goes on in their world. They absorb things like a sponge. Adults often think that children won’t be affected by what the grownups do, but that is far from the case.

While kids see and soak up all that is going on around them, they are not mature enough to properly interpret what they see and feel. This can lead to wounds that run deep, especially when there is no one to help them correctly process what they see and feel.

After my adoption at 4, we lived in Illinois until I was 7. For those first few years after the adoption, things were okay. I enjoyed being a kid, for the most part. The age difference between my new siblings and myself made me feel like an only child. I think I was a likable kid, I was best friends with the little boy who lived behind us and with another little girl, who like me had been adopted. I had cousins who visited often, were close to my age and we had lots of fun together and loved them all.

Not long after my adoption my birth mom moved in across the street with my older sister. That sounds strange, right? It was both good and confusing.

I suppose I should interject here and say that after my adoption, I knew what had happened, my adoption wasn’t ever a secret from me. I wasn’t allowed to call her mommy anymore, but I knew she was my birth mother and she always tried to live close to us. Which again, was both good and confusing.

My new Sissy got married and moved to Alaska, my new Brother went into the Army and was stationed in Germany.

The vibe in my house became tense around the time the older kids were close to moving out. As a kid, you don’t know exactly what is going on between the grownups in your house, but you hear things and pick up on the unpleasant feelings. You know things aren’t what they should be and you piece things together, your picture may not be quite right, but it is your reality. I knew trouble brewed and just three years after my adoption, the marriage of my new mom and dad fell apart.

This prompted my new mom to move to Kentucky where both sides of my family were from. My Daddy built my Mommy a house, but he didn’t come to live with us in it. He brought me presents for holidays and birthdays, but was never there for the cake. I remember crying, wondering why he didn’t want to spend time with me.

When we lived in Illinois we would sit together in his recliner and watch Hee Haw together. I felt safe, I felt special, I felt like a Daddy’s girl. He was there and I loved him deeply.

Then he wasn’t there. My Daddy’s girl phase was shortlived. I was seven, and I thought it was my fault that yet another person I loved cast me aside. From the time I was seven until Daddy died when I was ten, I saw him a handful of times, and it broke my little heart. Once again I was fatherless.

On the day Daddy Homer died, I knew I would never be a Daddy’s girl, never have a father who would watch me grow up, cheer me on, be proud of me on graduation day, or walk me down the aisle, I vividly remember because I lost two fathers that day.

I was in 5th grade. My birth mother came to the school to get me, in the middle of the day, and that never happened. I always rode the bus home. I remember being nervous when I got in the car, I was excited and anxious, I knew something was up, but couldn’t figure out what it was.

She told me she had something to tell me. I don’t think it was easy for her, she seemed to rush through it as she said Daddy Homer had a massive heart attack and died. I just remember feeling numb and what sounded like bees buzzing in my ears as I tried to make sense of it.

After several minutes of quiet, I had to ask a question that I felt led to hope. What about my birth father? I had wondered about him often; if he knew about me; if he cared about me; where was he? We had had conversations about my birth father before, I would ask questions and she would answer. Did I looked like him (I have his mouth); what does he look like (he was 6’3″ and thin, stawberry blond, ruddy complexion, smile that would light up a room); things like that. I always enjoyed those talks, it connected me to family somehow. I wanted to know where he was in all this? If I would ever know him?

Me with my birth parents, Floe Smiddy and James Monroe – Circa 1967
One of only three photos I have of my birth father.

I think we all long to know about our lineage. We want to know where we come from, what’s our family history? We long to be connected to something larger than ourselves. I think that is why there are so many verses in the Bible about who begat whom. And why Ancestory.com has such a huge following.

But back to my story, after the questions about my birth father poured out, my world crashed again when I asked if I would ever meet my birth father and she told me no, she was sorry, but that he had died too. Not only had he died, he had died a violent death from a gunshot in a bar fight.

He was dead. No reunion, no stories about how he had loved me from afar, he would never know me, never be proud of me, never love me. And BOOM, just like that, a little girl’s childhood dreams of having a Daddy, being Daddy’s little girl vanished.

My hurt was quiet and deep. Honestly, it hurts me to this day. Father’s Day became a day I ignored.

