Where Nations Are Neighbors

Picture a tall, slim African woman with a child strapped to her back with strips of brightly colored fabric. She has two other small children who are dragging behind them baskets of clothes to be laundered.  The mother stops to adjust her headdress and catches the eye of an onlooker. She flashes a beautiful white smile and then continues on with her daily chore. 

This was the scene I witnessed my first summer working with refugees in 2013, but it was not in some remote African Village. It was in East Charlotte at an apartment complex off of Central Avenue. 

When explaining my job to people, I often get asked if I speak the same language as my students. It is a reasonable question to address to an ESL teacher, until I explain that I work with a small class of adults from nine different countries on four different continents. 

This usually snaps people to attention, and they ask, “Well, how on earth do you do that?” 

 “I do it with a lot of patience and a lot of visuals,” I smile. 

The language barrier is most complicated when I need to reach my class by phone. Since I work with our beginner students, many of whom struggle to read and write in their own languages, I cannot send out a group text message or email blast of information for reply.  On a good day, there may be someone in the home or a neighbor next door who can translate for me, but many times it is just me taking deep breaths and maintaining a sense of humor while I try to communicate. 

I had not spoken to my students since March when Covid-19 abruptly shut down our English program, except for a hand full of letters I wrote and mailed to them each week until August. I was excited at the prospect of speaking to them to let them know we are going to try and open our classroom doors again at half capacity in November. It felt more like phoning friends and family than a group of pupils. 

With each limited conversation, I was able to gather a bit on how they have been over the last seven months. I learned that my student from Ethiopia was expecting her third child next month. She is having another little girl to match her other daughter who looks like an African version of Cindy Lou Who from Whoville.  At three years old, she has big doe-like eyes, and Kewpie doll curls above each ear. 

After I announced who I was on the phone to my student from Central America she exclaimed, “Oh Teacher! It is so nice to meet you!” This is an expression in Spanish that is perfectly acceptable as a warm greeting, but it does not translate well in English. I knew exactly what she meant so I replied, “It is so nice to meet you too!”

Some things do not need to be corrected, because the message underneath is clear and needs no translation when shared between neighbors.

Dry Bones


“Then he asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones become living people again?” 

“O Sovereign Lord,” I replied, “you alone know the answer to that.” 

Ezekiel 37:3 

In the fall of 2014, I went with my daughters to hear Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi speak at a church in Steele Creek. As excited as I was to hear “The Queen of Katwe,” a chess prodigy from the slums of Uganda, I was more excited to meet her teacher, Robert. I had been teaching ESL to adult refugees for two years, the latter spend at Project 658 building a program from scratch. 

After their time of sharing, I found Robert and asked him to sign my book. He casually asked me what I did for a living. When I told him that I taught English to adult refuges from all over the world, he stopped writing. He got a serious look on his face, closed my book in mid signature, and tucked it under his arm. He then reached to clasp my hand in both of his and shook it.

He said, “Thank you for teaching adults how to read and write. I was a refugee and, in my city, we do not help the adults much. We focus on the children. Our goal is to reach them young. Thank you for being someone who wants to help the ones who are old. It’s so hard to do.” 

He finished singing my Queen of Katwe book, and I went to find my children. 

I thought about this story this week as I set out to call my students to let them know we are trying to resume our English classes at half capacity in November. Communication by phone is one of the more complicated elements of my job since I teach our beginner class, many of whom have never been in a formal educational setting. If it is a good day, there might be someone nearby or a neighbor next door who can translate for me. 

I called the home of two of my Syrian students who live under one roof with the rest of their large family. One is an older woman in her mid-sixties who has never learned to read or write, and whose husband I learned during my short conversation with the daughter in law, had passed away this summer.  The phone was later handed to a 12-year-old, who helped translate the information I needed in order to plan for our class to relaunch. 

She let me know that her mother would be unable to return until she and her four brothers and sisters were no longer doing school from home due to the Covid-19 virus. 

“Will you please ask your grandmother if she is ready to come back?” I asked. 

The young girl paused and then spoke several sentences in Arabic. 

“Oh yes, my grandmother is very ready to come back now,” she said.  

There was laughter in the background, and then her grandmother took the phone. 

“Oh, thank you teacher. I am happy,” she said to me. 

Take Your Turn

Baseball was my first love. The smell of fresh cut grass still reminds me of my first tee ball practice when I was five years old. It was behind Pinewood Elementary, barely big enough to hold up a glove, that I discovered I did not need to be taught how to hit and catch. The abilities were already inside of me. 

I excelled at most team sports I played except for when the clock was suspended, and all eyes were on me. I would collapse if I had to shoot a free throw or take a penalty kick.  I remembered this about myself twenty-five years later as I looked out across the field at my boss and 11 co-workers who were waiting for me to bat. 

