Saturday, September 21, 2013

An Ode to Librarians

I've talked about how much I live this close to Downtown Newnan's "Square" favorite coffee shop, the atmosphere, the local merchants, the events...but I don't think I've ever mentioned the library. 

The Carnegie Library on the Square has to be one of my favorite libraries of all time. It has an atmosphere of welcome...not like "welcome, come find a book and we'll see you next time" but "welcome, come hang out for as long as you like." It's really reminiscent of the library in my hometown so that's probably one of the reasons I love it so much. The selection isn't huge because the majority of the books are donated but they are on an "honor system." There is no library card or checking books out. You pick out your books, tell the librarian how many you are taking and bring them back when you can (No overdue fees! Hallelujah!) 

The other day I was in there working on a computer because the internet at home was having issues. Obviously, since I'm there, I'm going to grab a few books. On a time limit, I grabbed three and walked up to the desk. "Three" I told the librarian. "Only three?" She chuckled. We shared a little more small talk and I walked out into the beautiful almost Fall weather with a grin on my face.

Part of my glee was the fact I have now been into the Carnegie enough times the librarians are starting to recognize me. I really like the staff there and being able to interact with them enriches the experience. Like most humans, I like being known.

And the truth is, I have known and been known by some of the best librarians on the planet. I was thinking of them as I walked back to my car and I just can't resist sharing about some of them with you. If for no other reason than I enjoy sharing the riches life has given...and maybe so you can show some love to the librarians in your life. Unfortunately, most of their names have escaped my heart and mind but not their impact.

There was the librarian at Menlo Elementary. The one who introduced me to the Mary Poppins series (there is so much more to the story than the Disney movie!), who put Louisa May Alcott into my hand, who shared my excitement when my Grandfather gave me the entire Little House On The Prarie series for Christmas, and who told stories about her giant son "George." George was so giant they had to buy tents and tarps to make his clothes and build a special door so he could get in the house. And being so giant, he got into many a fix. She loved books. Even more she loved children.

Living in Gray, the librarian at the public library introduced me to Betsy Byars. And, once I'd read pretty much every book in the Young Adult section (it was pretty small), she bent the rules and let me move on to the adult section (yes, they had rules about that). I still remember the day someone else was at the counter when I placed Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Mists of Avalon" on the desk. This person didn't know I was special, with special privileges and wasn't going to let me check it out until my librarian came up and intervened. I remember she told me I might have bit off more than I could chew but I was insistent. She was actually right. It took me the entire two weeks and I didn't get parts of it (I would re-read it later in life) but I persisted.

In Middle School, the school librarian who told my sixth grade self that she couldn't wait until I was in 8th grade and could read Jane Eyre. She gave it to me in 7th grade. And thus my love for the Brontes was born. She also introduced me to William Shakespeare after I described the incredibly sad movie I'd watched over the weekend (It was Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet). In 8th Grade, she watched me pore over the books learning everything I could about "cancer"...every now and then she would come by and rub my back or put her hand on my shoulder as I tried to understand this disease that was eating away at my Grandma. She also laughed as I showed up the aides who came from the high school when they quizzed me about the books I returned because they suspected I wasn't actually reading them but trying to get out of class.

In high school and back in Menlo, I'd ride my bike to the small library close to the center of town. The librarian was fierce and put up with no silly behaviors. She never said but I'm pretty sure she suspected that I was there as much for my love of books as I was to "get away" and so she tolerated me. Then one day she told me if I was going to be there all the time, I might as well make myself "useful." And she let me put books away (you have no idea the amount of trust that took for her!), decorate the bulletin boards (I'd put that skill to use again as a Headstart Teacher), clean and get things ready for summer book clubs. We didn't talk much but enjoyed each other's company.

I wonder...which came first...the love of books or the love of the librarian? I'm so grateful to these women who showed me love, introduced me to their favorite books, and shared their fascination of the written word with me. If you are a librarian, I hope you know the impact you have. I hope you know that 22, 28 and even 35 years later, your influence will resonate in someone's life. Thank you for all you do!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Power of "I'm Sorry" (and other ideas for peaceful conflict resolution)

I sat there.

My Dad to the left of me, holding my hand. My husband to the right. He'd been holding my hand but had let it go the more irate he got. The psychiatrist sat across from us.

I was 48 hours into a mandatory 72 hour inpatient hospital stay.

I was 20 years old.

Three days before, I'd given up. I was certain enough that nothing was ever going to get better. That I was never going to feel better. I was tired. I just wanted to be done. So, while my husband was at work, I went into the bathroom and took all of my medication. Even the Saint John's Wort (the warning on the label said you could overdose on it...).

And now, I was in a mental hospital. With my husband and my father arguing about who had hurt me more. Who had done the most damage. Who was most at fault for the fact I sat here, in this place, alive but not okay. But my state of being didn't seem to be the issue at this point. It was more about blame.