I longed for a traditional family, one that made sense. I had a hard time explaining my family tree to my friends. Heck, I still have a hard time explaining my family tree.

I struggled with resentment, abandonment issues and people-pleasing. That feeling of restlessness and not fitting in plagued me. I couldn’t make sense of the pain inside me. It would be an ongoing struggle throughout my life.

In high school my best friend and her family loved on me and took me to church with them. They introduced me to a Daddy who will never leave me.

In John 14:18 Jesus says; “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” He sees me, lost without a father. 

2 Corinthians 6:18 And,“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” He knows I need Him, He knows I need the feeling of family.

I didn’t know at the time just how much I would need that unconditional love that God offers, but I am so glad I accepted it. I can’t imagine how I would have made it through life without being able to rely on God’s love for me. As I said in a previous blog, my story has many chapters and in all those chapters I needed something I could rely on.

Have a railed against God? Yes! Have I complained and cried and asked for things to be different? Yes! Have I blamed God? Yes! Have I been angry with God? Yes! I am human, I make mistakes, I screw things up, I get things wrong. We all do.

Being a child of God is NOT about BEING perfect, it is about acknowledging that YOU AREN”T PERFECT and turning your life over to the One who is, who can help you carry your burdens and insecurities, listen to your troubles and guide you through the deepest, scariest wilderness into the light.

My life has been a wilderness in a lot of ways. I have gone waaaay off the rails, but He has always guided me back. I will never be perfect this side of heaven and God knows that. He knows and He loves me anyway. God is love. And love is what He wants from you.

I recently read Father Gregory Boyle’s Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship. The quote below resonated with my soul.

“Moral outrage is the opposite of God; it only divides and separates what God wants for us, which is to be united in kinship. Moral outrage doesn’t lead us to solutions – it keeps us from them. It keeps us from moving forward toward a fuller, more compassionate response to members of our community who belong to us, no matter what they’ve done.”

You see, if I am outraged that I missed out on being a Daddy’s girl, if I hold on to that hurt and anger, if I hold on to that outrage over anything someone else does, it separates me from God, not by His doing, by my own. It becomes me pulling away from God and not moving forward. God wants us to be near Him, He wants us to find solutions through Him and love others no matter what they’ve done.

Sometimes we become so caught up in religion and the “right way” to do things we forget, it is not about the building or the pastor or even the service, it is about the LOVE. How we walk with and care for each other. God is Love. God loves everyone. He calls us to love everyone. So I will leave you with this verse.

John 13:34 – A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

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Godspeed, how fast are you going?

I am blessed to work in a place that values God, people and community. We start each Monday with a time of group devotions. This helps me keep my focus on what matters thoughout my week.

Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

Last Monday’s devotional brought me to my knees and made me take a hard look at how I serve others. When you work for a ministry or nonprofit it is all too easy to get bogged down and overwhelmed because the needs of our city are so great. Sometimes you wonder if what you do truly matters, are you making a difference? That is when we have to slow down and remember who we serve.

Our world moves too fast. Can you imagine how our community would change if we just took our time with people? This 30-minute video reminded me that Godspeed is not our speed, we tend to fly by in our own little world at 55 miles an hour when we really need slow down and walk at 3 miles per hour with those we serve. So take some time, slow down for a bit, watch and let me know what you think. https://vimeo.com/200206468

The Space Between

Have you ever had to wait for something? I don’t know about you, but for me waiting is hard.

We are not creatures of change, we like to stay in our comfortable space of knowing what’s next. Especially if you are a planner, you know the steps that will lead you from this to that, but what about when you have no control over those steps? Someone else has to make the decision to take those steps and you have to wait on them, on the process. The space between what we know and what comes next is uncomfortable, at times unbearably so. Uncertainty has a way of filling our hearts with things that are not warm and fuzzy. Things like worry, anxiety, and fear can paralyze us if we let those feelings run rampant. But there is hope.

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That’s where I feel the rubber hits the road. God does some of His best work right there, in that space between this and that. Of course, it is hard to see it while you are in between, when the emotions run away with every possible scenario and your mind is trying to make sense of the chaos your emotions are churning around like butter.