It was a blistering day for our Project 658 spring retreat and with a decisive RBI from the batter in front of me, our team had just won the staff whiffle ball game. There was no reason for me to step up to the plate. A fact that I repeated to everyone’s needling of me to climb in the batter’s box.  

“I doesn’t matter,” I said sheepishly gathering up the equipment. “The game is over, and I don’t mind.” 

“That’s ridiculous,” my friend said to me while everyone waited in the hot sun. 

“Seriously,” I responded, now getting a little embarrassed by their focused attention and goading. “It’s ok. I’d rather not.” 

I knew people were ready to stop and spend our last few hours playing in the lake. 

“Carrie,” my friend said pointedly and handed me a ball, “It’s ok. Take your turn.” 

With her invitation, I went to pick up a bat. Instead of reaching for the one I had used all afternoon that looked more like a caveman’s club with its large, pink oversized head, I grabbed the slim, black one.  Better known as the bat for adults and not children. 

I threw the ball to the pitcher and took a few practice swings. I told myself not to try too hard. I breathed in deep and let my breath out slowly. 

It doesn’t matter Carrie,” I thought, trying to convince myself. “This means nothing.”

The game rules were standard minus the variation of what constituted a home run. If you hit the ball in the air and over the far sidewalk without someone catching it, then you could round the bases basking in your moment of glory. 

The humorous heckling began before my boss’s first pitch. He threw the ball, and I tipped it over my head. More hilarious jeering rang out from the infield, and I laughed. I got so tickled that I bent over giggling and felt deep joy.  

Eric threw a second one, and I went after it with all that I had. I connected with the whiffle ball, and it took off into the air like a shot. Before I knew it, it had soared way over the heads of the outfielders and well beyond the home run sidewalk. 

I didn’t have to be encouraged this time as I started running towards first base for my game ending, home run loop. After many high fives, I went to find the ball as a reminder. I walked up to my friend and thanked her. 

“For what?” she asked.

“For encouraging me from this moment forward to always take my turn,” I smiled. 

He Moved Into the Neighborhood

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” John1:14 The Message

October 17, 2017

I have worked with Logan for three years. He is quiet and reserved unless delivering one of his funny quips around the table at lunch or in a meeting. Before last week, I am not even sure I could have adequately told you what he does at Project 658 other than he is always willing and available to help a fellow staff member in need. He also oversees the processing and distribution of our branded roast, ​Restored Coffee​.

Last Wednesday Logan shuffled into the office around 9:00am. He was sleepy eyed and had been recently roused by a little, African American toddler. They walked into the office holding hands.

This was nothing new as we have all seen Logan and Katrina together quite bit at work in the last few weeks. What was startling this particular morning was that they were twinning. They were dressed exactly alike from their denim jackets and blue jeans to their matching off-white Saucony sneakers.

Logan walked over to our snack cabinet, grabbed a piece of dark chocolate, unwrapped it, and handed it to Katrina. Her face beamed at the breakfast and at him. Then they locked hands again and walked out of the office into the cafe.

My friend Sarah and I turned back to our work, but I could not resist finally asking the question that I had been too busy to ask.

“Sarah,” I said “Who is she?”

“She’s Pepe’s little sister,” she responded, as if that settled it.

I knew of Pepe. He was the one I had seen asleep in Jessie’s lap around the Project 658 lunch table for the last couple of years. But I did not know him. I did not know his story or his sister’s.

“Why is Katrina with Logan all the time right now?” I asked.

Sarah answered, “Their mom is in the hospital. She was diagnosed with cancer and begins chemo this week. Pepe is staying with the boys, and Katrina is having a sleepover with the girls.”

When she spoke of the “boys” and the “girls,” I knew she was referring to Logan, Zach, Mariotti, Jessie, and Morgan who work for Project 658 and The Urban Eagles. These five millennials are friends and live intentionally in Sailboat Bay, an apartment complex off Albemarle Rd. that houses low income residents, refugees, and at risk international families.

What I did not know, but am slowly learning, is just how much this young quintet is giving of themselves in order to care for their neighbors without really telling anyone about it.

Wanting to know more, I sat down with Logan to get the full story.

He moved into the neighborhood with Zach 3 years ago. That is where he met Tibe, a single mom from Eritrea. Her husband was not kind and was often out of the house. Logan would see Pepe riding around the apartment complex on a two wheeler by himself when the he was only 2 1⁄2 years old. At that point the girls were already heavily invested in Tibe’s life helping to care for him and his 3 older siblings while she had to work. Katrina is the youngest of her family.

Over the years, they have driven the children and their friends back and forth to soccer practice. They have advocated with maintenance for repairs in Tibe’s apartment including getting a leaky, rotten wax ring on the toilet fixed that had been corroded and neglected for months.

They have tutored children in their schoolwork, spent time doing bible studies with the teenagers, invited the kids over for movie nights, and watched over the little ones in such a way that made everyone feel safe, loved, and wanted.

