How To Change the World This Thanksgiving With Pumpkin Pie

One thing you might not know about me is that I spent 7 years working in residential property management. A season in my early adult life that I regard with great fondness. It was hard work. But I was young and ambitious and a single mom with a mouth to feed. I climbed the ladder in a few short years and acquired the management position to lead a new development project – 130 units in the suburbs of Minneapolis. While the property was high-end luxury, a certain percentage of the units were reserved for low income families. The model was a relatively new [at the time] tax incentive for development investors. In reality it was a co-mingling of social and economic classes. A test, of sorts. And my property would be a guinea pig.

The year was 2000. I scrambled all year long to market, promote and lease up those apartment units. I even picked one for myself [and my daughter] and moved in. By the end of August we neared 100% occupancy. The low-income units, mostly three bedrooms to accommodate larger families, were the first to get gobbled up. Somehow, in the rapid lease-up process, a large community of Somalian refugees learned of our availability, applied for housing, and settled for a beautiful, brand new apartment in the burbs. I was pleased with the success of that work and was ready to get into the groove of more normal managerial duties.

Not so.

As the first of September rolled around, I received a slightly panicked phone call. It was the elementary school’s principle. In two short weeks over 100 children, new to the district, registered for class. Most of the students were of Somalian decent, and the school was not prepared to offer ESL to this many students mere days before the start of a new school year.

This launched a completely new and unexpected campaign, for me. I called it the The Foundation.  [Because one night I was awoken from my sleep, deeply moved with a thought or dream or vision that had me huddled on the bathroom floor with my Bible. There was a terrible impression that I was being asked to “build a foundation for the children.” This, of course, was well before I really understood the way in which God can and does speak through dreams. All I knew was that I needed to put a plan into action.] So, the very next day, I began. To my surprise all these civic and religious groups came out of the woodwork with resources and programs and money. The school district, the city, the police department and two local churches. We collaborated and united for the children. Before long a full running after school program was in place. The children, many of whom had stolen my heart, were happy.

Little did I know, at the time, the ripple effect this little lease up project would have on an entire city.

Then, 9/11. 

The atmosphere changed in a blink. So much fear. So much uncertainty. So much grief. So much anger. Suddenly, our quaint community filled with a rainbow of nations, colors, and classes seemed to echo the same question-cry through untold, glossy eyed stares: Are we safe here?

In the weeks that followed, putting on a confident smile was like worming into a pair of jeans with wet legs. Not easy. Everyone who lived in the apartments felt like an extended family member, to me. I cared deeply for all of them. And I wanted to reassure all of them that we were going to be ok.

 

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The week of Thanksgiving, 2001 was special, for so many reasons. America was grieving. And yet there was more unity than ever before. On the eve of Thanksgiving I remember preparing several pies to bring to my family gathering a few hours away. As I mixed the ingredients and poured batter into formed shells, one family, a single woman with five children kept coming to mind. She lived down the hall from me. She was a Somalian refuge, and someone I’d felt a special tug to nurture during her cultural transition. My heart had come to adore each of her bright smiling children. As I placed each pie into the oven I thought about the recent events in my nation and wondered too about the events she’d witnessed in her own.

In a blink I felt so much connection. So much love. I knew just what to do.

“Thankfulness is not some magic formula; it is the language of Love, which enables you to communicate intimately…” -Sarah Young

I rose early the next morning and delivered one Pumpkin pie with a note that read, “Happy Thanksgiving!” And something about America and you are welcome and blessed to be here.

When I returned to my office the following week I found one empty pie plate, traced with a few crumbs, sitting on my desk. Perfectly empty. I smiled.

