Wednesday, September 5, 2012

just what I needed to hear

I only spent three years with this group of people, but I fell in love with them.  They became my family.  I left them to move to Charlotte seven years ago.  Each year, I try to visit them and they visit me.  This time, we spent the weekend together.  We hosted the community meal, gave away book bags, shared stories, worked on projects, ate, and hung out together.  When it was time for them to go, I didn't want them to leave.  I felt like saying, "Don't go!  I don't want to do this alone.  Stay!"

And then he said just what I needed to hear.  "Helms, we are proud of you.  We are praying for you a lot.  You are doing good work.  Don't give up.  Keep on going."

Thanks, friends, for reminding me that I am not alone.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

August 14, 2012

Tuesday, August 14th

Jason called at 1:30am. He saw police cars. Greg went outside. A shooting. Later, the news said a teenager had been shot.

7:30am- Dave called. Jane Bass died. Cathy was headed to Hospice.

I hopped in the shower and headed to hospice care. Greg was taking boys to the babysitter and then going to work.

When I arrived, Cathy met me at the break room. We walked together into Jane’s room. A candle was lit outside. Music was playing. I hugged Jon’s neck and walked toward the bed where Jane’s body lay. I don’t think I have ever seen a dead body before it went to the mortician. I thought I’d be scared. I got closer and worried I’d show my fear on my face. Jon touched the body. Cathy kissed her. I couldn’t. I couldn’t touch her. I wanted to. I wanted to touch her because I thought it might be a healing experience for the family. I wanted not to be scared and creeped out. But I was. I’m ashamed of that.

I reached out and placed my hand beside her, on the bed, and said, “We loved you very much, Jane.” What I really meant to say was, “I loved you very much, Jane.” And I did. Jane was just what I needed at the right time. She was blunt and honest, but caring and compassionate. She was spunky and tacky and funny…sometimes not meaning to be. And I liked it. I liked her. I liked how she made me feel loved. I like how she listened and chewed on what I was saying . She let me know that she took seriously what I had to say. I loved that she came to my craft sale and bought some earrings…and those things were so tacky! God love her!

Then, Cathy and I chatted in the room while we waited for the funeral home to get there. She retold some of the stories of their time at the Hospice house. DJ came in and was happy to see me. I was wishing we’d seen each other at a different time. It felt awkward to have a happy reunion in the middle of a death bed scene. At some point, both Cathy and DJ left the room. For that split second of time when I was by myself with Jane, I wanted to go over and say something to her, but didn’t want to at the same time. I was worried I might get too upset and was a little afraid. So, from where I was seated, I looked over at her and whispered, “thank you.” I got choked up with just that little whisper and had to reign myself in. I wanted to tell her that she reminded me of my own grandmother and that I loved that. I loved that she had little to no pretention about her. I loved that she spoke her mind. I loved that she sometimes made people feel uncomfortable because she was so brash. I loved that she hugged me and gave me kisses on the cheek. I loved that she welcomed me in and acted like she wanted me to be there. But, I didn’t say any of these things because…well, I’m not sure why….maybe it is because she wasn’t there to hear them. Maybe it is because I didn’t want to get wrapped up in my own emotions. Maybe it is because I should have said it when she was alive.

The processional that Hospice does in order to move the body to the funeral home is very meaningful. They asked us to leave the room and they moved her body to a stretcher and but her in a body bag. They allowed her face to still show. Then, they came and got us and led us all down the hall. All the staff people were in the hall, standing silently. DJ gave the prayer shawl to Cathy and the “herb of remembrance”, rosemary, to Jon. He said a prayer and we walked the rest of the way with Jane’s body to the vehicle. Music was playing in the hallway.

And then, we went back and got the rest of our things and left. I was in the car getting ready to leave the Hospice house when I called Greg.

I knew Greg was going to tell me who was shot. I’d sort of prepared a list of people who might have been the victim. I was ready, or so I thought. Greg said I needed to stop the car. I did. He said the person who got shot was Khalil and he was dead. I was in a total state of shock. I couldn’t say anything. I hung up the phone and dropped my head on the steering wheel.

This can’t be happening. It just isn’t possible. Khalil isn’t one of the ones who’d be out late at night. He’s not a bad kid. Quite the opposite, in fact. Khalil is a very good kid. He’s happy and playful. He’s compassionate and helpful. He’s friendly and smart. He wanted to go to college. He was getting good grades. He was in our youth group. He took care of me and my boys and all of us. How could this be?