In this in-between space, faith is tested and God does incredible things. My husband will tell you I am terrible at waiting, patience is an area where God is constantly at work with me. When I look back and see how I have struggled in those spaces between this and that, the times when I didn’t rely on my faith, on God, I clearly see how I made things much worse than the times when I opened myself to the possibilities of God had in store for me.

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I know God is at work right now, I am in the space between, even as I type this message.  Sometimes when you hear something, it strikes a cord that wakes up your Spirit and compels you to act, to read, to pray, to listen, to write. Today my pastor said, “my hope is alive in the midst of the storm.” Immediately the verse below came to mind.

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Look at the Israelites, Moses brought them out of captivity, God told them where to go, they were in the process of going and spent 40 years between this and that because they weren’t obedient and open to what God had in store for them. I don’t want to be out of God’s will for me, I want to be obedient. My prayer right now is, “Thank you Lord for this gentle prompting in my Spirit to stay calm, lead me, show me Your path, I am here waiting in the between and I am at peace, help me to keep that peace no matter where the path goes.

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My mantra for the last month has been ” I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds my future.” God is doing a new thing, and while I don’t know what that may be, I know I am to be content no matter how long the between lasts.

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What is Community to You?

Dictionary.com defines Community as: 
  1. a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.
  2.  a locality inhabited by such a group.
  3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists(usually preceded by the): the business community; the community of scholars.
These were the top 3 definitions, as you can see, a community can look different depending on your vantage point. Consider your community, is it a neighborhood, sports team, church, school, work? The list could go on and on.
Recently my church moved into a new community. We have been there a few months and are not familiar with the neighborhood. This move has me pondering how to engage with those around us? I find myself going back to a book we read as a staff at work last year. This little book called The Art of Neighboring really had some practical insights and I highly recommend it.  Why study a book on neighbors? Shouldn’t we love our neighbor as ourselves?
The Art of Neighboring Book

Ask yourself, how often do you intentionally reach out to your actual neighbors? Do you care about what goes on in your neighbors’ lives? Most of us don’t even know our neighbors anymore. So maybe we need this book more than we realize. We come home, through the garage, close the door, retire to our dens or backyard without even seeing those around us. No kind words or even happy waves happen. We are in and we are out.

I believe so many times we alienate ourselves from our neighbors because they don’t look, act, or talk like we do. We are afraid to step out and introduce ourselves or afraid to make a social faux pas because we don’t know the person. But how can you get to know someone unless you step out on faith?
When we were stationed overseas, no matter the country we visited, I always tried to learn, at the very least, how to say “please” and “thank you.” Americans are notorious for expecting you to speak English no matter what, but the ones who at least try to speak the language are blessed with helpful people and forgiveness for butchering their language. My point is, most people are more forgiving if they know you are trying.
I am a strong believer in the power of diversity. As a child, I colored with every crayon in the box. Too often in this world, we tend to gravitate toward sameness,  what we know and where we are comfortable. There is a wealth of richness and beauty in relationships with people who are not the same as you.  You don’t have to agree with someone to care about them. Genuine, loving, long-term relationships with our neighbors requires us to be present, get to know someone by listening to their story. Stories bring us together and allow us to relate on a level we might miss if we don’t have time to listen.
Too often we feel we need to fix people’s problems or tell them what they should do. Most of the time, people just want to be heard, to feel like someone really cares and is there if they need to share.
Matthew 5:43-45
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; 
So my thought for the day is…What is “community” to you?  How do you live that out? How do you connect with those around you? What can you do differently to truly be a good neighbor?

Journey into the unknown

Spaceship parking

Have you ever felt completely out of your wheelhouse? Or thought that you knew something and then it turns out, you actually knew nothing? That is exactly how I felt at my first Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) conference. It was a journey into the unknown, stretching me to new limits.

In 2015 I remember leaving Memphis, where the conference was held, feeling like I had been hit by a truck. So many things bumped up against what I had been taught, against the status quo. It was earth-shattering, mind-blowing and more than I could digest in 3 days.

Yet, I was so moved by Dr. John Perkins and Coach Wayne Gordon’s Bible study every morning, my heart was opening to the possibilities. I was also overwhelmed. What could one person do to turn the tides against hatred, racism, injustice and a host of other wrongs in the world?

This CCDA thing was so much bigger than I realized, so much more personal than I realized. My empathy grew. My heart ached for people to the point of tears. My soul cried out to God, “why does it have to be this way?”  God still hasn’t answered that one, just in case you were wondering. But I keep asking.