I hadn't gotten a word in edgewise. Hadn't tried. Just sat there looking down into my lap. I finally looked up at the psychiatrist, looked her in the eye and thought "Do you get it now?" She flashed me a sardonic grin. And finally asked "What do you think Cindy?"

I said "I think the person responsible for how I feel is me. It's not about what's been done to me, it's about how I feel about it. I'm responsible."

Suddenly my husband and father, who minutes before had been yelling at each other, were allies and taking turns explaining to the psychiatrist that this was indeed my fault.

They still didn't get it. At that point, it didn't matter whose fault it was. It didn't matter what had happened to get me this way. What mattered was that I was this way and the focus needed to be how to help me get better.

The truth was that they'd both hurt me but that didn't make them solely responsible for what I'd done. However, the guilt they felt was so uncomfortable that they were too busy trying to dismiss point fingers at make themselves feel better...they couldn't focus on me and what the real problems were. And how to solve them. They felt like an "I'm sorry" made them solely responsible and condemned them as bad people. And it didn' just meant they were human. Imperfect...and willing to say so.

I don't bring this up to point fingers at my Dad (who I still miss on an almost daily basis) or my ex-husband. In fact, it's been years since I thought about that incident until today. I don't even know the girl sitting there (For real, have I been that quiet since then?). But it brings up several points about conflict, the issues that we are struggling with on a personal, national, even worldwide level.

1) The first step of conflict resolution is not to establish blame. The Democrats and Republicans in our country prove that. More than likely (in most cases), all parties bear some sort of responsibility. There might need to be a time of "Hey, sorry I did so and so" but it does not need to be followed up with "but you did so and so and that makes you worse than me" Before someone misunderstands, let me explain. I know, for a fact, that I am not responsible for what happened to destroy my marriage. I am, however, to blame for some of the problems in our marriage. I'm not asking anyone to take on false guilt or apologize for something that isn't their fault. I'm just saying we can begin to resolve the conflict if all parties are willing to admit they are imperfect.

2) The first step in conflict resolution is to honestly access what the problem actually is. That might be different things to different people, especially at first glance. For instance, my husband thought my Dad's alcoholism was the problem. My Dad thought the fact I'd married a jerk was the problem. And I was too concerned with the effects active charcoal had on the body to really care what the actual problem was. Getting to the root of an issue will take some digging and you cannot be distracted by symptoms or causes (both might or will have to be dealt with later but the priority is to identify the root cause). My Dad was alcoholic for most of my life. When he quit drinking, he became addicted to sweets. (Seriously, he kept cases of Little Debbie cupcakes in his trunk.) When he became overweight because of the snack cakes, he became addicted to coffee. He had two pots in the was always ready, the other brewing. Then it was Diet Dr Pepper. And then, after he hurt his back, it was pain medication. There was never a point in my Dad's life from the time he was 17 years old that he wasn't an addict...because no one ever actually identified the problem, what the root cause of his addiction was.

3) Conflict resolution can be messy, takes compromise...and time. Be willing to say that resolving a problem is more important than getting your way in all things. Be willing to let things go. I know that to remedy situations, restore relationships and for the sake of my own mental health I have had to let some things have most of the over-comers I know. Again, that is not to say lay down and be a victim...but you may never know why something happened or someone said that, you may never get the perfect apology and the remedy for a problem might take some compromise so that you get some things you want and they get some things they want. Be willing to work things out as you go along. Some things you thought might work, might not. Sometimes resolution actually means there needs to be distance between you and someone or something else. And it takes a lot of time. More time than you want it have to put the same principles in practice repeatedly.

4) Forgiveness is worth it. Several years ago I was at a prayer event in Birmingham, AL. The event occurred on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's death and the focus was on reconciliation. There were people of every color and we'd worshiped together, learned together, prayed together. Beautiful is an understatement. At one point we were taking communion together. I was compelled to look at the lady next to me and say "I'm sorry." I told her that I was sorry for the prejudice in my family, the way I'd looked the other way, the jokes they'd told. That I was sorry for the systematic dehumanizing that she had endured for years as a black woman in the South. I was a little nervous as I said it. For all I know she could be from Maine or Saint Thomas...she might never have experienced prejudice in her life (though unlikely). All I knew is, I was supposed to say it. And she looked at me and said "I forgive you" And tears started to fall and before I knew it she was hugging me and sobbing. Somehow, in saying it to me...she was able to begin the process of forgiving those who had actually harmed her. And she had been harmed. Her family had been harmed.  None of the people who'd actually harmed her were there to make amends. And her forgiveness certainly didn't make what they had done okay. But it meant that she was able to let go, to heal, to begin to release the distrust and bitterness against all white people she'd felt for years. It was necessary for her resolution and it's necessary for yours.