Empty never felt so full.~

 

[Note: I’ve always wondered what ever happened to The Foundation. Do they still offer programs for the children? Two years ago, while traveling through these old stomping grounds, curiosity got the best of me and I stopped in at the rental office. I introduced myself to the manager and asked about the program. “Oh yes,” she said “the program is very much still running.” ]
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One Idea That Trumps Fear & Moving On

I made a terrible mistake. I realize it now. But November 9th got the best of me. While I wanted to remain silent, barring the frenzy which took to the streets of social media, the encourager in me felt the dire need to just say something. So, less than 12 hours after the official declaration of America’s next President I posted this:

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I do believe that most people live in dark places…hurting places, hard places, stuck places. And I do believe that those who carry the torch of God’s love and light have a responsibility to use it wisely, be bold, and pass it on. Now more than ever.

I made the post and moved #onward.

At least I tried. But I didn’t get very far because the cries of nation in mourning are like a baby wailing in the night. It’s not long before exhaustion sets in and the hunger for an ounce of peace and quiet cause normal people to do crazy things. So, I’ve stayed awake, vigilant, listening to broken hearts, terror filled lungs screaming bloody murder, seething anger, and bitter mockery. I rock in my chair, hoping for peace and calm, but the cries don’t cease.

Over the weekend it hit me!

This is full onset grief.

OUR NATION IS LARGELY GRIEVING.

Grief; a familiar cousin, a business partner. I know this grief well. I’ve observed it, studied it, and held its firm hand. But somehow, perhaps due to its seismic proportions (too grand), I missed seeing it for what it truly has become. Which is why, now, I’m regretting the notion that moving #onward was / is appropriate for such a time as this.

It’s a classic response to someone in pain: Move on!

Who tells the young widow in her grief to move on?

Who tells the parent of a wayward child to move on?

Who tells the African American in their frustration to just move on?

It’s a horrible response to someone in pain. And I know better. I’m sorry.

For reasons I’ll explain I have somehow remained quite calm during this election cycle. Mostly unshaken. Not unlike previous elections where my emotional thermometer has spiked record highs. It’s odd to me, this state I’m in. I’ve spent some time internalizing why it’s different for me this time and I’ve concluded the following:

I chose to unplug. Long ago I disconnected from the barrage of media. That’s not to say I’ve been living with my head under a rock. It’s only to say that I choose when and where to gather my information (and please, for those who care, it is my strong opinion that information gathering ought to be sought from multiple sources; leaning and swaying, including and opposing my internal beliefs. Why? Because balance is best obtained when both sides of the scale have been put under pressure.)

I chose to go inward. For me, I need to turn my mind and my spirit inward otherwise fear and anxiety will tear me apart. I’ve learned that if there is fear or anger or hatred beneath my chest, I must discover the root. Meditation on God’s word is where I choose to bring those fleshly battles.

Meditation; the art of reading, speaking out loud, and reflecting upon written love and law quips my heart with a hope on things eternal.

Inward is becoming a lost art in our busy, media laden world. I know, I know that we ought to use our voices to speak out against the injustices of the world. Wholeheartedly, yes! But not without proper preparation. Would you want a med student with a desire and passion to heal heart disease without any training or first hand guidance to perform your heart surgery? Heck no! If we want to see peace come to pass out there…we must come to first discover it within.

There will come a time for each one of us to move #onward.  

Suggesting movement is natural. Especially when get too close to another person’s raw pain. We want an exit plan…and fast. So we push and hustle to hurry things along. But that’s not how it works. Grief is mysterious, taking on a life of it’s own. Time can heal. But my time is mine. Your time is yours. If God is working everything out for good in each one of us…then we must let go of our agenda and timetable and only trust that he is working it all out for each one of us uniquely.

But first we must move #inward.

Let us fight to find a quiet place today. Turn off the radio. Buckle ourself into contemplation and listen, really listen. Write out those fears. Write and write until the ink runs dry. Pour it all out. Weep and weep and pour it all out. Stay here for as long as it takes. Don’t take to the streets. Stay here, just stay here ’till the preparation of peace has been placed upon our feet.