I had to accept that as Christians we had gotten much of God’s mission for us wrong. This kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in Heaven part of the plan, we had messed it up. I saw too much hate, intolerance, persecution, pain, and injustice in the church as man has made it across the ages, the ON EARTH part of the equation was non-existent. That was a hard pill to swallow. It hurt to know that as a Christian those who look to me, see hate, intolerance, persecution, and pain, they do not see Jesus. They see the hurt that was put on them by me and others like me. I am not very Christ-like, I will never be, but I am trying. I am convicted.

I mean, who hasn’t been hurt by church? More and more people are stating that they are just DONE with religion and organized church. Why? Hurt in one form or another. But does it have to be this way? No. We can help create that Heaven on Earth, be good and loving to one another.

How? I realized this journey is one of love. Love is the key to it ALL, and that love lives within me. I can change the world, one smile at a time. The challenge is to LOVE EVERYONE, even if they don’t love me, even if they don’t look like me, act like me, worship like me, believe like me, even if I don’t agree, even if I am on opposite side of the debate or the aisle, LOVE MATTERS. Love is never insignificant.

Does that mean we will all gather together and sing Kumbaya, My Lord? Not even close. Too many times we think of love as a soft, warm fuzzy. Anyone who has truly loved knows it’s hard. It is not all sunshine and rainbows. It is one of the hardest things you will ever attempt. And you will fail occasionally. Sometimes you have to do it from a distance. The key is to keep trying. To listen, to respect, to try to see the other side and love even when it doesn’t make sense.

Friends, a word of warning, it is impossible to show love when all you can see and feel is judgment. I grew up under constant judgment, spoken and unspoken, and it has a way of wearing you down until you feel completely insignificant. It is hard to love or be loved from that place.

A place of insignificance is where my journey began. I understood it, and I felt comfortable in my insignificance. I felt I could do nothing to change the course of things, so why try, who would listen to me? Insignificance kept me captive. Love set me free.

Do I have the answer to life’s burning questions? That would be a big, fat NO.

I have long believed judgment should never be mine, that is the Lord’s job, and one WAY too big for me. Rather than judge, I choose to love and to smile.

Can you make someone else’s day brighter with a smile? I challenge you to step out into the unknown and share a smile or a laugh with someone new. I know for your introverts, that will be hard.

You will be amazed at how it will improve your life, reduce your stress levels and begin to build bridges to others who are not like you. Your world will expand and their world will be brightened. You are the light of the world, a city on a hill that can not be hidden.

You may not be able to right the wrongs of someone’s past with a smile, but at least they will see something in you that brings them in, makes them feel a bit better and maybe, just maybe, they will see a glimpse of Jesus in you.

 

If you are interested in learning more about Christian Community Development, I encourage you to follow @iamccda on twitter or https://www.facebook.com/iamccda/ on Facebook. CCDA principles can be found in the book Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development
by Wayne Gordon et al.
Link: http://a.co/0O7tjak

Finding my tribe

Hello gentle readers,

It has been a long while since I’ve posted. My introduction into the world of nonprofits has been a learning experience and while I sometimes still feel like a babe in the woods, I also feel like I have found my tribe. The people of Compassion Coalition are not only my coworkers, they are my family. We pray together, talk about what matters and strive daily to make Knoxville a better place for EVERYONE to live.

I knew they were my tribe from the first hour I began working with them. They get me. I’m an odd duck, so that’s amazing in itself. They also help me be the best version of myself and I enjoy going to work EVERY SINGLE DAY. That is a blessing from God. Nothing worthwhile is easy, and sometimes things are tough, we operate on a shoestring budget, fundraising can be hard, foundations and churches close, coalition members lose funding and are unable to give, yet I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, what we do matters.

It seems, all of my life experience thus far brought me to a place where all of my gifts can be used and appreciated. My people skills, artistic skills, organizational skills but most importantly my spiritual skills. My gift has always been one of encouragement. This position has given me the opportunity to connect with people on a deeper level, hear their story, share hope and help.