It's basic. It's simple. But I also think that if we could apply some of this to our relationships, to our politics, to our attitudes that we could see real change. If we could stop pointing fingers and really understand the problems our nation faces...and not the smoke bombs but the real problems...homelessness, poverty, prejudice, a broken system that no longer represents all the people but the richest and special interest groups who can afford the lobbyist...then we could begin to affect change. If we are willing to let go of the "I'm Right and you're Wrong" and see the positives in each other even as we admit our own humanity and mistakes. Then we could do something about the terminal negativity that is dividing us and creating this vitriolic atmosphere.

And for those of you who are hurting. Who are done. Who think it's time to let go. I do not make promises but I will make this one. It does get better. Your existence matters. You bring good to the planet and people around you. Getting help can be scary, it will be hard, but it will help...and it's definitely the right thing to do.

Trevor Lifeline (24/7) 866-488-7386
NCPL 1-800-273-8255

Monday, September 2, 2013

For You Not Against You

Church...and by that I don't mean a building, or a denomination or a para-church organization. I mean THE church. The one that believes there is a God, that believes that God longs for relationship with us, that He sent His Son Jesus to earth, that Jesus modeled the disciple life and then became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins so that we didn't have to be separated from God forever. That church.

The church that reads "Love your neighbor as yourself"
The church that reads "Go into all the world..."
The church that reads "For God so loved the world..."

The church that is so busy in your political posturing and finger pointing and condemnation and making sure the world knows what you are against that you forgot to tell them what you are for, what God is for...and what He told you to be about.

The church that is so busy circling the wagons and protecting itself that it is losing a battle for your children.

The church that needs to know when you are so incredibly loud in your condemnation of Miley Cyrus that you forget to tell the teenagers in your church that God loves her, you are alienating them. Because they feel that judgement on themselves. They are struggling with their sexuality and what the media is telling them and wanting to be accepted and instead of opening a dialogue with them you are picking up your bullhorn.

And  you are losing them.

When you are so busy denouncing same sex marriage as the downfall of all marriages and you are dehumanizing the LGBT community as the "enemy" and the teenagers in your church have friends who are LGBT or are wondering about themselves and you forget to tell them about grace.

You are losing them.

You are pointing your finger at so many but when Fred Phelps and his hate mongers protest the funerals of innocent victims or Pat Robertson makes the most ridiculous accusations about "special rings" and the deliberate spreading of HIV, you remain silent because you are afraid that to denounce them would negatively impact the church's freedom of speech or freedom of religion. So the world looks at them and thinks "this is what Christianity looks like" and you aren't saying any different. And the kids in your church don't want the world to think that that is what they are like so they no longer publicly affiliate themselves with the church or even as Christians.

You are losing them.

The church that believes you walk into a building on a Sunday morning wearing your church mask because the church is no longer a place to be hurting and broken but a place to act like we have it all together. So your kids no longer believe they can go into their youth group and confess they cheated on a test, that they struggle with self injury, that they don't know what to do with their life. They believe that they have to carry this fake "image" and it either breaks them or they refuse to wear it so they refuse to go to church. And they are hurting, depressed and falling...and the church is no longer the place to catch them.

We are losing them.

It is time. It's time to lay down our agenda and live what God told us to live. Love. We are supposed to be known for our love. Not our political party. How is it that if I'm a Christian, I'm automatically supposed to be conservative Republican? (I'm not) That I'm automatically against same sex marriage. Against gun control. Pro-Life (but that doesn't mean I'm against the death penalty or approved as a foster parent).

Don't get me wrong...part of this is the media's fault and I'm not even getting started on them (I've done it further down in my blog posts).

But a big part of it is the church.

It's time to preach the message that we were meant to preach. And that does not mean that we are okay with culture (I will fight the "pimp" word until my last breath). And it doesn't mean that we are conforming. And it doesn't mean we are okay with sin. It means that we are busier preaching what we are for than what we are against.

It means looking at our kids and saying
"We are for you."
"God is for you"
"God is longing for a relationships with you. Literally longing for it." And don't follow that up with but only if you don't do this, if you take out your gages, or get a haircut...

Let the church be a place for the broken again. Let the husband admit his battle with porn, the Mom confess her temper problem and the teenager cry out because her body doesn't look like what magazines tell her beauty is so she stopped eating.

You look at your youth group and you think "Not our kids."
But, yes. Your kids. Your kids are hurting. Confused by the messages they get from the TV and music. And they need to know the church is the place to come to confront all of love. That the church bands together not to fight against the world but to fight for it. That we were called out by God to go, preach the message of love to the world and make disciples. 

If we need to have a political message let it be one of justice. Fight for the oppressed, the impoverished, the widow, the orphan. Fight for our kids.

Make no mistake. The enemy is after them. And if we aren't paying attention...and as a church, we are failing to pay attention...then little by little...

We will lose them.