Then, my friend, may we consider a posture of compassion. Then, my friend, may we rise. Straight. Equipped to bear another’s burden. A posture of no fear. A trembling in our core that the heartbeat of hope is still very much alive.

 
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A Balloon Story on a Windy Day

Once there was a young 10 year old English girl named Laura Buxton who had an idea. One day she wrote her name and address upon a small piece of paper, rolled it up, tucked it into a pink balloon and filled it with helium. Then she waited for the most perfect windy day. When the day came she walked onto her driveway and released her pink balloon.

Some time and distance passed. Nearly 140 miles away in a remote countryside village another young English girl discovered the pink balloon and penned Miss Laura Buxton a note.

Upon receiving the note, Laura Buxton was shocked to discover that the recipient of her balloon was the exact same age as herself, and, most awesomely, shared the exact same name, Laura Buxton! The two became fast friends. When they eventually met they were amazed, yet again, at their similarities; both of the girls looked so much alike. And also, they discovered that they each owned pet Guinea Pigs, which, you guessed it, shared similar markings.

The marvel of this story is how a single pink balloon could bring two people together and create such a profound sense of awe and wonder and inspiration. A single balloon: carrying a simple girl’s idea. Imagine the loss of friendship and all the wonder Laura Buxton would have missed if she never released her idea into the world.

Many of you are walking around with a balloon in our pocket. You’ve tucked it away. One day, some day, you’ll be brave enough to do the work of blowing it up and letting it go. But first you need a circumstance to change or life to settle down or that winning lottery ticket.

May I encourage you with a thought: I believe the pink (or any color for that matter) balloon you are holding was one sent to you by God; a transcendent idea, released into the metaphorical sky, which has landed upon the soil of your heart. The purpose, of course, is to grow a deep and lasting friendship between the Creator and it’s Recipient, but too, I believe, the goal is to take the balloon He’s given you and do the thing He’s purposefully placed in your path.

In essence: all you need to do is be obedient.

“Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.” – Madeleine L’ Engle

 

Obedience: It’s the only thing your balloon (your calling, your art) requires of you, to be faithfully obedient to it…and usually that means doing the work of blowing it up, tying it tight and letting it go.

Note: It’s the most beautiful, perfect windy day. The timing sure feels right.



A Lesson in Smallness {Audio Story}

This Story of Hope has been recorded for your listening merriment. Click & Enjoy. Trolls may read the story therein below.

 

It’s B2S time and you know what that means…those joyous math assignments have returned. And not just for the kids. This past week I had an assignment too; it involved compiling numbers and stats and submitting reports. When I finished I looked down upon my desk at a bunch of skinny numbers; trim and stubborn. The sum total was oh-so-small. Laughable. The crying laughable kind. I felt discouragement prick my arm and a vile of self-worth extracted.

Discouragement and numbers like two clasped swinging hands. Numbers: They become the result, the measure of success, or the value of something. Bigger is better. It’s what culture tells us (Rule: waist and weight reverse the order). And we believe it because numbers don’t lie.

When you’re taller you can ride the ride.

When you’re older you can drink the drink.

When your smarter…prettier… healthier…

There is a basis for all things.

All this measuring and counting and mathematics: I am not a fan. It’s Back to School time and that means I’m relearning a few things too.

So, that day, the number crunching one; I finished my project, sent off the reports, and picked my sunken self up to hurry off to my son’s first football game. As I jumped out of the car I nearly crushed a sprouted mushroom under my foot. It made me stop and smile. Of all things; a small mushroom. I began walking across the open football field and the sunshine warmed my face. Suddenly, I felt this very small voice seem to whisper small is the new big. What a thought, huh?

I made my way and huddled near the team of parents who were cheering their kids on from the sidelines. Midway through the game one of the mothers began lamenting to me about…you guessed it…her son’s size. “He’s so small…” she said. And I could tell, mother-to-mother, there was a little worry in her voice. But do you know what happened next? That small boy got the ball and he ran and he ran and he ran that ball straight into the end zone. Yep, that small boy put some big points on the board.