I took a moment and then began to drive home, sobbing the whole way. Groaning in pain. Moaning in agony. What in the deepest hell is going on here? Why was he out at night? Why didn’t we hear the shots? If only I’d heard the shots, I could have been there to hold him, to comfort him. I couldn’t control my own voice. I tears were streaming down and my insides sent growls of anger and pain out that even I didn’t recognize. Oh, I was angry. Why Khalil? What in the world are we doing here if not to save boys like Khalil from dying on our streets? What kind of world do we live in where 13 year olds bleed to death on sidewalk corners? Why does a 16 year old have a gun? Why does anyone have a freakin’ gun!

I drove in the driveway and Greg was on the front porch. I practically crawled out of the car and only made it halfway to the house before stopping. My body shook, my mind turning in circles. What is going on?

Greg met me.

I changed my shoes. We walked up to the corner. Not even 20 steps. Khalil’s blood on the cement. My baby’s blood on the cement. It was true. This is horrible. This is grotesque. This is evil. This is too much.

Shoulders dropped and head hung, we walked in a grey cloud down to Tyler and Felix’ house. We wanted to get to all the youth and talk to them. We gave hugs. We listened to questions. We left. Back at the corner, a large group of family arrived. Flowers marked the grave. A song was sung. Words were spoken. Weeping, wailing.

Neighbors, friends, youth came. We gave hugs. We listened to questions. We cried. Time passed and Khalil was gone.

Myra sobbed. She doubled over in agony. She was so angry and upset. She didn’t want anyone to touch her, but she needed something to hold her in. I pulled her to me. We were hurting, the both of us. She couldn’t stand that his blood was on the sidewalk. Neither could I. I determined I would be the one to wash away the blood.

Bucket, brush, and water in hand. “There is a balm in Gilead…” On hands and knees, I scrubbed the stain from the pavement. “…to heal the sin sick soul…” I felt like one of the women at the tomb. The washing away of the blood felt like a prayer, a release, a commitment,…it felt sacred and pure and holy.

We heated up food and opened up the clubhouse for youth. We put out markers and poster board and a banner and paints. We let them make what they needed to make. We talked and asked questions. We wrote our thoughts. We hung our thoughts on the fence. Others came and added to our creations.

Folks from outside the neighborhood called and came by. They helped take care of children, make food, and stood present with us.

With the youth’s ideas, we organized a vigil. 300 or more came. We listened as folks shared and remembered. We released our prayers into the sky with balloons. I felt like I was being released from Khalil. It was a relief. I had felt like he’d been on my back all day…following me…talking to me…bothering me with his silly annoyances. Letting him go was helpful …and sad.

We will continue to walk with neighbors. We will continue to walk with the Schroeder’s and Jane’s family and friends. This week, we walk the life’s journey all the way to the end, at death, where we are reminded of our Maker, redeemer, and Savior who can wash away the horrors and sins of this world.

Lord, give us your grace.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Why I almost didn't vote AGAINST Amendment One

Let me be clear.  I voted against Amendment One.  The Amendment is discriminatory and wrong on many levels.  I never would have voted for it, but I almost didn't vote against it.  Here's why:

* You can't take a stand half way!
All of the sudden, people started coming out of the woodwork, ready to talk a lot and raise their voices to fight against prejudice and discrimination.  Where were these people when Melody Ann was told she couldn't get a job at Kmart because "we're not hiring people like you?"  Where were these people when Raeshawn and I were being verbally attacked by a police officer because he had dreads and I was challenging the officer's words?  These people are up in arms because of discrimination, yet they discriminate against people of color and lower socioeconomic backgrounds all the time.  They are coming out to take a stand, yet they're not willing to stand in the line at the Family Dollar or Quick and Easy on Freedom Drive.  They are shouting words of liberty, yet they'd never think of putting themselves in a situation where they'd be shouting cheers for their children as they play on a team at a school like West Charlotte High school.  They wouldn't dare send them there.  These folks are posting signs in their front yards; yards that have fences and security systems to keep every stranger away.

*Church and State
Who cares what the state does?  We aren't the state.  We are the church!  The church can and should recognize marriage.  The church and and should provide care and resources to her body.  The church could, if she wanted to, provide an environment of support, nurture, and even benefits to her people if the people really invested in the church.