A cancer diagnosis for any family is hard and disorienting, but for a single mom who does not speak English or drive it can feel impossible.

But not for Tibe, because she is not alone.

She has 5 neighbors who have driven her to all of her doctor’s appointments. She has 5 friends that have supported her children while they translate this new world of medical terminology, treatments, and surgeries, because her language is so remote that only her kids speak it. She has 5 caregivers that are so much more like family that she can have a one week hospital stay for chemotherapy and not worry about where her children are sleeping at night.

All because they moved into the neighborhood.

Seeing A Movie Star

Myrtle Beach 2003

The salty air at Myrtle Beach was thick with cigarette smoke and country music. People were stitched together so tightly that the numerous towels stretched out looked like an old quilt. Empty bags of Doritos littered the sand beside small children sipping on red dye #40. 

As I pulled down the bill of my baseball cap, a young girl caught my eye. Her face was deformed, and her eyes were disproportionate. The left one sagged like melted candle wax down her cheek causing her bright pink, star shaped sunglasses to be crooked and uncertain. Her hair was stringy and body ungainly as she sat propped between two sand pails of sea water. She could not get to the ocean, because her legs were useless and awkwardly tucked underneath her body like a foal not ready to stand, so someone must have brought it to her. Her hands splashed in jerky, graceless motions, and she cooed with delight as it danced and jumped out of the yellow buckets.  

A woman came up and gently pushed her sunglasses back onto her face. A fruitless effort, I thought.  She bent down, and I overheard her convincingly tell the little girl how much she looked like a movie star. The child grunted and snorted excitedly as she bobbed up and down thrilled with the idea herself. I was stunned and moved by their loving rapport. Then the woman slowly kissed the child’s forehead, sat down, and picked up her tattered paperback.

Twenty minutes later, a man came up. He had been in the ocean and shook his wet head to sprinkle water all over the child. She burst open with shock and delight. She spoke for the first time and slurred, “Dar, Dar!!” The man scooped her up as her limp limbs dangled from his arms. “That’s right, Kayla, it’s Dar Dar. Ready to have some fun?” he asked. She flailed about in response with a big crooked grin of gnarled teeth, and I watched him take her down to the water’s edge for a dip. He cradled her in the surf for an hour.

As we packed up at the end of the day, I took one last parting glance at Kayla’s family. I was sad to leave their company. Kayla was having a snack of mashed peas out of a baby food jar. I went over to her mother as she spoon fed her child and said, “Excuse me. I just wanted to say that I think you have a beautiful daughter.” She looked up at me blankly as if I broke her concentration. She then smiled and responded, “Oh, I know.” 

The Nesting Box. My First and Last.

This is a definition from Wikipedia. Emphasis mine

“A nest box is a man-made box provided for animals to nest in. Nest boxes are most frequently utilized for wild birds, in which case they are also called birdhouses. Birdhouses are the most common types of nest boxes as they are small and easy to take care of while attracting many birds. Birdwatchers often use them to lure birds into their private land.”

I purchased a nesting box a few years ago that was made of wood with a clear fiber glass back. The backing had four large round suction cups, so it would adhere to a window. Once secured on the outside of your house, you placed a black sheet of card stock on the inside of the window thus creating the illusion to an unassuming bird that the house is solid on all four sides.

This was in hope that if a bird did decide to nest in your box, the viewer could slide the black flap ever so slightly and peek in to watch the progress of the nest making. Like so….

One morning while the girls and I were doing math, we all three noticed a blue bird go into the bird house. We got excited but did not look in for fear of discouraging it.  As the morning progressed, we watched as the bird diligently brought pine straw and twigs into the nesting box. I could not believe that this was actually going to work.

Days later I checked behind the flap and to my amazement, I found four small eggs tucked into the nest. I was so happy, because I love tiny things. One of my favorite words in the English language is “puppy.” It just gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.

As time progressed and the baby birds had hatched, I loved standing by the window during feeding time. I would not look; I’d only listen.

First it was very quiet and then as the mother bird perched on the lip of the bird house opening, the baby birds would begin chirping and peeping like mad.  It just never got old to me.  I guess you could say, I was a proud parent.

One morning when the baby birds were a few days away from ‘fledglings,’, I went for a run. After finishing I sat on my front porch steps to catch my breath. It was a beautiful spring day.

Even with my iPod on, I could hear very disturbing and chaotic noises. I heard what sounded like very loud, innumerous squawks. I took off my headphones and noticed that almost every bird in the neighborhood was in the top of my neighbors tree and completely freaking out. I had never seen such a thing outside of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

I dismissed it, got up, and walked around to the back door. I remember thinking as I walked that someone had left a very, very long black hose dangling off the front porch.  Then it registered. We did not have a black hose.

I turned and to my horror, I saw a 5-foot black snake slithering about 6 feet from where I had been sitting.