True story.

May I encourage your thoughts today towards embracing the measure of staying small.

Smallness gives us space. Freedom to think, breathe, learn, and grow. Too big? It gets a little crowded. And quite honestly big is hefty load. That’s my story of hope for today.

Small is the new big.



When Suffering Makes No Sense *Giveaway: Invisible Wounds Book*

I recently went for a long run with my sister-in-law. It’s one of our favorite things to do. And since we’re both training for a half marathon we figure we’re better together. During our run we talked about many things, but one newsworthy topic paved the way: Jacob Wetterling.

You know the story. The way it changed a generation of kids, and parents too. There was no more riding my bike to the candy store, alone, among many other things. I was a tween when Jacob was abducted. In fact, Jacob was my exact age. Dad worked for the newspaper in St. Cloud, Minnesota, close to the Wetterling home. And one day he came home with a handful of buttons: JACOB’S HOPE  written in bold, arched the famous, smiling boy’s picture. Jacob’s face covered every mind and every newsstand in America. I took the pins, handed them out to friends, and stuck one on my jean jacket. It was a constant reminder of Jacob, yes, but also, something deeper…a statement of belief in good and justice and impossible trust.

when-suffering-makes-no-senseI didn’t understand a lot about Hope back in the day. But I felt the collective ache, the longing for a happy ending.

Well, here we are, we have an ending…or so it seems. It didn’t turn out the way anyone hoped. Far worse. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. The great, black, terrible. The earthquaking stuff that causes cracks in faith.

Why pain?

Why suffering?

Why death?

Why, God, why?

“Sometimes our pain is the the result of living in a broken, fallen world. This isn’t how He intended life to be. Yet God allows tragedy or suffering in our lives for some reason or reasons we can’t always grasp.” – Melinda Means, Invisible Wounds

There is no applaudable application here. I mean there is nothing we ‘ought to do in order to set it right. To solemnly embrace our loss (and the pain of others near and dear) is to sit and hold it and feel and question and grieve. Sure, there are a host of theological answers. I’ve got a few sorted and stowed. But that’s not the purpose of this post. The purpose is to point to the future. 

Remember the button’s bold, overarching typeface: Jacob’s Hope.

Hope.

It’s a wonder.

I’ve talked about this subject a lot over the years. I’ve wrote about the difference between small (h) hope and big (H) Hope.  I love the phrase that says, “Hope: Look to the future and trust God with all of it.” I believe in it so much that I renamed my blog to Stories of Hope. I believe in it so much because, for me, when uncertainty shakes the ground I walk on I know I can depend on a Certain hiding place: It’s my house full of promises, a place called Hope.

Hope is much like a bunker house. It’s deep, hidden from the elements of the outside world. The construct is made up of an underground tunnel system. God’s promises remove barriers and clear the dark path into this vast space that is host to a starry spectacle of awe. It’s a wonder. It’s a place few find.

“God is confirmed in our experience – when He meets us powerfully and sweetly in the midst of our suffering.” -Melinda Means, Invisible Wounds

Those God confirmed experiences develop the impossible trust believers need so survive the chaos.  That His promises are good and true. Who holds all the answers? Who will stand up for true and lasting justice once and for all? Only one. So, when we wonder why He continues to allow the pain and suffering of this world to grope for us in the night we grab ahold of this great futuristic promise:

“Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever… Look, I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5)

The relief from suffering is coming – soon. Our happy ending will come, if not here and now, it is our destiny. Let us hold the promise as we stand under the stars…and wait.

**GIVEAWAY**

TODAY I AM GIVING AWAY A HARD COPY OF INVISIBLE WOUNDS BY MELINDA MEANS. TO ENTER TO WIN: SIGN UP HERE.

ONE RANDOM WINNER WILL BE CHOSEN & ANNOUNCED ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14TH.