*Church People (And I'm one of them)
They talk, but they don't act.  They point to the problems, but don't fathom themselves as the solution.  They pray prayers that they could answer if they tried.

* Privileged people (And I am one of them)
People of privilege took up this issue.  (That always makes me leery.)  And they get angry when others do not.  What they don't realize is that others got a whole lot more to worry about than voting and politics.  Some people are ignorant because no one of privilege has taken the time to educate them.  Some people aren't educated because no one of privilege has stooped so low as to learn a new language and speak within a different set of cultural norms.  Why didn't some people vote against?  Because they live in a different world than you do; speak a different language, worry about different issues.

*The people you care about (Am I one of them?  Is my neighbor one of them?)
When you were standing up and shouting out, you were paying close attention to Brooks and Pat, two middle class white ladies who love one another.  I like them too.  I think they are important.  But you forgot to mention Mary Ann and Nate or Joe and Shondella.  They aren't married for several reasons.  Social services benefits are better for them when they aren't married, church people have turned them off and away, no one is married in their family and they don't even know all the steps how or why to get married.  These people have faces too, just like Brooks and Pat.  But you don't see them.  You don't know them.  You refuse to venture to where you might see them unless maybe you might ignore their faces as they bus your table or mow your lawn.

Why now?  Why weren't you shouting before?  Is it out of convenience?  The safety in numbers? 

*Self Righteousness (of which I have a tremendous amount, unfortunately)
"Look at me.  I am radical.  I am taking a stand.  I say things to stir people up.  I want to be very public in my proclamations.  Everybody, see and pay attention to the fact that I say I believe this way."  That kind of mess gets annoying.

But, I did vote AGAINST and will hope that the good fight will be not just against the Amendment, but against all these other things as well.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


A creepy man tried to get me to come over to his truck the other day.  I was walking down the street and saw him at his house, in the driveway.  I try to make an effort to acknowledge everyone I walk by.  His dogs were barking and had scared the man in front of me off of the sidewalk and onto the other side of the road.  Following in the other walker's tracks, I spoke to the dog owner jokingly saying, "They're doing their job, aren't they?"   The man didn't say anything back to me.  He just gestured for me to come closer and pointed into the back of his pick up truck.  I looked with crooked eyebrows and said, "What?"  He said, "Come here.  Do you want some of this?" And then he pointed at something I couldn't see in the back of the truck.  I looked at him with a grossed out face that probably said something like, "You've gotta be kidding me!"  He figured out that I was uncomfortable and shrugged his shoulders and said, "I'm just kidding.  I just wanted to say 'Hello'."  He moved a little closer and I moved further away.  I said, "Hello, then." picked up my step, and got out of dodge.

GROSS!  Yuck!  Sick!  Bleh! Cringe! 

the things you hear

Yesterday, I met someone new.  Come to find out, according to him he was one of the "originals" that took to living together and extending their home to homeless folk on the other side of town.  I hadn't met him before, but I'd met some of the "originals", so I said something like, "Oh really!  Well, we know them.  They've been over here several times and we've talked.  Our friend used to live over there with yall.  I'm surprised we hadn't run into each other before."  And his response is, "Yeah, I'd heard there were some older people doing community over here, but had never had the chance to stop by and visit."  I burst into laughter.  Older people?  Are you joking?  I'm 34 years old!
He goes on to explain that he looks a lot older than he really is.  He has a degree, but it is a two year degree.  He's not old at all, he's 21.

Well, I won't go into how I felt at his "accusation" of me being old or how I am sort of annoyed that somehow he heard through the grapevine that there were older people doing community over here.  The thought of several people talking about us in a way that leads others to believe that we're old...and in this instance, he made it sound like old wasn't good ( or else why wouldn't he have come to visit sooner?) just rubs me the wrong way.

24 hours later, and I can't get the comment out of my head. But what's bothering me more his lack of manners and sensitivity is his...and maybe, potentially, other's perception of me, us, our community.

So we're not hipsters.  We don't wear tight pants and have visible tatoos.  I don't use hair product or know how to use all the apps on my smart phone.  Does this make us old?  Bad?  Not cool?  And then there's the fact that we don't wear baggy clothes and we don't have dreads, we don't wear potchouli.  Does this make us less than cool? 

And if people are talking about us in a way that seems to include some language that describes us in a not so popular or pleasant way, could this be one of the reasons why we haven't managed to gain committed community members. 