 I’m allergic to snakes. Profoundly. They absolutely terrify me.

Immediately, I flashed back to hanging up my cute little nesting box for the first time. My husband said prophetically, “You know Carrie….you’re not going to like it when you find a black snake crawling up that window.” I was shocked. Appalled. Mortified. Who had ever heard of such a thing??!!! Besides a snake CAN’T climb a window.

I panicked and ran to the back door making such a ruckus that the snake shimmied off the porch. I pounded on the door in tears trying to get my girls to open it.  Once inside, I dropped down to the floor shaking and out of breath.

I called my husband, who happened to be all the way across town.

“You HAVE to come home!! Now!!” I screamed.”It’s coming after the babies!”

Once I explained the situation, he hurried home.

My husband and I sat on the front porch discussing our options. He told me how ecologically unsound it would be to kill such a helpful snake. Black snakes are known to eat rodents and poisonous snakes. We have small children, and a dog. Plus copperhead snakes have been seen in the neighborhood.

I sat there exhausted and embarrassed by my outburst. He said, “You know Carrie, you have got to get a hold of yourself and this irrational fear.”

He went on to talk about the meeting he had to leave to come home and help me. As he spoke, I nodded. “I know,” I said. “You are right. My fear is ridicu..,” I stopped.

I stopped talking because I heard something. I distinctly heard a slithering, swishing sound. I turned and saw the snake coming back around the side of the house moving straight towards us through the pine straw. “FORGET this,” I said with my flight instinct kicking in.

I jumped up, ran inside the house, and locked the front door…. leaving my poor husband outside.  He threw my daughter’s bicycle helmet at the snake.   It was undeterred. Then he shooed it away with a broom.  It went around the corner and then under the house.  What a nightmare.

That evening we decided to take the girls out for ice cream to “debrief” the afternoon.  With our DQ Blizzard’s, we sat around the table discussing the day’s events. They were fine overall but had never seen me that unhinged.

I began the discussion by saying, “Girls, Mommy was a little worked up today.”

My oldest interrupted and said, “No Mom, you were hysterical.

Really, there was nowhere to go after that. Except to bed.

The next morning, I woke up earlier than normal. I showered and got ready for the day, very refreshed and determined to strive for emotional stability. As I hit the stairs, I froze. I stopped and thought to myself, “The snake is in the nesting box.”

I just knew it deep down inside of my ‘knower.’ The house was very quiet because the girls were still sleeping, and my husband was already at work. I was stood there for a moment.

I slowly went down stairs, taking them one at at time. I went up to the flap of the bird house but was afraid to look. I was afraid to move it aside. It is hard to describe that type of feeling. Knowing something is true, without having any proof. I moved aside the black square. Pressed up against my window was a thick ribbon of black, nasty scales.

The snake had come back in the night and eaten the four blue birds. I stood there in shock, not really believing what I was seeing.  I looked out the window and there was the mother or father bird. It was hovering right outside the entrance to the bird house with a worm in its mouth. It would not go in but would not fly away.

I got very angry. I envisioned hacking into the snake with a garden hoe like a crazy person. I saw all of the little birdies hopping out whole and unharmed like the seven little goats swallowed by the wolf in Brother Grimm’s fairy tale.  But who was I kidding? There was no way I could get close enough to a snake without suffering from cardiac arrest.

My husband came home and took care of it for me.  Again, we decided not to kill it. He was going to take the nesting box down the street and toss it into the woods. Just when he was about to leave, two older gentlemen walking in the neighborhood advised him against it.

“I just killed two copperheads in my yard yesterday,” one said. So, my husband set it free. Which is a whole other story.

I threw away the nesting box and vowed never again to have anything but bird feeders in my yard. I mean feeders that the birds eat from and are not eaten from.

It took me a few months, but I finally made it back into the bird store. I wanted to tell the staff that the nesting boxes needed a surgeon general’s warning label. I needed to confess to someone that I felt like I had just opened an “all you can eat” bird buffet on the side of my house and was riddled with guilt.

I pulled one of the workers aside and told him my story. He was kind and patient in his listening. When I finished he enlightened me that lots of people were finding snakes in their bird houses due to the severity of the drought in Charlotte.

He said optimistically, “Next time you can purchase a “Predator Guard” for your box, and we’ll happily attach it for you.”

“A predator guard?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes. You attach this to the entrance of the bird house so that snakes and raccoons can’t get in,” he said while holding up a wiry, prickly cap.

A Predator Guard. What a concept.

The Incident

Friday night, I washed my van. It was far from exciting which is always my preference when it comes to a drive through car wash. I did the preparatory routine things. I took down my radio antenna and made sure the windows and sunroof were tightly closed. I made sure my car was in neutral.

With all of these methodical, precautionary measures you would think I’d sail through this with ease, like most normal people. But this particular chore causes me to break out in ticks and hives. It is still very stressful for me to submit to a car wash. This stems from the traumatic experience we refer to as “The Incident.”