While it has been a busy two years, it has also been a period of growth. Stretching my mind, my heart and soul to care more, love deeper and seek justice. This didn’t happen by chance, this job, these people, they care. They care beyond anything I have ever experienced before, and not just for the people they know, their hearts ache for the hurting and marginalized. They help people. People in churches, people on the street, people in the pews and outside the church walls. They help churches cross denominational lines and break down barriers and work together to find common and sometimes uncommon solutions to problems in the community. They connect social work with church work, like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before, yet they are one of the most underutilized community/church resources in town.

Compassion Coalition Staff
Grant Standefer, Jessica Bocangel, Charmin Foth, Gina Whitmore and Carolyn Hansen

Some days it seems impossible to put all that we do into an ‘elevator pitch,’ “Our mission is to inform, equip, and connect churches to transform lives and communities through the love of Christ.” Yet I say, we love people well. That is what we are called to do, and we do it with all that we are. 

In future posts, you will hear more about my journey into the nonprofit life and Christian Community Development (CCD) and as a newbie, how that process has changed me from the inside out. For now gentle readers, I invite you to learn more about the organization I work for, and if you are touched and led as I am, consider giving.

A quote from Sister Simone Campbell at the Christian Community Development Conference this year, #CCDADetroit, says it perfectly, “Our hearts are broken open by the stories that surround us. It is all about community”

 

 

 

A Thank You from the Past

A Thank You from the Past

There are moments of time that stand out more clearly than the moments that surround them. This post is about just such a moment.

I am an old Army wife. During my husband’s Army time, I saw parts the world I might have otherwise missed. I have an abundance of stories from our travels, and eventually I might share them all. As Memorial Day approaches, I felt it was appropriate to share this moment and remember.

We were overseas at a time when embassies were being bombed, and security was just beginning to tighten, in the late 1990s. We were encouraged to be aware of our surroundings, to be careful at all times, and to be observant.

Since Germany is so centrally located in Europe, groups frequently made weekend trips to shop, explore and learn. It was on one of these trips that I went with a group of Army wives to the Dachau concentration camp just outside Munich.

Dachau Gate
The iron gate leading into the camp, says “Work Makes Free.” People were told they were going to “work camps.”

It is a part of German history that the locals don’t like to talk about, but World War II evidence can be found just walking past a local church or building. The country is steeped in history much older than any American city. In most cities, you could still see the damage caused by bullets and mortars from a war before our time on the facades of the huge stone churches and only begin to imagine what transpired nearly 60 years earlier.

Being in that culture makes you want to delve into the history of what our troops went through in an earlier time. Learning from our past we can better understand our present and hopefully not make the same mistakes in our future.

The camp opened in 1933 shortly after Hitler became Chancellor. The camp was designed to house political prisoners, and it was the model for all the other camps that came afterward. In it’s 12 years of operation over 200,000 people were imprisoned, and over 40,000 were murdered. It was also known as a “school of violence” for the SS in training.

Walking through the exhibits and grounds literally made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. You could feel the sadness and devastation, even 55 years later.

From 1959 until 2009 memorials and exhibits were added to the site. In 1967, both the Protestant Church of Reconciliation and Jewish Memorial was erected.

On the path between these two memorials, I noticed an old Polish man in a wheelchair with a blanket across his legs. He had his caregiver wheel him up to where we were standing. He began speaking rapidly in Polish and his caregiver, with a tear in her eye translated. I remember standing there in amazement while what she said sank in; he wanted to thank the Americans and our husbands, the US Army and all who gave their lives and served to free him from the death camp. He said he owed his life to the Americans. He shook our hands, and then his caregiver rolled his wheelchair on down the path. The whole exchange took less than 5 minutes, and it forever changed me.

Dachau_US Troops free Dachau
Liberation of the camp by US Army troops took place on April 29, 1945.

That was one of the most humbling encounters of my life, and seeing how it affected that little old man, one person. Reading about the experience of those interred there and seeing the actual site was one thing, seeing the gratitude, tears and emotion of what our men and women fight for every day, priceless.

In Dachau and other camps millions of lives were devastated. To stand in its confines and see the bullet holes in the stone walls, I will never understand how anyone can believe it didn’t happen.

Dachau sculpture
Picture of the monument created by Nandor Glid, a metal sculpture of skeletal prisoners caught as if in barbed wire. It is a chilling reminder of how many died.