I know there are things about ourselves that others cannot see.  Are we old? dated? uncool?

I honestly thought we were living radically, doing things differently, being creative, and making our best attempt at being faithful.  I wanted to think that people thought we were cool but just couldn't buy into the radical nature in which we live.  I wanted to think that the reason we couldn't gain in number was because personalities clashed or the neighborhood or community just wasn't the right fit.  I can swallow these thoughts, though they are not pleasant.  But, if what this guy says is true, then there are people who are making attempts to live radically and they are doing things differently, but they are choosing not to do it with us...evidently because we're old, dated, "mature in our faith" is what he tried to smooth things over by saying. 

"Wise, experience, and seasoned," I'd much rather be described by these adjectives.  But, then the question still sits there...if he knew there were people living in intentional community and offering their homes as places of hospitality, much like him, then why didn't he make the connection earlier?  The only thing I can figure is that we weren't...enough.  I can't really think of it any other way.  To be a communitarian means to be in touch with and in partnership with other folks, especially those who are doing the same work and living similar lifestyles. 

We'd had contact with his folks (and others) because we respected what they were doing, wanted to show our support, and valued the perspective they had.

I know it's not the best place to land and that I might not be able to see all the sides of the story, but I'm left with a feeling of, well plainly put, not being valued. 

No body likes that feeling, including me.

I don't think the guy meant to say what he did.  It was probably a little slip up.  But it spoke volumes to me. Now I've just gotta figure out what to do about it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What I want/need

At this stage, I'm not so sure I can tell the difference between what I need and what I want.  Everything seems so pressing and urgent, it feels like a need.  But, in the big reality of life, these things maybe aren't necessities at all.  I also have a hard time recognizing the difference between a personal need and a Hyaets need.  The line is so blurry and crooked- moving this way and that for different people.  I'm not going to worry about which one's which.  I'm just going to list them.  Time will tell:

*A couple really good friends that I can call without feeling like I'm interrupting something or intruding and speak honestly without worrying about hurting feelings or sounding ugly.* For some of the things on our Hyaets Wish list to be completed by a generous soul or group of souls so that we can feel like it is ok to start wishing again.*To find the right people to collaborate with on several projects- people that'll be creative and open and make things happen:  Youth partnership with other youth groups that are demographically similar for things like camp, mission trip, retreats, etc; Small business ideas (personal and Hyaets related) that may be helpful in supporting neighbors/ministry * Space and Time for creating things (without feeling guilty) * dining room painting party helpers * dining room table painting party helpers * publishing software that makes photo edits and calendar making a breeeze * someone give me an ipod with all of my favorite music on it and a bunch of stuff I've never heard but will like with some headphones that are bigger than pennies * a different couch &  a different chair- ones that actually fit in our living room * a couple (maybe three) community members that I can really relate to and feel supported by * 3-5 discerning students who are passionate about service and simple living who would come and live and minister with us at Hyaets * the rural Hyaets inititiative to get started and cleanly break off with happiness and excitement about all thatthey could be * an outdoor shower * a screened in back porch * W/D upstairs rather than in the dirty cellar that you get to by going down the stairs of death* One car that fits at least 6 people that is cute, safe, and efficient* someone to redo the floor in the clubhouse so that it is not constently attracting and keeping dirt * lead based paint removal*  window replacement- but I want them to look like the ones we have now*  preschool registration to be decided on and followed through with*  dental appt for JTJ to be scheduled*  taxes to be figured out*  Z's SSN to finally arrive (he turns 2 in June, people)*  financial planning session with someone who does not believe in hoarding and consumerism*  a coach*  a group of people to take my ideas to who will give feedback and "buy in" with action to the ones they feel interested in....I'm sure there's more.  That's a good list for now.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Who I want to be

I want non-neighbors to see me as: faithful, dedicated, creative, smart, hard working, sacrificial, loyal, honest, thoughtful, compassionate.

I want neighbors to see me as: a good listener, friend, helper, cheerful, resourceful, welcoming, open

I want to see myself as: artist, mother, minister, gardener, good neighbor, host, leader, creative, productive

Other qualities that seem important for one reason or another: cleanliness, order, being a non-anxious presence, being able to see places that need improvement, being able to notice when my values don't line up with my lifestyle and making changes to line them up more correctly, having friends/support group, making space for beauty