Two springs ago, the pollen was out of control. There was a thick layer of yellow film on everything outside. It got so bad that when I got in and out of my van, I could taste it and feel it gumming up my contacts. I’d had enough, so I went to the car wash near to my house.

When I pulled up to the gas station by my house, I became confused. I’d never seen a car wash like this one before. Usually you just pull in, and it does its thing. But this one had a guard rail for my left tires to slide through. Between the rails were wheels and a conveyor belt. For someone who is spatially challenged, this did not bode well.

I watched others handle this with ease, and so I gained confidence. Plus there were detailed instructions that any elementary student could follow.

As I threaded the railing with my tires and coasted up to the control box, I rolled down my window and typed in my wash code. That was where I went wrong.

Recently my mini van was in a fickle phase of deciding if the driver’s side window would roll up or not. For the past 3 months, it had been kind and willing, which lulled me into a complacent stupor. Into an arrogant bliss.  Into an overconfident guise.

What happened next?

My van was in neutral, the conveyor belt began pulling my van towards the mouth of the car wash, and my window would not roll up.

I panicked as we crept forward. Words were yelled. Names were condemned. For some reason, opening the door felt like a good place to start. I planted my left leg outside the car as if it were an anchor. With my right leg I pressed down on the brake and just held on, trembling.

After the first minute of slowly inching forward, my right leg began to ache from the tension of my body being split down the middle. I was never good at gymnastics. As a matter of fact, every time I did a cartwheel the entire gym class stopped to gawk and then laugh. But, oh if they could see me now. Doing a split in all my middle aged glory.

I felt the wheels underneath the conveyor belt stuttering and slipping not understanding the meaning of my resistance. It fought hard as it was programmed to do, and I so did I.

My two girls were in the back of the van near tears.

“Mom, what’s happening!” they yelled.

“Not now!” I hollered.

Finally, I told them to get out of the van and run into the grass. They did not hesitate in abandoning me, grabbing their Harry Potter books as they ran away.

That was when I heard it.

I heard honking of horns and the yelling voices. I looked over my left shoulder and saw an entire line of cars backed up behind me with the same idea I had only 30 minutes earlier.

“What are you doing!!??” they screamed.

“Hurry up, lady!!” they commanded.

Seriously?  “

My WINDOW won’t roll UP!! For the love of all that is holy! STOP yelling at me!!” I shouted.

They continued to yell and honk. I yelled back all the while playing tug of war with the belts under my tires. Then I lost it, and yelled at the window, “In the name of JESUS, roll UP!!!”


Another minute gone, and I actually considered letting up on the brake. I had visions of soapy water shooting in through the window with me crouched down in the driver’s seat. I saw the long, gangly wash bands reaching into my window like the tentacles of a squid trying to slap me around. But what finally did it was seeing my face blown into deformity by the wind created by the galactic dryer. The one that sounds like a 747 plane taking off.  I began to cry.

Finally an attendant ran out to help me. She pushed on one side of my window and I pulled on the other side. We strained together as the front of my van inched into the entrance of the car wash. My right brake leg trembling back and forth like Elvis Presley. “If I have to go, you’re coming with me, lady,” I thought to myself.

We pulled, cajoled, and begged my defiant window. Then all of a sudden as innocently as it began, the belts and motors ceased. I had fought and wrestled my way through an entire car wash cycle. And won.

I sat back in the seat,  my right leg traumatized and flopping uncontrollably. My arms were burning from bracing myself against the steering wheel.

While catching my breath, I tried one more time with the electric window. It rolled right up. The gas attendant, and I just stared at each other. She kindly gave me another code since there were 8 cars behind me who would not be deterred and of course, there was the issue of my van still needing a wash.

My girls got back into their seats. The helpful attendant punched in the new code, and we went through the car wash cycle.

She Does Not Know It

This is “BC.”

She is the fun-loving daughter of some friend’s of ours. BC is about 18 months old, but she doesn’t know it. So, we have not told her. That is why she is riding my 9 year old daughter’s razor scooter. Since she had seen my daughter zooming around the cul-de-sac, BC naturally thought she could as well. And ride it, she did with the help of her mom. She laughed and smiled the entire time because that is how she rolls.

See what I mean…

On this bright morning when they stopped by our house on their daily stroll, I sat on my front porch snapping shots of her and marveling at the grace of God. Not because BC likes to razor scooter or because she makes me laugh, but because she is even here at all. Children are a gift. There is no doubt about that. But for two people who had little to no hope of having any, BC is simply an answer to our prayers. And she doesn’t know it.

Caroline’s parents had a very difficult time carrying a baby to full term.  The day of their appointment to hear the heartbeat of their first unborn child is a moment cemented in time. They were full of excitement and anticipation as any new, budding parents only to leave the office with shattered dreams and hopes when no pulse could be found. It was when they both felt like this process would be forever tainted with fear and doubt.  But, they kept trying. Trying to have a baby and trying to keep the embers of hope for a child at least smoldering upon their hearth.

But even those were extinguished after my friend later had an unexpected ectopic pregnancy rupture late one night that found them both in the hospital not knowing if she was going to live. The physical healing from that took a long time, several months. But the toll that it took on their spirit was devastating.

Not only were they afraid to begin trying for a child because of the trauma of the second miscarriage.  They were now more afraid of allowing themselves to  hope because due to the rupture, they were working with half a reproductive system.

That October when they got pregnant a third time, something alarming happened. I was cleaning up when my doorbell rang.  I opened the front door to find my friend in desperate, heart wrenching tears.  She had just come from the doctor and learned that this pregnancy was another ectopic that had attached itself to the ruptured fallopian tube.  The doctor told her that this signified that her viable tube was not fully functioning.  To put it simply, they had just moved from the category of  ‘a possibility’ to now being on the side of the paper that read ‘highly unlikely.’

I remember that fall and winter. It was cold and dark for my friends and for us as we walked with them through their disappointment, grief, and hopelessness. Around February, my friend pulled me aside and asked if some of us wouldn’t mind coming together for a prayer time as they began to embark on trying once again to get pregnant. A hand full of us met in their home as a community desperate to have their prayers heard by the living God. Some of us were admittedly very doubtful, but it just felt right being together and simply asking. Honestly, at that point it was all that we could do.

One of my favorite verses in the NLT is psalm 116:1. It says,  “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as i have breath.” That night for me was about asking for mercy for our friends. I love the idea of God being gentle and kind enough to bend down to listen to His children who are small and helpless without Him. That night, I  remember specifically saying that if He heard our prayers and gave them a child….we would give Him all of the glory.

Two months later, they found out they were expecting. My friends were still afraid to get excited since they had been in this place three other times before. But that was alright, because we were hoping enough for the both them.  As the months began to trickle by uneventfully, a quiet joy began bubbling inside of me. Though I was afraid to say it out loud, I kept seeing a little girl with curly red hair that belonged to them.

And then it happened.

One night around our dinner table, our friends allowed themselves to begin dreaming aloud about their Christmas baby girl. That moment still brings tears to my eyes, because it takes courage for us all to hope and dream in the face of potential disappointment and heartbreak.

Yet we are told in Isaiah 51 that “The Lord will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins. Her desert will blossom like Eden, her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found there. Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.”

But honestly never in our wildest dreams could we have thought that their ‘wilderness’ would blossom quite like this…..

“Look mom and dad, no hands!”

I like watching baby Caroline. She is full of spunk and life not unlike many toddlers her age. I do not know what God has in store for her in the future. It really need not be anything ‘spectacular.’ For now she serves as a reminder to this young woman that God is real and listens to the heart cries of His children.  Because sometimes, she doesn’t know it.

***roll on, baby caroline. roll on.:)

The End and The Beginning. My Grandmother Part 5

*Written and shared at my grandmother’s memorial service

September 21, 2008

Cozy “Memaw” Morrow 10/5/17-0/17/08

When I was a little girl  we lived in a small house with my grandmother. I can remember times of waking up in the middle of the night. It was dark, quiet and very still. Not unlike most young children, I was afraid.

Memaw’s room was at the other end of the house from the rest of us. It was a long walk in the dark for a 4/5-year-old. It required walking down the hall and through the kitchen where there was a furnace in the floor with a grate over the top of it. Down under the house were all of my childhood fears. I knew with certainty that this hole in the floor was their entrance into our house.

But if I could cross over that abyss, her room was right around the corner. I remember lying there in my bed calculating the cost of making the journey. Was the end result worth the means  it would cost me to get there? The answer was yes. Because on the other end, was my Memaw.

It was her in her soft cotton nightgown that smelled of lavender. It was her with a  full, squishy grandmotherly embrace.  In her room, the morning always came. Where I was going was worth the scary, dark  journey to get me there.

I have always had my grandmother. She was a constant presence in my life and more accurately described as a parent to me, but with the knowledge of having her came also an early realization that she could be lost. I knew she could and would one day die and leave me alone. Unable to process such thoughts, I would dismiss them.  In that deep fear, I sadly made her larger than life.

This notion was easy to oblige simply based on the sheer determination of her will, the gentleness of her spirit, but mostly due to the well of faith in which she drank. Who was the woman whose life we are celebrating today?

From the perspective of the one she referred to as the ‘little one,’ she was a wife of one, a mother of three, a grandmother of five, a great-grandmother of eight, a friend to many, and a Memaw to hundreds.

She was my roommate from the time I was 11yrs old till I went away to college where she and I would argue constantly over the use of the telephone. Her having more and longer conversations than me as a teenage girl.

She was a basketball buddy.  She would tirelessly rebound shots for me out in the driveway, coach me on free throws, and she could stay up believing in the victory of the Boston Celtics or the Carolina Tarheels long after I had lost hope and had gone to bed.

Memaw was my math tutor, easily doing my high school math equations that I was at a loss to begin. She even understood SAT math which to this day is something I cannot comprehend.

She was a shrewd and diligent grocery shopper. She was able to stay under budget as church hostess for years by scouting out prices all over the area, yet she managed to feed everyone to their fill for Wednesday night suppers and for the school and day care five days a week.

Even when she was relegated to riding around in a motorized cart due to aging, my oldest daughter commented that Memaw could still beat her and my mother to the check-out counter on their weekly trips to Harris Teeter.

She was a chauffeur, a cheerleader, a cook, a counselor, a nurse, and an encourager to all of those who were fortunate to have her in their corner. But as my uncle and I were discussing the night she died, there were so many people who loved her and in which she gave of herself.

There were many in this church whether adults or children who received from her, yet there was, miraculously always enough to go around.  I remember early on hearing children my age calling her ‘Memaw’ and wanting to fight every one of them to prove the point that she was in fact MY Memaw and not theirs.

Shortly after feeling an immediate surge of jealousy and possessiveness, it would fade and then did fade forever because after about six or seven years old, I never doubted her affection for me and just how much I meant to her.  No matter how many lives she taught and touched in Sunday school, no matter how many long drawn out adult conversations she had sitting at those tables in the gymnasium- and they did go on forever-, no matter how many children insisted everyday of running up to her during lunch to give ‘their’  Memaw a big hug, it did not take away from how much she loved and devoted herself  to her family. Even two weeks ago, I told her that I loved her. She responded, “I love you too, Carrie. I love you all.”

On a deeper, more personal note, she was an orphan. She was a little girl in an orphanage who often times went to sleep with the pains of hunger. This is something that I want to emphasize about my grandmother. Is it any wonder at the economy of God who would take those moments of loss and use it to fuel a desire for that little girl to turn into a woman who committed her life to feeding us whether in body or in spirit?

She lived a painful reality in those early years and God used that redemptively in her life, allowing her to experience fullness to her emptiness as she fed on Jesus and then served Him to others. Besides her love and fierce commitment to individuals, this is what defined her life.  So whether it was a pound of spaghetti and a yeast roll lathered in butter, or a chicken patty sandwich or a word of encouragement, or a quiet prayer on your behalf, you would never leave her presence empty-handed.

She was also tenaciously tough.  As a testimony to her spirit that was imprinted deep in my heart and mind a few months before she died, I had a dream of being in her nursing home room. I crawled in the bed with her; it was dark and quiet with a pale soft light. As I layed there she began waving her hands as if she was swatting away a bunch of flies.

I looked up and there were angels coming down to take her up. And I whispered, “Memaw, those are angels.” And she said with all reverence, “I don’t care who it is, I am not ready to go anywhere, yet.” When I woke up after I had called mom and confirmed that she was still here, I just had to laugh.

And this is what made my last few weeks with her so heartbreaking, beautiful, and life changing for me. Like I shared in the beginning, she was larger than life to me, and I honestly had convinced myself that she would live forever. I was still much a child in this notion. But there was no denying or overlooking that fact that she was becoming weaker and was unable to get better.

Two weeks before she died, I went into the nursing home to say good night. She had just come under hospice care. I was astounded at the change in just three days. I broke down and began weeping at her bedside, because I could see that she was leaving us. I felt an overwhelming urge to yell out and beg her to make me ok with it. To get her, as always, to make me feel secure with her strength.

But the Lord impressed upon my heart that night to give her a gift. My last gift to her which was to allow her to be human. To allow her to be weak, unsure, and weary. So, when I sat with her the next day, I told her how much I loved her, how thankful I was to be her granddaughter, and in spite of my own heartbreak that it was all right be weary.

I was able to return her 34 years of selfless acts to me with just letting her know that I would miss her so deeply but that it was ok.  And so, my life had truly come full circle from when I was a little girl.

Only she was the one having to make a journey into the darkness, wondering if what awaited her would be worth all the fear of taking the first few steps.

But she was not alone. She had her faithful children. Her son who would hit HWY 40 and head east when she needed him to bring a warmth that only a son can give to his mother and maybe even a broiled fish plate from Captain Steve’s or fried vegetables from Gus’.

She had her daughter, a constant companion over the years who would bring her coffee in the morning loaded down with her favorite International delight French Vanilla creamer and would also bring her home on the weekends so that she could still make banana pudding and wash dishes.

There were the five grandchildren who never lost sight of her impact in their lives.

The wonderful staff at White Oak Manner in whom she had crept in a captivated their hearts in her three years there with her outlandish spunk and humor, particularly her day time aide, Gertrude who would often come in on her days off toward the end to try to help her eat a bit.

The nighttime nurse Ilene, who would come in with medications, run her hands through Memaw’s thick beautiful hair and take all kinds of jeering from her on how nasty those concoctions were that she made Memaw drink for stronger health.

She had her pastor who visited her often, sometimes with a chocolate milkshake from Zack’s that she relished. And finally, but not exhaustively there was her loving extended family and her devoted church family paying visits to bring fellowship and music to her, because she was no longer able to get to them.

And so, I am very proud of her because she did it. She made the long walk through the valley of the shadow of death. She is now with her husband who died when I was a new-born. She is there with friends and siblings who went before her.

But mostly she is in the presence of her savior who undoubtedly said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful server.” She is in a place where the night never comes. And I truly believe she is happy, because she told me so the day before she died after about three hours of silence.  I know that she is either swimming, diving, fishing, or playing basketball. Or maybe even serving up some baked chicken, ham biscuits, and chocolate pie.

But what I do know for certain, is that she is no longer here, and I will look forward to the day when I see her again, not simply as her “little one” but also as a sister.

Puppies in Heaven: My Grandmother, part 4.

On September 16, 2008, I was asked to sit with my grandmother for the day. My mother, who had rarely left her side, needed to finish up some things at work, and my uncle was en route  from Albuquerque, New Mexico to be with his mother in her last days.

I got to the nursing home a little after lunch time. She was asleep and wouldn’t respond to me. I held her hand and said her name, but her sleep was too deep to hear my words or feel my touch. I sat down in the chair beside her bed and read my book. She was so quiet.

After about two hours of silence, I became very afraid…like a child in the dark. I didn’t know what to do. I began praying Psalm 23 over and over again to myself. Then, I took out my Bible to read the Psalm, filling in the parts that escaped me. I needed to hear words from someone. I needed to be comforted, because I felt so alone with the one person who was always near.

All of a sudden my phone registered a text. It was from a sweet friend who knew that I was with my grandmother for the day. She asked, “Are you alright?”

I responded, “I am just praying Psalm 23 until I believe it’s true.”  She told me that she and her husband were praying for me, and that I was not alone.

I took my Bible out again as the tears ran down my face. I felt so little again, trying to get to her when I was afraid.

And then it happened. It spoke to me. It spoke to me in ways that my grandmother could not.

I got a highlighter out of my purse and began marking the words.


Psalm 37 “The one thing I ask of the Lord– the thing I seek most is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, delighting in the Lord’s perfections and meditating in his Temple.  For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock. Then I will hold my head high above my enemies who surround me.

At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy, singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord. Be merciful and answer me. My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds……”Lord, I am coming.”***

The words poured over me, and I felt better. I was more at rest. So much so, that I picked up my book and began to read.

Another 30 minutes passed. All of a sudden, my grandmother cried out….”Oh, I’m SO Happy!!!”

It startled me. I jumped and turned around not knowing what just happened. She had been silent, save her breathing for four solid hours. Then, with her eyes still closed she said it again.

“Oh, I’m SO Happy!!!” I went over to her and called her name. “Memaw,” I said, “Can you hear me?”

She didn’t respond. Then she said, “Oh, I’m SO happy!!”

I said, “Memaw, Are you So happy?”

She said, “Yes Ma’am.”

I called my mother and put my grandmother on speaker phone.  My mom left work immediately.

I went and sat by my grandmother’s side and held her hand. Then prayed, Psalm 23 out loud. over and over.

She then called out, “Oh, and I found my Puppy!!”  “I found my puppy!”

I began to cry and laugh at the same time. I had tears in laughter. It was such a striking contrast. My heart was breaking, and it was also rejoicing. Out of all the things she could have said, this brought me the most comfort. I love puppies, and I loved that she was happy.

“Memaw, did you find your puppy?,” I asked.

No response.

My mother came in, and we both just sat with her. My mom said earlier that morning, my grandmother told her, “We’re going to miss you.” Meaning, they would miss each other.  Memaw didn’t say anything else. Ever. Again.

The next day, she left this earth. My mother, my uncle, and myself were there when she took her last breath.

Never before had Heaven felt so near. And, I am happy to be confirmed in my suspicions that there will be puppies there.

***here are the other verses that He gave me.***

Psalm 22:24 “For He has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy, He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help.”

Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 25:4-7 “Show me the right path, O Lord, point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. Remember, O Lord, your compassion and unfailing love. Remember me in the light of your unfailing love, for you are merciful, O Lord.”

You have always been my helper. Don’t leave me now; or abandon me. O God of my salvation. Even if my mother and father abandon me,(My grandmother was an orphan) the Lord will hold me close.

v. 10 Lead me along the right path.”

Yet I am confident that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”

Psalm 30: 11-12 “You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks…forever.”